Monday, December 22, 2008

OPINION: The Cultural Legacy of the 1960s

Cultural Legacy of the 1960s by Stuart Price

We live in momentous times, at a historical point of confluence of a range of escalating global and personal pressures. On the one hand, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2020 clinical depression will be the second largest cause of the global health burden, currently standing at 40 million prescribed cases in the West. Why is this ? We have never been more affluent or had more opportunities to purchase luxuries our forebears could only dream about, enjoying unprecedented leisure time. We can travel with ease to wherever we want to go. Our children enjoy superb education and are bombarded with career opportunities. Our TV and PC give us access to instant awareness of a global culture, arts and literature formally the preserve of a privileged few. Fresh water, wholesome food and modern healthcare are instantly available.

It all sounds so good. And yet, apart from those who are literally going mad in the midst of this materialistic utopia, many more experience a general sense of unease and discomfort. Nothing you can necessarily put your finger on, just a feeling that.. somehow something is not quite right. Maybe it's the awareness that while many are becoming wealthier, actually levels of extreme global poverty are increasing, with vast numbers dying unnecessary and avoidable deaths for the lack of a few pence. Or maybe, as we sit in the daily traffic jam belching out poisonous fumes into the atmosphere, there is that uncomfortable thought that it's actually us who are creating a global environmental catastrophe. "Oh well.. can't be helped.. I have to pay the mortgage, the gas bill, the life insurance, the council tax, the loan repayment. These problems are the job of government to solve... Just as long as my own taxes don't go up, everything will be alright.. " Or maybe, its something about the way that things are changing at work in a way that compromises personal values, but if I speak out they won't like it.. so best to keep quiet for the sake of the pension, the holidays and a quiet life.

The point is that rather than appreciating our relative stupendous wealth, many actually feel poorer. We have, bit by bit, moved into a society where the constant message inflicted on us by advertisers is that, to be happy, we need MORE. More stuff, more drink, more sex, more food, more holidays, more distractions and. of course, more money. And when we are still not happy, we need more people to blame; the government, young people, the opposite sex, foreigners.

What is actually going on here? An imaginary visitor from another planet might be forgiven for thinking that they had inadvertently strayed into the galactic lunatic asylum, rather than a "jewel of the cosmos", managed by a human species that possesses the imagination, intelligence and technological ability to solve any problem with which it is confronted, but instead appears to be locked onto a trajectory of global catastrophe. A simple answer is that the problem is human nature and nothing can be done about it. A slightly more complex answer is that the political, media and financial establishments have tied us into a lifestyle that promises us everything but instead delivers a subtle imprisonment that is difficult to escape from. Also, it indicates that needed change is somehow achieved out there, with more rules, procedures, initiatives and enemies to blame.., rather than in here, the only place where true lasting change can occur.

Arguably, the single instance that symbolised and defined both the obstacles and opportunities marking our transition into a planetary post-industrial digital age, was the first live global television link in 1967; a programme called "Our World". Broadcast to 26 countries and watched by 350 million people, the programme brief was to come up with a song containing a simple message that would be understood by all nationalities. Defining himself as a revolutionary artist whose art is dedicated to change, John Lennon came up with:-

"There's nothing you can know that isn't known
Nothing you can see that isn't shown
Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be
It's easy. All you need is love"

To define this era, which began to change from that point, in terms of flared trousers and unrealistic pipe dreams is to miss the point. The alternative culture of the 1960s saw a widespread awareness of and participation into two linked streams of transformative psycho-spiritual influence; humanistic person-centred therapies originating from a group of radical US psychologists and Eastern religious traditions. The concept of radical transformation of consciousness and being, reflected in a loving respect for others and the natural world, underpinned both.

Almost immediately, the hippie dream soured and became ridiculed in public awareness. Substance gave way to Style in the 1970s, the peaceful benevolent influence of psychedelia turned into a more sinister emphasis on hard drugs and benign ideas of a liberal socio-political radicalism gave way to the values of the market and the pre-eminence of the bottom line. Fast forwarding to today finds a growing mainstream awareness that we are, in fact, facing not just threats from environmental destruction, horrific crimes of violence, global food shortages, financial instability, terrorist outrages, to mention just a few, but rather a wholesale collapse of a way of life. Perhaps our collective lifestyle, in some aspects, has reached its sell by date?

The same influences that inspired The Beatles to move from making pop songs to sitting in meditation, speak very much of the principles of death and rebirth. That something has to die in order for something else to be born in its place. That from the harsh depths of winter new life always emerges in the spring. That from a society at risk of auto-destruction, the principles of a new culture and civilisation are sprouting in the hearts and minds of those who feel that, somehow, something is not quite right. This includes those in the caring professions, or from a background of person-centred management, who feel that the traditional caring values are being squeezed out, at great peril. It can also include the recognition that the principles of profitability and the market-place are not necessarily compatible with the type of wholesale changes which really do need to take place. New products emerging in the market place offer tools, resources and perspectives that might aid in giving definition to that new movement that is taking shape in growing numbers of people, and which has its origins in the same influence that flowered in the 1960s, became hidden and is now emerging in new forms for the 21st century. Those forms include new methods of self-work which utilise digital technology, rather than LSD and marijuana, to create changes in our thoughts and emotions, as well as exciting new genres of literature.

Please check out my website, Inspirit Me, for further articles, links and resources

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1 comment:

  1. Awesome post dude. "The Galatic Lunatic Asylum" - nice phrase :-) but yes it is this and also is not. Yin and Yang. We do what we can ... he says, getting into his car to go pay the bills ;-)