|| by Mark
Copyright © New Media Associates, 1997
Last year, a critical essay entitled The
Californian Ideology by Richard Barbrook and Andrew Cameron (University
of Westminster) appeared on the Internet and quickly became a focal point
for growing criticism of the glossy and widely influential WIRED
magazine. However, the author's difficulty in sorting out the origins of
the ideas behind WIRED and it's version of the "Digital Revolution"
was painfully obvious in their essay.
I'd like to argue that the group which has consistently promoted the
worldview expressed by WIRED and, in effect, publishes and writes the magazine
today isn't American at all...it's the English. If anything, WIRED represents
yet another attempt to invade American culture and to undermine American
political and economic initiative another of the attempts which have characterized
American relations with the English for many centuries. WIRED magazine
is not an American institution, nor is it even distinctly Californian (although
its association with San Francisco is certainly undeniable). And, its ideology
is also not nearly as novel as Barbrook/Cameron and some other European
commentators seem to suggest although, arguably, it is appearing in a new
and, therefore, potentially confusing form. Each of the magazine's elements,
including free-market economics, hedonic lifestyle, techno-utopianism and,
crucially, complete disdain for the uniqueness of human consciousness are
all specifically and historically components of what I am calling the English
ideology. For that matter, the magazine's sponsors are all English (or
self- confessed Anglophiles). Its themes are largely English in origin
and its strategy of world-domination through techno-utopian revolution
is English (specifically H.G.Wells)
to the core. Indeed, WIRED is a house-organ for the modern political expression
of British radical liberalism and it's philosophical partner British radical
empiricism. Politically, philosophically, financially and psychologically,
WIRED is a concrete expression of the English ideology.
Negroponte's apparent goal was to meld Rosetto/Metcalfe with the now
flagging San Francisco-based Whole Earth project of his longtime associate,
(who had previously contributed the book/marketing-brochure, "Media
Lab"). First to join the WIRED editorial team was Brand protege and
Whole Earth editor, Kevin Kelly, in what was billed as an ambitious relaunch
of the original effort designed to amp-up the graphics, capture consumer
product advertisers and spearhead the, now digital, techno-Utopian world
revolution. Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll were now "tired";
WIRED was now "wired." WIRED, which positioned itself as the
journal of this post- psychedelic world revolution, was launched with seed
money from Negroponte (buying him the back page and ultimately a best-seller)
and from game designer Charlie Jackson. But the glossy mockup failed to
attract the crucial second round of investment and WIRED appeared to be
still-born until Negroponte introduced them to the San Francisco-based
private bank, Sterling Payot, which
fronted the money for the magazine's launch. Continued existence, however,
was still in doubt until the notoriously Anglophile (a polite word for
English in American clothing) publisher Si Newhouse's Advance Publications
stepped in for the last push. (No, despite its name, the Newhouse published
magazine, "The New Yorker" is actually not an American publication...it's
In this tumultuous process involving financial reorganizations, whatever
notions of editorial independence which might have been initially entertained
at WIRED were quickly contained. The editorial content of the magazine
from its inception has been heavily influenced by the larger utopian agendas
of Brand and his Whole Earth-to-WIRED editorial colleague Kevin Kelly.
In particular, the multi-national scenarios-planning company co- founded
by Brand and previously London-based Royal-Dutch Shell futurist Peter Schwartz,
the Global Business Network (GBN), has
been decisive in shaping WIRED's "content." From promoting GBN's
consultants endlessly with cover-stories and interviews to actually producing
a "special issue" on the future totally with GBN resources, WIRED
handed over its editorial reigns to GBN and it's New Dark Age scenarios
(more on this below) from day one. To be sure, proclaiming the gloomy truth
of the GBN scenario- planned and social-engineered future is not exactly
WIRED's public mission.
