In the 1940s, 50s and 60s the two youth movements of the beats and the hippies emerged in the United States. Disagreeing with the progressive positivism of the previous generations these youths were part of a counter culture that adhered to an ideal of living in the present.
Alan Wilson Watts (1915–1973), most known for his popularization of eastern philosophy and religion in general and Zen-Buddhism in particular, became one of the most influential and well-read advocates of the new movements. Drawing upon eastern philosophy and religion as well as modern psychology, Watts challenged the western world view by rejecting the dualism of self and environment, arguing that man is one with God and nature and claiming that nothing exists but the present experience here and now.
Based on Watts’ view of man and reality, and in the context of the emerging youth movements, this study examines Watts’ criticism of western culture and society as well as his view on happiness and the possibility of a better life for the individual living in the west.
The study shows that, according to Watts, the root of the problem facing western society lies in man’s incapability of distinguishing concept from reality, preferring abstract ideas and symbols to the experience present in everyday life. As a result, man perceives himself as separate from nature, waging war on his environment in a futile attempt at finding happiness by constantly striving for ever greater achievements of which the main goal always seems to lie somewhere in the future but never in the present. His ideas inspired the youth movements, although they moved in a different direction than the one he would have wanted.
Watts, suggesting that an altered understanding of oneself as one with the universe is central in maintaining a thriving society in union with nature, claims that the essence of happiness consists of this understanding here in the present rather than the pursuit and obtaining of a desired goal.
2014. , 28 p.
Alan Watts; happiness; social and cultural criticism; counter culture; beat; hippie