Why the “Sixties” did a 180 Degree Turn (or How the Aquarian Age Could Do a U-turn, from a Georgist Perspective)

Karl FitzgeraldHistoryLeave a Comment

By Karl Williams

– ” Whatever happened to the revolution? ”
– ” We all got stoned and drifted away”

Well, there might actually be quite a bit of truth in these Skyhooks lyrics – dope was firstly the gift and later the curse of all those starry-eyed ideals that we held back in the late ’60s through the ’70s.

These ideals were tied in with a movement which appeared to be irresistibly sweeping the whole world. It was seen as the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, or simply “The Sixties”. Its leaders were folk and protest singers, peace activists, political revolutionaries and Indian gurus. Its followers were flower children, dropouts, a whole generation of university students, hippies of various shades of grime, and even some ordinary Mums and Dads. If it had any “headquarters” to begin with, it was mythically located on the corner of Haight & Ashbury Streets in San Francisco.

But it died.


The death of this true revolution in consciousness seemed unimaginable at the time, as we had seen through all the old ways of the world and could never be fooled again……. – materialism, racism. conservatism, war, intolerance, greed, injustice, and personal hang-ups of all kinds. We had broken the mind-set that had imprisoned our parents’ generation. We were empowered with the ideals of love, freedom and spirituality. We were the generation that was going to inherit the Earth. And our own children were going to be even more enlightened than we!


What you will be presented with will be no less than a World Premiere – the long-awaited, sizzling expose’ of the waning of a generation’s collective ideals. I know not what crazed astral entities I shall channel through my keyboard. But I have asked for the answer to this – the Planetary Crime of the Century – and the fact that my cup of herbal tea has just been mysteriously tipped off the desk onto my lap signifies that, yes, my spirit guides are indeed prepared to cut loose. Hold onto your hats.


Not only is it evident that the seemingly-irresistible “Spirit of the Sixties” petered out, but that the present young generation (and the grown-up former young generation) have substantially less in terms of idealism and a general desire to better the world. One needs only to step onto a university campus to witness the deep conservatism and career- mindedness all-too-clearly evident in what should be the vanguard of change in the Western World. Their priests and prophets of the music world have little to offer compared to Dylan, Lennon & Co. – rather than wanting to change the world, their characteristic message is rather “F_ the world”.

Their recreational drugs are used even more self-indulgently today than were ours – witness the lack of experimentation in mind-expanding substances and the resurgence in popularity among the youth in one of the most anti-social (and conservative, for that matter) drugs in use, alcohol. Their attempts to drop out of the mainstream and forge a better way are few and feeble – the number of alternative communities are a mere fraction of what was flourishing by the ’70s, and those communes still surviving today appear to attract relatively few youth.

One could go on but the evidence should be clear, however depressing – that not only has the world failed to carry forward the ideals of the ’60s, but also that it has gone backwards in the last twenty years and has “sold out” on many noble principles.


So this is what you’ll get in this article:

1. A few brief arguments to back up the assertion that the most powerful revolution in consciousness went belly-up within 20 years. You’ve copped this already.

2. Non-Georgist observations to comment on the decline of the aspirations felt in the sixties….. By non-Georgist, I don’t mean to imply that these explanations are false. But the big picture can only be obtained when one has the key to understanding what makes the world go round. Go to 3 and do not collect $200.

3. What makes the world go round is economics. Unless you live the life of a hermit or have formed a very small and totally self-sufficient community, economic policies will impact on you, like it or not. In our present situation, with economic policies being in total disrepute, it is difficult to see any underlying economic “laws” as such. Nevertheless, economic policies affect your job prospects, the state of the environment, the price of the goods you buy, which political parties hold power, the cause of too many wars, the state of your personal wealth – in fact, it’s easier to identify what is not affected by economics. Not much.


You owe it to yourself to empower yourself with the knowledge of what makes the world go round. And Georgist economics will show you why things are so unnecessarily screwed up. It’s the second-most-important thing you have to find out down here on Earth.

[The first is to find out what the hell you’re doing here at this point in time & space. Actually, you’re not a Cosmic Accident, but don’t get me started on this one.]


OK, to the non-Georgist rant (2 above), picking up from where Skyhooks left off. Drugs did play a big part in breaking down a lot of encrusted old attitudes and world-views, but the means soon became the end. I gotta confess that I fell for this number – the Sergeant Pepper’s album triggered off a search for chemically-induced higher states of consciousness and, lo and behold, this gear really worked! To those who are ready, LSD and its chemical cousins open up worlds beyond, and don’t let anyone label them “hallucinogens” as if they invariably let loose some maddening and warped picture of reality.


