I recall a photograph, taken in the late 1960s or early ’70s, during some sort of protest (it could have been anywhere, about pretty much anything, given the high level of unrest). A rank of soldiers stood in full combat gear, rifle barrels pointed straight up in front of their faces. They were at attention, with firm expressions, eyes forward. A slim, beautiful hippie chick faced one of the soldiers and was sliding the stem of a daisy down the barrel of his gun. She had been working her way down the rank, performing the same gesture with each soldier’s rifle, as they stood fast without reaction.
I was a member of her tribe back then: a peace-loving, pot-smoking, long-haired hippie revolutionary. I was age 17 or so, and still in high school in a small Midwestern town. It was “Revolutionary Lite,” as advertising might put it today. The photo summed up much of what we counterculture visionaries believed: Give Peace a Chance; Make Love, Not War; the Age of Aquarius. . . .
The girl’s tender, innocent gesture seemed so powerful when deployed against the intimidating might of the soldiers. She was the face of our fight against the rigidity and repression of society’s Judeo-Christian morality, looming military-industrial complex, tight-sphinctered, hawkish, unimaginative conservative leaders, and the greedy fat cats who secretly ran the whole mess while enriching themselves.
Underpinning the whole protest movement was a wholesale rejection of stifling, repressive (we thought), unthinking (we decided), pro forma middle-class morality. We intended to shake the rigid framework of establishment conformity, pull it down to rubble and lay claim to our right to unbridled self-expression and guilt-free sex. While we were at it, we would free people of color, end racism and poverty, and liberate women from the forced sexual slavery of the obsolete, patriarchal institution of marriage.
We had opened our minds to ideas our parents were incapable of grasping, too square to accept. We were going to unleash a wave of drug-fueled creativity unseen in human history, generously slathered with Harmony and Understanding, according to a song from a popular Broadway play featuring gratuitous nudity.
From Free Love to Control Freaks
Forty-five years later: By this time, we had instituted a wildly successful pogrom in higher education, eliminating most of the conservative faculty and driving the rest underground. We ran amok, instituting freethinking, progressive reforms at every level of the system. “Real change” takes time, but we were in it for the long haul, and dedicated ourselves to endure the grind of teaching two classes a week, cocaine-fueled orgies, and the ceaseless parsing of curriculum into unrecognizable snippets such as Post-Woodstock Transgender Inuit Long-Form Cinema Studies.
Gradually, new codes of conduct were instituted to ensure everyone was comfortable at all times. Brad must ask Heather if it’s cool to reach under her blouse. Heather is deeply offended and carries a giant foam hand on campus for the next month. (Curiously, the foam hand ended up in a starring role at the Video Music Awards later that year.) Before you can say “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” the flower people had transformed our universities and colleges into the most rigid, closed-minded, repressive, unthinking, tight-sphinctered…whoa. What the hell happened?
It gets worse. The enlightened former freaks who now inhabit these campuses have become increasingly hypersensitive and nasty, spitting tacks at people for all manner of imaginary crimes such as “cultural appropriation.” Recently, a white guy got hammered for wearing dreadlocks. This is deeply ironic because, as I recall, we hippies were masters of cultural appropriation. Hookahs, Nehru jackets, bead curtains, reggae, Eastern religions, sitar music, Tibetan prayer flags, chakras, ethnic food, dashikis, Rasta shoulder bags, ironically worn military apparel, mandalas, henna tattoos, muumuus, hand-woven Guatemalan tunics, pyramid power, Maori tattoos, macramé — excuse me for a moment, I think I’m having an acid flashback. Trails, beautiful trails. . . .
Ahem. Apparently, this appropriation business has become big business. Visit one of the hippie apparel shops online and pick up a Native American Dream Catcher necklace or a Kathmandu boho sling bag. Maybe a nice African thumb piano, or a pair of Cambodian water buffalo sandals — just “add to cart” and check out with your Amex Platinum card. The people who are griping about these outrages support entire industries based on cultural appropriation.
