I don’t think anyone would have suspected it back in the ’60s and ’70s, but the author Robert Anton Wilson may have emerged as the most influential counterculture figure of those times. Who else has massive followings of fans fighting over the implications of his politics and philosophy? I can’t think of anyone.
RAW requires no introduction with this crowd but for those of you stumbling in, here’s a wikipedia page with a full bibliography.
PROP ANON is the author of the upcoming Chapel Perilous: The Life and Thought Crimes of Robert Anton Wilson, the first official biography of the late counterculture philosopher. He started his career as a Hip-Hop artist whose 2010 albumSquat the Condos presaged the Occupy movement. In 2014, Prop switched musical gears and released a Stoner Rock album called HAIL ERIS! with his band, HAIL ERIS!
R.U. Sirius: Is there anything about Bob’s childhood that indicates that he will become a counterculture philosopher of note?
Prop Anon: Bob was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn and spent his childhood in one of its most remote neighborhoods, Gerritsen Beach. He described the one-road-town as an “Irish Catholic Ghetto,” as he grew up a prodigious youth who survived two bouts of Polio, child abuse at the hands of the nuns who ran his grammar school, and a narrow-minded working-class neighborhood. The polio that nearly killed him was almost completely cured by The Sister Kenny Method — which today is considered ‘alternative’ medicine, but in 1935 denounced as quackery by the medical establishment. Sister Kenny proved everyone wrong and eventually was considered an alternative medicine pioneer. More indirectly he received inspiration from his favorite contemporary artist, Orson Welles. Welles played with the notion of uncertainty in nearly all his work, and this spoke to Bob. Bob was a fan of Welles’ since his 1938 ‘War of the World’s” was performed on the radio, which catapulted the then 23-year-old Welles to fame. Events like these, and more, sent the message early on to Bob that a keen sense of self was a necessary survival tool. He possessed the desire and capacity to live counter to the dominant culture, and he did. Wilson, like many of his generation, faced some serious existential threats living in a society deeply immersed in bullshit. As a response he developed a highly functional ‘Bullshit Detector.”
RUS: Were you able to learn much about Bob’s time at Playboy? Fun stories from the Bunny Empire? Did he like Hef?
PA: There are some stories about Bob’s time at Playboy, which he never wrote about in his books. One story he called ‘How I became a Paranoid,’ which began when a mysterious Playboy executive visited his office during a workday and told him that his name was added to Chicago PD’s ‘Red Squad,’ which was a list of radical people the authorities put under surveillance. An early example of Red Squad behavior was seen in 1886, when Chicago agents targeted Anarchists with surveillance directly after the Haymarket Affair in 1886. 85 years later, there were specific Red Squad agents that targeted people like Bob, who they would have called a ‘closet hippie.’ In others, a person who had a regular job and didn’t dress like a hippie yet were protesting the Vietnam War. During this visit, Bob and Arlen, were at their peak of political activism. Both were involved with local Anarchist groups; Arlen was an early member of the Anarcho-Feminist group and magazine, Siren. She was also a part of the Chicago Woman Liberation Union (CWLU) Bob was exploring a Surrealist angle of Anarchism, through his associations with Franklin Rosemont and the Chicago Surrealist Group. They were both part of an Anarchist group that changed its name for every event. On top of that, Arlen and Bob were sociable people who hosted parties and discussion groups at their apartment.
In Bob’s office the mysterious executive had shut the door and told him that a police informant had tipped the Chicago PD off to Bob’s activities as a gunrunner for the Black Panthers. Bob said that he and Arlen were actually helping the Panthers with their influential Free Breakfast program for local children. After Bob denied the accusation he asked how Playboy was able to find out about police informants circulating through radical circles within Chicago. The executive told Bob that Playboy had their own cadre of informants, who heard the whispers of police informants and then reported to Playboy, especially when it concerned someone who worked at Playboy. Perhaps this Playboy editor was playing a prank on Bob. There was never any tip to the ‘Red Squad,’ just a great bullshiter who wanted to test Bob Wilson. However, the FBI’s COINTELPRO was going strong during this time, and the extent of the spying on activist communities by law enforcement agencies was not fully known to the public as of 1971. Bob later said this conversation sparked the idea for the character Tobias Knight from Illuminatus! Knight is a quintuple-agent and is the punchline to the joke highlighting about how many agents and informants there were in resistance movements of the late 60s, and continue to be today.
