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Climate Matters

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No, I’m not about to go on a rant about global warming, for or against.  I’ll get to the reason for the title in a minute.

Before then, it seems to me that we’re getting things a little confused, and since I was the one who started the confusion, I’d better be the one to clear it up.

First, I never said that hippies and protohippies are leaders, and I really never said that they were/are morally better than other people.

Nor did I say they were sincere, or authentic.

On the morality front, I actually think they tend to be morally worse than other people on most measures of morality.  At its very best, their moral thinking is fuzzy, insubstantial and largely illogical.  The cluster of positions on that agenda I outlined a few posts ago are not logically connected in any obvious way. 

In some cases, the positions on that agenda are actually contradictory.  To answer John’s question, most of the NETs and the people around them in the abolitionist movement supported the Union side in the Civil War, and didn’t flinch at the ida that war might be necessary to fix the problem.  Hippie pacifism tends to be highly selective even now.

As for the attraction to violent people–some months ago I wrote a post about writers who had ended up getting a thrill out of championing murderers and getting them out of jail.  Those writers included William F. Buckley, who was nobody’s hippie. 

I think the attraction to violent people may have something to do with bookishness and be largely unrelated to left-wing or right-wing, hippie or otherwise, politics.  What’s interesting to me about that particular phenomenon is that I have only ever found one writer who knew what he was doing plain when he got himself into these situations, and that was Truman Capote.  

Whatever else Capote was, he didn’t lie to himself either about the nature of his protoges–he knew Dick and Perry were guilty, and dangerous as hell–or the nature of his attraction to them.  But crime and violence have always attracted the intellectual class. 

As to Mrs. Hiss, I can give you the Cliveden set–who did much the same kind of treasonous work on behalf of the Nazis.   That’s an offshoot of absolute moral certainty, of the conviction that the Good, the Right, and the True lie with X, and therefore anything is justified in bringing about X.

Hippies can certainly fall into that sort of moral mess, but so can people who are not hippies, or anything like them. 

The college speech codes, though, and the rape codes, and all the rest of it, are the work not of hippies but of  Ratchetts, and Ratchetts will attach themselves to any movement where they think they can get enough power to operate as they like.

Te problem with the hippies when they’re confronted by speech codes is that they have no way to resist them, even if they feel–and their morality seems to me to be mostly emotional–that what they’re seeing is wrong.  Heck, even people who are not hippies sometimes have a problem seeing their way through this kind of thing.  I seem to remember having a long and involved arguement with Mique–no hippie, and no leftist, either–who felt that a right to free speech that protected calling somebody a nigger had something wrong with it.

Okay, that was several years ago.  And he changed his mind.  But to people who are not free speech absolutists, the reason for such a protection for such speech is not usually clear, and that resistance to extending protections to “wrong” ideas exists across the political spectrum.   Consider the fuss even ardent opponents of college speech codes–say, Bill  O’Reilly–can make over the NAMBLA website.

If you want to look at a revolutionary war era man who made a principled decision about slavery, you should look not to Washington, but to a man named Robert Carter, who freed his slaves not when he died but immediately and on the spot, knowing it would subject him to penury for the rest of his life and doing it anyway.  There was a god book about him a few years ago that’s worth reading.

But Carter and  Washington, like the contemporaries and near-contemporaries of Rousseau who made him an important figure in the French revolution, where products of the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment.  Hippies are the products of and Romantic backlash. 

And that’s where we get to the title–climate matters.  A world where slavery exists and is largely considered to be inevitable, right and proper is fundamentally different from a world in which slavery exists but is considered to be inexcusably wrong.

Real and necessary social change–and, yes, moral progress–happen not when Leader X arises to point the way, but when the moral and political climate experiences a sea change.  

What the hippies do is to provide mass in bulk for some ideas–bad ones as well as good ones–that attract the less thoughtful and less committed sort of vaguely in their direction, and the existence of that mass, especially when it’s growing, changes the rules of engagement on the ground.

Consider the recent social sea-change about the spanking of children–opposition to which began almost entirely among the hippies.  Most people in the US still support a parent’s right to spank, but that support gets weaker by the day, and it’s already heavily on the defensive.  

Climate matters. And no significant social change ever happens unless the climate changes first.  

The correleation here exists whether we like it or not, and the reason for that correlation is not entirely clear.   That doesn’t make the hippies some sort of moral beacons to the rest of us–as I said about, they seem to me to be largely less morally good the the rest of us–but it does mean that we can’t entirely rule out some reason for that correlation that we haven’t been able to isolate yet.

In the meantime, there is moral progress that does need to be made, and climate matters, and as fas as I can see, these are the people who largely provide the climate.

And that wouldn’t be negligible, even if one of them hadn’t written “Slavery in Massachusetts.”

