Since the early 90’s, publications such as Mondo 2000 have brought a subversive and countercultural relevance to the consistently evolving (yet not always radical) tech industry. Focusing on a passionate new world in which VR, AI, music, visual art, audio experimentation, and live performances combine; mutants/freaks/pioneers in this provocative space between art and technology have carried on the torch to create their own festivals, projects, and temporary autonomous zones.
From tech salons like the BIL Conference and the Extreme Futurist Festival, to electronic music events and communities such as GOGBOT and LoveTech, a new history is being written for makers and innovators who see outside the corporate world of tech. In the accelerating 2000’s, this evolving demographic is leading the charge through an intoxicating fusion of art, science, creativity, AI-generated music, experimental live performances, crypto-communities, biohacking, digital philosophy, fashion technology, and more.
On the front lines of this cultural movement is a collaborative organization in San Francisco called CODAME whose participants are gearing up to throw an ART+TECH Festival in early June of 2018. This ART+TECH event features gallery installations, screenings, and performances @ The Midway from June 4-7, 2018. Their theme this year is #ARTOBOTS, which zooms in on how automatons orchestrate so much of our lives through both our bodies and minds.
From the CODAME website:
“In the daily movements we make, the messages we send, and the sensations we experience, we already collaborate with [bots] in increasingly varied, tactile and tangible ways. Bots mediate our relationships with ourselves, each other and our environments. While many of these interactions are familiar to us, there are a myriad of ways to move, think, sense and feel with our lively machines.”
Events like CODAME are examples of the future going in a new radical direction envisioned by the early adapters of Mondo 2000. Dorkbot and RE/Search Publications also come to mind, as early Bay Area organizations that continue to influence this countercultural space today. Who says that the tech world must be full of boring and soulless robots who aren’t even literally robots? Who says that science can’t be a visionary world of spontaneous emergence and creative expression?
Technology must not lose its visionary edge. If we feel outnumbered, we can work to convert new markets into a more exciting world. We can show the public that technology is about conscious evolution and radical self expression as much as numbers and spreadsheets. We can paint the landscape with #ARTOBOTS and more, providing an electrifying future for our generation to participate in. Through these festivals and communities, our entire species can be radically transformed.
The Annual ARTS + TECH takes place June 4 – June 7 at The Midway in San Francisco
John Gilmore, EFF Co-founder and MAPS Board Member, joined the stage with Shari Steele (Executive Director, Tor Project, Former Executive Director, EFF), Joi Ito (Director of the MIT Media Lab), and author Steven Levy. Most of the day was about cyberspace rights and the First Amendment, but then the conversation took a fitting turn toward psychedelics and consciousness, specifically: data, information, experience, and the differences between them.
There are probably 25 million Americans who have taken LSD. They would, if hard pressed in private, also tell you that it profoundly changed their lives, and not necessarily for the worse. I will readily grant that some of these are hopeless crystal worshippers or psychedelic derelicts creeping the Oregon woods, but far more of them are successful members of society — CEOs, politicians, ministers and community leaders. This is true whether we want it to be or not, but the fact that so few among those millions dare utter this truth is, in a supposedly free country, a symptom of collective mental illness.
Now that the worst of the war between the 50s and the 60s may be over, perhaps it may become possible. Many people may be able to do as they ought to have done decades ago. Like the peculiarly honest Steve Jobs and the peculiarly lucid John Perry Barlow and the peculiarly persistent Rick Doblin and the merely peculiar John Gilmore, and say in public there was a moment, years ago, when I took LSD, and whatever the immediate consequences, it made of me a different person than I would have been, and different in ways I have been grateful for all this time. By the way, everything I’ve said so far is literal quotes from Barlow, just slightly rearranged.
And so is this: “One can make a non-ludicrous case that the most important event in the cultural history of America since the 1860s was the introduction of LSD. Before acid hit American culture, even the rebels believed, as Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman implicitly did, in something like God-given authority. Authority, all agreed. derived from a system wherein God, or dad… or more often both, was on top and you were on the bottom. And it was no joke. Whatever else one might think of authority; it was not funny. But after one had rewired oneself with LSD, authority, with its preening pomp, its affection for ridiculous rituals of office, Its fulsome grandiloquence and, sublimely, its tarantella around mutually assured destruction, became hilarious to us… and there wasn’t much we could do about it.
