Neohippies or Neo-Orthodox?

Daniel writes, in relation to a short essay in The Spectator:

It was interesting to read Reihan’s discussion of the new hippies, but as much as I enjoy his ongoing one-man war against the Prius and his energetic denunciation of Planet Green–a channel that seems to inspire mockery and loathing across the spectrum–I was surprised that he made no direct references to the convergence of hippie and traditionalist values or the moves (and false starts) of socially conservative greens (or green social conservatives). The “crunchy cons” are one example of this, but along with them would be the broader array of neo-agrarians, Wendell Berry devotees and Christian homeschooling families. Reihan briefly alluded to homeschooling families, but took it no further. There is to some extent a cultural overlap between hippies, greens and American converts to Orthodoxy that is a very small phenomenon in American society, but I think it is representative of a more general trend within socially conservative Christian churches in the rising cohort of 18-29 year olds. I would be interested to hear where Reihan thinks these people fit into his analysis.

I pledge to never attack the Prius again! It occurred to me to reference “crunchy cons.” As a friend of Rod Dreher, I’m convinced that the phenomenon is real and appealing in its own way. But I wrote the piece while in the Bay Area, and I think that a certain kind of secure post-materialism can, pace Daniel, endure.

Ultimately, it seems to me that a “revival of hippie values” will not create an enduring post-materialism, because a diffuse “hippie” culture on its own has no stable spiritual foundation, and because there is no particular rationale for the ascetic discipline that such post-materialism requires.

I guess I had in mind a less ascetic discipline and more a renewed emphasis on family, friends, and independence — so the neohippie revival can range from highly-educated ex-professionals literally living in a camper in the desert to highly-educated ex-professionals choosing to live in houses with victory gardens in gritty neighborhoods and buying very few non-durable goods out of (soft) environmentalist conviction. The latter is a fairly familiar phenomenon, but it is, I think, meaningfully different from, say, affluent Park Slope grups who eagerly take part in all kinds of status competitions in which money is the essential currency, as opposed to the offbeat status competitions that Clay Shirky, Tim Lee, and Julian Sanchez were mulling over at TPMCafe.

I’ll add that James Poulos makes an excellent point:

Especially given the development of internet technology that’s well wired into the real world, neo-hippies who ‘head for the hills’ can expect to live crunchy, earthy lives of unprecedented cosmopolitanism. Reihan reads hippie values as inimical to overlarge houses. Correct, but what about his other example — custom cabinets, which might be constructed with loving attention and artisanal care? It’s not entirely clear where hippie-inimical materialism ends and hippie-friendly materialism begins. This is why hippie culture was able to reintegrate into capitalist culture. And this is a good thing, because the alternatives are far worse (e.g., permanent cultural war between the Cleans and the Filthies.)

I chose these words very carefully — the bobo-driven return of labor-intensive durable goods is a key driver of the changing consumption picture, i.e., skyrocketing inflation for the rich and near-rich. This is definitel bobo-friendly materialism, and perhaps hippie-friendly materialism too — but I suppose I imagine the hippies building the cabinets themselves rather than contracting out the work. Or I imagine them having a friend build the cabinets in exchange for tutoring or babysitting or a place to crash for a couple of months.

I took a slightly sarcastic tone at the close of the piece.

I’m by no means convinced that consumerism and inequality are the worst things in the world, or that we are hurtling towards environmental doom. But wouldn’t it be nice if all those who believed these things to be true moved to bucolic communes where they’d busy themselves with handicrafts instead of tormenting the rest of us?

So I should note that I’m very sympathetic to the neohippies, and am of half a mind to join them. I definitely overconsume, but I do feel guilty about it, and I’ve tried to minimize my footprint. Actually, I have really small feet, which helps.