During the early part of the primary season, as Republican candidates had one of their debates, a small piece of legislation was in Congress that would establish a Woodstock museum. Supposedly the museum would begin being built during the 40th anniversary year of the music festival that ended the 1960’s. Of course Republicans took great pleasure in ridiculing this bill, especially John McCain who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam at the time. Setting aside the fact that his remarks could have illuminated the inherent baselessness of that past war, the general attitude of many Republicans and conservatives toward that era show that the basis of their ideology today is to refute the many movements and ideas of the 1960’s. The revolutions and dramatic change of that time are minimized in conservative rhetoric as part of a counter-revolution and restoration of the old order. These movements and ideas forty years ago were summed up by the counterculture, and what was missing in the ridicule is the fact that a counterculture always attempts to create a new society. The counterculture of the 1960’s in particular may not have completely succeeded, but it offered a template for future attempts and illustrates the need for a recurring counterculture as a phenomenon in the United States and the world.

One must begin with a concise definition of a counterculture. A counterculture is a set of social relationships for the sake of free agency and counter-narratives of the status quo. It is not historically predetermined, but is instead an empty space that facilitates new types of reciprocity and mutuality. Reciprocity can be defined as differential relationships of creditor and debtor, while mutuality is the completion of reciprocity into a state of equilibrium. Therefore, within a counterculture there is a development of a particular reciprocity into a general mutuality. In this context there is a conscious recognition of free agency within systems of power, meaning, and production with the use of counter-narratives in order to explain these systems. A counterculture is not necessarilly class based, but can be considered as a multitude which enacts collective free agency and attempts to regain constituent power.

The function of a counterculture is as an oppositional stance toward the mainstream culture. It poses a radical critique of ubiquitous assumptions, amplifying internal contradictions, and is a refusal to participate in the social systems. In the larger historical scope it serves as a social background for political movements such as that of peace, ecology, human rights, free speech, and economic justice that serve this opposition. Accompanying this is the creation of a new ethical relationship. This new ethics is based on the goals to know the self, to care for the self, and to tell the truth about the self. There would then be a subjective perspective on ethical practices in the objective world and an attempt to achieve an objective perspective on the self. Since ethics is initially discovered indirectly through the actions of others, it can be a transformation of the self in order to have access to knowledge. Ethics is limited, however, when the technologies of the self and identity are used as methods of discipline and control that are imposed upon the self and determining its definitions. Technologies of the self intervene into the ethical relationship with the self and prevent a complete ethics which would be the self-reflection of a united conscious and unconscious mental state. These various technologies are implemented by the preexisting mainstream culture and illustrates a vital part of the counterculture’s oppositional stance.

The counterculture acts out this opposition and new ethics through a new cultural production and consumption. Culture is produced by individuals, such as through works of art and symbols, but is internalized as a collective. For example, there is no such thing as a private use of language but individual humans can add on to and change an overall language over time. The gap between the production and consumption of culture allows cultural novelty where individuals and groups can offer something new to a system that appears to be eternal and all-pervasive. A counterculture makes the process of production and consumption more apparent and intentional in order to live a deliberate life in the new cultural formations. Mainstream culture obscures this process of production and consumption, and promotes a simultaneous appearance of cultural products that allows for the formation of a commodified spectacle. The simultaneous appearance obscures any type of causality which could be used by a counterculture to create something new. Understanding causality makes it possible for individuals to experiment, and that is one of the main methods of the counterculture.

A counterculture can be considered an example of a cultural renaissance in the broad historical and anthropological view. This would be a phenomenon that occurred primarily in America and Europe. It would take into consideration that there is a spectrum of countercultures, not just the specific hippies in the late 1960’s. This spectrum would include beats, mods, hippies, glams, and punks in that they all were a type of revival that opposed the status quo on a cultural terrain. There was a rebirth of various cultural forms to renew social relationships, with the possibility of a conscious incorporation at times of non-western cultural forms and rituals. A cultural renaissance would then result in heterogeneous creations in multiple art forms such as music, fashion, graphic design, literature, architecture, and film. For the 1960’s this revival was a personal expansion made possible by economic expansion of the nation-state, and as a particular set of actions there would be a reconnection with the larger mainstream society at particular points of the everyday. Those heavily engaged in a counterculture would still have a need for food, clothing, shelter, and health resources which gave the false impression that participants were lazy and parasites on the overall society. But the counterculture as an ongoing process could be seen as a creation of a new world in the shell of the old, where governmental power was not seized immediately but new social relationships were formed to make future political achievements possible.

In contrast, the counterculture could not be considered a cultural revolution such as occurred in China at roughly the same time. That was a united revolutionary movement that was also an erasure of older cultural forms to create a new society. Much was swept aside very suddenly with a conscious isolation and rejection of other cultural forms and rituals. There were more homogeneous creations in limited art forms that could otherwise be called propaganda that served the revolutionary state. The social consolidation was made possible by a political consolidation with the control of the traditional society in a general appropriation by the state. The preexisting culture that was affected by the cultural revolution naturally developed into the revolutionary society and its goals. All was subjected to an overriding historical determinism that did not address the need for new social relationships grown by people who felt alienated and estranged by the status quo. The new culture was created to serve the new political structure instead of being a background for new political procedures that could improve the human condition.

