Counter-Cultural Counter-Revolutionaries

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“NEVER LET A GOOD CRISIS go to waste” has become something of a cliché in contemporary political writing. The thing about clichés, however, is that they become clichés by describing real situations succinctly and effectively. The current Covid-19 crisis, for example, has aroused the ire of those who reject the idea that enjoying the benefits of human society incurs a reciprocal obligation to preserve its wellbeing. Often associated with the Left, this rights-based, libertarian impulse actually sits more comfortably with the Right. Certainly, the Far Right has shamelessly exploited the Covid-19 crisis to pull a depressingly large number of confused libertarian leftists down goodness knows how many phantasmagorical rabbit-holes.

To clarify this proposition, it helps to recall the curious phenomenon conjured-up by the word “hippy”. Conservatives loathed and detested “hippies” on account of their rejection of the buttoned-down world of the early-1960s. The era which the makers of the television series “Mad Men” evoked so powerfully. With their long-hair, beads, headbands, free-love, drugs, crash-pads and communes, the radically non-conformist hippies appeared to be rejecting the American Dream in toto. But were they really the counter-cultural revolutionaries the mainstream news media proclaimed?

Consider the classic hippy formula, “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out” – attributed to the guru of LSD, Dr Timothy Leary.

Rejectionist though it most certainly was, Leary’s formula was utterly inadequate to the challenge of building something enduring to replace the “rat-race” that was capitalist America. Like the Romantic Movement of the early nineteenth century, from which the hippies drew so much inspiration, the Counter-Culture of the 1960s and 70s was a reaction to the transformational impact of the rapid technological change. Rationalism and science were in the driver’s seat, and there no longer seemed to be any social space for spontaneity, creativity, intuition – or fun.

But fun has its limits, and capitalism doesn’t. Dropping out, when it didn’t end in addiction and criminality (like Charles Manson’s murderous “Family”) almost always saw the hippies take one of two roads: either back into the rat-race, or, off into what Karl Marx would have called the petit-bourgeoisie. Small businesses selling “whole-foods”, pottery, furniture, or (if the small business was bad) a little home-grown weed, swallowed up the hippy “movement”, leaving only a peculiar social sub-set devoted to “doing their own thing”. Refugees from the dominant culture: suspicious of, if not downright hostile to, the demands of “Society” and “The Man”.

Old hippies could be relied upon to react antagonistically to the demands of collectivities of all kinds. Not only to the collectivism represented by the state and its institutions, but also the collectivism of the working-class. These small business people were no friends of the Tax Man, but they distrusted the trade unions more. The communities inhabited by ex-hippies were, first and foremost, collections of individuals. Places where “characters” could enjoy their “freedom from” the demands of society, living “close to nature” without interference.

Now, if this summary of the ageing hippy’s convictions strikes you as having a lot in common with the young libertarian capitalist in his high-rise apartment, then that may not be entirely accidental. At the root of both ideologies lies the deep-seated fear of being swallowed up by the inescapable expectations and obligations of social existence. That both thought-systems represent an infantile and potentially dangerous refusal to recognise the claims of other human-beings, in no way lessens their appeal. For such individuals, the attraction of negative liberty – the absence of constraint – has always been irresistible.

For the libertarian capitalist, the opportunities for evading social constraints are, understandably, considerable. (What else are lawyers and accountants for?) For the ageing hippy, the enjoyment of negative liberty often entails rejecting the claims of reason and science, along with the social and political expectations derived from them. It is but a small step from “leave me alone” to “you can’t tell me what to do”. In normal circumstances, these evasions of responsibility, while corrosive, are not critically so. In times of crisis, however, when both the problem and its solution are rooted in collective activity, any rejection of social obligation is fraught with danger.

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The libertarian capitalist, pulling all the levers at his disposal to secure the freeing of the economy from Covid-19 restrictions, will make allies wherever he can. The ageing hippies, with their lifelong hostility towards the horrors of Big Science, and the dangerous concoctions of Big Pharma, fit the bill nicely. With their preference for living “close to nature”, the state’s public health demands for mask-wearing, social-distancing and mass vaccination are all-too-easily construed as evidence of the iron fist of tyrannical government they have spent their entire lives trying to escape.

Snugly ensconced in their on-line communities, where individual obsessions all-too-easily become comforting prejudices, these sad old hippies are easily recruited to the libertarian capitalists’ invaluable fifth column – the Anti-Vaxxers. Negative liberty, thus weaponised, is translated into the language of “rights” and “choice”.

