The Flowering of the Hippies

"It was easy to see that the young men who were hippies on Haight Street wore beards and long hair and sometimes earrings and weird-o granny eye-glasses, and that they were generally dirty."

Last March the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council, formed in 1957 to meet a crisis similar to the Panhandle controversy, committed itself to a policy of extended patience. It declared that "we particularly resent the official position of law-enforcement agencies, as announced by [Police] Chief Cahill, that hippies are not an asset to the community. The chief has not distinguished among the many kinds of citizens who comprise the hippie culture.... War against a class of citizens, regardless of how they dress or choose to live, within the latitude of the law, is intolerable in a free society. We remember that regrettable history of officially condoned crusades against the Chinese population of San Francisco whose life style did not meet with the approval of the established community and whose lives and property were objects of terrorism and persecution."

If any neighborhood in America was prepared to accomodate the hippies, it was the Haight-Ashbury. On the heights and on the level rich and poor were by and large secure, open, liberal, pro-civil-rights, and in high proportion anti-war. Its U.S. congressman was Philip Burton, a firm and forthright liberal, and its California assembly-man was Willie Brown, a Negro of unquestioned intellect and integrity. Here the hippies might gain time to shape their message and translate to coherence the confusion of the visual scene. If hippies were unable to make, of all scenes, the Haight-Ashbury scene, then there was something wrong with them.


The principle distinction between the hippies and every other endeavor in utopian community was LSD, which concentrated upon the liver, produced chemical change in the body, and thereby affected the brain. Whether LSD produced physical harm remained an argument, but its most ardent advocates and users (not always the same persons) never denied its potentially dangerous emotional effects. Those effects depended a great deal on the user's disposition. Among the hippies of San Franciso, LSD precipitated suicide and other forms of self-destructive or antisocial behavior. For some hippies it produced little or nothing, and was a disappointment. For many, it precipitated gorgeous hallucinations, a wide variety of sensual perceptions never before available to the user, and breathtaking panoramic visions of human and social perfection accompanied by profound insights into the user's own past.

It could be manufactured in large quantities by simple processes, like gin in a bathtub, easily carried about, and easily retained without detection. In liquid it was odorless and colorless; in powder it was minute. Its administration required no needles or other paraphernalia, and since it was taken orally, it left no "tracks" upon the body.

Technically it was nonaddictive, but it conspiciously induced in the user—the younger he was, the more so—a strong desire for another "trip": the pleasures of life under LSD exceeded the realities of sober perception. More far-reaching than liquor, quicker for insights than college or psychiatry, the pure and instant magic of LSD appeared for an interesting moment to capture the mind of the hippies. Everybody loved a panacea.

Their text was The Psychedelic Experience, by Leary, Metzner, and Alpert, "a manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead," whose jacket assured the reader that the book had been completed free of academic auspices. It was likely that the hippies' interest in the book lay, in any case, rather in its use as "manual" than in its historical reference.

Bob Dylan, favorite of many hippies, told in a line of song, "To live outside the law you must be honest." But hippies were Puritan Americans, gorged with moral purpose, and loath to confess that their captivation was basically the pursuit of pleasure. They therefore attached to the mystique of LSD the conviction that by opening their minds to chemical visions they were gaining insights from which society soon should profit.

Hippies themselves might have profited, as anyone might, from LSD in a clinical environment, but the direction of their confidence lay elsewhere, and they placed themselves beneath the supervision mainly of other hippies. Dialogue was confined among themselves, no light was shed upon the meaning of their visions, and their preoccupation became LSD itself—what it did to them last time, and what it might do next. Tool had become symbol, and symbol principle. If the hippie ideal of community failed, it would fail upon lines of a dull, familiar scheme: the means had become the end.

Far from achieving an exemplary community of their own, with connections to existing community, the hippies had achieved only, in the language of one of their vanguard, "a community of acid heads." If LSD was all the hippies talked about, the outlying community could hardly be blamed for thinking this was all they were. Visions of community seen under LSD had not been imparted to anyone, remaining visible only to hippies, or entering the visual scene only in the form of commentary upon LSD itself, jokes and claims for its efficacy growing shriller with the increase of dependence. But the argument had been that LSD inspired transcendence, that it was, as one hippie phrased it, "a stepping-stone to get out of your environment and look at it.

Under the influence of LSD hippies had written things down, or drawn pictures, but upon examination the writings or the pictures proved less perfect than they had appeared while the trip was on. Great utterances delivered under LSD were somehow unutterable otherwise. Great thoughts the hippies had thought under LSD they could never soberly convey, nor reproduce the startling new designs for happier social arrangements.

