Conversation with a postmodern hippie

postmodern_hippiesSo I was in this city diner, flat-footed and with nothing to do while I waited for things to happen.

This guy came in and stood in the light. The shadow fell over all of us. I didn’t move. People who come in with violence are moving quickly. People who come in to pose always think that they’ll scare you by gestures.

He sat down next to me, which was the only place away from the really old guys in the joint, and ordered himself some greasy plate. I could smell the cigarettes and Nag Champa roll off him. It’s what they burn, the hip types, to hide the smell of what might be going on, or hide that nothing is.

With his hair falling in his face, he ate without making eye contact, but he kept watching us. It wasn’t the paranoid type of watch. It was like a kid poking his Dad. Feel that yet? How about that? Mad yet?

I suppose his costume was designed to provoke unfashionable outrage. He had shoes, of the nearly invisible sandal type. A broad cloth brightly colored shirt that screamed a paraphrase of Potemkin peasant life. Jeans, with obligatory holes positioned like jaunty eyes and smile. A necklace of beads that was cleaner than anything else on him.

To him, I must have looked like an old guy. Not in my 20s, not trying to pretend that I am either. Functional clothes. No cover story, no hip lines, no paraphernalia. A human being without justification and without concealment. In a word, boring. An easy target.

Having just completed several days of negotiation on a lengthy project that involved us installing one thing to please the client, and another to please the shareholders, then billing the latter as some kind of “upgrade” to the former, I knew the value of silence. Silence is gravity. Noise interrupts gravity, makes the world flutter around the listener, and they feel safe. It’s like camouflage, hiding in the brush. Silence means you don’t know where the predator is and whether or not it has a bead on you.

Finally he broke. Explosively, he said, “Pass the salt.” This was not a query. I gave him the old guy eye, then picked up the salt and put it gently next to him. “T’n’u,” he said so quickly I thought it was a foreign language.

“Yup,” I said.

Another couple beats.

“Does it bother you that I’m here?”

“Nope,” I said. “It bothers me that you’re wrong.”

“What, that my lifestyle is bad?”

“No, just that it leads not to what you think it will.”

“That I smoke a boatload of sinsemilla?”

“No, but that you think it matters.”

“What is it then, old man? That I believe things that make you seem old and waiting to die? That you’re stuck in the past, believing in ideas as stale as history itself?”

“Whoa now,” I said. “What ideas are those?”

He gave me a list, starting with corporations and ending with gay marriage.

“Don’t forget making pot illegal,” I said. “So what do you believe?”

He gave me a list, starting with civil rights and ending with gay marriage, and legal pot.

“Oh, those new ideas,” I said. “You mean like the ones that my parents talked about from the 1960s, right? 1968 in Europe, 1965 here. All hell broke loose. They told us those ideas were new then.”

“But you know,” I said, “Those ideas weren’t new then. Even in the 1930s, there were a lot of people who felt that way.” I told him about the Cambridge Five and how trendy it was to be an intellectual Socialist back then.

“Oh, and even before then,” I said. “Around the turn of the century, you had Bohemians and artists raging all over the Continent, being different. And anarchists in the 1920s. In 1917, they took over in Russia, and they wanted all those things you do.”

I laughed. “New ideas. Shit, those ideas ain’t even close to new. Try back in 1789, when the French Revolution happened. Liberty, egalite, fraternity. No borders. Women in uniform. Support the rainbow folk, and all that. And even then it wasn’t new.”

“They were gabbing about that crap back in the Enlightenment,” I said. “They didn’t take it as far, but they hinted they could. And even before then, back when Rome fell, it was very trendy to think those things. And in cosmopolitan Greece, before they fell off the radar, they wanted every one of those things too. And in Babylon. And ancient Angkor Wat.”

“All the same,” I continued. “Because these things aren’t ideas. They’re imprints in reverse. You took what a healthy society would have, you turned it inside out, you claim it’s new and that we should do it or we’re assholes, and now you think you’ve got something on me because you believe these ‘new’ ideas.”

“Let me tell you something,” I said. “I don’t resent you. I don’t pity you, because only assholes pity people. But I know you’re wrong. Not think, know. I read history, I know human beings have never changed, and people have tried every damn thing you’re doing right now, all before. All failed. How do I know? If it worked, shoot, we’d never hear the end of it. There’d be whole Bibles, and Aeneids, and Kalevalas and Mahabaratas dedicated to your new way of doing things.”

But there ain’t, the silence said.

“So you don’t hate me?” he said.

“No,” I said. “I wish I could give you what I know. Years of my life were wasted by lies of all kinds. Some lies were simple stupid ones, like ‘Buy a BMW and do a ream of cocaine, and you’ll feel like God!’ It doesn’t work that way. Others are just big lies, like the stuff they told you.”

“And look,” I said. “I was your age once. For me then ideas were conversation. Fashion. Flattery. A way to make girlies think I was more special than the other guys of average height and average prospects. Something to talk about, since we didn’t know spit about the real world and we couldn’t admit it but we knew that.”

He shrugged. “Way to make it personal, dude.”

“You’re mistaken,” I said. “It’s not personal. It’s about the universe, which is many things that it does not seem to be, and very few that it does, but it’s one thing above all else: consistent. It does the same thing each time you do the same thing.”

“This ain’t personal,” I said, getting up. “This is about one dude in a lonely existence passing on some knowledge to another. Forget me, I wasn’t even here. Remember what I said, because every bit of it cost me blood, guts, pain and tears.”

