Funny thing about the so-called Summer of Love: it wasn't in summer, and it didn't have much to do with love. Dawn Eden discusses:

When it comes to inappropriate names, "Summer of Love" has to be right up there with "Joy Division," the name the Nazis reportedly gave to the sections of concentration camps that housed the guards' sex slaves.

For one thing, it was not just a summer event. The countercultural happening that swept through San Francisco and beyond began with an April 1967 planning announcement by concert promoter Chet Helms, aka Family Dog, creating the "Council for the Summer of Love."

It still goes on today in the burned-out minds of its rapidly fading survivors, remnants of the thousands of teens who ran away to find Love in San Francisco, only to wind up wasted on a street whose name sounds like hate.

The most exasperating aspect of it all, I thought, was that constant call to "do your own thing" — provided, of course, that it matched everybody else's "thing." All the nonconformists looked alike.

But collective appearance wasn't the tragedy:

Thanks to the Pill and a counterculture that defined rebellion as annoying one's parents, thousands of youths became guinea pigs in a kind of mass experiment propagated by prurient Beat Generation relics such as Helms, Allen Ginsberg (died at 70, hepatitis and liver cancer) and Ken Kesey (died at 66, liver cancer). They were told that they would overcome the superficial consumerism in which they had been raised, reaching a higher spiritual level by uniting their minds to drugs and their bodies to willing takers. Instead, they themselves became products to be consumed — victimized by pushers, treated as sexual objects to be disposed of, or corrupted into predators.

It boggles the mind to think what the Summer of Love's sad victims could have accomplished if, rather than seeking to fulfill their own juvenile desires, they had aimed to create a true culture of love. Instead, in following their leaders' urging to do their own thing, they found themselves locked in a society that gave them all the restrictions of communal life — poverty, squalor, and social pressure to self-destruct — and few of the protections.

This is not to say, as Archie Bunker once did, that "anybody who lives in a commune is a communist," but the sort of tribalism evoked by the counterculture ultimately proved counterproductive: Us vs. Them only works when you have something substantive for Us to embrace.

It wasn't a complete waste of time, to be sure: some of the music held up nicely, and the process of breaking down racial barriers, begun in the 1950s, clearly accelerated in the 1960s. Certainly "Question authority" is a worthwhile policy, especially when authority asserts a right to question you.

But much of its legacy, particularly the introduction of "multiculturalism" and its bastard child "identity politics," is decidedly negative and best forgotten. You want a real Summer of Love? Go back to 1944 and D-Day, when the complete absence of pacifism turned the corner and began to put an end to a full-fledged World War. And leave the flowers in the garden where they're supposed to be.

The Vent

#538
  23 June 2007

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