*Beginning in the late 1970s and continuing to the present, there has evolved a distinctive and largely cohesive system of thought associated with the punk subculture (often simply referred to as punk). Individualism, anti-authoritarianism, political anarchism, free thought, and ethics are concepts, among others, that are addressed by this philosophy. Punk ideology views the world and most that are in it as deeply corrupt and wrong. Punk thoughts usually achieve expression through punk music, fanzines, and spoken-word albums.
This article focuses on a perception of general punk ideology. For information on more specific types of punk ideologies see the section titled other punk ideologies. The rest of this article will use the word "punk" to refer to this generalized punk ideology or to a person who espouses this general take on punk ideology. Therefore, this article only provides a rough generalization of the philosophies of certain groups who identify themselves as punks and is not likely to completely represent the views of all or even the majority of those who do so.
Punk, since the mid-1970s, has been a movement of shock, rebellion and discontent. As time has progressed, punk has become an overt socio-political movement for some who identify themselves as punks. Bands like: MC5, Discharge, Avskum, Mob 47, Black Flag, The Stooges, Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, Crass, CPG, Conflict, Subhumans and many others helped to contribute to this ideological climate. In their lyrics, these bands expressed serious discontent with the systems and institutions that organize and control the world. They also offered analysis and potential solutions to the world's problems. This spirit is active to this day in punk music and has matured and expanded in its range.
The political ideology most often associated with punk is that of anarchism. A lot of punk activism has been done in support of anarchist goals. Whether a punk subscribes to anarchism or not, he or she almost certainly is discontent with his or her government. Punks are often very active in trying to change their governing political systems to some extent. When punks engage in activism their demands can usually be described as progressive. Despite the similarities punk may have with the left wing, many punks perceive the efforts of the left as ineffectual and sometimes just as objectionable as the right wing.
Not all punks are connected to anarchism, or have anarchist views. For example, Joe Strummer was a socialist, Michale Graves of The Misfits is a conservative and Ted Leo of Chisel is a liberal. However it's very clear that after anarchism, communism is most popular in the punk community. Also, certain offshoots of punk, like psychobilly and most garage/junk punk are apolitical.
In punk thought, authority harms people to intolerable extremes. Punks see the police, the clergy, governments, and many other institutions as dangerous and despicable. Authority, punks believe, leads to corruption and abuse. Punk ideas concerning authority derive in part from the political ideology of anarchism. Police brutality and institutionalized discrimination against punks also account for this stance on authoritarianism.
Conformity and non-conformity create one of the most misunderstood issues in Punk ideology. The real issue behind the Punk movement is freedom of thought, or thinking for one's self. In politics, this lead to a large population of free thinkers advocating anarchy; in music, to a new and unique sound. Conformity is viewed as dangerous social coercion because it is a method of forfeiting thought, which prevents people from seeing the true nature of society and forces people to be obedient to the desires of those who hold power be it of mainstream pop culture or the government. Non-conformity is then the result of punks thinking for themselves. However, a person who dresses like a punk and listens to punk music may simply be conforming to the punk movement, and is not truly a punk, for punk is a state of mind.
Punk ideology uncompromisingly rejects the use of military force. To punks, the military is the most extreme form of authoritarianism. However, since not all punks, skinheads or indie kids are anarchists, others view self-defense as nature's way and will fight for a just cause by any means.
Related to the punk opposition to consumerism and "selling out" is the anarchist punk's explicit anti-capitalism. Anarcho-punk music draws heavily from anarchist political movements and theory in claiming that the wage slavery that workers must endure under capitalism is authoritarian, exploitative, unfulfilling, mind-numbing, and should be abolished. Some musicians within anarcho-punk advocate identifying one's self by what kinds of enjoyable, self-directed things one does, instead of by what kind of occupation as a wage slave one has. Anarcho-punk advocates anti-consumerism, DIY-survival (including dumpster diving, shoplifting, etc.), and occasionally destruction of corporate property as forms of direct action one can take to thwart and damage the capitalist system.
**Secularism and Spirituality**
The "Do It Yourself" philosophy means that many punks see spirituality as a private matter of choice, and take a dim view of religious evangelism and proselytizing.
Many punks claim a unique spirituality outside of mainstream religions (although sometimes based on philosophies such as Buddhism or Taoism), believing organized religion to be a form of authoritarianism which causes more problems for humanity to deal with than solutions. There are Christian punks who believe there is no contradiction in being punks and Christians, citing Christian anarchism as a case in point. In addition to those who self-identify as Christian, a number of punks claim a sort of "post-Christianity," referring to schools of modern Biblical criticism such as that of John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan, et. al., which accepts the core moral or ethical message of the Golden Rule in the purported teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and other Christian writers (especially with reference to the various writings' socio-historical context), but rejects the supernatural elements of Chrisian tradition as anything other than metaphor. Punks with post-Christian inclination may be "ethnicly" Christian, but tend to have an equal respect for (as well as critical eye toward) practictioners of any of the world's major religions, acknowledging religion's importance as a component of world literature and history, while maintaining an agnostic or atheist worldview. There are also practicing Muslim punks in Malaysia, who are involved in Straight Edge.