No matter how huge and fearsome the puppets, once one’s perceptions were wiped clean enough by the psychedelic solvent to behold their strings and the mechanical jerkiness of their behavior, it was hard to suppress the giggles. Though our hilarity has since been leavened with tragedy and loss, and a more appropriate sense of our own foolishness; we’re laughing still. LSD is illegal primarily because it threatens the dominant American culture. The culture of control.
Well that’s what Barlow thought, and after studying how to end the drug war for a few decades, I tend to agree. I think that Rick Doblin’s approach is the most promising path toward ending the collective mental illness that Barlow diagnosed. Rick is using psychedelics in FDA approved clinical trials, successfully treating traumatized, out of control women and soldiers, bringing them back into self control. This is gradually removing psychedelics from the counterculture and making them less threatening to the culture. Read more “The Difference Between Data, Information & Experience As ‘Splained by J.P. Barlow”
At this stage of the adventure, we’re still running a magazine called High Frontiers, getting towards our second edition or maybe just after it, which took over a year. When I started the adventure that became MONDO, I was imagining philosophizing and publishing and tripping only occasionally. Fortunately, at least from an experiential point of view something like the reverse actually took place for the first several years.
The following is excerpted
One of the longest strangest trips during this time really didn’t happen during the peak of the experience but during the sleepless day following it. We’d taken a strong acid dose the previous evening up at Tennessee Valley, and us three High Frontiers mainmen (Lord Nose, Mau Mau and myself) started to make our way down to Lord Nose’s car for our return to civilization. At some point, as we walked along the trail, we all had the same uncanny sense that we were coming down into a different universe than the one that we had started in — like we were characters in a Philip K. Dick novel. We sort of all started expressing this at the same time. We were reassured when we got in the car and found our way back to Mill Valley and nothing in that quaint little upscale village appeared to have changed. Lord Nose dropped us off at Mau Mau’s place and headed home for San Francisco. By the time we’d settled in, it was around 11 am so we stopped at this great little quickie burrito spot. We walked in and the guy in front of us on line was naked! We tittered… but we were both thinking, “Oh, OK. We actually did come down into an alternate universe.” The guy behind the counter just shrugged and said, “He does that all the time.” I’d never seen him before and I haven’t seen him since.
We got over the naked guy but we were still wide awake. I called Terence McKenna from a pay phone to get his take on whether we had come down into some kind of parallel reality. He howled with laughter. So we bought a six pack of beer and went to this sort of wretched little beach that’s right next to San Quentin Prison. It’s a rather horrendous location. We sat and brownbagged beers and listened to the San Francisco new wave station on my boombox.
We had recently become aware that Robert Anton Wilson was available to speak. He was touring around, setting up speaking engagements in a really cheap DIY operation — it wasn’t through an agency or anything like that. He was available to speak for $500.
Somehow we had got the idea that we should do it on a houseboat in Sausalito where Alan Watts — America’s most original and most eloquent sort of psychedelic Zen philosopher — had lived and held court for many years. And we got it in our head to go over there right then and check it out — see who was there or what was up with this semi-famous locale.
So there we were, still loaded from the strong acid, and having downed three beers each — and when you do that, the sort of acid trails that trippers are familiar with become sort of pleasantly blotchy. And we got to the houseboat, knocked on the door and this very wiry old women, sort of hunched over, looking very brittle, with a long nose and scratchy voice answered. Or at least that’s how she seemed to me in the moment — she was like the spitting image of an old crone. She told us she was the current caretaker for the place and she was very down and unhappy. The houseboat, she told us, was going to be taken away by some nefarious schemers. She went on with a litany of miseries and complaints for probably an hour while we just stood there in the doorway dumbfounded. Even the sky went from sunny to overcast. It was spooky.
(We later learned that she was at some intersection between a housesitter and a squatter)
Excerpt from the unpublished Mondo History Project by R.U. Sirius… partly from preface party from “Chapter 3”
Accept for the moment — if just as a literary conceit — that I was entrusted by certain unknowable cosmic extradimensional forces with bringing about what I — in my heyday — called “the total fucking transmutation of everything.” Accept that, a few days after taking a 600 microgram liquid LSD trip, this daft absurd little American whiteboy felt himself to be as one of those windup toys dropped into the play set of the late 20th century human dramedy with a fantastic cosmic mission to transform the human species. An agent of destiny.
