Sixties Counter-Culture Anarchism Is Alive and Well

Last month marked the 29th anniversary of the suicide of Abbie Hoffman, a counter-culture icon from the 1960s and 1970s.  He was founder of the Youth International Party (Yippies) and wrote a couple of popular books, Revolution for the Hell of It and Steal This Book.  The latter was frequently stolen, and many booksellers refused to carry it for that reason.  Different theories were offered about his suicide.  He had been diagnosed as bipolar, his mother died of cancer shortly before he killed himself, and some say he was depressed because the radicalism of the 1960s had died down, and the 1980s were more conservative.  His sidekick in anarchic mayhem was Jerry Rubin, who had left his anti-establishment lifestyle with the Yippies and become a businessman.  He was an early investor in Apple and made millions.  He was hit by a car on Wilshire Boulevard and died an untimely death in 1994.

Another counter-culture hero, Richard Alpert, changed his name to Baba Ram Dass after a post-LSD encounter with an Indian guru.  In the 1970s, he droppped "Baba" and went by the name "Ram Dass." Alpert and a colleague, Timothy Leary, both were fired from Harvard for starting an LSD mini-cult on campus where students were invited to participate in an alternative (LSD-fueled) reality.  This writer was invited by another teaching fellow to participate in that group, but I did not want to take risks with my mind and turned down the invitation.  I continued to teach American history and literature as well as philosophy without experiencing the ego-free alternative reality that Alpert and Leary promised to deliver.

Leary, a number of years after being released from prison for drug-dealing, was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and videotaped his dying for possible later broadcast over the internet.  He had always claimed to be a proponent of an "alternative reality."  However, his death was quite real and not an "alternative death," although taping it was certainly unique.  His sidekick Alpert is in his 80s today, and his health is failing.

Although Hoffman and Rubin were more politically minded than Alpert and Leary, all four were drawn to the drug subculture that seemed viable and attractive to so many in the 1960s.  It was part of a self-portrayal as avant-garde.  Probably some of the routine of everyday life seemed too boring for their volatile personalities and exalted self-images.  Living by their wits and getting high undermined the idea of obligation to others, which seems to this writer to be the glue of social cohesion.  How can a teacher teach if he or she has no students?  How can sellers live without their customers?  We are obliged to others because we need others in order to fulfill ourselves.

Those four visionaries had a different idea.  Obligation and concomitant gratitude to others in our world, both near and far, were not high on their list of personal values.  They were convinced that society was based on a number of illusions; that anarchy was a hopeful path; and that participation in Western civilization and American civilization was morally, spiritually, and metaphysically unsound.  Outrage at the deck of cards we have been given as citizens should translate into action.  Leary's slogan was "turn on, tune in, drop out."  The proposal that people drop out of American society was something all four of these figures shared, whether that dropping out be by living a different lifestyle or by taking drugs, or both.

Their drug-fueled anarchism was one thread of sixties protests that planted seeds of rebellion and discontent that have lasted for decades.  There was a certain glamour seeing these "free spirits" in action.  Their ways were a temptation to rebel to those who may have doubted the righteousness as well as the goal orientation required when we do our duty to God and our fellow man.

In today's America, we see a lawlessness and a deep-seated rebellion that recapture some of the spirit of these four lost souls from the sixties.  We see an affection for drug escapism that pumps itself up with a righteousness reminiscent of the self-righteous rants and tirades of Hoffman and Leary, especially.  They thought they had a perspective that resonated through their mockery of the normal mores of life.  Although Leary spoke against opioids like heroin and cocaine, his resort to marijuana, LSD, and psilocybin gave formal recognition to the idea of drug escapism.

