Ari Amala

Capitalism in Hemp Clothing

A tie dye sheet hanging from a clothes line

On our way to a festival, Alexander and I listened to the Conspirituality Podcast. I was soothed and delighted by its eloquent and hilarious sensemaking. However, when we arrived, we found ourselves surrounded by the very culture they critique. Pretty soon, I stopped feeling so calm.

The festival wristband costs money to activate. Showers were $7. The festival program was $5. In the $5 program, there is a long list of workshops. A lot of the workshops have the word ‘quantum’ in the title. Too many. I decide, perhaps somewhat cynically, that this hippie festival is a consumerist hellscape. There is nothing counterculture about it. Instead, it is bustling with wealthy white, white-collar workers who have ditched their suits in favour of a tie-dyed shirt. A quick and easy way to keep the moral ambiguity of their pay checks at bay, at least for the weekend.

This whole festival is a bit like that – a superficial costume change. It’s not really changing or challenging anything. It’s just capitalism in hemp clothing. 

It’s the shameless commodification of creativity.

It’s a thousand ways to buy belonging.

A thousand ways to bypass privilege - because we’re all just on a spiritual journey here.

I’m eating a burger that I bought from a food truck. Nearby, a woman’s name gets called and she collects her order. “Ask and you shall receive,” she says, as she sits down with her nachos. I wonder if she realises that nothing metaphysical has occurred. She goes on to share that every time she has been to the toilet so far, she has manifested a clean portaloo with toilet paper. If people so ardently believe in the law of attraction, why aren’t they more ambitious with what they choose to manifest? Then maybe, instead of a clean portaloo, she could focus on manifesting a socioeconomic system that supports all beings and ecosystems to thrive. ‘I’m not really interested in politics,’ she says, ‘I don’t watch the news.’ She speaks instead about full moon circles and crystals. I feel warmth towards her because she is me nine years ago. And I cringe because she is me nine years ago.

I remember being at festivals when I was 19 and thinking only about the synchronicities and the sacredness of it all. I remember the feeling of coming home. But here at this festival, I feel uncomfortable. There’s so much I cannot unsee. There seems to be a disconnect between what people think is happening and what is actually happening. People think it’s more revolutionary than it is. As if it’s more than a large group of people paying a lot of money to camp, dance, get high and overuse the word ‘tribe.’

Don’t get me wrong, I think community-building and organising is an important kind of activism. But this community is behind a paywall and in this ‘community,’ exploitation and cultural appropriation seem to go unnoticed.

The enduring pull of festivals like this one, is this real or manufactured sense of community. Yet the values of connection and community don’t extend far enough to actually impact people’s behaviour or political beliefs. A comedian asked a crowd of people if they voted Greens, expecting a resounding yes. Instead, he was met with silence and indifference. Tie-dyed capitalism has a uniform but no unifying principles. There is no anchor here. Just a ‘community’ of apolitical hippies adrift in a sea of new age individualism. There’s space for everyone’s ‘truth’ and everyone’s beliefs regardless of how outlandish or harmful they may be.

In fact, in these spaces, the more outlandish the belief, the more spiritual street cred people seem to receive. Like when grown humans say things like, ‘Once I spoke to a lizard person. I could tell by the colour of their eyes’ or ‘I’m a Pleiadian Starseed living from 5D consciousness,’ and then other people ask them questions as if it is a legitimate claim or a replicable experience. It always reminds me of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Instead of these assertions being touted as a sign of spiritual superiority, I think people need to respond by saying, ‘There is no substance here.’

Sadly though, festivals like this are a breeding ground of the post-truth era. The main act on the main stage gave an anti-vax speech in between songs. In the blink of an eye, thousands of dollars’ worth of sound and lighting equipment assisted the propagation of a message that is profoundly damaging to public health. Yet another a tribute to new age individualism rather than community care. In Aotearoa, the belief that COVID19 is a scheme to take away our ‘sovereignty’ does not hold any water. We are able to safely be at a festival with thousands of people because of the NZ government’s effective application of the elimination strategy.

Although I had some beautiful moments of connection, I left the festival feeling disheartened. It was the physical manifestation of the convergence of consumer spirituality, new age individualism, and misinformation that is so rampant on social media. I still believe in the vital role of community in creating social change, so long as the community is built on a shared set of values, and even more importantly, a shared understanding of reality.

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