The Hippie counterculture can be imagined as a kind of heroic collective subject. History needn’t be told only in the tragic and dystopian modes preferred by the Western hegemon. Picture instead “Evolvers” on the West Coast wearing sunglasses, edgelords opening portals onto virtual frontiers. The internet needn’t be cast only in the role of Dark Side of the Moon. Earth needn’t be distant. Earth and its profusion of life. The Revolution, as Gil Scott-Heron observed, “will be no rerun.” One hero’s fate needn’t be the fate of the character in each of the myth’s retellings. Time to bypass the past, pursue a different path.
What is my relationship to US settler-colonialism? For historian Nick Estes and the members of the Red Nation, the US is not a “nation of immigrants” but a “nation of settlers.” My ancestors are said to have arrived to North America from Ireland and Italy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — after the Civil War. They settled in apartments in urban ethnic enclaves in New York and New Haven, another group in Memphis, TN. After service in the two World Wars, they purchased homes in the new postwar suburbs of Long Island — though “purchased” is perhaps a misnomer, as the banks retained portions of these mortgaged properties, debt in that way a permanent tool of extraction. Both grandfathers launched and ran small businesses. Before I was born, however, both were dealt charges of tax evasion. One settled quickly by paying a fine; the other refused, and may or may not have had minor mafia connections, my parents always denying involvement of that sort (though maybe also hinting at it in secret?). All I know is, expenses ate away at his always-no-more-than-modest wealth, leaving my parents and I no inheritance other than debt. Since leaving my parents’ home, I’ve lived in rental homes on land that was several centuries ago stolen from Native people. My parents sent me off to a settler-colonialist boarding school, a “university,” so that by boarding school’s end I was left with the bill, a bill that in its form as debt has sentenced me to life as the equivalent of Staff at another of the system’s boarding schools. Can a person of my circumstance join the Red Nation? What would that mean? What would that entail? The struggle, after all, is worldwide, is it not? All of us occupy a place in it. Time to decolonize the world, from within and without Occupied Territories. (There’s your microcosm and your macrocosm. There’s your cognitive map. There it is: the totality and one’s place in it. It was there, in a sense, in Brave New World and its reservation system, albeit distorted by the particulars of Huxley’s standpoint and powers of vision.)
Back to the bookstore. The love of books. Extended, now, to children’s books, like Mindful Kids and Henry David Thoreau in the Woods. Story time at 10:30am on Saturdays. Of course, most of that is the future. As of now, most of F.’s desires center around feeding. When she’s rooting for her mother’s breast, the most I can offer is my thumb or my pinkie. I wish the world we’re introducing her to wasn’t one on fire. Natural and built environments demolished and transformed according to the whims of capital. Nick Estes usefully reframes current events as a continuation, as if by law of correspondence, of white settler-colonialist America’s war on the Buffalo Nation. His book Our History Is The Future has me looking differently not just at contemporary US acts of aggression against Iran but also at hippie modernist classics retrieved from Goodwill like Jerry Rubin’s We Are Everywhere. Is it a coincidence, too, that after walking past a building demolition downtown, a friend’s text about “leveling up” leads me away from Estes toward a motivational blog exhorting readers to “Inhale the Future, Exhale the Past”? (“Level Up” is also the name of a conference on videogames that I attended at the start of my career as an academic.) The phrase inspires fears, though, about the creeping libertarianism interwoven in the DNA of transhumanism and human potential. Is self-actualization the same as “leveling up”?