That the true definition of humanity: creatures born with individual rights and social obligations; would be forgotten in this rabbit-warren of selfishness was as inevitable as it is tragic.

27 COMMENTS

  1. “the Far Right has shamelessly exploited the Covid-19 crisis to pull a depressingly large number of confused libertarian leftists down goodness knows how many phantasmagorical rabbit-holes.”
    That is indeed what looks to have happened to many young folk as I have witnessed with our own offspring. They support and will vote for ACT which makes pipsqueak see-less there new God. IMHO the most dangerous politician we have. ACT’s Policies are unknown to this group, all they see is pipsqueak going on about loss of freedom and they are in! All the while his constant message to this flock is to undermine the Govt response, only for his political gain, nothing more. Of course the messaging is indirect and subversive, but not lost on those looking for it. I guess a high % of this flock are the AV.

    • Libertarianism is binary with Anarchism; no government. It wasn’t a Leftist position back when Moscow was utopianist monolithic.

    • “They support and will vote for ACT which makes pipsqueak see-less there new God.”

      Probably time you updated your last Will and Testament @Greenbus. Property Rights, Personal Responsibility, I-I-I-me-me-me, and all that.
      You too can become an In-flu-wincer even if it’s after you’ve karked it. And if they owe you anything, call in the debt now and give it to TDB or the Sallies or Vinnies or UTU

  2. Thank you Chris, your earnest search for commonality among the, let’s say, “vaccine resistant” makes some good points. As Jordan Peterson says, we’ve forgotten the truth that “your rights are someone else’s responsibility”
    We’ve long been inculcated with the notion of individual autonomy, the “my body my choice” mantra. Perhaps that’s the root of the dissent. How do we overcome that? More pertinently, do we really want to?

    Here’s a fascinating essay (with quite a lot on the New Zealand situation) looking at the left’s motivations and history over the vaccination issue.
    Excerpt:
    “Before the pandemic, resistance to vaccinations in the US was fairly evenly divided between Left and Right, at least according to polling data. But the reasons were different, and telling. Conservatives were more likely to believe that vaccination should be the choice of a patient or parent, while leftists were more likely to embrace conspiracy nonsense. Many of the movement’s most ardent conspiracy-mongers were progressives and the largest pockets of anti-vaccine sentiment were in liberal US counties. The 2015 California measles outbreak, for instance, began in the wealthy, liberal enclave of Marin County, and the progressive San Francisco collar counties were the hotbed of opposition to the California law—passed in 2016 as measles cases soared—banning personal belief exemptions for children entering kindergarten.

    As the left-wing publication Mother Jones noted last year:

    The loudest [anti-vax] voices came from politically liberal, mostly white, and affluent enclaves—think famously hippie places like Marin County, California, or Boulder, Colorado—where parents worried about the side effects of what they perceive as toxins in vaccines. Anti-vaxxers in these places tended to pride themselves on the purity of their lifestyles—they bought organic groceries, railed against genetically modified food, and were suspicious of the electromagnetic waves emitted by cell phones.”
    https://quillette.com/2021/10/21/vaccine-rejectionism-and-the-left/

    • But also some of the highest non-vaccinated states in the US are ones with a culture of outdoors rugged individualism, huntin shootin fishin like Montana and Alaska. It’s not all affluent liberals or hippies.

      Some other interesting articles on the confluence between hippies and the far right over vaccinations (reflecting earlier confluence between aspects of fascism and hippydom).
      It’s shocking to see so many leftwingers lured to the far right by conspiracy theories, George Monbiot –
      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/22/leftwingers-far-right-conspiracy-theories-anti-vaxxers-power
      How the wellness and influencer crowd serve conspiracies to the masses
      https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/feb/25/how-the-wellness-and-influencer-crowd-served-conspiracies-to-the-masses

      I think some of Trotter’s statements, as usual, are sweeping polemical denunciations from an orthodox social democrat and tend to lack precision and especially in-depth research. For example, I don’t know of any other left libertarians who have gone to the anti-vax far right. I think some lifestyle anarchists could have, but they were not on the left to begin with. I have met some old hippies who are anti-vax and have gone into the far right rabbit hole, but they were already going there before covid, and I wouldn’t call them left libertarians (indeed, they explicitly reject socialism including libertarian socialism). (and please don’t ask why a Marxist occasionally reads the liberal paper the guardian).

