“And something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, Do you, Mr. Jones?”
—Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man
I USED TO FEEL a little smug when I was part of the Sixties counterculture. I was in on the inside. The establishment was on the outside; wondering what the hell was going on with free love, drugs, and rock and roll. The man just didn’t get it.
Now I feel like I’m on the outside looking in at an incoherent counterculture. Sure, there are some similarities to the sixties. There is an anti-establishment element to the protests such as the occupation of Ottawa by the Freedom Convoy.
The Sixties counterculture welled up in San Francisco.
However, there seems to be no physical place of the new counterculture. The anger and discontent springs up at various places around the globe. Canada found itself as an unlikely source of the new counterculture during the Freedom Convoy.
I was astonished at the global attention paid to the Freedom Convoy. Canada was seen as a model of protests that were duplicated around the world. We don’t think of ourselves as a radical nation, a hotbed of discontent. But in our car culture, apparently the use of trucks as a vehicle of a seething anger is novel.
There is distrust of corporate media, the so-called “mainstream media” that produces fake news. We had underground newspapers, some that went on to some success like Rolling Stone and The Georgia Straight.
The new counterculture has antiestablishment internet news spread through social media.
The sixties counterculture was coherent. The leaders were identifiable, those such as John Lennon, Timothy Leary, and Marshall McLuhan. The values, however naive, were ones of peace and harmony. Flower children wanted to live off the land in communes and set their souls free. There was even a kind of uniform consisting of bell-bottom pants, tie-dye shirts and beads.
Like Mr. Jones, looking from the outside, I find the information shared by the new counterculture unfathomable. QAnon has become a model for the “real news” in which followers believe that a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media.
Unlike Mr. Jones, I find the new counterculture to be dark and incoherent. Their issues shift with each new world event. One week they’re against vaccines and the next they want, in a copycat storming of the U.S. Capital last year, to overthrow the government of Canada. Then they are repeating Russia’s claim that the invasion of Ukraine is justified in order to remove Nazis from power.
Unlike the sixties movement, there is a dark side of the new counterculture. It’s not flowers and free love but a gloomy, brooding mood. There is a seething anger that seems to have a sinister source.
I’m tempted to blame the Russian propaganda machine. It’s no secret that President Putin wants to get even with the West for the downfall of the USSR.
But there seems to be something more fundamental behind the new counterculture, a groundswell that is less a grassroots movement than a dark force oozing from the bowels of the earth as a vapour and taking shape as a vague, ominous discontent.
The new counterculture howls with an ache that will not be silenced. May they find solace for their tortured souls.
David Charbonneau is a retired TRU electronics instructor who hosts a blog at http://www.eyeviewkamloops.wordpress.com.