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December 20, 2011

In Defense of Hippies & Others Who Live Outside the System

It's the clean cut Wall Street types who swindled America

More and more we are hearing the word “commoning”, which means putting the ideals of the commons into practice in our everyday lives— sharing with neighbors, tending community gardens, engaging in community activities. The continuing economic crisis is persuading people from all walks of life that the individualized pursuit of happiness and security is a dead end.

But many folks have been practicing commoning all along— working class families in which sharing is essential for survival, religious and political groups in which simple living is embraced, tightly-knit communities in which older patterns of cooperation endure, and non-conformist subcultures in which consumerist values are rejected. The last group still includes large numbers of hippies, punks, straight-edgers and others who since the 1960s have lived a more communal, less materialistic way-of-life. Often scorned by the mainstream media and feared by middle Americans, these non-conformists have nonetheless have been prophets of the emerging commons movement, keeping alive alternatives to the every-man-for-himself market mentality that pervades modern society.

After all, as Carolyn Elliott points out in this blog from Shareable.net, “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.” Far from being the lazy bums of media stereotypes, hippies often work very hard on behalf of their communities and the planet.

There’s a lot we can learn from the hippies, even if we don’t want to live in a yurt, eat raw food and listen to reggae.

— Jay Walljasper

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.