Hippies like Country Joe McDonald irritated a lot of people - but they did get some things right

Needed in Ireland: A new set of values


Hippies like Country Joe McDonald irritated a lot of people - but they did get some things right

We need a new set of values. Carrying-on in the old way is bound to lead to more of the same: boom-bust; boom-bust; boom-bust. Only now, the ‘busts’ are coming increasingly quickly.

Yet there is little consensus on this. Apparently many of us are as badly off now as people were in the 1930s and it took World War II (54 million killed and countless millions injured) to rescue economies.

America was so far ahead in the 1950s that it looked like the future; it was the future. Europe was devastated, Japan had two atom bombs dropped on it and the Cold War had begun.

The Beat Generation saw problems in America (most notably, ‘conformity’) but it was clearly a better place for the average person to live than post-war Europe, Japan or the USSR. Studs Terkel’s tome “The Good War” explains how World War II was viewed in America.

During the course of the war, there were no ICBMs capable of landing on America. There were no planes capable of travelling 6,000 miles (roughly the return distance between Europe and the U.S). Since then however, the gap has been closed.

After the Beats came the Hippies. Timothy Leary was probably right when he remarked that the Baby Boomers came of age in the 1960s and that the carry-on was probably a demonstration of their sheer numbers. There was in the U.S. at that time the growth of a New Left. Instead of concentrating on union activism as the motor for social change, the New Left focused on society.

Along then came the 1970s and the growth of a movement that would have nothing to do with Left-ish causes. Hippies, who were largely responsible for this, irritated many people dedicated to making money in America.

But if subsequent years have been a concerted attempt to consign the 1960s to oblivion, the warnings of the Beats are coming true. Since roughly 1993, it’s been the same in Ireland.

No society ought to be made live the Woodstock example – it simply wouldn’t function. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater was the New Right’s response and it has led to the financial mess in which we find ourselves. Perhaps there is no Third Way – Tony Blair’s one-time mantra – but rigidly sticking to outmoded definitions of Right and Left is no way to proceed. Tell that to the Irish government.

So, we need a new set of values. From where are they going to come? I don’t know but caps on wages appear sensible to me. Why should any person make (because they couldn’t possibly earn) millions and even billions? In the U.S. – and in Ireland too – such people were accorded enormous respect and deference. Well, give them the respect and deference. Just cap the wages.

Alright, it’s clearly a mixing of Right and Left but Denmark, for instance, does it successfully. Estimates on the amount of Right (65 to 70 per cent) and Left (30 to 35 per cent) vary but it’s the way of the future. In Ireland and the U.S. however, there is a sticking-to New Right principles. Barack Obama is frequently condemned as a “socialist” but he is no such thing.

There’s a true-to-their-principles aspect to the hard American Right. They did not want any bailouts for banks, the economy or other financial institutions. As far as they were concerned, the market had failed these institutions so to hell with it. The market would mount the corrective stance and people would have to put up with it.

The problem with this approach might mean that some people would die of starvation in the wealthiest country on the planet. It was too much to expect Barack Obama to conform but it did provide an answer. Unfortunately, it was likely to provide bodies as well. So, Mr. Obama has injected billions into the American economy. What if it doesn’t work? Where will we be then?

There is no guarantee it will work. It might but what of the reality that it will break again . . . and soon? We need a new set of values but opposition to them is stunning. Yet it is likely to be the only way out.

The values will appear when they’re good and ready but it seems there’s much angst to go through to get to them. Opposition can be expected, of course – decent and indecent alike – but I’m still not convinced it will save us.

Maybe it will. But what is wrong with people supporting other people who are suffering more? It’s quite often the theme of those altruistic heroes in US drama but the market forces us to be against one another.

Look at its language: ‘loser’ is probably the most ignorant word its lexicon. We really need a new set of values and Obama’s ‘yes, we can’ is only the start of it.