Other punks and indie kids are rationalistic atheists, who see spirituality as a social construct used as an agent of state control.
The lyrics too many punk songs lament the conformity that religion inspires and the authority of the Church.
Most left-wing punks are contemptuous of their governments and do not express a great deal of nationalism, patriotism or jingoism. Also, nationalism as devotion to one’s government conflicts with the anti-statism of anarchism. Punks often object to nationalism as providing governments with a means of unwarranted public support. Other punks view nationalism and the support of a particular government as two different acts, or, as writer and humorist Mark Twain put it, "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."
On the other hand, in many ex-soviet countries punks were right-wing. They played an important role in their country's nationalistic and anti-soviet movements. In the 1980s this was a way to protest soviet authority.
Punks often portray the mass media as a dangerous instrument of social control. Television is, for the most part seen as a waste of time and a distraction from reality and healthier habits. Punk music often laments the commercialism, and the power interests that control the media. The Do It Yourself punk ethic is a reaction to this perceived imbalance of power in the media.
In the USA, a new form of highly political punks, who call themselves Individualist punks, believe that the media is used as a tool of government control. They argue that by only reporting the two leading parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, the media guarantees itself a win/win situation. They believe that Democrats and Republicans only share subtle differences in contrast to the rest of the political parties.
Many punks are environmentalists. "While there will always be different opinions under the punk banner, the prominent environmental philosophy among punks closely resembles 'Deep Ecology'"*. This is a non-anthropocentric form of environmentalism, meaning that it is a philosophy that posits that humans are merely one of many species with no special importance.
**Vegetarianism, veganism, and animal rights**
Some who identify themselves as punks see the exploitation of animals for food, clothing, and research as an extension of the oppression committed against humans. Other punks unconcerned with the treatment of animals have also converted to vegetarian/veganism based on the fact that raising livestock destroys land and water resources. Some punks believe that the brutal way humans treat animals is psychologically connected to the way humans oppress each other. Other punks, under the banner of live for one's self, see vegetarians, vegans, etc. as mindless conformists. Another animal rights issue that punks are concerned with is vivisection and other types of experimentation conducted on animals for cosmetic and medical purposes. These practices have prompted protests from the punk community and the creation of direct action organizations like the Animal Liberation Front.
**Aesthetics** (The noun aesthetic means "that which appeals to the senses")
In its three decades of existence, punk music has evolved and mutated to create a diversity of sounds. Punks may now enjoy the earthy harmony of folk-punk, the nostalgic, but often still relevant anthems of 80s peace- and anarcho-punk, or the more abrasive offerings of hardcore punk, and its elaborate array of sub-genres (i.e. crust, grindcore, metalcore, thrash, power violence, etc.). In general, however, punk music is loud, fast, and usually didactic. The loud and fast sound is meant to express impatience, frustration, discontent, anger and aggression. The rhythm is often monotonous, but can in some cases be extremely erratic and complex.
Punk music intentionally defies the expectations listeners have from listening to popular music. Punks often accuse mainstream music of being insincere, watered down and overproduced, and thus inartistic. Punks believe the state of popular music reflects the major record labels' influence on artists, as well as artists' own desire for recognition and wealth overshadowing their creativity.
In the mid-to-late 1970's and early 1980's, a very distinct Punk fashion became visible in the subculture. It expressed many of the things that punk music expressed: aggression, rebellion, and individualism. This use of fashion being used as a way to be shocking, may have been influenced in part by the Futurist. As the punk movement matured, fashion became less important as punk ideas became more important. Punk fashion has also received criticisms for being meaningless and for being conformist as the fashion grew in popularity.
Visual art is usually straightforward with a clear message. Album covers contain potent messages concerning social injustice, economic disparity, and images of suffering to shock and create a feeling of empathy in the viewer. Alternatively, they may contain images of selfishness, apathy, and other things that may provoke contempt in the viewer. Much of the earlier artwork was in black and white. This was because earlier art was distributed in fanzines created at copy shops.
As explained in the other sections of this article, punk ideology sees the world as deeply corrupt. Because of this worldview, a distinct system of beliefs has emerged from the punk movement, which tries to explain the way people ought to behave in such a bleak world.
As the section on conformity pointed out, punks see this social phenomenon as deceitful and coercive. Attempting to acquire a state of non-conformity is one of the most obvious of all punk attributes, though often the most difficult. The ideas punk holds so dear are always under attack by the youth of today who purely see punk as cool and not the meaningful way of changing society for the better real punks live by. The unique, and to many abrasive, sound of punk music expresses not only aggression and discontent but also a refusal to sound mainstream or to sound acceptable to a wide audience. Punk fashion was originally an expression of nonconformity with mainstream culture, as well as that of hippie counterculture.
**Do It Yourself**
In the late 1970s, the punk movement was operating in an environment controlled by outside influences. Because this impinged on the freedom of the movement, people in the punk scene began creating their own record companies, organizing their own concerts, and creating their own print media. This became known as do it yourself, or DIY ethic. "Don't hate the media, become the media" is a famous motto for this movement.
