November 27, 2004

Not so much a howl as a low murmur

Posted by Curt at 06:46 AM in Ramblings | TrackBack

I’ve only met one real hippie in Paris. Some of the American students I know here would have been surprised by that upon first arriving here. One in particularly, a friend of one of my friends back at school, much attached to wearing plaid sport jackets with corduroys and basketball shoes, a champion of the harmonica as a respectable instrument and, of course, still trying to act as a latter-day John the Baptist for Bob Dylan, I think expected more. I imagine he thought that the absence of large numbers of fundamentalist Christians and Republicans, combined with the usual French attitude towards our most obvious sacred cows meant that France would be a paradise of free love, joint-smoking on the sidewalks and philosophy mixed with jam sessions: in other words, the American college experience without disapproval from the elders. Well, the girls are out of range, the philosophy comes rapidly but angrily and smoking a splif (no real joints here) in public will practically get you sent to the military brig. I’ve almost come to think that obsessive rule-abiding here is itself the source of the need for periodic revolutions. After all, if the government hadn’t still been persecuting Jews in 1904 in the name of the official Catholic religion, the public might not have instigated the massive public backlash which led to the establishment of official secularism. It may be that if one does not bend the rules constantly, they become brittle more often, and must be broken and re-formed. It’s a form of progress which is more official and less personal.

Anyway, naturally the only hippie I’ve met here was an American. I was at a party hosted by a number of Italian political science students in some back-alley in the 15th, one of those overlooked residential neighborhoods between les Invalides and the river.

A Spanish girl I was talking to said: “Oh, but there’s another American here!” I suppose expecting me to be thrilled, because, after all, Americans come to live in France to meet more Americans. But I had to admire the sheer anachronism before me. I thought I might be having an imagined memory of meeting my youngest uncle back in the ’60s, maybe shortly after he got married in a Hawaiian shirt in a Buddhist ceremony on some hill-top. He wasn’t in France legally, he said (I suppose he would have been ashamed if he was). I bit my lip as he related the wonders of self-discovery to be found in Hermann Hesse, and advised me to consult “the teachings of the Native Americans.” Only the North Americans, he helpfully qualified, since “the South American cultures were fucked-up” (I think Samuel Huntington, Pat Buchanan and maybe one or two others may possibly share this view). The Native American tribes, you see, had devised the perfect social system. No more risking the huge errors that can result from electing leaders by means of popularity contest, or the similarly low probability of decent leadership arising from the uninterrupted line of progeny in a hereditary lineage. No, the Native Americans simply adopted the most blatantly obvious means of securing good leadership by always selecting the wisest member of the tribe as chief. What simplicity! What genius! As for man’s individual search for meaning, he earnestly enjoined me to study Buddhism. The confusion of values and truth in our present age is illusory. Norhing can be more easily resolved: according to the Buddha, all truth is necessarily incomplete. It is only by taking one belief and its antithesis that we can perceive the truth (Hegelian dialectic sounds so much less romantic). The contradiction between our beliefs and the converse is a guarantor of the truth that lies within them! Now I would never dismiss the possibility of these ideas, but does it not at least seem likely that the chiefs of Native American tribes had a vested interest in propogating the belief that the leaders are always the wisest members of the tribe, and that taking contradiction as a principle of truth makes only the truth untrue?


I think the hippie is full o' bull. I'm no expert on Indians, but my understanding was that leadership of the Plains Indians was determined by the amount of bravery and prowess exhibited in battle. That was one reason Indians made war, to prove valor in order to merit leadership. I don't know what this had to do with wisdom. Ask Pat Tillman.
Applying this to our life, we should have elected Kerry, who took some scalps, not Bush who stayed home and just practiced. Only Kerry ruined his chances by trying to have it both ways and smoking too many peace pipes.

Posted by: Dave at December 6, 2004 08:58 PM