In human culture -- I suppose in life itself -- there is a centrifugal force towards multiplicity and then an opposite centripetal force towards unity which means dissolving or engulfing those multiplicities. So the terrible forces of war, whether you consider the second World War that created the baby boom or the Vietnam War that splintered society, both resulted in the uproarious ecstasy of the Sixties and Seventies. Out of it has come death as well as birth, the breaching of some walls and the erection of others, right down to the current chaos in the Middle East.
One cultural wave was the Gay community discovering itself and immediately splintering into a lot of smaller groups. (Fairies, Bears and Leathermen) A second independent wave was towards communal living, based on the negotiation of freedom of the individual while living in concert. Both have since remained -- but dispersed -- with some aspects of each absorbed into the larger culture.
Since I only observed, my informant for the former wave is Tim and my informant for the latter is Paul, whose path crossed with mine the first time when he was a little kid in Browning, Montana, and often visited the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife with a handful of quarters to make the mechanical rattlesnake work. (He now lives near Bonner’s Ferry but some of his relatives are in Valier.) These are ongoing dialogues that parallel and entwine with others. Normally the Gay community and the Hippie veterans don’t talk to each other and don’t overlap.
Today I’m talking about Paul’s most vital world, the family that had has sustained him ever since. You can make direct contact with Paul’s world through a CD. Go to http://www.backtothegardenfilm.com/ to read about it or even send for it. Basically, Kevin Tomlinson had a lot of early footage from interviewing “hippies.” Decades later, in the style of Michael Apted’s “7 Up” series, he went back to see what had happened to these people. "Back to the Garden" is the name of the film.
When I was serving UU congregations, where members often have hippie pasts, they would often ask, “Do you think the counterculture really mattered? Was it worth it?” Here’s what Mark Rudd says: “If you like natural, organic food...thank a hippie. If you use alternative medicine, Acupuncture and Massage...thank a hippie. If you’re into eastern spirituality, Yoga, Meditation, Buddhism, the Dalai Lama...thank a hippie.” Add to the list pacifism, decriminalization, sexual freedom, environmentalism.
These “hippie” people responded to cultural doubt and betrayal in a number of ways, but the “back to the land” movement was a significant sub-culture and quietly exists even here on the east slope of the Rockies where life is not easy. It sprang from seeds that never go entirely dormant. My great-grandfather and grandfather were part of it, though not communal. Rodale is as important as Muir. In fact, I expect that if you knew where to look, you’d find ancient versions all over the planet and even new beginnings in the mega-cities. (Alice Waters?)
Paul was part of one of these groups and knows people in this film. The Rainbow Family, an umbrella organization, includes some of them still. Of course, when they gather in large groups, suddenly becoming apparent, they freak out the locals and the cops. So they tend to go to the back country, camping, and to organize clean-up squads afterwards. They are not so fashionable or commercial as something self-conscious like the “Burning Man” festival or even the many Renaissance Faires.
“Hippies” represent a kind of lifestyle that can’t be stamped out, no matter how much the commercialized “mainstream” (biggest number of consumers per product) tries. Often demonized, especially through marijuana and sexual freedom, they have skills and knowledge that include the most cutting edge computer coding. Probably the biggest threats to them are hitchhikers (people who want a free ride in life) and leftovers (kids whose families didn’t socialize them). Therefore, they have learned to keep a low profile and tend to live in places with low population density.
But there is a tension to resolve between getting the word out and being self-protective. Being a hunter-gatherer means having to network and explore, but it also means that establishment businesses won’t like competition. Sometimes survival on the land is just too hard. But then again, if the world economy crashes, most of these people will know what to do. Many of them are getting off the infrastructure grid, their ability to earn money in a remote place much empowered by the Internet and by the products they need getting cheaper as people realize what they can do. They are the opposite of industrial windfarms. They are the opposite of mega-anything. They are the opposite of a closed culture dependent on oil from foreign countries, and making from that a watchtower from which to wage war on the mud people.
Here in my hermitage, sessile at last, I listen to poets and communards. Outrageous and gorgeous, humble and hibernating -- what do they have in common? What do terrorists and mafia have in common? What are the great ideas working their way through the peoples of all lands and times? I see a return to Heraclitus, the idea that it’s all a dance, a flame, a coming together and then a going apart, like the continents themselves floating together, colliding in an uproar of mountains, then pulling apart so that the African coast has a bit of America stuck to it and on the east coast of America, there is a rind of Africa.
Some would say that I’m cheating to jump to this kind of poetry instead of providing actual figures and maybe a graph. When I used to preach like this to groups small enough for questions afterwards, there never would BE any! When questioned, the people would say, “Well, we’re still thinking.” Then we tried playing some music for a few moments so they could gather their thoughts. Mostly that didn’t help. It’s all about the questions, the whole thing was questions. Raising a hand to ask something specific seemed just redundant. The point was to live in the questions because the answers are so various.