A revolution with no enemies

A recent blogger reminded me of Jeffrey Shurtleff’s stage suggestion to the crowd at Woodstock that the hippie revolution was different from other revolutions “in that we have no enemies.” The blogger (altrrockchick) sees in this the reality-denying naivete of the hippie movement. I respectfully disagree with her well-written analysis.

Don’t get me wrong. At first glance, I see her point. The enemies of hippiedom were vocal and widespread in 1969. But let’s assume for a moment that Shurtleff recognized as well as we do that many people in the “war, money, and machines” Establishment opposed the draft-dodging, bell-bottomed waifs of Golden Gate Park. Then what could he have meant? He must have meant that this was not a revolution in which one side wins and one side loses, but rather a revolution in human sensibility, which brings everyone along with it. To the cynic, this might sound naïve, but the hippies did not spring from a vacuum; other revolutionary voices prominent in the latter 20th century sounded a similar note. Gandhi repeatedly said the same thing – that those who opposed him were not enemies to be destroyed but good people who needed to be brought round. Mandela thought similarly of even the most brutal racist guards on Robben Island and after decades of trying to “bring them ‘round,” several of those guards became allies and attended his first inauguration. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the same. This is what is meant by a revolutionary movement that “has no enemies.”

Also, it is very likely that Shurtleff has his finger on the pulse of the larger cycles of history. With climate change and resource depletion, the period in human history where economies are measured by growth (i.e., by how rapidly they can churn through natural resources) and where human achievement is measured by how much private property one can amass – this period will of necessity end soon, and it cannot end happily without some fundamental shift in human sensibility. I understand the cynics’ point of view, and understand that reason might be on their side, but it’s still nice – indeed, I’d even say “practical” – to have some idealists in the mix. When it comes to assessing the situation of the day, the cynic has the upper hand. When it comes to envisioning possible futures for ourselves, individually and collectively, and setting our course, I’ll cast my lot with the naïve idealists. We have imagination on our side.

“You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one …”


14 thoughts on “A revolution with no enemies

  1. Beautiful, Gary. Very glad you’re “in the mix,” brother.

    “Simplicity, patience, compassion.
    These three are your greatest treasures.
    Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
    Patient with both friends and enemies,
    you accord with the way things are.
    Compassionate toward yourself,
    you reconcile all beings in the world.”
    ― Lao Tzu

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A half-like from me Gary (I liked the first half). I count myself as an idealist, but I’m a different flavoured idealist to you. In any revolution, there are idealists on both sides. And of course there are not two sides in any discussion – there are as many sides as there are individuals taking part (perhaps more).
    With idealism and big thinking we can imagine that economies will continue to grow for the next ten thousand years, and that this will happen because economic growth means that we create new resources, not use them up. I don’t think that makes me cynical or an enemy – I think the exact opposite.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Gary, I was all pro when I read your post this morning. Now, after what’s happened in Paris, reality has kicked me in the teeth. “good people who need to be brought round”? I’m not so sure anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I know. I posted one of the “offensive” hebdo cartoons on my Facebook page today in support of creative freedom. My idealistic vision is a far from certain future, and it may be that the cynics have an oddsmaker’s advantage, but I’d still rather go down fighting for the positives in our range of possible futures. (And per Steve’s comment, my idealism tends toward anarchy in that it celebrates a somewhat chaotic pluralism, so there is a place at the table for Steve, despite our differences. I believe our differences can be navigated without sinking the ship of state. Just so long as Steve never forgets that I get to be king in my utopia 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love the idea of chaotic pluralism. What scares me (because things are getting very very close to home) is that tolerance in reality is really a one-sided affair. But I too would rather go down fighting for the positives than lay my head down on the chopping block. As long as Steve never forgets that I get to be queen in my utopia…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Maybe you can understand Jeffrey Shurtleff’s words if you understand that we choose our enemies. An enemy is not someone who opposes me – an enemy is someone I choose to treat as an enemy. I don’t think Gandhi chose to have enemies, nor did Jesus or Mandela or Martin Luther King. As Manja says, tolerance is a one-sided affair.

    Islamic extremists have clearly chosen us in the West to be their enemies. It is up to us whether we choose Muslims to be our enemy.

    Liked by 2 people

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  9. Provocative Gary…thx for posting! Yes, the concept of enemies is so powerful in a negative way.

    At this critical juncture in history, we need to be having these discussions. After all, respect for a range of human thought, as opposed to the absolutism some display today, is totally necessary for social progress. Being able engage in civil debates, as you’re doing with this blog, helps us not only solve problems, it also gives hope that a certain amount of freedom of expression still exists.

    After all, a certain amount of freedom of expression – along with the ability to agree to disagree on particulars, helps many different people and subcultures feel free enough to find their own place in the sun without intimidation or social shaming. At the end of the day, this is often what most of us seek the most. 🙂


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