Alpert considered himself a spiritual globalist.  Although in recent years, he has claimed a greater interest in his Jewish heritage, his shift to yoga meditation and Hindu philosophy for most of his life represents a philosophical globalism.  Just as the globalist politicians yearn to lead a global paradise, not merely the precious United States of America, for Alpert, being a Harvard professor was not enough of a mountaintop experience for him to see the human condition.  Instead, nothing less than absorption with the theosophical oversoul of the Here (his first bestseller was entitled Be Here Now) would satisfy him.  He could find himself only by bridging East and West.  Today's globalists feel that denying American exceptionalism is the best way of denying differences among people in the world.  They fail to see that American exceptionalism has allowed us to be the most pluralistic country ever known on the face of the Earth.

Leary, when dying, also felt he was merging with all of life.  He too was in flight from the unavoidable reality that each one is who he is, and that we are loved as we are by a loving God Who died and rose again to reveal to us His claim upon us and His eternal love for us.

Their legacy is one of lives expressing a sense of confinement and oppression, a negative search for a world that does not exist.  Today's snowflake desire for safe zones to shut out speech one cannot stand may be a similar flight from reality.  The bizarre, unrealistic defense of illegal immigration we see today from the left (Abbie Hoffman was also an avowed leftist as well as a counter-culture druggie) is an abandonment of a realistic assessment of what is required for millions of people to live their lives in peace and tranquility.

Today's left and its minions on the campuses and in angry organizations find their voices in the Democratic Party, and, as one voice, they are lashing out against reality, especially the reality of our Constitution and the higher reality of natural rights.  Although drug advocacy and Eastern mysticism are not the central tenets of its adherents, today's left is in part birthed by the 1960s counter-culture figures.  The reality of there being two sexes is being denied.  You see, in an LSD-fueled reality, the "real" dissolves.  In the world of meditation, external reality dissolves as illusion or "maya."

The rights of the U.S. Constitution are often seen as obstacles to progress.  And the natural rights derived from our Creator found in our Declaration of Independence?  Well, they are seen by today's heirs of  the 1960s counter-culture mentality as a mere metaphor for whatever Democrats consider the common good.

Image: Tetsumo via Flickr.

Last month marked the 29th anniversary of the suicide of Abbie Hoffman, a counter-culture icon from the 1960s and 1970s.  He was founder of the Youth International Party (Yippies) and wrote a couple of popular books, Revolution for the Hell of It and Steal This Book.  The latter was frequently stolen, and many booksellers refused to carry it for that reason.  Different theories were offered about his suicide.  He had been diagnosed as bipolar, his mother died of cancer shortly before he killed himself, and some say he was depressed because the radicalism of the 1960s had died down, and the 1980s were more conservative.  His sidekick in anarchic mayhem was Jerry Rubin, who had left his anti-establishment lifestyle with the Yippies and become a businessman.  He was an early investor in Apple and made millions.  He was hit by a car on Wilshire Boulevard and died an untimely death in 1994.

Another counter-culture hero, Richard Alpert, changed his name to Baba Ram Dass after a post-LSD encounter with an Indian guru.  In the 1970s, he droppped "Baba" and went by the name "Ram Dass." Alpert and a colleague, Timothy Leary, both were fired from Harvard for starting an LSD mini-cult on campus where students were invited to participate in an alternative (LSD-fueled) reality.  This writer was invited by another teaching fellow to participate in that group, but I did not want to take risks with my mind and turned down the invitation.  I continued to teach American history and literature as well as philosophy without experiencing the ego-free alternative reality that Alpert and Leary promised to deliver.

Ram Dass, aka Richard Alpert

Timothy Leary, 1977

Leary, a number of years after being released from prison for drug-dealing, was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and videotaped his dying for possible later broadcast over the internet.  He had always claimed to be a proponent of an "alternative reality."  However, his death was quite real and not an "alternative death," although taping it was certainly unique.  His sidekick Alpert is in his 80s today, and his health is failing.

