Hippies and Punks: A model of change

The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.

– Antonio Gramsci (paraphrased)

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

– Buckminster Fuller1

I see two main schools of change amoungst activists, which I shall very grossly categorise as the hippies and the punks, because that’s how I first started to see it. You could just call it creation and destruction.

In this model, punks are people who are angry. They hate how things are and want to bring it down. The music is angry, the clothes are dark, and the attitude is aggressive.

The hippies also don’t like the ways things are, but their attitude is more of love for something better. Instead of fighting the system, they will build a new one. The clothes are soft and colourful, the music is peace or mantras.

On the destruction side, activities include:

  • Protest
  • Fighting cops, burning their cars and stations
  • Strike
  • Sabotage
  • Shutting down pipelines

On the creation side:

  • Building living communities
  • Cooking and feeding people
  • Developing technology
  • Offer healing, sound, dance, massage
  • Building refugee shelters

I tend to feel more on the creation side of things, but obviously both have their place, and are quite complimentary (in theory, even if there can be arguments in practice). For example, consider a squat. Who do you think cracks open the door, and who then does the cooking? :)

Something that bothers me about a lot of activists is that they seem to complain without offering an alternative, or even understanding what they are really asking for or how that would work. For example, in the film “The Corporation”, there is a section I found rather amusing in which some protestors visit the house of the CEO of Shell to do a banner drop. They end up having tea on the lawn and the CEO’s wife apologises that she has no soya milk. Other than being amused at the civility of this compared to recent protests in the US, it seemed to me that they had not considered what they were really asking.

Let’s say they got their way. The CEO realises his mistake, repents, and resigns. Then what? The next in line steps up and nothing changes. If he tries to do something helpful like stop oil production, he will be removed. The real solution is to stop giving money to Shell. That means there must be cheaper alternative energy sources before anything will change.

I don’t want to say that protest is useless. I think XR have succeeded in getting more people to take notice of climate change. In large enough volume, it might even have some policy influence. Politicians though can’t really do anything on their own. They are useless without engineers to actually build something better.

I know there is value to both sides, there is overlap, and punks do make things too. There is no need to fight me about an oversimplified model. Meanwhile, I shall probably continue to complain on the internet while failing to make anything much of use.

See also


1. As quoted in Beyond Civilization : Humanity’s Next Great Adventure (1999), by Daniel Quinn, p. 137