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From the Hardcover edition.
Posted July 7, 2011
Bill Zimmerman's acts, often heroic, have been mentioned by other reviewers; so, I won't list them here. As I write in my full review at Left Eye on Books, this book is not without blemishes. One of them is that Zimmerman unfairly attacks the hippie movement. He unsympathetically denigrates it as focused exclusively on "sex, drugs, and rock and roll". He declares that there was an "activist/hippie divide" during the 60s - a divide like that between responsible adults and socially irresponsible hedonists. Having been a member of both sides of this supposed "divide," I must record my own observations.
The hippie movement, as I knew it, was an extension of the beatnik's anti-war, anti-materialism sentiment, and a critique of our society's obsession with commercialism. Both beatnik and hippie saw our post-WWII consumerist culture as reducing the human individual's value to its mere economic use-value, and upholding the making and spending of money as the meaning of human existence. Unlike the rest of America, the beatniks identified this as a loss of human value and meaning. But the hippies went beyond mere critique, and actually dropped out of that society in the hope of building one more in tune with the deeper needs of the human spirit. These include the need to live in a peaceful and caring community, and to pursue spiritual aims long forgotten by power-crazed organized religions.
In this sense, hippies were more active than what Zimmerman calls the "activists." The latter accepted the materialism and commercialism and sought political justice by working within the system. The hippies were far more radical; they walked away from the whole ball of slime entirely. As fate would have it, the slime proved too sticky to shake off, and the Hippie Movement soon failed.
Zimmerman also turns on his old friend Rennie Davis, a hero of the anti-war movement, and one of the Chicago Seven. Once the Viet Nam war was over, Zimmerman pursued the profitable business of political consulting. But Davis, seeking spiritual fulfillment, found the Hindu Guru, Maharaj Ji, from whom, like me, he learned to meditate. Stubbornly pushing his misunderstanding of what moved the hippies, Zimmerman harshly characterizes his old ally as "the zombielike disciple of an East Indian mystic."
With these criticisms, Zimmerman reveals his failure to understand that other, and more subtle, forms of human happiness can be had. True enough, the thrill of action - that is, pursuing a carefully planned strategy for doing social good - can, as he concludes, result in "an honorable and happy life". But the practice of meditation, using techniques fashioned by the wisdom of millennia, can fill a person, who is just sitting, with a sense of joy, excitement, and completeness that even the ecstasy of victory can never match.
Building a humane society does not require turning a contemptuous eye to the vital spiritual message of the beatniks and hippies. We can have both a good society and spiritually fulfilled individuals.
William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.