Can Society Really Limit our Freedom?

We were all educated to believe that extravagant attitudes are severely punished by the social milieu, just as they are in the family. Retaliations of all sorts have led us to absolute marginalization, to loneliness and misery associated to contempt and disrespect. Is that really a fact? Or does it merely constitute a menace with the purpose of intimidation, to make us cower away?

I do not believe that it is very easy to answer this question, especially because examples of a practical order are very scarce, and often not very significant.

For instance, the rebellion of youngsters against established social patterns is usually carried out helter-skelter and without much critical consistence; they simply act in the opposite direction of what society proposes, with an emotional flair to demonstrate independence – an attitude only necessary to those who are not independent – more than out of disagreement with conventional patterns. They are treated with a mixture of repression and condescendence, for it is expected that their unconventional attitudes will not last long, as is usually the fact. Others choose a different route, clearly of a delinquent nature, acting aggressively against others or practicing common crimes – robbery, for example; these behaviors are very frequently made easy by the systematic use of drugs, something that has nothing in common with the proposition of human liberty that it is my intention to describe.

I believe that some observations would come in handy about the most consequent movement of youngsters in recent times, which took place in the sixties. Hippies represented a generation of people who rebelled against their perception of the direction in which Western society was heading: new wars for very doubtful causes and the aggravation of the unbridled quest for consumer goods, activating competition among men and pulling them apart from each other. I do not believe that it was a very well organized movement, and we should not disregard personal motivation for their attitudes (a desire to avoid going to war, a fascination with the incipient sexual liberation etc.). Yet, a critical attitude about the established social order was installed and many were the followers of this position in Western culture. These youngsters were characterized by the refusal to participate in the economical, social and even cultural life of society, positioning themselves passively in opposition to their milieu: they crossed their arms, enjoyed a more contemplative life, dedicated themselves to growing an external appearance that distinguished them from their social class and, in many aspects, emulated the life style of beggars.

They roamed the world as wanderers, mostly Eastward bound, both on account of the more contemplative posture which they tried to replicate, as for the facilities of access to certain drugs (especially marijuana) to which they resorted frequently, perhaps to better endure their lack of occupation (a very difficult thing for people of a more intelligent nature). Finally, they did everything in a very antagonistic manner to what was expected of them and were subjected to very little external sanctions.

They definitely did not live in a solitary manner; on the contrary, they tried many forms of community life, valid although unsuccessful experiences. The boys did not remain without female companions and sexual partners; on the contrary, many were the girls – the more beautiful and intelligent ones – who were enchanted and devoted their love and friendship to them. Their families reprehended them but at the same time felt a tinge of admiration – easily converted into envy. The phenomenon extinguished itself more for inner reasons (lack of occupation and exaggerated use of drugs) than as a consequence of external pressures.

Translated by: Norma Blum