Joan Didion, from her essay Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1967), on the hippie movement in Haight-Ashbury:

Anybody who thinks this is all about drugs has his head in a bag. It’s a social movement, quintessentially romantic, the kind that recurs in times of real social crisis. The themes are always the same. A return to innocence. The invocation of an earlier authority and control. The mysteries of the blood. An itch for the transcendental, for purification. Right there you’e got the ways that romanticism historically ends up in trouble, lends itself to authoritarianism. When the direction appears. How long do you thin it’ll take for that to happen? is a question a San Francisco psychiatrist asked me.


Of course the activists — not those whose thinking had become rigid, but those whose approach to revolution was imaginatively anarchic — had long ago grasped the reality which still eluded the press: we were seeing something important. We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum. Once we had seen these children, we could no longer overlook the vacuum, no longer pretent that the society’s atomization could be reversed. This was not a traditional generational rebellion. At some point between 1945 and 1967 we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. Maybe we had stopped believing in the rules ourselves, maybe we were having a failure of nerve about the game. Maybe there were just too few people around to do the telling. These were children who grew up cut loose from the web of cousins and great-aunts and family doctors and lifelong neighbors who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society’s values. They are children who have moved around a lot, San Jose, Chula Vista, here. They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it, able only to feed back certain of its most publicized self-doubts, Vietnam, Saran-Wrap, diet pills, the Bomb.

They feed back exactly what is given them. …

Joan Didion was in her 30s when she wrote that. You can’t take her assessment here and impose it on OWS; the differences are quite obvious, but I think the parallels are too. I hope she’s able to spend some time down there at Zuccotti Park these days, and will write something about OWS in light of what she saw in the Haight. It’s probably the case, though, that Didion, nearly 77 now, and frail, is unable to do the kind of reporting she’d have to. In which case, our very great loss.