This world — the very one we currently occupy — would be led off into n-dimensional hyperspace; or brought via drugs and technology into a novel mutation of being human several degrees up the evolutionary ladder. I would erect my holy grail and plunge forth. All boundaries, borders and banalities clenched by civilization’s tight asshole would be expulsed leaving behind only the alchemical transference of shit into philosopher’s gold and the energies of abundance.
This transmutation was not to lead to the innocent empty eyed bliss ninny paradise of new age gurunoiacs. It would be a postpunk neoyippie trickster utopia — utopia with booby traps to keep everyone on their toes; utopia with a cacophonic bite; with more than a hint of Burroughsian or Sadean perversity, and with just enough science factional ambition to launch a posthuman species into the cosmos.
Of course, smart smug reader, this is all bullshit. I know it too. I knew it even then, except when I didn’t know it… which was just often enough to propel me forth to make this strange thing that was MONDO happen…
Mutant/Mutation/Transmutation/The Total Fucking Transmutation of Everything
In biology, a positive or beneficial mutation increases the fitness of the organism and promotes desirable traits.
As cultural signifiers, the words mutant and mutation have been in circulation amongst countercultural and subcultural types at least since the mid-1960s when the organizers of the first hippie Be-In declared the hippies “a new generation of mutants.” Around the same time, Timothy Leary started describing the rebellious youths of the ’’60s generation” as post-Hiroshima mutants. Since then, these words have continued to pop up amongst the various flavors of alternativeness. Many Science Fiction fans, for example, see themselves as mutants who are different from — and smarter than — the “normals.”
The main conceit, largely framed by media philosopher Marshall McLuhan, was that the new communications media — particularly TV — in combination with mind-active drugs, was causing the era’s youths to privilege mental and emotionally abilities that were entirely distinct from those privileged by the previous several hundred years of print, alcohol and caffeine-oriented Western Civilization, thus making them a sort of new species living in a linked-up, innately trippy “global village.”
Regarding transmutation, prior to Darwin, evolutionary theorists used the word to describe the transition from one species to the next. The term had been passed down from alchemy and thus also had — and continues to have — a resonance among occultists and other mystics.
The Total Fucking Transmutation of Everything, as conceived by your main narrator R.U. Sirius, represented the idea of a radical transformation in the human condition, both fundamental and surreal.
In fundamental terms, I imagined a humanity that had transcended poverty, unhappy labor, ill-considered taboos, national boundaries, rigid ideologies, racism, sexual repression, absolute gender categorization and identification, and biological and neurological limits on what a human being can do or experience.
At the more surreal level, I was inviting conditions and experiences that defied all possible expectations based on familiarity with how the world is supposed to function, but that might relate to psychedelic philosopher Terence McKenna’s notion that during the 21st Century, we will enter into a place where “whatever we can imagine will simply come to be;” or singularitarian Vernor Vinge’s idea that we will take inside of us AIs with intelligences that will be to us as our intelligence is to the ant and that the future beyond that Singularity is beyond comprehension .
Or in a less explanatory but more lyrical modality, I once wrote and sang:
I inverted the very color of being
But you weren’t there
Yeah the big ball turned right over
It needs no justification
I wanted to be Salvador Dali
I wanted to be dead and unreasonable
Let’s grieve in concentric circles
To make the night release your brain
In other words, rationality aside, my biggest motivation for invoking the Total Fucking Transmutation Of Everything was probably a fuck-all boredom and impatience with reality.
Internet idealism was out in full force in San Francisco on Saturday as an impressive roster of activist speakers contemplated the legacy of John Perry Barlow and his years of activism for free speech, transparency and generally good human behavior on both the internet and in life.
Barlow was the sort of character we are unlikely to see much of in our 21st Century world — a rowdy countercultural libertarianish cosmic cowboy with a heart of gold and rust roaming the world with few rules and big appetites — and yet still with some strong ethical grounding. The speakers shared loving stories about Barlow, the character (always massively late to the EFF board meetings); as well as Barlow the philosopher of total transparency, absolute free speech and the belief that humans are creating a sort-of unity of minds — a noosphere — and that this will be a good thing. The panelists spoke of participating with Barlow in organizing for free speech protection, transparency and the freedom to use and transform these tools as we wish — the programming that is being used to collect our data should be transparent and we should be able to use and alter the tools any way we choose.
