The Big Bang Cultural Transformation
CHAPTER 4 SUBHEADINGS
The Big Bang That Revolutionized American Culture
In this chapter we will explore the combination of elements that transformed our culture and government. We will concentrate on the liberal ideas and influence, but we will also enlarge and deepen our knowledge of other philosophies that contributed to the confusion of the times.
We have seen how the industrial philosophies were used to impair the public philosophy. There is another philosophy that designed the ideas embraced and espoused by liberals. The Romantic philosophy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries provided the basis for the liberal or progressive movement of the twentieth century. It competed with Judeo/Christian and Enlightenment ideas for two centuries before becoming the dominant philosophy. It took from the 1960s to the end of the 1970s for Romantic ideas to move from a secondary to a primary position in the American consciousness. The Romantic, liberal philosophy, along with other amazingly diverse ideas and events collided during those years, rather like the big bang theory of creation. Various social, psychological, philosophical, circumstantial, communication and historical elements collided in the 1960s-creating a new, dominant worldview in American culture.
The cultural big bang produced a new mixture of traditional and Romantic/liberal ideas, with the Romantic/liberal ones taking precedence. This new cultural worldview replaced the traditional, moral value system that was inseparably intertwined with American secular institutions. This new culture provided new food or moral laws and principles for the conscience. These new values have been deficient in their power to restrain and correct the wicked tendencies in human nature. Consciences have grown ignorant of right and wrong and have hardened.
One of the major elements in the big bang, which formed this new American culture, was the Romantic philosophy. European Romanticism had it roots in eighteenth century Europe. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) originated this philosophical attack on the western civilization. Other Romantic philosophers continued developing romantic ideas over the next century. This philosophy helped broaden the scope of government to include more of "the people." It was the philosophical spirit behind the French Revolution.
Although many in Europe still extol the virtues of the French Revolution, the freedom it obtained often expressed itself in anarchy. Many heads literally rolled in the first years of the revolution with repeated overthrows of one government after another, concluding with the rise of the charismatic dictator/emperor, Napoleon. The French never succeeded in forming a completely stable government until after World War II.
In contrast, the American Revolution provided a much more balanced, long-term form of democracy. Its ideas of republican democracy were drawn from the colonial, democratic heritage developed under the Puritan compacts and from the ideas of government formulated by Enlightenment philosophers. In spite of these major influences, the American Revolution was also inspired by some of the Romantic ideas. Many elements of Romantic philosophy have stirred the American imagination since the eighteenth century, continuing alongside and in the shadow of Judeo/Christian and Enlightenment thought. Transcendentalists and Mark Twain expressed Romantic ideas in their writings. "In the United States, our intellectual traditions include on the one side Cotton Mather, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton, with their suspicions of instinctive human nature, and on the other, Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, with their trust in the 'holiness of the heart's affections.' "
The Romantic philosophy was built upon a completely different interpretation of human nature than America's traditional world-view. As mentioned above, the public philosophy was based on the view that human nature was a mixture of good and evil. The Romantic philosophical tradition was built on a belief in the goodness of human nature and everything natural. Because human nature and nature was seen as good, there were certain logical conclusions that followed from this premise: nature is superior to civilization; man's animal nature is more innocent than his rational nature; nature or the earth should be preserved and protected; instincts; feelings and impulses should not be restrained, but cultivated and set free. Consequently, structure and order hinder the expression of natural, creative impulses. Man, especially the common man, is made perfect in the state of nature. Each individual should be allowed to achieve personal fulfillment through freedom from civil laws, societal institutions, and norms.
Romantic philosophers extolled native cultures because modern civilization was the cause of violence and selfish behavior. To them, civilized man had fallen from innocence through his concentration on possessions, unnatural work, societal institutions, superficial manners and norms, and intellectual pursuits. "The idea that civilization has a corrupting rather than a benign, uplifting, virtue-enhancing effect on the young child is a distinct contribution of European Romanticism to American thought."
