Thanks to the ’60s, we are all shamelessly selfish.
So says Kurt Andersen in a NY Times op-ed.
You know what I say?
Andersen’s thesis is that “do your own thing” represents the same kind of selfish approach to life as the greed of unrestrained capitalism.
He does give hippies some credit for the big changes for women, people of color, and gays that have come in the wake of the “Sixties” (which actually incorporates a good bit of the 1970s as well); he just also holds them responsible for corporate greed.
Now I don’t know what Kurt Andersen did in the cultural revolution, but I do know what I did. I helped start this:
Mr. Andersen may not be aware of it, but co-ops are pretty much the antithesis of greedy Wall Street. They’re owned by their members — in the case of Wheatsville, the consumers who buy groceries there. People vote for directors and policies on a one member, one vote basis. Members who put in a lot of time tend to have more influence, because they know what’s going on, but they still only have one vote.
The co-ops we started back in the Sixties and Seventies went down a rocky path, but I’m happy to report that Wheatsville not only survived, but has thrived. It’s about to open a second store. And while I’m glad to take my share of credit for helping get it off the ground — I was instrumental in getting an initial loan for the store and also took legal action to get us a beer and wine retail sales permit — the current health of the co-op is due to people who came along later.
That is, it was a collective enterprise.
I spent a lot of my years as a lawyer doing other co-op work, especially helping tenants buy their apartment buildings and turn them into co-ops. I lived in a housing co-op for some years. And here I am, part of Book View Cafe, a publishing co-op.
Group efforts, one and all. And I ended up doing those things because of the ideals I embraced way back when. It didn’t make me rich, but it built something that was more than just mine.
Sure, I try to “do my own thing”; that is, I try to be the person I really am, rather than trying to fit into someone else’s stereotyped ideal. But I also try to work cooperatively with other people. The most important thing I learned in my years in co-ops was how to blend in with the group to get the work done. Or — to put it in the report card vernacular — how to play well with others.
I also find it hard to characterize as selfish people who were willing to open up opportunities to others who weren’t like them.
In one of the radio reports on the recent death of Andy Griffith, they played snippets of an interview in which he talked about the virtues of the old-fashioned life he portrayed as sheriff of Mayberry. Now I don’t have anything against Andy Griffith and I know some of what he meant. I grew up in a small town where everybody knew I was the older Moore girl and nobody locked their doors.
But I also watched the crap my mother had to put up with just to get some respect as a professional journalist. That world would never have countenanced my going to law school or training in martial arts or writing science fiction or even living on my own.
I’d rather lock my doors than go back to living in a world in which women have limited choices, Black people have to ride on the back of the bus, and gays are stuck in the closet.
Anyway, I don’t think greed is here to stay. As Steven Popkes reported here the other day, human beings are “supercooperators.” Cooperation has been an important aspect of our evolution.
I’m an optimist; I think greed will lose out to collective action. And it’s as good a time as any to start working in that direction. After all, 2012 is the International Year of Cooperatives.
[updated to correct the spelling of Andersen's name: It's Kurt Andersen, not Anderson.]