Why The Hippie Movement Is The Most Decadent Subculture

Bohemian life with a dash of surrealism, and let's not forget the protests of 1968 were characteristic features of the hippie movement.

Isabel Cara

Why The Hippie Movement Is The Most Decadent Subculture

Bohemian life with a dash of surrealism, and let’s not forget the protests of 1968 were characteristic features of the hippie movement. It was a decade where artistic and cultural movements flourished and that stood opposed to the modern machinery, which left no space for rebellion or dissenting voices that disrupted standard mindsets. In the late sixties, the hippie movement was born from this ambition and it successfully spread its roots across the US and Europe. The echoes of their beliefs are still perceived today and stand out even more because of the capitalist oriented mindset we have come to embody. Still, it makes us wonder what answers and solutions did they have for this rotten society? What were the practical applications of this world view that intended to break away from this numbing culture?

In order to look beyond the flowers, camper vans, and long flowing hair, we must dip into some philosophical matters. Descartes believed knowledge of eternal truths could only be obtained by reason. We’ve all heard his famous, “I think, therefore I am” and in simple terms, if you doubt your existence then you¡re basically saying that an “I” is there that does the thinking. So, it is silly to start questioning your existence. Positivism stands on the other end of the spectrum saying that knowledge is gained through sensory experience and interpreted through reason and logic. So, history is a linear and uninterrupted process towards progress. You can view it as an unstoppable machine built on the virtues of the Western world. Capitalist production, laws, conventions, technology and our way of life are unstoppable forces and are impossible to change.

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Just by looking at these two theories we realize we live in a world of clashing philosophical movements that have been influenced by existentialism. They all believed life was an endless and irrational cycle and there was no such thing as an afterlife. However, they maintained this cycle could be broken if people gave up on mundane lifestyles and, most importantly, mundane human awareness.

The hippies knew that wars were pointless and decided to protest against the Vietnam War. They also knew that it was irrelevant to understand the motives behind the invasion of this south eastern nation. Peace was seen in theological terms, as a means to an end, much like Gandhi did in his Hind Swaraj and non violence perspective.

They based their ideology on two universal concepts: love and peace. This counterculture expressed its peaceful ideals through a sort of primitive communism, which attempted to build communities based on love and non violence. The hippie movement intended to teach society “flower power,” a non-violent method that intended to transform society little by little through peaceful actions.

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Using drugs and hallucinogenics is a millenary tradition that many cultures practice and in many of them it is seen as a sacred ritual. The threshold to ancestral knowledge and wisdom was only accesible through the alteration of consciousness. This altered experience was also an act of communion between mankind and nature. They thought of everything as a “whole” that was organically intertwined. The hippie movement completed the Western conception of these substances —previously approached by artists like Gautier, Balzac, Baudelaire, Blake, Poe, Wilde, and Rimbaud— with what we know today as psychedelia.

The beginning of the end of psychedelic creativity came with the discovery of LSD and The Merry Pranksters caravan. This group, led by Ken Kesey, traveled throughout the United States announcing quasi-medical uses of psychoactive drugs and giving out LSD samples. They used projectors, oriental instruments, and light and sound equipment. Soon, all the groups inside the hippie subculture became obsessed with psychoactive drugs. One key figure was Timothy Francis Leary, founder of The League For Spiritual Discovery, a cult devoted to the veneration of LSD.

Another relevant point of the hippie movement was the rejection of capitalism, as well as globalization. On the one hand, this leveled off the sixties’ and seventies’ consumerism. But on the other, the social construct based on their main principles established a counterculture that, instead of breaking away from the system, set the foundations of the “society of the spectacle.” What started out as a sovereign action like dancing in front of the public, loving without boundaries, and going to massive Festivals like Monterey Pop Festival, Altamont Speedway Free Festival, and the immensely popular Woodstock Festival, eventually became rebellious phenomenon that created an hegemonic type of discourse and a market strategy.

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With their open and optimistic disposition, the hippies tried to push social conventions and roles aside, aiming to disrupt the whole social structure. That eagerness for new experiences made them leave their offices and mundane jobs to adopt an idle life as an act of resistance against capitalism and a way to develop business opportunities for the “opposition” culture. Craftsmanship, organic food, rock icons, and the increasing interest for Eastern cultures, spiritual journeys, and student activism provided a solution for idleness that was also beneficial for the capital: not only did they have different ways of thinking, but the idle group also created different markets, like craft or organic food production.

The hippie ideology declined due to the same rationalism they despised at the beginning. They thought that most of the problems were in people’s heads, so they consigned social practices to secondary position. Eventually, there was no more room for subversive ideas. Positivism spread out again with a rebellious version of “laissez-faire” (“let do)” that filled people’s minds as a way to escape problems and transform reality.

In this way, hippies ended up becoming compulsive consumers of the products of their own culture. And not only that; they pushed their own decadence in their frantic search for different and hedonistic stimuli. In the end they became consumerists to forget the system and their disenchantment with life. Their “lack of politics” finally led to individualism and indifference towards social causes.