Back in the 1960s, some people decided to say "no" to convention and "yes" to pleasure. That meant dropping societal taboos against sexual freedom and drugs and setting up a new kind of communal order where you could "do your own thing."
The hippies, as they were called, were widely lampooned in the media, including the Peter Sellars film "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas" and the TV show "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.'' But at the heart of their movement, as portrayed in their own underground presses, there was a search for better ways for humans to live.
That's all included in "The Hippies and American Values," a new book by Timothy Miller, a Kansas University assistant professor of religious studies.
"THERE WAS a sense of pulling at the boundaries, of exploring doing some things differently that were inherent in the culture," Miller said during a recent interview. "It was a time when people wanted to strike out and boldly look at different things.''
Miller said he wrote the book after he examined hundreds of '60s underground newspapers as part of his ongoing research into U.S. communal and religious groups. The book itself took about two years to write, and it was published by the University of Tennessee Press. He said he was somewhat surprised that his research would be taken up by a university publisher.
"The editor sent it out to be reviewed, and she got two responses," he said about his manuscript. "One was pretty favorable, and the other was ecstatic, he (the reviewer) said we really needed something like this and that he'd use it as a textbook. So they went ahead and published it.''
MILLER'S TEXT looks at five aspects of hippie culture: drugs, sex, rock 'n' roll and protest. He separates the hippies from '60s radicals who went on to establish the New Left: The hippies were more concerned with going off and starting afresh rather than overhauling the existing political structure.
"There's a lot of '60s stuff being done, but almost all of it is on the politics of the New Left, such as the riots in Chicago in '68," he said. "Very little is being done on the culture of the hippies, so I'm pretty much out by myself.''
His purpose, as outlined in the book, is to figure out just what the hippies wanted to do and what norms they created to live by. Just because the hippies dropped out of conventional society did not mean they lacked ideals.
"ETHICS HAS to do with the normative, or standard behaviors in a society," he said. "It deals with all the great problem areas of human behavior. The hippies went against the grain, certainly, of the prevailing ethical system. But as for the things that are beyond debate, like simple codes of decency and treating people well, the hippies were trying to maximize those things.''
Sexual freedom was one main tenet of hippie life, but mid-'60s hippies reflected sexist attitudes of the society as a whole. They also advocated using drugs such as marijuana and LSD to expand the mind, although many spoke against other drugs, such as heroin, that were perceived as more destructive, according to the book.
BUT ONE of the strongest beliefs among hippies was establishing a non-materialistic new community where people could help each other. The communities were in reaction to a society deemed as dehumanized and devoid of spirituality, the book states.
"Whatever the stories of success or failure of specific communes, the counterculture retained its dedication to the ideal of community," Miller wrote. "Though some communes did not last long, the general feeling (or rationalization) was that `all of the communities were successful for what was learned in them.'''
ACCORDING TO the book, the hippies as a mass movement effectively ended in 1970. Some communes survived, however, including a large one called The Farm located in Tennessee.
The hippies' ideas about finding self-fulfillment in physical pleasure can also be seen as contributing to the '80s, which pop culture has characterized as a materialistic and greedy era.
"They were far less materially oriented, but certainly the idea of `do your own thing' influenced the materialism of the '80s," he said. "But the hippies would be flabbergasted at the unadulterated materialism of this era. They would see it as a twisting of the hippie message.''
As for Miller himself, he said he has no problems establishing a scholarly objectivity when looking at the hippies.
"I was never in it, so I come to it as an interested observer," he said. "I did more politics than anything else, I was involved in anti-war activities. The culture of the hippies was active here, but I was working. I had a job. I couldn't take the time to drop out.''