The Hippies Are Not the Root of All Evil

By Nancy Jane Moore

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.

2012 International Year of Cooperatives

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.]



The Hippies Are Not the Root of All Evil — 14 Comments

  1. I don’t know who Mr. Anderson hangs out with. Most of the people I know (mostly baby boomers more or less of my generation, and quite a few former hippies and some not-so-former) are shamelessly _un_selfish, and the person I know who lives closest to the edge, financially speaking, is generous to others with her time and her limited resources.

  2. It is a silly “kids these days!” reaction that surely has to pass sometime. After all, everybody who was a grouchy adult in the sixties is pretty elderly now, and when they are all gone then, yes — it’ll be US out there, writing the op-ed pieces and tut-tutting about all those lazy, texting, gamer, layabout kids.

  3. I agree. There was a commune – community – cooperative aspect to that era which terrified the capitalist powers that pee on us all. Countering that terrifying objective to create structures that were more democratic and more equal and more caring, they propagandized. Communism! they screamed. It was an obvious ploy probably as most of those participating in these efforts were anti war, specifically the vast capitalist pillaging of the taxpayer that was the Vietnam war. So — commies, those who could see this and were against it, must be. Just like those who objected to the U.S. invading Iraq based on the lies about wmd that it did not have that issued straight from Darth Vader’s office.

    It’s impossible to notice too, that feminism of the period got diverted from the original objective to, to change the capitalist model structures, into ‘having it all,’ that applied to a small, and by now ever-shrinking, number of white middle class – upper middle class, etc. women. Having it all meant having what the white men who ran the structure always had. It meant joining that power structure. That didn’t and wouldn’t change anything, and we’re finally recognizing that, even as we finally see they aren’t going allow women to join them in that power structure in any significant numbers anyway, no matter how brilliantly and hard working even the white women perform. It’s still only exceptionals that get to play turning herself into one of those white men.

    Love, C.

  4. Accusing women of selfishness who don’t sacrifice their lifes for family, husband and children! is a very common strategy of revisionist conservatices. At least here in Germany and, yes, still; it seems even more than ten years ago.
    Seems to me quite clear wherefrom the wind blows in Anderson’s mind.

    • At least here in Germany, the attacks on women who don’t want to give their whole life to their families have actually been getting worse in the past few years (but then I don’t have to tell you that). On the other hand, childless couple and particularly single childless women are attacked as selfish as well, because they don’t provide pension payers and future workers for the state.

      • Yeah, the accepted life style definition for women is quite narrow, nowadays.
        On second thought the selfishness argument works as well for undutiful sons and daughters, not doing with their lifes what daddy wants them to do… overall evil hippie tendencies!

  5. The cooperative spirit is fierce everywhere. It needs only leaders to suggest where to put that energy. Be an example to everyone, choose a worthy objective, start something.

  6. I agree. If anything, that hippie Sixties component of our population is the least selfish in terms of values.

    I have only one pet peeve about the Sixties. It’s in the label. I hate how the Sixties get credit for all that social evolution and the Seventies get dismissed as the disco decade. It was the first half of the Seventies when the greatest number of us were living the “spirit of the Sixties.” The Seventies should get more positive credit. (It was only the tail end of the Seventies that went disco.) Meanwhile the first half of the Sixties — the Cold War peak — was rather conservative and had a “spirit of the Fifties” that I’m glad faded out.

    • Yep. I define the 60s as pretty much 1965 to 1975. The Civil Rights movement was in full swing before 1965, but the rest of the scene wasn’t that strong.

      I remember walking across the University of Texas campus in the spring of 1975 and coming across a large crowd. “Goodness,” I thought. “There’s a demonstration and I didn’t know about it.” And then I figured out that everybody was waiting for a streaker to run by. Things were changing by then.

  7. I have figured out why Kurt Andersen wrote his silly op-ed for the Times: He has a new novel out with much the same theme. Janet Maslin reviews it here. Maslin says of it: “But ‘True Believers” is not an essay; it just feels like one.” Since Andersen’s actual essay was annoying and simplistic, I don’t think I’m going to bother with his novel.
    (Note correct spelling of Andersen’s name, in case any of you are looking him up. I corrected it in the post, too.)

  8. IIRC the 1890s were not exactly free of greed on a grand scale (maybe Anderson was playing hooky when they covered the Gilded Age in US History class …?)