“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"It Was a Hippie Thing"

When I first showed up in the States the official line on the New Left (emerged in the 60s) was that it was about including race, class, gender and environment in the intellectual mix.

Andrew Ross and I used to talk about it.

But over time I started wondering more and more, "Where did the environment go?" It certainly wasn't obvious from the way the New Left shook down in the late 80s academy.

So one day I asked my friend (another one) who writes for New Left Review (so he should know right?).

"How come the New Left dropped the ball on ecology in the Sixties?"

"Well, it was a hippie thing."

Not "It was perceived as a hippie thing." It was one.

Well, this hippie thing is now the Arctic Vortex that got drunk and slipped south thanks to a wobbly jet stream << globe warming. Humans have died. And so forth.

Best line on the Vortex, by a TV journalist: "It's colder than Mars." Love that. The sense of being on another planet and of thinking at a planetary scale.

What about it is a hippie thing? It's a question of style?

Or the "style thing" is masking an anthropocentric thing? You dismiss forging and acknowledging relations with nonhumans that way? (You use the "best of bees" vs "worst of architects" to cover your behind?)

Or "hippie thing" is pejorative code for "I too, the New Leftist, do not wish to ruin my trip by mathematizing relations at the scale of geological time"?

Scaling up to the level on which you can think ecology is a hippie thing? I really really want to figure this out. I'm writing a book remember!


Ted M. said...

Is "hippie thing" about style? Or about stuff?

So often the New Left seems to focus on gender, or race, or class in terms of stuff--why some people don't have have More. The New Left is a Cult of More. A left environmentalism might ask why some people don't have less--but even that is in tension with the ecology of More, as demonstrated by the increased focus on ecosystem services and ecological engineering in professional ecologist communities. For the most part it seems that the both the New Left and the community of professional ecologists have drunk the cool-aid of More.

So, when I hear someone form the New Left Review say that the environment was a "hippie thing" I take it as an expression of incommensurability between the Cult of More and the existence of ecological limits.

cgerrish said...

Hippies weren't into GDP and growth. The left couldn't get traction against the right without an economic growth story. Hippies were dropping out of that story-- but gender, race and class all can be easily written in to the story. You just need to focus on equality and opportunity within a consensus on growth.

In place of the 'hippie' discourse on ecology is a growth and technology discourse. The ecology problem can be solved by pressing harder on the gas pedal. An as yet undiscovered technical solution will emerge from more intensive effort and investment.

There are some remnants of the hippie train of thought in things like the Journal for Humanitarian Engineering and, of course, E.F. Schumaker's Buddhist Economics. The children of hippies rarely became hippies. There's a generational rebellion that makes the children of the 50s corporate class become hippies and the children of hippies become the new corporate class. It's the next generation -- maybe it's this generation of children -- that will rebel against the corporate growth story.

Philip said...

It's worth remembering that a lot of the hippies were turned into Republicans by Reagan because 'freedom.' The techno-utopian libertarian wing is a legacy of that. A lot of the hippy-left were, in the end, more concerned with abstract concepts of liberty than with any kind of equality or communality. At least that's how it turned out when they got older. That way you get to wear sandals to work and have a roof over your head, I guess.

A side-note: the vortex slippage has led to extremely mild weather in Scandinavia, with bears coming out of hibernation and all sorts.