      • Cheers, mugwump, that Manibot essay was discussed and linked in the Quillette essay I posted above. Manibot (who has been wrong on all his predictions) can’t deflect from his own influence in this. He has long ranted against bio-tech and GMOs, the very issues that directly conflict with these GMO vaccines. He’s a hypocrite and a fool.
        Yes, The Guardian has lost all credibility, I can’t imagine why anyone would bother with it, Marxist or not. Predictable, and boring and wrong. Their current obsession with the belief that a man can become a woman by imagining it is so is another sign of their pathological derangement and delusion.

  3. I can understand the anti establishment thought processes that feed the “ this is my life and I’ll do what I want “ attitude. I can also understand the fear factor many have with taking the vaccine. I give this Government a lot of credit showing some balls and sticking with the no jab no job mandate in principle. I take all those credits away for this governments complete lack of action that has led to the Virus now being in Christchurch. These losers were able to travel unvaccinated from Auckland to the South Island. They had Covid. Once again the Government’s short sighted no and slow getting anything done actions has led to the possibility of Christchurch being shut down this week. They are just fucking useless.

  4. Glad to see what others are noting what I have been noticing for a while. Before Covid and vaccinations, there was/is the Ban 1080 movement which included many an artist, old hippy, anti-establishment or alternative person. I saw this movement as an expression of the intellectual bankruptcy of the counter-culture movement. Even more so when it comes to Covid and vaccines. I was into the counter culture movement in the 1970s and still consider it to be an integral part of my being. But I could also see beyond what many of my family, friends and workmates see, which is that sometimes you have to be a part of the collective and work together. I would have somewhere between 15 and 20 people I personally know who aren’t getting vaccinated including Christians, old hippies, alternative medicine exponents, and artists/musicians. Nothing wrong innately with any of these positions/vocations but sometimes you have to see the bigger picture as well.

  5. Individual rights AND social obligations. Now, there’s a rational idea.

    Wonder what James KB or Bruno Lawrence would have thought of all this. God bless their departed souls. When I think of iconic hippies of my own youth I think of these guys. Probably misplaced as James K much my senior in he 70’s and was more of a Catholic mystic poet (but didn’t he look and play the part – a true prophet for those disillusioned with the growing materialism of the time). And Bruno, also a liitle my senior, well, he was just Bruno, a talented muscian and actor who was right in the middle of it all.

    But yes there were a minority who moved to the Hokianga, living off-grid in a lean-to, sprouting beans and consulting the i-Ching, Tarot cards or crystals. Some no doubt turned a life choice into a small business opportunity. You have a nice turn of phrase Chris when invoking ‘the deep-seated fear of being swallowed up by the inescapable expectations and obligations of social existence’. The absence of constraint was indeed irresistible for these folk. And, yes, with it, the ‘potentially dangerous refusal to recognise the claims of other human-beings’.

    I like the analogy with the contemporary libertarian capitalist. On the money.

  6. Ha ! That was interesting.
    I’ve known more than one or two ‘hippies’. The single most defining thing I discovered about hippies was their intelligence. Hippies were, and presumably still are, especially intelligent people. They’re eccentric, compared to the average pink and cleaner but then that’s the job of the average. To be pink and clean. Bastions of normalcy. The normals trudged out of the birth canal, slouched to school hoping for average grades, had gray friends that no one remembered, they married similarly average girls and/or boys, had dumb grey kids, dotted their little eyes and crossed their hollow hearts in hope of redemption upon their all bought and paid for death. ” ’cause that’s where the good life is! You just have to die to get to it.”
    When I read this, this morning? I now yearn for a hippie more than ever.
    ( You read any Gilbert Shelton? The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy’s cat? Remember the cops? They all had snouts? The cops were famous for saying, when they stopped a hippy ” …jus’ lookin’ for that there Maryjewana…Hey boy!? You a hippy or a Werewolf ? Haw, haw,haw !”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_Shelton )
    There are hippies, there are pink and cleaners and then there are these fuckers?
    ( BTW…’Pink and Cleaners’ : Fungus the Bogeyman is a 1977 children’s picture book by British artist Raymond Briggs. It follows one day in the life of the title character, a working class Bogeyman with the mundane job of scaring human beings. The character and all related properties are now owned by Vivendi’s Studiocanal.[1] )
    The Guardian.
    “The dirty dozen: meet America’s top climate villains.”
    “Few are household names, yet these 12 enablers and profiteers have an unimaginable sway over the fate of humanity”
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/27/climate-crisis-villains-americas-dirty-dozen

  7. ………’The current Covid-19 crisis, for example, has aroused the ire of those who reject the idea that enjoying the benefits of human society incurs a reciprocal obligation to preserve its wellbeing’…………. Therefore ask the Govt why they’re ignoring the simple, inexpensive and zero-side-effect option of human Ivermectin.

