Tragedy of the Commune

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Free-range chickens, yoga, doulas, the paleo diet: They’re no longer just for hippies. The ’60s subculture that conservatives loved to hate is now about as controversial as motherhood and apple pie—especially if those apples aren’t organic. But is “natural living” always better? The son of two die-hard California hippies, Nathanael Johnson brings a critical take to his parents’ ideology in his new book, All Natural: A skeptic’s Quest for Health and Happiness in an Age of Ecological Anxiety, which comes out this week. Think of him as Alex P. Keaton, but without the suits and Reagan fetish. In a face-to-face chat at Mother Jones HQ, we touched on modern medicine, raw milk, and when it’s safe to let your kids roll around in the dirt.

MJ: You write that when you were five, you suddenly realized you hadn’t been raised like everyone else.

NJ: We’d moved up to a new town in the mountains in California, and there was a lake where all these kids were swimming. I just stripped off all my clothes and swam out there. All of the kids look at me, and this little girl just shrieks, “He’s naked!”

MJ: In the book you call your parents “hippies.” What does that mean, exactly?

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Tragedy of the Commune

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