A counterculture as a cultural renaissance was a decentralization of the process of culture, while a cultural revolution was in turn a centralization of this process. For a counterculture, there was experimentation that could not be unified under dogma or ideology. The creation of new social relationships was a direct challenge to the establishment that could then stand on its own ability to function. The ideas of the commons and community emerge within the structures of the state and capitalism. The counterculture would emphasize the commons and community as an alternative to the market and the state where the commons and community would first pose a challenge and then begin the creation of something new. However, subsumption of the commons and community occurs in the gap between the intial challenge and the space of creation. In other words, these alternatives are reconditioned to serve the goals of the market and the state which support the older society and its reproduction. Each manifestation of a counterculture makes an attempt at an existence outside of the systems of power, meaning, and production. It is an emergence from various specific political, social, and economic struggles without any overriding standardization. The various struggles may be united in opposition but there are a diversity of characteristics based on the inherent unique nature of individuals. Diverse and specific oppositions are articulated through the method of the commons and community, and the diverse oppositions are a refusal to exist within and perpetuate the systems of power, meaning, and production.

Each experiment enacted within a counterculture has a goal of justice. This justice would be a balance between equality and freedom that encompasses various choices and thought by individuals and collectives. Individuals and collectives are simultaneous in this equality and freedom, one not necessarily determining the other. Democracy is the process for this equality and freedom that would have as its goal various truths and actions. The products of democracy would enact the choices and thought of the counterculture. These experiments, especially in the 1960’s, were the recurring creations of constituent power within the linear flow of history that always challenged the constituted power that imposed authority. This challenge to authority brought out the tension between elites and empowerment. Elites are the product of hierarchy within structures and are the hegemony of the establishment. Political, cultural, and economic elites perpetuate structures through self-interest and ideology, making these structures appear overwhelming. Empowerment is expressed through the multitudes outside of structures and is the inherent affinity within countercultures. The empowerment that results is a disruption of the structures of power, meaning, and production.

As seen by the actions and rhetoric of the conservative movement, as soon as it occurred there was a disputing of the counterculture and what it stood for. As it expressed itself, the counterculture was an opposition to the commodified spectacle of capitalism in the late 20th century. This meant it was a rejection of the alienation of modern culture which consisted of passive production and passive consumption. Regardless of its long-term success or failure, the counterculture attempted to create an authentic culture outside of modernity. This was an active creativity and a transgressive enjoyment, but was seen as destructive and nihilistic by the establishment. The critique of the counterculture was actually assisted by its subsumption by the commodified spectacle. Despite the effort to resist, capitalism turned the individual acts into mass produced copies which in turn served the overall cultural form of late capitalism by reproducing it. Unique characteristics were eventually eroded by market exchange, and the various objects that symbolized the counterculture were transformed into commodities that anyone could consume regardless of whether they were full and authentic participants in the disruptive traits of the counterculture. This made it easier for the counterculture to be seen as self-indulgent and arrogant by the establishment in a long-term evaluation.

What is vital, in order to challenge the decades of criticism and derision, is to fully conceptualize the experience and reality of the counterculture as it occurred in the 1960’s. The experience of the counterculture must be seen from the internal perspective within history as actually lived. The counterculture was a combination of private improvement and public improvement, an exploration into the self alongside activism in social movements. However, any private improvement without public improvement is then directed toward small partial objects of desire that supports the commodification of culture. On the other hand, public improvement without private improvement is then directed toward the perpetuation of structures of power, meaning, and production that supports the transcendent category of ideology. The reality of the counterculture must be judged from an external perspective that looks back at the historical period overall. It existed on the border between authentic existence and commodified spectacle where various aspects could have fallen either way, and the dissolution of the counterculture in its effectiveness was caused by this borderline and unstable position. But it still was an engagement in valid social movements as a challenge to the status quo. It was this criticism of power that was the real reason for the criticism of the counterculture. The establishment initiated a backlash in order to silence and discredit the real challenge the counterculture posed, not because the traditions or sense of normality was valid or superior.

When looking back at the counterculture of the 1960’s, and at countercultures overall, there is a serious question as to whether a utopian outlook is productive on a political and social level. There are necessary arguments for and against utopianism. An orientation toward a future utopia meant creating the ideal future in the present and a full use of the imagination in this vision of the future. But, it required a reliance on the good intentions of those involved. This gave the impression that the counterculture was submerged in a naive idealism that made it a target of criticism. However, an orientation toward present practices meant creating improvement on the present problems for the sake of the future. This full use of creativity in preparation for the future also was an expectation of the real motives and interests of those involved. In other words, it was possible to look toward the future by evaluating and using the present instead of relying on hope for the future. The historical status of the counterculture demonstrates the past convergence of the counterculture with popular forms of public life in a mass form. It was widespread across the social field. But the present evaluation shows a retroactive divergence of the social and the political, splitting the social and political efforts of the counterculture that allows the consumption of various objects and symbols without the committed activism or resisting thought. The counterculture still exists but is now isolated into autonomous spheres that are usually known as alternative subcultures. There can still be the future intersection of these different modes of the counterculture when needed, and will proabaly be done through an underground communication to avoid the deteriorating effects of a commodified culture. The Green Party, as a child of the 1960’s, must understand the dynamics of the counterculture in order to understand the future of the counterculture. The utopian ideals which were the fuel of the counterculture were stimulated by the mass form, creating open possibilities. But these utopian goals are to be rejected over time as unfeasible in order to avoid being the subject of criticism. Any future incarnation of a widespread counterculture must be based on practical goals that can continue beyond the mass form. The ability to achieve these goals must begin with real everyday problems and offer solutions that transform the structure of society. In this respect, the methodology of the Green Party is a completion of the counterculture not as it has been portrayed but as it happened. It is the introduction of the new in the social and the political that goes beyond the initial euphoria of the times, but for a political party like the Greens it is the retention of the real spirit and purpose of the 1960’s.