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If It's Not Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n Roll, what is it? Creativity maybe?

Posted on 27 May 2011 by Stephan Lewandowsky

Let’s face it. The 1960’s were a time of radical change. And what we need today, like it or not, is another substantial transformation of our societies—from our current fossil-fuel based economies to an alternative means of economic productivity that is based on other sources of energy.

So what made the 1960’s happen and what can make the transition that we need during the next 10-20 years happen? This question has no easy answer. It may not even have a definitive answer at all.

Nonetheless, I would wager a guess, not as a scientist but as a curious observer of human nature and history.

And my guess is that non-violent transitions require one key ingredient that I have already mentioned elsewhere: Optimism. And optimism, in turn, is tightly linked to the perception that there is more fun to be had changing things than leaving them as they are.

The 1960’s arguably were powered by Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll.

One or two of those can be legitimately called fun.

Here now is the difficulty: All three of these drivers of the 1960’s have not only been explored in depth, but their personal and societal costs have been starkly brought into focus as well.

Moreover, however one might feel about Sex, Drugs, and what passes for Music these days, we can probably agree that there is no shortage of any of the above in today’s society.

So if it’s not Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n Roll that can motivate people to tackle the momentous transformation of society that we must embark on, what might it be?

How can it be “cool” or fun to stop driving a hot car, to switch off lights at home, and to put avocado skins in the compost while the plastic has to be recycled and leftover salad goes into the worm farm? Is “doing the right thing” enough to motivate millions of young people to act?

How does one turn cutting emissions into Woodstock?

How would Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix tackle global warming?

I would suggest that far from being trivial, those are some important questions for social scientists to muse over.

I would also suggest that whatever the solution may be, it will likely involve creativity and humour. Just to illustrate what this might involve, consider this idea, developed by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition:

We're turning Murray St Mall (downtown Perth, W.A.) into a giant film set!

World Environment Day is on the 5th June and this year we’re producing a film of epic proportions! Picture it now: A mob of left-wing looking cyclists, environmentalists and alternatives, and a mob of business people advancing towards each other from opposite ends of Murray St Mall, meeting in the middle for one final showdown. What will happen? This film will highlight that climate change affects everyone, from all walks of life, and that a price on pollution benefits all of us, crossing the divide between the right and left.

A professional film production group led by highly acclaimed Richard Berney will be carrying out the film production work.

You too can contribute as an extra!

Choose Your Costume

Cyclists, Environmentalists, Alternatives: Come dressed as a colourful environmentalist, cyclist, or alternative. Meet at the EAST end of Murray St Mall, next to Barrack St, by no later than 10am for registration.

Business People: Come dressed in black and white as a white collar business person. Meet at the WEST end of Murray St Mall, next to William St, by no later than 10am for registration.

The Plot

Picture Murray St Mall, the long pedestrian strip running a few hundred metres between William St and Barrack St in Perth, with the central town square Forrest Chase in the middle of its length. At the East end of the pedestrian strip hundreds of left-wing looking cyclists, environmentalists and alternatives have gathered. It is obvious they're all in support of action on climate change.

But just a few hundred metres away, at the West end of the pedestrian mall, an equally large crowd of a couple hundred people all wearing business suits, white collar workers, have gathered and they look ready to loudly voice their opinions.

What are they doing here? Is there going to be some sort of clash between these two groups?

These two crowds advance towards each other along Murray St, walking with determination and purpose. Their paces quicken as they approach each other. Ten metres apart they suddenly stop. Silence and sternness. A Braveheart battle scene with two armies facing-off against each other. The tension is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. You're nervous with anticipation just watching. It lingers.

Some people in the opposing crowds start to raise their placards, or hold them forward at the front of the line, revealing their stance . Placard phrases like "Green Jobs!", "Our Kids Are Worth It!" "Unlock clean energy!" and "YES to a price on pollution" start to emerge amongst both crowds. Wait, what? There is a murmur amongst all the people in the crowds and a moment of realisation that both sides are actually agreeing with each other! People from both crowds start stepping forward, and then everyone is cascading forward. Just like in the Braveheart scene where the Scottish are charging against the Irish, the two sides meet with smiles and outstretched hands, greeting each other amiably and merging together. People realise this is an issue that crosses the divide between the right and the left, that climate change affects all of us, and that we all have so much to gain from an effective price on pollution policy.

This may not be Woodstock but it sure beats putting salad in the worm farm.

So I'll be there.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 21:

  1. I like the mall idea.

    My longstanding preference is for an image from a more innocent past is something like The Jetsons.

