Counter-Culture in a Counter-Cultural Society
“You are just a conformist if you are drunk and naked, driving around on a loud motorcycle, smoking cigarettes and breaking commandments, getting pregnant out of wedlock. Everyone has done that, it's so tired!”- Rebel by Lecrae
Note: This article may not be suitable for younger readers.
The year is 1956 and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl has just been released. The Beat Generation has arrived and the impact is going to be felt all the way to today. Beat Culture is focused around rejecting the standards and mainstream culture of its time. For the 1950s, this meant rejecting the capitalistic idea of needing to own everything possible, embracing experimentation with drugs, sexual liberation, and in general rejecting so-called “traditional” values. The Beat Generation questions organized religion and popularizes spirit quests.
These women and men were the great counter-culture of their time.
Fast forward, the year is 1967. It is the summer of free love. Inspired by the Beat Generation, the hippies stage anti-war protests. They reject consumerism like the Beat Generation, but it’s not escalated to a higher degree. It’s no longer enough to not attach too much importance to material goods. Now, if you want to fight “the man” you can’t even own or pursue such goods. Drug use becomes intertwined with sex. Western religion is labeled a lifestyle of repression.
These women and men are the counter-culture of their day.
Now consider today. Sexual liberation is not merely expected, it's demanded. It’s so common that it’s now become shameful and people feel awkward if they are virgins, because there is an expectation to have sexual relations with someone else even if you don't want to do so. The only debate regarding recreational drugs is which ones are safest to use. Material goods are still taboo, but spending whole days watching Netflix is the norm. Religion is accepted, but is considered something that belongs in the private sphere. Being theistic is seen as embracing rustic charm.
Who is the counter-culture of the contemporary west?
Well, since at least the 1960s, if you wanted to find the dominant culture you studied what advertising was doing. Sex sells is an old adage, but it's never been as true as it is now. In our current times, having intercourse as often as reasonably possible and having no shame about it is common. For many people, sex has now just become another semi-personal act, no different really than taking a shower: It'd be uncomfortable to have someone watch, but it's assumed (and even hoped) that everyone does it. Viewing pornography is so common that it's a not-uncommon subject of conversation. Participation in porn has skyrocketed as well. Hence the massive increase in individuals signing up for the pornographic sales site “OnlyFans." Finding a friend who hasn't taken nude photos of their own body and sent them to someone else is becoming rarer and rarer.
And so, in an odd twist of fate, there is nothing more radically counter-cultural right now when it comes to the human body than a formal rather than casual view of sex. Someone who attaches a very heavy meaning to engaging in a sex act with someone else is the odd-one-out. These everyday radicals do exist, incredibly. They stand against pornography, thinking that the view of their fully naked body should be something reserved only for those incredibly close to them. They view their own bodies and the bodies of others not as shameful (though that's a category the dominant culture often lumps them in with) but as sacred. They believe their bodies deserve special, undivided appreciation.
What about consumerism then? If the mainstream culture is to reject buying things while also binging on Netflix, then the counter-culturalist is someone who does the opposite of that. They consider their time precious. They practice extreme ownership. You can glimpse these everyday radicals repairing damaged items rather than tossing them out for new ones. They’re someone who knows the classic “handyman” skills and can actually fix things. They do watch Netflix from time to time, but they also read - and sometimes what they read convicts them that their lifestyle is too in-step with the dominant culture. They don't dismiss this guilt, they accept it and act upon it.
Drugs, while fast being embraced by the dominant culture, aren't completely there yet. Refusing to smoke weed isn't odd, but it's a bit uptight, isn't it? Refusing to misuse a prescription or try something new at a party isn't necessarily something that earns condemnation, but it's just a bit weird. Repression, says the dominant culture, is the best explanation for why these radicals behave this way. Occasionally, some are even so beyond-the-pale as to refuse to drink heavily - or even at all.
Finally, let’s broach the most touchy topic of them all, religion. A radical doesn't just attend church now and again, but they actually believe in its importance. Or perhaps they really do believe in the Seven Kalpa of Hinduism, and do actually believe all beings are Divine. These individuals are true radicals. Still others believe that Allah actually expects them to pray daily and practice sexual abstinence. This too is radical. But the truly counter-cultural are striking not just because they believe in something "beyond," but because they believe that their religious notions are right and good. This is greatly disturbing to the dominant culture.
I would like to clarify that I don’t think these things being mainstream culture is necessarily a bad thing.
Thanks to the surge of anti-religious peoples, there has been an increase of exposure of crime within religious organizations that would be otherwise protected. Thanks to drugs becoming more common, we have discovered an incredible plethora of various medical treatments that grant large quality of life improvements for people suffering from a wide variety of ailments. Sexual liberation laid groundwork for equal legal rights for formerly persecuted groups. Sexual liberation may also have played a part in the ongoing equal rights movement for women. The falling of importance of consumer goods has created a society where the quality of one’s character isn’t easily judged by their ownership of certain items.
There are few of us who could honestly point at the mainstream culture of today and not find something about it we cherish.
Yet perhaps the most interesting thing regarding today’s standards is how the future’s standards will change. The “Beat Generation” and “Hippies” of the past would fit in almost perfectly with most of today’s modern people. Conversely, the counter-cultural people of today, would fit in decently well with those of the societies of the past.
When the future looks back at today, will the cherish the same things as we did?