"...this is the sort of poverty I mean. This is the grinding curse that keeps down noble aspiration under a load of ignoble care; this is the moral cancer that eats into the heart of an otherwise well-intentioned human creature and makes him envious and malignant....
When he sees the fat idle woman of society passing by in her luxurious carriage, lolling back lazily, her face mottled with the purple and red signs of superfluous eating - when he observes the brainless and sensual man of fashion smoking and dawdling away the hours in the park as if all the world and its millions of honest hard workers were created solely for the casual diversion of the so called upper classes - then the good blood in him turns to gall..."
The Sorrows of Satan (1895) by Marie Corelli
Man's desire to take what another has (especially when he has none) is part of him. Our religions urge us away from this primal impulse to take, but still it goes on every second of every day, eon after eon. And when the inequality of a group of humans becomes too great, the impulse is strengthened by numbers. Revolutions happen - with few exceptions, murderous bloodbaths to restore the "equality".
Governing bodies are cognizant of this problem. To subdue the dirty, starving masses they develop brutal regimes which keep the people at bay by means of terror. They also placate them with "bread and circuses"; distracting their feeble minds from the injustices. Yet, if the inequality is wide enough, no regime can withstand the tide of a population with nothing to lose.
In America, in the late 1960s, there was what you might call a peaceful revolution. Its epicenter was in Haight-Ashbury where the notion of a class system was an anathema. The denizens of this place believed that mankind's problem of inequality was solved. Instead of taking from one another by means of violence and deceit, we would give to one another out of love.
Unfortunately, it was an abject failure. The movement may have been well intentioned, but it was doomed from the start. To once and for all destroy the primal struggle of "taking from thy neighbor" would require a lot more than a community of idealists. The innate impulse to "take" versus "give" is the root of all wars and revolutions, of nearly every act of violence.... somehow we would lay down this primordial instinct in favor of living in peace, love and harmony? I think the fact that Charles Manson lived in the Haight says it all. A modest cultural movement will not change a Force of Nature; it was naive to think so. Especially in light of all the inherent cracks and fissures within the hippie movement from the very beginning.
Many of these hippies fit the "brainless and sensual man" described by Marie Corelli to a "T". Their lifestyle was supported by their parents, so they could afford to sit on their porches proclaiming the New Way. Meanwhile, the lower classes had to toil to put bread on the table. After all, unless you were on a commune, you still had to pay rent and feed yourself - this costs money. Many sold drugs to make ends meet, still more waited on checks from mom and dad.
Also consider the fact that the "lower classes" were being slaughtered on the battlefields half a world a way. They perhaps didn't have the educational background or finances to allow them to enter college. Thus, their blood fertilized the Asian jungles, while the hippies earned their degrees, preaching the New Way.
The hippie movement can also be regarded as a way to rationalize and even sanctify decadent behavior. Drugs were a way to enlightenment. Sex was an expression of liberation. The notion that these activities can have grave consequences wasn't on the table for discussion. It's one thing to recognize that there may be benefits to certain narcotics, it's another to "drop out". It's one thing to recognize that perhaps America was a bit repressed when it came to sexuality, it's another to think that sex comes without consequence.
Indeed, on the face of it, the hippie movement looked to be no more than an excuse to party. The paper-thin pretext of philosophical and spiritual enlightenment was exposed when the Baby Boomers abandoned this experiment in favor of materialism. By the 1980s, the hippie movement was no more than something to reminisce about, like a great big party. The Boomers had danced upon their idealism at the disco, crushing it to extinction, and then traded its carcass on Wall Street.
So, where does this leave mankind? The hippie failure shouldn't be a lesson in pessimism. Rather, it should be a lesson in reality - how Man operates. And any step in this direction is by definition "enlightenment".
Life is hard. You will have to spend a lot of it working your ass off. But if you have your head centered on what's important (your family, things you love - i.e. books, writing, religion, great architecture, poetry, helping others, biochemistry, you name it!) it can still be a great life.
Bad things happen. Everything you love will one day die, and unfortunately many will pass away during your lifetime. Accidents, disease, war, poverty.... they will always be with us. You cannot avoid them by drugs and sensual distractions. Grieve for your losses, and fight for your injustices... but do not deny that they exist. Pain is a part of life - accept it, and become a better person because of it.
Man is wired to take. Do your best to overcome this impulse buried deep within your brain stem. But recognize that most will fail. Thus, inequalities will exist and grow wider until man cannot abide it any longer. Recognize that when that day comes, it will not be a day of flowers and free-love, bur rather of day of tooth and claw.
So, go have a beer, hug your kids, kiss your wife, and count your blessings. Life is NOT short - yours is, but life is not.