Sunday, October 30, 2011

Too Soon for Analysis -- Still in Dialectic Mode

Hippies show you how it's done.

If all one knows about the Occupy Movement is what's in the major mass media, that's a problem right there. What's so ironic about the continuing media puzzlement regarding the aims and goals of the Movement is that pretty much everything is open source, right out in public, most of it in the great outdoors no less, or easily accessible online. There would be no excuse for the media's bafflement if it weren't for the well-known fact that the media in this country is a strategic tool of the Overclass. Observing what the media says about the Movement-Becoming-Revolution is a clue to what the Overclass is thinking about it. What we can say of it so far is that the Overclass is baffled on the one hand and indifferent on the other. Kind of the way they are about most everything that isn't Them.

Our Overclass and the government which serves Them is so barricaded and divorced from The People that any action outside its narrow interest simply doesn't register; it's really worse than the Bourbons.

A couple of interesting efforts of analyzing the Occupy Movement have been brought up in comments here, and I thought I'd take some time to discuss them.

I liked Danny Goldberg's "In Defense of Hippies" in Dissent (h/t Cuchulain).

Hippies and their grandkids (not so much their own offspring, though) are found everywhere in the Movement, and their presence makes perfect sense. It's not because this is a Hippie movement -- it isn't, not even close -- but more because Hippies and their descendants are like so many other marginalized and excluded sectors of the population who have no more say in the course of national and international events than any other sector of the "99%". They're an integral part of the Movement by the very fact of their ongoing Marginalization.

It's not too analytical to say that the Movement is ultimately based on the fact that all sorts of excluded groups have discovered (not entirely spontaneously) that they have more in common with one another than they thought. And guess what? Drum circles are not bad things. Peace, love and harmony are positive goals (if you need goals; otherwise, they are just positive). The fact that the more rigidly programmed liberals have a tough time of it when they smell pot or patchouli in the air is more their problem -- that can be overcome -- than it is a problem of the remnant Hippie/Commune community.

Ponder for a moment how many groups are rigidly excluded from policy influence in this country and around the world. It's practically everyone except the 1% and their running dogs and handmaidens.

Goldberg, approaches this issue from the perspective of Mainstream Democratic/Progressive contempt of the Hippies and all their appurtenances. Yes, well. Part of the role of the Overclass and the Insiders is to be contemptuous -- or condescending -- toward those on the Outside. It's always been so.

The Occupy Movement turns that contemptuous attitude inside out: in this Movement, those on the Outside are generally more condescending and contemptuous toward those on the Inside. Most of us instinctively defer to Authority. We recognize Power when we see it, even if it is not in the form of tear gas and rubber bullets, and we generally yield. But in the case of the Occupy Movement, the yielding -- say to arrest for Occupying -- is a highly formalized and ritualized form of contempt and condescension for the truly petty laws that require so much overwhelming force for implementation. "The whole world's watching" the Overclass make fools of themselves over and over and over again. And when it turns violent -- as it has in several cities, most prominently Oakland in the USA (we'll leave aside some of the international violence against The People for the moment) -- the shame brought on by the police state tactics used against peaceful demonstrations stings. It merely builds a more contemptuous attitude toward the Overclass.

When that police state violence is turned against Hippies and their descendants, it is generally met with outrage. How dare you hurt these loving people? How. Dare. You? The Hippies are at the spiritual center of the Movement.

As Goldberg puts it:

Yet it is precisely the mystical utopian energy that most professional progressives so smugly dismiss that has aroused a salient, mass political consciousness on economic issues—something that had eluded even the most lucid progressives in the Obama era.

I've heard and read many calls by otherwise progressives to "ditch the utopia talk" -- since we can't get anything like that done, we shouldn't even consider it. Yet one of the chants that's making the rounds is: "A Better World is Possible." It's part of the internal dialectic of the Movement. Should it focus on "what can be done," much as Chomsky argues, or should it be focused on what should be done? Of course the answer is "both," but we haven't quite got there yet.

In the interim, many of the Occupations -- though not all of them -- have become demonstrations of what that Better World might look like. Sketches and outlines, to be sure, but still, the point is to demonstrate the Change You Want to See by Being the Change yourself.

That can't happen without enormous amounts of what I'd call "Hippie Spirit," for it was the Hippies -- during a time of intense pressure to Conform -- who demonstrated that there was another way to live, and who showed how to do it.

Goldberg recognizes that aspect of the Hippie Movement, but I wonder if he understands the nuances of the demonstration. The Hippie Spirit never went away, and it never entirely went underground, either. It is apparent in all kinds of "alternative lifestyle" movements, and especially in environmental activism today.

Whole communities and subcommunities all over the country, but especially in parts of the West, and in California in particular, are culturally "Hippie." Once the culture was adopted it became a permanent fact of life. Just because these communities are ignored -- except when they are raided by the Marijuana Police, when they are ritually despised -- doesn't mean they otherwise don't exist. They certainly do exist, and their humanist/spiritual ethic and culture is deeply rooted by now.

Goldberg concentrates on Hippies as a "spiritual movement", in the sense of Alternative Religious Belief, and I'm somewhat taken aback by it. Yes, there was a strong spiritual element to the Hippie movement of the past, and present-day descendants of Hippies of Yore (such as in Sedona, for example) are still promoting an alternative spirituality, but for the most part, spiritual matters (beyond regard for the Earth and for one another) are a private thing best left to the individual and like-minded others to sort out as they see fit. There is little need to cultify.

