Summer of Love

The Summer After

(British Library display remembering 1968)

As the saying goes, if you remember it, you weren’t there. I was young enough in 1968 that I remember seeing the news on TV.

1967 had been proclaimed “The Summer of Love.” I remember hearing the song on the radio, “Are You Going to San Francisco? Be Sure and Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair.” Young people (many of them teenage runaway as young as 13 or 14) from all across the country came to the Haight-Ashbury district to “make love, not war.”

1968 was a horrible year: the assassination of Martin Luther King in April, followed by riots in the streets, and then in June the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Protests against the Vietnam war turned ugly. Instead of blaming the politicians who made the decisions to continue the war, protesters turned against the soldiers.

The young who were turning on, tuning in, and dropping out didn’t vote; and the older generation who were tired of the hippie war protesters elected Richard Nixon president. In 1969 the musical “Hair” proclaimed the dawning of the Age of Aquarius when harmony and understanding would prevail. In May of 1970 four students were dead in Ohio in the Kent State Massacre.

The flower power generation had some noble ideals. They wanted peace and love; they wanted to end poverty and racism. But they made some tragic mistakes.

1. They thought they could expand their consciousness by using chemicals. Many did not survive the drugs they experimented with. Other old hippies are still stumbling around today with their bodies and brains weakened by drug abuse.

2. The looked for love in all the wrong places. The “free love” they celebrated was often exploitive or abusive. There was a lot of talk about love, but not much commitment. Some learned the lesson, “It’s cheap, but it ain’t free.”

3. They directed their energy in the wrong places. Cursing and spitting on young soldiers returning home from Vietnam did not help bring the war to an early end. Dropping out did not bring about positive social changes.

By 1972 there was a new movement breaking out all along the beaches of California and spreading east from there–the Jesus movement. It turned out that the man from Galilee who wore sandals and long hair, who said “learn from the flowers,” and “love your enemies” offered an alternative both to the drug culture and the establishment. His followers learned the secret of a natural high.

There are a lot of us old Jesus Freaks still around. Most of us got respectable haircuts and jobs somewhere in the 80s. We raised families and got involved in traditional churches. But some of us haven’t completely lost the vision of an alternative to materialism and empire, a world of peaceful and beautiful communities inspired by the teaching and the presence of Jesus.

Seven Words

I have been traveling and recovering from traveling, so I haven’t posted anything in a while. I’ve had several things on my mind lately, so I should get back to regular posting, maybe two or three times a week, maybe even more for a while.

Today I will record my thoughts on the passing of George Carlin.

I have to confess, I’m probably the only one of my generation who never heard his famous monologue on “The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television.” Of course, like everyone else, I have heard of the famous seven words, and I’m sure at some time in my life I’ve heard them uttered.

I don’t watch a whole lot of television, but it seems that a few of the seven words must have slipped off the list in recent years. Maybe there are only two or three words left on the forbidden list. Meanwhile George Carlin is praised for “pushing the envelope,” for exposing hypocrisy, and for championing free speech. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts about profanity:

1. There are worse things. I acknowledge the existence of a hierarchy of vices. I recognize the hypocrisy of practicing a worse sin while railing against a lesser one. I think lying by political leaders is probably a worse abuse of speech than cussing by comedians.

2. Where’s the creativity? As Carlin acknowledged, there are 400,000 words in the English vocabulary. So what is creative about using the seven most common (the original meaning of ‘vulgar’) words. If you want to insult someone, look at Shakespeare’s example in King Lear–call him a “whoreson zed, an eater of broken meats”–that’s at least original; or it was when Shakespeare first wrote it.

3. Words have functions as well as “meanings.” The function of profanity is to shock or offend, not simply to refer to bodily functions or other things for which clinical terms and euphemisms exist.

4. Profanity desensitizes. Why do gangsters use such vile language? Human beings have a strong natural inhibition against killing. One must be trained in overcoming lesser inhibitions–such as the inhibition against using dirty words–before one can overcome the final inhibition. Those who still have a sense of reverence or respect do not make good killers.

5. Television was once a family medium. It’s true that cable and videos have complicated that. But network TV once went over the airwaves into everyone’s homes–and it made sense to provide some protection for children. I don’t know if it is progress that children are no longer protected against being desensitized at an early age.

But I still have a sense of humor. I will give George Carlin credit for saying some funny things and for making some incisive criticisms of hypocrisy.