Solarpunk, Acid Communism, Capitalist Co-opting, and Learning From The Counterculture
Showing the influences of the 60s counterculture, learning from the counterculture, and imagining radically new futures in a hauntological time.
The counterculture of the 1960s in combination with all of the political and societal changes of the time will bring vivid images to anyone living in the US or UK, and it remains the closest we have been in the imperial core to a revolution. A lot can be said about this historical time, and there are plenty of historians and people who lived through those times who can better articulate the history. If you want to learn more there are plenty of amazing documentaries about these times and I encourage you to delve deeper. So I will save the history lesson and invite you to look into what all was going on. I do think it’s important to add some historical context and background so I’ll be explaining the background history of some of these ideas.
From the Civil Rights movement, to indigenous sovereignty movements like AIM, the women’s rights and feminist movements, the Latino movements like the brown berets, Young Lords, and the NFWA, the LGBTQA+ rights movements all coalesced around the same time. Though almost all of these struggles, fights, and solidarity movements existed far into the past, at that moment of the 60’s-70’s there was an explosion in the popular imagination, of the social change that seemed to be happening all at the same time. The psychedelic movement combined with the social change and upheaval to create a massive cultural shift from the suits and suburbs of 1950’s white America into the vision of the hippies and radicals we all imagine.
And it suddenly vanished. Neoliberalism took over the psychedelic and social revolution happening at the time through the state’s usual methods of jailing, assassinating, silencing, and lying about the people at the heads of these various movements. Because many of them hinged on a central leadership, things quickly fell apart. In that crumbling, capitalists took advantage of the government infiltrating and destroying many radical movements. Capital took radical aesthetics and made it into a commodity. In this article, I’m going to try and break down the major points I see as connecting Solarpunk and a new counterculture beginning into the ideas of Acid Communism. More apt would be Mark Fisher’s description of Acid Communism as “Post Capitalist Desire”. I want to try and examine how movements break apart, and how we can learn from that to stop it from happening again when a new revolution or movement, or rejection of the current order begins to take a major form.
In my time looking at solarpunk, I genuinely see it as a nice catch-all term for a host of different philosophies and political lenses. Really it boils down to a way to show people a radically different future. Not just through the aesthetics but also by putting the spotlight on the political undercurrents that serve as the foundation of the idea. Though I am not stuck with the term it’s a good way of explaining a new push towards a different path of the future. Creating a drive towards new futures instead of old, forgotten, and failed pasts will require not just writing but art, music, and education to move people to act in the real world, creating real change. Post Capitalist Desire combined with the political education of today along with an aesthetics can help people wrap their heads around a new future. Very few people really have the time to care about abstract sci-fi utopias. You have to show people what the future can look like, and how we get to that future with real action, real social change, and real reimaginings of what our world can look like.
Black Music, Black Art, Civil Rights and the Inspiration for the early Counterculture.
Music, art, and literature have always played an incredible role in shaping culture. No two genres of music shaped the 20th century more than jazz and blues. Arguably jazz and the blues helped spread the social change of civil rights and produced some of the most potent protest songs of the era. Both were incredible musical artforms that also acted as a form of sung literature and a method of protest during times when open protest could mean death. Jazz was viewed for a long time as distinctly Black music and largely disregarded and hated by white society. However, jazz musicians were on the cutting edge of music production and of music composition and jazz became wildly popular with the rebels of the ‘20s-’30s. Capitalism doing what it did best attempted to commodify jazz with record labels creating their own all-white jazz bands. Black jazz musicians were often banned from performing at major music venues of the time and so all-white jazz bands that emulated their styles and performances took center stage. They made off with the record label money, while few black jazz musicians made it to the same economic levels as the people that ripped them off. There still were amazing Black jazz musicians who innovated and made their own distinct sounds and styles. There wasn’t a mass stage for Black protesting to happen (safely) at the time however, music circumvented that all by spreading the words of social change throughout America. The first majorly influential jazz protest song would be Billie Holiday’s 1939 rendition of “Strange Fruit” which reflected on the history and reality of lynchings in America. The release of this song caused such a strong backlash that the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger carried out a plot to give heroin to Billie, then when she used it she was thrown into prison for almost 2 years. After which she went back to performing on stage but was largely blacklisted from performing, the dip in shows meant she did sex work on the side to make ends meet. She checked herself into a hospital to get care however at the commands of Anslinger she was handcuffed to a hospital bed and refused medical care. She then died of heart and lung complications. The state had used its power to lash out and crush someone who sang about the injustices happening in America. Her performances and her music were so powerful in fostering rebellion that she had to be assassinated. Just like every person murdered by the state, their lives and messages lived on. This would happen time and time again to Black people who took a stand during this time, even in the face of death their legacies lived on as inspiration for more people to pick up where they left off.
WWII also exacerbated the chaos, anger, and frustration Black people felt and lived through. Many Black veterans risked their lives in segregated units fighting for the United States. When they saw what life could be like outside of the racism and segregation of the US when fighting in Europe. They were treated as people. Then came back to the US after fighting in the war to be denied the rights they fought for.
In the post-war chaos, a new form of jazz would differentiate itself from the easy listening white jazz of the ‘40s. Bebop and later Free Jazz. The musicians involved with bebop and later free jazz would directly influence not only the civil rights movement but the counterculture and psychedelic movements as well.
The Blues, Rock & Roll, Whitewashing, and Capitalism
The blues evolved from gospel and Black spirituals combined with work songs that at the beginning were more like poetry combined with call and response songs. Eventually, the lyrics got added with the guitar to form a unique sound. It spread mostly in the south and combined with various forms of ragtime jazz that sounds close to what we know as blues today. The blues (and jazz) were a major catalyst for the change happening within the Black community during the Harlem Renaissance. And it was touted as being the art form of the Black oppressed people and an art form that rejected black capitalism and assimilationism. Blues music grew mostly in the south but exploded when the first blues recordings happened. The first recordings were made by a Black woman named Mamie Smith in the ‘20s and it was so popular that “Race Records” became a thing and white record labels started paying attention to the Black people they so far completely ignored. White record labels only cared about this new form of music that had been circulating in the south after they could make money from it.
The blues grew in popularity and the lyrics grew from short stories about day-to-day life to much deeper topics. Racism, sexism, incarceration, living in this world while Black. They became beacons of reflection for Black people and arguably was the first mass media outside of newspapers and books that could hold a collective idea of Blackness from the south to the north. There was the ability for Black stories, protest songs and lyrics of dissent to be heard in the juke joints, bars, homes, and churches of people across the nation. The blues transformed over time into Black acoustic folk music and then fused again with new forms of jazz to create Rhythm and Blues. After WWII the blues guitar licks became electrified and musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James started producing songs that would become the basis for Rock and Roll to exist.
Elvis Presley is a great example of capitalism co-opting and defanging an artform. Though Elvis said he was inspired by blues musicians. His music could be carbon copies of blues licks, just with the lyrics changed for a mass, mostly white audience. His success skyrocketed while the people who created the genre, who sang about the injustices happening in America were overshadowed, and most never saw very much commercial fame outside of Black communities. Record labels saw an opportunity with R&B and blues and wanted to use the dissent and excitement spawned from them to make money. So they signed and funded countless (mostly all white) bands to record music as this new profitable genre. It was a continuation of what happened to jazz, capital saw an opportunity, took creative and social power away from the people who pioneered the genre, then ostracized them for not falling in line. But again just like jazz, there was chaos that was coming post-WWII and musicians like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elmore James, BB King, and Fats Domino that were the rock equivalent to bebop and jazz.
What Do Music, Literature, and Art Have Anything To Do With Civil Rights and the ‘60s Counterculture?
Art, music, and literature circumvent logic. They are methods and vessels for messages, feelings, and desires that interact with logic but target another major thing, emotion. Emotion and empathy are the fastest ways to teach and learn. It’s one thing to learn historical accounts of events. It’s another to hear someone sing about their experience. It’s another to see the artists’ portrait of what happened or how they felt. It’s another thing to read the first-hand account of what happened by someone who was there and really feel their emotions.
We put a lot into logical thinking but much of our existence is in the illogical and emotional realms. The key is to balance logic with emotion to convey not just logical fact, but emotion as well, to target empathy in the person to feel something about what is being said.
Radical change isn’t just with logic and facts, emotions and empathy are needed to spur action. Art, music, and literature aren’t just media to consume but the tools and vessels to share emotion combined with logic.
Beatniks, Gay G.I.’s, and Isolated Housewives
Every civil rights movement or group at the core is fighting inequality, violence, and the normality that excluded them. Civil rights will always foster a counterculture as long as the dominant culture is exclusive and violent to those marginalized. Every single marginalized group has a shared experience of not feeling part of the dominant society and yet at the same time, part of it in some ways. The issues and struggles of all marginalized people are intersectional. With that you see countercultures being created from all sides, areas, races, identities, and socio-economic backgrounds. If you are left out of society, you have something to change.
Some of the early waves of what would later be the hippies was a group called the beatniks. As with anything the term would come to be a negative one, and a term used to sell useless shit. But it started as a conception by Jack Kerouac in 1948 of an anti-conformist youth that was growing at that time. The “beatdown” generation was where the term originated from because the generation born from the late 20’s into the late 30’s had in general been beaten down. From WWI veteran fathers, then the great depression, and into the horrors of WWII, isolation, poverty, heteronormativity, and white supremacy. There were large swaths of people who felt left behind and excluded from “normal society”. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs were the prominent figures in the beat literary genre. All of them were writers and artists living in New York and San Fransico at differing times. It started out as a literary genre but grew from writing and poetry into art and music. But this group of friends really mirrored more of what was happening in 1948 and into the early 50’s. Living in low-income areas in New York city they frequented jazz bars that were mostly Black. This was in general extremely uncommon at the time for white people even in New York City to be in Black jazz clubs. Though New York City was better than the south in terms of segregation and Jim Crow laws, the city was still deeply segregated and racism was the norm.
At the time there were two distinct genres of jazz. The clean, easy listening jazz that had been appropriated from Black musicians. And the fast-paced, extremely experimental bebop genre that was growing in popularity in the Black community. Bebop was a simultaneous rejection and embrace of musical theory, a rejection of what the record labels wanted, and a rejection of the smooth jazz that played in white suburban homes. The movement towards a new Black musical subgenre coincided with a movement towards radical societal change.
With the beats living on the fringes of society in art and music circles, there was also the fact that Jack Kerouac could be considered Bisexual (though he never said he was, he did have sexual and romantic relationships with men and women) and Allen Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs were both outwardly gay in a time when being gay could be deadly. Allen Ginsburg was actually sent to a psychiatric hospital after being arrested and was “treated” for his “homosexual tendencies” after which he wrote one of his most famous works: Howl. The beat generation and the counterculture growing around them, in New York City and San Fransico at the time involved people who intersected on the fringes of society. People who did not want to live the “normal” lives of mid century capitalist America and could not. Every community was connected in their exclusion from “normal” polite society.
Wearing a Straight Mask
It was potentially life-threatening to be gay in the ‘50s, either by losing your job, being dishonorably discharged from the military, being black listed, potentially being labeled a “pervert” by people around you, or just outright murdered. Previous to 1962 you could be arrested and charged with “sodomy” for the crime of having sex with someone the same gender as you. Many people also were forced into mental institutions, which was a very common occurrence at the time. One of the few solaces LGBTQA+ people had were in clandestine gay bars. Clandestine because establishments thought to be gay clubs would be routinely raided by police. At the beginning of the cold war both Stalinist Soviet Russia and the US used queer people as a weapon and a wedge. In both countries being queer was illegal/punishable with imprisonment and in the case of Stalinist Soviet Russia, being gay could land you in prison. Queer people were viewed as “a sign of fascism” or as “a sign of communism” depending on where they were in the world. The US state and the US state propaganda machine (popular media and advertisements) pushed the idea of the white nuclear family during this time. The ideals of mid-century post-war conformity. Conformity to what society expected of people of the time, which was to conform to heteronormativity. This left so many people in the dark, hiding from their families and from themselves. Being forced to wear a straight mask while either living their true life in secret or not living their life at all. Even with this social pressure and hatred, queer people found amazing ways to be queer, find ways in the bleak landscape of 50’s America to have hope and find joy with each other. There were two very important books and groups that emerged in 1951 and 1955 that laid the groundwork for the gay rights movement to kick off. Donald Webster Cory wrote a book in 1951 called "The Homosexual in America” that was an absolute revelation and in the book he argued publicly that queer people were an oppressed people.
“He associated gay life with democracy, freedom,
and healthy expression, and opposed it to totalitarianism. Homosexuals, he
claimed, “are seeking to extend freedom of the individual, of speech, press, and
thought to an entirely new realm.”
- The Liberal 1950s? Reinterpreting Postwar
American Sexual Culture by Joanne Meyerowitz
Around 1955 multiple activist groups were forming a coalition that would later be called “The Homophile Movement”. This was a combination of The Mattachine Society (gay men) and the Daughters of Bilitis (lesbian women) along with other groups that created magazines, literature and started making the building blocks of a political movement of queer people. These magazines were calling for gay civil rights in the mid ‘50s which was basically unheard of up until this time for there to be a movement for queer people to have political power and freedom.
(I want to add here that some of these groups tended to exclude transgender and non-binary people. Some said it was because “crossdressing” was illegal and would attract police. However, based on the accounts of people in the groups there seemed to be somewhat of a strict gender binary. This is important because even at the beginning of the queer activist movement trans people were commonly excluded. Even in a marginalized group, there were people inside the queer community who were marginalized. This is before the concept of gender identity as we know it today was even up for discussion. Let alone talking about the integration of white gay spaces with the gay spaces of nonwhite people and groups.)
This still remained the first major public push for queer people to interact in the public and political sphere to push for queer civil rights. The movement as a whole spoke about gay civil rights as a movement towards sexual liberation, greater sexual expression, and an end to the strict heteronormativity that America enforced.
Gay War Vets, Motorcycles, and Leather
Another part of the counterculture would arise after the horrors of WWII, motorcycle enthusiasts and Motorcycle Clubs (MC). Vets from the war became interested in motorcycles and the cultural understanding of the type of person who rode one was that of a rebel. That rebellious spirit is where MCs like the Hells Angels come from but a large amount of clubs popped up after the war. With the rebellion of straight war vets came an added rebellion of gay war vets who had to remain closeted while serving in the military. The Satyrs were a motorcycle club started in Los Angeles of mostly gay veterans who not only rebelled socially but sexually from the heteronormativity of the 1950s. This is where leather is first incorporated into gay culture and becomes a counterculture to a counterculture (Straight, cis motorcycle clubs). These clubs acted as a safe refuge for gay men to express themselves and live the lives they wanted to live. The hyper-masculinity both acted as a shield from scrutiny from the outside while also cultivating a distinct masculine gay culture that embraced and simultaneously rejected the norms of the dominant society.
The motorcycle clubs like the Hells Angels would become influential in the culture of rebellion, the aesthetics but also were involved heavily in how drugs and psychedelics spread through the US later in the ‘60s.
Isolated Women in the Suburbs
The suburban housewife was a staple of mid-century life and the epicenter of the alienation and isolation that happens under capitalism. The suburban housewife that was forced to work for no pay, to birth and raise children and be the personification of femininity. While their husbands were at work, they stayed at home in their perfect cookie cutter homes in a cul-de-sac alone for most of the day. It was no wonder at the time valium was starting to be the most widely prescribed drug to housewives. The anxiety was building in these suburban homes from the abject isolation women felt. Let alone women of color who not only filled the housewife role, but also had to deal with the overwheming racism of the time. This isolation created the incubator for the second wave of feminism that would free housewives from the confines of suburban homes. Women who felt the day-to-day tyranny and violence of their husbands, the overbearing dominance they had over their lives. The ability for them to be stripped of any previous skills or vocations and forced into the home, regardless of what the women really wanted. Millions of women trapped at home, alone and anxious of the ever-changing outside world that was leaving them behind. They were the first to feel the anxiety of the era, because the domination and exploitation were mostly pointed at them. They raised children in these environments. Who were supposed to uphold the ideals of the dominant culture. To be radical individualists. They raised children while holding in the anxiety of the future, and the anxiety of looking into the eyes of true domination.
The Psychedelic Counterculture & Reprogramming the Mind
Psychedelics mostly remained dormant and used as a tool by scientists, therapists, and psychologists in their early use in the modern west. This is talking about the modern psychedelic compounds and not the thousands of years of use and scientific study by indigenous people. Most of that information remained with indigenous peoples for thousands of years up until anthropologists spoke about their findings when speaking to them about their experiences and culture.
Psychedelic compounds and entheogens have been used for thousands of years usually administered in very specific settings by people with experience. They have always had a cultural significance and were used as tools or medicine, not for recreation. Ceremonial entheogenic practice was passed down from generation to generation and in most cases carefully maintained. Entheogenic use outside of spiritual, medicinal or ceremonial use wasn’t really documented, but based off the indigenous recounts of their ancestral practices, this was the realm of shamans and medicine men. Humanity has had a vast amount of time using psychedelic compounds and entheogens dating back thousands of years before the 1950’s and the rise of psychedelic use. This is an important topic to state at the beginning of all of this and something that ties into almost everything involved with the current psychedelic culture.
