Fred Zengel

I was born white in 1947. When I was an innocent child growing up in New Orleans, I played freely with black children. My parents were liberals who believed racial segregation to be a wrong, evil thing: my mother worked several years through the PTA to lay the foundation for school integration up until my father was threatened with the loss of his job if she didn't quit. When I was a college student, I worked in rural North Carolina to register black people to vote. Once I was shadowed by a large Ford sedan filled with five, rough-looking white guys: I did not know if I was going to be beaten or even worse. But they did not grab me, and I got out of town before dark.

I had already turned on and tuned in by the time I graduated college; so, I went the next step and dropped out. I dropped out of the culture of the "repressed," "neurotic," "alienated," "materialistic," "corporate" man, whose life was being bemoaned by the intelligentsia of the day as that of an unhappy, emasculated, meaningless, powerless cog in the machine.

I dropped in to the Counterculture, where, among the hippies, I met other people who were smart, creative, joyful, friendly, caring individualists, who, unlike their regimented parents, lived by a new maxim: "Do your own thing." These people valued personal freedom, which included but went far beyond mere sexual freedom. They believed in equality and justice, not only for black people, but for everyone, Native Americans, women, homosexuals, Vietnamese included. And they stood up and courageously spoke out for their ideals, opposing war in general and our imperialistic meddling in Viet Nam in particular. They were quick to understand that all life is interrelated and interdependent, and they were among the first to embrace environmentalism. My hippie friends understood clearly that our challenge was to develop new ways for people to relate to each other, ways more loving, more personally satisfying, more kind than those of the "establishment." We really wanted to learn how to make love rather than make war. In an age of nuclear overkill this was more than an affectation: it was a matter of survival.

Since the Counterculture involved in large measure a reaction against excessive, dehumanizing materialism, the hippies became "downwardly mobile:" We soon found ourselves in the company of all the other drop-outs from society—criminals, psychopaths, schizophrenics and other mental cases, bums, junkies, drunks, burn-outs, the ignorant, and the impoverished. What's more, our unbridled experimentation with drugs, sexual behavior, political action, and so forth, generated its own percentage of personal and social catastrophes. Because of all this, hippies widely became identified with and condemned as little more than wretched excess.

Time passed: most of us put aside the drugs and the social venturousness and settled down, becoming productive members of society. I, for one, spent decades dividing my time between providing health care and teaching biology and anatomy and physiology. And yet, even as our "flower power" appeared to wither and die, our core ideal, namely that of personal freedom, not only was embraced by the society at large, but became central to its structure: nowadays it is taken for granted that each person has the right and freedom to live life and to associate with others entirely as he or she chooses. This was not the norm a half-century ago. Furthermore, although society has suppressed some of the behavior of the hippies, such as the freewheeling drug experimentation, still many of the specific causes we championed, such as equality and justice for all minorities and concern for the environment, have also gone mainstream.

In the past decade or so I have returned to one of my early interests, writing. This trilogy, Aquarius Rising, began when my wife, Alice, who never turned on, tuned in or dropped out, asked me to write her a story of the hippies. Although these three novels are technically historical fiction, the reader, I am sure, will soon perceive that my concerns lie not only with the past, but also with the present and with the future of humanity, indeed, of life itself on the planet Earth. We stand on the cusp of the New Age of Aquarius: these are exciting, pivotal times. May you, gentle reader, enjoy the journey and find it stimulating.


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