Counterculture blooms wherever and whenever a few members of a society choose lifestyles, artistic expressions, and ways of thinking and being that wholeheartedly embrace the ancient axiom that the only true constant is change itself. The mark of counterculture is not a particular social form or structure, but rather the evanescence of forms and structures, the dazzling rapidity and flexibility with which they appear, mutate, and morph into one another and disappear.
Counterculture is the moving crest of a wave, a zone of uncertainty where culture goes quantum. To borrow the language of Nobel Prize– winning physicist Ilya Prigogine, counterculture is the cultural equivalent of the “third thermodynamic state,” the “nonlinear region” where equilibrium and symmetry have given way to a complexity so intense as to appear to the eye as chaos.
Participants in a counterculture thrive in this zone of turbulence. It is their native medium, the only clay malleable enough to be shaped and reshaped fast enough to keep pace with the flashing of their inner visions. They are adepts of flux, chaos engineers, migrating in step with the ever-traveling wavefront of maximum change.
In counterculture, social structures are spontaneous and transient. Participants in countercultures are constantly clustering into new molecules, fissioning and regrouping into configurations appropriate to the interests of the moment, like particles jostling in a high-energy accelerator, exchanging dynamic charge. In these configurations they reap the benefits of exchanging ideas and innovations through fast feedback in small groups, affording a synergy that allows their thoughts and visions to grow and mutate almost the instant they are formulated.
Counterculture lacks formal structure and formal leadership. In one sense it is leaderless; in another sense, it is leader-full, all of its participants constantly innovating, pushing into new territory where others may eventually follow.
Counterculture may be found in (sometimes uneasy) alliances with radical, even revolutionary political groups and insurrectionary forces, and the memberships of countercultures and such groups often overlap.
But the focus of counterculture is the power of ideas, images, and artistic expression, not the acquisition of personal and political power. Thus, minority, alternative, and radical political parties are not themselves countercultures. While many countercultural memes have political implications, the seizure and maintenance of political power requires adherence to structures too inflexible to accommodate the innovation and exploration that are basic to the countercultural raison d’être. Organization and institution are anathema to counterculture.
~ Timothy Leary