WIRED is all about the "optimism meme" and is committed to
catalyzing the creation of a "better world" at least for the
five percent of the population who are expected to comprise the new Information
Age rulers. This new "class" even has a name: the "Brain
Lords" (and what else would the English Ideology call the Information
Age aristocracy, anyway?) according to Michael Vlahos, a policy analyst
at Newt Gingrich's think-tank, the Progress and Freedom Foundation. Editorial
support for Gingrich's brand of "revolution" as well as consistent
backing of his technocratic policy advisers, most notably Alvin Toffler,
has been a WIRED commitment from its earliest issues. The project which
preceded WIRED, the Whole Earth (and it's various off-shoots, such as the
computer conferencing system known as the WELL
and the newer Electric Minds), had
been the product of Stewart Brand et al.'s 1960's efforts to engineer a
utopian counter-culture which, it was hoped, would broadly transform society
So, aren't I confusing my tribal history here? Isn't Brand all-American?
No, I don't think so. Scratch a Stewart Brand and what will you find? None
other than the English anthropologist Gregory Bateson, of course. And,
it is from Bateson's lifelong commitment to re- program a humanity which
he deeply despised and, in particular, his explicit drive to destroy the
religious basis of Western civilization by replacing God with Nature, that
the Whole Earth project was born. It was literally the beginning of a new
religion with Nature at its center and mankind portrayed as the dangerous
ape threatening to destroy it all.
Bateson's British (and American) intelligence sponsored takeover of
the nascent field of cybernetics
in the 1950's from it's creator, Norbert Wiener, led directly into Bateson's
LSD-driven experiments on schizophrenia and creativity in Palo Alto, which
in turn, were the origins of Ken
Kesey's Merry Pranksters and their house band, the Grateful Dead. Indeed,
Stewart Brand's own career as a publicist for what was first conceived
of as drug and then computer-based techo-utopian revolution owes much to
Bateson's cybernetics guidance. Brand was among the first to recognize
that personal computers and computer networks might have even greater potential
to re-program the humans who "used" them than the psychedelics
which fueled his earlier efforts. Indeed, based on Brand's success at promoting
LSD at his Trips Festivals, he was hired by Doug Englebart to stage the
first mass demonstration of the mouse and windows system which Englebart
had invented at the Stanford Research Institute
Bateson is the son of the English geneticist, William Bateson, whose
attacks precipitated the suicide of his principle Continental rival, Otto
Kammerer, is chronicled in Arthur Koestler's "Case of the Mid-Wife
Toad." And, if the Englishman Bateson doesn't satisfy your hunger
for a proper tribal genealogy for psychedelic San Francisco, one might
consider Captain Al Hubbard (no relation to L. Ron), the Johnny Appleseed
of LSD. He was born in Kentucky but by the 1950's had renounced his U.S.
citizenship and sailed right up to Vancouver, British Columbia, to become
a commodore in their very English yacht club. That's where he set up the
world war-room to target the destruction of Western culture (through San
Francisco) and from this base that he joined forces with Humphrey Osmond
(English military psychiatrist, lead English MK-ULTRA researcher and the
originator of the term "psychedelic") and Aldous Huxley (English
black- sheep godson of the original techno-utopian, H.G. Wells) to spread
LSD among the intelligentsia to achieve the world revolution. To be sure,
San Francisco's cultural scene has long been shaped by its close association
with English intellectuals and social engineers.
Hey, I Thought "Laissez-Faire"
Don't be fooled by such foreign sounding (at least to some of us) phrases.
You can be certain that the free-markets, "invisible hands" and
the libertarian thought patterns that have motivated WIRED publisher Louis
Rossetto since his college days are all very proper and all very English,
First there was Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon, then Locke and Hume
and then Malthus, Bentham, Smith and the Mills (then Bertrand Russell and
H.G. Wells). The intellectual movement named after these Englishmen has
been dubbed the Enlightenment and it is billed as a radical break with
dogma- based religious authority ostensibly in favor of human reason.
Bullocks, as Barbrook would say. Instead, the Enlightenment was an attack
on the largely continental-based Renaissance and its championing of imagination,
creativity, science and freedom, indeed, on human consciousness itself.
As a philosophical movement (which did also have a continental component),
the Enlightenment is closely associated with attempts to reform and therefore
perpetuate the British Empire (many of these "philosophers" were
employed by the British East India Company) -- particularly against those
Renaissance inspired upstarts like the gang who revolted and won their
independence over in America.
