An evening or two ago, I stopped into Mooney’s, the great little local market just on the border between Sewanee and Monteagle, to pick up some garlic powder. I had paid for it, when it occurred to me that I should grab one of those delicious chocolate bars they sell as well–grabbing one, I laid it on the counter though the garlic powder had already been rung up.
Oops. A minor inconvenience. “Oh, sorry,” I said. “I should have …” and I paused there. “You know, there are so many things I could say after those three words.”
“Now you’re just head copping yourself,” said Joan, the owner, and we both cracked up laughing. “Hey, what do you expect? It’s a hippie place.” So I left with the garlic powder, the chocolate bar, and a new expression.
To head cop is not a phrase I’d ever heard before, though its meaning is instantly understandable as something like “to subject one’s conscience to an external source of perceived authority” (my stab at a definition). In his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud had called the super-ego as “the vehicle of tradition and of all the time-resisting judgements of value which have propagated themselves in this manner from generation to generation” (1933, 105). The expression head copping, however, is not simply descriptive as Freud is here, but dismissive. In the same way cop is a pejorative term for police, so head-cop is a pejorative way to refer to the super-ego– both point to a figure with power tending toward abuse.
As it turns out, the phrase head cop was coined by Stephen Gaskin,”an often tie-dye-clad hippie philosopher, a proud ‘freethinker’ and iconic founder of The Farm,” as he was described in his 2014 obituary in the Tennesseean. I know Joan spent quite a few years living on The Farm, the utopian collective founded in 1971 in Summertown, Tennessee, and so she probably heard the term from Gaskin himself at some point. I haven’t looked up the phrase in Gaskin’s own work, but in a chapter called “The Formation of Hippie Spirituality” (from Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances), he is quoted on the topic.
As a synonym for mind control, Gaskin is clearly using the term here in a more serious way than Joan had been. And it can be a serious matter to let allegiance to an authority devolve into mindless obedience. But it seems the phrase head cop can also be employed in a more light-hearted way to dismiss the bossy “shoulda-woulda-coulda” voices of the super ego. You don’t just have to have garlic powder; go ahead and have a candy bar.