Before I got up this morning, I dreamed I captured and killed a mouse. The dream interpretation of killing a mouse is often positive, but I am still feeling deeply disappointed in myself for harming and killing a mouse instead of releasing it outside.
“From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism” is my favourite book by Fred Turner. He is a professor of communication at Stanford University. The book explores the origins of the digital utopianism that emerged in the 1990s, tracing it back to the countercultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s. You can consider this book the continuation of his other book, “The Democratic Surround.”
Internet was an innovation started and funded by DARPA and the US department of defence. Its practical applications primarily focused on building an ad-hock messaging and information exchange network. The idea of the Internet as a global utopian community to connect people who wanted to exchange ideas was inspired by a combination of hippy artists who used a lot of psychedelic drugs and hosted psychedelic parties and libertarian right investors who believed the Internet would become space where governments would have little influence over and wouldn’t be able to regulate. Stewart Brand was one of the artists and a key influencer to lead the counterculture movement.
Stewart Brand was a member of the art collective USCO, who created experimental light and sound environments and film projections in museums, dance clubs, theatres, and universities. At the time, he was distributing buttons with a profound question “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole earth yet?” That self-funded campaign led to NASA releasing the public’s first photograph of Earth. This was during the cold-war and Brand hoped that humanity would see the Earth as a whole and interconnected system and, as a result, give peace a chance.
Later, Brand founded the Whole Earth Catalog with a picture of the planet earth on the cover. At the time, many people had decided to move back to nature and restart humanity by living in communes, growing their food, building their habitats, and, you know, the whole hippie movement. WEC contained information for sourcing anything from farming, medicine, and creating habitats, to technology and cybernetics equipment. This was not a shopping catalogue but rather for knowing where to find what in this network of communes nationwide; it was a hard copy Internet, Google, or Wikipedia. We often attribute the quote “Stay hungry, stay foolish” to Steve Jobs, but this quote was from the WEC, and this catalogue was one of the resources that inspired Steve Jobs to start Apple computers.
WEC was later recreated as an online community called Whole Earth Lectronic Link or WELL, where users could communicate. Naturally, the WELL users called themselves WELLBeings! So as the hippy communes collapsed, they migrated to cyberspace. Today I learned that WELL.com is still online!
This book also covers the start of the WIRE magazine and silicon valley once the World Wide Web became available to the public.
Stewart Brand and his friends laid the groundwork for the concept of the world wide web as a global community; however, they also note that this vision of the Internet as a utopian space of freedom and society has been challenged by the commercialization of the web and the rise of surveillance capitalism.
Remember that patriarchy created Capitalism to extract value from the masses and then concentrate them in the hands of a few capitalists.
Patriarchy invented religion and Gods in the image of powerful men because the idea of heaven and hell would give people an illusion of justice while living in an economically unjust world. After all, when unprivileged people believe that all their hard work in this life will eventually be compensated in the afterlife, they are less likely to organize an uprise against those who exploit people and nature for profit.
Patriarchy denies women equal rights and opportunities, safety, economic power, and autonomy; it reduced women to properties owned by men and as incubators that gave birth to more workers and soldiers that served and protected patriarchy’s wealth extraction and exploitation systems.
Patriarchy is an ancient system of oppression and exploitation. It is a manufactured construct, not a default fixture of our reality. It harms people regardless of gender, but even more so, people who challenge the patriarchy’s hegemonic idea of masculinity.
Patriarchy harms our environment and nature, too. As Francis Bacon said, “nature must be taken by the forelock,” because as it seems, nature is a woman and patriarchy’s idea of resource extraction and economic growth is a rape fantasy!
Today we celebrate women, recognize their struggles against patriarchy, and learn from their many achievements.
I am hurting right now. Last week a colleague of ours died; he was the same age as me. I ended a relationship with someone who has been my life’s most extended and deepest friend and lover of over ten years. Also, a project I diligently worked on was cancelled due to insufficient funds, which doesn’t sound as bad as the first two, but it still hurts a bit.
The relationship I ended hurts the most; it’s the kind of grief I don’t know if I’ll get over but eventually gather enough strength to move on.
I’ve been participating in activities celebrating life for the last few days. I attended a Flaming Lips concert, a Spring celebration party at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and a Blues and Fusion dance night where I could dance with all my friends and favourite dancers. One heart-healing property of Blues and Fusion dance is that you can feel and process your emotions while in motion with a dance partner embracing you on the dance floor.
I won’t try to medicate or suppress my pain. I won’t distract myself from it. I am going to feel my emotions to their full strength and depth. I’ll let them run through me while I’m processing my grief.
In my quest to learn more about the origins of fascism and modern liberalism in North America, I came across Fred Turner’s books. The Democratic Surround describes how a group of artists and anthropologists during the 40s and shortly after WWII set the ground for the multimedia-rich, consumer-driven world we live in today. Why is multimedia significant? At the time, fascist and communist authoritarian leaders used broadcasting technologies such as Radio and Television to bring about repression and conformity to their societies, and multimedia was an alternative method of offering a more democratic, inclusive, and open social order.
The author shares stories from Bauhaus, the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, and Black Mountain College in North Carolina. This group of artists and intellectuals organized art and multimedia events such as the Happenings and Family of Man, which were interactive, used rich multimedia, and were also heavily fused by propaganda to promote social freedoms combined with consumerism and capitalism. These events eventually set the stage for the psychedelic counterculture and later cyberculture which Turner covers in his next book, From counterculture to cyberculture.
Remember that these multimedia events predate Burning Man or the Internet itself. The Happenings, for example, were mainly organized by white men and offered little to no gender or racial diversity. While nude women were part of the interactive art performances, women, people of diverse sexual orientations, and Black and indigenous people often had little to no involvement in organizing and planning the events.
I still wonder whether a few art events could shift the mindset of a nation from fascism towards some variation of liberalism. Still, I’ve also learned that subcultures and countercultures often have more influence on the mainstream mindset than we realize.