Join The Party Party?

Born in ’59, I assimilated some 60s counterculture, even joining a pentecostal Jesus-freak “cult” as a young teen. And I still hold the “hippy” image to be somewhat positive. Some today try to say hippies were mainly about presaging their current political views, such as by opposing racism, pollution, or the Vietnam war. But most such folks trying to claim hippy heritage really aren’t very hippy like. Consider this hippy manifesto:

We want fun, good health and mutual caring … We love diversity. … We try to live a simple life with simple rules. … Everything about others can and may be different. … We still love marijuana brownies. (more; see also)

Hippies are more about going back to basics – paying more attention to simple things that seem obviously important, and less attention to all the other things folks say to worry about. So worry less about being “successful”, and do something you like. Worry less about satisfying official concepts of marriage and relationships, and more about just enjoying the people you are with. Eat good ingredients, prepared simply. Avoid getting weighed down by too many material goods. Worry less about defending your nation, ideology, race, or religion, and focus more on collecting friends, lovers, etc. that you like and get along with. Instead of obsessing about preparing your kids for the future, just treat them well and enjoy your time with them.

My colleague Bryan Caplan’s new book Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids (read it; it’s good) is in fact a pretty hippy book, a description Bryan mostly accepts. He says you can’t really change kids much by parenting, but you can influence how much they enjoy their kid years. Bryan and I also agreed on relatively hippy positions on school, medicine, housing, and war, especially for the US. These things are just less useful, and matter less, than most say. The US would do well to cut our military in half, cut medicine in half, and subsidize school and housing less.

I’ve been impressed lately with the play vs. serious distinction. Obsessing about politics seems a much better way to signal your seriousness than your playfulness. Those who want to seem playful focus more on partying, joking, etc. So politics is biased, I think, toward taking most things too seriously. For example, on medicine the familiar political parties all say medicine is too important to be left to those other fools. None want to say medicine hardly matters for health, and so should be drastically cut. On war familiar parties similarly all agree on the great importance of fighting terrorism, or building nations, or supporting democracy. None want to say our military can’t do much about such things, and should be drastically cut.

Even today, when the US desperately needs to cut spending to avoid going bankrupt, few dare to take such hippy-style positions, that most of the things we spend so much on just matter much less than most think, and so can be drastically cut. One might imagine starting a Party Party, based on a fun-loving hippy-style emphasis on simple living. But alas those who agree are less eager to be political. So I expect the usual political parties will continue to fall over themselves to emphasize how very important are things like war, medicine, school, parenting, etc., so important that you shouldn’t dare to leave such things in the hands of those other incompetent parties.

The hippy mentality is largely a forager mentality, which we should expect more of as society gets richer. But we are more hyper-farmers at work, and our farming fears also seem over-represented in our politics, which seems biased to emphasize the serious over the playful.  Turn on, tune in, drop out; the rest just matters much less than you think.  That won’t necessarily always be true, but it is for now.

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  • Aron

    I look forward to the “Far out!” vs. “Near” construal theories. How’s that glaucoma doing?

  • You could sign up with Willie Nelson’s Teapot Party.

    Hippies and the sixties generally were a product of widespread economic prosperity, which allowed young people to pursue their forager instincts, without much concern about the size of their paycheck 10 or 20 years in the future. I am not a conspiracist, but it seems that the effects of this alarmed the ruling classes so much that they’ve managed the economy since then in a way to ensure that nothing similar can ever happen again.

    • James K

      That implies the people running things have the kind of understanding and control over the economy to arrange such things. I assure you they don’t. Hanlon’s Razor is firmly in effect here.

      • Probably the dope is making me paranoid.

      • Damaging an economy enough to make less prosperity generally available doesn’t sound like it would take especially detailed control.

    • Ken S

      Lack of concern for a paycheck probably made it easier to consolidate power over labor… even if there was nothing alarming going on there was no reason not to jump on the opportunity to do so. But this was still near-term thinking, because this could only make people in the future care more about a paycheck than they otherwise would have, making the same old conflicts occurring again inevitable.

  • This is the optimal path towards avoiding information theoretic death?

    Cutting defense spending in half and reducing housing subsidies seem like easy claims to me.

