Hippies, Beatniks and Occupiers

Hippies, Beatniks and Occupiers!  What do they all have in common?  Young people who are or were challenging the status quo.  Do you know any 80 year old hippies or beatniks?  You might perhaps but I bet they are a real anachronism.  It takes youth, optimism, hope and a certain naiveté to challenge the system and to actually believe you can change things.  William James said about change:  “I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride.”  Hippies and Beatniks and Occupiers are all about this kind of change.  
Beatniks (1948 -1968) had their primary spokesperson in Jack Kerouac (died 1969) who in his book “On the Road” documented a sort of spiritual quest for the meaning of life.  Kerouac wrote: “It is because I am Beat, that is, I believe in beatitude and that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son to it… Who knows, but that the universe is not one vast sea of compassion actually, the veritable holy honey, beneath all this show of personality and cruelty?”[6]   
Beatniks wanted to find a life of meaning and compassion in a world they rejected due to war, prejudice and inhumanity.  Many found their solace in drugs, anti-conformist dress and speech and by simply “dropping” out.   Nearly a decade later the beatnik movement had morphed into the Hippie Movement.  Both Beatniks and Hippies have been satirized and caricatured mercilessly by the media who have depicted them as spaced out drug nuts or weird college students sporting tied-dyed shirts and peace symbols.  Nevertheless, the actual values espoused by these movements merit consideration.
Hippies summarized their values in the famous dictum “Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out.”   Turn On meant to activate your higher consciousness which many attempted through the use of drugs and psychedelic substances.  Tune In meant to interact harmoniously with the world around you and Drop Out meant to find a sense of self-reliance, a discovery of choice and change.  Taken all together, this dictum represented a worthwhile set of goals, even if we reject the means that many used to achieve them.  Ironically, it was the drug usage that turned most of mainstream society against the hippies and beatniks.  I say ironically, because in America today, (I can’t speak for the rest of the world) we are one big drug crazed society.  Even if you subtract the amount of illicit drugs being consumed daily in the USA, consider the following and then tell me we have a “War on Drugs.”   
  • Alcohol use
  • Prescription drug use for anti-depression, sexual virility, mood elevation.
  • Nicotine for stimulation
  • Caffeine in coffee, tea and soda for stimulation
  • Guarana, Taurine and a host of other “herbal” drugs used in all manner of energy drinks. 
The Occupy Movement is a newer version of the Hippie movement.  Occupiers are young, idealistic and socially motivated to end greed and to close the gap between the rich and the poor.  The movement has spread across the entire globe and has taken place in over 95 cities in 82 countries.  The Occupy Movement has adopted the slogan “We are the 99% “to represent their identification with the majority of the world which earns considerably less than the top 1%.  The Occupy Movement has adopted many of the tenets of non-violent social protest in an attempt to agitate for a set of laws which will lead to a more just distribution of wealth.
OK, you now may know less or more about Hippies, Beatniks and Occupiers than you really wanted to know.  In each case, I would argue they were movements mostly by youth and inspired by a vision of a better world.  In each case, I would argue a movement leavened with a certain amount of frustration and impatience.  We “older” people know you cannot change things overnight.  We “older” people know that drugs cannot effect permanent change.  In each case, movements that seem to be almost automatically rejected by mainstream society.  Is it because of the inertia that we “older” people have or is it that too many of us “older” people are members of the 1%?  Or do we simply reject the idea that the values of young people ever have anything to teach us “older” people.
I think in too many cases, we reject the values of youth because they do not match the mainstream or traditional values of society.  We reject change when it comes from those we consider too immature or inexperienced enough to teach us “older” people anything.  What do these young folks know?  We forget that they will inherit the earth and that each generation must accept and build upon the values of the previous generation as well as the values of the current generation.  Progress cannot be achieved either by mindlessly rejecting the values of the past or mindlessly rejecting the values of the present and the future.  Change is the only constant in the universe. 
What can we learn from the youth today?  What can we learn from the Occupy Movement?  Where have we discarded our idealism?  Are we so cynical that we have rejected the idea of change?  Do we really want to see a better world or are we happy with the status quo?  What would it take for us to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem?

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