Hippies, Wholeness, and Human Touch

If you look at clips of hippies from the Summer of Love or Woodstock or their post-60s communes, you see, the sexual liberation of the times aside, lots of non-sexual touching and hugging. In the hippie zeitgeist, human touch was one of the primary glues of communal oneness. Physical touch was not just symbolic of healing and unity. It was the physical joy of human connection itself. It not only symbolized but manifested oneness with our fellow beings on the level of all the sheaths of identity (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual). You could feel the bonds. Besides the cosmic, hippyish explanation, this may simply be evolution. For millions of years, grooming and snuggling and other forms of touch have defined primate behavior.But as with so many things in the hippie spring of the 1960s, the reinvestment in physical touch was part of a social vision, a push toward a society that was less materialistic but richer in human contact.

Nowadays, the focus on sexual harassment has brought shame to many who long deserved it, but has also raised a question for us hippie sympathizers: Was there a utopian naivete about the hippie zeitgeist on touch? Can it be exploited by those who would sexually harass? That is certainly a risk, and the anti-harassment movement we see today is a corrective to that risk. But I fear the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. Along with those who are justly punished, there seems a sense building that any touch on the shoulder or forearm, is a blip on a gradient that ends in rape. We have moved from seeing “human touch” as one of the great healing and redemptive powers at our disposal to seeing it as something intrinsically dark.

I don’t want to overstate my case. I understand that no one is proposing that all human touch be marked negative. But is that becoming the new default setting? In our eagerness to right wrongs, is “potentially toxic” becoming the first thing we think of when one human being touches another? Come to think of it, a lot of default settings seem to be moving the needle to “toxic.” Masculinity is increasing portrayed as toxic in itself, invested in violence and power and subjugation; heterosexual sex is seen as vaguely toxic, and even women with straight heterosexual desire should feel a little guilty for being complicit in the heteronormative patriarchy. Such are the times, at least as they are being engineered by the theories coming out of academic identity departments.

But touch, I hate to see touch go. Whereas the push in the 60s was for a society richer in physical human contact, the push now would seem to presage a society that valorizes a decrease in physical human contact. Granted the naivete of the hippie zeitgeist had a vulnerability that could be exploited, I just worry about the pendulum swinging too far. I am uneasy about the demise of that hippie optimism about human nature and human connection. I worry that the beauty of human touch will be lost in a new age of puritanism. I worry that this new idea we have of the integrity of the isolated individual – some would say an idea that really only emerged 100 years ago with the existentialist philosophers – that this idea puts us at odds with millions of years of evolution, in which identity formed as part of a group, with constant tactile confirmation giving “wholeness” to that identity.

A society depleted of that tactile confirmation may indeed make individuals safer,and there is an absolute value there that gives pause to my own thesis. That value alone makes today’s anti-harassment movement potentially a great positive in our effort to “form a more perfect union.” But great positives can become negatives without moderating voices, just as the heady liberation of the French Revolution (1789) morphed into the Reign of Terror (1793). Without a Martin Luther King or a Gandhi, the passion of protest can turn unprofitably violent. And if Facebook posts are any indication, there are certainly some cultural warriors out there harboring a little of the Robespierre bloodthirst. So yes, I am all for the increased safety that might result from the anti-harassment movement, but be aware that a lack of moderation always comes with its own risks. The risk in this case is a more general fear of human contact. People may slowly become more isolated, alone, bereft of the redemptive power that has always saved us from our fragmentary, individual lives and given us a pathway to fulfillment that only comes viscerally, through abundance of human contact.

Photo credit: Peter Simon (http://www.petersimon.com/)


18 thoughts on “Hippies, Wholeness, and Human Touch

  1. Since I had my hair cut as a ‘Short back and sides’ for work even inn the 60’s I wouldn’t be recognisable as a Hippie but believe me I hugged. Nowadays my hugs may be mainly virtual but I’m holding a mini revolution to spread the habit and it’s working. A couple more years and maybe there will be a new breed of Hippies out there hugging every chance they get, especially as my blog has the health benefits of doing so.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Sooo many fortune cookies. “Hugs are healing”; “Hugs are healthy”; “Hug a stranger”; “A hair-huddled head doth not a hippie make.” I enjoyed the pics of your huggable family on your blog. But I think you and I are talking more generally – the old hippie days, when we thought of everyone as brothers and sisters, with random hugs the sign of our allegiance to each other, to our deeper human bond, and not just to our immediate family or demographic tribe. This idea has been abandoned by both liberals and conservatives in the US these days, but keep up the good work and a new breed of hippies will come to break through both of those stifling ideological formations!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. That was an excellent + fascinating post Daedulus!