As far as Wilson and Hefner went, from my research, it seems like Bob did not really know Hefner on a personal level. He and Arlen, did however, attend some of Hefner’s movie nights at the Playboy mansion while Bob worked at Playboy. Wilson appreciated Hefner’s stance on Civil Liberty issues within the United States. Both were committed to the First Amendment, and Playboy was a progressive voice within the media when it came to such issues. Something about his job at Playboy must have worked because Bob was able to harness his ability as a writer. He honed his craft while working at Playboy, wrote Illuminatus! with his co-worker and friend, Robert Shea, and managed to provide full medical and dental insurance for his family while getting paid, Playboy worked well for Bob and his family.
R.U.S:Robert Shea — coauthor of Illuminatus Triology — sort of ended up being “the quiet one”. What can you tell us about Shea and he and Bob’s relationship?
PA:Wilson and Shea became fast friends at Playboy. They would hang out together at the bar on payday. They, and their wives, would all hang out, smoke weed, watch TV or listen to records and think of funny sketches that made each other laugh. They had a lot in common: Both raised Irish Catholic, both left the Church young, both seeking to become full time free-lance writers. They both really dug into the Anarchist perspective. After Illuminatus!, Shea went on to start an Anarchist newsletter called No Governor, which Wilson contributed to. Wilson had a talent for collaborating with like-minded artists and thinkers; his and Shea’s collaboration resulted in Illuminatus! and that was itself a further collaboration out of their involvement with The Discordian Society. The two continually spoke of writing their sequel, Bride of Illuminatus, which they barely started before Shea was diagnosed with cancer. Shea’s death left Bob deeply distraught. Michael Shea, described seeing Bob at his father’s funeral looking shook by the whole event. Bob’s eulogy, Chimes at Midnight, published in Cosmic Trigger vol. III, written shortly after Shea provides a glimpse into Bob’s thoughts about his dead friend. Read more “Chapel Perilous: The Life and Thought Crimes of Robert Anton Wilson — An Interview with Prop Anon”
This essay was written for an exhibition by Marion Garrido at Art Centre La Casa Encendida in Madrid designed around the online adventures of “John Titor” — an alleged time traveler who lit up the web and conspiracy radio at the start of the 2000s. Keep in mind that this was written for a Spanish audience and some of the things I say about U.S. culture may seem a little obvious.
On November 2, 2000 an obscure group called Time Travel Institute received a note on their website from someone calling himself TimeTravel_0. The person claimed to be a US military time traveler from 2036. He discussed some of the details of the time machine that had brought him.
This “arrival” remained obscure until January 27, 2001 when this (virtual) person showed up on the bbs of the Art Bell Show under the name John Titor, writing, “Greetings. I am a time traveler from the year 2036.” Titor claimed that he had been sent back in time by the US government to 1975 to grab an ancient IBM 5100 so that a legacy UNIX problem that was causing future trouble could finally be debugged.
On his way back to 2036, Titor had stopped off in 2000/2001 to visit with family. The alleged time traveler proceeded to entertain, inform and enrage Art Bell show users with details about the future and the time machine, which he described as “a stationary mass, temporal displacement unit manufactured by General Electric… powered by two top-spin, dual-positive singularities that produce a(n) … off-set Tipler sinusoid.” Titor provided images and descriptive specifications of said time machine.
Additionally, Titor warned of a US civil war in 2004 and a nuclear war in 2015 – with Russia and the US on the same side. He told that he was living in a future that was a mishmash of post-apocalyptic poverty — with people in survivalist mode, growing their own foods and fending for their own survival as individuals and in small groups — and pockets of advanced technology; advanced enough, for example, to build the Tippler time machine.