Written by janeh

July 13th, 2009 at 8:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Climate Matters'

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  1. But now the debate is getting to the circular point (and that’s a contradiction in terms!) again. I find that so frustrating.

    Leadership alone isn’t enough; we need ‘social climate change’. But why does social climate change occur? At least partly because some people who are seen as leaders or at least as leaders of fashion are suggesting the change. And around and around we go.

    Now, obviously reality is going to be more complex than anything described here, with far more in the way of currents and counter-currents in the social climate, plus influences from everything from the scientific to the political and economic worlds, plus the entire set of opinions and influences and their interaction relating to all the specialist worlds and their worldviews. I have nothing at all against using a simplified model of society to try to understand how it works. At this point, though, I think so much has been thrown out of our model of western societies that using what’s left is like trying to explaining nuclear reactions using the Rutherford model of the atom.

    Yes, these people (who are sounding more and more like the ultimate tourists at the revolution) contribute to the social climate. So does everyone else, more or less, from the breakaway Mormons out in Bountiful and the SW US to the underclass surviving on social assistance in major cities to the shrinking rural population. And let’s not forget the forces that are motivated by what sells the most – the advertising and entertainment and news industries. ARE your tourists and Zenobias and what-not bellwethers, merely one among a chorus, or hangers-on?
    Admittedly, I haven’t proved that they aren’t central or even essential, but you haven’t proven that they are. Climate change comes from *somewhere*, but that a particular subgroup is responsible for causing a particular social science change hasn’t been proven – although I do have a suspicion that if I just looked in the right place, I’d find evidence that someone had tried. A sociologist or historian, maybe. There must be some academic subspecialty of something that studies large-scale changes in human social climates. Besides the advertizing industry, I mean.

    And I’ve finally remembered the name of the woman who wrote a science fiction novel on the creation of trends – Connie Willis. I liked her book on the Black Death better, though.


    13 Jul 09 at 9:02 am

  2. Ah, thank you, Cheryl! Exactly what I was going to ask, and mention. Connie Willis’ book is called Bellwether, and I was going to ask: What if the hippies are just bellwethers? They aren’t leading, they just are in the forefront. Perhaps they pick up the zeitgeist earlier and reflect it, or magnify it, or just add on a mass of people?


    13 Jul 09 at 9:16 am

  3. Seems to me that you don’t get significant change without the leaders and the bellwethers (so to speak). I’ve noticed that there seems to be a last gasp of protest against something just before it’s commonly accepted by almost everyone – but in order to get to that point, you need a critical mass of people to accept the change in the first place.


    13 Jul 09 at 9:28 am

  4. I think you’re right about attraction to violence existing across the board, and I suspect there is some fascination in certain types of intellectual for someone who actually DOES something.

    (Though I still think WFB gets included for a false “balance.” He thought his man was wrongly convicted, and when the man was caught attempting a similar crime, WFB frankly admitted his error. You’re SUPPOSED to help people you believe are innocent to get out of prison. For contrast, Mailer spent decades pointing out that his pet murderer was a great artist, and so much more valuable than the man he killed after Mailer helped him get out.)

    But I wasn’t talking about violence as such. My point was that all Rousseau’s English-speaking children seem to have a real affection for dictatorial government–Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Che and a host of second-rate thugs.

    Most of the Quislings and the UK’s Hitler wannabes were, if you like, morally and politically consistent. They didn’t like freedom and deocracy, said as much, and supported right-wing totalitarianism. This may be reprehensible, but it’s not insincere.

    The English proto-hippies said the fall of the Bastille was a wonderful thing, putting an end to arbitrary imprisonment. They never said a word about Napoleon stocking Vincennes with everyone from Tousant l’Overture to the Pope. They wanted and celebrated an end to hereditary priviledge, but Napoleon appointing his siblings as kings didn’t quite register.

    And of course you can play the same game with their 20th Century counterparts–Fred Pohl mentions campaigning for the elimination of the death penalty–claiming it was eliminated in the Soviet Union–and at the same time celebrating the “liquidation” of tens of thousands of class enemies. They talked about disparities of wealth at tremendous length, but never said a word as the communist elite moved into Tsarist dachas. They wrote about capitalism causing poverty, but were quite supportive of planned famines.

    And blaming campus tyranny on the Ratchets is a cop-out. Rousseau’s kids own the place, and they don’t have any trouble speaking out when they don’t like conditions. For all their talk of free speech in the abstract, they’re quite comfortable with suppressing it in reality. The Ratchets are just their enforcers.

    When this happens once and for a short time, it’s muddled thinking, when a movement goes on for more than 200 years saying one thing and doing something else, other words come to mind.


    13 Jul 09 at 5:02 pm

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