1960s vs today’s liberals, part two

The difference (when it comes to issues of cultural identity) may be differing views of human nature. In the Civil Rights and hippies decade, there was much struggle but there was much optimism. The liberal assumption was that people of no race were intrinsically racist, that people brought different views and backstories to the table, some wrongheaded and destructive, and some just different. Our role was not to pass judgment but to help each other to find the lighted path with no preconceptions based on race and gender or where you came from. The progressive goal was to find the human goodness in all and celebrate each other across demographic lines, to work joyfully together, without judgment and without shame. Sure, there were problems, but there was an underlying sense that the goodness of the human heart would win out in the end.

Liberalism today (or a large branch of it) seems to take a much darker view of human nature. The assumption seems to be that all white people are racists, all men are sexists, and those who don’t acknowledge their racism and sexism are the worst and most dangerous sort. Instead of looking for ways to celebrate each other across demographic lines, the modus operandus seems to be to search every alleyway to validate one’s own grim premise in this regard. The old liberalism that eschewed shame and judgment and trusted in the goodness of the heart to come through in the end has yielded to a liberalism dedicated almost entirely to identifying targets for shame and judgment. S/he who finds the most racism wins.

The hippie view of human nature had its risks. It was rooted in a naïve idealism that was not always well equipped for the contingencies of the real world. But the risk of the current variant of liberalism is that you end up fostering self-segregation along demographic lines; you end up with people sharing less openly, thinking less outside the box, for fear of offending, and when they do offend, you end up eating your own; you end up with people living under an imminent threat of shame and judgment instead of celebrating each other openly in a spirit of positive affirmation of self and other.

I prefer to go with the hippie risk of “naïve idealism.” Maybe it’s just selfishness. After all, this preference allows me to greet people on the street, regardless of demographics, backstory, or political affiliation, with a good-faith optimism, and a little bit of joy at our shared humanness, rather than greeting them with suspicion and a sharp eye scanning for their sins. Then again, perhaps my preference is simply a function of my age. But I would like to think that it won’t get me scarlet-lettered out of hand by my younger colleagues. There’s still a lot of work we can do together.

For Part One of 1960s vs today’s liberals, click here.




28 thoughts on “1960s vs today’s liberals, part two

  1. Can we perhaps find an analogy between religious and political movements, with hippy culture as the Reformation, and modern-day liberals as Puritans? If so, then history suggests a continued fragmentation of factions into groups, sub-groups and counter-groups, until a new Age of Enlightenment sweeps all aside.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m ok with the Puritan connection. Not sure about the hippies and the reformation though. Calvin and those guys were no fun! Let me think on it. Maybe the next generation hippies will be the Enlightenment ! (?)

      Liked by 1 person

        • On Reformation and Calvin, I beg to differ. Reformed Theology is the work of John Calvin, and is at the root of a very popular non-charismatic Christian movement today. The Reformation itself was the work of Martin Luther, much earlier. Though it is true that Calvinism led to Puritanism and conceivably still runs that risk, Martin Luther was not sanctimonious in any sense. Sometime leaf through *The Table Talk of Modern Luther.* That guy drank good German beer, and was *loads* of fun.

          So I think that Steve’s analogy is valuable, at least along a “fun” metric. I speak as one who has been a member of ELCA Lutheran churches as well as Presbyterian Reformed churches, and I am familiar both with Calvinist and Lutheran doctrine. So – my two cents.

          I very much enjoyed this particular post, Gary – and I’m with you on the “naïve optimism” preference. One thing I’ve noticed is that the society in general is a lot more uptight these days (naturally) and much more inclined to codify people with labels in the absence of a willingness to perceive them as individuals. As you may know, I recently escaped years of living in an urban area with a lot of racial and gender-related tension. I can still remember the futility I felt in trying to defend myself against incessant accusations that I was a “racist” and a “sexist,” seemingly based solely on the fact that my skin was White and my sex was male. The assumption was that, as a White male, I was a racist and a sexist until proven otherwise. Post-assumption, I often found that I was unable to prove otherwise.

