Making Your Hippie Life Matter

…Possibility often signifies the predictable presence of the already known: a smooth determinate Aristotelian possibility. Hence, passion directs itself to “the impossible.”

– Catherine Keller, Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology & Planetary Entanglement

“And the more that cloud of impossibility is recognized as obscure and impossible, the more truly the necessity shines forth.”

– Nicholas of Cusa, De Visone Dei, quoted in Keller

Contemporary political-theological “process” thought, a field I’ve just ventured into, may not sound exactly thrilling to others. For me this reading, dense though it is, with unfamiliar terms challenging me on every page, is an experience of contending with out-of-my-league erudition coming from scholars who are yet friends. Unlike me they are fully embedded in academia; like me they’re unwilling to turn against supernatural belief. Even though my “grasp” has to settle far below my reach, I’m consoled by a writer such as Catherine Keller, by her willingness to take up a hopeless task.

That is, the task of political theology, if it intends to have influence, even in the dying mainstream churches, is impossible. In a world attempting to go on without God, these scholars don’t merely risk marginalization by engaging with belief; they begin in marginalization in any context outside of seminaries or political philosophy courses at prestigious universities. The effort to address the moral vacuum, the apoliticality of our times by scholars who cannot be popularly read is like trying to steer the massive ship away from the iceberg when it’s too late. Their willingness to take on impossibility in order to defend the fragile invisibles of relationship, despite the fact they have to construct new, hard-to-follow language for talking about poetic reality, has me with them.

In fact, at the level of our everyday social lives, morality has no authority. I imagine most preachers at the liberal end of the spectrum are sticking to the tried and true gospel themes, and to identity and minority causes, staying away from biblical fundamentalism but also from addressing the big Evil of the capitalist/neoliberal system that sacrifices people and ecologies to profits for “the good of the economy.” Just looking at all the high-level profiteering rascals with Yale degrees (Ron DeSantis, etc.) confirms that good education has nothing to do with noble behavior! So where can people on the left go – if not to church or to college – to find morally uncompromising ground?

Well, my advice is don’t go too far in your looking! An outlandish question to ask, but don’t many of us boomer-aged liberals have connection, in memory if nothing else, to that period in our history when the moral ground – that perennial Dream of coming together in peace, love, and understanding – was, though just a belief, alive and compelling? In the 1960’s and 70’s many people, especially the young, believed “changing the world” was possible. Recall, hippie peaceniks presented such a threat to the status quo that the forces of reaction to this day can’t stop reacting! Does not there exist still a remnant in many of us – less fazed by the fog of neoliberalism, fully aware the Dream involves incredible, unasked for, seemingly insoluble complications – that still believes?

And, I insist, “God” is not the obstacle to belief as long as the “theistically-inclined” can avoid the nearly unavoidable mistake of concretization. For be it known: the “red flag” God that swerves so many off the path to belief, will also be in the way when one attempts to follow devotedly one’s creative passion. That is, the call to art-making, too, depends upon belief in invisible, sanctioning reality that calls “even I” to disobedience in the dominant reality that decrees some to be artists and some just toe-the-line, do-your-part-to-keep-Wall St.’s-economy-healthy conscripts. The same absolute skepticism that makes adamant atheists blocks the way to calling (atheists, in some part, being furious at having been ignored by God!).

And there are other obstacles to liberal belief. Confused by liberal society’s uniform anti-authoritarianism, we (like the scholars I’m reading, I use us and we invitationally, not presumptively) don’t even seek uncompromising moral ground. Unaware, in our confusion, of the hierarchy built into our souls, we obey – because we’re constituted to obey – the absolutes of liberal bourgeois lifestyle – the no-brainers of college, career, condo, work 30 years and retire, vote for the Democrat, etc. – as if they were morally significant. In fact, their significance, in the God-less world, is that they divert us from – and compensate us for – the task of developing humanly that demands of us walking the countercultural walk of solidarity. Few, that is, become troubled, unstable, or desperate enough to leave the world of certainty for the realm of uncertainty of how will I live in a capitalist reality, in faithfulness to the impossibility of “all things connect”?

