As a yoot, I spent my days rollicking around the streets, fields and pubs of Glastonbury town. It was an idyllic place to spend my formative years - relaxed, low crime, and liberal.
The one nagging annoyance was its abundance of hippies. Being a townie by birth, I first saw them as a bit of a novelty. Y’see, there aren’t many hippies in Surrey, and their exoticism held quite the attraction. But as I grew older and decided Melt Banana dicked on Manu Chao, I grew increasingly tired of the neo-pagan bullshit spouted by robe wearing, crystal-hawking shysters reveling in the smell of their own farts.
However, once I hit College and eventually University, I became increasingly involved in political activism that leaned slightly to the left. Still am, as a matter of fact. This brought me into fairly regular contact with those of a patchouli-scented disposition.
From the start, I struggled with consensus decision making (it takes fucking ages), passive aggression that led to bitching and alpha-male hippies serenading their harem of junior Germaine Greers on Ukuleles. I put up with the accusatory stares brought about by my leather jacket and boots, and even cocked a deaf ear to the unbelievable amounts of tripe they can be heard to spout (example: “Marxism is ecological, epicurean. It’s fundamentally fuckin’ pagan man, yeah?”)
Alas, slowly but surely I found myself becoming assimilated - and not feeling too bad about it. British documentarian Adam Curtis labeled the 1900’s as the ‘Century of the Self’, a time when political and psychological practices moved people away from a community spirit. Now, in the 21st century, the idea of self-preservation eclipses any kind of community awareness like some great blubbery whale blocking out the monitor glare that is your only source of friendship. But this is where the hippies have got it right. Their uses of the gift economy, shared (and more importantly, free) knowledge, and generally being more helpful than your average are – ok, I’ll say it – inspiring.
This weekend past I went to an environmental camp on the Estuary of the River Ribble, about 11 miles out of Preston. The weather was doing that thing it often does in the North West, which is to forget that a transition period between summer and winter exists, and head straight for the latter. Consequently it was wet, cold and miserable.
Put your general loathing for those self-righteous lentil botherers to one side – because they’re the only ones who’ll help.
Over the course of the weekend, through arguments with old Trots and many plates of vegan curry I highlighted three things that hippies do on the regular that could make the country a better place.
The Gift Economy is a millennia-old practice that involves the sharing of goods and resources without expectation of return or reward. Being generous, basically. It’s seen in environmentalist and anarchist circles around the country, and can effectively cancel out waste and excess on one side and want on the other. Someone has leftover bean stew, someone else is hungry. Voila. It sounds obvious, but apply this to aspects of life other than food and you start to see a connections forming across communities. Book swaps for example. Try an info-shop like 56a in Elephant and Castle – read something, pass it on – share knowledge. And that brings me neatly to…
It’s often said an Education is the one thing given that cannot be taken away, and it’s true. One of the key goals of activism is to bridge the knowledge deficit. Information is key to understanding the world round us, and there are no logical reasons as to why the obtaining of knowledge should be in any way discriminatory. Organisations such as The Really Free School and the Really Open University aim to provide knowledge outside the realm of commerce. Admittedly, the range of what you can learn there is pretty limited, but as an idea it’s gathering momentum.
Now, I’ve been to certain workshops and on certain demonstrations where the wants and needs of the local community have been considered and upheld – as long as the wants and needs of the local community are the same as the goals of the activists. However, on this particular weekend it was the priorities of R.E.A.F (Ribble Estuary Against Fracking - http://frack-off.org.uk/ribble-estuary-against-fracking/) at the forefront of the camp’s goals. The environmentalist’s provided advice on political lobbying, legal advice, and gave workshops on the dangers of Shale gas extraction by Hydraulic Fracturing. They put their time, effort, and money into this for none of the usual return people expect to get (goods/cash). Isn’t this how the Big Society is supposed to be run? People being helpful with no immediate reward? How ironic that the people who have been putting this into practice for years are the exact opposite types of people that the Tory part of the Coalition wants to nurture.
So when a multi-national corporation side-steps planning permission to erect a possibly dangerous gas extraction plant on your green-belt farmland, with possibly toxic repercussions, do as I’ve learned to do. Put your general loathing for those self-righteous lentil botherers to one side – because they’re the only ones who’ll help. And the best thing is, they’ll do it for free.
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