Throughout the centuries, we have seen movements that have arisen to redress society’s oppression: the French Revolution, Marxism, Communism and so on. Movements that responded to the pain of the hurting masses, that rebelled against the dominating powers in order to “level the playing fields”. In more recent years, we have seen this through the rise countercultural rebels, who believe they have the power to influence the political arena for the good of humanity.
However, according to the authors of The Rebel Sell, modern countercultural power is nothing more than a myth, clothed in passionate, subversive (fun) behaviours. Counterculture rebels, despite their grand ambitions, attain little despite visions of grand change in society: “The counterculture rebels have… invested tremendous energy over the years trying to persuade themselves that their acts of cultural resistance have important political implications.” [i] But, as Heath and Potter show, this ‘belief’ was nothing more than theory, “wishful thinking”, and one with dangerous repercussions at that: “In a world of this type, countercultural rebellion is not just unhelpful, it is positively counterproductive. Not only does it distract energy and effort away form the sort of initiatives that lead to concrete improvements in people’s lives, but it encourages wholesale contempt for such incremental changes.” [ii]
Subcultural resistance, over recent decades, really has had little affect upon the flaws of capitalism and the improvement of people’s lives. In fact, according to the authors, these modern subculture movements actually feed capitalism: “Find anyone who is breaking any kind of rule and you have marketing potential.” [iii] In other words, counterculture is a market to buy into. And countercultural rebels do.
Essentially the focus is no longer on creating wise strategies that might alleviate poverty, or movements that eliminate slavery and so on. Rather the focus has shifted to the liberating of people’s minds, an awakening of a consciousness, as if that were a moral ethic to be desired. How very postmodern. “Thus countercultural rebellion – rejecting the norms of ‘mainstream’ society – came to serve as a source of considerable distinction. In a society that prized individualism and despises conformity, being ‘a rebel’ becomes the new aspirational category. ‘Dare to be different’, we are constantly told.” How very estimable!
We need to ask ourselves, what does this great ambition of liberating one’s mind, really produce? Aren’t we really talking about the meaning and purpose of life? Some feel satisfied with the mere accumulation of possessions, the entertainment of Hollywood and television, the benefits of capitalist government, while others, apparently, do not. Some find meaning in the mere satisfaction of the flesh, while others rebel against it. Where does it all lead?
Heath and Potter are not slow to admit that they are not offering a solution to society’s malaise. They assert that there is no real solution to address the deep-seated dissatisfaction with life, the failures of governments and capitalism. As they rightly state, the answer is not rebelling against capitalism, for as they rightly point out, it brings with it much good. It has raised the standard of living in many countries, and provides employment in third world countries. No, the problem is not with market forces themselves; it’s the failure of the markets. Just as the Bible wisely states, money itself is not a bad thing; it how one handles it. As the authors conclude, “In the end, civilization is built upon our willingness to accept rules and to curtail the pursuit of our individual interest out of deference to the needs and interests of others.” [iv]
How a government, nation or individual handles the goods and property entrusted to them, whether they take care of the needs of society, really all boils down to one thing: the motives of the heart. Countercultural rebels, even Heath and Potter, miss this. The fact is, there are deeper forces at play. There is indeed a solution: reeducation. Good old-fashioned education of morals, values, and purpose in life. In other words, schooling the heart. Jesus referred to it as loving God and loving your neighbour. Now that’s countercultural.