          Mercifully, life has improved vastly since I finally made the decision to relocate in a small, quaint, charming University town in Northern Idaho – a hippie town if there ever was one. I was immediately recognized by the many Artists, Writers, and Musicians in my midst as “one of us.” No one has called me a racist or a sexist yet – let alone numerous other names I need not repeat. Thanks again, Gary, for your insights.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Thanks for the insights, A.P. I hadn’t given much thought to the Reformation tangent that Steve brought up. And your personal story — I’m not sure whether it leaves me more pessimistic or optimistic about where all of this is headed, but it definitely seems reflective of larger trends we need to attend to.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Choose optimism if at all possible. Before I moved here, I was so jaded I doubted that there were still places in America where people even treated each other decently. I simply hadn’t bothered to look. I believed all the things my former fellow Californians said about other States — that we are all “bigoted, backwards, and behind the times” – even though most of them had not so much as even visited such a State.

              Now, I want to find out if there are more such communities. This also transcends liberal-conservative divisiveness. Almost everyone I know here identifies as a Liberal, yet at the same time I don’t hear a whole lot of name-calling or annoying insistence on “political correctness” that so often impedes true communication. People don’t label each other here, they’re not quick to put each other in boxes. My experience is of course highly subjective – not sure how much of my story you’ve tuned into – but a person can only be violently assaulted and hit over the head with guns so many times, can only robbed and vandalized and have had their possessions set afire by arson so many times before something in the Human Spirit lifts that person up and insists that he doesn’t have to tolerate it anymore. I left brother, daughter, and longtime lifelong friends, all of whom thought I was crazy for leaving a miserable life in Berkeley and claiming a healthy life in Moscow, Idaho – none of whom had ever visited this city, nor had any idea what I would face.

              And when I raved about the difference, they continued to call me crazy, and ask snide questions about “how the Mormons were treating me’ or “if I was getting along with all the bigoted potato farmers.” And these are people who call themselves “progressive?” Outside of my daughter’s graduation or in the sad event that either she or my brother dies before me, I can think of no reason ever to set foot in the State of California again — and I am proud of myself for having made that choice.

              We will get through this current storm. We just need to lend our hearts and our allegiances to the right Spirit. And we will. Because we must.

              Liked by 1 person

              • You and I think exactly alike, A.P. It is very disillusioning that liberals themselves are systematically reversing the liberal gains of the 60s and 70s on things like cultural policing of thought and speech, and not judging people based on color or gender. I’ve never become more conservative but have become so distanced from today’s liberals that all I can say is I’m a 1960s (Civil Rights/Hippie era) liberal, equidistant from today’s liberals and conservatives (although I’m still with libs on other issues – environment, tax policy, health care …).

                I didn’t know that much of your personal story. Your move from bad space to good space seems cause for optimism. For people weighing the two spaces from a distance to see which presages the future, harder to say. In a move similar to yours, I’ve come to a medium sized town in Germany where everyone is liberal by U.S. standards (on those issues like environment, tax policy, health care, education/tuition), where my four closest friends are from four different countries, but people seem entirely innocent of the pre-judgmental identity politics theories that have swept the U.S.

                Liked by 1 person

                • We do think alike, Gary, though the wording of our ideas might be quite different at times. People often refer to me as an “aging hippie,” which for some reason is one label that doesn’t bother me. The spirit of the Sixties was phenomenal, and it isn’t something one soon forgets.

                  To be honest, I’m not even sure I identify as either liberal or conservative any more. I like the Liberals in this neck of the woods, among the Artists I’ve met, and also at my church, because they are clearly non-judgmental, and there is love in their hearts But nationally speaking, I’m seeing a meanness of spirit on both sides, and it can be very disturbing. I do think we need to find the Love wherever it is, and embrace it. It is not only a matter of idealism, for me, but one of necessity. There’s simply too much at stake.