Two years after the clear beginnings of the hippies in San Francisco, a date established by the opening of the Psychedelic Shop, hippies and others had begun to recognize that LSD, if it had not failed, had surely not fully succeeded. ("We have serious doubts," said a Quaker report, "whether drugs offer the spiritual illumination which bears fruit in Christlike lives.") Perhaps, as some hippies claimed, their perceptions had quickened, carrying them forward to a point of social readiness. It had turned them on, then off.

Whatever the explanation, by the time of the "summer of love" their relationship with the surrounding community had badly deteriorated. The most obvious failure of perception was the hippies' failure to discriminate among elements of the Establishment, whether in the Haight-Ashbury or in San Francisco in general. Their paranoia was the paranoia of all youthful heretics. Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies. True. But they saw all the world as straight but them; all cops were brutes, and everyone else was an arm of the cops. Disaffiliating with all persons and all institutions but themselves, they disaffiliated with all possible foundations of community.

It was only partly true, as hippies complained, that "the Establishment isn't listening to us." The Establishment never listened to anyone until it was forced to. That segment of the Establishment known as the Haight-Ashbury, having welcomed the hippies with friendliness and hope, had listened with more courtesy to hippies than hippies had listened to the Haight-Ashbury.

Hippies had theories of community, theories of work, theories of child care, theories of creativity. Creative hippies were extremely creative about things the city and the district could do for them. For example, the city could cease harassing hippies who picked flowers in Golden Gate Park to give them away on Haight Street. The city replied that the flowers of Golden Gate Park were for all people—were community flowers—and suggested that hippies plant flowers of their own. Hippies imagined an all-powerful city presided over by an all-powerful mayor who, said a hippie, "wants to stop human growth." They imagined an all-powerful Board of Supervisors which with inexhaustible funds could solve all problems simultaneously if only it wanted to.

Their illusions, their unreason, their devil theories, their inexperience of life, and their failures of perception had begun to persuade even the more sympathetic elements of the Haight-Ashbury that the hippies perhaps failed of perception in general. The failure of the hippies to communicate reasonably cast doubt upon their reliability as observers, especially with respect to the most abrasive of all issues, their relationship with the police.

Was it merely proof of its basic old rigidity that the Haight-Ashbury believed that community implied social relief, that visions implied translation to social action? Squares Love, Too: Haight-Ashbury For All People. So read an answering campaign pin as friction increased. But the hippies, declining self-regulation, aloof, self-absorbed, dumped mountains of garbage on the Panhandle. The venereal rate of the Haight-Ashbury multiplied by six. (The hippies accused Dr. Ellis Sox of the health department of sexual repression.) The danger grew alarmingly of rats, food poisoning, hepatitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, and of meningitis caused by overcrowded housing. "If hippies don't want to observe city and state laws," said Dr. Sox, "let them at least observe a few natural laws."

Hippies behaved so much like visitors to the community that their neighbors, who intended to live in the district forever, questioned whether proclamations of community did not require, acts of community. Hippies had theories of love, which might have meant, at the simplest level, muting music for the benefit of neighbors who must rise in the morning for work. Would the Haight-Ashbury once again, if the emergency arose, expend years of its life to retain a Panhandle for hippies to dump their garbage on? Or would it abandon the hippies to the most primitive interpretations of law, permit their dispersion, and see their experiment end without beginning?

At no point was the hippies' failure to seek community so apparent as with relation to the Negroes of the district. With the passage of the civil rights movement from demonstrations to legal implementation excellent opportunities existed for the show of love. What grand new design in black and white had hippies seen under LSD? If Negroes were expected to share with hippies the gestures of love, then hippies ought to have shared with Negroes visions of equal rights.

The burdens of the Negroes of the district were real. Negro tenants desired the attention of the health department, desired the attention of agencies whom hippies monopolized with appeals for food and housing for the "summer of love." The needs of the Negroes, especially for jobs, appeared to Negroes a great deal more urgent than the needs of white middle-class hippies who had dropped out of affluence to play games of poverty in San Francisco. "Things should be given away free," said a Negro man in a public debate, "to people that really need them."

One afternoon, on Masonic Street, a hundred feet off Haight, I saw a Negro boy, perhaps twelve years old, repairing an old bicycle that had been repaired before. His tools lay on the sidewalk beside him, arranged in a systematic way, as if according to an order he had learned from his father. His face was intent, the work was complicated. Nearby, the hippies masqueraded. I mentioned to a lady the small boy at work, the big boys at play. "Yes," she said, "the hippies have usurped the prerogatives of children—to dress up and be irresponsible."

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