At the same time, panelists shared some sharp skepticism regarding the utopian edge of the Barlowian vision, acknowledging that things have not gone entirely well — to put it mildly. Joichi Ito spoke of being in the darkest time he has experienced and wondered if those clouds would lift. He advocated bringing some counterculture flavor — a spirit of play and humor — into the powerfully growing social justice movements.
While the panelists referenced the dark complexities we’re currently facing, some aspects of that seemed to go unmentioned.
This difficult moment for free speech might have been best expressed in a conversation I ran here last week wherein Angela Nagle said, “you have a culture that seems to justify all the worst fears about what happens when you allow free speech — extreme misogyny, dehumanizing racism, and just the most cruel stuff the human mind can come up with.” (emphasis mine). This is where the rubber is hitting the road regarding speech and it doesn’t fall before easy answers.
Which brings me to another point that I raised in a piece here — the announcement by Microsoft that they will be censoring speech on a variety of their platforms (including Office… Whaaaa?) And as I noted, the pressure that these giant corporate organisms are reacting to that is causing them to sloppily attempt to gain control over the cacophony of the online world comes largely from people who demand sensitivity towards those mainly bearing the brunt of that “cruelest stuff the human mind can come up with.”
Finally, these sorts of problems call into question the fundamental Barlowian optimism. The notion that minds linked together in cyberspace would become more enlightened. And the question many of us have been asking ourselves for awhile is whether disembodied minds aren’t, in fact, uniquely cruel — more capable of abstracting the people they hurt than those who aren’t sitting behind a keyboard but roaming the actual world. Of course, there have been epic moments of monumental dehumanization of embodied (and soon to be murdered) people that has occurred for the millennia before the internet, so it’s possible that our mutual agitation at seeing what the other “tards” say on the web may prove to be less consequential than it might seem. But it’s certainly an inquiry that needs to be made before the mass casualties pile up.
None of this is meant to distract from the spirit of Barlow or his visions. One of the panelists (I forget which one) spoke of his ideals as being like a north star to guide us through the ups and downs. I’m not so sure about the noosphere thing — seems a bit Borgian to me — but I hope his vision of an online and offline world that is both liberatory and humane comes to pass.
Only a fool would have thought Cecil Taylor was going to give us more work, so I’m not sad for myself. And though I met him, it wasn’t even close to like we became buds or anything. So why am I sad?
I’m sad because he’s the last of his people, the last of the mad 50s modernists who thought they could just Jackson Pollock their way through with art and it would change the world, because everyone would get the Tao that was within it.
Well, they didn’t. The Naked Tao wasn’t popular, and it took too many people too quick, because people can’t take that, I guess. But Cecil could and did. Personally, I guess he was kind of a pain in the arse — he was the times I met him — but artistically? Hell yes he was a pain in the arse. He didn’t like anybody’s way except his own. Thank God.
When I was a teenager, I loved the sound, but couldn’t work out what was going on exactly. I was trying to use my brain. And as it turns out, I don’t have a musician’s brain to work with all those sounds, so that doesn’t quite work for me.
What did work was getting to see a week long residency at Yoshi’s when it was still out at Rockridge, and there were better nights and worse nights, and then there was the one night where Cecil fucked the whole room with a grand piano.
I don’t say that lightly. He was playing the same figures he usually did; notes happened; there were flurries of rhythmic excitement, nothing unusual. Except this night he was on like Samuel Jackson. His fingers and his brain were doing the talking, but everything they were communicating came from below the waist, and everyone there knew it. The most profanely spiritual experience of my life. And a bit of an excuse me to the bathroom when it was done.
Since (and before) then, I saw him play the bodies of his audience — his true instrument — a whole bunch of times. That was the time he grabbed my whole chakra tree and shook it till the apples fell down to the ground. And then I understood.
Right now I’ve got Garden on, and it’s just him and a studio. That’s just a postcard. I got to be in the place where the postcard photo got taken. And that made all the difference to me.