But the drug law of diminishing returns (you can’t expect the revelations to continue with the same intensity) and the rule of thumb that says, “The bigger the hit, the greater the price you’ll pay in terms of physical &/or mental health” was lost in a haze of jasmine incense and funny-smelling smoke. Instead of using these special substances as sacraments to be used very occasionally and with great preparation, we really blew it. The Aquarian Age cannot be grounded by the neuronally-burnt- out. States of pathological paranoia and schizophrenia accounted for some of our best and most adventurous spirits, and the regular troops who were content with just smoking dope (i.e. marijuana or hashish, Grandpa) were mopped up by the overwhelming state of lethargy and apathy which is this particular drugo’s price. [Refer back to the first two lines of this article to now make better sense of them]. How could we ever hope to reform the world when none of the other buggers (never me) who share this dive could even be bothered doing the dishes?


Another explanation for the withering of a world which wailed the mantra, “All you need is love” is a fundamental design error in our species. The fact that we can’t push our progeny out of the nest until our planet has revolved about 20 times around its source of solar energy is a huge obstacle to getting anything done. Despite having done with materialism and having done India, family responsibilities hit hippiedom just as much as it had those who had listened to 20 Polka Greats and Val Doonican’s Family Favourites. It just wasn’t fair – why couldn’t we transcend nappies? So the Great Rot set in among those who started breeding, commonly known as “responsibility”. What time wasn’t spent directly looking after the kids was spent out in the work force somewhere (how come I couldn’t get rich making pottery?) in the proverbial 5- day-drag.


What about conspiracies, then – the big-time manipulation of the world by a handful of vested interests who control things, Goldfinger-style? Sorry, folks, you won’t hear such from this little journo, however much the sensationalism might do for circulation. Yes, of course conservative politicians, those with economic interests, and the churches tried to counter the Aquarian ideals, but rarely, to my knowledge at least, in any sort of coordinated, large-scale and clandestine fashion. The last truly great conspiracy of which I know occurred in the late 19th century with the introduction of socialist reforms as a palliative measure to counter the rising tide of popular support for the sweeping proposals of Henry George. For a stunning account of how American land barons controlled the major universities in order to get Georgist proposals off the academic curriculum, you are referred to Mason Gaffney’s and Fred Harrison’s 1994 classic, “The Corruption of Economics”.


Let’s now see what fatally flawed economics did to our dream. Firstly, economic pressures and commitments took out many of the flower children and earth mothers. The fear of unemployment was enough to bring most into the system, despite life in the system being characterised as:

Get in line
Punch those buttons
And die

Here, then, is the real crunch: the vast majority of us were (and still are) obliged to embark on a working career within the system almost until the end of our active life. This huge constraint is also the means by which a type of programming or conditioning takes affect, and for most is the point of no return. This programming works by surrounding us with a world which reinforces the status quo, getting us to toe the line in order to “get on”, and bombarding us with mainstream media. The wonder is that anyone’s principles held out.

Today the indoctrination process is a lot more sophisticated, and dissent much rarer. As soon as a child is old enough to speak and think, they’re placed behind a schooldesk and told to be silent and to learn a curriculum. After a 13-year treadmill at school, the brightest kids jump straight onto a 3-to-5-year higher education treadmill. Then these obedient little citizens will jump straight onto a career treadmill, in which a successful career within the land-monopoly-capitalism system is seen as the pinnacle of personal achievement. During the early stages of this treadmill, marriages, mortgages and mouths to feed seal the reformist fate of the vast majority. So far as creating a better world is concerned, many can now be categorised as part of the problem.


Another indirect effect of the current economic system is to totally confuse would-be reformers, such that they despair of ever finding a way through the maze of policies governing such apparently-esoteric subjects as national debt, banking, taxation, trade and unemployment (especially).

As if the economic system hasn’t already done enough, it has also lured many idealists to eventually “sell out”. Simply, it promotes greed. The lure of speculative profits – orders of magnitude greater than the lifetime savings of an ordinary, honest worker – has created an attitude that if one has gotten “something for nothing” through quick deals cut on the land, stock or currency market, then one is indeed a smart and successful operator. The system allows and even encourages a person to get something for nothing – never mind from whose pocket that something must have come! It wasn’t all that long ago that the scale of speculative profits obtainable today would have rightly been seen for what it was – legalised robbery, often of a mind-boggling magnitude.


The fact of the matter is that our economic system is so screwed up that no positive reforms could survive in it, analogous to the biblical parable about seeds cast on dry ground producing plants that soon wither and die. The planet has defied the natural laws of economics so much that people can’t grow and prosper in any real sense. Something’s gone horribly wrong, but few even realise how insane human conditions really are, much less know how to fix them. And if no-one really knows how to fix things, then we can’t know where to take our protest march. Insane, indeed.