British radical liberalism was its political form (expressed in our
days as libertarianism by way of nominally Austrian but actually London
School of Economics professor and Nobel Prize winner, Frederick Hayek).
It's philosophical twin, British radical empiricism (essentially, re-tooled
form of Aristotelianism), is its far-flung and anti-human intellectual
form propounding that all knowledge comes from the senses -- denying the
uniqueness of human consciousness and laying the foundation for the inevitable
degrading of humans to the level of farm animals which always accompanies
"liberal" social policy.
Let me hold off from exploring all of the historical and epistemological
territory implied by the above comments which are unfortunately far too
vast for this short essay. Perhaps, Bernard de Mandeville's, London published,
1714 treatise, "The
Fable of the Bees: Private Vice, Publick Virtue", will concisely
illustrate the point at hand. Originally published anonymously and still
in print in a variety of editions today, Mandeville's thesis is a simple
one. According to Mandeville, humans are no more than mere beasts and,
he went on to say, vice, corruption and the satisfaction of wanton desire
is the only viable basis for building a successful and thriving economy.
It was the satisfaction of humanity's animal instincts that constituted
liberty and the aggregation of these acts of private vice that would result
in the greatest public benefit. By maximizing human degradation through
free-markets regulated only by what Smith later called the "invisible
hand" overall profits would be maximized along with "publick"
virtue, Mandeville and his cohorts insisted. And, for its obvious role
in attempting to address the issue of morality in human affairs, religion
was the Enlightenment's arch-enemy -- not because religion was anti- rational,
a common but demonstrably ahistoric and ignorant opinion, but because it
sought to curtail depravity -- the essence of "liberalism."
It has been suggested that Mandeville's escapades would make a great
WIRED cover story but we'll probably have to settle for his 20th century
equivalent, WIRED Executive Editor Kevin Kelly. As discussed in Kelly's
book, "Out of Control", Kelly has had a life long fascination
with bees -- the "social" insects. The book's cover art is swarms
of digital bees and the book is little more than a revision of Mandeville's
thesis in complexity-theory/A-life clothing. Kelly's thesis should be familiar
by now. Any hope of controlling economies or cultures or unfolding events
is doomed to suboptimize the results and yield only nasty "unintended
consequences." People should be left to do whatever they want -- and
eventually they'll buzz back to make plenty of honey (or die after slamming
into someone's windshield along the way) just like the bees in the hive.
Mandeville's bald-faced advocacy of depravity would of course find plenty
of public support in WIRED's home town, San Francisco. Where else are there
public lectures on erotic torture techniques and "advanced no-safe-word
topping"? Perhaps, today's average San Franciscan would find little
surprising, let alone shocking, in Englishman Jeremy
Bentham's ode to the joys of sex with his favorite donkeys. For much
of his life, Mandeville's London was ruled by Prime Minister Robert
Walpole (who is credited with the free-market maxim "everyman
has his price") and for a time, the infamous Hell-Fire Clubs were
one of London's principle entertainment attraction. At least until the
crash of the speculative South Sea bubble (as all free-marketeering inevitably
leads to speculative excess and collapse) forced the public closing of
these historic theme parks of depravity.
There should be no confusion on this point. WIRED's cyber-libertarianism
is just the latest installment of the now perennial English-led counter-Renaissance
Enlightenment project of the 17th-19th century. WIRED's philosophical platform
is thoroughly derived from this Enlightenment project and, if its program
were to ever become broadly successful, the result would only favor the
same ilk of oligarchist "reformers" who started this whole ball
rolling a few hundred years ago.
Techno-Utopianism: The Final Imperial Solution
But, it's not sufficient to demonstrate the intellectual genealogy of
WIRED to fully describe their tight affiliation with the English ideology.
There is a crucial component of the technological and biologically deterministic
utopian worldview at the core of WIRED's "content" which must
be carefully situated as well. WIRED's techno-utopianism is merely the
modern expression of H.G. Wells' attempts in the first half of this century
to construct a technocratic global empire ruled by a new elite much like
the audience that WIRED seeks to rally behind its now digital but still
self-consciously revolutionary banner.
In its various forms, following Thomas
More's coining of the term "Utopia" with the publishing of
his book with that title in 1516, utopian writing and, indeed, utopian
social experiments tended to be pastoral and, if anything, anti-technology.
