In Defense of Dirty Hippies

by admin on November 2, 2011

The soul of this country has always been nurtured by people more interested in freedom than in regular baths: revolutionaries, pioneers, cowboys, Henry Thoreau and Walt Whitman all lived in sweat and dirt.


Ever notice?


Yet in mainstream media I see a sentiment expressed time and time again: the Occupy movement would be great if it wasn’t just a bunch of dirty hippies.  The implied notion is that to be dirty (presumably to be relatively unwashed- clothes muddied, hair greasy) and to be a hippy (someone committed to ideals of peace, equality, justice– someone more interested in love than in profit) are cardinal, unforgivable sins.


This attitude, popular as it is, is itself a sign of the incredible mental and moral distortion that our country is suffering.


The notion that dirty hippies are wrong and bad for the fact of being dirty and being hippies is a weird, dislocated and perverse remnant of the protestant-puritan work ethic ideal. It’s a notion that pretends to defend the dignity of clean, hard-working, upright people who live by the rules and produce the goods.  These clean, decent people (we are meant to imagine) are being harassed and put-upon by folks who are so lazy and good-for-nothing that they refuse to even take a bath. The image of the dirty hippy is raised up as a resented foil— how dare someone relax their mandated hygiene schedule? How dare someone adopt principles that aren’t supportive of the existing paradigm when I have to shave and shower and get up for work in the morning?”


In a bizarre manipulative twist, people learn to hate and revile those individuals who are doing their best to live outside the oppressive system (those damn dirty hippies) rather than the oppressive, corrupt system itself.


Here’s something to consider, America: dirty hippies aren’t stealing your money; dirty hippies aren’t bleeding you dry with debt; dirty hippies didn’t get billion dollar bail-outs from the federal government.  Who does that? Oh, that’s right– all those squeaky-clean, ultra-respectable bankers, that’s who.  Out-of-control banks and corporations are the real threat to American decency and prosperity, not people who like to listen to Bob Marley and beat on drums.


Also, I’d like to advance a notion which may seem radical: the dirty hippies in my acquaintance are the hardest working people I know. They just don’t work for corporations.  Instead they work doing things directly for the people immediately around them: caring for children, cooking donated food for free distribution to big groups, waitressing at small restaurants, building sacred art installations, teaching yoga, organizing community groups, skillfully repairing cars and musical instruments and clothing that others have discarded.  All of those things take intense amounts of work.


That’s why I find it powerfully ironic when folks shout “Get a job!” at the Occupy Pittsburgh protesters standing with signs on the corner of 6th Avenue and Grant. As if a job was in itself an unassailable value.  As if the vast majority of jobs weren’t repetitive, alienating, soul-deleting. No one needs a job. But we all need meaningful work and support to live.


Work is important. Work is tremendously valuable.  Work is labor directed in such a way that the whole community benefits.  That’s the kind of work that the puritan forefathers valued: work that kept the village alive and prospering.  Labor done in the service of a gigantic corporation is not work in this sense.  It doesn’t put value into the community so much as it extracts it.  All those laboring in these kids of jobs are left feeling depleted, drained, purposeless.  Their work has no obvious benefit to their community aside from the pay check it brings, and that is ever-shrinking. The value of their work floats off into the hands of their corporate overlords rather than extending to their children, their friends, their neighbors.


So then what happens? People become filled with ennui.  They turn to pornography, drugs (both psychiatric and recreational– the distinction is perhaps not that substantial), alcohol, over-eating (witness the obesity epidemic), inane television.  Anything to numb the pain of not being free, of not being allowed to live as their souls dictate.  D.H. Lawrence said that people think freedom means being able to do whatever you want– but it doesn’t really mean that. Freedom means the ability to obey your own soul rather than an external authority, and it’s an ability that can be cultivated and exercised even in the most adverse conditions, even in conditions that mean it might be hard for you to wash your clothes and get a bath if you chose to obey your soul.


But that’s just the kind of freedom that dirty hippies are exercising, and they’re doing it on behalf of all of us.  They deserve our gratitude much more than our scorn.





