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Richard Barbrook
Andy Cameron
Wired
Californian Ideology
neo-liberalism
John Perry Barlow
Louis Rossetto


Ronald Reagan v. the hippies
part 2

On 15 May 1969, Governor Ronald Reagan ordered armed police to carry out a dawn raid against hippie protesters who had occupied People's Park near the Berkeley campus of the University of California. During the subsequent battle, one man was shot dead and 128 other people needed hospital treatment [6]. On that day, the 'straight' world and the counter-culture appeared to be implacably opposed. On one side of the barricades, Governor Reagan and his followers advocated unfettered private enterprise and supported the invasion of Vietnam. On the other side, the hippies championed a social revolution at home and opposed imperial expansion abroad. In the year of the raid on People's Park, it seemed that the historical choice between these two opposing visions of America's future could only be settled through violent conflict. As Jerry Rubin, one of the Yippie leaders, said at the time:

'Our search for adventure and heroism takes us outside America, to a life of self-creation and rebellion. In response, America is ready to destroy us...' [7]

During in the '60s, radicals from the Bay Area pioneered the political outlook and cultural style of New Left movements across the world. Breaking with the narrow politics of the post-war era, they launched campaigns against militarism, racism, sexual discrimination, homophobia, mindless consumerism and pollution. In place of the traditional left's rigid hierarchies, they created collective and democratic structures which supposedly prefigured the libertarian society of the future. Above all, the Californian New Left combined political struggle with cultural rebellion. Unlike their parents, the hippies refused to conform to the rigid social conventions imposed on 'organisation man' by the military, the universities, the corporations and even left-wing political parties. Instead they openly declared their rejection of the straight world through their casual dress, sexual promiscuity, loud music and recreational drugs [8].

The radical hippies were liberals in the social sense of the word. They championed universalist, rational and progressive ideals, such as democracy, tolerance, self-fulfillment and social justice. Emboldened by over twenty years of economic growth, they believed that history was on their side. In sci-fi novels, they dreamt of 'ecotopia': a future California where cars had disappeared, industrial production was ecologically viable, sexual relationships were egalitarian and daily life was lived in community groups [9]. For some hippies, this vision could only be realised by rejecting scientific progress as a false God and returning to nature. Others, in contrast, believed that technological progress would inevitably turn their libertarian principles into social fact. Crucially, influenced by the theories of Marshall McLuhan, these technophiliacs thought that the convergence of media, computing and telecommunications would inevitably create the electronic agora - a virtual place where everyone would be able to express their opinions without fear of censorship [10]. Despite being a middle-aged English professor, McLuhan preached the radical message that the power of big business and big government would be imminently overthrown by the intrinsically empowering effects of new technology on individuals.

'Electronic media...abolish the spatial dimension... By electricity, we everywhere resume person-to-person relations as if on the smallest village scale. It is a relation in depth, and without delegation of functions or powers... Dialogue supersedes the lecture.' [11]

Encouraged by McLuhan's predictions, West Coast radicals became involved in developing new information technologies for the alternative press, community radio stations, home-brew computer clubs and video collectives. These community media activists believed that they were in the forefront of the fight to build a new America. The creation of the electronic agora was the first step towards the implementation of direct democracy within all social institutions [12]. The struggle might be hard, but 'ecotopia' was almost at hand.

 
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