Thank you Cecil. You were the last of the greats, and now nobody will know that we weren’t talking bollocks about, well, being fucked with a grand piano.
Paul McEnery was the editor who kept things interesting in the latter years of MONDO 2000 magazine
Who? Right away we have this elite avant-garde ultrahipster signaling. I’m just starting to reread part one but I’m sure the entire thing is ultrahipster signaling…
In 2000, I started The Revolution, a political party and ran a write-in campaign for president of these here United States. Now I am annotating the foolish articles that I wrote to propagate the campaign and the party.
The Revolution was pitched at the time as a hybrid of liberal and libertarian politics, which — to use a much abused word — is extremely problematic. It was problematic. Now it’s more problematic. I will probably use that word again and again. Please kill me with opioids (from whence comes the oid? I think it was from advertisements and doctors not wanting to use the good old term opiATEs.) It’s largely today a weasel term used by weenies who can’t enjoy popular culture (or anything) without acknowledging that the fun thing doesn’t fit snuggly into Social Justice perfection. Oh yes, we’re gonna have some fun…
I’m not going to dwell on the liberal libertarian thing much right now except to say that I mostly meant Left and Libertarian and I was succumbing to the conflation of left and liberal so as to skip past the need to get pedantic with the less politically educated. Also, briefly
What libertarians were good for in the 1990s and — to a degree — today.
1: Helping to create develop and do the work for the Electronic Frontier Foundation — those stout defenders of privacy for the people, transparency for the companies, civil liberties and general resistance to overreactions by law enforcement towards benign-ish or at least not-too-awful hackers and the like. Also, gave us Edward Snowden (and the eventual consequent refusal of many liberals to want to know about the trillion dollar surveillance state).
2: Being against the War On Drugs (when the Democratic Party, for example, was in utter lockstep) — which was arguably the worst thing in America’s late 20th Century and is still pretty gnarly. (Much more on that to come in later annotated pieces).
3: Being among those manning (personing) the antiwar movement, particularly during Democratic administrations. Most of today’s activists brush off interventionism and the odd democrat-administered bombing of civilians like JZ brushing his shoulders in that video that Obama mimicked because he was cool. (He was cool.)
4: Actually liking civil liberties and being on it during Democratic admins, particularly during the Clinton Admin when mainstream liberals were entirely absent. We will get into the civil liberties record of the Clinton Admin in a latter entry.
5: Being part of MONDO 2000! … albeit not a dominant part, despite the assumptions of some commentators… and being mensches while they were at it. Oh I will savage libertarians some time later in this sprawling mess… but those are some briefs on reasons to be thankful.
The pieces were initially published on the Disinformation website when it was being managed by the inimitable Richard Metzger, who now runs my favorite site Dangerous Minds… some time in 1999. My annotated 2018 comments are offered in purple. Try to keep up!
ps: The following is a sort of blather-filled preamble. Future sections will look at the actual 15 point proposal from 1999 which was fairly serious and will deconstruct that and playfully offer a new set. Also, everything else weird and challenging that has punched and pulled me — and many others — over the terrible years since.
Beautiful is the chance encounter, on an operating table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella. _ – Lautreamont_
Who? Right away we have this elite avant-garde ultrahipster signaling. I’m just starting to reread part one but I’m sure the entire thing is ultrahipster signaling… what I would call genuine hipster … or Original Hipster (OH) … or maybe better, actual FREAK. Let me pause to make a historical note. Almost nobody identified as a hippie. Everybody was a freak. True freaks dug punk.. at least the urban ones. Does any of this matter?
It stands to reason that self-righteous, inflexible, single-minded, authoritarian true believers are politically organized. Open-minded, flexible, complex, ambiguous, anti-authoritarian people would just as soon be left to mind their own fucking business.- R.U. Sirius, from ‘How To Mutate and Take Over The World’ Robert Anton Wilson and J.P. Barlow loved this and used the quote. Oh hell, they were right. The personal is political only in the sense of get out of my face about most private behaviors. Stop the pariah hunting, you pinched twatsRead more “The Revolution Party Revisited (ReWrites & Wrongs)”
I like to challenge dogma — the type we once called political correctness before that term was deformed by the far right to mean anything they disagree with. But I was none-too-pleased when I finished reading Unwanted Advances by Laura Kipnis.
