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The Great Relearning
By Ed Driscoll · June 3, 2007 03:31 PM · The Return of the Primitive

In response to Michelle Malkin's hilarious post today about old line sixties-minted San Francisco hippies disquieted by the sudden influx of déclassé nouveau-primitive 21st century nostalgists de la boue into their neighborhood, Kathy Shaidle links to this Jonah Goldberg essay from six years ago, which builds extensively on Tom Wolfe's "Great Relearning" meme:

Years ago, Tom Wolfe wrote a wonderful essay called the "Great Relearning." He first came upon the idea while reporting on the San Francisco hippie scene in 1968. "At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic," Wofe wrote, "there were doctors treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot."

The reason all of these diseases turned up is simple. The thousands of hippie migrants seeking free love and communal living had deliberately "thrown off" all the accumulated "bourgeois" hang-ups of their parents. Which meant giving up on showers, sex with people you know by name and other "old fashioned" concepts of hygiene. This in turn brought back creepy-crawlies not seen since the age of toga parties.

Wolfe writes that Ken Kesey, the hippie guru and leader of the Merry Pranksters, led a pilgrimage to Stonehenge with the idea of starting Western civilization all over again. The buzz phrase was, "Start from zero."

Fortunately, the counterculture never succeeded in staring from zero, but the idea is more popular than you'd think. If you repeated the headlines I listed at the beginning of this column in a faculty lounge - "Men, Women Not Alike," for example - I guarantee some English professor would kick over her fern in astonishment.

The great relearning is happening, but at a depressingly slow pace.

Or at corner of Haight and Ashbury, not at all.



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