It was H.G. Wells who changed all that with his 1905 publication of his
novel, A Modern Utopia (one of the few of his 20th century works which
is still in print). And, it was Wells who initiated the entire inquiry
into a technology-defined future (and, indeed, launched the field now known
as futurism) in his seminal 1902 essay, "Anticipations." While
Wells is popularly known as the first true science fiction writer, he lived
for 50 years after he completed his cycle of four major sci-fi novels in
1897. During this half century, he was very busy designing the future of
the British Empire the Third Rome as he put it (or as Toffler would later
put it, the Third Wave) as a vision of a world knit together by communications
and transportation technologies and controlled by a new class of technocrats.
What Wells' described in volume after volume throughout the rest of
his life (both in fictional and essay format) is indistinguishable from
the digital revolution WIRED hopes to lead. It's a post-industrial world
that has abandoned the nation-state in favor of Wells' World State, that
has scrapped the premises of it's industrial past, embraced the scarcity
of an anti-growth economics and based itself on the emergence of a newly
indoctrinated post-civilization humanity. Wells had devoted himself to
organizing a world revolution based on technology, synthetic religion and
mass mind-control the same revolution discussed monthly in the pages of
WIRED. In Wells' "A Modern Utopia," the rulers are called the
"New Samurai" and they are a caste of scientist/priests who social-engineer
the global society Wells called the "World State." The well-known
Perry Barlow's WIRED-published, "Declaration
of Independence for Cyberspace" would have made Wells very happy,
I have no doubt. Yes, that's Wells' "World State" lurking in
the margins of Barlow's manifesto despite his waffling on the specifics
of future forms of "governance" except to say that the future
of politics will be conveniently (from the social engineer's standpoint)
"post-reason." But, am I not heading straight into the jaws of
an overwhelming and categorical contradiction? Wells was certainly no free-marketeer.
He was a professed socialist and WIRED appears on its face to be thoroughly
free-market capitalist. How could I claim any affinity between the British
radical liberals and Wells (and with both and WIRED)? Am I not just gluing
together two sets of intellectual forebears who both just happen to be
English? How do I avoid the "bizarre fusion" description favored
by Barbrook/Cameron? In the end, doesn't my English ideology argument collapse
as just another curious historical accident combine with an overworked
imagination? I don't think so. Despite the naked attempt to rescue Well's
left- socialist legacy in a recent biography by the past-head of the British
Labour Party, Michael Foot, Wells was indeed a very strange socialist or
to put it in his own words, he was a "liberal fascist." Likewise,
when the substance of its arguments are carefully considered, WIRED strikes
the pose of a very odd sort of capitalist.
I'm convinced that they both choose to adopt protective coloring to
enhance their stature in their respective times and places but that, just
beneath the surface, they are both simply utopian/corporativists the same
ideological impulse which gave rise to Fascism and not what they may appear
to be to the more casual and, too often, more credulous observer.
Both WIRED and Wells are, in fact, utopians and elitists with overarching
ambitions of leading a world revolution. This revolution is intended to
produce radical economic and political transformation which would put their
ilk in charge of running a new worldwide empire. From a strategic standpoint
fundamental goals and premises Wells, WIRED (and their common antecedent
the anti-human Enlightenment radical Liberals) were/are all fighting for
the same new imperial outcome. While there are certainly many tactical
twists and turns in this plot over the centuries, this entire grabbag is
precisely what I've been referring to as the English Ideology the ideology
behind a global empire which combines an anything-goes small-scale private
life (libertarianism) with rigidly defined large-scale constraints (technocracy).
If you would like another description of the same utopian ying-yang, refer
to another cyber-guru's (Jaron Lanier in this case) November 1995 editorial
in the SPIN magazine issue on the future and his characterization of the
Stewards (technocrats) and the Extropians (libertarians) as the post-political
poles of discourse. Wells' dalliance with the Fabian
Society (he tried to take it over by promoting free-love to the wives
of its board members) may be one of the sources of confusion leading to
Wells' apparent "socialist" credentials. But, as even a cursory
reading of Wells' quickly demonstrates, there was absolutely no room for
working class revolt (or certainly working class leadership) in Wells'
worldview. He was thoroughly convinced that the downtrodden could never
lead or even comprehend the revolution he saw coming. Wells' life was dedicated
to organizing a completely new class of technical and social scientific
experts technocrats who would assume control of a world driven to collapse
and ruin by workers and capitalists alike.