    The unstated technological marvel there was, of course, the 'too cheap to meter' promise of nuclear power. But the idea of clean skies (not necessarily including flying cars) and an abundant lifestyle is perfectly in accord with ideas of both modernity and clever use of resources.
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  2. Stephan, you might want to familiarize yourself with generational theory of the saeculum e.g. "The Fourth Turning" by William Strauss and Neil Howe. They breakdown Anglo-American histroy into four recurring phases, perpetually fuelled by four recurring generational archetypes.

    According to the theory, in the 60s and 70s we were in an Enlightenment phase where we undergo an inner revolution. At present we've just entered the Crisis phase during which there will be an 'outer' revolution where old systems will be replaced by new (following some form of struggle). The outcome is not necessarily positive or negative, only that some revolution will occur.
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  3. ".....The 1960’s arguably were powered by Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll....One or two of those can be legitimately called fun...."

    So which one isn't fun?
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  4. Mandas -So which one isn't fun?

    And.
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  5. Creativity in all its forms is a great motivator for change, with a touch of subversive and maybe a smidgeon of cool for good measure
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  6. I've thought about this quite a bit, having been involved in the anti Vietnam war movement since high school and missing out on conscription by a whisker by being barely too young. Saved by "It's Time" and Labor in 1972.

    One thing should be fairly obvious is that the prospect of being conscripted and having one's bodily parts rearranged in a stinking unconscionable colonial war in Vietnam certainly focuses the mind and lends a great sense of immediacy. Very important in both Australia and the US, but the outrage was widespread especially in Europe fed by images such as the NLF soldier being dragged by a rope tied around the feet behind an armoured personnel carrier. Or the little girl, naked, fleeing the napalm.

    This together with a succession of colonial wars such as the French war in Algeria, the struggle for civil rights in the US, an emerging feminist movement, the ever present threat of nuclear war and various events such as the 1968 student uprising in Paris and the Prague Spring and situation was ripe for rejection of the whole stinking setup. Influence of pacificism, internationalism and the left in culture - music , film and literature both fed on the politics and in turn fed back into it.

    This was a unique confluence of historical circumstances and there is really nothing comparable today. Young people now do not understand how different it was - and not in a good way. For example women were not allowed in public bars in Qld - a situation that is utterly unthinkable today.

    It should go without saying that trying to produce some echo of the '60s is pretty much doomed to failure. Hansen is absolutely correct - there is ultimately no substitute for feet on the streets. It is not just a matter of protest - it is a matter of exercising countervailing political power to the political power of the Murdochs and fellow travelers. Easy to say and not so easy to do. And it wouldn't half help if popular culture could rise above "Australia's Got Talent".

    But I think is comes down to something other than this:

    "I would suggest that far from being trivial, those are some important questions for social scientists to muse over."

    With all due respects, social scientists have to do a little more than "muse over" the issue. They must be activists as were some of the outstanding academics of the '60s perhaps exemplified by Chomsky. Furthermore, astute political thinking is not really the property of social scientists - as a group they are probably not very good at it and it is sorely needed. One learns also by doing, as well as thinking.

    @Arkadiusz Semczyszak

    You reckon 5 million people died AFTER the end the American war on Vietnam? Sources please!
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  7. I love the idea of transformation through theatre. But the premise that the '60's were fueled by fun of any sort seems dubious or at least overly simplistic to me, having lived through that era in my formative years.

    I remember quite a bit of outrage, fear, and rebellion (and far too much fun too!). And as you pointed out, currently - at least for the wealthiest citizens of earth who have the largest footprint whether it is carbon or other sorts of pollution - there is a smorgasbord of fun to be had already, without any (perceived) sacrifice required. I think it will be nigh impossible to persuade such individuals to convert to more socially responsible forms of entertainment (let alone increase prices by pricing externalities) when it's difficult to compete with the surfeit of artificially cheap toys that mesmerize them now.

    It's also an uphill battle to convince people to relinquish creature comforts/luxuries for the betterment of the environment in the future when so many of the "leaders" of the green movement do have insanely and inexcusably disproportionate personal impacts. I'm thinking of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who before his latest misogynist embarrassment was supposed to exemplify a green Republican, and yet rather than move to the state capital, he commuted to his duties as governor by private jet. Okay that's an egregious example but there are a number of leaders in the movement who shall remain nameless that fly around the world giving talks, raising funds for their philanthropic organizations and selling their books. Can anyone blame the casual, unenlightened observer for smelling hypocrisy? If there is really a planetary emergency, why don't those who warn of it behave like there is?