                  Didn’t know you’d relocated to Germany! Explains why you’re still up at what would be an odd hour PST. I, on the other hand, have neither explanation nor excuse. Chalk it up to Friday Night. 😉

                  Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve, Nice analogy but I think it casts the net too broad as, I believe, Gary has as well. Let me try to explain. We are talking about segments of fluid groups to which we have given labels (“liberal”/ “conservative”) so we don’t have to think too deeply. Depending on the topic I can be accused (and have been) of being a liberal and a conservative on the same day. Most people, even if they grab a label to define (and limit) themselves don’t fit neatly into these labeled categories. While Gary properly identifies the mindset of a segment of a segment of what he calls liberalism I’m not comfortable with the neat categories of “liberal” or “conservative.” These are moving targets as Gary’s piece demonstrates and as your historical analogy could as well. And I have friends who would likely be called “conservative” who call out others for being racist, sexist etc.
    Second, my view is that this darker side of human nature has always been there under whatever rock (conservative, liberal etc you turned over). It was even there in the Hippie days. It is an evolved instinct which we have not mastered. Hatred is the mass man’s art as Bukowski wrote. It has been made more acceptable lately for a myriad of reasons and it has been stirred up lately for a myriad of reasons.
    And I’ll defend the segment of the group you call current liberalism a bit. Just a bit. Some things are in fact racist or sexist. What has happened over time is that such bigotry went from being naked to wearing religious or economic garb. Its not cool to be an out and out bigot. But if you can wrap it in religious arguments or economic arguments then you can righteously object when someone calls you a bigot. But I agree that it can become a default position, and I am likely guilty of it myself on occasion.
    The problem I see for the subgroup that Gary has identified is indeed a philosophical/psychological one. They are wrestling with a monster that often does things they think are damning, that uses code words to incite actual racist groups, that are inviting such groups into the mainstream and giving them credibility, that denigrate folks because of their differences etc. But as Nietzsche wrote long ago: “Wer mit Ungeheuern kampft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.” (“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long int the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”) (The German is for you Gary)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Of course “liberal” and “conservative” are moving targets with fuzzy boundaries, but if that means we cannot talk broadly about current liberal or conservative agendas, we are giving up too much. There are trends among people who self-identify s liberal or conservative. E.g., would you consider it a false generalization to say that concepts like “cultural appropriation” and “white privilege” emerged from within the discourse of liberalism over the past decade or so? If that is your position, then our analytic is crippled by a fear of generalization. On your other points, of course there is still racism out there. Of course there are practices that have disparate effects on one race or another. I don’t deny that. Our argument is merely about what is the best strategy to move forward toward a more ideal harmony. I’m with Nietzsche. I believe to some extent, during the period in question, liberals wrestled with a monster and became one. So, as you can see, you are not wrong about everything. Just about most things 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Also, Michael, if it’s any comfort, I am often called (disparagingly) “liberal” or “conservative” on the same day, too, probably because I am blunt in my criticism of both sides. But this doesn’t mean my (or your) views are internally inconsistent. And it doesn’t mean we can’t still meaningfully talk about what liberals or conservatives are generally up to (although individual practices will vary).