If there are cultic elements in some of the Occupations, they are not Hippie-cultic.

Goldberg further observes:

The anti-hippie ethos on the left runs deep. Many 1960s radicals claimed that the hippies had squandered a chance to mainstream left-wing political ideas. In Black Panther leader Bobby Seale’s book Seize the Time he quotes white radical Jerry Rubin as saying that he and others had formed the “Yippies” because hippies had not “necessarily become political yet. They mostly prefer to be stoned.” In the real world, the Yippies never got a mass following, but the Grateful Dead did.

Talk about a mash-up! Well, he's got a good underlying point: the contempt of the mainlined political movements for a movement that was as conscientiously a-political as the Hippies were is as strong now as it ever was. If you believe in the System and the possibility of reforming the System, then those who want to -- or are -- standing outside it and are demonstrating another way altogether can only be met with contempt and arrogant condescension. Jerry would wind up as a corporate man, let's not fool ourselves. Bobby Seale has been fully integrated into the standard non-profit realm. It wasn't so much that they were co-opted as it was that they were natural reformers. They may have denounced the System in their Radical days, but they came to believe, if they didn't already believe it, that the System could be made better by their activism and the activism of others. They were reformers, not Revolutionaries.

Part of the ethical grounding of Utopian communities of all kinds in this country is that they don't as a rule participate in the politics of the nation. They keep it at a distance for all kinds of reasons, primarily ones of survival. The political show is a distraction from what really matters. So the alternative Utopians mostly don't play.

Hippies quite consciously had very little political influence then, and most see little point in pursuing it now. It's an Insider's game.

This is why Goldberg's statement here is confused at best:

Conservatives have effectively peddled the notion that all politics are corrupt. The resulting apathy, and opposition to government, conveniently leaves big business more in charge than ever. The price that Democrats and progressives pay for belittling or ignoring contemporary devotees of the hippie idea, who share the opinion that politics are corrupt, is to reinforce the impulse to “drop out” in a cohort that would otherwise be, for the most part, natural allies.

Hippies are not the natural allies of any politician, on the left or the right (as the duopoly in our country conceives itself.) The politics is irrelevant.

Whenever an analyst tries to shoehorn the OWS Movement into a political framework, the attempt fails. And if they try to define or direct it into an institutional framework of any kind, be it party politics or standard-model organization, I am reminded of my man Mario Savio's deeply felt manifesto on the steps of Sproul Hall in the Winter of 1964:

Embiggen by clicken image
That's not Hippie -- there were none at that time. But the sense that things have gone so wrong that you have to either withdraw from the Machine, or stop it altogether, is as strong now, if not stronger, than it was then.

And until somebody says it and presents an alternative, nobody knows it openly.

Mario opened the door to radical consciousness in 1964. Now many doors are being opened. Not just to radical thought, but to alternatives of all kinds.

Was Mario a leftist? Does anybody actually know? Were Bobby or Jerry political leftists? Were the Hippies leftists? Were they Democrats? And OWS, is it leftist? A tool of the Democratic Party?

The questions themselves expose the absurdity of left/right dualism in the context of Movements like this.

And that's where I think Goldberg and many analysts of the OWS Movement go wrong. They keep trying to figure out how the Movement (that is made up of all these excluded elements of society) can be integrated into the insider political system without actually following through on any of their still forming objectives.

It won't work.

Later, I hope to take on Morris Berman's analysis from October 12 (h/t teri49). It seems kind of quaint now, but it makes an important point: there's more than one phase of a Revolution, and the second phase (and subsequent ones) may be made impossible by the overreliance on technology and social media by the OWS Movement.

The problem with this analysis I think has to do with the perception that this Movement is sui generis, and that's hardly correct. As I've pointed out in other fora, the elements and the arguments for Revolution have long been "there." This Movement puts them together...

This video was made in 2007, and it gives an interesting overview of some of the pre-Revolutionary context that the current Movement-Becoming-Revolution draws from:

It didn't spring from the Vacuum.


  1. Far out, Che.
    The picture you opened this article with sure took me back in time.
    Being of a "certain age" my own self, I would like to say:
    peace out
    flower power
    geodesic domes
    Mother Earth News
    I can dig it
    let's rap


  2. Groovy, man.

    Grace and the Jefferson Airplane at Monterey Pop. June, 1967.

    When I see the tie dye contingent at the local Occupation, most of them young enough to be my grand kids if I had any, my heart soars.

    And the Old (UnReconstructed) Hippies are pretty groovy, too!

  3. Great song - thanks! I'm sure you saw this; guy fasting outside the White House, largely ignored as an "old hippie". But then someone took the time to interview him and it turns out he KNOWS some stuff.


  4. Very good analysis, Ché.

    Carefully thought out.

    I haven't studied this in depth, but I think you can at least take the Hippie movement in America back to the Transcendentalists, cerca 1840 or so. Thoreau, Emerson, Dickinson, the Alcotts. Walt Whitman, to some degree. Not sure, but I think they were the first "Hippies" in America.

    Need to dig deeper to be sure.

    Two things "the left" needs to do, if they want to reach more people:

    1. Accept the place of religion in our lives (I say this as an unbeliever)

    2. Concentrate on Class, which automatically brings in race, gender, ethnicity, etc, under its umbrella.

    Many on the left, especially in our universities, have concentrated on race, gender, etc. first, without dealing with Class for too long. I think that really, really turned all too many Americans off -- wrong or right.

    I think the OWS movement "gets this."