In most ways, the medical field in the 50s and 60s took entheogens seriously and looked at them as novel treatments to a giant list of mental and physical ailments. There was serious science being done with compounds like LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, Ketamine, DMT, and a whole host of analog compounds made by Alexander Shulgin and other pioneering chemists. There is an entirely new world when it comes to compounds and how they can impact the brain and the body in positive ways. Early mid-century psychedelic circles were mainly doctors and chemists trying out these compounds and experimenting with their effects, with a significant amount of success. A very common occurrence with psychedelic compounds is what is called “ego death”. While under the influence the subject might lose touch with reality, space, time, and the idea of themselves. These compounds can change someone’s life trajectory completely because of their ability to change consciousness. Sometimes so much so that people come out of these experiences feeling like totally different people. These can be both positive and negative experiences as many people who take these compounds can relive previous trauma or get stuck in bad mental loops. There are also many people who simply can’t do psychedelics due to an existing mental condition or for health reasons. Topics like this were being researched and understood by the research community at the time. Psychedelic drugs remained mostly unknown to the general public until the US government and the CIA took an interest in psychedelic compounds’ ability to change people’s conceptions of themselves and the world.
MKUltra, LSD Soldiers, and Breaking Out of the Lab
The CIA took an interest in LSD after seeing the potential of using it as a weapon. The MKUltra program was designed to test LSD as a chemical weapon used for brainwashing, interrogation, and torture. This was used along with a large list of other methods however, the testing program for using LSD as a weapon reached farther out to include volunteers who signed up for the program. Their experiments were mostly a failure and LSD really only proved that it was a powerful compound that could change the human mind and consciousness. Ken Kesey was a volunteer for the project and his experiences led him to become extremely interested in the use of LSD. He wrote the famous novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest after his experiences along with his time working in a psychiatric hospital.
Nearly at the same time, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert met at Harvard while Richard was working on his tenure as a clinical psychologist. The two met at the Center for Research in Personality where their initial experiments with psychedelics would begin. These two men would go on almost completely separate paths and influence the counterculture in their own ways both positive and negative. They both worked on various research projects specifically the Harvard Psilocybin Project and one of the most well-known experiments the Marsh Chapel Experiment to see the effects psilocybin had on religious experiences. Along with the Concord Prison Experiment that tested psilocybin on prisoners to see if the compound could be used to treat prison recidivism. During these experiments, Timothy Leary became obsessed with the potential power of LSD to transform individuals along with society and began giving out psychedelic compounds to anyone who was interested. This largely was the beginning of psychedelics leaving the mostly scientific and therapeutic environment and entering into the public sphere. Harvard caught wind that Leary and Richard were giving experimental compounds to people outside of research settings and they were both fired.
The psychedelic parties that Leary was putting together became prolific, and the amount of people outside of chemists and psychologists who came to experience LSD and other entheogens grew rapidly.
The Start of the Early Psychedelic movement.
It’s really weird and uncanny when you look at the historical connections between people and groups that formed in this time. This bit of text might seem kinda abrupt and disjointed but I really want to connect the dots between some of these influential people who aren’t talked about very often but were pivotal people in the formation of the psychedelic counterculture and in a large part some of the radical political organizing that happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s. There are many people left out of many discussions whose actions or work directly lead to many of the events in the ‘60s and ‘70s that tend to be forgotten.
The use of mescaline goes back almost 5,700 years and was used in ceremonial and religious practices by the indigenous people of the Americas. The first mention outside of these communities was during the Spanish invasion of Mexico around 1529. The Spanish colonizers saw the use of entheogens as a counter to catholicism because they were used in ceremonies and religious contexts so they attempted to outlaw the use by indigenous people. It didn’t work and actually spread the use of mescaline containing cacti further north and into trade networks that reached into the south and southeast portion of the so-called United States.
Mescaline was unheard of or studied by western science until 1887 when John Raleigh Briggs wrote down his experiences ingesting a small dried part of a peyote cactus. This could have been a result of the Native American Church forming between various different indigenous tribal nations that was actually a distinct religion that worked alongside the traditional religious ceremonies and traditions of those people. In 1888 peyote use was banned under the authority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in an attempt to stop indigenous tribes from uniting under this new religious system springing up. The European colonizers in America were doing the same thing the Spanish colonizers did hundreds of years before then, attempting to stop the use of entheogens by indigenous people because of the importance they would play in native religious thought. In my opinion, it could also be said that entheogens and their ability to change human conciseness might have posed a multi-tiered threat to colonizers. On one hand, entheogen rituals and ceremonies brought indigenous people together physically but mentally as well. The indigenous people did not take lightly to both the Spanish and other Europeans stealing land, and many did not want to convert to Christianity at all. Entheogens could also act as a social bond of people, with a shared experience that could act as a counterbalance to imperialism. That is my own interpretation but for the most part, entheogens tended to be banned because those laws targeted indigenous sovereignty.
John Raleigh Briggs actually sold the mescaline extract on the market as a heart tonic even though peyote use was banned at the time for indigenous people. Around 1893 the compound was isolated chemically and was able to be synthesized in a lab and named mescaline.
The synthesized mescaline was sold openly in pharmacies while at the same time the indigenous people, who told scientists about their use were banned from using the plant-derived compounds. This is a cycle that would repeat. Keep this in your mind.
Humphry Fortescue Osmond was a doctor working in Canada who first associated entheogens with the term “psychedelic”. He is arguably one of the most influential catalysts in the psychedelic counter-culture that would come to influence the influencers. He was working on psychiatric medication and interventions when he saw that the chemical structure of mescaline looked very similar to adrenaline and started doing experiments using the compound. He was one of the leading doctors working on using entheogens in a medical environment specifically for therapy and not for physical ailments. Humphry Osmond spoke frequently to a writer who was interested in his mescaline research named Aldous Huxley.
Aldous Huxley became extremely interested in mescaline and wrote one of his most famous works “The Doors of Perception” about his experiences with the compound in 1953. (I think Brave New World is his most well-known work but I digress) This book would introduce thousands of people to the world of entheogens and psychedelic compounds. Huxley gained a cult following of people who were interested not just in his experiences but in him as well and he started gaining a large following of other writers and artists around this time. Aldous Huxley heard of a compound being produced that had somewhat similar effects to mescaline called Lysergic Acid Diethylamide or LSD through one of the many people researching the compound for therapeutic purposes at the time. Though LSD had been synthesized in the 1930’s it wasn’t until the ‘50s that it was really studied in medical environments for the effects of the compound on humans.
Psilocybin is the compound found in specific types of mushrooms that have a psychedelic effect and the use of mushrooms to produce hallucinations has gone back for thousands of years with pictures of these mushrooms appearing in mesoamerican art across the regions of so-called Mexico, down into Central and South America. The use of these mushrooms was unknown outside of anthropologists and historians who studied Aztec and mesoamerican societies and the indigenous people who cultivated and studied the mushrooms for medicinal and ceremonial practices. Very few people in the global north or industrialized countries knew they existed until research was starting with mescaline and LSD, and scientists were interested in finding more information about other psychedelic compounds.
Gordon Wasson was an ethnomycologist and at one point the vice president of J.P Morgan bank who wanted to study mushrooms after a trip in 1927 introduced him to the world of mycology, or the study of mushrooms. During this time he read about the use of Amanita Muscaria mushrooms in Siberia being used and he got funding from a US government agency to carry out work in Russia to study their use. Gordon Wasson’s research was funded by the MKUltra program, run by the CIA to find more information about these mind-altering compounds. (I want to reiterate, this is not some conspiracy theory. The CIA was looking at using these compounds as weapons, so when you look at things in that lens it makes sense.)
Gordon Wasson also found information about a mind-altering mushroom that originated in the mountains of Mexico and was funded again to do research in Mexico. There he met with a curandera (translated into “one who knows”) named Maria Sabina. Maria Sabina had come from a long line of healers and medicinal practitioners in the area who used these mushrooms both to help heal psychological trauma and issues in people but also used them for religious experiences. This was the first time that western people had seen some of these ceremonies and Gordon Wasson wrote them down to later be published. Maria Sabina wanted Gordon to promise that he would not disclose her name or the region she lived in to help protect and conserve the natural resources of the Psilocybe Mexicana fungus. These ceremonies and practices had happened behind closed doors by people trained in their use, and never had a westerner outside of Spanish colonizers had seen their real use.
Wasson included an excerpt in a 1957 Life Magazine article ‘Seeking the Magic Mushroom’ and that was the start of an entire craze that would change Maria Sabina’s life, Mexico, the United States, and the world. This article did not mention Maria outright but did spark an insane public and scientific curiosity into psilocybin. However, Wasson wrote a full-length book called ‘Russia, Mushrooms and History’ where he spoke in full length about the ceremony in Mexico, mentioned Maria Sabina’s name and where she lived. The exact opposite of what she requested Wasson to do. With that came a surge of people from around the world embarking on a journey to have a session with Maria. Aldus Huxley visited her right after Wasson published his article and a long list of influential people over the years came to her.
Here is a shortlist of recognizable names:
Walt Disney, John Lennon, Albert Hoffman (Chemist who synthesized LSD), Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Timothy Leary.
The experience in 1960 that Timothy Leary had in Mexico changed his life. This was the first time Leary had done any kind of '“drug” and before had he viewed himself as a straight and narrow scientist. This experience is what spurred him to go back to Harvard and work with Richard Alpert to start the Harvard Psilocybin Project.
What about the people who influenced the psychedelic influencers?
Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Aldous Huxley, and Albert Hoffman are mostly credited for starting the psychedelic revolution but what I want to show is that they aren’t the only people who were the catalysts for the explosion of entheogens.
It was the indigenous people who told others about these compounds. As usual, history tells the story of the great men (usually always white, cisgender men) who created revolutions while ignoring the other people who got them where they were.
The real unsung and unrecognized people are Maria Sabina, the Mazatec people, and the traditions of indigenous people living in pre-colonized Mexico. The Comanche and Kiowa nations and the work of Quanah Parker in the Native American Church to have a way to protect the use of entheogens in Native American culture. The cultural craze around psychedelic drugs never would have happened and arguably the use of LSD would have remained locked into scientific and therapeutic uses and sold as a prescription drug.
There is a long history of entheogen use being used as a legal precursor to racist laws that targeted BIPOC. Peyote and the Native Americans, Cannabis and Black & Latino people, Opium and Asian & Pacific Islanders. All were persecuted by the use of plants and entheogens.
It’s these people that the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s owes its entire existence to. Even though people like Maria Sabina basically introduced the world to psychedelic mushrooms she died in poverty and remains relatively unknown outside of psychedelic research and culture. Very few people recognize the impact that she had on culture going on during the 1960s.
Black influence on the early counterculture and psychedelic scene.
Jazz was transforming during the ‘50s and bebop was a subgenre that was gaining in popularity as a new form of fast, improvisational jazz that revolutionized the soundscape of jazz and later electric blues. The genre had exploded mainly in New York City jazz clubs and in LA where the majority of jazz musicians both lived or toured. New York City was the epicenter of both bebops rise, and the residual changes from the Harlem renaissance socially that combined into the music and the social change in the Black community at the time. Jazz was always associated with cannabis and a large part of why cannabis was made illegal in the United States was racist laws targeting Black and Hispanic people over the use of the plant. Cannabis culture and jazz culture were intertwined including a large amount of experimental improvisation that would carry over later into electric blues and eventually rock and roll. It could be said that the use of cannabis combined with the experimental nature of bebop led to long sessions of complete improvisation, creativity, and spur-of-the-moment music. Many of these shows would sound almost completely different from day to day because of the nature of improvisation musicians would have. This would make bebop shows incredibly fun and engaging because you could expect each show and session to be slightly different. That also can underscore the trajectory of the Black community socially in a racist America, improvising, growing with chaos, and expecting change.
With many famous Black jazz musicians living in New York City in the ‘50s there was a large cross-over of Black culture and influence into other people in New York City and beyond. This was also the time and culmination of a large exodus of people from Puerto Rico to New York City and the sounds of salsa and merengue blended into bebop. This circles back into the beat generation, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs who all lived in New York City at the same time that big-name people in jazz and up and comers like Thelonius Monk, Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Rouse, and John Coltrane were also living or playing in New York City. Allen Ginsburg would frequent a jazz club called ‘Five Spot’ that was one of the epicenters of bebops rise and where he met Thelonious monk. Again at this time, it was still risque/taboo even in New York for white people to go to Black establishments let alone be good friends with Black people. Segregation was not legally abolished at the time but socially cities like New York City were more progressive, you still have to keep in mind that most adults in this time were used to segregation. So to even bypass that in a social way was a big social taboo as many people still were virulently racist.
The beat generation had gained their understanding of the growing counterculture from the Black jazz musicians in New York City and their mannerisms and slang came directly from how the jazz musicians spoke and acted. They had started smoking cannabis because they hung around jazz clubs, learned from, and were inspired by Black people. The terminology of calling someone ‘cat’ or the term ‘cool’ ‘hip’, ‘daddio’ were all words and phrases taken from Black people and the beat generation wrote them into their works, which spread Black terms to people who never would have otherwise never adopted them because they would more than likely be segregated from Black people and Black culture. So the beat generation that inspired countless numbers of writers and artists got their inspiration directly from the cannabis smoke filled jazz bars in New York City frequented by the bebop jazz musicians who were experimenting with the cutting edge of music.
The stereotypes of early hippies (who were not called hippies at this moment) were really stereotypes of the beat generation, or what people called beatniks. The beat writers and artists directly got their inspiration from Black culture, specifically jazz subcultures in New York City. So the conception of beatniks as cosmopolitan socialists who smoked marijuana, listened to jazz music, and were into free love would directly come to characterize the early hippies. But the entire reason why cannabis came to be associated with hippies later on is because the stereotype of hippies was based on the stereotype of the beatnik, which was a stereotype rooted in Black culture. The same idea happens today with modern black culture and is still happening with cannabis, cultural norms, and Black music even in 2022.
Jazz cats showed the beats cannabis, now the beats would show them psychedelics.
Timothy Leary fresh off his experiences in Mexico starts the psilocybin project with Richard Alpert, while also speaking to Aldous Huxley about mescaline and his experiences with LSD though Leary only wanted to study synthesized psilocybin and had not taken LSD. Later on, he travels to New York City to visit Allen Ginsburg, who also read the Times article on “magic mushrooms” and was interested in them but also the research work Leary was doing at the time with Sandoz labs that synthesized both psilocybin and LSD. Ginsburg gathered a couple of different people he knew that might be interested, in this initial group was the poet Amiri Baraka, artist Willem de Kooning, along with jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk.
Thelonious monk met Leary in Boston while playing a show, and after his experience with psilocybin he immediately went to tell other musicians of the new world that psilocybin had opened up especially when it came to music. That was the first kick off of psychedelics entering into the jazz scene, and word of these compounds spread quickly.
That same year in 1961 Maynard Ferguson and his wife came to visit Timothy Leary in Cambridge. At the same time Maynard was visiting, Michael Hollingshead had come into town to visit as well where he bought LSD from Sandoz labs. He had done LSD and discussed his experiences with Aldous Huxley who introduced Michael Hollingshead and Timothy Leary. At this point, Michael Hollingshead had been good friends with William S. Burroughs and so the loop of jazz musicians, beat poets, and early psychedelic figures connect together.
It was at this meeting with Maynard Ferguson, Timothy Leary and Michael Hollingshead that Maynard convinced Timothy Leary to try LSD for the first time.
Shortly after Leary’s experience with LSD, the word about psychedelics had grown in the jazz community and largely in the Black creative spaces of the time. Thelonious Monk spoke to Allen Ginsburg shortly after that wanting to try LSD while he was in New York City playing a show at the Village Gate where Hugh Romney would open for him. Hugh Romney would go on to work on Woodstock years later and get his nickname “Wavy Gravy” from the infamous blues musician BB King.
Hippies, psychedelic rock, and San Fransisco
Timothy Leary started doing more experiments with psychedelics in a mansion in Millbrook, New York that became the central party house of anyone who wanted to try LSD or experiment in the various changes happening inside the psychedelic counterculture. The Millbrook Estate still remained a research hub and for the most part there was LSD fueled parties but less so for recreation, and even Leary at this time didn’t want the compounds to be looked at as a reckless tool at the time. He did want everyone and anyone who wanted to try psychedelics to try them. This is a place of contention because on one hand you can argue that throwing LSD parties and recording trips isn’t rigorous medical research, on another you can see the somewhat restraint that Leary had on haphazardly supplying LSD. Nonetheless his work there along with the spread of psychedelics between the beats, jazz musicians, and now surf rock crowds and folk travelers in California, LSD and psychedelics had gained momentum.
Ken Kesey bought a property in La Honda California and was hosting parties and living communally in the home right outside of San Francisco. This is where the infamous “acid tests” would occur with LSD supplied by Owsley Stanley, a prolific underground LSD chemist who also was the soundman to the band Grateful Dead. Kesey viewed LSD as a powerful tool but also used it for recreational purposes. Ken Kesey is really the reason why LSD started circulating so much in San Francisco because he was more indiscriminate with its use as opposed to Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and the like who at least had backgrounds in clinical settings. This was also the location where the “Merry Pranksters” would form which was a group of friends that decided to hang out with Kesey and try communal living. It was at the La Honda home that Ken Kesey started inviting the Hells Angels motorcycle club to his home. At this point the Hells Angels were involved in minor drug trafficking but they became one of the largest distributors of psychedelic compounds in the bay area over time. They had a reputation both for their loud motorcycles and their penchant for violence. Many of them were WWII or Vietnam vets and the mixture of PTSD and psychedelic drugs rarely created a fun experience. This house was where Hunter S. Thompson wrote his first major work about the Hells Angels.
In fact, Hunter S. Thompson was also good friends with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and William S. Burroughs in the early ‘60s because he became obsessed with them after reading on the road. His writing style that popularized Gonzo journalism was fleshed out while he was living in New York City, going to Black jazz clubs with Allen. Hunter Thompsons’ love for firearms was nurtured by William S. Burroughs who was also an avid firearm enthusiast.