Moreover, once one is thoroughly trained in objectivity, in positivism, in mistrust for intuition, instinct, and one’s own passionate interest, belief in immaterial reality is impossible. All these ways teach us indifference to the soul’s immediate reality. For belief could not be closer to us, simpler to reach, located as it is in deep identity, in the creative depths of the self. So thoroughly have we been taught to mistrust nothing so much as our deepest wants and desires there’s no way to enter the forbidden imaginative territory of what we most deeply want. That is, to follow the desire of the heart we must stop using our idea of God as the straw man argument blocking the way.

Without either religion or art – the artist being one who must take seriously the voice from imagination – no authority exists that can tell me this: that – a “voice” – coming from me, from the silence of my own contemplative subjectivity, can possibly be authorization for my action. Most of us, for the aforementioned reasons, do not know the wisdom in our passion. We’re not ready to take up the noetic challenge modernity leaves us with: not the end of transcendence but the reality of immanence. Consciousness has not yet grasped the new conditions for our humanity. (And no wonder – consumer culture manufactures the needs it supplies convincing people this abundance must be what they want, while liberalism refuses to defend the fragilities of relationship: of home, family, place, the plurality of community, those bonds essential for the soul’s process.)

In the absence of belief that empowers “from the bottom up,” the belief “vacuum” gets filled top down. Neoliberalism’s power draws vampirishly from each individual refusal of personal strength in the absence of self-empowering belief. On the political right, negative belief energizes collectively in mobbish, resentment-fueled protests of “stolen election” and Christian fascism. On the left, negative belief boomerangs back upon individuals; lacking spiritual energy for genuine agency, only inclusion in collective liberal exceptionalism can energize us to act. The cost for this inclusion is high: lost is the capcity to care for the fragilities of love and connection, to stand for the human good including one’s own.


So here I go, back to the thesis that will only make problems for me: hippie identity was too good to throw out with the bathwater of sex and drug excess. We must reclaim it.

Why is it we are so comfortable distancing ourselves from the hippie era, from belief in the ideals of the young people of that time? Though Orin and I are known here in Utica as “two old hippies that started a coffeeshop,” I’m guilty of that condescending attitude toward the hippie era, even as our society moves distressingly further from the ideals of peace, love, social justice and care for the earth. If you, too, find yourself easily taking up that dismissive attitude, perhaps it’s time to give this matter more thought.

This embarrassment connects with other liberal embarrassments, such as talking about the reality of climate change-caused catastrophic weather events or a host of other off-the-table topics. In the past I attributed such liberal aversions to a genteel wish to avoid conversational “downers,” or any expression that might seem disapproving towards friends whose behaviors include frequent air travel, driving big gas-guzzling vehicles, building beach houses in Florida, etc. But what is this hyper-sensitivity to hurting feelings or “casting the first stone”? From whence cometh all of this delicacy? Orin would call it the reflexive need to defend capitalism. I, more stained with bourgeois liberalism than he, would suggest something more sympathetic: the refusal of passion, without which one cannot walk the walk.

By contrast, hippie counterculture was significantly marked by boundless, confident enthusiasm! We who no longer seem to understand that personal enthusiasm (joy) is not a passing phase, not substitutable by fitness regimes and proper nutrition, remain obedient to the darker god of our fear. Fear takes the gold of our spontaneity and vitality and turns it back into the dross of what we know as “making a living,” of being conventionally good which in the face of radical evil is no good. I do not make light of peoples’ fear. But that bad bargain we make with fear leads directly to the political “solution” of Party-unifying “Lesser Evilism.” That is, passion has not actually disappeared, but unconnected to its source in the imaginative soul, at the “political” level it appears (to me) expressible mainly negatively: in the hatred for/fascination with Donald Trump & Co. that’s so good for DNC and news media business!.