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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenni November 2, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I am what I am and if a dirty hippie is what I am well than I am. Can’t be any worse than being called a dirty savage for my Native American Indian blood. Or being called a wetback for my Hispanic last name. If only more people were hippies, than they would realize that their words and actions are only destroying this country more and more. Wishful thinking on my part I know but, that’s what we “dirty” people do we bathe ourselves in clean, positive, pure thoughts.


admin November 2, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I hear you Jen– I think that more and more people ARE on the verge of becoming hippies as they realize that the systems they’ve been buying into are purely, bald-facedly screwing them. When you wake up to the fact that you’re being utterly and truly stomped on by the powers that be, you can begin to adopt values and perspectives that challenge those powers.


Heedless Ceramics (@HeedlessCeramic) November 2, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I sooo agree :) I think of all of the heroes sleeping out in the cold tonight..


admin November 2, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Right on! All the Occupy campers are totally heroes. ;)


Carmon Elliot November 3, 2011 at 12:51 am

Well written. you should send it to the Press: Post Gazette, Trib, City Paper….maybe write a book RE; The Occupy Movement, from the inside.


admin November 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Thanks Dad. I’m not so much into conventional print media, but I’ll think about it.


Maria November 3, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Hi Carolyn!

Interesting post. Have you read the “work the system” book?

The author had also started out as a hippie (he was in woodstock!), and explains how his perspectives changed over the years, and how he defines “holistic” and “peace” now vs. before.

This book is all about working in the system, outside the system, etc. You could check out this interview:


admin November 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Thanks for the link, Maria! It’s certainly a complex bunch of things to think about.


Lucy@dreamingaloud November 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Well said. I shall be sharing this with the dirty hippies over at Dreaming Aloud!


admin November 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Thanks Lucy!


Sharon Knight November 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Also, the Occupy movement is far more than just “Dirty Hippies”. There are soldiers, soccer moms, the elderly, teachers, etc. etc. I think “dirty Hippies” gets hurled at the entire movement as a way to demean it and try to minimize it. It’s not going to work.


admin November 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

That’s absolutely true, Sharon. The movement is huge and inclusive of folks from all walks of life. But there are also plenty of genuine folks who wear their hair in dreads and don’t make showering a priority. I guess I just wanted to say that I love those folks and that they’re great, damn it.


Tanja November 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Interesting post, Carolyn. I think any time people are threatened by an idea, they come up with derogatory names to reduce the people who subscribe to that idea. It’s a way of avoiding thinking about it – avoiding the need to examine what they currently believe and where it might be flawed.

Sometimes, digging down into more detail around the names they come up with can be enlightening, and I think you’ve raised some really important points in this post by doing just that.


admin November 5, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Thanks so much, Tanja! You’re certainly right– in many cases folks will come up with whatever mental moves required to keep themselves from having to allow in actual new information. ;)


Jo November 7, 2011 at 11:48 am

I agree with Sharon in that the media is not showing the full range of the occupy movement. By only showing footage of “dirty hippies” or the black bloc, they are trying to alienate the public from the movement.

But they seem to be failing – did you hear that over 1 million people moved their bank accounts from corporate banks to credit unions over the past week! Wow!!


Ellie Di November 7, 2011 at 1:51 pm

I’ve got a lot of conflict (internally and in social circles) revolving around the Occupy Movement, so I’ll refrain from commenting directly on that because it won’t make any sense. But what I DO want to comment on is the sentiment of this post. “Dirty hippies” aren’t bad people, and their end goals are the same as the people shouting at them – everyone wants a better world. It always hurts me deeply whenever people forget this. While protesting may or may not make a difference in these strange and somewhat scary times, the only way any progress will be made is if we can stop calling each other names and work together as people.


admin November 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Hi Ellie– I hear you. It hurts me, too, when people are so confused as to forget that in our hearts we all want the same thing– a joyful world for all.

I’m interested to hear, though, about the nature of your conflicts regarding the movement. My perspective is one of total enthusiasm, so it could illumine me to hear from someone I respect about their reservations.



Marla @ Your Full Plate November 8, 2011 at 9:32 pm

“Who does that? Oh, that’s right– all those squeaky-clean, ultra-respectable bankers, that’s who.” You’ve done it again. Carolyn, I have been thinking so much lately about what exactly my place is in the shift that is going on right now. I don’t have any answers yet, but these posts you’ve been writing remind me of what’s important. Thank you.


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