  8. End of collaboration ownership in farming in NZ. End of NZ ownership of farming in NZ as everything not nailed down is or has previously been sold off.

    “The Government’s involvement in the controversial decision to approve the sale of Westland Milk Products to Hong Kong Jingang, a company wholly owned by Chinese conglomerate Inner Mongolian Yili, will be under the spotlight in the Court of Appeal this week.

    The hearing is of Social Credit’s appeal against the High Court decision on its judicial review application, and is set to start on Wednesday.

    The judicial review challenged the basis on which the Overseas Investment Office made its decision in 2019 to approve the sale.

    Social Credit’s position is that the Overseas Investment Office applied the wrong legal test.”
    https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO2110/S00220/controversial-westland-milk-decision-in-court-of-appeal-this-week.htm

    We now don’t even have cheap wood for building anymore such is NZ desire to sell land and assets off. Milk and cheese as well as meat and fresh vegetables and fruit is increasingly more and more expensive and outside the ability of Kiwi’s to buy it.

  9. It cannot be a very large number of them in New Zealand, given the “hippies” are now over 65 and the high rates of those over 65 here who are vaccinated.

    • Exactly .I was a hippy or maybe I wasn’t by Chris’s definitions, I’m surrounded by old hippies, they’re my oldest friends in this bushclad, beached neck of the woods
      All of us are vaccinated .Its the younger cohort who isn’t.
      And lots of us still have our hippy ideals, which were always actually very socialist.

  10. “Never let a good Crisis go to waste.”

    Just add more Crisis to the list. Terrorism, Covid 19-21-22-23-24-25 ect future Crisis.

    On top of the Housing Crisis, Poverty Crisis, the Homelessness Crisis, Health System Crashing Crisis and the Education Crisis as well as the pending Inflationary Crisis and Unemployment Crisis due to 40% of the workforce can be sacked for the ‘No Jab, No Job’ policy.

    Let’s run another poll!!

  11. I was a child of punk (saw The Clash in 77 etc etc booorinnnggggg)

    I really hate the backslapping media nonsense about ‘punk changed the world’ apart from a few attitudes, it didn’t, my nausea is only increased by the lauding of ‘the 60s maaaaannn’ in 101 lame arsed docos.

    youth culture changes nowt, never has never will, it’s about bands, girls and the latest t-shirt and that’s just fine, youthful naivety is good…
    hell if I’d had a vote back then, Mr Rotten would have been PM and the right hon Joe Strummer chancellor.

    I’m ashamed to say there’s probably a fair few ex-punks amongst todays hard of thinking too.

  12. The Daily Blog is very valuable to NZ for a different perspective from the MSM.
    I am not as on point as the loyal commenters, but just have to say, Chris Trotters’ erudite blogs keep me coming back for more.

  13. Life-style anarchists, libertarians and hippies – all rather selfish types. All have one thing in common, the fear of “the mob” to use the Roman term. They let this fear rule them, and fear is the door that lets in all sorts of evils.

    It has opened the door to this neo-fudalism we are about to embrace. Where the haves will rule with an iron fist over the have-not’s.

    • yea trouble is they all think they will be knights on horseback but they’ll actually be raggy arsed peasants….bucolic romanticism is best confined to Tolkein.

  14. ‘The current Covid-19 crisis, for example, has aroused the ire of those who reject the idea that enjoying the benefits of human society incurs a reciprocal obligation to preserve its wellbeing.’

    Wellbeing???

    It is now completely Orwellian, Chris.

    Even as the government proclaims the ‘need’ for an untested cell biology modifier to be injected into the bulk of the populace, it does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to avert the far greater catastrophes associated with Energy Depletion, Planetary Meltdown and Collapse of the Biosphere, which between them will annihilate the bulk of the NZ populace, if not the entire populace, by 2040.

    Whilst doing absolutely nothing the avert energetic and severe overheating related catastrophes now unfolding, the LINO government of Adern promotes the very strategies that make our energetic and environmental predicament far worse a lot faster…all the bullshit about tourism, economic growth and ‘development’ etc. Don’t get me started on corporatised sport and motor racing, ostentatious squanderers of energy and resources.

    We are governed by fuckwits and professional liars.

    And people need to wake up to that fact.

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