Punks often participate in direct action to accomplish their desired goals. In addition to protests, boycotts and so forth, punks are also known for the use of what some may perceive as violence. More active and radical members of the community have been known to bomb gas stations, destroy animal research laboratories, alter billboards to include political messages and occupy abandoned buildings. Recently the phenomenon of hacktivism has been used as an additional method of sabotage. These acts are committed in an effort to create social change when it is known that the normal channels for change have been proven ineffective. Destruction of private property is often deemed acceptable by trendy skater kids as it conveys a cool message of disapproval without hurting people (see conformity). Because Punks tend to disdain materialism, the destruction of someone else's private possessions does not receive much sympathy. Private property itself, however, is much different from possessions.
**Never sell out**
The issues surrounding the act of compromising one's ethical parameters in exchange for personal gain are of particular relevance to punk ideology and culture. Generally, selling out refers to any abandonment of personal and/or community values in exchange for some reciprocal gain, usually in the form of wealth, status, or power. However, due to the direct association between punk rock music and punk ideology, this issue has taken on a specific meaning unique to the punk rock community.
Because anti-establishment attitudes are such an important part of this version of punk ideology, a network of independent music labels, venues, and distributors has slowly come into existence (see Do It Yourself), allowing parties interested in the creation, distribution, and purchase of independently-produced punk music to opt out of the major label system. These networks bypass the traditional systems of content distribution, which are controlled by a small number of large corporations who many feel stifle creative initiative and marginalize the concepts presented in punk ideology.
Often, up-and-coming or long-established punk artists will choose to break from this independent system and work within the established system of major record labels, incurring criticism from within the punk community. Some argue that through their choice, these artists have betrayed their communities and that as punk artists; their creative integrity is necessarily compromised. However, many artists have defended their actions, arguing that working through the major label system is a necessary evil to allow for the widest propagation of their artistic message. The band Chumbawamba is well known for using this justification when they signed on with the major label EMI.
Other times, it could be either a natural artistic progression from punk to prog rock (for example) or mainstream pop. It could even be as a result of disillusionment that a punk "sells out". A good example of disillusionment would be Garry Bushell's shift from socialism to the right.
**Criticisms of punk ideology**
Punk is critical of the state of society, whether or not it is Hardline, Nazi Punk or Queercore. However, punk has been criticized, both from outside and from within. From within, Anarcho Punk Legends (better known as Crass) wrote songs critical of the punk movement. Examples include "White Punks on Hope", which accuses Joe Strummer of selling out and betraying his socialist principles. "Punk is Dead" attacks corporate co-option, while "Tribal Rival Rebel Revel" is critical of punks resorting to violence to resolve their differences.
Jello Biafra accused Maximum Rock'n'Roll of what he calls "punk fundamentalism" when they refused to advertise Alternative Tentacles records, saying, "They weren't punk".
From outside, punk ideology has been criticized by people like Jim Goad. In his essay, "The Underground is A Lie!", he claims that many punks are hypocrites, that they act poor while hiding the fact that a significant number come from middle class backgrounds. He also argues that punk is as outdated and obsolescent as the mainstream, saying:
"The mainstream's models of reality are clunky and obsolete, just like yours."
He expands on this in "Farts from Underground", where he argues that the DIY ethic never produces anything original. Instead, Goad argues, it allows for bitching, factionalism and back biting, in this case between rival punk ideologies. He argues that in being politicized and propagandist, punk contributes to a model of "alternative culture" that is blander than the mainstream.
Another external criticism of punk comes from Aristasians, who argue that punk accomplishes nothing but kicking the moldering corpse of the establishment that no longer existed after 1965. They call this "The Doctrine of The Cardboard Enemy", arguing that the more punks rebel against the status quo, the more they become a part of it. In an interview with a punk/indie fanzine, their media representative, Marianne Martindale, posited the question:
"Where did this anti-establishment establishment come from?"
implying that punk is as much a part of the mainstream as what it claims to oppose. Put simply: by declaring oneself non-conformist, one conforms to a societal norm (see also Conformist Rebellion).
Another criticism of punk from within is from Conservative Punk, which argues that punks have become "hippies with mohawks" despite the punk movement being a response to the ethos and ideals of the hippie subculture.
**Other punk ideologies**
Punk is typically seen as having an affinity with radical left-wing or progressive politics, but there are several important exceptions to this. In fact, punk can take a wide range of ideological extremes, some of which are far right and in complete opposition to the left-wing norm. Nazi Punk, for example, is a [nationalistic]], fascist and racist ideology. Hardline punks associate with progressive ideologies like deep ecology, straight edge, animal liberation, but also have a strong affiliation with traditional Abrahamic religion. Straight Edge punk takes a strong stance against drug abuse and for sexual abstinence. Oi! Punk aligns itself with the working class and is sometimes seen as racist and at other times as anti-racist. Conservative Punks ascribe to a punk lifestyle but reject the typical leftist views of other punks. Streetpunks are often seen as a reaction to middle-class punks and are thought to have a tribalist mentality.