The soul of this country has always been nurtured by people more interested in freedom than in regular baths: revolutionaries, pioneers, cowboys, Henry Thoreau and Walt Whitman all lived in sweat and dirt.
Yet in mainstream media I see a sentiment expressed time and time again: the Occupy movement and other challengers to economic order would be great if it wasn’t just a bunch of dirty hippies.
The notion that hippies are weird is a perverse remnant of the Protestant-Puritan work ethic ideal. It’s a notion that pretends to defend the dignity of clean, hard-working, upright people who live by the rules and produce the goods. These clean, decent people (we are meant to imagine) are being harassed and put-upon by folks who are so lazy and good-for-nothing that they refuse to even take a bath.
In a bizarre manipulative twist, people learn to hate and revile those individuals who are doing their best to live outside the oppressive system rather than the oppressive, corrupt system itself.
Here’s something to consider, America: dirty hippies aren’t stealing your money; dirty hippies aren’t bleeding you dry with debt; dirty hippies didn’t get billion dollar bail-outs from the federal government. Who does that? Oh, that’s right— all those squeaky-clean, ultra-respectable bankers, that’s who. Out-of-control banks and corporations are the real threat to American decency and prosperity, not people who like to listen to Bob Marley and beat on drums.
Also, I’d like to advance a notion which may seem radical: the dirty hippies in my acquaintance are the hardest working people I know. They just don’t work for corporations. Instead they work doing things directly for the people immediately around them: caring for children, cooking donated food for free distribution to big groups, waitressing at small restaurants, building sacred art installations, teaching yoga, organizing community groups, skillfully repairing cars and musical instruments and clothing that others have discarded. All of those things take intense amounts of work.
Work is important. Work is tremendously valuable. Work is labor directed in such a way that the whole community benefits. That’s the kind of work that even the Puritans valued: work that kept the village alive and prospering. Labor done in the service of a gigantic corporation is not work in this sense. It doesn’t put value into the community so much as it extracts it. Many people laboring in these kids of jobs are left feeling depleted, drained, purposeless. Their work has little obvious benefit to their community aside from the pay check it brings, and that is ever-shrinking. The value of their work floats off into the hands of their corporate overlords rather than extending to their children, their friends, their neighbors.
Hippies and other critics of the system deserve our gratitude much more than our scorn.
This is reprinted from Shareable.net, a website devoted to the ideas and practices of sharing.