New objects arrive into the lifeworld, gifts from friends and family, well-wishing from near and afar. Some are even hand-crafted — a granny squares knit blanket, an alphabet book, a stuffed creature — made with care specifically for our daughter. These objects return me to the place in my memory palace featuring Sadie Plant’s book Zeros + Ones, a book from the future somehow released in the past, ahead of its time. It’s a steampunk biography about Lord Byron and his wife Annabella’s only child, the nineteenth century mathematician Ada Lovelace. The book focuses especially on the cause for Lovelace’s fame, her encounters with the engineer Charles Babbage’s early computer, the Difference Engine. Lovelace was the first person to recognize the full potential of computing machines, designing and publishing the first algorithm intended to be used by such a machine, thus in a sense making her the first computer programmer. Her biography follows Babbage in calling her the “Enchantress of Numbers.” I read Plant’s book decades ago. What would I find in it if I read it again today? Would I find it frustrating? Perhaps even a bit frightening? Or would I find something worth retrieving — a major or minor arcana? Perhaps the Queen of Wands? Where did Babbage and Lovelace stand, and to what extent did their work contribute, with regard to empire? Byron certainly wasn’t the most admirable character. I prefer different stories, different rabbit holes, bunnies chewing on carrots.
Reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest again with students, I find us wanting as readers to separate the book’s countercultural critique of the Combine from its racism and its misogyny. On race, as on gender, Kesey maps power-relationality ass-backwards. The novel erupts into an episode of cruel racial violence when black orderlies threaten to hose down the book’s white male patients. When one of the orderlies sprays a germophobic character named George, the book’s redheaded TV-cowboy brawler protagonist Randle Patrick McMurphy lashes out with racial epithets and starts swinging. In reality, of course, it was black children, not white men, who were sprayed with fire hoses on the streets of Birmingham, AL by racist white police officers on May 3, 1963, just one year after the novel’s publication. By teaching the book, the country’s racism lies there exposed: Oregon’s history as a white-only state, with laws forbidding black people from living in its borders upon its entry into the union in the midnineteenth century; the persistence of antiblack sentiment more than a hundred years later even among 1960s counterculturalists like Kesey. These are sobering facts, are they not? Even among those who had found the enlightenment of LSD, these ideas persisted. Granted, in Kesey’s case, enlightenment came courtesy of MK-Ultra. Not the most auspicious set and setting. Yet this, too, is part of the tale’s appeal. Kesey was there, present as a participant in events of world-historical importance, the effects of which are still being felt today.
One of these days I’ll have to tell the story of the architect who designed a memory palace. A stately pleasure-dome there decreed. I’ve done something of that sort myself, with my books. Ideas stored in locations across a navigable space. Internal / external and micro / macro realms flip, begin to seem like indistinguishable sides of a Klein bottle or a Möbius strip. One thinks again of the famous Great Library of Alexandria and, following its destruction, episodes in the externalization of memory, the latter launching eventually from the Gutenberg Galaxy out into cyberspace. According to McLuhan, it was by way of this extension of its memory outward into media that humanity desacralized the world and assumed a profane existence. Enter our friend the architect.
What would a revolution on the scale of the Copernican look like today? Sigmund Freud, whose works students and I discussed today in class, liked to pat himself on the back for his accomplishments, comparing himself to fellow paradigm-shifters Copernicus and Darwin. He believed the three of them had dealt “bitter blows” to humanity’s “craving for grandiosity.” Copernicus taught humans to de-center themselves, the earth a mere speck in a world-system of vast magnitude. Darwin robbed them of their self-regard — their sense of themselves as special, divine creations. Both figures dealt blows, in other words, to what Freud called humanity’s “Ego.” Why is the marriage of heaven and hell that Blake envisioned recast by Freud as cause for pessimism regarding humanity’s capacity for happiness? What happens when Blake’s “angels” and “devils” become Freud’s Superego and Id?
1953, the year Gerald Heard first tried mescaline, was also the year he began writing for ONE, the first openly gay periodical in America. In the years that followed, he held seminars for the Mattachine Society, one of the country’s first gay rights groups. He also helped shape the curriculum for the first gay studies institute in the United States, the ONE Institute for Homophile Studies in Los Angeles (Falby 139). For Heard, gay rights and psychedelics both signaled the arrival of a new stage in the history of consciousness. Humanity was undergoing spiritual evolution, a transformation similar to the one imagined by astrologers and New Agers who saw around them “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” Meanwhile, I’m humming Madonna’s “Holiday” while walking beneath a Harvest Moon. It’s a magical night, moonlight back-lighting a cover of cloud. Lovely energy, air pulsing with life. A good night, perhaps, to listen to Craig Leon’s Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1, or to lie in a chair and read Anne Kent Rush’s Moon, Moon.
