Saturday, June 23, 2007

From the Summer of Love to Woodstock

My second year of college ended, while "the Summer of Love" in San Francisco in 1967 exploded on the streets and in the media. Images of young "flower children" walking with colorful clothes, long hair, smoking dope, dropping acid, and making peace signs. Youth grasped, for a moment, that the world was overly focused on things, technology, power, domination, consumerism -- at the expense of being human and loving. And, something had to be done about it.

The older generation viewed young people as merely engaging in "sex, drugs, rock'n'roll". This was not true. Youth were recovering the love and aliveness unseen in parents and the people around them. A generation looked back and saw the clich├ęs of love, but not love itself. A time of radical rediscovery of love's luster, innocence and "becoming as children again".

Dehumanizing technology power manifested in the images and reality of the Vietnam War. Helicopters, napalm bombs, and chemicals destroying jungles. Machines and gadgets against people. Vietnam made no sense, yet took 50,000 American lives. "We", the good guys, where killing people, animals, and plants in a foreign land. In quiet ways, we did it here -- at home. Human instinct, culture and technology were out of harmony. The Summer of Love was a true healthy human response to insanity.

Abbie Hoffman, put it thus: The lesson of the 60's is that peoplewho cared enough to do right could change history. We didn't end racism but we ended legal segregation. We ended the idea that you could send half-a-million soldiers around the world to fight a war that people do not support. We ended the idea that women are second-class citizens. We made the environment an issue that couldn't be avoided. The big battles that we won cannot be reversed. We were young, self-righteous, reckless, hypocritical, brave, silly, headstrong and scared half to death. And we were right. (

A longing for return to the Garden of Eden got expressed in the "back to the land" and ecology-recycling movements. Many went to "live on the land" in communes. Others formed cooperative houses and communes in all major cities. Most of these social experiments faded away. But, many remnants remain. It's significant that the Summer of Love was in San Francisco on the streets near the corner of Haight and Ashbury; while, two years later, the Woodstock music festival happens on a farm in the East Coast.

The Summer of Love opened a path leading to the cultural and technical integration of Woodstock. An event greater than a music concert. University of California at Berkeley, Professor Hubert Dreyfus writes:

Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and other rock groups became for many the articulators of a new understanding of what really mattered. This new understanding almost coalesced into a cultural paradigm in the Woodstock music festival of 1969, where people actually lived for a few days in an understanding of being in which mainline contemporary concerns with order, sobriety, willful activity, and flexible, efficient control were made marginal and subservient to certain pagan practices, such as enjoyment of nature, dancing, and Dionysian ecstasy, along with neglected Christian concerns with peace, tolerance, and nonexclusive love of one's neighbor. Technology was not smashed or denigrated; rather, all the power of electronic communications was put at the service of the music, which focused the above concerns. (from Dr. Dreyfus's paper titled "Heidegger on the connection between nihilism, art, technology, and politics".)

A vision that harmonizes instinct, culture and technology was articulated and practiced. Can we find a way back to it in the middle of ordinary 21st century life? 300 years from today, another young generation shall either bless or curse us for our response to this question.

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