After this meeting Ken Kesey along with Neil Cassidy (One of the main characters from on the road) and the rest of the La Honda commune gathered in a bus to drive across the country to the 1964 Worlds Fair. This was chronicled along in the book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe that introduced many people to the idea of a “hippie” or to the growing counterculture that was growing. Though still at this time popular culture and American society were widely unaware of what was happening. Chandler A. Laughlin III who was involved with the original beats and Owsley Stanley ran two beat coffee shops in Berkeley, California just near the college that was a hub for Anti-War protestors, with poetry, radical literature, and other musical performances.
Chandler Laughlin along with about 50 people created a small insular community in the city that was a combination of psychedelic enthusiasts, musicians, artists, and radical activists. They would go on to sponsor a collection of concerts at the Red Dog Saloon. Laughlin got together a setlist that included Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Charlatans, and a couple of other bands. They called this “The Red Dog Experience” where the band The Charlatans would become the first psychedelic rock band to play live on LSD. They would recreate the concert in 1965 that coincided with The Trips Festival which was put together by Ken Kesey and Owsley Stanley who at this point had moved his old LSD lab into San Fransico after being raided by police.
Political Action in San Fransico and New York City
So far I haven’t talked about all of the political action that happened from the ‘50s into the mid ‘60s because there is such a wide spectrum of things happening at this time that I can’t cover all of them but this was the time and culmination of every kind of change happening in America. Black civil rights, feminism, the Gay rights movement, Latino farmworker unions, Anti-War protesters, Environmentalists, psychedelic dropouts, assassinations of JFK and Malcolm X all happened during this. The chaos of rapid change was on the horizon and there was a sense that the revolution was here.
1966 marked the high water point for the psychedelic movement as the Red Dog crew were putting on more concerts, San Francisco became a hub of change that was about to sweep America and was ground zero at the time for all of these different forces and people to combine. The Haight Ashberry and the Castro district became two areas that concentrated not only hippies, but old beatniks, bikers, students, anti-war protesters, and the growing gay community that all blended together because of the low cost of living and the growing excitement. With the cheap cost of living and the explosion of art, music, community, and psychedelics that attracted people around the US and Canada to move into San Fransisco. By mid-1966 there were around 15,000 people that could be labeled as hippies living in those areas which was a massive influx of people compared to the relative unknown nature of what was happening outside of marginalized communities.
Radical Politics After McCarthyism & Communist Experiments
During the 1950’s there was McCarthyism in America and The Red Scare that painted leftist politics in an extremely negative light to the majority of people in America. Keep in mind that this was not because Americans did not want to learn or could not bare the communist information, but because at the time media and propaganda sowed the seeds of fear in the American people. Many people lost their jobs, or were imprisoned because of their affiliation with communist or socialist organizations as the US government was paranoid about soviet invasions and communism “spreading” in the US. However, that does not change the fact that even during this time there remained principled communists, anarchists, and socialists who were living, educating, and building coalitions inside the US. The Communist Party of America was instrumental in working with labor unions in the 1920s-1930s and helping fight for civil rights in Black communities. After WWII communist theory was able to be accessed widely as people were interested in the ideas behind the Soviet Union and more groups started to form in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s. SLATE and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) were the early political groups that would form and blend with the Free Speech Movement and the Anti-War movement. SLATE and CORE would also go on to work with the Black Panthers who formed in 1966. Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) was influential to the formation of the Black Panthers and was a big reason why the Panthers would adopt ideas from Mao. This was also the rise of a social democratic party that pushed for more leftist ideas in the existing political parties.
Almost everyone involved in the early counterculture and early hippie scene was involved in radical politics in their own rights. Many were well educated on leftist theory and actively sought to establish communist and socialist ideals in the US. Each marginalized group brought their own ideas and contributions to society that remain as the bedrock for leftist organizations today. The hippie communes that most people talk about usually started in this early period of time and were legitimate experiments in communal living. The concept of free love, the loosening of heteronormative ideals and the sexual liberation of women is a by-product of the queer people and women who developed the ideas, who shared their views and influenced the early counterculture to question their ideas on sexuality and sexual freedom. Black people remained the bedrock of counterculture tendencies and were the reason why the counterculture grew at all. They were the reason why they were listening to the music they were listening to. Black activists always guided the counterculture towards anti-racism during a time when segregation was still happening and society at large was deeply racist.
The Black Panther Party was formed in October 1966 in Oakland California. Close to San Francisco and Berkley but it might as well had been a world away. The area had been heavily segregated and heavily policed, with constant police murders of unarmed Black people in Oakland, the flowers and LSD parties were a far cry from the brutality happening in Oakland by the hands of police. The Black Panthers were formed as a revolutionary anti-imperialist community defense league to not only keep watch for police brutality but to arm the community against the violence. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale would sell copies of Mao’s Little Red Book on Berkley campuses and that would fund the purchase of weapons. Stokely Charmichael called for "Black Power” and was the keynote speaker at the Black Power conference in 1966.
Happening in both San Francisco and New York City in 1966 were anarchist groups who were also directly working with and simultaneously critiquing the counter culture movement. The Diggers were a direct action group that could be described as “anarchistic” though they never set a definite ideology. The Diggers lived and did their work in the Haight-Ashbury and were vocal critics of how the counterculture movement was moving away from political action and into new age centrism without politics. They hosted parties and free music events with Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin along with doing direct action in the streets. They were known to be radical anticapitalists and wanted to create a society with no money. They made free food pantries, free stores, made temporary housing in the city, and provided medical care. Some left the city and created multiple communes to continue the anti-capitalist experiments along with organic farming.
The Youth International Party was also known as the “Yippies” also fell into the anarchist umbrella that came out of antiwar protest groups. They were anti-authoritarian and criticized capitalism infiltrating the counterculture. They viewed the non-violent tactics of some anti war protesters as purely symbolic. They were a loose group that incorporated people involved in multiple political actions and countercultural ideas like The Diggers, The Merry Pranksters, The White Panthers, and some of the people who would later be involved in the environmentalism movement. This is a time when alternatives were being widely talked about and carried out like free schools, pirate radios, organic farming, free stores, food and artist co-ops, and DIY publications. These were gaining in popularity both inside the counterculture and outside in broader political spaces.
The Summer of Love & The Summer of Capital Co-option
The Summer of Love is what 1967 would come to be called and started at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park. The Human be-In would attract around 30,000 people into San Francisco which also attracted media attention. At this point, the counterculture message had spread to wider society and many people flocked to San Francisco and New York City looking for something. That something depended on the person but many of the people coming into San Francisco were not coming from the marginalized groups that birthed the counterculture. Many of them were coming from the previously segregated, affluent suburbs of cities around the nation. Middle-class kids who saw, heard, or read about the hippies who wanted to join in. Some came for the pure rebellion against the stiff society they grew up in. Others came specifically to try LSD and other psychedelics, others came for the new music genres and scene growing. The sudden rush of people coincided with the state of California classifying LSD as a schedule 1 substance and made it illegal. This caused multiple LSD labs to get raided and in return get shut down. With a rise in the profitability of LSD by drug traffickers because of rising demand, clandestine labs grew and the gangs that trafficked drugs started selling LSD and other analogs. This was something radically different because for the most part LSD and other entheogens were not sold, but given away. A single batch of LSD could provide 10,000 doses and so the profitability was not great compared to cocaine, heroin, or cannabis. So this black market sprung up and caused LSD to be sold, which made LSD a commodity. Anyone could buy and use psychedelics and it had truly escaped from people who cared about the setting that LSD was taken in and became a recreational compound.
Though many people saw Timothy Leary as the figurehead of LSD escaping the lab and medicinal circles, the largest catalyst for the abuse of LSD was Ken Kesey and his involvement with the Hells Angels and in turn, other groups that would become the backbone of clandestine LSD sale, as opposed to small time selling, or just giving it away. LSD and other psychedelics were being used by the people flocking to San Fransico who had no clue what the compound did, its effects, and dosage. With LSD labs being busted more labs started synthesizing analogs or using other types of compounds unrelated to LSD. There was an uptick in STP (2,5-Dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine which is really DOM) which lasted much longer than LSD, had a lower dosage requirement, and a longer onset of effects. This caused people to overdose and could have negative effects as the psychotropic qualities could last twice as long as LSD. There was also the introduction of PCP (phenylcyclohexyl piperidine) which is not a traditional hallucinogen like LSD but is a dissociative compound, which in some people, and in certain doses, would cause them to become catatonic or violent as they disassociated rather than hallucinated.
With psychedelics being sold indiscriminately to people flooding into San Francisco and the sudden rise in population there were issues with crime and vandalism as criminals saw many of these people as peace-loving marks along with crimes of desperation like theft because San Fransisco had attracted many people with no other options in the wake of ‘60s hypercapitalism.
Out of this came some distinct groups. You had the people who were the foundation of the counterculture, the early inspirations, people involved in radical politics, and the marginalized people who really created the culture element around the early counterculture. And the droves of people coming into San Francisco from various different backgrounds but usually tended to have some means to travel. Many of whom were white middle-class people from around the country who in entering San Fransisco were first exposed to any kind of culture that differed from the dominant one in America. People who were there just for the art, or just for the music, or just for the drugs who brought their own societal baggage with them and many really did not understand the complexity that existed in the countercultural movement.
This happened because the idea of the hippie, of the countercultural rebel had been grabbed by media attention. Some wanted to seriously document the new tide in America that was pushing against the dominant culture, and others saw the events happening as entertainment. With that entertainment came capital, and with capital came the production of subculture, and stereotypes began to form. The stereotypes started with the beat generation and then started to morph as the counterculture grew. And so the thousands of people who consumed media back then were fed a stereotype, a caricature of a person, a hyperreal version of the counterculture that was produced and perpetuated by the same people who controlled the dominant culture.
The Diggers and other radical groups called this time “The Death of The Hippie”, as the influx of people into the Bay area and into New York City were unaware of the true messaging, experimentation, pain, and triumph of all the people who had been involved and led things up to this moment. All of this spurred a media frenzy and a panic around the nation about the counterculture and some of the same government organizations that had provided funding for LSD research were not producing propaganda about LSD claiming it was a dangerous drug. This ignored the fact that LSD was being taken recreationally by people who had no idea of the effects, on top of that there were also other compounds going around like PCP which were producing the effects that people associated with LSD. This scare caused so many people to associate the counterculture with crime and drug use, so much so that businesses that started that might have attracted hippies or the counterculture to them would be shut down.
During this time there were countless movies and dramas about hippies, exploitation films about counterculture that revolved around stereotypes and never had interacted with any of the real material concerns that people had. This painted the counterculture in whatever cultural light that movie studio executives, literary publishers, music labels, investment bankers, police, and politicians wanted to paint them as. They saw the counterculture as a combination of all of the civil rights actions happening in America as the central issue and wanted to do everything they could to discredit the claims of radicals and marginalized people, while also profiting.
With the media backlash came more people flocking into counterculture who had no idea what the counterculture was about outside of smoking cannabis, using LSD, and dressing in wild ways at psychedelic rock concerts. That is the stereotype that began to circulate and many people wanted to emulate it. This is the start of a huge change in advertising and this group of people would become part of a capitalist experiment on new ways of selling things.
The summer of love was in 1967 and 1968 would prove to be one of the most prolific years of the time. 1968 marked one of the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War and there was an uptick in antiwar protests, more and more concerts were being put on and the counterculture grew. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. There were weekly Be-Ins at Cambrdige park where the feminist movement grew. The Democratic Nation Convention protests involved the SDS, Black Panthers, and the Yippies. The prolific Olympic Protests where Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in recognition of the Black Panthers and the Black Power movement. Nixon winning the presidential election and the Apollo 8 mission.
All of this happened while the civil rights movement won a monumental court case Civil Rights Act of 1968 after the uprisings that happened after Dr. King was assassinated. The LGBTQA+ community gathering in public protests for their rights. Feminism was growing and expanding reproductive rights and a new attitude among women. The Anti War protests reached a crescendo as more people died in Vietnam. The Black Panthers were gaining full momentum opening chapters while the FBI attempted to infiltrate and stop the growing spread of insurrectionary Black politics. The formation of a Rainbow Coalition in 1969 with the Young Lords, The Brown Berets, the American Indian Movement, White Panthers, and the Red Guard Party joining together with the Black Panther Party. The occupation by the California National Guard of Berkeley due to then-governor Ronald Regan which spawned the infamous image of a student placing a flower in the gunbarrell of a National Guard soldier’s rifle.
This coincided with one of the largest events of the counterculture and hippie movement, Woodstock. A culmination of all the psychedelic rock bands that had formed and were inspired by the Black jazz and blues musicians who had either been forgotten or ignored by wider audiences. Some of the pioneers of the sound played along with many of the bands and people who were at the forefront of the hippie and psychedelic sound and culture.
Later in that year there was the Altamont Free Concert that would be called “Woodstock West”. The Hells Angels were security and one of the members stabbed a young woman in the crowd to death. This caused even more outrage and cultural backlash to the counterculture, which at this point the Hells Angels were both a part and completely separate from most of the counterculture. Supplying drugs and psychedelics but also involved in extreme violence and trafficking harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. This was the legacy of Ken Kesey and his relationship with the Hells Angels coming to haunt the movement he helped to create.
The counterculture through the 1970’s would begin to wane, and the psychedelic revolution over as almost all psychedelics was made illegal, including for medical research. The growing war on drugs would clamp down on any large operations and the clandestine chemists fell into deeper obscurity as the precursor chemicals to synthesize compounds were also made illegal and watched by the DEA.
Many of the people who identified as hippies were people who wore the clothes of hippies, but lacked any kind of political motivation. The people that did and really rejected the stereotype of hippies and instead embraced political ideologies continued their communal experiments. Continued the exploration of sexuality, of eastern mysticism, and of change. Others gravitated to the new age movement, and fell into a wide assortment of new beliefs that borrowed from many different backgrounds. The new age movement was also the time of mass cults. Others bought into neoliberalism and the ideas of a free market global economy, and would go on to become business owners or enter into the Silicon Valley tech boom that would happen later on.
As the cultural phenomenon of the counterculture waned and the psychedelic revolution was killed by the DEA and the misuse of psychedelics, the political counterculture, and social revolution lived on through the mid 70’s and into the era known as neoliberalism. The foundations of modern political action were formed in the counterculture and into neoliberalism. Many of the ideas that we still argue about today were first spoken about during this time and regardless of how you feel about the counterculture and hippies, the fact of the matter remains clear. Things would be drastically different had those events not happened.
The next part of this will involve how capitalism came to co-opt the counterculture. First with the beat generation, jazz, blues, music as a whole, and art. Then moving into hippies and the characterization, stereotyping, and eventual co-option and destruction of a radical movement.
A Summary on the Beats, Early Counterculture and Hippies
This is just a piece of the larger picture and an important thing to understand when talking about modern political movements, futurism, and a new counterculture. I wanted to reiterate a point that usually is lost when people talk about the counterculture and psychedelic culture.
The counterculture, psychedelic revolution, and hippies would not have existed without marginalized people. Black music, art, and the fight for Black equality were part of the foundation to the start of the counterculture. Had Black jazz musicians not shared so much with the beat generation writers, much of the influence and catalyst for social change would have remained purely in the political realm. The social aspect, music, art, literature would all be impacted without the contributions of Black people and the world today would look drastically different without both jazz and blues music. There are plenty of historical and political takes on the change of the 1960’s but the fact that art and music were just as important to change cannot, and should not be ignored. The basis of culture that sprung from the counterculture movement and the reaction from it, all stems back to Black music, art, and literature.
Indigenous people were part of the foundation to the start of the counterculture. Psychedelics and other entheogens would have remained unknown and relegated to scientific study and pharmaceutical industries. If it was not for the Indigenous people of the southwestern United States and Mazetec curanderas like Maria Sabina, much of the psychedelic revolution would not have happened. Timothy Leary would have more than likely remained in psychiatry and most of the psychedelic counterculture and the hippies of the 1960’s would not have happened. LSD would have ended up as one of many back cataloged compounds or would have been used in traditional medical circles.
In this, I wanted to show how the counterculture was the first informal & formal coalition and combination of social ideals and political strategy that came close to intersectionality at a time when that should have been impossible. Black jazz musicians, Black blues players, early Rock & Roll musicians, artists, poets, the beat generation, queer people, women who were abused and tired of patriarchal domination, motorcycle outlaws, chemists, social dropouts, misfits, war vets, working-class people, communists, and Indigenous people all made up the social and political landscape that created the early counterculture.
Though some may paint the counterculture as nothing but “Bourgeoisie pandering and decadence” that only applies to the people who fell for the media personification of the radical. The people who thought they could buy their way into looking the part instead of being the part. The true people who made up the counterculture and allowed it to grow were marginalized, outcasts, working-class and creative people.
I also wanted to show just how connected all of these events were and the people at the center of things usually all knew each other or were connected in strange ways. Even in a time when media was limited, there were people who inspired massive change. I hope this shows that you too can inspire change, you too have the power in this fucked up and crazy time to do something and change the course. That is to also say it needs to be balanced with collective change. You can inspire change, but that change only happens with action. And that action happens as a community, as a force, not us alone but together. We have been collectively beaten down into thinking that we can’t change anything. We have been gaslit into thinking only we alone can change the world. There is a balance, you as an individual have power, and collective power is the ultimate catalyst for change.
Part 2: Capitalist Co-opting, Killing the Counterculture, Subcultures, and What Went Wrong?
With a background in what happened and the groups and people that lead up to these events there will be a central question in all of it.
What went wrong?
That is a hard question to answer definitively, again without explaining a bunch of history and boring the shit out of you. But there are some important points that I think culminate and explain the majority of the reasons why the counterculture was dismantled, the radical politics fragmented and the dreams of many people either crushed, temporarily halted, or forced to the margins of society.
Intervention by the state and police forces.