Titor remained on the Art Bell BBS for about four months, answering any and all questions about his life and his machine. He did not come on like a man with an important message from a more enlightened or chastened future civilization. He was casual. Titor seemed like a regular fellow who was just passing through and felt like chatting.
The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet. –William Gibson
I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote. Like a lot of people, I first interpreted it as the father of cyberpunk making a statement against income, and technology, disparity: that only the wealthy could afford the future.
But then I began to rethink that supposition. First of all, how could the future be here, in the present? Making this subjective, I like to think of a present future as being a current environment where someone from the past would find few places of reference: a place where old, and flawed systems have been replaced with new perspectives.
it can’t just be just about technology. After all, everyone has friends or relatives who can afford the newest [fill in the blank] yet are clueless in how to use it to affect their lives for the better.
Home automation falls squarely into this camp. Yes, the wealthy can spent serious bucks getting their intelligent personal assistant to do everything from turn on their lights to play their favorite music, but does it make any real shifts in how they live? At it’s core this tech is basically just a more elaborate way of flipping a switch or scrolling through a playlist.
what did Aaron do to get in so much trouble? Well, you’re not going to believe this:
Aaron downloaded a bunch of journal articles over an open network at MIT.
No, seriously. That’s what he did.
By Lisa Rein
I’m here to tell you about this weekend’s hackathon and celebratory festivities, and also explain a few things about how these things all weave in and out of our existing MONDO-world. It’s a TRIP.
I co-founded this event with Brewster Kahle, after Aaron’s death, in 2013. The Aaron Swartz Day and International Hackathon is an annual event that encompasses an entire weekend — celebrating Aaron’s life and providing yearly updates for many of Aaron’s collaborative projects that are still thriving today.
Who was Aaron Swartz? Well, the Aaron Swartz that I knew really well was just a 15 year old kid that helped me do my job better at Creative Commons, when I was its Technical Architect, working with Lawrence Lessig, in 2001-2002. We were using RSS news feeds to describe copyright licenses.
Yeah. It’s as boring as it sounds, and that’s why people don’t think about it unless they have to. Our job was to make it easy for them to insert some information about their Creative Commons license in the existing places — metadata fields in a .jpg file, or an mp3 file, etc. Aaron and Matt Haughey came up with the idea of asking a series of questions that help people determine what license they want, which turned out to be the hard part for artists. (Here’s a table I have a actually that makes that choice a bit easier.)
But I digress…
Aaron allowed me to be successful in my Creative Commons “mission” from Lawrence Lessig. We used RSS to describe copyright law, and, as it happened, so much more. It happened. Perfectly. Because Aaron knew just how to do it, and Lawrence and I let him, even though he was 15 years old.
I’ve also worked with Brewster digitizing some of the Timothy Leary Archives, since I am Timothy’s Digital Librarian, and now, also, Chelsea Manning’s Archivist. (Not to be confused with Michael Horowitz, who is Timothy Leary’s Archivist. Michael and I collaborate on the Timothy Leary Archives and Michael’s Own Archives, from that time period. Over these last two years, since I’ve been Chelsea’s Archivist, he’s given me oodles of excellent advice.
The Open Library, which is one of the projects people can hack on at the hackathon this year, started out small, although its goals were quite large: aspiring to create “a web page for every book.” Now, just over ten years later (Started circa 2007 by Aaron), Open Library is the world’s free digital library with over 2M public domain books and another 500k+ books available to be borrowed and read in the browser. Even when the Open Library itself doesn’t have a digital copy, it can connect readers to libraries that do have copies. So far, Open Library has collected information about over 25M book records.
After the Open Library, Aaron went to Stanford for a semester, dropped out and founded a Y-combinator startup, that later was spun into Reddit. Reddit was bought by Conde Nast, which wasn’t quite Aaron’s style, so he left. He was an Ethics Fellow at Harvard when the famous altercation took place.