I left him with his hashbrowns and resentment. The other old guys nodded. They had a mission: be silent. Be silent as the grave. Don’t give him something to lash out at. Put him in solitary confinement with his soul, and let him figure it out.

I hope he does.


  1. Eric says:

    I hope it is okay to simply say that this one was really good, one of the best and most poignent posts yet for me for many different reasons. It speaks volumes in a very effective way.

  2. 1349 says:

    Don’t know if this is a widespread interpretation but one of our local liberals says:
    Humanism is a system of ideas initially aimed at the overcoming of theocentrism.
    First a revolutionary one (??? – 1349), in the unrolling of its life cycle it transformed into liberalism, marxo-communism and anarchism.
    Modified humanist ideas still dominate mass consciousness, because they are simple, easily understandable and therefore useful in any management.”

    1. Eric says:

      I think what often happens is that people know something is wrong; it is pretty hard not to feel that. But they are unable to identify what the true root cause of the problem is and therefore they latch onto a belief system that they feel represents the opposite of what the problems are, which of course they don’t even really know the root cause. There is also the need for identity and very often much of the opinion is nothing more than serving to fulfill that need. Some people, as they mature and start to see not is all that they once believed, are unwilling to adjust their views, kind of like being unwilling to accept they were wrong. And of course others never change, never see things any different than they always have, and will go through life convinced of their moral superiority.

      1. RingerXs says:

        cognitive devolution. :)

  3. Owl says:

    “I read history, I know human beings have never changed, and people have tried every damn thing you’re doing right now, all before. All failed. How do I know? If it worked, shoot, we’d never hear the end of it. There’d be whole Bibles, and Aeneids, and Kalevalas and Mahabaratas dedicated to your new way of doing things.”

    For some reason this never really occurred to me, but you’re dead on. Since there is precisely one (1) best general form way to run a society, every sick useless person on earth wants to “revolutionize” away from it, trading group success for individual feelings of relevance, and it always takes the same form.

    You’re really right – if their sickness had ever worked, if there had ever been a remotely successful multicultural society with an inverted racial hierarchy starting with blacks on top and ending with whites on the bottom, run by women under a creed of atheism and communism, they really WOULD beat us all over the head with it as evidence of their sick ideas being practical. Hell, even a village of 500 that managed to go a few winters without famine, coup or other breakdown would have all of academia in an endless uproar of eternal vindication.

    They literally WOULD write the Holy Gospel of Occupy Wall Street and proselyte on every street corner in the suburbs until we all adopted black babies and donated all of our money and unwed daughters directly to Barack Obama.

    Excellent point and excellent article.

    1. RiverC says:

      Moloch is getting hungry again!

  4. Wes says:

    When I first started reading your work today, my time appeared to my mind’s eye like it was moving in fast motion, like those TV edits where they blur through a day. Then after a few sentences, I realized that I was reading something of importance and everything slowed down to a slow crawl and it all became focused on the screen and every word on it. It was an odd sensation. You wrote a worthy piece today and one that reflects my life’s experiences and historical study.

  5. Repair_Man_Jack says:

    There was a guy named Solomon who once told a bunch of young punks something similar. It’s called Ecclesiastes. “All is vanity.” Saith the preacher.

    If nothing else, Earnest Hemmingway got an interesting book title out of the whole rant.

  6. lisacolorado says:

    Great time to jump back to Amerika! Good post. Leave him in solitary confinement with his soul, indeed. Best thing for it.

    I’ve started to think of myself as a humanist too, but the kind where there is no answer in religion nor political faith-based ideology.

    We’ve all got a view from the ground, no matter what some self-styled expert says. They may have gotten a higher perspective from one tower, but they couldn’t see everything, much less the ant’s eye-view from straight below them.

  7. RiverC says:

    This generation really needs to default. I think it is the proper solution for Baby boomer hubris; for the whole thing to go bankrupt.

    If I had that chance, to make that decision, and let myself be loathed for it, I so would do it. I would tell the USG’s creditors, ‘We’re defaulting. We cannot and will never be able to pay.’

    They would say, “You hurt millions of people, people died because you told them we were defaulting!” to which I would reply, millions now, billions then. It is better that you, who created this mess, suffer for it, than everyone’s kids (if they have any) 50, 100 years down the line.

    It is the endpoint of their concept of ‘common’ or ‘social’ good.

  8. Meow Mix says:

    I agree. This was a top notch post. It really hits at the heart of how so many on the left think. If they simply came out and said “we value and desire human equality” it would be much easier to digest, even if one opposes such a notion. It is never enough for a leftist to simply say this though. They always have to put on this elaborate show about how ‘radical’ and ‘transgressive’ their views are and how they are the underdogs that are speaking truth to power. How can people like Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, or Oliver Stone really be radical underdogs and rebels when they’ve been making millions of dollars regurgitating the same leftist clichés for decades? Stone recently published a book about the ‘Untold’ history of the United States. What’s ‘Untold’ about it? What hasn’t been said or done before by countless lefties before him?

    1. Ted Swanson says:

      The life force of the left is in their self-conception as underdogs.

  9. B says:

    He shoots him down accurately but then gives him no real hope. This is half done.

  10. Ted Swanson says:

    If “structuralism” holds that specifics are less important than relations, then one could very easily undermine liberalism and concepts like “new” and “progress” with a structural approach. So, to be a dissident, for example, has less to do with specific adornment than it does with how one relates to the status quo or zeitgeist.

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