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Gary,
    I do believe we can converse about things but I worry about tarring and feathering entire groups with generalizations. Within the conservative Republican party they have factions—moderate, Freedom caucus, etc. Same with the democrats and Sanders and Clinton folks. But I just think there is more nuance than agreement under these labels except where folks purposely blind themselves for partisan reasons. (like the Republican fellow in my office who says he will not criticize Trump for anything unless he starts a nuclear war). And I would suggest that very few “liberals” fit the model you have created all the time. Yes the folks in your category may cast the net on racism too broad one day but not the next. Just like you and I can be accused of being liberal one hour and conservative the next depending on the issue. So we are talking abut a cautionary tale. For what it is worth I think what you have really identified, what underlies all of this, is that we have a less and less literate/educated society—party affiliation being irrelevant—and as a result people fall back on labels, on more primitive approaches and on what talking heads say ,instead of thinking for themselves.
    And I am glad you recognize my intellectual superiority over you (that’s me modeling myself on Trump—a Trumpian response if you will). By the way we can all rest easier now. After Comey’s testimony today the WH released a statement pointing out that President Trump never lies.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We may be quibbling over little. We certainly agree that there are factions and individual variation within each group. You seem to agree, at least at the outset, that we can still talk about generally conservative and liberal platforms. No one thinks that everything in the platform applies to every self-identified conservative or liberal. But I think in the aggregate they hold up. Thus people who vote by party are not insane, as there really is a difference between national platforms of Republicans (who are generally conservative) and Democrats (who are generally liberal). You and I may disagree only on proportion — how often do self-identified liberals (or conservatives) block together on an issue or an ideology. I think “fairly often” and you seem to think “more rarely.” I hope you are right that “very few” liberals fit my model (i.e., relying on things like “cultural appropriation,” a too-steady vigilance for things to take offence at, an increasing intolerance for dissent from their viewpoint, etc.), but as I look around in the public sphere, it seems to me like those ideas have gotten more traction among liberals today compared to previous decades.

      (I hope you noted that in my original post, I did not say “all liberals” but said that this seems to be one “large branch” among younger liberals, so your suggestion that I tarred and feathered the entire group based on the tag, “liberals,” is demonstrably FALSE … but I love you anyway 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Perhaps part (or most) of the problem stems from the fact that while many liberals mistakenly perceive themselves as cool, human-rights-supporting, freedom-lovin’ dudes, they are actually deeply authoritarian in their core attitudes. Whether this manifests as intolerance for dissent, or a desire for the state to acquire greater economic power and control over society, it’s all part of the same approach.

    The original hippies, on the other hand, were very much anti-authoritarian and genuinely accepting of personal liberty. They were an historical anomaly, I fear. There is scant evidence that the majority of people value freedom, until it is taken from them. They enjoy their own freedom of course, but not if the price is that people they disagree with have freedom too.

    Over here in the UK, we are about to gleefully elect our first marxist Prime Minister, and the people voting for him seem to believe themselves to be radical, alternative, free-wheeling, revolutionary good guys. To me, they look like intolerant, narrow-minded, controlling, enemies of freedom. Cherish this comment, Gary, as it may be the last you hear from me. The lights are going out …

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you that an authoritarian branch has emerged within (American) liberalism. I disagree with the hint that giving the government greater control, e.g., over health care is part of the same authoritarian mindset. I believe at least some of Western Europe’s socialist (compared to the US) policies serve the interest of individual freedom (e.g. no on goes bankrupt when they get sick, no one carries crippling student loan debt for the rest of their lives). I worry more about the rise of right-wing authoritarianism in Europe. I agree with you on the hippies. Sorry, but ignorance prevents me from commenting on the UK election. I am uneasy about your last comment. Hope to see you on your own blog and possibly in the UK again one day. Message me offline if you want to chat.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Happy to report that I survived the revolution, but it was a close call. I feel I’m living on borrowed time now. Britain is teetering on the brink of disaster.

        There’s so much extremism at the moment, It reminds me of when I was growing up in the 1970s. That period ultimately gave rise to the Punk movement – the only logical response by a young generation to a world where all political parties had completely failed.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m with you on the hippie part, and I wasn’t even born then. Yes, many are covertly racist and bigoted, but assuming that those who don’t show it actually are is doing everyone a huge disservice, because it takes away from the voices that really are trying to be good, decent, kind people, and are trying to change the world.

