Pop Culture
Sep 20, 2023, 05:59AM

Damned Hippies

They’re trapped in a world they never wanted.

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This has to have been a disappointing few weeks for elderly ex-hippies. They’re used to disappointment after the past half-century, but the sexual assault allegations against meditation-loving anarchist Russell Brand and other developments in the news must make it feel as if their standard-bearers and ideals arise only to be trashed or warped beyond recognition.

True, Russell Brand’s defenders are right to think the timing of the revelations about him are fishy. Decades-old dirt on people tends to come out when they become a threat to big establishment interests such as the military, big political parties, pharmaceutical companies, or major media, as the increasingly populist Brand has. That doesn’t mean the allegations are false.

Even observers who’d never heard sexual harassment rumors around Brand could see he was working a sort of guru messiah vibe, and those guys—Koresh, Manson, Ezra Miller—go wrong in certain predictable ways, from the guitars and long hair to the isolated rural compounds and mesmerized groupies.

It doesn’t help, as feminists have no doubt noticed, that the handful of celebrities quickest to leap to Brand’s defense have been Alex Jones, Andrew Tate, and Tucker Carlson, respectively known, among other things, for hawking dubious manliness-enhancing supplements, being arrested for rape and sex trafficking, and being the target of a sexual harassment suit recently settled for $12 million, fairly or not.

But then, I look forward to the day when humanity, embracing some of Brand’s anarchist impulses without the manic self-aggrandizing baggage, wakes up to the fact that most leaders are, by definition, abusive. Individuals should be charting their own courses in life, and much that’s sold to us as guidance is thinly-veiled exploitation serving the leaders’ interests, whether in governmental, market, religious, academic, medical, or other settings.

Without everyone from hippies to high priests praising humility for the masses and mystical high status for leadership, the public might not be awaiting the weird spectacle of Trump addressing striking members of the United Auto Workers union next week. I’m as pained as the elderly hippies by this unexpected populist play by an ostensibly conservative leader, but not for the same reasons.

(A side note: I’m also pained by the unreflective way in which virtually every half-wit nerd YouTuber commenting on the strikes in Hollywood just takes it for granted that the strikers are in the right and the companies so stupid they can’t even see their own financial self-interest or figure out that higher pay and shorter hours will result not only in greater happiness for employees but, we are assured by the casual pro-union commentators, better special effects in Marvel movies. Are you sure? Have you ever seen a strike that you thought was unwarranted? Do you even have any guidelines for spotting such an eventuality, or is the union position in a negotiation just always the correct position by definition? Are you an industry analyst or just a communist focusing on a very narrow sector of the economy?)

I’m not claiming, though, that hippies are primarily to blame for Trump’s missteps—even though he’s a libidinous show-biz antiwar Boomer from New York City. The hippie ethos may deserve more blame, though, for people falling for leaders like John of God, the Brazilian sleight-of-hand trickster who became a spiritual inspiration to millions by pretending to heal pilgrims with surgery-via-telekinesis. Oprah loved him and so did a smart but perhaps overly New Agey woman I dated, but he’s now been sentenced to 118 years in prison for raping countless women and purportedly selling the resulting babies.

This is where adoring leaders gets you, time and again. Hippies weren’t all bad, but they were at their best when being rebellious and open-minded, not when, say, following the Dead for months on end. It’s not just hippies, I realize. In the hands of the idiotic human race, every philosophy soon goes wrong and becomes an excuse for authoritarianism or mayhem—or both.

Stoke a reasonable skepticism of cops and the next thing you know the world’s watching video footage of arrogant teen nihilists laughing while fatally ramming an ex-police chief on his bicycle. Encourage environmentalism around the world and soon instead of agrarian gatherings you’re watching a massive drone formation do a display over Manhattan’s East River near the U.N. Building in honor of governmental climate change efforts, incidentally reminding the world in the process what coordinated military-style drones can do and reminding New York City it’s under increasing surveillance. (I trust green anarchist John Zerzan would be suitably appalled.) Finish off the evening with a little left-leaning but establishment comedy and be reminded Jimmy Fallon’s reportedly a drunken creep with an emotionally abused and traumatized staff.

Like a Mobius strip, the path away from civilization as we’ve known it but toward other charismatic leader figures, even ones posing as mere jesters, leads back into the same old authoritarian Hell.

—Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on X at @ToddSeavey


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