So, what did Aaron do to get in so much trouble? Well, you’re not going to believe this:
Aaron downloaded a bunch of journal articles over an open network at MIT.
No, seriously. That’s what he did.
The actions that the U.S. government took against Aaron: making up hacking charges, stressing him out with surveillance and concern that those he loved would be interrogated as witnesses in his case. It seems like it all made him feel like his life, and his entire future, was somehow ruined.
He was kind of a genius and had a lot of projects that are still going. The Aaron Swartz Day community just worked hard to secure Chelsea Manning’s release — and she is our guest speaker.
TICKETS(Use the Promotional Code “MONDO” & save $35.)
How Aaron Swartz Day started:
It was on the eve of the San Francisco Memorial for Aaron, that Brewster, myself, and several others that night all had the same idea: Let’s keep up the momentum from all of this inspired action with some kind of event every year. So, for five years going now, we gather in November for an entire weekend of events on what would have been his birthday weekend. There are two goals. One is raising awareness about what happened to him — in order to protect other innovative students from government over prosecution — and future “hackers” that are exemplifying the true nature of curiosity and improvement. The other is to draw attention to his projects that are still going strong, such as SecureDrop and the Open Library.
At the same time, in the months that followed, memorial hackathons started popping up all over the world. We approached Yan Zhu, a friend of Aaron’s who was organizing them, about combining forces in November, and she agreed.
As Brewster and I began to create the first event (2013), many people had the same requirement: that the event be forward-thinking and uplifting, should not be sad or pessimistic, or dwell on what we would have done, had we known — except to the extent where doing so might help us protect others in the future.
After a few years of these events, we decided to step it up a notch, and try to think of ways that we could really use our event to make a difference. So, Brewster and I decided we would reach out to Chelsea, see if we could archive her writings or letters or something, if she’d be up for it, and just basically try to find different creative ways to try to make Chelsea Manning’s life in prison a little more livable.
Both Chelsea and Aaron stood up for the ideals of transparency and accountability. Ideals that Brewster and myself had taught them were so important. Yet, when Chelsea and Aaron stood up for these ideals, they were crushed by the full weight of the government.
There’s more to this than first meets the eye. Our community has always felt bad about not being able to do more to help Aaron. We wish we would have pressed him further about his case, when he was reluctant to discuss it. We wish we would have done this… We wish we would have tried that. We all drive ourselves crazy thinking these thoughts, still, to this day.
All of us that knew Aaron told each other privately that we would have done anything to help him, had we realized the severity of the situation. When I heard Chelsea’s voice over the phone, I realized it was happening again. Except we had a chance this time; Chelsea was still alive, and we could still save her.
The question was, what could we really do? We didn’t know yet – but I knew that if I could find out what she needed, our entire community was ready and willing to help her. So, we decided that we would start by writing her and ask her if she’d like to prepare a statement for Aaron Swartz Day. She accepted. (2015 Statement) (2016 Statement).
The rest, as they say, is history.
That’s why this year’s event is especially incredible: because Chelsea Manning is attending in person, after only being able to send us statements from afar, in prison, for two years running. Her speaking to us in person, as a free woman, is definitely nothing less than a dream come true.
Evening Program of Speakers with special guest Chelsea Manning
Saturday, after the San Francisco hackathon, at 6pm, there will be a reception and we will toast to our community’s accomplishments this year! The program upstairs will begin promptly at 7:30 pm. I’ve just added 50 tickets just for you Mondo 2000 readers! When you go to buy tickets enter the promotional code “MONDO” to get a $35 discount off of the $75 ticket price 🙂
Each of this year’s evening event speakers was asked to attend for a very specific reason. Some speakers knew Aaron and worked with him directly, others were inspired by him, or were working on projects inspired by him (such as Barrett Brown’s Pursuance Project). Barrett Brown is fresh out of prison and ready to stir up more folks to become aware of their surroundings.