    Cuting medical spending in half and reducing educational subsidies seem like harder claims to me. It’s not clear to me that we should be spending less money on medicine and education (except perhaps narrowly to avoid bankruptcy) -I intuit that we should be spending the money differently. I think that’s an important distinction. Unless you’re separating out medical research and public health from medical spending, and funding basic research at universities and targeted investments to train the workforce in skill shortage areas from education spending?

    • anon

      Avoiding information-theoretical death is easy: just get frozen. When you think about it, it’s a very hippy solution: all you need is liquid nitrogen, antifreeze and a relatively modest amount of savings (or a a life insurance policy).

      Medical spending has negative value at the margin, so reducing it makes a lot of sense. Funding for basic research is a very low portion of GDP, and medical research funding is poorly managed: just look at how little money is going to the most worthwhile approaches (i.e. SENS).

      • “Avoiding information-theoretical death is easy: just get frozen.”

        I doubt it’s that easy, although I hope so. Simple solutionism seems to me to be a demon at least of our time, if not throughout history.

  • richard silliker

    ” One might imagine starting a Party Party, based on a fun-loving hippy-style emphasis on simple living. But alas those who agree are less eager to be political.”

    Might I suggest a non-party party?

  • Matt Knowles

    Hrm… A bunch of people just trying to live their own lives without bothering too much about the nitty-gritty details of actually running gov’t, more interested in loving their kids and enjoying their lives… What would it take to mobilize these people into actual political activism?

    Maybe the Tea Party folks are closer to what you’re describing here than most might think.

  • When U.S. spending on medicine is irrelevant to the population’s health, is the correct inclusion that it’s medical science that’s worthless? Why shouldn’t medical care eat up an ever-increasing part of the GNP? What is a more worthwhile expenditure?

    If spending doesn’t correlate with efficacy, isn’t it obvious that the problem is with the delivery system, not the science, which rightfully costs more and more with increasing wealth?

    Why would anyone expect medical-care delivery to be efficient when decisions are made by mostly stupid and greedy doctors competing in the marketplace?

    • Karl Smith is unperturbed, though not exactly along those lines. I linked to his response to Hanson earlier, and I’d really like to hear Robin’s response.

  • MPS

    Perhaps part of it is the way politics is funded. Winning elections requires money. “Serious” business interests have money and have large financial stakes in political outcomes. At the same time “party-fun-loving” interests don’t have money, and “party-fun-loving” is not so sensitively staked on political outcomes.

    And so maybe it’s these pressures which direct politicians to focus on the “serious” issues, to find “serious” solutions to them, etc.

  • I think you mean “hippie”.

  • Alrenous

    Medicine is not that important, so the government should cut half of it. Except…doesn’t that also suggest cutting medicine might not be that important, and we can leave it alone, if messing with it is a hassle?

    May I suggest being playfully serious? Of noting that being playful isn’t that important, and so playing the seriousness game?

  • Hippies and hunter-gatherers rarely had as strong of an emphasis on in-group vs. out-group as other groups, so they had a hard time getting organized to take on the enemy. Slash-and-burn gardeners are OK at it (their counterparts in advanced societies are the black inner city), but it still doesn’t reach a very large scale.

    The groups who get the most intense in-group vs. out-group feelings are pastoralists and settled farmers. That’s mostly who’s been duking it out for recorded history and even a good deal of pre-history. Introduce either one, let alone both, into an area of foragers or gardeners, and the latter get wiped out or shoved into the most marginal lands.

    Between herders and farmers, the main difference is how hierarchical or rigid the role structure is, with herders being more egalitarian. So if you want a society where larger-scale organization, action, and defense are possible, but where internally we don’t have a strict bureaucracy, you want to adopt a more nomadic herder way of life.

    Of course you’ll catch a lot of flak from the forager-like hippies for bringing a “cowboy culture” to politics, but sometimes it’s either them or us (sometimes the “them” lies within our national boundaries, like criminals). And at least it’ll be more of a band-of-brothers group instead of a do-what-the-elders-say hierarchy. Knights of the Round Table.

  • “Turn on, tune in, drop out”

    I’ve been calling Roissy the new Timothy Leary for a while now.

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