Wells wanted to completely re-program humanity through the creation
of a synthetic religion and, like all utopians, had no affection for the
commoner of his time at all. Wells considered socialism, in its various
Social Democratic to Marxist manifestations, to be a string of completely
anachronistic failures and a throwback to the era of human folly and self-destruction
which Wells sought to leap past much like Toffler dismissing nation-states
and representative democracy as "Second Wave." In fact, Wells
was very clear what sort of corporativist world he wanted when identified
the earliest of the multinational corporations as the fledgling model of
his ideal economic organization. In his 1920's novel, The World of William
Chissolm, and the companion essay, "Imperialism and The Open Conspiracy",
Wells cites early multi-nationals as the only kind of globe-spanning (and,
therefore, anti-nation-state) economic structures which could embody his
revolutionary principles. He chides both government and business leaders
who think that any remnant of the still British-nation-centered Empire
could survive and calls on the heads of multinationals to join in forming
the vanguard of his revolutionary "Open Conspiracy."
He also published extensively about the inevitable scrapping of democracy
and any form of popular rule in his World State. His "New Samurai"
were volunteers who pledged their lives to the pure experience of ruling
as a new caste of priest/scholars. No elections, no parliament, no hereditary
titles and no buying your way in, Wells was clear that his new ruling class
would be a religious elite with global reach. He even predicted that a
new field of inquiry, which he termed Social Psychology, would arise and
become the "soul of the race" by developing social control techniques
which would systematically re-train the masses which he openly despised.
And, following WW II, the core of British and American psychological warfare
leadership created just such field to pursue worldwide social engineering.
H.G. Wells was a very odd "socialist", indeed. Oh, he did
call for the abolition of all socially significant private property. But,
then so has WIRED with their repeated claims that in the Information Age
intellectual property will disappear in cyberspace a posture that has not
gone unnoticed in the more orthodox neo-liberal circles as demonstrated
by Peter Huber's scathing critique of WIRED in his piece for Slate,
"Tangled Wires." Such a call for abolishing property was also
featured by the native U.S. fascist movement, Technocracy which was launched
out of the Columbia University Engineering Department with 1932 nationwide
radio broadcast. In fact, while Wells rejected the offered allegiance to
his "Open Conspiracy" by native British fascist, Oswald Moseley,
he did it by pointing out that "what we need is some more liberal
Being educated as he was, Wells surely understood (and I believe embraced)
the philosophical heritage of radical "liberalism." As a matter
of fact, independent economic sovereignty (the essence of politically effective
private property) is what Wells (and all his empire building successors
have) objected to. It is the independence of large scale economic forces
particularly those associated with strong nation-states that both Wells
and the radical Liberals both objected to so forcefully. It is only such
forces, operating with determination and resolve, that function as a bulwark
against empires like Wells' World State. Despite their surface appearance
of conflict, WIRED-style free-marketeering and Wells' "Open Conspiracy"
both lead to the same political- economic outcome oligarchist/corporativist
control of a global economy. This is why the modern intellectual progenitor
of modern libertarianism, Hayek, spent his career at the nominally Fabian
socialist London School of Economics alongside Keynes, they were simply
two birds of the same feather. Another ying- yang twinned pairing pointing
to a common endgame. While it admittedly flies in the face of conventional
categorization, right-wing and left-wing utopian/oligarchists are still
fundamentally and most significantly utopian/oligarchists even if their
protective plumage might temporarily succeed in confusing some birdwatchers.