Their initial premise that human nature is good leads to certain conclusions. For example, the laws and norms of society are unnecessary, causing superficiality and hypocrisy. Humans do not need absolute, moral guidelines; customs and traditions; religious, social and governmental institutions; and consequences for wrong behavior. In a just and fair society people, out of their innate goodness, will be good, fair and loving. Children need to be raised in a free (permissive), healthy, creative environment, and they will define and reveal their educational needs (liberal educational theory), and behave properly. By restoring children to their natural setting and allowing them to be ruled by their instincts and emotions, they will obtain happiness and receive fulfillment. A further logical conclusion is that since instincts and natural impulses are good, the sexual instincts and impulses of the human body are good and natural as well. Sex should be freely expressed outside the institution of marriage and not repressed by moral beliefs that lead to unnatural inhibitions. These conclusions are obviously becoming the norm for American culture.
These Romantic ideas were clearly at the root of the choices Hippies made in the late 1960s to live together, and with nature, communally and harmoniously and to follow their natural, sexual instincts. The Hippie Movement, with its subsequent influence, was like a tsunami wave of Romantic ideas that had been building in force throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Suddenly, it bursts into every area of American life. What had been formulated and followed for centuries by some intellectual, artistic, celebrity, business, and political elites now surged into the public consciousness. People began to question the superiority of civilized life over primitive, natural existence without knowing the philosophical source for these questions.
When I was living in the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the Summer of Love of 1967, this Romantic philosophy became a reality. I saw fifteen-year-old girls running around with bells on and barefoot, giving themselves to any man or boy that wanted them. It was free love. I saw the guilty looks on the faces of the men as they took advantage of these girls' drug-enhanced naivete. They conveniently adopted the free love philosophy, helping to unplug the consciences of these girls. One girl must have had sex with fifteen different men in the span of a couple hours. Each one came out of her room with an embarrassed smirk on his face. One young man said sheepishly that maybe she was sick and probably a nymphomaniac, but that didn't stop him. Sadly, this lifestyle and its cultural ideals were romanticized and promoted by the media in the following years, producing the immoral conduct, sexually and otherwise, that we presently see.
This philosophy was recognizable in Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky as well. Clinton was impulsive, lacking self-control. As a baby-boomer, he was raised with Romantic ideals about sexual freedom. He was a product of the Romantic ideas incorporated into liberal, modern thinking. He and Lewinsky followed what to them were natural, sexual instincts and impulses. Neither felt shame for their actions until they were caught. Then, they felt shame because of the emotion and shock of the media and reactions of moral citizens rather than shame for having done something wrong. Why else would Clinton feel self-righteous and justified in his attack on those who were judging and accusing him?
He had to have been conditioned by the general feeling in elite, liberal circles that sexual liberation is a positive accomplishment resulting from the moral questioning that happened at the end of the 1960s. During that time, drugs and free love became normal, acceptable behavior by many Americans. Vivid sexual scenes became common in movies and one-night stands were regularly presented as normal, amoral behavior. Today, very few parents have influence with their children, if it is their desire, to convince them they should abstain from sex until they are married. The societal attitude is that anyone who abstains from sex until marriage is inhibited and unnatural. This attitude is a complete reversal of the societal attitude present in the fifties and previously.
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Hippie Movement Contributes To The Big Bang
Most Americans critical of our present culture point to the 1960s and the values of the Hippies as the beginning of our national, moral decline and cultural revolution. In actuality, the Hippie Movement expressed a worldview that had been germinating for more than two centuries. Who were the Hippies? Where did they come from? The Hippies were partly created by middle class access to a college education in the 1950s and 1960s. Large number of families, who had never had a college graduate, much less a high school graduate, suddenly had the opportunity to send their children to college. The huge middle class that came into existence after World War II inundated colleges with their children. For the first time in the history of the U.S., large numbers of its population were introduced into political, historical, philosophical and scientific thought earlier restricted to the aristocratic class.