Although Hoffman and Rubin were more politically minded than Alpert and Leary, all four were drawn to the drug subculture that seemed viable and attractive to so many in the 1960s.  It was part of a self-portrayal as avant-garde.  Probably some of the routine of everyday life seemed too boring for their volatile personalities and exalted self-images.  Living by their wits and getting high undermined the idea of obligation to others, which seems to this writer to be the glue of social cohesion.  How can a teacher teach if he or she has no students?  How can sellers live without their customers?  We are obliged to others because we need others in order to fulfill ourselves.

Those four visionaries had a different idea.  Obligation and concomitant gratitude to others in our world, both near and far, were not high on their list of personal values.  They were convinced that society was based on a number of illusions; that anarchy was a hopeful path; and that participation in Western civilization and American civilization was morally, spiritually, and metaphysically unsound.  Outrage at the deck of cards we have been given as citizens should translate into action.  Leary's slogan was "turn on, tune in, drop out."  The proposal that people drop out of American society was something all four of these figures shared, whether that dropping out be by living a different lifestyle or by taking drugs, or both.

Their drug-fueled anarchism was one thread of sixties protests that planted seeds of rebellion and discontent that have lasted for decades.  There was a certain glamour seeing these "free spirits" in action.  Their ways were a temptation to rebel to those who may have doubted the righteousness as well as the goal orientation required when we do our duty to God and our fellow man.

In today's America, we see a lawlessness and a deep-seated rebellion that recapture some of the spirit of these four lost souls from the sixties.  We see an affection for drug escapism that pumps itself up with a righteousness reminiscent of the self-righteous rants and tirades of Hoffman and Leary, especially.  They thought they had a perspective that resonated through their mockery of the normal mores of life.  Although Leary spoke against opioids like heroin and cocaine, his resort to marijuana, LSD, and psilocybin gave formal recognition to the idea of drug escapism.

Alpert considered himself a spiritual globalist.  Although in recent years, he has claimed a greater interest in his Jewish heritage, his shift to yoga meditation and Hindu philosophy for most of his life represents a philosophical globalism.  Just as the globalist politicians yearn to lead a global paradise, not merely the precious United States of America, for Alpert, being a Harvard professor was not enough of a mountaintop experience for him to see the human condition.  Instead, nothing less than absorption with the theosophical oversoul of the Here (his first bestseller was entitled Be Here Now) would satisfy him.  He could find himself only by bridging East and West.  Today's globalists feel that denying American exceptionalism is the best way of denying differences among people in the world.  They fail to see that American exceptionalism has allowed us to be the most pluralistic country ever known on the face of the Earth.

Leary, when dying, also felt he was merging with all of life.  He too was in flight from the unavoidable reality that each one is who he is, and that we are loved as we are by a loving God Who died and rose again to reveal to us His claim upon us and His eternal love for us.

Their legacy is one of lives expressing a sense of confinement and oppression, a negative search for a world that does not exist.  Today's snowflake desire for safe zones to shut out speech one cannot stand may be a similar flight from reality.  The bizarre, unrealistic defense of illegal immigration we see today from the left (Abbie Hoffman was also an avowed leftist as well as a counter-culture druggie) is an abandonment of a realistic assessment of what is required for millions of people to live their lives in peace and tranquility.

Today's left and its minions on the campuses and in angry organizations find their voices in the Democratic Party, and, as one voice, they are lashing out against reality, especially the reality of our Constitution and the higher reality of natural rights.  Although drug advocacy and Eastern mysticism are not the central tenets of its adherents, today's left is in part birthed by the 1960s counter-culture figures.  The reality of there being two sexes is being denied.  You see, in an LSD-fueled reality, the "real" dissolves.  In the world of meditation, external reality dissolves as illusion or "maya."

The rights of the U.S. Constitution are often seen as obstacles to progress.  And the natural rights derived from our Creator found in our Declaration of Independence?  Well, they are seen by today's heirs of  the 1960s counter-culture mentality as a mere metaphor for whatever Democrats consider the common good.

Image: Tetsumo via Flickr.