Crashing Waves

The following article first appeared in The Dartmouth, America’s oldest collegiate daily and the official student newspaper of Dartmouth College. It was published Friday, August 14, 2009 and was written by staff columnist Sam Buntz. It is very good writing and is re-printed here, verbatim.

Aug. 15 marks the 40-year anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. Many college students look back on the days of Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon with nostalgia — nostalgia for a time when we didn’t even exist. Admittedly, the music of the late 1960s was great and still forms the core of what I listen to. But I feel I need to question the haze of good vibes surrounding Woodstock and the Baby Boomers’ claim that it totally meant something, man — like we had real values, and then, in the words of Easy Rider: “We blew it.”

But blew what? We’ve inherited Woodstock’s liberated sexual and chemical attitudes but none of its “values.” This is because those values never existed — Woodstock was filled with insincerity. Only individuals can have values or integrity — movements are nothing but individuals surrendering themselves to the common flow.

Hunter S. Thompson provided an example of the wistful nonsense surrounding Woodstock in his famous “Wave Speech” from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” He writes, “We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…[L]ess than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

Wistful nonsense.

Wistful nonsense.

It is fortunate that waves crash — particularly this wave. A life of free concerts and drugs is demonstrably unsustainable. Consider that Woodstock did not return a profit for decades and it destroyed Max Yasgur’s farm. If the hippies had their way, progress would be impossible. We would be living in a primitive nightmare. When everyone is enjoying the vibes, no one is curing cancer or elevating people out of poverty — or even cultivating themselves spiritually (despite pretensions to the contrary). All that exists is a brute world of self-destructive selfishness.

You might argue that the counter-culture contributed importantly to civil rights and the anti-war movement. I would argue that only individuals who worked hard did. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t exactly wearing tie-dye, and neither was Robert F. Kennedy. They wore suits. MLK was a Baptist minister. Followers of the counter-culture possibly did more to perpetuate the Vietnam War than to stop it, considering that their strategy for ending the conflict was to get high in a tent and assume that their “energy” would overwhelm the forces of darkness. Practical people destroyed the hippies, and clowns like Jerry Rubin and the “Yippies” did nothing but make them appear more fatuous.

No doubt, the era produced some sincere people — George Harrison always struck me as a cool guy. But the movement as a whole was no less life-perverting than the order it was attempting to displace. “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss,” sang Roger Daltrey. It is only you who can do anything: this is the lesson to be learned from the failure of Woodstock and our misguided nostalgia for it. It is only you, with no reliance on popular fads or causes. This is no New Age pep-talk, but the harsh reality of existence, the agony of being an individual self — total responsibility for maintaining your own personal heaven or your own private hell with no one else to turn to.

Every American believes that he or she is utterly original. Harold Bloom has gone so far to say, “No American pragmatically feels free if she is not alone, and no American ultimately concedes that she is part of nature.” The hippies represented a twisting of this truth about our country. They promised personal liberation and self-knowledge, but they really offered mass anesthetization. Volkswagen buses filled with conformists paraded under the guise of non-conformity. Timothy Leary and company said they wanted to turn you on and wake you up — but why did you slumber, a sleep within a sleep?

In the Woodstock philosophy there was no work to be done. To wake up, to become truly human, you didn’t have to do anything. You just had to be. But this is a misunderstanding. By affirming that you can know yourself without having to seek that knowledge, or that you can improve society by “dropping out,” you do nothing. It is a form of nihilism. A better formula was provided by Voltaire, when he wrote, “But we must cultivate our garden.” Otherwise, the weeds choke everything.


8 Responses to Crashing Waves

  1. HD4020 says:

    Interesting article. Arguably, the biggest legacy of Woodstock is its huge impact on the real children of the sixties: Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X). This USA TODAY op-ed speaks to the relevance today of the sixties counterculture impact on GenJones:

    Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press’ annual Trend Report forcast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009.

    Here’s a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

  2. Andrew Eastman says:

    Thank you for your time and comments; why are you using this web log to push the use of a phrase I’ve never heard of?

  3. HD4020 says:

    I wasn’t trying to “use” this blog to “push” an idea. I see making comments on blogs as a worthwhile way to further the national conversation. I liked the article you posted about Woodstock, and commented about Woodstock’s legacy on GenJones because I see it as a relevant point that’s worth making. I apologize if I somehow offended you by posting my comment.

  4. Tad says:

    Outstanding and totally relevant article! I lived through that era, enjoyed some of the fringe frivolity, friendships and music that went down but soon discarded its empty, thoughtless and leftist values.

    I soon learned I had to finish my education, work hard and compete to support a family and in the process, I grew as a person through accomplishment and achievement. I live well now in retirement. I have my own values to thank for that.

    The Woodstock era was fueled by the innate immaturity of youth. A lot of folks ultimately grew up but too many never did, leaving a sad and indelible mark on much of today’s societal values.

    Thanks for publishing this.


  5. Andrew Eastman says:

    Tad, thank you very much for your time and comments. Glad you enjoyed the post, and glad you found it on-point. There are a lot of people (many young, but not all) who think protest and slovenly discontent are somehow substitutes for work and original thought. They never are.

    I normally malign the left this way, but the right isn’t immune from it either: the Tea Party spends a lot of energy shouting and protesting, but how many of them are doing any actual work or putting out any workable ideas? Which ones have written new economic tracts? Which ones have done anything more productive than rally for a weekend?

    Gibbering rhetoric is never productive, except as distraction, and protest requires a whole lot less energy and talent than work.

  6. Tad says:

    Andrew, I agree with you entirely! As always, it’s a lesser of many evils choice. Mine is political conservatism.

    As individuals we innately want to feel needed and important if only in some small way. But the left wants equality and socialism. I want the liberty and the freedom to achieve or fail on my own.

    The more equality and socialism (read government) the less important and needed the individual becomes and the more individuals become reliant on entitlements and “rights” promised them by bureaucrats who forgot they were taught math in high school. Ultimately, as we see in Greece today, those entitlements were not forever. The individual has been lured into complacency and dependency. And with those entitlements gone, the results are protests and revolts. Ironically, these protests share much of what the Woodstock era protests were about.

  7. Andrew Eastman says:

    Federally-mandated equality for equality’s sake has never been a good idea, or a moral one, or worked. I think you’d really enjoy this letter from Cypress Semiconductors CEO T.J. Rodgers (written to a nun who wrote him to advocate for more women on his board of directors):

  8. Tad says:

    Rodgers’ reply to Sister Gormley exemplifies what good corporate governance is all about. Nevertheless there are still those who will insist that corporate America still merely wants to keep women and minorities “in their place” and doesn’t want to rock the boat with change.

    I wonder how Sister Gormley would react if she were told that, effective immediately, the board of directors of Cypress would be advising her on how to run her convent.

    Great article, Andrew!


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