Did the hippies have it right?
When the moon is in the seventh house, And Jupiter aligns with Mars,
Then peace will rule the planets,
And love will guide the stars…
Remember those old lines? They were the opening of a hit song from the early 1970s called The Age of Aquarius. It skyrocketed to the top of the charts, stayed there for weeks, and made the pop singing group “The Fifth Dimension” a household name. In those times you would’ve thought we were entering a new era of long-term peace, with communes popping up around the country and Hippies selling beads on the street corners. Coronets of flowers were the signature headgear for peace- loving women. The world of the young revolved about love-ins and freedom to mate copiously with whomever.
Short version: sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. And they were passionately anti-war. Any war, but principally the one in which we were then involved: Vietnam. Perversely, our military men returning from their combat tours were literally treated worse than the “commie” enemy. We were again a divided country, with “peaceniks” against “hawks,” and a growing devotion to Marxist ideology among both students and faculty at our best-known universities.
Then we took a gigantic risk to bring the war to a close.
In December 1972, thanks partly to three straight weeks of B-52s round-the-clock bombing of Hanoi, the Vietnam War was about to come to a quivering halt, Richard Milhouse Nixon had been re-elected, and the Beatles were soon to break up. We opened the Golden Door to refugees from Vietnam. The druggie creed, “turn on, tune in, and drop out” had been coined by Timothy Leary, and LSD was one of the major drugs of choice. We were only just beginning to realize that free love was neither.
Yes, and we remember those halcyon days of bell bottoms, mutton chop sideburns, Sonny and Cher, and Laugh In. We look at those fashions, those stars, those journeys to a new reality, and we often wonder, “What the hell were we thinking?” Love must have been guiding the stars back then, otherwise not too many of us would have survived ourselves. But in time, hippies became yuppies, turned respectable, got real jobs and trimmed their hair. At least, that was the story for those who actually survived their youthful excesses. In most ways that generation blended into the big middle of society, raised families, and are now retiring en masse.
So how is it that all that “love” is beginning to morph into all that hatred, bigotry and intolerance, as our society once again enters an age of plutonian enmity? What is it that is fueling so much anti-minority animus? After a period of some level of understanding between ethnic, linguistic and racial minorities, we seem to be doing a “180” and giving up all the progress we had been making? Are we becoming so hateful because we freely elected an African-American president, whose major goals centered about the uniting of people, as well as the recognition of differences among us? Was that simmering discontent encouraged and even abetted by his successor, whose modus operandi seemed to be that of exploitation by division? Or are the differences in income, social status between working and white-collar classes actually growing, and thereby fostering the resentments that are clearly leading to fringe-group rage and violence?
To my mind, there are at least two dynamics that are militating in the direction of our discontent: Family and Education. Both are closely interconnected, and if the former becomes dysfunctional, the latter will suffer equally. When I was a youngster, divorce and childbirth without the blessings of marriage were the cause of incredible maltreatment of the alleged offenders It caused feuds and isolation between families. Without a two-parent household, the child(ren) very often had to fend for themselves after school. The importance of learning – but not grades – began to erode, as the burdens of a single parent weighed ever more heavily. As a child of both those circumstances, I can only offer the meager understanding that comes with hindsight, when I consider the weight of responsibility that my mother bore. She paid for a single teenage indiscretion with a lifetime of underemployment, yoked together to a brood of ever-needy children and a hate-driven, judgmental family.
Now, our divorce rate hovers around 50%, and more couples are cohabitating than marrying. Or, they “try it out” by living together before marriage. Parents seem less worried about this trend than before, or maybe they’re just accepting the inevitable. I’m not moralizing here, just reporting the stats I read and certain results which are then obvious.
One consequence that I have lived with as a teacher, is that schoolchildren are less prepared, less attentive, less concerned with anything but their “rights.” I make the same observation about their parents. There is grade inflation like I never knew as a student. Every child is gifted and talented, to hear their parents speak, and all deserving of the best grades. Then, when the dismal results of their more-objective ACTs are released, we blame the students’ poor performance on (1) a test that is not objective at all, in their view, (2) lack of competency by the teachers themselves. We are becoming a nation that shuns personal responsibility (Sound familiar?) but makes increasing demands on the “system” for the right to a superior education. I have taught in overseas schools in which the rule was “no pass, no advance.” No child likes to be left behind their peers, so they give it their best, encouraged by parental involvement, and excellent scholarship ensues. In our country, we have placed the responsibility for learning squarely on the school. I remember one parent telling me, “My job is to deliver my child to your door. He’s all yours from then on.” It’s becoming obvious that the public school “right,” which is NOT constitutionally mandated, by the way, may go the way of the dinosaur, and other creatures that evolved into beings so unwieldy that they couldn’t bear the weight of their own bodies.
The original question posed here was, “Did the Hippies have it right? Though we tend to romanticize the good parts and minimize the bad., the Age of Aquarius brought us (1) Turn on: massive numbers of people addicted, and lost to, the drug culture. It left a legacy that just keeps on giving, except that today’s drugs are far more lethal. (2) Tune in: there’s a government program for every need, and many of our whims, that we now take to be “rights.” (3) Drop out: with so many children hooked on drugs as early as grade school, the dropout rates have become a national scandal. Moreover, high school graduates are pitifully unprepared for college level work, and must spend even more taxpayers’ money deferring to the safety net we call “remedial education.”
So, this corner’s opinion is that no, the Hippie Generation did not result in setting the bar any higher. It provided little guidance beyond “I want mine, and I want it now, and you owe it to me.” And I’d hate to get started on the brutal consequences we’re now experiencing from zoned- out youth who become isolated from the mainstream, and join “us vs. them” groups that are inventing grudges so they can act out violent fantasies.
What follows Aquarius, anyway? Maybe we should keep looking to the alignment of the planets for guidance.
George (Gemini) Thatcher, 2022
George is an American Bad Ass. He grew up in Jersey, flew B-52s in Vietnam, taught English, Spanish and other languages to children around the world, makes his own salsa, has been known to enjoy a beer or two and has called Lubbock home for a few years, just to entertain the locals. Welcome to Raiderland, Major. We are going to feature some of his writings going forward. Some new, some old. Some rhyme, some don’t. When it comes to George, there’s no box. So… enjoy our friend and enjoy his writings! – Hyatt