What caused the 60’s? Who cares?

TGGP notes that relying on genes to explain different behaviors between societies isn’t especially useful for explaining why behavior suddenly changes within a society. Case in point: the 1960’s in America.

One of the responders to the post suggests that it’s a bad idea to get too hung up on individual cases of societal upheaval, and I think he’s right. Isolated observations rarely lead to understanding of the phenomena involved; looking at a single period of change, especially when the society in question is our own and our various prejudices and blind spots are likely to be maximally active, isn’t going to produce useful hypotheses much less theories.

If we use the human body as a metaphor, there are certain kinds of stress responses that are specific to particular sources. For example, we don’t see antibodies for a substance unless a person has previously been exposed to them, and their presence in large quantities implies that the substance is within the body. Immune system activation is more general, and things like heightened body temperature and inflammation are more general still – with disparate causes that can have absolutely nothing in common besides some similar physiological effects.

Or we can take plant pathology for our model. Some symptoms of ill-health are diagnostic, such that their presence lets us conclude with high confidence what’s wrong. Others are just general responses that don’t in themselves lend to interpretation – and sometimes are part of the natural development of the plant.

We can’t say at the moment whether sociocultural upheavals like the 60’s constitute a healthy or pathological change. It’s hard to say to what degree that shift in particular represented genuine change or a relatively isolated and superficial series of cultural fads, especially given the degree to which the so-called Flower Children abandoned their ideals in the late 70’s and early-to-mid 80’s. So focusing on that one period, without searching for more examples and at least attempting to generalize, is useless. Does it really matter what caused the 60’s as an isolated case? I suspect people are still so fixated on the period that they are giving those years far more scrutiny – and assigning them more importance – than they really have.

Could the cause of the hippies be as simple as a failure of the previous generation to successfully indoctrinate the next in cultural mores?

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2 Responses to “What caused the 60’s? Who cares?”

  1. The 60s in particular may not be important, but by examining it we may come to better understand the cause of shifts in crime (which is the context I was discussing it in). That’s distinct from the issue of “flower children” who were a minority of questionable importance. The 60s crime increase stayed with us until the early/mid 1990s.

    • There does seem to be an unspoken idea that whatever caused the flower children might also have caused the spike in crime.

      This assumption may be worth questioning. Temporal association doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a causal link.

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