Capitalist Co-oping and movement capture by the wealthy.
The structures of radical political parties at the time.
The movements did not change fundamental social problems and frameworks that underpin society.
This will be hard to distill and I know I will miss some things, some of which will be cut for brevity as this article is already way too fucking long. But these topics should be addressed on their own before talking about the future because the past will reemerge in the future, in slightly different forms but the tactics and methods will remain the same. We should question the tactics and methods when talking about post-capitalist futures.
Sterotypes & Media Hype
To break up the counterculture, to co-opt it, and in the end profit from it would require it to first be stereotyped. These stereotypes remove the real wants, desires, actions, and realities of a people, movement, or group and instead focus on whatever concocted fiction that people want to project onto them. Using Jean Baudrillard’s definition of the “HyperReal”, the symbol of the reality becomes hyperreal, takes over the real meaning, and instead people care about the spectacle of the stereotype as opposed to the lived reality of the people the stereotype was based on.
The first stereotype of the early counterculture was of jazz, and the Black musicians who played the genre. In reality, jazz is a distinct musical genre molded and shaped by the lived experiences of the Black musicians who played the genre. The music reflected the feelings of the Black community, not in a hegemonic way but as a reflection of the overall cultural movement. In the ‘20s and ‘30s cannabis and alcohol were commonly used, though they remained part of the territory. Jazz at the time was party music and with parties come this sort of thing.
The stereotype that was produced was meant to demonize both Black people and the genre itself which was seen as “not real music”. And so a stereotype was created of the marijuana smoking, communist, criminal, Black man, who listened to jazz and defiled polite society. This stereotype stuck and was added to the list of other stereotypes of Black people at the time.
Circling back to the groups that were introduced in part one of this article, the beat generation, poets, writers, and artists were the next group stereotyped because they posed a threat to the dominant cultural identity. Many of the same tropes were used against them mainly because of their association with the jazz musicians in New York City combined with the blatant homophobia and painting of them as communist because many of the beat writers were anti-consumerist. The stereotype became a pseudointellectual poet, who played the bongos, smoked reefer, and that they tended to be gay, communists, or a combination of the both. Books and other pieces of media came out painting them as dangerous sex fiend artist bohemians. Allen Ginsberg wrote into The New York Times saying,
“If beatniks and not illuminated Beat poets overrun this country, they will have been created not by Kerouac but by industries of mass communication which continue to brainwash man.”
Then onto the hippies, which was a term that most people in the early counterculture rejected and later on despised. It was a continuation of the stereotypes of the beats but now added onto it was a long-haired, anti-war, pseudointellectual high on either weed or LSD, who talked about vague spiritual topics, wore tie-dye or fringe, didn’t shower, and didn’t want to work. There was also an element of danger and adventure, of motorcycle gangs and traveling around. In general it was a rebellious person who had long hair and did a ton of drugs and this personification was used everywhere and was used to paint the people involved in radical politics, the anti war movement, feminism or had really any civil rights movement as lazy drug addicts.
The media would use these tropes to both spin up outrage and cause more people to become interested in the growing counterculture. As more articles in magazines and newspapers were released, more people either came to despise the counterculture or want to join in. Though many people lacked the fundamental ideas of the counterculture many were sick of the dominant culture to begin with and saw the counterculture as a calling for something new. One of the main criticisms of the counterculture and hippy movement was that it was made up of upper-class, non-political people, which many times was true. Because they were buying into the stereotype of the hippie portrayed by the media.
Though can you blame people for buying into stereotypes when at the time there were only 3 TV stations? And the fact that the majority of people who would be interested in the counterculture read about it through the lens of the journalist writing the article. Some journalists covered the counterculture with an even tone, reporting back what was happening and interviewing people. Others filtered the events back to their audience with a stereotype in mind that ignored the complexity of the situation. The music of time did have radical messaging however, the media landscape back then was completely different. If you had no concept of radical politics and didn’t live in a major city you more than likely would have gained an understanding of the counterculture through news or other popular media.
To further state control over the growing discontent in the nation, the state used negative media portraits of the counterculture to justify crackdowns, arrests, violence, and assassinations. Media was the tool to ensure social cohesion, to make sure that wider society viewed the counterculture as dangerous drug fiends as opposed to radical ideologies reaching more people who might actually agree with what was being said. The wealthy and those who controlled capital saw it in their best interest to paint the counterculture in a negative light, because it would maintain the capitalist order and also allow them to profit off the situation.
State Interventions, Police Violence & Assassinations
At every turn, at every event, there was an attempt by those in power to make sure that any kind of leader was discredited, jailed, watched, stopped, or just plain killed. It happened time and time again and would be the most common method of stopping the counterculture and civil rights from succeeding in their revolutionary strategies. The Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) ran from 1956-1971 and was the program used by the federal government, the FBI and other intelligence agencies to infiltrate, disrupt and kill any groups that were associated with the counterculture or civil rights. The FBI infiltrated and disrupted almost every group involved in radical politics with a focus on civil rights groups. This included The Communist Party (CPUSA), Anti War groups, The Black Panther Party, The Nation of Islam, SCLC, Environmentalist groups, the American Indian Movement, The Young Lords and basically every major civil rights or radical political group operating in that time.
The federal government used psychological warfare, by following people, following their families. Bugging their communications and spying on them. Smearing their reputation in the media to discredit their actions and thoughts. Used police to harass individuals and lay siege on certain cities where groups were popular. They jailed anyone who was viewed as a leader under false pretenses and if none of those tactics worked, assassinated them. Fred Hampton, a central leader and co-creator of the Black Panthers was drugged and shot in his home by police. Dr. Martin Luther King was surveilled for years, followed by police and the FBI constantly called and mailed him urging him to commit suicide, then he was also assassinated. Malcolm X was killed by members of the Nation of Islam who were fed false information by the FBI after Malcolm left the group.
There was also a combined effort to stamp out the use of psychedelics and bad their use even in the medical field for research. This was done really out of a reaction to the negative effects that widespread, indiscriminate psychedelic use was having. For decades the medical research into entheogens has remained illegal and the chemists who otherwise would have been applauded for their work in synthesizing new compounds that could be used in breakthrough therapies were now back into traditional corporate chemistry, retired, or running clandestine labs. Only now are we seeing a resurgence in medical research into entheogens and psychedelic compounds but we are now decades behind understanding the positive impacts they could have in the world. Again the propaganda that came out was used to paint psychedelic compounds as inherently dangerous. That one dose could cause schizophrenia. Ignoring the fact that these compounds were given out indiscriminately, and that they can have harmful effects on people who should not be taking them. Ignoring the fact that many of the negative effects that were seen on the streets had nothing to do with LSD, but other compounds that flooded the streets because there was a profit incentive to sell whatever compound would make money.
The easiest weapon was the media, which was to change public opinion and force the general public to accept the strange reality that was happening around them. To view the changes in society as a foreign invasion, as something outside of the US, and to ignore the fact that the counterculture was started because of the issues in the country.
Capitalist Co-opting and Movement Capture
Capitalism uses multiple tactics to enter into spaces, monetize them, then attempt to copy the formula and replicate the original group, art, idea into infinity. The goal is to find a new avenue to produce a product or a commodity and to profit off the commodification of that item until it is no longer profitable.
They call this “finding your niche” because the majority of the capitalist market is dominated by large monopolies that control almost every aspect of our lives already. Our food, shelter, water, electricity, clothing, anything you can think of is dominated by large corporate monopolies. Capitalism’s end goal is to commodify and profit off everything it can, to extract everything it can as quickly as it can for the most profit. With that goal, capitalism and capitalists (the agents of action for the system) always seek to find new places and ways to profit.
The co-opting and financialization of the counterculture happened very early on, but also capital is always late to the game because they do not care about messaging, but profitability. If ideas, music, art, whatever are too niche, if not enough people would buy a product sold then it is ignored. Only until the item in question gains momentum and the possibility of a market demographic forms, will capitalists care about it. In talking about the counterculture let’s go back through the historical examples I gave earlier and look at how capitalism took over the counterculture in the mid 1960’s and eventually captured some of the political movements.
The cycle will repeat, but there is a general pattern to how movements, ideas, counterculture, genres, or groups get co-opted and financialized by capitalism.
An organic group will form around something (art, music, political ideas, etc.) who are intrinsic to the thing itself.
This group remains unknown until gathering populations or popularity behind the ideas.
Capitalism ignores the group until there is a “viable market” to inject itself into. Only looking at niche groups as target demographics.
The group grows more, producing things (can be ideas, physical objects, whatever), more people become interested in it.
The community naturally makes boundaries to determine what this new thing might be and form their own languages, terms, methods, and culture around it.
Capitalists view this as a new “target market” and attempt to financialize parts of the community.
The community either accepts or rejects the introduction of capital.
Capitalists then inject themselves into the community, learn how they operate and then create a stereotype of the group to compare back to other known market stereotypes.
The stereotype is used to create commodity items, if the group has a distinct fashion, capital will attempt to quantify and emulate it. If the group has a distinct idea, capital will financialize it. The group qualities are gathered and anything that can be turned into a commodity will be.
Capitalists use this stereotype to sell goods to the wider public and create their own interpretations of how someone can buy into the stereotype (capitalist subculture creation)
The organic group’s original essence, message, idea, and intricate details are lost or ignored as the capitalist stereotype takes over the label of the community.
The original community either rejects the hyperreal injection, turning themselves into an exclusionary group. Or accepts the hyperreal stereotype and the original community leaves due to the origin details being lost.
Capitalists sell the idea, group, or commodity stereotype until no longer profitable. Then drops it when profits drop, or as popularity wanes.
The cycle repeats with the next group of dissidents from previous or new groups.
This is just a rough explanation without going extremely deep into economic theory. There is a recurring pattern that happens, at the end of the cycle the original message is gone and replaced with only monetary exchange. The words and meanings are there only to serve as an intellectual lure to bite the hook of capitalism. Let’s look back through the start of the counterculture to view the cycles.
Jazz remained unknown outside of Black communities and the people who lived near them. It was a musical genre that was and is distinctly born out of Black communities and the methods of musical arrangement mirror some of the same arrangements of older forms of music like spirituals, gospels, work songs, and call & response medleys. As the musical artform grew there were also white people who were interested in jazz, and would often play with Black jazz musicians or form bands together. This was in the early 1900s when the two races were kept distantly apart with segregation. Out of this time came all-white jazz bands who were allowed to play at any music venue. While the Black jazz bands who originated the music were forced to play at Black only music establishments or required to enter backdoors and to not interact with any white people in segregated musical spaces.
White jazz bands gained more attention to capitalists who now saw this niche music genre as a way to profit and so they were booked more often for live shows and also recorded more often. Record labels and event planners would then want to capitalize more on the genre and would fund bands of their own. Bands that lacked the distinct background the genre had originally started as and emulated the sounds of “jazz”.
With the hyper commodification of the genre combined with the media being mostly owned by white people, white audiences began to expect that the jazz that was more popular was what “real” jazz was. Which many times was only an emulation of the original art form. It was an emulation without the substantive political and racial underpinnings that the genre had.
The artists who were excluded from the music industry at large just made their own record labels, clubs, and forms of distribution. The innovation that came from the ‘20s and ‘30s would pave the way for jazz to become the most popular genre of music in America. It also became universally hated in some communities and was viewed as subversive party music. However capital was quick to sell the aesthetics of jazz back to people. How the musicians dressed, how they spoke, what they did all became a commodity to sell. With that popularity came boundaries of what was popular, and what could be sold and what was too experimental. So the experimental musicians went to create their own unique subgenres until they gained enough of an audience to attract capital again.
However, advertising and capitalism at the time were very different from what would come later on.
The Blues, R&B, Elvis, and Rock:
The blues, R&B, and soul would succumb to the same cycle. The genre would be made by a distinct group of people with very specific messages that came from the lived experiences of those people and often included political calls to action. This genre was ignored commercially until it gained popularity within that distinct group of people. Capitalists sold the music and created and funded their own versions of the genre based on what was profitable and fit into the stereotyped guard rails. Watered-down versions of the genre became commercially successful while the people who created and innovated it at the core were left behind. The core people either left to create a new iteration or subgroup and others were left behind in the genre while others who came after them, who lacked the cultural and political background succeeded commercially. The social and political messages inside the music were discarded for empty entertainment.
Capital co-option of the socio-political aspects of the counterculture.
Up until the 1940s advertising had grown but maintained a common messaging pattern of “here is a product and here is why you should buy it”. Advertizing mainly focused on utility though it started gaining more into the zone of identity. Advertizements always had a target market, selling housewives soaps or dishes or selling businessmen suits. These were directed at specific people but also relied on some forms of logical reasoning.
There was someone who used emotion and the hyperreal to guide advertisement. Edward Bernays is touted as the father of public relations, American propaganda, and the catalyst and creator of what would become capitalism's new tool that would arise after WWII, lifestyle marketing. Edward Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, and used psychoanalysis to come up with new ways to psychologically manipulate people. One of his early successes was tying the rebellion of the flappers and of suffragettes with smoking. At the time women did not smoke and the tobacco industry was steadily looking to open up a new market. Edward Bernays created a campaign to call cigarettes “Torches of Freedom”. Manufacturing the idea that women who smoked broke the cultural taboos of the time, and that smoking was a sign of rebellion.
In that, he had targeted a specific demographic and type of woman, used emotional signaling and feelings to sell the idea that spending money on an addictive substance would lead to freedom. That cigarettes were part of the lifestyle, part of the identity of the suffragettes. Cigarette smoking in women skyrocketed after Bernays planted women smoking into protests and used the media to portray suffragettes as rebellious women, who smoked the cigarettes the tobacco corporations paid him to sell.
He also was a vague Malthusian, who thought that the masses of people only thought with a herd instinct and that a small elite could and should rule and dictate society. Crowd dynamics and the ideas of “mob mentalities” were popularized again because of his views about people he viewed as intellectually inferior to others.
This new type of marketing and propaganda would move from targeting logic to targeting emotion. More specifically targeting how people viewed themselves. Advertizing started to associate products with feelings, products with the types of people they were. The products became something that someone bought not just for the utility of the product but also because they were the type of person to buy it. The product represented who they were as a person and who they were in society.
These tactics were used many times leading up to the counterculture, and it involved making subculture markets. Finding niche groups of people and advertising products directly to them, or introducing products into the culture or group to circulate and become a staple of that infiltrated identity. A good example of this new view of advertising combined with the previous capitalist cycle is in blue jeans. After WWII there was a rise in hotrod culture and motorcycle clubs comprised of mostly working-class men who would have worn working clothes. Part of this would be denim which was associated with miners, workers, and other working-class people. Hotrod and motorcycle groups gained a stereotype as being rebellious and the working class look, born out of necessity became associated with jeans and leather jackets(which was protective gear for riding motorcycles). The movie Rebel Without a Cause popularized blues jeans into popular culture, and this caused a boom in sales of blue jeans. It wasn’t just the idea that jeans and leather jackets were the uniforms of working-class people because they served a function, but because the advertising, movies, and media portrayed these objects of capital with rebellion. You could look the part of a motorcycle-riding rebel by simply buying blue jeans and a leather jacket. It didn’t matter if you actually rebelled against any of the systems in place, it didn't matter if you worked on cars, or even owned a motorcycle. You could buy your way into a lifestyle, into a way of life that signified your values, that showed that you were a rebel without a cause because you owned specific brands and products.
With that came the hyperreality and performative nature of capitalism that was growing during this time. You didn’t need to interact with any part of reality and you could exist as an idea, as simply an aesthetic by buying products.
The beats dealt with capitalism and media creeping in as well, when more and more attention started circling around their work. The stereotype was created, and then people sold the products related to that stereotype. Unfortunately, it was not a profitable endeavor as the beats lived on the edge of poverty for the most part and were anti-consumerists, outside of stereotype books and media. They looked in general like everyone else in New York City at the time and so the stereotype of the beatnik came from the outside understanding of the beats mixed in with previous ideas of bohemians of the time in general. There wasn’t a lot of profit to be made outside of media because they were hard to pin down as an easy to package commodity.
Watering Down Politics, Selling Aesthetics & Media Cycles
The cash cow for capitalism, the sharp rise in the ability to sell products and profit in the’60s came from the rise of the hippie and the rise of the hippie stereotype. This was the preamble to the tools that neoliberalism would use to cement cultural power years later.
The term hippie came out of jazz slang about hip, which morphed into hipster over time and then morphed again in 1965 in a September issue of the San Francisco Examiner called “A New Paradise for Beatniks”. There were multiple articles written in Time magazine and other newspapers that painted the growing counterculture in specific ways. Some of the media hysteria was around the drug use, others because of the radical politics of the early counterculture. These articles would spread the background of the counterculture, and eventually be labeled as hippies.
The stereotype that came about was rejected from most people who were at the center of the counterculture. They had serious methods of changing society through social change, through entheogens, through eastern religions, with communities, and growing ecological sentiments. And they viewed the term as watering down the real ideas that many people had, and that ignored the critiques that the counterculture was mounting against the dominant culture.
Music was a method for spreading revolutionary messages to a wide amount of people, and the popularity of psychedelic folk and rock that was growing from electric blues, rock and roll, and surf rock meant there was a new musical market for corporations to capitalize on. Record companies started funding their own small bands, moving the sounds of small existing bands into the newly popular genre that was gaining momentum. In that you see a countless amount of small bands that played the sound of psychedelic rock and folk, but were devoid of any of the underlying political messaging. Music hat was made as pure entertainment, for record companies to profit from. This happened while people in the core of the counterculture were fostering and making their own methods of distribution with some of the most influential bands that drove the entire musical soundscape.
