They tried to Abolish all that was normal…

The counter-culture of the 1960s produced art and ideas that have remained for half a century embedded in western societies, embedded so casually that how ‘counter’ cultural they really are is questionable considering that it is less counter and more normative. Yet still people, certainly people who lived through that period of ‘exploration‘ & ‘discovery(self?)’ look back to the 1960s with a sense of awe and admiration for those rebels and iconoclasts, the figureheads of the counter-cultural movements. Yet how much admiration do the figureheads of the counter-culture we live with actually deserve? Is it simply a matter of a courageous, adventurous, universally minded generation rising up to challenge the supposedly oppressive beliefs and cultural norms of older generations?

From the outset let me make it clear that it was a broad phenomenon in which many musicians, writers, artists, thinkers are involved merely by association or simply for being around at the time and happened to get caught up in the movement. The Beat poets are an interesting pre-cursor, some of whom went on to be the figurehead-activists behind the movement’s force and core-ideals. One such person was Jewish-American poet Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg grew up within one of America’s many minority communities in New Jersey to a Marxist mother, whose psychological illnesses and trauma impacted him greatly. In fact Ginsberg spent several months in a psychiatric institution for several months as a young man.

Yet he went on to become one of the most widely read poets of the second half of the 20th century. He like many other poets of the modern period wrote in a free-verse structure without any regard to the formal structures of English poetry that had been the prevalent mode for centuries, furthermore up until the earlier 20th century, competence in pentameter and poetic form was a per-requisite to be even considered for publishing. It was not merely poetic tradition that was to be rebelled against for Ginsberg. Just about every social institution, every tradition and norm needed to be challenged. He along with others he inspired worked tirelessly through music, art and literature to lambast what they saw as old-fashioned and oppressive, any remnant of religious, family-centred world which restricted individual freedoms and whim.

Politics was understood by the counter-culturalists as a self-serving cesspool of corruption out of touch with the ‘common man’ or worse legislating against people’s individual freedoms and desires. The only politics that was worth pursuing was oppositional politics in the streets, demonstrations which could display disenchantment and disdain for policy, the policy-makers and anyone associated with the corrupt ‘establishment‘ or ‘system‘. Ginsberg, a life-long communist did however lobby for reform in his country, he worked for equal legal rights for fellow homosexuals, one of many minority groups in the country who were due to cultural taboos kept their sexuality largely under the radar and had occasionally faced discrimination on a social level.

Ginsberg however campaigned further, not merely for the explicit political/legal recognition of a homosexual minority but for the unrestricted freedom of adults to have sexual relations with children, opposition to which was in his mind, a product of oppressive, old-fashioned obstacles to human freedom such as religion, the state and first and foremost, the family unit. Timothy Leary who like Ginsberg was known for his advocacy of illegal mind-altering psycho-active drugs famously stated ‘don’t trust anyone over thirty’ an ideal intended to appeal to the inherent impulses for creativity and self-discovery present in young adults. Any attachment to their parents, to traditional ways of thinking and living were to be abolished, however persuasively.

The individual was supreme, all else could perish in an instant without a moment’s care, after all the goal was to be care-free, free of responsibility, free of commitment and ultimately free from certainty. The strategy to undermine all the old certainties, all the beliefs and norms of the past was for many counter-culture figureheads to pressure youth directly or indirectly to take illegal drugs to induce altered states, (which in reality was more akin to not thinking at all, to damage a functioning brain) and to sell new exotic, eastern quasi-religions, caricatures of traditional forms of religion found in the Indian Sub-Continent and the Far East.

Freedom was in the counter-cultural view and remains understood firstly as a negatively defined freedom, that is, the freedom to rebel, to oppose, and secondly freedom for the individual, that is to say in contrast and often at the expense of the collective or tribal good. The counter-culture of the 1960s produced an idealism, which has within it some underlying healthy, admirable values such as a questioning of power, a vague pacifism and a sort of open-mindedness, yet how those values are expressed and framed in language, how we, 50 years later project back onto that period that idealism is fraught with insurmountable problems and subjectivity.

The goals however of many counter-cultural figureheads were arrogant, selfish and perverse and it is those seeds that have sprouted more over time than the other seeds, seeds of human respect, trust and decency. What is left is the last generation, in western societies of adults, who worked, lived, and almost always married living among us, they came of age in the 1940s and 1950s when an outlook on life, however flawed, was shared, when the blind desire to rebel, to contradict and to ingratiate had not been fostered by mentally troubled poets and C.I.A operatives.

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Communication, Love & The Posthumous Battle Between Dead Poets and Hollywood

Society is becoming more and more centralised, technology dependent and is fundamentally dominated by a rigged game of money lending, which is played every morning by about 12 inhumane, superficially respectable, hereditary monopolists.

It seems human relations are becoming increasingly impersonal, abstracted into some network or other. One hears nice fuzzy terms like ‘connected’ all the time, yet the darker reality is persistently evaded and you can see the most addictive aspect of technology, immediacy, ever manifest in people. Communicating with loved ones living elsewhere illustrates the beneficial side, I have no doubt that every day between the chaotic flow of life in the ‘civilized’ world, a mobile phone or internet connection might really make a positive difference in life.

It does come at price however, a whole generation is becoming unable to communicate outside a thread bare virtual network, only feeling comfortable communicating impersonally, after all… posting a comment or sending an email is more convenient right? Yet there is a price to pay for this enveloping network, face to face communication, the essence of human contact is being pushed out of the picture, there are more consequences for this than many care to realise, on people’s mental and emotional states.

If human communication is reduced to impersonal networking, do we not expect human life to become devalued in the process, the fate of so many is determined daily in so many ways by beauracracy. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and everyone around you communicated by sticking up post-it notes against doors, on furniture to communicate….what’s missing there? I don’t need to tell you.

So what does love mean if anything in 21st century western civilization?

I say it has been so greatly demeaned and cheapened, when the raw experience of socialising and encountering is being overshadowed by an impersonal internet, which is an experience that doesn’t leave one quite at ease, particularly women.

What has growing addiction to porn among young men doing to their understanding of love? Porn which is the humiliation and objectification of impoverished women, leaves values of sincerity, equality, love, dignity, all but trampled on. It is the mass media generally however, be it hollywood, t.v. series, the music industry which gets incredibly wealthy from our consumption of their flashy, alluring, unholy vomit, which does not hold love on any pedestal, rather bastardizes it as animalistic promiscuity or hyped displays of infidelity, the sacred is not handled with care, it is broken into shards in a battered box…

I believe there is something beautiful about sharing human experience with the one you love, having an other half, in whom you confide, with whom you grow. Hollywood shamefully presents infidelity as somehow a more exhilarating option…. When in reality there is nothing more exhilarating than falling in love.

So in defiance of the perpetual denigration of human love and romance, in the absence of the poets and romantic balladeers of ages past who held love so high, what is there to do for those who uphold the magic and beauty of human contact?

What can we do when the heart cries for something more? the indescribable passion in the company of your love whom is before your eyes true and glorious, the ultimate splendour of God’s creation? I say turn your back at the devil’s circus and step to the heart’s rhythm.