    Given the dire prospects faced by humanity, not to mention every other species subject to our domination and exploitation, I think some sheer terror based on actual, unprecedented events - like the Joplin tornado...the floods in Columbia, Pakistan, Tennessee...and the heatwaves, droughts and wildfires in Texas, Canada, Europe and Russia (and that list is by no means comprehensive) - is in order, and would be more effective.

    Having said that, I wish I could be an extra in the film!
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  8. 6/7 some interesting thoughts...

    Just reviewing Paris '68 I noticed an interesting slogan (and the French are good at slogans!)

    "The future will only contain what we put into it now."

    Maybe we need a version of that now?

    "The future atmosphere will contain what we put into it now."
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  9. There's plenty of optimism out there.

    * There's the widespread tendency to believe that everything's going to be ok because technology will save us.
    * There's the widespread tendency to believe that everything's going to be ok because the free market will save us.
    * There's the widespread tendency to believe that everything's going to be ok because god(s) will save us.
    * There's the widespread tendency to believe everything's going to be ok because, hey, "it's ok here, and I'm middle class, educated, and insured, so I'll survive" and since the middle class controls cultural production, the overwhelming message in cultural production is "we'll be ok."
    * There's the widespread tendency to believe that things are going to be ok because everyone knows that people who prophecy doom are extremists, one and all nutjobs--whether scientists or not.
    * There's the widespread tendency to believe that things are going to be ok because "we've been through tough times before."
    * There's the widespread tendency to believe that things are going to be ok because all we really need to do to solve something is talk about it . . . and keep talking about . . . and keep talking . . . [no doubt true, but action at some point . . .]

    All of this optimism is the momentum of BAU. If you want to use "culture" to change culture, don't directly address the issue. Write a bunch of scripts for stage and screen that have as a central crisis people not heeding the obvious and then having to pay the price (include the elements of technological failure, market failure, and religious failure -- good grief, just turn the last hundred years of actual human history into a TV show). Get that "meme" (a word that means "idea" but doesn't sound as dangerous) out there, let it sink in, and then deliver a strong comprehensive dose of evidence.
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  10. "How would Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix tackle global warming?"

    By writing songs that point out how oppressive and totalitarian the alarmist movement is.

    As a person who grew up with The Whole Earth Catalog as my adolescent bible (one that championed Bucky Fuller's anti Malthusian and anti Ehrlickian sense of optimism), as a person inspired to pursue chemistry due to an interest in neurochemistry inspired by having read all of Tim Leary's books, I can tell you that the counter-cultural swing of the 60s was very much anti-state, anti-war and very libertarian. Your whole vibe is however authoritarian, statist and left wing. It is profoundly anti libertarian.

    I was inspired recently to capture some of this bitter pill flavor in a new poster graphic that I call Authority.

    Several quotes from your book with Hayden feature in it.

    Since you are pursing a statist solution to a perceived problem, I suggest looking not at counter examples like the dionysian 60s but to other successful statist youth movements. History has a few to offer. First you need to demonize a perceived enemy....

    -=NikFromNYC=- Ph.D. (Columbia/Harvard)
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  11. NikFromNYC - Excellent graphic, a rare presentation of the Gish Gallop in visual form.

    If you're not familiar with the Gish Gallop, it's the spewing of half-truths, inaccuracies, misstatements, etc, hoping to overwhelm any rational response. It's the embodiment of "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull."

    I spent a few moments looking through the various statements in your poster, and I believe that ~95% could be located in various discussions in Skeptical Science by using the "Search" box. They just don't hold up to a rational point of view. Which isn't terribly surprising, given the emotional approach your poster presents.

    Perhaps better points of optimism might be reaching the Moon? Or the Peace Corps? The post-WWII support of and economic redevelopment of Europe?
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  12. KR, your optimistic group is probably the best approach.

    The Marshall Plan for Europe might be the best example of directed investment for explicit development and political goals. The development we're now interested in is rather in redirecting certain activities rather than recreating whole economies after wartime destruction.

    We're now not so concerned with any such investment having an explicit anti-communist political objective. The political objective now should be to maintain civil society where it now prevails and to try to establish it where it has so far failed to flourish. Jobs and education are the prime success mechanisms here.

    Of course, no single country is now in a position to do this in the same way the USA did back then.

    Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll were my generation's fun contrasts to the chronic fear of nuclear annihilation and the dreadful reality of Vietnam. A little dose of hope and optimism with a large defiant upward pointing finger to the society that created those 2 horrors.
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  13. For some the activies were an escape from the harsh realities of the time. Some escaped a little too far, and never returned. I think part of the whole nuclear annihilation fear was a deliberate attempt by both governments to scare their citizens into blind obedience to tackle a common enemy. Vietnam seems to open the eyes of the masses to the real horrors of the time.
    That was certainly a different take on Joplin and Hendrix, and I cannot argue against it. Would the anti-state movement of the 60s be protesting for a state-run solution to global warming? An interesting ponder.
    On a side note adelady, I read some reports recently of an unusually cold autumn in Australia after the heavy rain of summer. Can you confirm or deny? Thanks.
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  14. Eric, Australia's cool, wet autumn.

    Apart from the dry and fire blackened West, yes, the last gasp of the now defunct La Nina has made it pretty cool and wet here.

    Nuclear annihilation a fear concocted by governments? Seems you weren't around for the Cuban missile crisis - now there's real fear.

    The "anti-state movement" was mostly a reaction against stifling socialconformity. The civil rights movement for instance was not anti-state, it was anti-particular-policies. It was revolutionary - in favour of replacing governments or policies - rather than anarchistic favouring no government activity at all.

    I see current circumstances in much the same light. Only now we're arguing for the rights of the too young to vote, the not-yet-born, and the never-voting animals and plants of the bio-sphere.
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  15. Thanks adelady,
    Yes, I was a little young during the Cuban missile crisis, so maybe the fear was more than I believed. I was keenly aware of the late 60s / early 70s movements. The anti-war movement was entirely anti-state. The civil rights movements was largely directed at state-run policies (Alabama and Arkansas for starters). In general, it was directed at any policy that inhibited freedom. I am not sure that today's mirrors that.
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  16. Eric "...it was directed at any policy that inhibited freedom."

    I'm more mature (OK, older) than you, and my reading of the times was that it was about personal freedom. Being young people in the main, that was about Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, but it was also about the freedoms denied by corporate and government restrictions on personal behaviours and circumstances. Denying jobs entirely on the basis of race and gender, paying less on the basis of race or gender, and sacking for things like women marrying or anyone divorcing. And conscription is not a favourite item for those wanting personal freedom to choose.

    Speaking to the 5 years 'more mature' member of this household, his view is that the movement was anti-capitalist and anti-military rather than anti-state. 'Our government should change' rather than 'We want no government at all'. You might be more influenced by the extreme ends of the general movement in much the same way as many women don't identify as feminists because their image is of the 'overalls and no lipstick' very public extreme end of that movement.

    All you need to do is to juxtapose an hour of the music of The Beatles or The Beach Boys or Jimi Hendrix and an hour spent reading Ayn Rand. (I never managed the whole hour, let alone the whole book. The afore-mentioned older person said he found the whole book amusing, he saw it as a kind of self-parody.)

    The idea that we of that liberal-minded generation wanted libertarianism in the untrammelled corporate power facing hamstrung, limited government style is just not true. We didn't like the "Little boxes on the Hillside" lifestyle, that's true. We wanted attention, and money, for the issues of poverty, injustice, violence, pollution - all of which require better government, not no government.

    Just as now.
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  17. Thank you for your insight adelady.
    I admit to being more influenced by the end era were anti-military was more prevalent and free sex and drugs was rampant (I attended the University of Michigan in the 70s).
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  18. I hope we manage more than the 60s crowd. We fought against war and nuclear weapons and got more wars and more weapons. We fought for gay rights and didn't even manage to get the CDC appropriate funding until it was 1 minute to midnight. For free love and got Billy Graham and the creationists.

    What we have on our side now is connectedness. If we can't create change with the help of the Internet that I'll change my position on gun control. ;)

    And really thank you John Cook for your work on this topic. It's a beacon of light.
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  19. Yani, the 70s women's movement was a natural extension of the 60s civil rights movement - and they've both moved along fairly steadily.

    Things like industrial health and safety are now a great deal better in OECD countries than they were then, although the US seems unable to get all its ducks in a row on some of these matters.

    The biggest disillusion for us older ones though, is that all these 'wins' have to be defended and 'won' all over again every 15 years or so. If so, I'll do it all again when necessary.
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  20. Mandas @ 5

    You know what they say about the 60s: "If you can remember them, you weren't there." I Would love to help, but I can't remember. Peace!
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  21. Sorry, showing my age! Mandas @ 3 (I think)
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