I’ve observed over and over that Democratic loyalist friends, relieved there’s a Democrat in the White House, offer no passionate defense when an indiscreet friend (often Orin’s role) makes devastatingly accurate critique of Joe Biden (or Obama or Hillary). Out of touch with their enthusiasm, they cannot know those critiques come not just from alternative news facts. Rather, they come from a place lesser-evilists never may enter and can never defend. Maybe that forbidden place is anti-capitalist. But more threatening even than that, that “place” may be a socialistic, utopian belief which is to say a belief, a passion, too zany to be risked.

Simple “hippie faith,” though it still reverberates in successive generations of youth, such as in those who rallied behind Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, has thinned out and disappeared like the hair on aging hippies’ heads? But should we not fight for the faith in that idealism, as if hippie lives matter? ( Is a phrase like “Flower Power” suitable only as cliche because the idea is plain silly or because the imaginal fortitude, that would find the transformational power in the pansy, missing?)


The Hudson River Valley, where we spent three days near the end of August, never fails to restore connection to my fragile idealistic self. For all its New York City affluence and rather obvious commodification of hippiedom, in New Paltz and Rosendale the vibe can be felt of leftward idealism and tolerance for hippie whimsicality, of a place where love of used bookstores doesn’t make you eccentric! Not surprising, then, that I look for ways to embrace my hippie self that can be practiced back here, further upstate, too far for NYC commuters, and thus out of range of that affluence. In so doing, I tell myself I’m building a basis for a militant caring for the “fragility of things,” that, dependent neither upon Wall Street coattails nor MSNBC news for strengthening its ethos, can reach beyond liberalism’s self-sealing enclosure.

After this trip I returned to Utica with a quite painful takeaway: real as is the mattering of my hippie life, the power of MSNBC-dependent liberalism to nullify the truth of collective, historical, radically socialist-minded, engaged-with-the-All-One hippie past is near-total. Which is to say, liberalism depends upon the denial of that passion through lifetimes of habit. That denial, fed by every input of mainstream liberal society makes a liberal population unintentionally so toxic to the soul that in its radius the fragile idealistic self has no chance. That such a toxic nullification has become normal and mutually reinforcing in liberal reality is the impossibility we face who love both our ideals and our (captive) liberal neighbors.

For the soul’s imaginative truth, inextricably linked to vitality and passion, is the same as that reviled hippie truth; it’s not “normal” to deny either! In order to identify with radical social truth, that bond between the Wall Street coattails and personal identity has to be severed; the individual must find her way out of the fog of neoliberal consensus and into the darkish light of that other, inner-derived truth. The task of protecting the earth and its fragility, including its creatures, is the hippie task; it calls for standing up for the mattering of one’s Hippie Life which is everyone’s!

Change at the level of being, imaginative change, independent of the ethos-making machinery of neoliberalism, must have positive inwardness or it stands no chance. At the same time, the hippie art-maker takes upon herself the social cost of outsiderhood, of building counterculture upon a different basis than either the coattails of Wall Street or anti-authoritarian negation. For sure, the cost is acquaintance with degrees of poverty, but the social cost, other than if one is starving, is more difficult to bear. That is, my hippie life based in the soul’s utopian truth exposes a wall between myself and friends that, in face-to-face intimacy will be painful and confusing for me. That wall is unconscious fear of the passionate soul, likely PTSD-induced, and it is not mine.

It has come to pass that in neoliberal reality there’s a reason the person based in soul’s imagination is wholly disregarded, nullified in the liberal discourse. It is not farfetched to say that all the kinds of “others,” all the despised and discounted struggling for dignity and respect will be defended as if they matter before the otherness in one’s own soul. That one must be canceled in every member of bourgeois society in fear of the otherness that would, not coincidentally, be the end of neoliberalism.

Only I can stand up for my hippie life mattering, and it matters if I do or not.

Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: