What if the hippies were right?
“Everything melted and just in that moment
They told me it’s over but nothing is broken …” – Lake by Roland Faunte
The future does not exist and even if it does, the present proves is not worth fighting for it.
In an essay entitled The Hippies1, Hunter S. Thompson observed: “…the New Left quickly responded with charges that hippies were “intellectually flabby,” that they lacked “energy” and “stability,” that they were actually “nihilists” whose concept of love was “so generalized and impersonal as to be meaningless.”
And it was all true. Most hippies are too drug oriented to feel any sense of urgency beyond the moment. Their slogan is “Now,” and that means instantly. Unlike political activists of any stripe, hippies have no coherent vision of the future which might or might not exist. The hippies are afflicted by an enervating sort of fatalism that is, in fact, deplorable. And the New Left critics are heroic, in their fashion, for railing at it. But the awful possibility exists that the hippies may be right, that the future itself is deplorable and so why not live for Now? Why not reject the whole fabric of American society, with all its obligations, and make a separate peace? The hippies believe they are asking this question for a whole generation and echoing the doubts of an older generation.”
Today, due to technological advancements that have made it possible to overfeed our dopamine cravings with information about any number of humanmade tragedies, we can easily and, as I will argue, justly expand the hippies’ rejection of “American society, with all its obligations”, to all of society, with all its obligations.
The idea of progress, or of a better tomorrow / a brighter future, has evolved over time2. In the primordial beginnings, the desire to remain alive and to strive forward into the future might have felt like an instinct, something which was so subtle and so natural that required little-to-no attention: people just did things for the future, without questioning too much whether these things were necessary or they were optional. Fast forward thousands of years into the future, right about today, and it is clearer that the idea of the future has become a choice.
This means that we, as a species, have done enough thinking to realise that there is an option of whether we want a “tomorrow” or not. This choice becomes apparent when we realise how we are brought into this word: we don’t have a say of whether we want to be born at all, or where, when and how we are born.
We are the gifts gods give our parents – so we are told – we are the future of this world – so we are told – we are the next generation of lawyers, doctors, soldiers and thugs – so we are told. We must do this, become that and die in a very particular way: after a life filled with advertised adventure, a meaninglessly cheap but splendid career and leaving your “mark” on this planet by not using condoms, one is expected to die extremely happy and accomplished, some years after retirement but not too long into it so we don’t damage the economy.
Not only we have no choice in whether we want to be born or not, but we are also born prisoners to cultural norms, moral values and socio-economic institutions. Among all of this, there is one constant beacon of “hope” for most people: tomorrow. The peculiarly macabre desire that “this will soon be over and something better – anything, really – will come…eventually” and that is the future. This place which is always far away from us but, somehow, seems inevitable to reach it, provides an endless source of energy for most of us to lie to ourselves that the names we carry will be what will last, instead of becoming numbers in a historian’s records of how many lived and died in that year.
And so, in the name of the future, we choose to ignore that we are referring to each other as “collateral damage” when the wrong people (we like to call them the innocents to make us feel better) are killed in wars, as “labour force” when we are called upon to perform our sacred duty to be productive (that is to produce more for less) and as “costs” when we are in the boardroom, after decades of artificially maintaining profits with cheap debt, and have to decide whether next to costs we add wages and cut them or we transform costs into investment and justify increasing them. We ignore these things and tell ourselves that “it is all as it should be because tomorrow is going to be better”.
In the name of the future, out of loyalty to this notion of a “better tomorrow” we fight, kill, betray and destroy – all of this for something better, whilst still trying to meet all of society’s prescribed rules (written and unwritten).
We go to war and drop bombs while raising children, telling them that the world is their oyster. We legislate and indoctrinate while telling children that they can be whoever they want to while building, with precise measurements, the holes in which they will sink. Loyalty to anything – idea, institution, person – is an imaginary construct. Erase it.
We burn ourselves to hell, for the future, and the hippies saw that. Or at least this is how I want to interpret their movement.
Over the last century millions died all over the world in wars, revolutions, protests, gulags and other such hellish places in order to preserve what they believed was a chance for something better, a glimpse of hope, of meaning, something that would bring them closer to what we all perceive to be that inevitably improved tomorrow. I am from that future and, if I could tell them, I would: it is pathetic and not worth fighting, let alone, dying for.
Look around you, do you like what you see?
A dysfunctional large and parasitic relationship between governments and corporations, too big to be changed, too powerful to be bought, undermining what most of us call the best political system – democracy.
A perfidious system of narrative distribution called “the news”, with which if you engage, you will be under the impression that all of us were born to hate, kill and rape each other.
Plenty of proxy wars, annihilation threats, morons in positions of authority, morons following them and plenty of surveillance to keep everyone calm as everything is falling apart.
Art is dead.
Rich capitalists doing business with authoritarian regimes that are aspiring and working hard to grow up to fully fledged totalitarian states. But as long as is good for shareholders, it’s all cool – they are on the right side of the law.
The promise of retirement for which most of us trade 50-60-70 years for 10-20 years (not good economics) is in muddy waters. Who am I kidding, it is in deep shit.
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are dying while most of us are buying luxury goods that are now made for everyone – because we live in the age of the equally stupid: overpriced snickers, half a million dollars watches, faster cars, better sex toys (maybe we replace all human connection, even oral sex, if possible) and cheap eternity sold in VR headsets.
A false sense of security driven by a sickening obsession with explanation and gaining “knowledge”. The god(s) some of you died for left this world with you. We now have technology and science to show us the secrets of love and death. Although I would rather prefer a lecture from George Bataille on this.
A continuous war on drugs. Why?
A persistent approval and consumption of foods that melt the flesh from your bones, transforming it into fat with a side dish of diabetes, heart attack and orgasmic pleasure – taste is important, after all.
And the list can carry on and on and on, well into the future, until it reaches that place of a “better tomorrow”.
What is to be done? So asked Nikolay Chernyshevsky in 1863. The answer was soon to be revealed: a revolution. I am not so radical, but as Marilyn Manson says:
“… I’m not a slave to a god
That doesn’t exist
And I’m not a slave to a world
That doesn’t give a shit”
I suggest something more aligned with the mellowness of current times: first, we strive really hard to automate everything from food production to building houses. Then, we desert the armies and the government, abandon the corporations and the notion of career, reject the law and its arbitrary notion of justice (which anyway it’s only available to those who can afford it -$$$), give up the promise of retirement and live as if there is no tomorrow, creating art and exploring nature in a manner that values the individual not just empirically but metaphysically too.
This is the beautiful side of nihilism which the hippies seemed to understand. Or maybe they just liked LSD too much, who knows.