• NGOs and the hippie legacy

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    MIKE WOOTTON

    MIKE WOOTTON

    I found myself looking back over the weekend on YouTube at the “hippies.” A counter culture or sub-culture of young people that came to life in the 1960s and 1970s in the USA, it was a middle-class syndrome, and which spread to Europe and other parts After over 50 years, a substantial legacy lives on.

    The hippies wanted to distance themselves from mainstream society, which they saw as hidebound by convention in terms of social attitudes in general, dress, art, music and sexual constraints. They were rebels but rebels who adopted a non-violent approach and in fact viewed the world as a place for peace, free from convention and respectful of other people.

    Characteristic personality traits and values were altruism, mysticism, honesty and having fun. Their world was not a very serious place, it was a place of privilege and their view of economics and livelihood revolved around communes and sharing, a sort of utopian socialism.

    But they now no longer comprise a significant counter culture, their numbers were depleted by their need to find work, although many groups still exist as new age travellers, and by the advent of violent sub-cultures, for example skinheads and rockers. The fashions live on as do the music and the art but attitudes to sex have been permanently changed with the now common practice for couples to live together without marriage being accepted.

    Mainstream society is now back in full control where personal greed trumps all other considerations and the convention that the hippies rejected—personified by bankers, lawyers, accountants, actuaries and other finance-related people–is used to facilitate money-grabbing. So much for altruism—“unselfish regard for or even devotion to the welfare of others.” Aside from the groups of new age travelers, some musicians and artists, the one sector in which elements of the hippie mindset survive is in the non-government organizations (NGOs)—they continue in a happily unconventional and sort of altruistic way to represent the interests of minorities and disadvantaged groups and help them to do things for themselves so that they can improve their lives and help them to push back when necessary against powerful business interests, which needless to say scorn altruism.

    Genuine NGOs (as opposed to those that have just been used as money channels!) are generally staffed by competent and good people but they are always short of money and spend massive amounts of time and effort filling in ever increasingly more involved application forms applying for funding from international donors and anybody else who may be potentially interested in supporting the cause that the NGO is involved with. It’s a wonder that they actually manage to bring about change at all, but they do and ordinary people should be grateful that they are there.

    NGOs generally represent what they think is good and right for the people with whose issues they are concerned, just as politicians in a properly functioning democracy should for their constituents. That there are more NGOs in the Philippines than in any other country in the world could be taken as indicating that the use of political power does not always match the mandatory political responsibility of care for constituents and what is best for them. Otherwise why would so much challenge be needed to political acts? The NGOs here do make a lot of noise but they do have a small number of political supporters with social consciences. Much NGO advocacy and effort is in connection with environmental matters often bringing them into head-on confrontation with business, which in the Philippines is inexorably linked to politics; mining, power projects, logging, and pollution in general.

    Business will say that NGOs lobbying for environmental causes are standing in the way of progress and economic development. In some cases this claim may be well founded, but it is not in all cases and it seems that the only way to decide whether environmental and social issues are inhibiting essential economic development is through the courts. Is this really an area in which rulings should be made by the courts with the necessity to expose discussion on the real issue to fast legal footwork and procedural technicalities, let alone the exorbitant cost and lengthy time involved? It is not.

    Political power is frequently bought by vote-buying and manipulation rather than on the basis of firm election promises, thus governance cannot always be assumed to be in the best interest of the electorate with the result that citizens need others to explain to them objectively and honestly what is in their interest and then, if they agree, to represent them. But it really is an unequal contest, poorly funded but right-minded people against business and its wealth and the politicians supporting it. Achieving a position of public office and responsibility in the Philippines is frequently seen as a way to wealth creation, rather than service to the people at a fixed-income level.

    So easy in this setting to see the NGOs representing the people in a fight against their own “democratic” government. What nonsense to elect people to represent you and then to have to fight them to do what is in your best interests. Fortunately for Filipinos, the hippies’ socially conscious, altruistic legacy lives on.

    Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.

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