“The first revelations came,” Rush writes, “by allowing myself to make place for the moon in my daily living. These moments have remained the strongest and most palpable knowing. I started with the recognition that because the moon was shining on me at night and pulling on me during the day, it probably had been ‘speaking’ to me for a long time, and i had not been listening. I had to learn its language. I decided to begin my research at night by standing and looking out an open window” (21).
Utopianism acquired a “eupsychian” cast up and down the West Coast of 1950s and 1960s California. Pursuit of the good society became bound up with alchemical transformation, design of new anthropotechnics, and experiments with human potential. Abraham Maslow created a mailing list to connect organizations and individuals participating in these experiments, thus forming what he called the “Eupsychian Network.” The members of this network, he said, shared a “humanistic and transhumanistic outlook on life” (Toward a Psychology of Being, p. 237), by which he meant an orientation that sought to help “the individual grow toward fuller humanness, the society grow toward synergy and health, and all societies and all peoples move toward becoming one world and one species” (237). Already in Maslow, there were hints that the humanistic orientation in the social sciences and the “human potential” movement that arose alongside it might contain a dark side — or at the very least, a potential for misuse. Maslow prepared the manuscript for Toward a Psychology of Being while visiting La Jolla, California, in summer 1961, supported by a financially generous fellowship from the newly founded “Western Behavioral Sciences Institute.” The fellowship was funded by engineer-entrepreneur Andy Kay, who invited Maslow to return the following summer to observe operations at Kay’s company, Non-Linear Systems (Hoffman, The Right to Be Human, p. 246). This collaboration with Kay culminated in Eupsychian Management, a book completed in 1962 and published in 1965. Non-Linear Systems was an electronics manufacturing company. Before founding it in 1952, Kay spent two years working at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. By the early 1980s Non-Linear Systems evolved into Kaypro, manufacturer of an early personal computer. The concept of Eupsychia never fully shed this marriage of convenience with management theory and West Coast tech, though other members of the Eupsychian Network helped to temper these tendencies.
The problems hippie modernists proposed to address through their prophetic interpretation of the future have not gone away at all. The violence of capitalism is still all around us. We’re living amidst crisis. We’re living together amid these challenges. Utopia has already been modeled for us; those who modeled it waved to us from the past and asked us to come join them. What are we waiting for? Let’s do it. Each of us struggle for Utopia. It’s the same story for every individual life. Let us imagine the hippie modernist vision as our collective future. The members of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture have prepared us for what is to come. These are the two levels of historical and religious allegory. They’re shouting, “Join us! Join us!” with great joy in their hearts, like the crowd surrounding the police car at the dawn of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, remembered via Berkeley in the Sixties. The image reminds me of Bosch’s famous work, The Garden of Earthly Delights. Bosch’s triptych is the global-cosmic totality unfolding all at once. Think of it as the map of an ongoing, universally participatory Oculus-style MMORPG. It contains within its ambivalent central panel reality’s mysterious core. As audience members, we get to choose our own adventure. Is the air of perfect liberty an intoxicant or a solution to the riddle? In all of Bosch’s triptychs, one can read the work allegorically by viewing it — exercising perception — either sequentially, left to right, each life played out between Eden and Last Judgment, or in toto, viewed abstractly, like the Whole Earth from space. Atlantis is another era’s name for the West Coast. Time is a mere alteration undergone and endured by consciousness. Sun Ra saw this, broadcasting his music from “after the end of the world.” Let each of us create within ourselves a world-picture of like nature, and interesting things start to happen. Contain all elements within a magical-circular perspective and one has a world-picture, a cognitive map, functional on a level similar to ancient devices of such nature like the Tarot and the I Ching. All are devices allowing us to toggle consciousness from local, timely perception to perception of a kind able to observe constellations of meaning, one’s inner spinnings aligned with the timeless, universal spinning of the cosmos. Let us all find our places amid the stars even as now we race apart.