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Forty years on, the hippies have won the culture wars

In retrospect, the 20th century in America is more conveniently divided into periods of varying length rather than decades of 10 years each.

The last two months of 1929, after the stock market crash, seem to be part of the 1930s. The late 1940s, after World War II, seem more a part of the 1950s.

Indeed, it can be said that the 1950s, as they are popularly remembered, began in August 1945 and ended in November 1963 with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The 1960s, in turn, ended with the Watergate burglary in 1972.

Therefore, given that frame of historical reference, we are now in the 40th anniversary year of the end of the Sixties, which was a time of tremendous cultural and social upheaval.

There’s an old joke that if you think you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there. But I remember those times well. That period from 1963 through 1972 covered my twenties, from beginning to end. It was my good luck that adulthood would arrive at such a tumultuous time. I thought then — and still do, to a certain extent — that the Sixties and I were made for each other. America experienced profound changes in those 10 years, and I was glad to be a part of it all.

The pace of social and cultural change in the Sixties was dizzyingly fast — and more than a little unsettling to the people who tried to resist it. Liberation movements among blacks, women, gays and other segments of the populace arose. There was social unrest everywhere, and nearly every institution in American society was under siege.

Today, as I look back on that period at the age of 70, my mind’s eye fixes upon the stereotype of what Richard Nixon called the Great Silent Majority, those Americans who feared and hated much of the change that was occurring all around them. Many of them were sure, or at least hopeful,  that it was all just a phase and that society would return to what it had been in the Fifties, when women and minorities knew their places and when the conservative white establishment ran things the way they were supposed to be run.

Many of those people still thought that America could win the Vietnam War and that regular folks who dutifully observed the long-prevailing social norms could defeat what they saw as the immoral hippie ethic.

But look what happened! In a sense, the hippies prevailed in the long run.

The two major wars America has fought in recent years turned out to be as unpopular as Vietnam.

Women and blacks and gays have not returned to their stations of yore. Quite the opposite is the case. Women are making professional and political gains all over the place. There’s a black guy in the White House. The gays are getting married these days, and most Americans have no problem with that. The pot smokers are toking-up legally in some states, and marijuana prohibition is increasingly unpopular among the general populace.

And most recently, acceptance of immigrants in this country has become far more widespread than it was only a few years ago.  Just today, a poll was released showing that nearly two-thirds of Americans favor legislation that would create a path toward citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants already living here.

The hippies have won the culture wars. And the losers, members of what once was the Great Silent Majority, are fading away.

Conservative pundit George Will put it succinctly when he said just yesterday with regard to one of these culture wars: “Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying. It’s old people.”

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12 Comments

  1. Yeah!

    Let’s spark a doobie to celebrate.

  2. Only in Colorado and Washington, doc.

  3. For now.

  4. Craig Knauss

    Pot may be “legal” on CO and WA, but it’s still against federal law, which probably has precedence. As a result, our governor here in WA is hesitating to initiate it, pending discussions with the feds. But if doc wants to come out here, I can direct him to a good head shop. As for me, I don’t touch the stuff. I do too much nuclear work.

  5. Luke Fredrickson

    As a man conceived in the summer of love and born on the day of the Tet Offensive, I consider myself eternally indebted to the sixties.

    It is certainly ironic that I joined the marines to kill for my country, yet my very existence kept my dad out of Vietnam. I later told my mother that had she cut my hair before I was 4, I would not have felt the need to enlist. She saw my guilt trip and raised me one by reminding me that I kept her from going to Woodstock.

    I give sincere thanks to the Lord for the many talented hippies that East High educated and unleashed on the Establishment. Yes, God loves Him some peace!

  6. Craig,

    I don’t touch the stuff either. The few times I smoked it in college it really had no effect other than to torch my lungs. These days I avoid inhaling burning plant material into my lungs.

    Now I prefer beer and cheese (being from Wisconsin and all).

  7. Craig Knauss

    doc,

    At my age I definitely prefer beer. (We have numerous micro-breweries nearby.) But I tend to cut the cheese. ;-}

  8. LOL!

  9. Brian Opsahl

    We have jails full of guys who smoked a frikin plant or grew a plant. I smoked the stuff in high school and it only made me laugh at stupid things and hungry for something sweet to eat. All the things that my parents and Government said about weed was a lie…my experiance with it is that it slows your reflexes but the effect is nothing like the effects of alcohol or being drunk…in other words I think it’s harmless…but on the Medical side Doc…
    One lady I worked with several years back had gotten cancer when she did her Chemo she got very sick and naushes and could not eat…after her son begged her to try smokin some of his weed (son was told it stop the naushes) she did and to her surprise she said it helped alot….so if that helps but one person with Chemo or any other ills then why NOT…Medician is Medician is it NOT….Doc..?

  10. Brian Opsahl

    By the way that Lady later on lost that battle with the cancer….she was only 57 RIP Sharon…!!

  11. It definitely helps with chemo and other chronic illness related nausea and anorexia. We secretly fed it to one of my relatives in brownies before he died and it had a positive impact on his appetite.

  12. Here’s a perspective on the role rock festivals played in spreading the counterculture 40+ years ago:

    http://likethedew.com/2012/03/04/we-can-all-join-in-how-rock-festivals-helped-change-america/

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