They differ merely on the tactics, while presenting a home for confused
fellow-travellers of all persuasions, while they thump for the same 1000
year empire and imagine themselves sitting behind the steering wheel. This
should be no more confusing than watching Alvin Toffler, and his wife Heidi,
move from active Communist Party membership and factory floor colonization
to becoming chief advisors to Newt Gingrich. Tactics may change; the strategy
The New Dark Age
What sort of future do the futurists see for us? Despite the sugar-
coated promises of wealth and power being held out to those who make the
cut and get inducted into the supreme religious cult which gets to play
imperial Wizard of Oz, the reality of a Wells/WIRED future won't be nearly
so cinematic for most earthlings. As every honest futurist has admitted,
the future will be painful and pointless for most who survive. The Information
Age will be a Dark Age. It will bring pre-mature death to half or more
of the earth's population and it will represent the deliberate scrapping
and then forgetting of humanity's greatest achievements.
Perhaps, the harsh truth of the Information Age was best described in
Michael Vlahos' January 1995 speech, "ByteCity or Life After the Big
Change." Vlahos is a Senior Fellow at Newt Gingrich's thinktank, the
Progress and Freedom Foundation
(PFF), and a past geo-political analyst who has led PFF's exploration of
implementing the Toffler/Wells plans. Vlahos presents a terrifying future
scenario roughly 20 years in the future in which society has stratified
into elites and gangs. In fact, life is so threatening in ByteCity that
we spent most of our time in our rooms staring at wall sized vidscreens
if we're lucky enough to have a room, that is. Vlahos' world is run by
stateless modern robber-barons, which he terms the "Brain Lords"
and which he characterizes as "rampaging not through the landscape
but making billions in the ether." These new aristocrats will come
from the merger of telecommunications and entertainment multinational giants
and much like in Wells' formulation, the "Brain Lords" do not
inherit their class status and they will burn out from looting at an early
age. After 40 they will retire to run the world. They will comprise 5 percent
of the population, he says. They are Wells' "New Samurai."
Below them he stratifies in the "Upper Servers" and the "Agents"
who comprise another 20 percent who will spend their lives destroying the
value of professional education and association in a vicious "information"
driven chase for individual recognition. Below that, roughly 50 percent
of the population lives as service workers slaving 12- 15 hours a day in
front their living-room vidscreens "servicing" their global clients
in a world that respects no time zones. And the bottom 25 percent, who,
if they are not pacified will provide ample motivation for people to stay
indoors to avoid being attacked by roving gangs, are what Vlahos calls
Roughly twice as large a population share as those who were discarded
by the Industrial Revolution in Britain according to Vlahos, "The
Lost" are those that will never become a functioning part of "ByteCity."
Sustained by modern "Victorians" who know the threat posed by
the poor, "The Lost" are merely the most wretched of the wretches.
Life all the way up the line from "lost" to "lord"
will entail such radical disruption of personal safety and well-being that,
in effect, Vlahos has turned dystopian cyberpunk literature into a policy
statement. Naturally, expecting to rise to the top, Vlahos appears to feverishly
await the "Big Change." No less chilling is the scenarios planning
exercise that WIRED's wizards-behind-the-curtain perform on their multi-national
clients. From General Motors to AT&T, the Global Business Network (GBN)
charges hefty sums to show the yellow-brick-road towards "ByteCity"
to strategic planners and top corporate brass.
In one recent and rare public discussion of the results, GM's top planning
team defined the three "alternative futures" which emerged after
years of GBN counciling. The first is just like our world and, so by definition,
is not very interesting. The second is an eco-fascist regime in which car
designs are completely "Green" and the companies can only follow
orders. The third is the fun one, however. This is the world in which armed
gangs roam the streets and surface travel is a series of car chases. This
scenario has already been anticipated with a Cadillac that includes armored
protection and a "panic" button installed in the middle of the
dashboard. The car has a satellite tracking system built in and it can
call the local authorities (presumably your multi-national's private swat-team)
and get help when you get trapped by the natives.
Vlahos-PFF-Gingrich, WIRED-GBN-Brand, and Wells-Toffler
What ideology is being expressed by all these 20th century New Dark
Age "revolutionaries"? Is this ideology "Californian"?
Or, does it have another historical context and another "tribal"
association? I merely suggest that accuracy and intellectual faithfulness
require us to pin the tail on the real (Benthamite) donkey. This is the
Enlightenment-spawned English ideology and, as usual, it's hell-bent on
ruling the world over our dead bodies.