Not only did she provide a litany of examples of Kafkaesque (no, actually Kafkaesqe i.e. The Trial) activities taking place on college campuses involving “hearings” related to often bizarre accusations of sexual misconduct, the main subject in the book was someone who I knew, at least virtually, pretty well.
I finished the book with the queasy feeling that I needed to say something about it. The problem was (and is) — given the temper of the moment, and the horrible bigotry-for-all of the current White House occupants — one wished one could be unambiguously in solidarity with “The Resistance.” I weakly mentioned that a former MONDO associate was the subject of Kafkaesque events detailed in Kipnis’s book in a couple of tweets and then more or less let it go. But I went to work on organizing this conversation and now…. the moment of truth
The aforementioned MONDO associate Peter Ludlow was a vocal and frequent contributor to the MONDO 2000 Conference on The WELL, back in the early and mid-90s (when The Well was one of very few “social media” hangouts on the internet). And he became a contributor to How To Mutate & Take Over The Word: An Exploded Post-Novel — the book that I, and my coauthor St. Jude Milhon (RIP), wrote along with “The Internet 21” — approximately 21 people who joined in the creation of that mess as part of a mostly-failed role playing game. Ludlow wrote some essays mocking the style of that periods’ “cyber-critics” — a branch of poststructuralism/postmodernism that had discovered the cyberpunk/cyberculture much to their excited borderline-erotic horror.
In Ludlow’s case, there was a kind of double-jeopardy Kafkaesque trial. Initially, he was investigated for allegedly groping a student who had spent the night in his apartment. In this case, he was not informed of the charges against him nor the evidence against him, nor even what the specific actions were that he had committed. He was not allowed to have a lawyer present, nor was he allowed to question his accuser, whose case later collapsed in a court of law. Even the University did not find evidence of the groping part — even under the very weak “preponderance of evidence” standard. As Kipnis notes, important elements of the student’s accusations were clear fabrications, not least of which that the student had jumped into lake Michigan in early February and then got out and walked outside for an hour to dry off.
When Northwestern seemed intent on getting rid of Ludlow anyway, they later pressured a graduate student and former lover of his to testify against him. Her initial response was that she had merely been in a “deeply inappropriate” relationship with Ludlow (a time when she had a boyfriend in Boston that she would subsequently marry). She had complained to Ludlow that if news about their relationship got out it would “ruin her”. But clearly given Northwestern’s path, news was now going to get out.
When the second group of charges came, Ludlow was again not informed of the specific charges against him and had to meet with the university “investigator” — a former prosecutor — for several hours without a lawyer present. The initial charge against him turned out to be a date-specific occasion of nonconsensual sex (the student woke up naked one day just before Thanksgiving break, and did not remember having sex, but concluded she must have). When Ludlow produced a hotel receipt showing he wasn’t home the evening in question, and text messages from the following day showing Ludlow trying to break up and the student trying to preserve their (by then) nearly two month old relationship, the charges drifted. Now the charge was that Ludlow had used his power and “charm” — charm is actually the word used by the investigator — to manipulate the student into a relationship that lasted from October through December. The student, a 25-year-old who had already been through a master’s program and dated a previous professor, did not have the tools to make such a decision on her own, it seems.
Kipnis notes that the graduate student said to the investigator that “it was only years later” that she realized that she had been manipulated by Ludlow, and that a key woman in the philosophy profession convinced her of this. So, by her own admission it seems, she concluded that her “consent” to a relationship that lasted for three months and thousands of text messages could be withdrawn years after the fact. It seems her advisor not only had the power to tell her what she should consent to; she also had the power to tell her what she did consent to. The paradox, is that “consent” is no longer an act of the student’s will; it is now the decision of an academic superior, and that decision by the superior can overwrite previous willful acts of consent by the student.
Some may assume that only those awful “cisgendered” males have been on the receiving end of these accusations and quasi-legal prosecutions/persecutions. In fact, an awful lot of gay teachers have faced the Kafkaesque “trial,” and more than a few women. The author of the book was subjected to a Title IX investigation for seven words in an essay published in the Chronicle of Higher Education referencing one of Ludlow’s accusers case, though not naming the woman. (Kipnis was brought up on Title IX complaints a second time over the book, and is now also being sued over it.) One gay woman was accused of looking at a girl’s breast while whispering in her ear. The offending act took place in a library.
