Page 11, 1st June 2007

1st June 2007
Page 11
Page 11, 1st June 2007 — What the old hippies did for us

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Locations: Worcester


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What the old hippies did for us

Old hippies have been preening themselves somewhat after a report in the Readers' Digest which claims that the revolutionary values of 1967 — with its famous "summer of love" — have percolated into mainstream culture today. And what was far out in the 1960s is now positively bourgeois.

Everyone now is for making love not war, saving the planet, questioning authority, and "doing your thing". Astrology, a core hippy value, has now become mainstream. (There was a time when the Christian churches actually prohibited it.) So hippiedom now mles. And the old hippies say: "Thus we are all a lot nicer, gentler and more tolerant today."

But that is only half the story. You can analyse the triumph of hippy values in quite another way. You can conclude that capitalism and consumerism have become so successful that they have effectively marketed the illusion of all those hippy values, including the widespread social acceptance of drugs.

Nothing wrong with being against war — isn't everyone with an ounce of humanity against killing other people? But how many wars have taken place in the past 40 years? How many are going on right now? Can you look at the boy soldiers of Africa, let alone Iraq and the cauldron of the Middle East, and say that "peace, man, peace" has actually conquered the globe?

There was a lot right — even fundamentally Christian — about the hippy values of loving everyone, being gentle, kind, tolerant and non-judgmental of the lifestyles of others.

But if you observe the young scrambling to get on the property ladder, the horrible traffic jams around the M25, the aggressive conduct of people in everyday social intercourse, the dehumanising effect of people in so many service industries being replaced by computers, and the obsession with shopping and spending, can you really and truly say that hippy values have conquered?

Can you look at the vulgarity of the celebrity culture, the media exploitation so that a dying princess or a terminal patient needing a kidney transplant are considered fit entertainment fodder for television, and feel that the higher ideals prevail?

Can you consider the cannabislinked five-fold increase in psychotic disorders reported by Professor Robin Murray at the London Institute of Psychiatry, and proclaim that marijuana was the route to liberation?

And didn't sexual liberation come with a cost, too? The sea of porn on the Internet, the rise in rapes, the decline of marriage, the explosion in sexually transmitted disease, the divorces, the abortions and the affliction of Aids? Hippy values contained plenty of idealism. But the Old Adam didn't die away. Not by a long shot.

The Government is planning to put more stringent warnings on alcoholic drinks: and virtually to ban pregnant women from drinking any alcohol at all. I am all for temperance campaigns, but they work better when they are people-led rather than state-led. The highly successful temperance movements of the 19th century were working-class, with Methodist and Baptist structures.

Banning pregnant women from alcohol will, 1 suggest, also lead to more abortions. It will engender the attitude that "ill can't have a perfect pregnancy and a perfect baby, better to terminate". I have come across women who chose abortion because they figured they smoked too much to go through with a pregnancy.

Most women lose the desire to drink alcohol during pregnancy: I well recall how fine wine turned to pure acid in my mouth when pregnant. A small number drink a little and a tiny number over indulge. It is not worth frightening the majority of women — and pushing some towards termination — in order to hassle a minute minority.

Saturday is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edward Elgar, who is now usually called "England's premier composer". Partly because he is the author of Land of Hope and Glory, associated with the Last Night of the Proms: and altogether, because his music seems so quintessentially English.

Elgar had a long struggle to achieve success and recognition, and his most recent biographer says that his Catholicism was very much part of that struggle. It made it much harder for him to succeed at the time, especially in areas of sacred music: yet it also gave him that outsider status which sometimes contributes to the development of an artist.

Sir Edward Elgar played the organ at St George's Catholic Church in Worcester: next time I'm passing that East Midlands town, I must pay avisit.

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