The third wave of the counterculture
The Making of a Counter Culture announced the civilizational turning point. The eco-communitarian “new paradigm” sensibility was, almost amazingly, all there from the beginning, all at once. The impetus for it had built up gradually, of course, from Rousseau and Thoreau and Goodman and Mumford, but the ideas congealed kind of suddenly and dramatically during “the Sixties.”
And so the counterculturalists tried to set off (Go, take a sister, then, by the hand / Lead her away from this foreign land / Far away … where we can laugh again / We are leaving, you don’t need us); tried to establish communities (Free Vermont, the New Buffalo commune in Taos); tried to live differently, bioregionally, with an economics based on a new kind of anarchism:
E. F. Schumacher’s work belongs to that subterranean tradition of organic and decentralist economics whose major spokesmen include Prince Kropotkin, Gustav Landauer, Tolstoy, William Morris, Gandhi, Lewis Mumford, Paul Goodman, and Murray Bookchin. It is the tradition we might call anarchism, if we mean by that much abused word a political economy that distinguishes itself from orthodox socialism and capitalism by insisting that the scale of organization must be treated as an independent and primary problem. The tradition, while closely affiliated with socialist values, nonetheless prefers mixed to “pure” economic systems. It is therefore hospitable to many forms of free enterprise and private ownership, provided always that the size of private enterprise is not so large as to divorce ownership from personal involvement and community oversight, which is, of course, now the rule in most of the world’s administered capitalisms. Bigness is the nemesis of anarchism, whether the bigness is that of public or private bureaucracies, because from bigness comes impersonality, insensitivity, and a lust to concentrate abstract power. Hence, Schumacher’s title, Small Is Beautiful. He might just as well have said “small is free, efficient, creative, enjoyable, enduring” — for such is the anarchist faith.
Reaching backward, this tradition embraces communal, handicraft, tribal, gild, and village lifestyles as old as the neolithic cultures. In that sense, it is not an ideology at all, but a wisdom gathered from historical experience. In our own time, it has reemerged spontaneously in the communitarian experiments and honest craftsmanship of the counterculture, where we find so many desperate and often resourceful efforts among young dropouts to make do in simple, free, and self respecting ways amid the criminal waste and managerial congestion. How strange that this renewed interest in ancient ways of livelihood and community should reappear even as our operations researchers begin to conceive their most ambitious dreams of cybernated glory. And yet how appropriate. For if there is to be a humanly tolerable world on this dark side of the emergent technocratic world system, it will surely have to flower from this still fragile renaissance of organic husbandry, communal households, and do it yourself technics whose first faint outlines we can trace through the pages of publications like the Whole Earth Catalog, the Mother Earth News, and the People’s Yellow Pages. And if that renaissance is to have an economist to make its case before the world, E. F. Schumacher is the man. Already his brilliant essay “Buddhist Economics” has become a much read and often reprinted staple of the underground press. It would be no exaggeration to call him the Keynes of postindustrial society, by which I mean (and Schumacher means) a society that has left behind its lethal obsession with those very megasystems of production and distribution which Keynes tried so hard to make manageable.
[the above was written by Theodore Roszak, the same visionary who wrote The Making of a Counter Culture]
Ideas can sometimes congeal suddenly (like what happened in the wake of The Feminine Mystique), but lifeways can’t change suddenly. The first countercultural wave lasted about fifteen years and then (suddenly!), dissipation — we were in the age of Reagan. But the countercultural ideas continued to percolate. They were deepened and refined. The glory days of the second wave were circa 1985–1995: deep ecology, social ecology, bioregionalism, Green politics, the ecovillage idea; coherent critiques of development, the Technosphere, and leftism. But it was still mostly theoretical and utopian.
Now we are in the third wave. More down-to-earth. More mature. More sophisticated in orientation and presentation (recognizing that to talk in terms of ‘anarchism’ is counter-productive; we can convey essentially the same thing with more appealing verbiage, such as ‘communitarianism’). The ecovillage as a real thing, an incremental thing, a relatable model. “New culture” ideas creeping from the margins to the mainstream. Real steps on the long pathway toward the greening of society, toward a sustainable and sane future.
A sense that we’re now taking the first ten solid and permanent steps on a road of a thousand.