I organized this brief email conversation between Laura Kipnis, author of Unwanted Advances Sexual Paranoia Comes To Campus and Angela Nagle, author of Kill All Normies: online culture wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the alt-right. Nagle’s book was discussed and excerpted in an earlier MONDO 2000 article. Both women are leftists who have been getting a ton of angry shit from what one might call the identity left for challenging their dogmas.
I’ve also sprinkled a few quotes from the books of both authors throughout the discussion. Some of Nagle’s excerpts from the prior article are worth repeating.
Laura Kipnis: In the official version of events, causality can run in only one direction: Ludlow alone can be the prime mover; Cho can only be someone things happen to… What use to anyone is a feminism so steeped in self-exoneration that it prefers to imagine women as helpless children, rather than acknowledge grown-up sexual realities.
R.U. Sirius: These are two very different books from two very different minds… but a commonality may be that both of you are leftists and your books have upset some other leftists (which isn’t hard to do but…). And I think it’s because you’re telling them about things they don’t want to know. Particularly with Laura’s book, even I got to the end and thought… I wish I didn’t know about these events. Now I guess I have to say something about it.
I’d like to get both your thoughts on this… and do you think it’s a unique phenomenon of our virtualized times or is it just the same old circular firing squad? Also, any specific nastiness you’ve incurred that you’re willing to share….
Laura Kipnis: The Left has always been riven by sectarian differences and idiocies, but my problem answering this question right now is that I’ve lost a sense of who or what the left is. It seems to have become monolithic, at least when it comes to campus issues, which has lately been my subject, and where the nominal left starts seeming like a bunch of prigs, hysterics, censors, and authoritarians. As far as the feminist left, is there one if by “left” we mean attention to some version of redistributive justice along with the tenets of gender equity? They’re not either/or propositions obviously, but class has become the ugly stepsister, the identity that dare not speak its name, when it comes to the intersections of concern on the campus left.
But it’s worse than that. If you’re talking about — or with — students, for the most part the politics are incoherent. I’m willing to say, as an academic leftist, that it’s leftwing professors who’ve stopped teaching students how to think. I recall an exchange I had last year with a student at my own university (now graduated, I believe) when I wrote a letter to the school paper about due process. I was for it. (And against rushing to judgment without evidence, as had happened in a campus incident involving anonymous accusations against a frat.) There was the one response, from a student I didn’t know, about what I’d written:
“The letter refuses to hold hegemonic structures accountable for their endorsement of misogynistic masculinity and subsequent dehumanization of female-assigned bodies. This unwillingness is connected to the structures that secure white, cis privilege among faculty at institutions such as NU. These are the very structures that produce a confirmation bias against and invalidate survivors. The rhetoric that demands “we know exactly what happened” before taking action is trauma-inducing for survivors. I would hope any educator would feel that same obligation toward allyship to their students, some of whom are among the survivor community.”
Where does this gobbledegook come from? This was someone who, I presume, would describe herself as on the left. Yet she has no concept of democracy, which requires due process. I’m sure she would describe herself as “on the right side of history,” while overlooking the histories of false accusations against sexual and racial minorities. She spouts boilerplate phrases. And I suspect she learned all this as a student at an elite university, from professors spouting slightly more polished versions of the same boilerplate. Read more “Sexual McCarthyism and the Neopuritanical Left: A Conversation with Laura Kipnis & Angela Nagle”
It mainly struck people as bizarre. The news item struck last week that Microsoft was banning “offensive language” from Skype, Xbox and even Office. Many of us wondered how the whole Office thing would work, like, for any living grown up writer of books or movie scripts or pretty much anything.
Twitter, of course, has been excising “bad actors” in a random way for several years and Facebook has always tossed anybody in Facebook Jail on the basis of a complaint or two.
The law that killed the Craigslist personals — related to legitimate concerns regarding sex trafficking — was the result of pressures from some-but-not-all feminist activists, along with law enforcement and religious conservatives (97 senators voted for it).