The aesthetics were also something interesting that led to the hippie stereotype bleeding over into an identity in contemporary society. Most people who were politically active in the counterculture also had a sense of anti-consumerism and that mirrored in the vintage and secondhand clothes that eventually became known with hippies. The rejection of normal male and female beauty standards with men growing long beards and women going braless was a direct rejection of the dominant cultures’ beauty standards and gender expectations. There were cultural items from both Native American and Black culture that people outside of those cultures would wear. This was an aesthetic, the bell-bottom jeans, long hair, tie-dye, fringe, that was seen in newsreels and magazines. This portrayal of the counterculture stuck in the popular imagination and started spreading and the same thing happened as before except there was a change in how most advertising and media worked. After 1967, the summer of love and Timothy Leary being labeled “The most dangerous man in America” there was both a backlash and a flood of people interested in the counterculture who often did not come from the types of people who were originally involved with the counterculture. They might have been upper-middle-class suburban kids who saw the rebellion as pure rebellion, unaware of the political undertones the counterculture really represented. They might have been in the same class but wanted to actively reject the future their parents expected out of a suburban, privileged young person.
There is a separation between the real culture that was building and growing and the media-driven culture that said all you had to do to be part of the counterculture was to buy the clothes, buy the music, and that’s all you needed. Though there was an obvious pushback from the people who viewed this consumerism as antithetical to the political aims of the countercultural groups. Capital has been successful in creating the stereotype, removing political messages, and replacing them with commodities. It defanged much of the political messaging because you could not tell who was genuine and had genuine critiques of the dominant society and who was looking the part they saw in movies and in magazines.
Can We Blame People for Wanting to be a Part of Something?
I say these critiques because they were shared with people of the day about hippies and the hippie stereotype after everything had happened. But can you really blame people who, given the media landscape of the time, were learning as much as they could? Sure it is easy to say “oh the hippies were really just a bunch of rich kids dressing the part” (which in some ways I am saying that) but also want to add more nuance to that take. Most people who grew up with the internet have zero clue what it was like in the 1960s and how media worked. There were a handful of TV stations, you had print media, which if you didn’t know about radical political prints you more than likely would not seek it out. That time was very different from today, both socially and politically. And I want to reiterate the same methods of movement capture and political defanging still happen today, even with the internet.
Subcultures and Exclusion as A Method of Defanging Radical Ideas.
Speaking on capitalist stereotypes as a method for injecting itself into groups and ideas, I want to talk about subcultures, when they form and how capitalists can shape and form subcultures to grow when they profit and be destroyed when they don’t profit.
Subcultures in themselves form naturally when a group of people either disagree on some specific points in the dominant culture or agree about others. They usually try and differentiate themselves from the dominant culture as a way of fostering a community, a larger group that all agree on a basic set of information. Usually, subcultures will make their own unique slang, their own fashion, music, art styles, and sometimes political ideologies. They tend to start with people eventually finding each other, agreeing on what they all have in a common interest, and then adding some general barriers of definition. These barriers help determine some of the criteria of the group but most of the time they aren’t extremely exclusionary at the start.
The goal that capitalism wants to achieve is either opening these groups to be as vague as possible, to create a wide market to target with commodities. Or to force infighting in a subculture, breaking them down into smaller sections and creating markets to sell commodities with an even more targeted approach. While at the entire time only dealing with the hyperreal stereotype of these groups, removing any cultural or political background the group had and only interacting with it as a target market.
Big Tents, Big Problems
Capitalism uses big tent tactics to water down subcultures or groups, infiltrate them and then control them. Big tent means keeping a broad coalition of people inside a specific idea but not addressing underlying social relations and how people act within groups. Let’s use environmentalism as an example. Capitalists are responsible for climate catastrophe, and their actions constantly cause harm to the environment. Capitalism requires constant extraction, manufacturing, and consumption to exist, without that it dies, so it will manufacture needs to force consumption to continue. They are the target and enemy of environmentalist activists.
To water down the hatred of capitalists, they attempt to interject themselves into the movement as a foundational pillar. This tends to come in the form of funding, either through private corporations or through nonprofits. They fund projects, which allows environmentalists to pay for supplies, buy things and do environmentalist work all while the capitalist class continues to profit. They start to be the reason why environmentalist action happens, not because these actions require money but because capitalist relations still happen in environmentalist spaces. People ask how will they afford the tools and raw materials to do forest restoration, without thinking that forest restoration can be done without the need for tools and raw materials. The financialization of social relations helps to keep money flowing even in groups that are against capitalism.
The capitalist social thought process continues, while the capitalists become the foundations of the movement. Then they slowly introduce members and people who are pro-capitalists into environmentalist groups. They use the same stereotype tactics to blend in and learn how they operate, then mimic them. They start to say “Hey we can’t afford to do climate action without BP and Shell corporate-backed think tanks funding us, maybe they aren’t so bad.”
When there will be inevitable pushback against capitalism injecting itself into groups fighting the issues capitalism created, those people are painted as against environmentalism. They don’t want to help the earth because they are against the people funding environmental projects. Why don’t they want to play along and stop complaining?
And so the people with radical politics, the people who start environmentalist movements and have well-defined political goals and reasons are pushed out. The capitalists and capitalist sympathizers then go on to say they need to make environmentalism open to all opinions! Not just those of the fringe weirdos who reject capitalism, and who founded the environmental group. We need to be inclusive of everyone and stop canceling ideas!
Then capitalists and political ideologies that embrace hierarchy and capitalist frameworks come along to profit. They start to tell environmentalists what they should look like. What products an eco-minded person should buy, what eco-minded people should wear and talk like. What they should consume.
All the while opportunists take advantage of the “Let’s be open to all opinions! We need a big tent” to push their own actions. Environmentalist capitalism slides very easily into the hands of eco-fascists. The power structure is the same, just the messaging has to change, and when eco-fascists come to talk about overpopulation, or capitalists say buy this product, people start to believe it.
That is a hyperbolic example but I want to make a point that big tent politics needs to have its limits. It’s one thing to be open to differences in opinions, it’s another to create power structures that allow abuse to go untouched and for domination to creep in. There are plenty of marginalized people who have been burned by big tent ideas, big tent social justice organizations that allow abusers and racists to interact with the groups because they refuse to add barriers that say “Please no racists” at the expense of the people in the group. The refusal to add guidelines or barriers in an effort to keep things as open as possible is exploited by capitalists and other people who operate in extremely hierarchical frameworks.
Fragmentation as a Means to Make New Markets
Another tactic is to split groups into extremely limiting subcultures to force them to become hyper exclusionary. The groups start to fragment and create very specific guidelines into each group and subgroup until each one only has a fraction of the original members. That is fine for something like an affinity group, where like-minded people create their own small ephemeral spaces based on a strict agreement on what the group is about. It’s different when talking about larger groups and organizations. In this fracturing, capitalists find it even easier to determine what boundaries each group makes, and from there can find a way to market to them because they have determined what is the in-group, and what is the out-group.
In this tactic capitalism tries to create subcultures with a rigid in-group and a rigid out-group. In this rigidity, they are able to easily conceptualize what each group wants, and from there market directly to them. Again by superimposing a stereotype or hyperreal version of the group based on their boundaries.
Structural Issues Inside Political Parties
There is a common thread between various groups that either came into prominence in this time or were working at this time. The structure of certain political parties. One can critique how various leftist political parties/ideas/groups formed their ideologies but you can’t do that with a modern frame of knowing the historical impact afterward. You can’t critique the groups that were attacked without understanding the political landscape of the time. The common thread between all of the groups and parties was that they (pretty much) all relied on central leaders and centralized forms of governance. The Black Panther Party was structured largely around Maoist principles and mirrored many of the Marxist-Leninist parties of the Soviet Union and other communist countries at the time. This led to a stratified group of leaders at the top who led the group as a whole, though there were regional chapters and city-level chapters the control structure still relied on central leaders on each front. The US government saw that fact, and actively targeted anyone that could resemble a leader either through false imprisonment or assassination. Because the Panthers relied on a central leadership to guide how the organization ran, there were easy targets for the intelligence agencies to focus their attacks. After the central leadership was removed from the party, a power vacuum started because information and power flowed to the top, then back down from the party leaders. This tactic would be used to overthrow entire governments during this time and remains the first counterintelligence tactic the US government uses.
There were (and are) members or former members of the Black Panthers who saw the path of central leadership as a path towards the organizations’ destruction. This mostly can be viewed as a reaction to attack, a formation of a central group helps stop group infiltration. But on the ground, there were members who brought up real concerns, who had real issues but were ignored by leaders. Kuwasi Balagoon and Ashanti Alston were two prominent members of the Black Panthers who didn’t want the organization to become highly centralized and spoke openly about the need to change the methods people were using. This is what tends to happen to revolutionary struggle historically, a movement with a ton of momentum grows, a small vanguard or central leadership appears and solidifies power, the current order or state assassinates or jails the leaders, and the organization falls apart into a power vacuum. After that capitalism and the state swoops in to commodify and capitalize on these power imbalances.
A major caveat to that is the fact of the difference in political landscapes. With the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam being held as examples of revolutionary change by marginalized and working-class people it’s no wonder why many of the political groups at the time mirrored these ways. If you disagree with Marxist-Leninist approaches to organization, you cannot ignore the fact that leftist political education in the US after McCarthyism was not as comprehensive as we know it today.
Revolutions Not Addressing Fundamental Issues in Society
My personal interpretation is there are 4 pillars that make up the foundation of issues in the world. This is reductionist but that’s the whole point. It’s hard to see how systems as a whole interact with each other on a macro level, with all of the details that go behind them. So we can boil things down to their essential elements, what common attributes align across multiple topics.
The 4 pillars of social destruction and ills:
Every issue plaguing us shares these core elements in some ways and the core elements intersect with each other. Using white supremacy as an example you might start going down the rabbit holes of details into it. There is so much complexity in just that term that it becomes somewhat of a daunting task to layout every point about it. However, there are the core elements present in white supremacy when you boil down the structure that white supremacy has. Supremacy means there is some kind of hierarchy, that one group should reign supreme. There are strong elements of patriarchy as most of the power relations within and outside of white supremacy lead back to male supremacy. There are very few white supremacists who believe in removing total power from males. There are obvious tones of domination, the domination of one race over another. Of course, there is violence, at every level and at the core of how that framework operates and the byproducts of white supremacy even just existing in this world.
We can leverage that to talk about capitalism and capital relations. There is a hierarchy that always forms.
There are those that have money, who own the means and methods for creating goods or services.
There are the people who exchange their labor for money to pay for goods and services.
And there are people who are entirely left out of the system.
At the core of capital markets is patriarchy, from the historical use of money, but also because capital maintains patriarchy. Though patriarchal modes existed before capitalism, it’s baked into the notion of it. Domination is a requirement of profit, either over people or over the environment. And capitalism can only exist with violence. With every deal or legal arrangement, there is the backing of some form of violence if that deal does not go through correctly. Or some kind of central authority to regulate the market with the threat of violence or domination in some form. Abolishing capitalism will not end hierarchy, patriarchy, domination, and violence but seeking to end those things in our social relations would abolish capitalism.
For all of the changes the counterculture wanted to create, there still was a fundamental lack of engaging with some of the core concepts of social destruction. Without addressing some of those issues, there remained the underlying rot that would cause those changes not to overtake the dominant society. Hierarchy existed in marginalized groups like the queer community where white cisgender people were on the top of the hierarchy, people of color and transgender people were on the bottom. In some of the radical political groups women were still expected to handle the care work, to take care of meals, and to do the administrative work. That mirrored the dominant society’s view of women and the domination of men even in progressive groups. Even in experimental communes there still remained violence and abuse.
Even in some of the political revolutions like in China, even though women were given more of an even playing field, Mao Zedong’s wife was treated poorly by other people in the revolutionary party that said she only became a revolutionary because she slept with Mao. There remained a hierarchy that instead of capital ownership was a hierarchy of party bureaucrats and leaders. There still remained violence in the state, but also domination in the social constructs of Chinese society left over by the conservative and traditional social constructs that underpinned Chinese society. And the same was true in the US, where revolutionary change refused to confront the traditional and conservative social constructs that underpinned American society.
I also want to acknowledge that these events were the start, the foundation to the socio-economic and political ideas that we have today. Some of these questions were just starting to be brought up in American society, so we can’t expect the counterculture that birthed so many social and political movements to have all the questions answered as it all started.
These social constructs are powerful and they can be changed by acknowledging that they are there and working to change them along with our social relations and politics.
A successful revolution can’t happen without addressing the core problems of our societies. We can change social orders, but if we don’t change our social relations we are doomed to repeat history.
Conclusion: Did The Counterculture Go Wrong? Did The Counterculture Fail?
I don’t think the counterculture failed. It was dismantled by state intelligence, assassinations, media propaganda, and media landscapes of the mid-century. It was the start of many new sparks and social movements, the spark to many new ideas that would come to grow over the years and are still growing. Even if some of the groups dissolved over time like The Black Panther Party, they remain the closest we have come to in the US to an almost complete transformation of the dominant society. There are many issues to learn from these times, many things we can see in hindsight and use when looking at new futures and looking at ourselves. If anything it shows that even in the imperial core, change can happen.
The ‘60s was just the start, just the spark.
Part 3: Post Capitalist Desire, Acid Communism, and The Politics of The Anthropocene Future.
“The Spectre of a World That Could Be Free”
We have lost the ability to imagine new futures, to imagine our way out of the mess that neoliberalism and now a modern mix of technofudalism. The future has been forever canceled and we have tended to get stuck in a loop of looking at the past. Rehashing old aesthetics and ideas forever, vaporware is a great example of a critique of this, a recognition that we keep returning back to the past. The past is stuck on a loop with the speed and pitch turned down, never thinking what is on the horizon and floating around in the abandoned shopping walls of our youth.
Jaques Derrida coined the term “Hauntology”, where the cultural past repeats. This combines with ideas from Mark Fisher that he talked about in Capitalist Realism, that capitalism cannot allow for people to imagine a world without capitalism.
“It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism” - Mark Fisher
Some people are imagining the future, and it looks bleak, it looks dark in the face of climate destruction, famine, violence, water scarcity. The world looks like a bleak reality, and nothing we can do can change it. This is “taking the black pill”, climate doomerism, and a resignation to death that looms in the future. I know a ton of Gen-Z age people who pretty much live in a constant state of nihilism and depression about the future, and they have a good reason to look at the future with dread, our current path is unsustainable.
There are also others who have hope. Not a naive hope that everything will work out but a controlled optimism that things can change. A controlled optimism that the social, economic, and environmental systems can change for the better. A new rise of leftist politics after the events of 2020 with the pandemic and the George Floyd Uprising & wave of social justice protests. There is a renewed spirit in people organizing to create a more just world, radically different from the one we’re living in today. Ideas around gender, sexuality, masculinity, feminity, race, economics, ecology, work, life, death, rest, play are all coalescing under the surface. In a time when we're are more atomized as ever, the internet has kept social bonds together and has even made new ones. As quarantines happened, and the streets emptied there was time for people to think. For normal working-class people to think and have a moment to breathe. The pandemic woke up a lot of people who were forced to work with the public when very little was known about the virus. They saw how the economy only functioned when they remained exploited. The essential worker kept society running and yet the state and the wealthy only wanted to make sure social cohesion and profits kept going.
There is a new counterculture growing in people, who have seen mass death and the horrors that neoliberalism and capitalism have made. From the youth who have a future with no retirement, no pensions, no good-paying jobs, climate destruction, and exploitation. There is a revival into changing consciousness, expanding our awareness, and growing communities that are connecting the dots of intersectional politics and praxis. The world has fractured and the social landscape is shifting away from capitalism and exploitation, looking for something else.
Should We Repeat The Past?
People are looking to reject capitalism, to not accept the exploitation they face at work, to stop being taken advantage of, stolen from, being forced to work for next to nothing or just to survive. That rejection leads to a lot of different places but they usually fall into leftist politics. A common thing you see in leftist political spaces is obsessions with different schools of theory, and the tribal lines some people draw between these distinctions. I won’t go too deep into the different factions and differences between leftist ideologies but a common thing in all of them is that they rely on pretty old theory. Not to say that Karl Marx or Peter Kropotkin are wrong because they wrote at a different time. But there are two different ways of reading political theory that had very different consequences.
Political theory is looked at as building a framework of understanding and recognizing the nature and core concepts, while also understanding the historical context.
Political theory is used to build a framework but meant to be followed as written.
Some people will take political theory word for word, while ignoring the socio-economic and material conditions of the time and ignoring those same conditions now. That is to say, sometimes you can use political theory word for word, but when talking about techniques and tactics that idea falls apart. We can’t use text from 19th century Germany and Russia and directly apply them to modern-day Detroit. Can we use some of the ideas directly? Sure, when they make sense and are in general universal ideas. However using the same revolutionary tactics that Mao used in the Cultural Revolution today would not produce the same results, because the socio-economic conditions are radically different. Political theory should be a guide, there are people in history that thought of systems way ahead of their time. Brilliant thinkers whose ideas have led to massive changes and countless revolutions. But we can’t rehash the past and expect the same (if not better) results. What we need is a synthesis, to take the best of leftist political theory and update the tactics, methods, and approaches. Capitalism has radically changed, and always slightly morphs depending on the environment. If we attempt to destroy capitalism with the same tactics and methods we used in the past, those attempts will fail. We need to morph leftist politics to outpace capitalism, and we can. Capitalism is incredibly slow at picking up on change, again because it requires a feedback loop of stereotyping in order to produce new markets. We have to change fundamentally to update our methods to the modern-day, to fight a modern capitalism.
Acid Communism, Psychedelic Socialism & A New Counterculture
Acid communism is an interesting term most associated with Mark Fisher and was the last piece he was working on before his tragic death. Read the entire intro here.
