The current global economic crisis has rekindled the wannabe hippy spirit I carried as a kid in junior high in the early 1970s. My generation admired our flower child elders. We played guitar and sang about the golden hill, the wide water and all the little creatures roaming the green earth. It was a romantic idea - living simply, communally and cooperatively - chopping our own wood, growing corn and eating lettuce from our own gardens. We argued whether or not we would hunt and eat the meat killed by our own hands (we argued whether it was ethical to hunt with guns, or more fair to the animal to use bows and arrows).
Today's climate - environmental, socio-economic, cultural, pop cultural, religious - begs for a new sensibility, or, more accurately, an old one.
During the earliest Neolithic age, people lived in simple, egalitarian communities of 150-2000 persons. In the world's first town, Jericho, there were a whopping 3,000 persons, making it a large city. Imagine trying to manage the food, waste, water, living and dying of thousands of people without trains or trucks or ports. The key was regional sustainability. Indigenous people necessarily used every bit of everything hunted, gathered and/or cultivated. What was the alternative? There was no 'away' to throw anything. Early humans knew enough not to foul their own nests, much less waste anything at all. Everything had a function - wheat, chaff, fat, muscle, cartilage, hide, hoof, brain, guts, liver and heart.
Ancient Greek counter-culture (ca. 500-300 BCE) insisted that "civilization" was regressive. Throughout the subsequent two millennia, there have been simplicity and sustainability movements coming and going all around the globe.
Interestingly, today Bangladesh has the world's smallest ecological footprint. In fact, "undeveloped" countries have, statistically, much lower environmental impact than their "developed" counterparts, across the board.
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Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Thoreau and Gandhi, all hippies before their time, espoused simple living as the path to personal enlightenment, or redemption, peace of mind, or peace for the whole wide world.
The hippie notion that simple living and non-violence was the way to dissolve the established societal paradigm is an idea whose time has come.
Today, environmental consciousness has reached well into mainstream circles. Both of the conventional candidates in next month's presidential election routinely discuss "sustainability," "alternative energy" and the importance of fair labor laws in conjunction with trade agreements. Organic farming is big business. The current "economic crisis" is quickly escalating the emergence of cooperative business enterprises and businesses that engage in alternative energy programs. Green entrepreneurship is on the rise, as oil stocks plummet. The distribution and sale of used and recycled clothing is an enormous global industry. Community gardens are sprouting everywhere, as are food, financial, retail, telecommunications, energy, technology and housing cooperatives.
Perhaps most interestingly, we have today mainstream politicians discussing alternatives to war and violence. Barack Obama is my age (Oh, my! If I'd only worked a little harder, I might have done something with MY life!), and has the audacity to suggest that, as president, he will sit down with "belligerent" world leaders, without conditions, and actually talk to them. This is not a pacifist, or a peace activist. This is a typical American Democrat politician with stars in his eyes. He sees the presidency within his reach, and we are a huge swath of his constituency, folks, you and I - the old hippies, the reformed hippies, the post-hippie wannabes and our children. We have the opportunity to elect someone who NEEDS US in order to win and keep the office. We may not agree with all of his ideas. We may grumble that he is just another corporate whore. But you know what? He's our whore, and it's our job, as FDR said, to make him do what's right. This is our opportunity to organize ourselves into the potent voice we have always believed we could be, if only we could get someone to listen.
The revolution is here. Now let's wake up and smell that organic, locally roasted, shade grown, fair trade French Roast and get on with it.