As the Summer of Love hits the half century mark, we should note that it wasn’t just a cultural phenomenon; it was the last sincere attempt to make a Utopia. I once visited a golf community where the lush backyards all looked out on the heart of the place, a manicured golf course. Men actually wore cardigan sweaters, and putted about in golf carts. It was like The Stepford Wives without the interesting characters. It seems like everybody is after Utopia in one form or another. For some people it’s a gated community; for others its a commune. The Greek philosopher Plato thought it was rule by an elite group of philosopher-kings whose leadership was universally welcomed. Rome thought it was Pax Romana (Peace of Rome). The Catholic Church of the Middle Ages thought it was command by them with anybody who disagreed burning at the stake. In the 1800’s, Utopian thinkers in America started special communities like New Harmony and Oneida where like-minded people could flourish in seclusion from the outside world. We probably shouldn’t leave out the dark utopias, systems that were only Utopian for the rulers: the Third Reich and the Soviet Union.(Feeling the Love: Before the tourist buses came)
Now and then, Utopia attempts have been inspired by novels. In the late 1940’s, psychologist B.F. Skinner wrote Walden Two, a piece of fiction in which he applied his behaviorist philosophy to community development. Years later, a group of optimists opened Twin Oaks, modeled on the Skinner novel. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the founding date was 1967. Then there is the story of the story that came from a story and then led to a real-life story (Yes, it was as confusing as it sounds). In the 1500’s, Thomas More wrote a tale he called “Utopia” from two Greek words meaning “no place.” More’s perfect place was an Atlantic island. The island idea must have been in Aldous Huxley’s mind when he wrote his novel, Island in 1962. The path to paradise for Huxley was drugs. Drugs would open the mind to bold new perceptions and understandings. Huxley’s vision burst into full-color, psychedelic life five years later when legions of hippies (hipsters) invaded a quiet San Francisco neighborhood known by the convergence of two of its streets, Haight and Ashbury. They had been settling in for months when summer approached. To head off concerns about things getting crazy when thousands more poured into the area in June, a “council” formed among the invaders, calling itself The Council for the Summer of Love. The spectacle was put to music when the Mamas and Papas released “San Francisco” in July. “If you’re goin’ to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” Echoing Huxley (who had died the same day as JFK was killed), the hippies used drugs to reach what they hoped would be new dimensions of enlightenment. Their ideal was made up of not working, scrounging free food and clothes, sitting around, and heeding the words of LSD prophets like Timothy Leary: “Tune in, turn on, drop out.”
(Pentagon Protest ’67: Flowers for the troops? You’re kidding, right? )
Ironically, the tens of thousands who invaded San Fran, were soon the victims of a counter invasion. Tour buses, windows filled with curious, middle-aged faces, started nosing through the streets. Haight Ashbury had become a zoo. The Utopian values disintegrated in the sickness that comes from undernourishment and bad drug trips. Mainstream comedian Bob Hope joked that manufacturers were putting ink on LSD pills – pause – so when the kids go on a trip they can write back (audience laughter). But it wasn’t funny. Another Utopia had come apart on the rocks of reality. Troopers didn’t want flowers put in their gun barrels. As summer waned, the hippies carried a coffin through the streets marking the death of the Summer of Love. To understand what happened in that summer, why the envisioned Utopia never took root, we need only remember the words of Mark Antony from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. Oh well, at least we have the music.