Did that rather strong term “insane” cause an eyebrow to be raised just a wee bit? What else would you call a system that makes it profitable to keep land out of use? What would you instead call an economic structure that makes each generation beholden to the former, such that idealistic and creative youth are burdened with the massive task of purchasing the very Earth from the elderly? Is there a more appropriate term to describe a system which allows landowners to personally appropriate the fruits of society that are built into land values yet, at the same time, legally robs the honest citizen through a hundred forms of taxation? What would you call academics and professional economists who make no effective distinction between capital and land, despite the latter being fixed in supply, having a never-ending demand, and whose value is built up by the community? On a planet that has a limitless need for work to be done (better housing, more teachers, building of infrastructure, care of the elderly etc. etc.), what else can one call the unemployment of countless millions except insanity? When the price of land is the great obstacle facing any prospective individual or business venture, what more appropriate label than “insane” would you put on real estate institutes and economic analysts who applaud rising land prices as being signs of economic health?


Reactionary politicians and conspirators had nothing to do with the death of our dream – our cancerous economy killed it. The supreme irony of the whole thing is that the great world problem then and now is not materialism but poverty (which doesn’t make for such an interesting theme for protest songs).

Poverty – not just in terms of earnings, but also of lifestyle – must arise from being continuously bled by land prices and taxation. Despite a long list of widespread advances by the planet, such as:

* technological advances
* relative world peace
* the spread of democracy and other civilised values

……..those of us who do have a job are still working such ridiculously-long hours that following that dream of the sixties is almost impossible.


The threat of poverty doesn’t really kick in until we’ve left school or university and are fully independent and responsible for our own well-being. With the further escalation of land prices since The Sixties and the consequent strangulation of the economy, the growing threat of unemployment has hit those who would create a better world right between their starry eyes. Just when human idealism, energy and creativity are at their peak, young adults find that they are beholden to the former generation in terms of having to buy their own share of the Earth from their predecessors. And over time as our taxes go to pay for upgraded infrastructure and more liveable cities, we discover (or remain ignorant of, actually) that our taxes have made the land which we need to purchase for our own homes even more unaffordable!!!


So then, honest work is penalised through the tax system while all sorts of massive speculative profits are pilfered by those with the cunning accountants and lawyers who can make tax almost optional. All forms of speculation – in land deals, in the stock market, in foreign currency dealings or whatever – can be seen by those with the “Georgist keys” to be grounded in the way we make it profitable to keep the very Earth out of use. And the way we treat the Earth as another mere commodity – to be bought and sold and profited upon, despite it being the basis for our very existence – can also be seen to have far-reaching detrimental effects on the environment.


I really dug your lyrics, John Lennon, and you inspired me no end during my own hippy days. But – sorry to say, mate – love is not all you need. While we still keep incarnating into these bags of bones, we also need many forms of sustenance – food, clothing, shelter, education etc., plus a few basic creature comforts. But in order to apply our labour to get such sustenance, we all need some space to swing an axe or to open a filing cabinet. The trouble is that all the infinite space in the the third big rock from the Sun. And because we can’t puff into it or otherwise expand it, we find that the Earth is the most non-renewable of resources. And we all need a piece of that resource in order to apply our labour. In other words, John, you should have sung, “All you need is love and land ”


Your vision, Bob Dylan, was way too far ahead for us to grasp or to try and work with. A long way into the future, in a truly enlightened age, a willingness to share will thankfully replace a competitive spirit. But from where we are now we have to deal with the real problem of scarce resources, and how they can be shared amongst people not all of whom are willing to contribute responsibly to the progress of society. So, in the meantime, a free and fair market does a pretty good job in ensuring that a shit-stained plumber gets paid more per hour than a babysitter who does little more than watch TV and raid the fridge. Today (and for quite a few more tomorrows) we need economic incentives, not love, in order to build computer systems and to drive efficient safe engineering projects. None of those alternative communities worked where practically everyone wanted to get stoned and be the part-time resident artist.


It’s too easy to lose hope in today’s crop of very young adults if you venture on to a university campus. Rather than radical calls for reforming society, you’ll find career-oriented kids studying hard and already planning their road to personal “success”. Very much head-down. bum-up. Ask them what they think the whole sixties thing was about and the general impressions you’ll hear are of psychedelics, free love, hippy fashions and classic rock music. While these elements in themselves are pretty right, the tragedy is that these kids fail to realise that there was a great idealistic dream also. We wanted to change the whole world, big time.


We wanted to change the world – we had the will but not the way. The economic system was totally impenetrable without the Georgist keys, and it ground us down, forced us into line, and often instilled in us those very rotten values against which we had rebelled so vociferously. Without hope, few movements can maintain the momentum, however idealistic.

The EarthSharing or Georgist message, the noblest of all philosophies supported by the most detailed of mechanisms, is indeed a message of hope.

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