These first generation college students entered a world previously unknown to their numbers. They entered this educational world with naivete and idealism. Since their parents did not possess the same knowledge they acquired, they lost respect for their parents. As they discovered the injustices and imperfections in the American system, they reacted with anger. Being less educated than their children, parents were not able to filter out any exaggerated and deceptive criticisms of American society. Yet, these new middle class college students did not have the life-experience to judge what they were being taught. College enhanced their ability to discover injustice in the society, but it did not give them the wisdom on how to best overcome these injustices. Instead, they headed out into unknown waters with a deep rage at injustice, which they turned against everything traditional.
These students directed their rage at the older generation, including their parents, and judged them to be hypocrites. They were being taught the American values of equality, freedom and justice, but they did not see their parents and government fulfilling these values. This perceived disconnection between values and actions caused the young to become disillusioned with authority. They became opponents of "The Establishment." In the process of rejecting the way of life and authority of the capitalist values, they rejected the traditions of civility that had defined the culture of the United States since its founding. In their minds being good and moral came to mean helping the disadvantaged, minorities, and mistreated rather than possessing traditional character qualities. Other moral principles, such as honesty, respect, sexual virtue, and responsibility; could be sacrificed to create a more just society. Their anger and rebellion set the stage for a small number of these students to join forces and begin the Hippie Movement.
Besides the contribution of college education to the Hippie Movement, there were other factors building up through the years. There was the Romantic philosophy mentioned above. Also, the increase of materialism and prosperity made American youth perceive the culture as shallow and empty. In reality, they were sensing the weakening of the public philosophy. They felt there had to be more to life than material success, but they did not know where to look for a more idealistic purpose. Many young people decided to drop out of society because they saw injustice towards minorities, distrusted the reasons for the Vietnam War, experienced the death of unselfish idealism in the death of John F. Kennedy, and developed a deep distrust for their parents and their government.
The Hippies went further than the Beatniks, who were the critics of America during the forties and fifties. They went beyond their criticism by dropping out of the consumer culture. "Dropping out" meant rejecting most traditional values. Hippies: refused to work; shared their homes, food, clothes, everything with anyone who needed it; lived communally; bathed less often to avoid the perceived Western obsession with cleanliness; appreciated nature; embraced the more passive, non-aggressive Eastern religions; free love (sex); and using hallucinogenic drugs to expand the mind. The Hippies "dropped out" of caring about the common good, the larger society, and, instead, started to concentrate on personal relationships and their own self-fulfillment. To them, civilized society and traditional values had suppressed individual decency. They sought to discover and liberate their natural goodness and innocence through drug experimentation and uniting with nature. They were definitely part of the Romantic element that altered American culture.
Moral norms were slowly and universally tossed aside after the Hippie revolution of the late 1960s. Although in proportion to the total youth population the number of participants was small, the Hippie ideals and lifestyle took deep root in the psyche and consciousness of all young people of that generation-what has come to be called the baby-boomer generation. Is it any wonder that the baby-boomers are the generation that has moved this nation into a culture dominated by Romantic ideas instead of the traditional Judeo/Christian and Enlightenment ideas?
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Personal Reflections On The Hippie Movement
I first lived in San Francisco in the summer of 1964. I stayed with my sister while I was waiting to enter a Catholic convent in Santa Barbara. When I got off the train, a friend welcomed me by asking if I wanted to drop "acid" that night with her and her friends. A chemist from Los Angeles had brought up sugar cubes laced with LSD. LSD was still legal at the time, but I opted to be a guide. That was my introduction to the drug that was going to help transform the Haight-Ashbury by the summer of 1967.
My friend and her companions were a young group of Beatniks; they knew Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouak who were their older mentors. They were actually part of a group that would help make the transition from Beatniks to Hippies. I spent the summer being a guide on a number of acid (LSD) trips and hanging out with Beatniks who smoked "pot" or "weed" and criticized the materialistic way of life of Americans. Kennedy had just been killed the previous November, and his death had a definite effect on encouraging further feelings of disappointment and despair.