I won’t take words out of Mark Fishers’ mouth so please read that text for the full understanding but I will offer my own understanding/rundown of what I took from the text.
Acid communism is an idea fleshed out by both Mark Fisher and Jeremy Gilbert. They worked together and bounced ideas off of each other for a while until Mark Fisher’s death. You can listen to Jeremy Gilbert in an amazing podcast called Acid Corbinism FM. The idea was around thinking about a different kind of counterculture. One that combined leftist politics with a kind of “libidinal marxism” which is a spin-off of Jean Lyotard’s idea of a libidinal economy. In Acid Communism Mark Fisher explains that the counterculture was not an entire failure and that in general, it was a start.
For all of the failures that happened, as I explained in the previous historical section, all of it came to an end because of capitalism, neoliberalism, and state intervention. The counterculture of the ‘60s was a direct movement towards a social and cultural revolution, and some members of the early counterculture were extremely politically motivated.
What lacked, later on, was the fact that there was no cohesive vision of the future. There was no common understanding of a political goal or a unified idea of what the goal even was. There were the yippies, Maoists, Marxist-Leninists, Anarchists, and Soviet-style communists all offering different ideas. Keep in mind, this was the first time many of these ideas had been applied widely in the US. To think all of these ideologies would form a cohesive idea while they were just starting to coalesce along with feminism and queer liberation is ignoring the material conditions of the day.
If we want to have a cohesive view of the future we can’t do it by rehashing the ideas of the past, and we have moved on to need a new way of looking at leftist politics. Because capitalism has changed drastically since most of the leftist political theory was written, and the mechanisms work slightly differently with the amount of technology present in modern times. Thinking about a new cohesive view of the future will require compromises and changing things around, we can’t rely on preexisting definitions alone to move forward if we want a radically different future. Sure we could follow an existing leftist ideology again, but it will more than likely fail to get off the ground or create the same issues as an existing leftist ideology has created.
In Acid Communism Mark Fisher talks about it as politics + aesthetics + culture + psychedelia to create a new shift in leftist politics.
The acid in Acid Communism can mean LSD, like a psychedelic compound-driven communism but Mark Fisher doesn’t seem to mean that everyone should take hallucinogens and that will bring communism. But more so is the idea of psychedelia, of changing your perspective on the world and looking at things in a new way. Seeing the world for all the weirdness and outside of the capitalist conditioning that we all have and the capitalist social relations that are engrained in us. I’ll touch on this later because I personally agree with both ends of that outlook, but that will require more explanation.
But also acid could mean like a real acid, an acidification of the current social norms and an acidification of communism itself, to move the conception of communism from a statist, authoritarian, or state-capitalist model and into something different, into a different conception of communism.
The communism in Acid Communism should look different from our previous conceptions of communism. There should be a rejection of authoritarian, bureaucratic rule and instead focus on creating a classless, moneyless, egalitarian society that also values freedom both as an individual and as a collective. Many people in the early counterculture rejected the calls to model social movement on the Soviet Union or Marxist-Leninist thought and instead wanted to embrace new ideas that incorporated socialist ideas with other ones to create a push to a new idea of communism. In many respects, the socialist and communist movements of the time crumbled because they were unwilling to change their tactics. The old guard of political activists wanted to maintain the strong militancy of previous revolutions and didn’t want to engage with the leftist movements who rejected that and wanted something different. There was a sense that the new leftist counterculture was not principled or serious but that ended up being mostly projection about the inability for communist movements to change their ideas and conceptions about what a social revolution could look like in the US.
If “the counterculture led to neoliberalism”, better that the counterculture had not happened. In fact, the opposite argument is more convincing — that the failure of the left after the Sixties had much to do with its repudiation of, or refusal to engage with, the dreamings that the counterculture unleashed.
Acid Communism also points out that the social and artistic ties into the political. The goal should be a combination of art, music, literature, culture + psychedelia, entheogens, or consciousness expansion + political action. A cohesive political action that ties together various forms of leftist political thought together. One that is built for the modern-day that can morph and move as capitalism morphs and moves. Because art, music, and literature go beyond pure logic, they convey way more than just text or education. These mediums can even deliver messages better than just telling someone about a new kind of politics. The internet has fragmented the attention spans of most people, and our conceptions of the world are way more than just logic. We have to show people what a new politics will look like, show people what a cultural change would sound like and how it would work. Not just tell people to read abstract political theory but show them firsthand the theory in action, or the theory that comes to life in music, art, and literature.
I should say that some of these ideas are my own personal opinions going ahead. Though you might not agree with everything I say or offer, let it be a seed to grow into better ideas.
Putting The Acid In Acid Communism: Psychedelia, Breaking Reality, Libidinal Marxism, and Ego Death
There are multiple ways of breaking through ideology, of looking at the world in a radically different view, in questioning what really is important in life, and who we are fundamental as people. This can happen in a couple of different ways, some of which would need to be foundational to changing people’s perspectives on the world. Because capitalism forces everyone living it to not be able to imagine a world without capitalism we have to find ways to subvert that mechanism. We have to wonder how to combat capitalist propaganda and show people alternative ways of viewing the world and viewing themselves. I will be talking about some of the general concepts that might be tools in opening up people’s minds to change:
Embracing psychedelia and the weird
Using psychedelics and other entheogens to produce altered states
Encouraging sober altered states without the use of psychoactive compounds
Methods of breaking autopilot, capitalist reality
There is nuance in all of these that should be explained in more detail, but these can be potent steps to short-circuiting capitalist conditioning.
Embracing Psychedelia and The Weird
I use the term psychedelia as an adjective of what a psychedelic experience would be like or feel like and not literally as psychedelic experiences. Psychedelia is weird, it shows how strange our world can be and how interesting life can be at times. It forces us to question what seems normal and what seems avant garde. It’s embracing being different, of being unique, not in a neoliberal capitalist way of buying objects to differentiate yourself but a real admission of being your real self, regardless of the environment. The weird and weird people really are labeled that way because they don’t feel the need to adhere to social norms. We should all actively work to question social norms because largely, they can be really strange (in a bad way).
Art and experimental music fit right into this idea of weird psychedelia, being potent tools to point out the weirdness of everyday life. Experimentation and change in art can carry over into the experimentation and change of our social and political systems.
The acid in Acid Communism could also mean acidifying reality, breaking down the notions of what we deem normal and abnormal. Neurodivergent people are keen to point out the absurdity in neurotypical life, the strangeness of normality, of social cues and conventions that are entirely abnormal.
Embracing psychedelia and the weird as an embracement of freedom, of freedom of expression and relation. Of the freedom to question and challenge social norms and to push concepts of what is normal to their limits. As the group, the Weather Underground wrote in a manifesto:
“Freaks are revolutionaries and revolutionaries are freaks"
Using psychedelics and entheogens to produce altered states
Starting off, psychedelics and other psychoactive compounds have their place and there simply are some people who should not take them. Full stop. There is a narrative in psychedelic communities that these compounds can cure diseases and that everyone should take them. I disagree and recognize that for people with existing mental health conditions, psychedelics and hallucinogens can make their conditions worse. Some of these compounds should also never be used on people under the age of 25, to protect the development of young people’s brains.
Psychedelics are very interesting compounds because they change the user’s perception of reality, can shift time, space and in some compounds and doses produce vivid hallucinations or complete breaks with reality. Hallucinations are not the goal, they might be (sometimes) fun experiences but these compounds produce effects that are extremely important outside of seeing interesting patterns.
An extremely common experience with psychedelics is the feeling of being one with everything. This happens to so many people on so many different compounds that it is a common baseline that most psychedelics share. There have been studies into psilocybin where people feel an absolute connection to the universe, to people, to nature. It’s a phenomenal experience that some people feel during religious experiences but not many people feel in their normal lives. This experience of oneness can be life-changing, and allow people to understand their connection to their fellow humans, the world, and nature for the first time. Many people come to leftist politics from their experiences with psychedelics, and it is common to see people who were not politically motivated before psychedelic experiences, fully engrained into capitalist modes of life, and afterward look for a way to foster collectivity with other people and do political action to help nature.
Another experience would be ego disolvement or ego death. Common with high doses or strong psychedelics, this is where a person’s concept of who they are dissolve away and for the first time can see themselves from an outside point of view. Normally we have an idea of who we are, but these experiences can break this concept to show that who we are is just a concept, sometimes just a collection of stories that we tell ourselves, other times they are concepts from outside of us, things that we picked up from our parents in childhood. Taking these compounds can force people to question who they are on a fundamental level, to challenge not just reality but their own concepts of their life and what kind of person they think themselves to be. This can be extremely jarring, but many come out of these ego death experiences viewing themselves in a completely new way. Some think of it as almost a rebirth, because they felt their own sense of collected and inherited selves melt away and feel like they can finally build their own character and unique sense of the world.
“If the ego is not regularly and repeatedly dissolved in the unbounded hyperspace of the Transcendent Other, there will always be slow drift away from the sense of self as part of nature’s larger whole. The ultimate consequence of this drift is the fatal ennui that now permeates Western Civilization.”
- Terrence Mckenna
I also want to add that psychedelics and entheogens can be dangerous when in the hands of abusers. Because psychedelics can produce altered states of consciousness where someone might be more susceptible to someone taking advantage of them. An underlying thing to consider is that entheogen use can only be safe when separated from rape culture. This is why it’s important to address patriarchy and domination in these spaces, and challenge social normals around rape and rape culture. To make sure that anyone dispensing these compounds is trained, vetted and routinely audited for misbehavior.
In the right setting, with the right people, these therapies can have dramatic effects on people. We also have to work not just on individual issues, but societal and structural ones as well. Many of the ailments that are treated with psychedelic or compound-induced therapy are deeply personal. But many can be influenced by social impacts and structural inequities. As with anything, there is nuance about the topic that not very many people want to acknowledge. We have to understand that psychedelics can help transform an individual’s life when given in the right dose, setting, and by a nonabusive guide or therapist. But we also have to recognize the structural issues that influence our lives and aim not only to make a more equitable, horizontal, and democratic society, but also change how these compounds are used and viewed.
Fostering Sober Altered States
Entering into altered states of consciousness doesn’t require the use of psychedelic compounds or entheogens and can be done by anyone. Talking here about reaching transcendental states while dancing in a nightclub, while working out, while hiking in the mountains, when doing yoga, when meditating. The zen of working with your hands and doing a mundane task, the zoning out when looking outside of a window at the morning sunrise. Capitalism kills wonder because it forces us to always rationalize things, to always quantify things and never just stand astonished at any form of beauty without asking how much something costs or feeling bad for not being productive. The times of wonder and contemplation taken away from our hands while we force ourselves to monetize every waking moment. That meditating, just sitting and not thinking thoughts is either a waste of time since you could be producing capital, or is only a respite to maintain your sense of sanity during the work day. The mindfulness poison fed to us in response to the mental health crisis plaguing our society has been a reaction by the wealthy and by our jobs to trick us into thinking our discontent with the world is individual. That the issues in the world are not because of capitalism, but because of us, and we should meditate and be mindful. Be mindful not to transcend or renounce materialism, but to rest your brain and get back to work because your boss needs your stress levels lowered so you can be productive.
Entering into altered states, meditative states, trances, a sense of awe at nature can short circuit your perception of the world. Meditating can clear your mind of all the default racing thoughts that just get worse in these stressful times. Using your mind to clear time and space to think, Zen Buddhism has some interesting takes on work and meditation. A common idea in zen is to make work a meditation, not to make the work more productive but to carve out time to think for yourself at any time. Even while being forced to work for money you can meditate while working, subvert the control that capitalism wants to exert on you by stopping working-class people from having the time and energy to question the system at hand.
Immersing yourself in nature, and taking in the beauty that it has to offer can give you a new lease on life. You don’t need to be in a beautiful forest to take stock in nature, it can be a field of wheat, or sand dunes, or the concrete in a city cracked open by a blooming flower. Take any and every opportunity to take time and think, take time and question, and enter into your own altered states.
Breaking Through Capitalist Autopilot, Agitprop, and New Forms of Pop-aganda
Have you ever been driving around, or commuting on your normal route in a state of nonthought, acting our your daily routines of working, commuting, eating, sleeping, and suddenly you snap out of it? You’re at the wheel of your car looking at the stoplight and your vision comes back, suddenly the world is real again. You feel off, like you were transported away from your body, doing actions on autopilot. Living the life of routine made you zone out. You were there but you were simultaneously somewhere else. That is the feeling of being on autopilot, of living life without truly living it. Domination, capitalism, and hierarchy thrive when as many people as possible learn not to think, learn not to question, and just follow the routine. In many ways the capitalist autopilot is a defense mechanism to just get through the day. To just get through life with as little issue as possible, and in return, we just end up consuming without any issue or thought. This capitalist autopilot is a state of mind, but it is fostered through media and propaganda. Going to work, commuting, or logging in virtually, then the work day and the return back to your life. You have maybe 4 hours of free time before the cycle repeats. In this cyclical process capitalism breaks your personality down and forced you to work, day in and day out and only reserve your weekends for 48 hours of respite even though the majority of working people use their weekends to catch up on housework or do domestic work on the weekends. The 4 hours of free time afterward become a time to “decompress”, to “relax” with the tools and methods that the capitalist system produces. And so we consume, media, games, drugs, alcohol, consume this time to take our minds off the crushing reality.
This cycle repeats daily for most people, and sometimes you wake up at the steering wheel going 40 miles per hour and thinking “What the hell am I doing, all of this is so crazy, why was I zoned out?”. The acid of acid communism used to add the element of psychedelia to break reality, as subconscious reminders that this world is so strange, and to snap out of the capitalist autopilot state. Memes and art do this really well, one second you can be mindlessly doomscrolling Twitter and see a meme that all of a sudden shocks you into thinking. It’s an interruption in the psychological cycle, and we should work to make more of these things to shake people out of the “normal” lived reality they are forced into.
These shocks to the autopilot system are summed up by one word: abnormality.
Humans have amazing pattern recognition skills, and we are used to noticing them things are different or out of place. An antidote to capitalist autopilot is agitprop and pop-aganda. Agitprop being anything that gets people politically motivated, or at the bare minimum makes them suddenly question their day. It’s an old term from USSR times but I like the idea of using the information to jolt people into thinking. A better formulation could be called pop-aganda or using memes, music, art, and literature to jolt people into thinking critically. Pop-aganda would attempt to inject radical thoughts into people’s everyday lives through art, through difference, through abnormality. But how do we reach people in the internet age, when most people are falling into ideology online, and increasingly our entire lives are being pushed online.
Escaping the Echo Chambers, Nuance in the Use of the Internet
There is a lack of nuance when talking about leftist organizing in the modern age. There are people who say that you can’t organize online and that we should be doing physical direct action and organizing in the real world. There are others that reject this and want to use online spaces to organize but oftentimes only go online to talk about issues and never take their actions into the real world.
Both approaches are extremely limiting but both have incredible benefits.
The internet has moved from the wild west of random sites set up by developers and small personal pages to multinational corporations creating their own internet hubs. There was a sense in the early internet, just like the early counterculture that this new system could radically change our world and that we could create an entirely new one in cyberspace. Free from corporate oversight and governmental control, we could interact with people across the world in milliseconds and be transported into amazing virtual worlds. That wild attitude still exists today and the countercultural and hacker elements of the early internet succumbed to the same fate as the ‘60s counter culture did of corporate neoliberal capitalism coopting these new communication networks for the sake of profit. They watched how the early internet was built from the ground up, created their own conception of cyberspace, then injected corporate and capitalistic interests at the foundation of various projects and areas. Then they monetized interactions, and increasingly monetized everything they could to make a profit. They looked to create their own networks of corporations online, their own social media platforms, chat rooms and markets that they controlled.
It’s only until relatively recently that algorithms have decided what we see online. Before there were things called webrings, collections of websites produced by the community where other people could look up things that interested them. They still exist in the echos of GeoCities and some art projects exist in relative obscurity just like how the web used to be. You had to know what you searched for or you stumbled onto new ideas just surfing, or from chat rooms. Algorithms designed for one purpose, advertizing, became the governors of who saw what and when. I could write another article about the development of the internet out of the ‘60s counterculture because it is incredible how connected the two are.
With algorithms determining what we see, on platforms controlled by corporations, with the express purpose of advertising and selling commodities, we have fallen into an echo chamber. I would say this internet echo chamber is comparable if not worse than the media echo chamber of the 1960s. Increasingly people online are shoved into silos and fall down pipelines of information. It has become harder to get information to the masses of people without having it fall into small groups that already agree with the ideas you are trying to spread.
On the flip side, it is increasingly harder to organize outside of the internet with constant surveillance by corporations, governments, and police. Buying any kind of advertising space or visible space in the public is so expensive that only businesses can afford to use the same means that capitalists use. Neoliberalism has fractured our ability to conceptualize collective political action. The ideas of meetings have been poisoned by capitalism, and even socialist meetings can sometimes model themselves on old corporate meeting structures. Neoliberalism and capitalism has poisoned our conceptions of collectivity. Group projects in school, office meetings that go on and on, subverting government institutions like the postal service with more bureaucracy and inefficiency are on purpose. It’s to ruin our sense of working together and dealing with government agencies to make us not conceptualize a world where we do work together and a world where there is no government, but people interacting with systems they are actually a part of.
So we need to both organize online and take our efforts to the streets. Defacing art, putting slogans in public areas, dropping banners over highways, signs in street medians. Posters at the local coffee shop, zines left outside of smoking sections of office buildings, injecting art and messaging everywhere, to jar the senses.
So when people are in capitalist autopilot, driving on their morning commute, they see a sign that wasn’t there the day before in the median:
“Aren’t you sick of working while someone else profits?”