Other speakers, such as Chelsea Manning, we know Aaron “gushed about” and thought was “so cool.” Jason Leopold is going to teach us about FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and about the FOIA requests that Aaron submitted. Also Jason just got a new dump of files from the Secret Service that look interesting. It’s almost as if we were given a present before the event. Daniel Rigmaiden will be there, who exposed the Stingray from prison, in the course of representing himself, once he was able to determine that the Feds had used a Stingray on him illegally, in order to determine his location.
Here is the complete line-up of speakers with their bios:
Chelsea Manning – Network Security Expert, Transparency Advocate
Chelsea E. Manning is a network security expert, whistleblower, and former U.S. Army intelligence analyst. While serving 7 years of an unprecedented 35 year sentence for a high-profile leak of government documents, she became a prominent and vocal advocate for government transparency and transgender rights, both on Twitter and through her op-ed columns for The Guardian and The New York Times. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area, where she writes about technology, artificial intelligence, and human rights.
Lisa Rein – Chelsea Manning’s Archivist, Co-founder, Aaron Swartz Day & Creative Commons
Daniel Rigmaiden became a government transparency advocate after U.S. law enforcement used a secret cell phone surveillance device to locate him inside his home. The device, often called a “Stingray,” simulates a cell tower and tricks cell phones into connecting to a law enforcement controlled cellular network used to identify, locate, and sometimes collect the communications content of cell phone users. Before Rigmaiden brought Stingrays into the public spotlight in 2011, law enforcement concealed use of the device from judges, defense attorneys and defendants, and would typically not obtain a proper warrant before deploying the device.
Barrett Brown – Journalist, Activist, and Founder of the Pursuance Project
Barrett Brown is a writer and anarchist activist. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, the Guardian, The Intercept, Huffington Post, New York Press, Skeptic, The Daily Beast, al-Jazeera, and dozens of other outlets. In 2009 he founded Project PM, a distributed think-tank, which was later re-purposed to oversee a crowd-sourced investigation into the private espionage industry and the intelligence community at large via e-mails stolen from federal contractors and other sources. In 2011 and 2012 he worked with Anonymous on campaigns involving the Tunisian revolution, government misconduct, and other issues. In mid-2012 he was arrested and later sentenced to four years in federal prison on charges stemming from his investigations and work with Anonymous. While imprisoned, he won the National Magazine Award for his column, The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Prison. Upon his release, in late 2016, he began work on the Pursuance System, a platform for mass civic engagement and coordinated opposition. His third book, a memoir/manifesto, will be released in 2018 by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.
Jason Leopold, Senior Investigative Reporter, Buzzfeed News
Jason Leopold is an Emmy-nominated investigative reporter on the BuzzFeed News Investigative Team. Leopold’s reporting and aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act has been profiled by dozens of media outlets, including a 2015 front-page story in The New York Times. Politico referred to Leopold in 2015 as “perhaps the most prolific Freedom of Information requester.” That year, Leopold, dubbed a ‘FOIA terrorist’ by the US government testified before Congress about FOIA (PDF) (Video). In 2016, Leopold was awarded the FOI award from Investigative Reporters & Editors and was inducted into the National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame by the Newseum Institute and the First Amendment Center.
Jennifer Helsby, Lead Developer, SecureDrop (Freedom of the Press Foundation)
Jennifer is Lead Developer of SecureDrop. Prior to joining FPF, she was a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Data Science and Public Policy at the University of Chicago, where she worked on applying machine learning methods to problems in public policy. Jennifer is also the CTO and co-founder of Lucy Parsons Labs, a non-profit that focuses on police accountability and surveillance oversight. In a former life, she studied the large scale structure of the universe, and received her Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Chicago in 2015.
Gabriella (Biella) Coleman holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University. Trained as an anthropologist, her scholarship explores the politics and cultures of hacking, with a focus on the sociopolitical implications of the free software movement and the digital protest ensemble Anonymous. She has authored two books, Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking (Princeton University Press, 2012) and Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous (Verso, 2014).