We Hate Marriage, So More People Need to Have It
Over on the legal battleground, the Supreme Court recently decided that marriage, which, we will recall, is a form of institutionalized misogynist sexual exploitation, is also a fundamental human right, and should be available to any two humans who want to get matrimonial. That’s okay with me: I believe our society will benefit from more stable relationships, whomever the participants.
But that’s not good enough for sore winners. Now clergy will be forced by law to perform marriages for same-sex couples. While it’s still perfectly legal for a Presbyterian minister to decline to marry a couple of heterosexual Methodists simply because they aren’t members of the congregation, he will be committing a crime if he refuses to perform nuptials for two dudes who are shopping for a ceremonial backdrop. Here’s another loose end: If two women get married, which one is getting sexually exploited?
Then there’s the “cake issue.” Evidently, if a same-sex couple wants to have a wedding reception, the blessed ceremony loses a bit of its panache if they didn’t get to force a Christian to make their cake against his beliefs. Do you really want someone who opposes what you are doing to make your wedding cake? God knows what could be in there. “Anyone for a slice of White Almond Chiffon with loogies?” Of course, a gay baker would never be forced to make desserts for the Westboro Baptist Church. Nor would they ask.
In an even more cynical episode in recent news, a professor of journalism was fired for inciting violence against a . . . wait for it . . . journalist, who was covering a campus protest. For practicing journalism, in other words. Apparently, she was unable to see the irony of the situation and was given the boot. One has to despair for the careers of her students. In the wide universe of news organizations, their job prospects will be limited to MSNBC and HuffPo. Despair not, cubs, sooner or later Rachel Maddow will accidentally perceive a causal relationship correctly, and there will be an opening.
When Aggrieved People Get Power
Wheeling back to our hippie chick flowering rifles. This took place during a campus protest that was obviously also attended by soldiers. With guns. And bullets. As we witnessed at Kent State, these situations can get out of hand. On today’s campuses, however, they’re getting worked up over “microaggressions” and “triggers.” A bullet in the spine is aggression. And there was a real trigger involved at Kent.
Meanwhile, at Emory University, some fascist from outside the perimeter jumped the razor wire and wrote “Trump 2016” on the sidewalk in chalk — a situation that could easily be remediated with a bucket of water. Instead, the student government allocated emergency funding for counseling sessions, and the college administration issued the usual limp apologies and assurances. Students were afraid to attend classes because they might sit near someone with a different worldview. One student at another college demanded that a pro-life student be moved as far from her as possible in the classroom, otherwise she would be incapable of learning. It sounds as if she already is.
Today’s outraged, privileged, fragile snowflakes conjure up utterly trivial nonsense to consider as an affront: microaggression. This can include using the wrong one of more than 50 gender pronouns, sideways glances, snort-chuckling, eye rolling, resigned sighing, and even merely existing in proximity to a person with raw sensitivity. Sorry to get too linguistically nitpicky (that’s Noam Chomsky’s territory), but shouldn’t behavior be required to attain a certain level of intensity to earn the term “aggression”? What’s next— nanoaggression? Will kindness be re-categorized as “negative aggression” and become another form of effrontery?
What we’ve learned from this process, is when aggrieved people— even peace-loving flower children— acquire power, they invariably turn into oppressors as horrible as, or worse than, the tyrants they replaced. This is how we have come to witness the spectacle of a white guy with dreadlocks being assaulted by a black woman wearing Bob Marley flip-flops, neither of whom is a Rastafarian or Jamaican.
Where have all the hippies gone?
Gone for tyrants, every one.
When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?
And what of the hippie chick? The photo I so clearly recall was actually taken in October 1967 during a antiwar demonstration near the Pentagon. The “flowerista” was a young man, the rifles were pointed at him — not up — and the flowers were carnations. Further, the soldiers were not in a rank but forming a semicircle around a group of protesters, and some of the soldiers were removing the flowers.
This means I was actually 14 years old, in the eighth grade and hadn’t yet become a hippie, which sheds some light on how all this could have gone so wrong. People like me are running our institutions of higher learning. These are people whose policies are based on beliefs and memories formed by drug-addled teenagers 50 years ago. These beliefs are vivid, strongly held, and almost all the details are wrong.