Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Being Counter-Cultural: I am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been, a Hippie


This post really does belong in the "A Catholic Citizen in America" blog. Posts about obviously-Catholic topics are, naturally, the rule here.

This one is about being Catholic in America: but I discuss America, from my perspective, more than usual. Bear with me: the "Catholic" stuff is coming.

Just What is "Counter-Cultural"?

I had an interesting dialog with someone on Twitter yesterday. (I'm Aluwir on Twitter.) That 140-character limit is good exercise, in a way: I tend to ramble, and Twitter encourages terseness.

On the other hand, statements of 140 characters or less can limit the degree of subtlety in a statement. More to the point: at 140 characters, the other person needs to know what the writer means.

Like the phrase "counter-cultural."

Odds are, when you hear or read "counter-cultural" or "counterculture," you think of the sixties, hippies, love beads, long hair, acid trips: the whole Timothy Leary-Woodstock scene.

I was there, and I was counter-cultural.

But I wasn't a hippie.

I didn't even do drugs. The way my brain is wired, that would have been redundant - but I'm getting off-topic.

What gives? And:

What's a Counterculture, Anyway?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Counterculture (also written counter-culture) opposed to dominant culture. Sociological term used to describe the values and norms of behavior of a cultural group, or subculture, that run counter to those of the social mainstream of the day, the cultural equivalent of political opposition. It is a neologism attributed to Theodore Roszak...."
I don't regard Wikipedia articles in general as being particularly authoritative: although the resource has cleaned up its act a great deal recently. This particular entry is one of the ones that cites its sources1 The rest of the Wikipedia article discusses "counterculture" as it applies to 20th century American social history.

So, at least in American English, someone who's counter-cultural would be someone who acts as if he or she belongs to a counterculture.

Does This Man Look Counter-cultural?

That's me. I took the photo a few minutes ago, as an illustration for this post.

By some standards, aside from the beard, I don't look "counter-cultural."
  • Hair, what's left of it, short
  • Calendar from the church above my head
  • No hookah
  • No love beads
But trust me: You're looking at someone who has very seldom been on the same page as "the establishment."

I was in high school during the sixties, and like many others was dissatisfied with the Vietnam war. I was, and am, of the opinion that it was - to be charitable - mis-managed. (I discussed my views in a footnote in another blog.)

I was even in a peace march, a few years later. But, again, I had my own reasons.

That was then, this is now.

I've changed, a little. "The establishment" has changed, a lot.

The Fifties: Happy Days, and the Gray Flannel Suit

Back in "the good old days" of the fifties, it seemed that "the establishment" was focused rather tightly on looking for commies and pursuing "the American dream." And, of course, maintaining conformity.

We got "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" (1956) out of that. Also a lot of kids who had good reason to take a long, hard look at their parents' assumptions.

Don't get me wrong: if you were the right sort of person, the fifties was quite a bit like "Happy Days" (1974-1984).

If you weren't a middle class white World War II vet, not so much. But that's another topic.

The Sixties: Oh, Wow, the Sixties!

I was never a hippie. For one thing, the radical 'getting back to nature' aspect of it struck me as being 19th-century Romanticism with less soap. That lifestyle choice simply didn't appeal to me.

However, like many of my contemporaries, in my teens I was quite interested in socialism and communism. But, instead of getting caught up in the excitement of the revolution, I gave those ideas the same long, hard look that I gave ideas like "the American dream." As I wrote last Saturday:
"...I wasn't really committed to a people's movement against oppressor classes. Actvists' Utopian dreams looked good on paper, but even then I had been learning a little too much about homo sapiens sapiens and the last few thousand years of history to think that a people's collective would really work. Not on a large scale, anyway.

"Turns out, judging from what happened in Russia in the early nineties, I was right. But that's yet another topic.

"The point is, that quite a few people who were campus radicals, back in the 'good old days,' are now old coots around my age....."
(" 'Allah,' Dominant Cultures, and Tolerance, A Brief Flashback to the 'Good Old Days', Another War-on-Terror Blog (January 9, 2010))

The Decade When Everything Changed

I've got a post lined up for another blog, that identifies 1968 as a major cultural and social turning point for America.

That year was a pretty big deal. So was the rest of the sixties. Whether one particular year as "the" time when the America of gray flannel suits turned into the America of tie-died T-shirts can be debated.

Whether or not America changed: not so much.

Whaddaya Know! It's 2010!

A brief review: in the fifties, "the establishment" seemed to be focused on
  • Looking for commies
  • Pursuing 'the American dream'
  • Maintaining conformity
After the seventies, campus radicals of the sixties were older: and many were settling into academic and/or political careers.

The path I chose led me to jobs that included assisting customers, chopping beets, answering phones, babysitting computers, working the graveyard shift as a radio disk jockey, and designing advertising pieces.

I noticed that "the establishment" now seemed to be focused on
  • Looking for racists
  • Being afraid of global warming
  • Maintaining conformity
    • Ever hear of political correctness?
And I still didn't particularly trust "the establishment." I haven't changed all that much, but boy, has "the establishment" ever changed.

Being Catholic, Being Counter-Cultural

I've written about this before. Quite a bit: Check out the "Related posts," below, if you're interested.

Older, Balder, and Still Not Thrilled by the Establishment

Male-pattern baldness and a beard notwithstanding, I'm still pretty much the same person I was in the sixties: concerned about social injustice; passionately insistent that rules should make sense; convinced that women are people, not sex objects; delighted with the many faces of humanity.

God's Children: It's a Big Family

About the last point: I'm not ashamed that my ancestors, as far back as the family has tracked them, came from northwestern Europe. On the other hand, I'm glad to be related by marriage (a few generations back) to people in the Sioux nation, and to have nieces and nephews here and on the way who are Filipino the way I'm a Scotsman.

This world would be - bland - if we were all alike.

Counter-Cultural As Needed

I've never been really good at conformity: which is odd, considering that I converted to Catholicism after a thorough study of the Church. Bottom line, about my conversion: I'm convinced that Jesus made Peter the first Pope, and that God's been holding the Catholic Church up for the last couple millinnia. It's one of those 'if you can't beat them, join them' things. I'm sharp enough to know that I can't beat God.

I'm not counter-cultural for the sake of being counter-cultural. I am now, as I was in my teens, doing what I do and believing what I believe because I think it is true.

When my beliefs are in line with those of the dominant culture: I don't mind.

When they aren't: for me, it's a pretty simple choice. At the end of all things, I'd rather have defied the president of the United States, or anyone else, than God the Almighty, Lord of hosts and creator of all that is seen and unseen.

Note: I said "simple." Not "easy." There's a reason that the first thing a prophet did, often, was try to talk his way out of the assignment.

Which, again, is another topic.

Related posts:

1 Citations for that paragraph were:
  1. "counterculture," Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, 2008, MWCCul.
  2. F.X. Shea, S.J., "Reason and the Religion of the Counter-Culture", Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 66/1 (1973), pp. 95-111, JSTOR-3B2-X.
  3. Andrea Gollin (2003-04-23). "Social critic Theodore Roszak *58 explores intolerance in new novel about gay Jewish writer". PAW Online. http://www.princeton.edu/~paw/archive_new/PAW02-03/14-0423/books.html. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  4. Roszak, Theodore, The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition, 1968/1969, Doubleday, New York, ISBN 0385073291; ISBN 978-0385073295.
I'm satisfied with the veracity of the definition.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.