Since I had been a hopeful idealist when Kennedy became president, his death was a deep shock for me. I felt powerless to really help our country by entering government; therefore I decided to serve people by becoming a nun and a teacher. I remained in the convent for two years. The order I was in was going through upheavals over the modern changes imposed by Pope John XXIII. I left amidst this confusion and disorder, having no idea what to do with my life. My sister had sent me articles about the changes occurring in the Haight in San Francisco. These articles explained the decision Hippies were making to drop out of society because they felt powerless to change it. In my state of confusion and despair, I felt drawn to investigate the movement.
I rented an apartment a few blocks from the Haight-Ashbury district. I ventured over there, meeting a few people. At the time, the summer of 1966, it was a community based on sharing and giving. The ideas were communist, and its leaders believed in the goodness of human nature. If you had clothes, food, home, and drugs, you shared them with those who were lacking these things. In other words, those who had, shared with those who did not have. It was a complete reversal of the perceived materialism in America. The Diggers, a group of Hippies with altruistic motives, provided a free lunch every day in the park. They used old food given to them by the markets. The free medical clinic was established. Wonderful San Francisco bands played for free every weekend in the park. The goal was to drop out of this narrow, stifling, materialistic society and create a new society of love, peace, and sharing. "Acid" and "weed" were used to expand the mind outside of the narrow materialistic plane imposed by middle class American.
Sex was seen as a natural instinct that should be practiced freely and without inhibitions. Free love was a way to throw off what the Hippies perceived to be the twisted view of sex and the human body held by our Puritan ancestors. Once my husband and I visited a nearby commune in which people walked around naked smoking weed and hashish. Men and women there had multiple sexual partners. They had deadened their consciences and minds as part of an effort to remove shame from having sex freely. It was all very idealistic, animalistic and naïve.
I was in my mid-twenties and had done a lot of thinking about life when I became involved in the Hippie movement. I was not one of the fifteen and sixteen year olds who ran away from home. I did not agree with the emphasis on eastern religions or the sexual ideas-I was still a Christian-but I definitely felt an affinity to the Hippies' desire to drop out of society. I was happy to meet people who felt the same disappointments and the same disillusionment. I had begun to write poetry, so I entered into the scene with the role of a writer. The magic of those days lasted until the summer of 1967. As soon as that summer hit, things began to go downhill.
All of the excesses of the movement attracted what appeared to be every taker and user in the nation. Young people, pimps, drug dealers, the Mafia, fakes, and phonies all descended on the Haight-Ashbury. The selfish part of human nature came into prominence and free love became lust and lasciviousness. Drug use grew into addictions. Hippie drug dealers were killed by professionals. Women became sexual objects. New arrivals began stealing from homes provided for them for free, and violent people were attracted like leeches looking for fresh blood.
I was married by the summer of 1967 and living on Ashbury Street with my husband. During our first few months there, we were thrown into jail without any cause. A person "crashing" in our "pad" attacked my husband and chased him down the street trying to kill him. The minds of some of our good friends and relatives slipped away, never to return. The FBI raided all of the apartments in our apartment house, and the apartment house we lived in was shut down for code violations.
That was the final outcome of the Haight-Ashbury district and the Hippie experience. What had begun as an experiment in love, deteriorated to an obsession with drugs and sex. The lower nature won over the higher nature. The Hippie Movement was not the one glorified in the press. If there was ever an example of a society needing order and traditions of civility, it was the Hippie society. I watched it fall apart. I watched friends fall apart. It was not long after of the summer of 1967 that violence broke out, and the Bank of America boarded up and then moved out.
What truly amazes me is the number of ideals of the Hippie movement that have been adopted by the larger, American society. The Hippie principles of free love, the importance of self-fulfillment, universal drug use, the idealistic view of human nature, and communistic spirit of meeting everyone's needs have become part of American culture. The failure of this experiment should have shown liberals, who have become the promoters of these ideals, that these ideas and practices do not work. Instead, through glorification by the media, these ideals have increasingly determined governmental policies and our moral code. Consequently, we are increasingly experiencing the breakdown of order, just as the Hippies did. Our government, politicians, and liberal special interests have not changed their agenda on seeing the breakdown of social order. Instead, the solution to disorder and violence has become the increase of laws, jails, and police.
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