They see someone wearing a fantastically weird outfit with a hand-painted back patch:
“100 companies are responsible for 70% of global emissions”
Make the world into a giant art piece, the weirder the better. Jolt people awake.
The Communism of Acid Communism
There is something to be said about taking tribalist approaches to collective political action. There are countless amounts of different leftist political groups that differentiate from each other, some at a fundamental level. But there is a bit of common ground between most leftist political ideologies. In general, we all want to see the rise of a better future. We want a political system based roughly around some of these central ideas:
A classless, moneyless, and egalitarian society, free of exploitation.
Taking that I would also add a couple more things to that.
A classless, moneyless, horizontally governed, egalitarian society, free of exploitation, and patriarchy. A society that values the relationship of nature and humanity.
In explaining my interpretation of Acid Communism I want to blend various ideas from leftist ideologies into a framework based on some of the ideas of Acid Communism posited by Mark Fisher, modern culture, and the points I made above.
Acid Communism for the Modern Day
We should aim to address the core issues that prevail in societies, not just in capitalism.
And combine that with the political end goals:
A classless, moneyless, horizontally governed, egalitarian society, free of exploitation, and patriarchy. A society that values the relationship of nature and humanity.
To reach these goals and address core issues we should aim to make a synthesis of various leftist ideals that in their stereotyping entirety can come together into something new, not entirely new but a shift in the current ways we are doing things. We should take the best ideas from Anarchism, Marxist-Leninism, Social Ecology, Anarcho-Syndicalism, EcoAnarchism, Democratic Confederalism, Mutualism, Maoism, Marxism, Post-Civ, Communalism, and Libertarian Socialism and add them together.
Anyone entrenched enough into leftist political theory will see ideologies that are diametrically opposed to each other sharing space. You might not be able to see how they can agree, and most of the time they don’t.
But there are valid criticisms of all of them that can help to form something akin to a conception of Acid Communism.
Towards a New Conception of Communism
A new counterculture might grow to embrace new combinations and conceptions of communism that divert away from the classic statist communist and socialist governments of the past. In my opinion, Acid Communism would look like Anarcho-Communism combined with elements of Communalism, Green Anarchism, Social Ecology, Democratic Confederalism, Marxism, Feminism, Anti-Imperialism, LGBTQA+ Liberation, and Anti-Racism. With the express goal of ending hierarchy, patriarchy, domination, and violence of all forms.
What the hell does that all mean?
It would be to abolish unjust social and political hierarchies of state power and return control back to the people, with common ownership of the world and means of production. Changing our social relations to rid society of domination, patriarchy, and hierarchy while also championing the freedom and autonomy of the individual. A recognition of individual freedom combined with collective action and solidarity. Instead of command economies, an Acid Communist world would base things around mutual aid, mutual respect, and caring for both humanity and the earth. A recognition that cooperation, not competition is how we should live our lives and focus on making sure every single person has their basic needs met.
From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs - Karl Marx
The power of the people would be to self-organize a confederation of peers, and unlike current states would be a bottom-up rule of the people with anyone in a representative delegate position directly accountable and recallable or randomly selected from a population of comparable people. On a local level, this would mean that people are free to form unions and collectives on a whole host of identities, roles, nationalities, etc. Issues would be directly voted on by the people, delegates would take those issues into regional councils, then into general councils. It would be a rule of all people for all people, as opposed to capitalism where those with the most money call the shots, or various forms of state communism where the real power was held in a type of bureaucratic elite. Delegates would not be like representatives like in current representative democracies but would be directly recallable and only act as messengers of their councils. They would hold no real power, because real power would be held by the people.
Changing Economic Relations and Environmental Relations to Post-Scarcity Eco Centered Economics
We should aim to change our economics, or the way that we live to something radically different and base our relations on mutual aid, mutual respect, and meeting everyone’s basic needs. Capitalism requires scarcity, it requires that there be people who do not have food, clean drinking water, or shelter, simply because of how capitalist markets work. If there isn’t profit to be made, it won’t get done. Taking care of the poor is not profitable and so people are thrown out of the system and left to fend for themselves.
In a communist society, we would instead make meeting everyone’s basic needs the foundation of our economies. We have enough resources to feed everyone, we have enough land to house everyone and we have clean water to share and methods of producing clean water that isn’t profitable in capitalism, but is extremely useful in an Acid Communist one. We do this by changing the methods and systems we use to grow food, transport goods, manufacture things, and fundamentally live. This can be done by switching from large centralized systems into distributed, localized ways of operating. There are economies of scale and some things are better done in large centralized ways. But there are others that localism can address, like food security that ties into climate change, the environmental impact of shipping food from farming zones into living areas, and all of the processes that go behind that.
Food production should happen on a hyper-local, with every community growing food not in a factory farm method, but moving towards permaculture and growing food forests. Understanding that us growing food can have positive impacts on the environment instead of negative ones. This changes out water use, switching from water-intensive factory farming to permaculture means that we conserve water use, and with proper land management, we can actually trap and regenerate natural stores of freshwater, instead of drying out wells and aquifers. In cities, we work on retrofitting highrises and existing buildings to hold multiple uses, housing combined with local manufacturing and production, growing food inside indoor vertical farms, recreation, all inside spaces where local communities can thrive.
Moving away from fossil fuels to renewable and passive energy systems, moving our personal transportation away from individual cars to free and widespread public transit with trolleys, trains, electric busses, and electric cars that don’t require the extraction of rare minerals like lithium.
The key would be managing our impact to the environment and instead of extracting and destroying, working to regenerate the land. Instead of our economic relations being based on scarcity we base it on abundance. We aim for a post-scarcity economics, because we have everything that we need already, it is about changing the systems in place to address the problems of the ecosystem and humanity.
I could go on and on explaining all of these ideas and basically breaking down exactly how an Acid Communist, or Anarcho-Communist type society might work but I will supply you with some ideas to use to grow your conceptions of these ideas.
This guide completely outlines exactly what I’m talking about here in much greater detail
This video explains in much more detail into some of the inner workings of a possible Acid Communist system.
Explaining all the fine details would make this essay even longer, and there are people who have explained things way better than I can. If some of these ideas interest you I would read Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, and Murray Bookchin.
Addressing Hierarchy, Patriarchy, Domination, and Violence With Liberatory Communism
Hierarchy, patriarchy, domination and violence are all interconnected issues and their mechanisms for control all depend on each other. If we want to have a social revolution we have to address some of the core issues behind human relations to make things better. Hasn’t all of humanity been trying to reach the goal of a better society through pretty much all of humanity? Yes, but we are are a unique time in history, where things have added together to form a unique condition for fundamental change. We now have the language and understanding, that in order to build a better future we have to do so together.
We should create an intersectional politics that includes all people and views to make sure that society addresses not just everyone’s basic needs, but everyone’s basic concerns. We can live in a future where we are united, not just under class, but under the differences of our identities and the similarities those differences include.
Girlboss Capitalism & Working Class Racists: Why Identity Politics and Class Consciousness Can’t be Separated to Reach Intersectionality
Identity Politics as a concept came out of the political revolutions of the ‘60s and from Black feminist circles. The idea is that politics and our political conceptions are deeply rooted in our identities. The identities of marginalized people shape their political outlooks and their political outlooks shape identities. That is to say that the issues affecting Black people will be different from say Native Americans because of the interaction of identity with politics and politics with identity.
There are unique issues that affect different people, and to really understand how to solve people's unique issues we have to understand how their identities make them different and understand the unique circumstances they face. That isn’t to say that we should only focus on how people are different but we need to recognize and learn about those differences to have compassion and understanding that would be impossible to really know without being in that situation.
Identity politics relies on its interconnection between class consciousness because identity politics on its own, and separated from the commonality that class creates can lead to dark places.
Capitalism has co-opted identity politics in recent years, and had taken a radical idea of learning how we are all different and require unique understanding to fully know, but ultimately we are all connected. Instead, capitalism uses identity politics to create markets, create division and create tribalism that matches the mechanisms that capitalism uses to break up radical ideas. It does this by taking radical critiques of capitalism, stereotyping and simplifying ideas, and separating them from political implications.
Some examples would be “girl boss capitalism” or “black drone-strike operators”. Radical political groups wanted to point out that in order for change to happen, more people from marginalized groups need to become part of these systems to change them. Their unique outlooks on life would give them a different perspective, and in that would help shape the system from the inside to be more equitable. Calls for diversity in the workplace were because marginalized people were left out of conceptions of being a marginalized person in a workplace. By companies hiring more people of color or who were part of the LGBTA+ community, those organizations would be changed because of a new perspective driving action from people who know what it’s like to be a marginalized person. There are specific political implications to this that capitalism attempts to strip out. It creates a generalization that marginalized people only want to see other marginalized people in positions of power. So then you have messaging of hiring more women, that women need to become CEOs and use the same power structures of exploitation and domination, and that should quell any issues that marginalized people have.
That ignores the fundamental contention, that marginalized people ar marginalized because of the systems at hand of hierarchy, domination, and exploitation.
It really doesn’t matter if a marginalized person is leading the system, because the system perpetuates domination and patriarchy, domination and patriarchy aren’t solved just because a marginalized person is in charge of a company.
Capitalism isn’t suddenly “woke” and fixed just because there are more gay managers. Lockheed Martin isn’t absolved from suppling weapons used to kill innocent civilians because they had a Black person piloting a drone. Capitalism has and will continue to use performative diversity as a weapon as it strips the political intentions of people away from them.
Class Reductionism, Police Unions and Class Illusions
On the flip side of identity politics as a uniting force there is class as a uniting force. The end goal is to dissolve social relations until class is gone, and instead we are all equals. But operating with class in the current system we are talking about working-class people, the wealthy and capital owners/bourgeoisie.
Class can be a uniting force no matter what, two radically different people who both are working-class have that in common, and their goals align in ending the capitalist exploitation that keeps them working while the wealthy profit. This is a very Marxist conception of class solidarity, that all of the working class are united in their needs to end the requirements of class and economic hierarchy all together.
Are police working class? Are the militaries that bomb civilians made of working-class people? Are police unions like labor unions? What does it say when someone falls into a class category but their actions directly work to make sure that hierarchy and capitalist domination remain?
This is where the reduction to all revolutionary issues down to class only fall apart. Because there are people who would be considered working class, but work as mechanisms or tools of oppression and violence.
Differences in Identity + Class Consciousness = A United Humanity
Identity politics can only exist well when combined with class consciousness, and class consciousness can only work well when combined with Identity Politics. In our differences, we can understand our commonalities. In our current class we can see that we are all fighting for the same things. But these things combined won’t mean that a revolutionary change won’t just carry over the same social relations that existed before. Sure we can understand our unique identities and learn where we have things in common but if we don’t tackle patriarchy, violence, domination, and hierarchy we won’t be able to reach true freedom.
Intersectionality Means Change at the Core
Hierarchy, Domination, Patriarchy, and Violence are at the core of each other and require each other in many ways to function. Hierarchy can only maintain control by using domination and violence. Patriarchy can only exist when there are forms of social hierarchy that favor men. Violence is a universal part of all of them and is the tool that all of them use to maintain power. You see these mechanisms in social orders that maintain strict hierarchies, there are those at the top and those at the bottom.
To achieve intersectionality is to recognize the individual and the collective, to recognize identity politics and class, and to find common issues and how our socio-politics creates social conditions that create problems.
The struggles of Women also match with the struggles of Queer people, the issues Black people face also affect the neurodivergent. We can understand that each of these groups has their own unique circumstances and issues but also can immediately see commonality. A barista and an accountant share the same problems, as do a truck driver and a teacher, or a chef and an electrician. They are all bound by class, their struggles intersect and yet diverge depending on what their lives are like.
Fighting patriarchy means fighting toxic patriarchal masculinity. It does not mean fighting or hating men for simply existing, but fighting the system of domination that centers men as dominators. It is a system of strict social codes and norms that are forced onto men and fundamentally damages them. Patriarchy is deadly to everyone, especially women and femmes, but also dangerous to men. It is a system that is the basis of hierarchical thinking, because it places men above everyone else. bell hooks wrote an amazing book, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love that points out that patriarchy intersects with domination and violence to destroy everyone.
“When culture is based on a dominator model, not only will it be violent, but it will frame all relationships as power struggles.” - bell hooks
Feminism’s goal is to dissolve the patriarchal power structures in our social relations, it’s to free women from the domination model but also to free men. I use men and women here in a general sense and want to recognize that transgender and nonbinary people also fit into these distinctions because all of our social relations involve these mechanisms.
While breaking down patriarchy we break down domination, we break down predatory behaviors born out of patriarchal thinking and hierarchy. While breaking down patriarchy and domination we help even social relations between sexual identities, and in turn whittle away at heteronormativity. While chipping away at heteronormativity we also deal with transphobia and ideas around gender binaries. All of these things interconnect and for true change we need to address these social relations to make a truly egalitarian and equal world.
By smashing hierarchies of all kinds, social, economic, gender, sexual, racial, etc we destroy the power relations of domination, patriarchy, and violence. By dissolving one form of power we dissolve another and to get rid of capitalism we also will be getting rid of the underlying structures underneath it.
Meeting Basic Needs as a Means to Solve Core Issues VS. Capitalist “Free” Markets
Violence, crime, drug use, poverty, and death are all symptoms of a larger system. A system that does not meet the basic needs of everyone. Instead, it enforced strict hierarchies to make sure those who benefited from preexisting social privileges, or who had existing capital are at the top. A system that prioritizes profits will never truly look after all people, there will be people who are not profitable to help and that are left to die. Violence, crime, theft are all symptoms of poverty and wherever you find poverty you find these things. Because people lack their basic needs like food, water, shelter, comfort, and community, they will do whatever they can to survive. This is the system that free-market capitalism has created. There are plenty of people living great lives, and some who are unbelievably wealthy. And yet for every successful person in capitalism are thousands of other people who could not succeed for a whole list of problems. Many completely out of their control. This is not a system of freedom, but one of domination. And in capitalism you see all of the core issues of hierarchy, patriarchy, violence, and domination.
Meeting peoples basic needs but also meeting all of their needs in general will produce a world that is much more equitable and beautiful than the one we have now. Meeting everyone’s needs means giving power back to people to live amazing lives. That means food, clean water, shelter, community, childcare, education, healthcare free with no questions asked. Why? Because we are all people, our lives intersect and at the end of the day the struggles of all people are the concerns of all people. A society based in mutual aid, respect, and basic dignity means not letting people go without.
Food, Not Bombs: Self Defence Without Militaries and the State
A very common criticism from Marxist-Leninist/statist theorists about anarchistic forms of leftist organizing is that without a military or state, capitalism will always attempt to stop other systems before they form, many times with force. There is also an argument that there are violent people out there who would never the less persist, regardless of how society is formed. I agree to an extent though I would argue that most acts of violence are either done out of desperation, lack of healthcare, and access to mental healthcare, or are done by hierarchical groups to maintain power and order.
The answer is to address the core problems in society first, while also fostering a holistic self defense culture in all people. Everyone should learn acts of self-defense, and self-defense rarely ever looks like armed self-defense (Though there are times it is needed). Thinking outside of firearm or armed self-defense and thinking of all the other forms can help us to understand how we create a culture of mutual respect and mutual defense of each other. One of the largest self defense skills would be conflict resolution, which can take many forms along with de-escalation tactics. To quell violence as much as possible, when it is possible before situations escalate. It’s easy to imagine a society armed to the teeth and ready to shoot, but things don’t need to be like that and before the guns come out we should try and calm the situation as much as possible.
Notions that humanity is inherently violent by default are disagreeable, one because we are products of our socio-economic environment. And two that horizontal governance will stop violent and power-hungry people (where they do exist) from gaining the mechanisms of power. If we make an equal society, people championing inequality will not have a captive audience if they have their basic needs met. They won’t be able to wield political power or control others if the governance systems stop people from abusing others as a foundation.
I posit that taking care of someone and their family is the greatest weapon. Giving people food, clean drinking water, free education, and healthcare for nothing but just being a person. Above all giving people freedom and autonomy.
Inoculations to Capitalist Co-opting
Taking cues from the ‘60s counterculture and the current day internet culture we can start putting together ways to innoculate movements against capitalist co-option on the social level. This won’t be and can’t be an exhaustive list but these ideas might add some resiliency to a potential future countercultural revolution.
Avoid creations of hard in-groups and outgroups on trivial differences.
The creation of strict subcultures allows for movement capture because it’s easier to pin down specific groups. By trivial differences I mean very minute ones, there needs to be general guidelines on things (see the issues with big tent politics). But also it can’t be ultra exclusionary. This is a hard balance to achieve but remember to keep your morals.
Foster an aesthetic rooted in DIY and upcycled things, not commodities.
Usually there is an early attempt for capitalists to copy the style of a specific group or movement, or even try and put a specific style or way of looking that gets reabsorbed into the group. Make it so it’s impossible for them to sell anything.
Morphing and changing throws off their trend cycles
Embracing the weird, acid part of acid communism would mean not keeping things in a fixed idea of things. Keep things fluid and changing just like experimental art. Capitalists will always be two steps behind as they try to keep up.
Attack structures and ideas, not people
Don’t be a dick to people if they disagree with things(except Nazis and fascists, fuck ‘em). Only deal with the disagreements with the substance they are talking about. Attacking people isn’t productive and often times you will be able to find common ground outside of the kneejerk reaction to you. “Be ruthless with systems; be kind to people.” Michael Brooks
Make things hostile for marketing
The worst thing for a marketer is for them to try to make a niche space into a market and everyone in that space rejects the entire idea. Spotting companies setting up their tendrils into something, calling it out, and making the landscape impossible for them to sell anything.