    It’s so rich in history + logic that I plan on returning to this post from time to time. As you say, the search for moderation is indeed a difficult task in any era. And yes, in today’s era of instant communication, moderation may prove to become an even more unpopular choice to some.

    Since my parents went thru a “hippy period” from the late 60’s to early 70’s, I can attest to many of the things you talk of. For instance, when I was a 9 yr old boy my parents stopped off on our way home from New York City at one of the small towns next to the original Woodstock Festival in August of 1969. We stopped there shortly before the festival started. In this town + all along the highway from New York City there were thousands of young people. Also, we passed by where the festival was to be held + observed a sea of humanity.

    Indeed…as you talk of, touch + sexuality was viewed differently through the eyes of the early hippies. To point this out, I observed, along with my brother, naked hippies when we went by a park in the town next to the burgeoning Woodstock festival. Interestingly, none of the naked people we saw were engaged in sex. They were merely naked.

    As the 70’s wore on, + some excesses morphed out of the original hippy movement, my parents become a little more justifiably conservative. However, as you talk of, a key component of the hippy movement that I saw as a young person was that basic touching or hugging in a non-sexual way, whether between the “brothers or the sisters,” was integral to a sense of community.

    Thx for the fascinating post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Perry. I’m humbled by your high praise. That’s a fascinating story you have about Woodstock, seen up close by the wonder-filled eyes of a 9-year-old. Yes, everyone has to beware of excesses, even my esteemed hippies (as confirmed in the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and Beatles’s “Revolution”), but I’d rather run along with their naive idealism and check-and-balance as I go along than with what any other “movements” are offering. Btw, my reply to David Prosser above relates to your comment too 🙂 Gary


  3. Great post! Although it would be strange for someone on the street to come up and hug me, especially in New York where you’re supposed to keep your eyes on your destination and get there fast, I would say that my friends hug and touch often. Some of the “social justice warriors” who stand firmly by the right to consent to everything including platonic touching even partake in friendly affection despite their political stance. I’m holding out hope for the new wave of hippies too 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hahaha. Yes, that would be strange in New York. If you walked into a hippie community and got a few hugs from strangers, it would feel normal though. I’m like you. In my hometown of New Orleans — all French, Spanish, Italian, African influence — it seems every conversation involved some kind of arm touching or hugging or back patting/rubbing/poking…. Try getting a recipe from one of those old Italian ladies without a few “aw honeys” that includes a laying on of hands. They don’t ask first because they don’t even realize they’re doing it. But that constant tactile (non-sexual) intimacy, although barely noticed, adds up in one’s sense of community, in one’s being. When the new wave of hippies hits, even strangers in New York will be hugging 🙂 (I love NYC, by the way, so don’t take this the wrong way 🙂 )

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, JT. One never knows when airing out ideas if “it’s just me.” One of the problems nowadays is if you air out something that does go a bit far and needs pulling back, you get not a gentle nudge but a scarlet letter. And most demoralizing to me, as a lifelong liberal, is that today’s “liberals” are the ones doing all the scarlet lettering.


  4. Pingback: Buckling and curling in the US political spectrum | shakemyheadhollow

  5. This was a fabulous article and not at all overstated in the slightest.

    I love the ability to place my hand on a friends/love ones arm but wouldn’t attempt to touch a random person, I have been known to smile at everyone I meet and most people find this so off-putting and weird. Hopefully we can get to a point in society where simple pleasantries can be exchanged again an love starts to thrive…❤️ ( I do have to reblog this onto my site as it really has an amazing flow…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, yoga hippies. I don’t touch random people either, because I know that we have reached a point where it freaks people out and I don’t want to do that. And I totally understand that some people have justifiable safety and personal space issues. But in making this a general rule, we may not realize how much we are giving up in terms of the healing power of human touch, especially the touch and kindness of strangers on the spaceship earth we all share.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Hippies, Wholeness, and Human Touch — shakemyheadhollow – Yoga Hippies

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