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The Electric Tea Party Acid Test

October 11th, 2010 - 3:40 pm

This is a memo to America’s hippies:

Tea Party values are hippie values.

You heard me right. The Tea Party is the one social movement in contemporary America that can rightfully claim to be the ideological heir to the original hippie movement that started in the mid-’60s. And because of this, all current hippies and ex-hippies should support the Tea Party, and by extension Tea Party candidates.

I’d like to have a private heart-to-heart talk with my fellow hippies here, so can the rest of you please stop reading now and leave us alone for a while? Thanks.

Let’s Rap

If you, as a hippie, think the thesis of this essay couldn’t possibly be true, you’ve been paying too much attention to the mainstream media. The Tea Party has been intentionally misrepresented, villainized and smeared by the powers-that-be. But this too is a feature that the Tea Party shares with hippies — the hippie movement was itself misrepresented and smeared by a different mainstream media over 40 years ago.

This essay will elucidate in a fresh way how Tea Partiers are the true heirs to the hippie ethos. When you’ve finished reading, you’ll see the Tea Party in a new light and (hopefully) understand that you may have been on the wrong side of the fence until now.

In short, the Tea Party and the hippie movement share four fundamental core values:

  • A craving for independence;
  • A celebration of individualism;
  • Joy in the freedom offered by self-sufficiency;
  • And an acceptance of the natural order of things.

The Real Political Spectrum

A necessary precursor to accepting any new worldview is to first jettison the previous worldview. So let’s start at the beginning: for the duration of this essay at least, pretend you’ve never heard of the left/right spectrum. Stick with me on this. As an intellectual exercise, just toss the notions of “left-wing” and “right-wing” out the window and begin your political education anew. Because it is this unnecessary (and now inaccurate) dichotomy between “left” and “right” which prevents most people from clearly conceptualizing the way that political thought is actually arrayed.

OK — is your mind clear? Now look at my newly conceptualized spectrum which schematizes political philosophies in a much more sensible and incisive way:

Now, I realize this may take a bit of getting used to. But soak it all in for a while as I explain.

The chart, as you can see, has not just one but two axes along which people’s worldviews are sprinkled:

The horizontal axis measures “government control,” ranging from a desire for less governmental power at one end of the scale, over to a desire for more governmental control at the other end of the scale. Most of you will understand this axis intuitively. But the vertical axis is a little more subtle, but also more eye-opening: it delineates people’s beliefs about human nature. At one end is the assumption that human nature is innate — that our personalities and other essential human attributes are built-in, unchangeable, and naturally occurring. At the other end is the belief that everything about humans is “constructed” — that we only are the way we are because of the particular cultural environment surrounding us, and that as a result people can be changed, through indoctrination, education, and/or alteration of the culture itself. I’ll expound on this more in a moment, but first I should explain the words in the ovals scattered across the chart.

Each oval contains the name of an ideology or social group positioned exactly where it fits on this new political spectrum. Note in particular the lower lefthand corner, where Hippies, the Tea Party, Libertarians and Hobos are all closely clustered together. That’s not random — they’re all near each other because their ideologies are in fact all similar.

(I include “hobos” and “bums” on the chart because the distinction between these two classic types illuminates the nature of the spectrum. In case you’re thinking that hobos and bums are just different words for the same thing, note: A hobo is an itinerant laborer who chooses homelessness because of the freedom it affords him, but who is proud of his self-sufficiency and will take temporary jobs to support himself wherever possible. A bum on the other hand is someone who is poor because he simply refuses to work or support himself, and instead is unashamed to survive on handouts and other people’s generosity. Because hobos celebrate individualism, freedom, independence and their own self-worth, they occupy the “sweet spot” at the bottom left corner of the spectrum, along with hippies and Tea Partiers. But since bums are essentially parasites on society and who survive on either formally or informally doled-out welfare, and often blame others for their predicament, they rightfully belong near the other end of the spectrum.)

On the right half of the chart are all the different varieties of political collectivism, or people who seek to impose or benefit from collectivist government. Those collectivists who think that human nature is malleable and a “cultural construct” are at the upper right; those collectivists who think that “people are the way they are” can be found at the lower right. What unifies the collectivist Nazis, Fascists and Islamists is not just their belief that humans have built-in attributes, but that their specific social, ethnic or religious group possesses built-in attributes superior to everyone else’s.

You will note that I neglected to include many political ideologies and social groups on the spectrum. That’s not an oversight. In fact, my original version of the spectrum did not include any groups whatsoever — I just wanted to introduce the idea of these two interlinked axes, and not clutter up the image with a bunch of other stuff. But I realized that some examples were needed for the illustration to be effective, so I placed some representative ideologies and identities at the appropriate places on the chart. Feel free to add your own. And if you think any particular group or philosophy is misplaced, you are encouraged to argue your case in the comments section — perhaps I’ll issue an updated version incorporating your additions and suggestions.

People who adhere to the outdated and overly simplistic left/right divide may have trouble grokking this new way of looking at society. Newsweek, for example, recently claimed that the Tea Party has an “anarchist streak.” I find this interesting, because the Newsweek writer understood that both Tea Partiers and anarchists are on the same end of the “Government Control” axis, but couldn’t grasp that, viewed from a different orientation, Tea Partiers are at the opposite end of the “Human Nature” axis from anarchists, who want to construct an (impossible) law-free utopia based on the assumption that people can change and control themselves in the absence of any authority whatsoever.

This brings up a good point: Scroll back up to the chart and think of it in terms of “halves.” Leftists want to highlight the fact the both Tea Partiers and Nazis are in the same “half” of the chart — the bottom half, as it is currently oriented (although of course the way I rotated the chart was completely random — there is no inherent meaning in the up-down-left-right placement, and I just as easily could have designed it to be 90 degrees or 180 degrees a different way). Of course, as mentioned above, the crucial difference is that Nazis and other totalitarians want to use government to enforce their idea of the natural order of things, whereas Tea Partiers have the exact opposite urge — to have no government enforcement at all, and to let the natural order of things play itself out — naturally.

On the other hand, The Tea Partiers (and I) want you to notice that all the “bad” ideologies, including Nazism and communism, also share space on the same half of the chart, in this case the “more government control” half.

So, the chart is viewpoint-neutral; each person can express their pre-existing political bias by pointing out how this-or-that political enemy is at least in the same half as some identifiably bad ideology. It just all depends on what angle from which you choose to view the spectrum.

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