Foster anti-capitalist social arrangements
Wherever possible, try to make exchange deal less and less with money and capital exchange. Basing your actions on mutual aid in all things will cut down on the expectation that money will, or is required to exchange hands. Though we do live in capitalism and there are times when money will exchange, maintaining that monetary exchange is not the only important thing will make sure that people can just do things for others and that there are more incentives to life than monetary exchange.
Parody their messaging if capitalists do stereotype you
If there is a hyperreal personification or view a group, pointing out the contradictions in their personification can show people that their idea of things is twisted by capitalist stereotyping.
Question who is running the platforms and outlets
A very common tactic to slip corporate interests into ideas is for them to become the funders and bedrock of communities. Always be asking who is running things and why. Not to a paranoid level but be willing to question the motives of people or groups and their end goals.
Acid Communism in Action: Dissolving Inequality With Dual Power and Creativity
How do we get closer to getting rid of capitalism and fostering a mutual aid society? How do we go from capitalism, and hierarchy into more horizontal ways of living?
Dual power & prefigurative politics
Building dual power means building ways of life alongside and within hierarchy and domination. We live in a capitalist world but we can start carving out alternatives now, start working to move the needle from domination to a freer, more egalitarian way of life. This is where prefiguration comes in, we are creating the world we want to see and not just imagining it. In order for a free, horizontal & democratic, and mutual aid society to grow, we have to start making the foundations of those systems now. We have to prefigurate the futures that we want to see by building autonomy in a system that tries to strip us of autonomy.
That means taking back the tools of oppression from our oppressors. Gaining autonomy in our food, water, and shelter so hierarchical systems can’t hold our lives over our heads. We won’t listen to bosses forcing us to work to live if we have everything we need without them. Here are some ideas that can build dual power and give back autonomy and freedom to people, on top of working to fix our social relations to be more horizontal.
Creating urban and suburban guerrilla gardens to create local food stores for local communities. Switching food supply chains from only massive factory farms but to bring nature and food closer to the people.
Foster localism in all things we do to bring clean water to all people, create off-grid infrastructure like water collection and filtration for everyone so the state can’t use water as a tool of oppression.
Expropriating land from governments and occupying it to build free housing, schools, and food forests for all. Then giving that land back to the indigenous people of the area to control their land again.
Forming community self-defense forces to keep police out of communities and making sure we address the core causes of crime, scarcity, before they happen.
Growing horizontal and democratic governance in every part of our lives using frameworks from democratic confederalism like unions and communes. Or using sociocracy as a baseline framework on how unions and councils interact.
Put an end to fossil fuels by shutting down drilling operations and pipelines. Instead focusing on renewable energy that can be high tech, low tech, or passive.
Ridding our social relations of patriarchal and domination-based interactions and instead, educating everyone on how to live with people on an equal footing.
Creating free health clinics, free schools, and free transportation networks starting first with those struggling the most in capitalism to make sure the poor and working-class get access first.
There are so many other things we could do immediately in capitalism that could make monumental changes. So many things that I simply can’t list all of them without making an entirely new piece of work.
We should make change fun, we should make every protest and meeting a party instead of a serious ordeal every single time. We should inject the weird into politics and instead make expropriating land to grow food, or building free housing out of natural materials something exciting. Acidifying politics to blend with music, art, and literature. To bring music and dancing to every revolutionary action. To add beauty to our lives as we carve out a better future. To be able to love freely and have the freedom to be with whoever you want without social norms keeping your life in a box. To have experiences that change your outlook on life and connect us all together. The revolutionary struggle becoming one large wave of art and music, expression and love. Change both in the world and in ourselves. To be able to build a life outside of domination, and to truly be free.
Acid Communism, Learning From the ‘60s Counterculture, and to New Futures: A Summary
A new form of revolutionary politics should learn from history and the people that worked to create the world we inherit. We learn from the mistakes of the past to build better futures and a better future is possible.
“The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.” - David Graeber
We should escape from capitalist realism and the hauntology of looking to old systems when trying to make something new. It’s good to take parts from the past and use them, but more effective to learn from the past and rework them.
The new liberatory politics should embrace the individual and collective power that everyday people have. We should embrace freedom of expression and freedom to live one’s life free of domination and hierarchy. We have everything we need on this planet, regardless of what corporations or politicians say. We can make these radical changes now, starting small and growing, learning from previous counterculture movements to make a new one. We can fundamentally change our social relations and stamp out patriarchy, domination, hierarchy, and violence. While tacking those changes we heal some of the issues that plague specific groups of people, and people as a whole. Once we build dual power, autonomy, and a new way of relating to each other, we can move things in the right direction.
Solarpunk, Eco-Fiction, Futurism and Acid Communism
In the last year I came across the idea of solarpunk, which really struck a chord with me in a way that other labels or ideas really hadn’t in the past. The idea of solarpunk really got me excited to combine a couple of different parts of my life that I kept somewhat separate but also started seeing that they were all connected in many ways. Solarpunk as an idea and aesthetic really combined multiple things that I was not expecting to find all together. Positive futurism, nature, and ecological regeneration, technology, social politics rooted in mutual aid, all of these things I saw as being part of the solarpunk umbrella. Solarpunk is still in infancy compared to other literary and aesthetic genres but I think it ties into ideas in Acid Communism and offers some interesting additions to political action that I haven’t really seen come up as often.
What is Solarpunk?
Solarpunk is a genre and art movement that envisions how the future might look if humanity succeeded in solving major contemporary challenges with an emphasis on sustainability, climate change, and pollution. It is a subgenre within science fiction, aligned with cyberpunk derivatives, and may borrow elements from utopian and fantasy genres. (Wikipedia)
There is also an early manifesto by Adam Flynn back in 2014:
Solarpunk is about finding ways to make life more wonderful for us right now, and more importantly for the generations that follow us – i.e., extending human life at the species level, rather than individually. Our future must involve repurposing and creating new things from what we already have (instead of 20th century “destroy it all and build something completely different” modernism). Our futurism is not nihilistic like cyberpunk and it avoids steampunk’s potentially quasi-reactionary tendencies: it is about ingenuity, generativity, independence, and community.
My own interpretation of solarpunk
To me, solarpunk is an interesting term to describe a literary and aesthetic genre that combines environmentalism, social change, technology (both high and low tech), art, and near futurism. There are a ton of commonalities with solarpunk and some of the visions of the ‘60s countercultural revolution. The biggest one is the revival of hoping and dreaming for a better future. Most of the radical experimentation that came out of the counterculture can be seen in modern culture today. But combining that with modern social politics, technology, and ideas of new futures together is something I haven’t seen very often. Same with the idea of Acid Communism because it posits a social movement to a kind of Anarcho-Communist way of life through aesthetics and art, and solarpunk directly mirrors those ideas of showing people the future, along with how to get there.
There are some interesting things I’ve seen while taking part in the solarpunk community. Some people interpret solarpunk as being just about solar panels. Which yeah, solar is in the name, but solarpunk is more so about renewable and ecology-centered ways of living and less so about the specific technology of solar photovoltaic panels. There have also been interesting ideas around cryptocurrencies and a couple of other things that require more detail and nuance and should get their own place.
Solarpunk has been one of those things that I find describes me very well, I work in tech and have always had a bunch of hobbies and interests (thank you ADHD). Those hobbies and interests were wide but I love plants and was starting to get into alternative homes like earthships. I had always called myself an environmentalist though I felt excluded from some environmentalist spaces that were widely white and an older crowd in my area. I was involved with politics and political movements, spent time doing art, photography, and creative work in my free time. Built furniture, spent my time hacking computers, and working on automation projects. And one day it all clicked when seeing the term solarpunk from a video by Saint Andrewism. All of a sudden it all was able to be combined together, things that at one time seemed pretty distant were in fact all connected. I feel like a lot of other people feel this way too or had a similar experience getting introduced to the concept.
Where Solarpunk Adds Nuance to Interesting Ideas
I want to break down some of the core features of solarpunk that I think add somewhat of a unique perspective to ideas. Most of these will be self-evident and in no way originate from solarpunk but I think the way they interact is unique in some ways.
Intersections of technology and nature
Intersections of social change and technology
Intersections of social change and nature
Intersections of Technology and Nature
Solarpunk as a whole seems to be questioning where technology and nature can meet, intertwine and even be symbiotic relationships with each other. But technology isn’t just high-tech gadgets or futuristic robots, technology exists on a spectrum, and on that spectrum are various degrees of impact to the environment, both positive and negative. Along with that comes the spectrum of Passive technology, Low tech technological solutions, and High tech futuristic things.
The solar in solarpunk can mean solar panels, but it can also mean the power of the sun, of illumination, of the energy needed to sustain life on this planet. Solar being an understanding that nature has power, produces power and humans can learn to live in accordance with that power of nature. Passive technology is a big staple of that idea because passive solutions to problems don’t require a ton of materials or technological inputs. Passive technology works by being simple, but effective and takes advantage of some of the natural occurrences in the world that technology tries to automate. A great piece of passive tech would be making passive building, buildings that are more efficient and use the power of the sun and evaporation to ad advantage. Instead of trying to build around the natural forces, embracing them. This might look like passive homes means to absorb solar heat in the winter, storing the heat passively in adobe. In the summer, awnings set at a specific distance can keep the summer sun out of the home and allow the space to cool itself. Or in earthships how they are built to recirculate water multiple times, and are usually heated and cooled without HVAC, instead using passive solar heating and passive cooling. Burying a pipe into a mound of dirt and blowing air into a home instead of using HVAC works because the buried pipe is naturally cooled by being partially underground. Its ideas like these that show how much our ancient ancestors knew, and how advanced humanity has always been. We assume that living in the modern age that we are somehow special compared to ancient people, but their technologies and methods were the baseline of innovation. Many times passive options outperform technological ones because they are simple and don’t require any external inputs.
This balance with nature is important because most futuristic sci-fi or ideas about the future always focus on technological progress as a sign of future growth. But that also doesn’t recognize that we live on a finite planet with finite resources. We can’t sustain a high tech utopia while using extractive minerals that require massive mining operations. A common idea or theme in solarpunk is to blend technology with nature and to critically question how our technology can impact the planet.
We have created massive amounts of e-waste and there are entire countries choking on the smoke of e-waste breakdown facilities that melt the PCB boards down to extract rare earth minerals from them. This is caused by capitalism and profit incentives, but we need to think critically of how we would maintain a high tech society that would also not destroy the planet. That would require interoperability and modularity, computer parts could be standardized to be reused in other applications when something fails. PCBs could be made not with rare earth minerals but with natural and natural derived materials that don’t require mining. That still ignores the already existing technology in the world and mountains of e-waste we already have. An interesting reality is that even old computers can still run, and the majority of e-waste is not from damaged goods but “obsolete” products thrown out because of consumerism. Just one laptop from 2005 would have more power than the computers that ran the entire lunar launch missions in the ‘60s. So we have mountains of waste because capitalism refuses to reuse things. Solarpunk points out that things don’t have to be this way, and that high tech solutions can only work if things are reused, upcycled, or changed.
Renewable Exploitation: Lithium and Rethinking Renewable Energy
There are critiques in solarpunk and in general all environmentalist groups about not thinking about the foundations of change into a more renewable energy system. One large part of switching to renewables would be the issue of storing the energy and using it at a later time. This is almost always done using lithium-ion batteries which require an entire industry of mining to prop up. Entire countries like Bolivia could be invaded for their lithium stores, just to fuel the expansion of renewable energy storage in the global north.
The biggest reason we are stuck using lithium is because of cost and size. There hasn’t been enough research into alternative energy storage because there is less of an immediate return on investment, and less chance of profits. This has been a reoccurring issue with technological innovation, the jumps that we could make are held back because of profit incentives. Corporations will only choose what is profitable, not what is more ecological or efficient.
Am I saying that renewable energy is bad? No.
But we should question the foundations we see in renewable energy. Where do the raw materials come from, who had to mine the minerals to make the aluminum frames of solar panels, or the silicon that went into the cells?
A question that comes from that is: How can we change our production of energy storage and how can we invest in science to find actually renewable energy storage?
Some of the alternatives have been used for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years, and the same technique of critique of technology comes into play. How do we balance passive, low tech, and high tech solutions to not destroy the earth, but to actually regenerate it?
Flywheels and compressed air are interesting storage devices that aren’t often mentioned as alternatives to lithium batteries but can revolutionize how we store power and the amount of materials we need to extract from the earth. There is also pumped water energy like the kind used in dams but created in artificial ways so large rivers and waterfalls are not needed to transfer stored energy.
But why are we assuming that we should maintain the same amount of energy use? If we were able to make homes more efficient by using natural insulators we can cut the need for HVAC which is one of the largest energy sinks in a home. Using passive lighting can cut electrical lighting usage during the day. All of these things are connected and tie into ideas of degrowth, and questioning the foundations of our relations of energy and nature.
Intersections of Social Change and Technology
The internet has given us access to more information than we can even fathom. At our fingertips in a millisecond, we can have access to any piece of information that we could ever want, we can communicate wirelessly with people across the world. We can enter into new realities and virtual altered states and travel to known and unknown worlds. We can create new music, art, and literature digitally and share this date for free with anyone at any time. We can replicate data infinitely, share it instantly, even share 3D data and have someone print it into reality on a 3D printer. Technology has progressed immensely since the counterculture and it really can’t be reiterated what an amazing time it is to be alive and have access to such powerful tools.
Solarpunk as a genre has been questioning how humans interact with technology (again using passive, low, and high tech definitions), in a way that really questions how and why social change happens when technology advances or is present.
Social change is easier now because we have an instantaneous connection to people. Climate change isn’t hidden behind newscasters and corporations and we can watch live, on the opposite side of the world the devastation that is happening. The beauty that is happening, the change that is in all of us happening in the world. The darkness that lurks and haunts us and the light of a sun rising over the horizon. We can see it all without the same filters of the past and know and connect with each other in another way.
But technology alone won’t create a better future. And speculative fiction recognizes that fact. The high tech basis can be liberatory but also has the deeply ingrained social inequities of our society baked into them. These black boxes that seem so amazing were all created by humans, with human biases. Technology can be used to free and enslaved people at the same time. To give people jobs and also take them away. The machine learning we think will solve the world uses classification data that is sorted by a human, and their biases and views of the world end up represented in the code. Technology is not separate from social conditions and I would argue they are both intertwined together so deeply that they can’t be separated without ethics coming into play.
Positive technological change can only happen with positive social change.
We should recognize the potentials of using technology as a way to coordinate social change on a massive level. The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street are two examples of mass change and protest happening because the internet allowed for more people to collaborate and communicate. The social network platforms and tech that we use to inspire and organize people should be run by people, not mega-corporations and is another key part of solarpunk, decentralization and democratization of technology. We should also keep our attention on the algorithms that increasingly put us into echo chambers. Taking a page from the counterculture we should escape the bounds that capitalism and corporations use to keep our ideas insular. Online spaces can help connect us together, collaborate, think and image a future. But that future won’t happen without action in the real world, without the Acid Communist idea of being weird and adding breaks with reality. Interrupting normal programming, breaking up the normal flow of everyday life with a message. Taking the ideas we gather and work on online and putting them to the test.
Intersections of Social Change and Nature
There needs to be a social and political change to tackle climate change. Like I said earlier this social change will need to be intersectional and not just be political, but a social transformation and a transformation in our social relations. Solarpunk as a genre focuses on intersectionality a ton and many stores involve how we as people interact with nature and how nature interacts with us.
Prefigurative Fiction and Aesthetics in Solarpunk
Because of critiques of social relations, politics, technology, and how they all interact with nature being core to solarpunk I really do see it as a type of prefigurative politics. The things I read and the art I see coming out of the movement are truly inspiring and really make me feel transported to a near future where we don’t only survive but thrive. Hope is something that is hard to come by in 2022 and to read things and be around hopeful people who are essentially looking down the barrel of a gun and trying to make the world a better place anyways. There is much more philosophizing, theorizing and thinking on solarpunk that deserves its own full-length work. I think importantly solarpunk as a movement, an idea, and literary genre is pushing climate fiction to better places outside of bleak dystopias. It also doesn’t tend to be purely utopian but also acknowledges the fact that large-scale change during climate change will not be easy, and it will require an incredible amount of work to make the world better. But at least there are people out there who think it can be done and are actively trying to show and tell people what that world would look like.
I think that is very important to show and tell people what a better world can look like. Theory alone can act as a foundation but if you show someone a short story of someone in a workers council, show someone what the world would actually work for the average person, how different life would be, and how we would react with each other on different levels. That will get the theory in. Showing people what a mutual aid society looks like, how they built it, the troubles they had along the way, showing people living through climate change and adapting life in the near future to help each other and the earth, the ideas and social changes that need to happen will sink in. Solarpunk to me is a prefigurative political genre because the focus is on regenerative futures, and about changing how we live with each other and the world. About getting rid of old systems of hierarchy and domination and instead living with, and for, each other.
There is an inherently political tint to the genre because making a better world involves political change. It involves social change, technological change and systems change. And I personally think those changes can and should happen. We have to imagine a better life, and build it.
Below are people and groups that inspire me and have influenced some of the text here:
@anarchopac, @professordarwin, @_saintdrew, @buildsoil, @sjklapecwriting,@_reallifemag,@readinhabit,@communalfreedom,@D__nickles, @lilykayross, @Cjugendstil, @PhilosophyCuck,@SrslyWrong,@KeirMilburn, @NotJustYouHere, @jemgilbert
I might work on other spin off pieces from this like connecting the counterculture and psychedelic scene into the creation of the internet. Along with some more solarpunk specific ideas and musings on what that world might look like.
Feel free to post and remix the images in this post. Just don’t be a douche and sell them as an NFT. Otherwise feel free to share.
If you work for a publisher and are interested in me writing something like this but longer and more polished let me know. I work full time and don’t get paid to do any of this writing.