During the 60s, many felt their society was turning upside down. As young people grew their hair long and experimented with new ways of living, conservatives and many people of the older generations feared their society was disintegrating, as Roger Chapman says in “Culture Wars.” Some of the values taking root in society lasted to shape the nation in future decades, though not to the extent many people in the counterculture hoped.
One of the most obvious values of the counterculture was community. Hippies began communes around the nation, often in rural areas, though San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and New York’s Lower East Side sparked their emergence, as Chapman says. Some young people traveled around the country in brightly colored buses, as Thomas Wolf colorfully describes in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” They often valued the presence of distinct and divergent personalities within the community.
The counterculture advocated for the rights of women, minorities and other groups that were often overlooked. Native American rights, black rights, gay rights and women’s rights took center stage. The “mainstream” culture may have feared the radical voices demanding rapid societal change, but values throughout society began to change as the counterculture ensured everyone heard about the plight of overlooked groups.
With the availability of birth control pills and other means of contraception, the younger generation’s attitudes toward sexuality relaxed quickly. “Free love” remains one of the phrases most strongly associated with the hippie movement, though all hippies and young people didn’t subscribe to the philosophy.
With the publication of environmentalist Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” people became exponentially more aware of how American society was destroying its environment. Published in 1962, it showed people how DDT was making its way through the ecosystem and led to the banning of the chemical, as the Natural Resources Defense Council says.
Questioning remained a prominent theme of the hippie movement in many other ways. The counterculture questioned the war in Vietnam, asking why young people should be sent there. Many felt American involvement in the war wasn’t justified. Others questioned the religions accepted by mainstream American society, opting for eclectic blends of spiritual traditions, particularly eastern religions. As Chapman says, some experimented with drugs like LSD as part of their spiritual experience. Within the “mainstream” culture, traditional religions like Christianity held their ground and drugs remained frowned upon. Many criticized the hippies for what they perceived as an irresponsible lifestyle.
- "Culture Wars"; Roger Chapman; 2010
- “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test"; Thomas Wolf; 1968
- Cliff's Notes: The Counterculture of the 1960s
- Natural Resources Defense Council: The Story of Silent Spring
Melanie J. Martin specializes in environmental issues and sustainable living. Her work has appeared in venues such as the Environmental News Network, "Ocean" magazine and "GREEN Retailer." Martin holds a Master of Arts in English.