On the other hand, the pressure that is being placed on monster companies like Microsoft to tame the wilds of the internet comes pretty much entirely from the cultural left, liberals and mainstream media. (Who are the language police?)
An understandable panic over the increasingly open bigotry of most right wing extremists and misogynists, as well as the impact of “fake news,” the palpable consequences of bizarro conspiracy memes and destructive medicinal folklore (“Down with vaccinations!”) has created a backlash that has resulted in people holding the hosts of this digital cacophony responsible for the behaviors of their guests. For one example — almost daily, I see people outraged that someone else is still allowed to have a platform on Twitter.
These giant “siren servers” are now in a consistent state of panic over how to enact the demands that they be responsible. Did you think they were going to extract bad actors (or people some of us perceive as bad actors) carefully, with tweezers? Fuck no. They’re bringing the bulldozers! And, in fairness, given the numeric quantity of their guests, they have no choice but to approach it all that way.
What Is Being Enacted?
When the panic over ‘fake news” went quantum with the election of the Chaos President, companies like Google started ranking a number of legitimate sites — including many progressive and anti-war sites — as fake.
What is being enacted? The rise of white nationalism… the Russian program of making chaos in the west with subterranean support for all dissident factions and the mainstreams’ overreaction to it, the anger over the defeat of Hillary Clinton, has created an environment in which what is considered palatable or allowable is increasingly constrained to materials that don’t challenge the neoliberal narrative. And the questions regarding what is considered outside those boundaries are increasingly consequential — about active censorship by companies with power in the area of communication far greater than any government.
It doesn’t help that the identity left has adopted “you better watch what you say” as its raison d’etre, relentless minting new celebrity pariahs out of anyone who wanders even slightly off the reservation. (Burn The Jesters!) There’s no easy answer, but privileging free speech and not panicking is the thing least likely to bite us all in the ass.
afterthought: some will quibble that only government censorship is proper censorship. given the size of most of the entities we’re talking about (such as Microsoft’s various apps), and the expectation of an open internet, this is trite.
Carmen Hermosillo (aka humdog, aka wolftone, aka Montserrat Snakeankle, aka Sparrowhawk Perhaps) died on the 10th of August, 2008. She was found in her Northern California apartment face down on her bed. Jack, her black Lab, was waiting at the door when she was found by the building manager. Her death certificate (Santa Cruz County, #08-07590) says that there was neither biopsy nor autopsy, but the official cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia and lupus erythematosus. Other factors were involved. For several years, because of the effects of her lupus, Carmen had been taking medication that kept her heart pumping. Once upon a time she said — as a joke, we guess — that if she ever wanted to die, she just had to stop taking her heart meds.
Was it passive suicide? The evidence is circumstantial, but compelling. Her online accounts, profiles, and avatars — at least 9 of them — had been canceled in the days before she died.
It might be clear what had happened, but the more urgent question is why it happened, and as it turns out, understanding this requires a journey into a deep rabbit hole involving over a decade of online life, virtual relationships, BDSM roleplay, and a virtual island Kingdom. And at the end of journey, one confronts a single frightening truth:
The thing that killed Carmen was the thing she spent her entire online life warning us about.
We met Carmen Hermosillo in 1993 on an electronic conferencing system called the WELL. The WELL (short for Whole Earth ‘Lectonic Link) was spawned by Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue and was populated by lots of granola crunching, fattie-huffing techie visionaries ranging from Howard Rheingold to Mitch Kapor to John Perry Barlow. The official dogma of the WELL was that electronic communities were supposed to move us all into a new utopia of virtual barn raisings, thoughtful online salons, and democratic town hall meetings. Or that was the dogma before Carmen appeared under the name ‘humdog’ and called BS on the whole thing.
In an essay called Pandora’s Vox, she vented:
The WELL occupies an interesting niche in the electronic-community marketplace. It markets itself as a conferencing system for the literate, bookish and creative individual. It markets itself as an agent for social change, and it is, in reality, calvinist and more than a little green. The WELL is also afflicted with an old fashioned hippie aura that lead to some remarkably touching ideas about society and culture. No one, by the way, should kid themselves that the WELL is any different than bigger services like America OnLine or Prodigy. All of these outfits are businesses and all of these services are owned by large corporations. The WELL is just, by reason of clunky interface, a little bit less obvious about it.