    Liked by 2 people

    • With you 100% HelsinkiBudapest. I know there are racists out there, but I like the hippie approach: Let’s all join hands and celebrate each other across all demographic lines. Do that and the racists will gradually be pushed to the margins and off the page. The NEW liberal approach — let’s draw demographic lines in the sand and then criticize each other continuously across those lines — is not the true way forward. The newfangled academic theory that lumps ALL white people in with the racists, that lumps ALL men in with the sexists, is NOT a good way to marginalize the racists and sexists. In a nutshell, if we want to move toward a more harmonious society, we should be finding ways to celebrate each other, not finding ways to bust each other’s balls with blame and shame.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I feel that all of us are speaking from vantage points that are only partly informed by truth and largely informed by our own subjective sensibilities. For my part, it seems difficult even to equate the Hippie movement any longer with “liberalism.” At the time, the Hippies were liberal, radical, and revolutionary. But this was in comparison to a highly naive and misinformed conservative Establishment, whose bubble of naivete was effectively burst post-Watergate.

        The willingness of the hippies to transcend demographic divisions is anything BUT the profile of today’s liberal. Here’s a conversation I had recently with a party-line liberal:

        A.P. – I knew this drama director who was gay, and he had an affair with an underage boy, and —-

        F.R. (interrupting, as though correcting me) He wasn’t gay, he was a pederast.

        A.P. – Um, he *was* gay, sir . . .

        And so forth. The insistence on political correctness that pervades modern Liberalism is a total conversation-stopper. Somehow the Liberal in this context *assumed* that I was stereotyping all gay men as pederasts, which is absurd in the context of the conversation. The reality was that the party-line liberal was stereotyping ME as a homophobe. What’s more, he didn’t even let me finish my sentence.

        Unfortunately, for me, this kind of narrow-mindedness and refusal to budge over pettiness is what largely characterizes today’s liberal. This is SUCH a far cry from the open-minded Hippie of the sixties, I really do wonder where have all the flowers gone.


        • With you, A.P. I believe most hippies have long considered themselves liberal, but are now recognizing that the playing field has shifted and they are now equidistant from conservatives and today’s “liberals.” (This is on race and gender issues; on the environment, tax policy, education, health care, etc., I think the old hippie liberals and the newfangled liberals are still more or less allies against conservative positions.)

          Liked by 1 person

        • HelsinkiBudapest, that’s exactly the attitude explicitly taken by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mandela, and explicitly rejected by today’s liberals who have been trained in the latest academic theories. (So kudos to you 🙂 )

          Liked by 1 person

  6. As a hippy, I can say that life was more fun and we were open to everyone. Yes, we were naive but it wasn’t always a bad thing and brought a kind of sparkly goodness to what we did. We listened, made room for things, and tried to work together for a better world. Today, there is a grimness blanketing everything. Hatred and all the “isms,” are out there for all to see. Destruction is taking many forms in broken international relationships and mistrust between people. We assumed the best, today people assume the worst in each other. We had it right, that’s why they came down so hard on us. They were terrified that love and peace would over thrown the status quo and where was the money in that? We didn’t want war, they want war to never end and bring in the dollars, never mind about the bodies. Man, I’m still a hippy and they still suck.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hitandrun, you said it better than I did! Yes we were naive. GOOD! Without all today’s training in political belligerence and in newfangled “identity politics” theories, we were able, in our ignorance, to connect to one another using only our hearts and imagination. For about a minute, it looked like a new day was really dawning. As you say, that’s why the Man came down hard. May we throw away the whole political spectrum today, left and right, and “become like little children” once more!


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  8. “The hippie view of human nature had its risks. It was rooted in a naïve idealism that was not always well equipped for the contingencies of the real world. ”

    Yes. Be that as it may, the most moral generation that opposed the Vietnam War and racial discrimination, also promoted sexual licentiousness (nee Sexual Revolution) and abortion. And, let’s not overlook hedonism and recreational drug use. Such bitter fruits from the 1960s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Larry. We agree on the (anti-war and anti-discrimination) up side. Per the remaining items, you and I disagree but not completely. I am 100% for legal abortion, and per sexual liberation, hedonism, and recreational drug use (i.e., psychedelics and pot) — I cautiously favor the freedom to explore all of these, although I agree that each has heavy risks. There are a lot of beautiful moments and a lot of tragedies in those trajectories. My novel, Hippies, incidentally, shows both the idealism and the tragic potential but the point of view is definitely with hippie protagonists.


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