Caroline Sinders – Researcher/Designer, Wikimedia Foundation
Caroline Sinders is a machine learning designer/user researcher, artist. For the past few years, she has been focusing on the intersections of natural language processing, artificial intelligence, abuse, online harassment and politics in digital, conversational spaces. Caroline is a designer and researcher at the Wikimedia Foundation, and a Creative Dissent fellow with YBCA. She holds a masters from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program from New York University.
Brewster Kahle, Founder & Digital Librarian, Internet Archive
Brewster Kahle has spent his career intent on a singular focus: providing Universal Access to All Knowledge. He is the founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, which now preserves 20 petabytes of data – the books, Web pages, music, television, and software of our cultural heritage, working with more than 400 library and university partners to create a digital library, accessible to all.
Steve Phillips, Project Manager, Pursuance Project
Steve Phillips is a programmer, philosopher, and cypherpunk, and is currently the Project Manager of Barrett Brown’s Pursuance Project. In 2010, after double-majoring in mathematics and philosophy at UC Santa Barbara, Steve co-founded Santa Barbara Hackerspace. In 2012, in response to his concerns over rumored mass surveillance, he created his first secure application, Cloakcast. And in 2015, he spoke at the DEF CON hacker conference, where he presented CrypTag. Steve has written over 1,000,000 words of philosophy culminating in a new philosophical methodology, Executable Philosophy.
Mek Karpeles, Citizen of the World, Internet Archive
Mek is a citizen of the world at the Internet Archive. His life mission is to organize a living map of the world’s knowledge. With it, he aspires to empower every person to overcome oppression, find and create opportunity, and reach their fullest potential to do good. Mek’s favorite media includes non-fiction books and academic journals — tools to educate the future — which he proudly helps make available through his work on Open Library.
The San Francisco Hackathon is leading the way for the hackathons around the world. This year, we are integrating remote hackers from all over the world to work on our projects, and we are going to stay organized, so we can keep hacking on them in the days and weeks to come.
SecureDrop is an open-source whistleblower submission system managed by Freedom of the Press Foundation and originally created by Kevin Poulsen and Aaron Swartz. The goal of SecureDrop is to help media organizations simplify the process of securely accepting documents from anonymous sources. Dozens of news organizations, including: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Vice, The Guardian, AP, The Intercept, BuzzFeed and Forbes, are now running SecureDrop servers to communicate securely with sources.
The Pursuance System software enables you to create a pursuance (which is a sort of organization), invite people to that pursuance (with the level of permissions and privileges that you choose), assign those people tasks (manually, or automatically based on their skill set!), brainstorm and discuss what needs to be done.
Next, you’ll be rapidly recording exciting ideas or strategies in an actionable format (namely as tasks), share files and documents, be notified when relevant events occur (e.g., you are assigned a task or mentioned), and effectively get help from others. Here’s an interview with Barrett Brown and Steve Phillips explaining Pursuance in more detail.
OpenArchive is a free, open source application for android, available on the Google Play Store that enables you to send your mobile media directly to the Internet Archive over Tor (Orbot), and choose what metadata and Creative Commons license to include with it. The primary goal of the app is to empower the user to easily archive photos, video and audio from their mobile device to a secure, trustworthy, and remote storage service.
Come join members of the Open Library team, and work directly with them on Sunday, November 5th and together we’ll turn your ideas and suggestions into empowerment for an international audience.
Open Library is the world’s free digital library with over 2M public domain books and another 500k+ books available to be borrowed and read in the browser. Started circa 2007 by Aaron, the vision of Open Library is to be an open wiki catalog of every work ever published. So far, Open Library has collected information about over 25M book records, empowering readers with data to locate books even when Open Library doesn’t have a digital copy. Over 100,000 readers borrow books on Open Library each month, but there’s a lot we aspire to do to make our library experience more accessible and useful to readers world-wide.
Right now, citizens have to play a guessing game with Law Enforcement in their town. Police Departments are not required to have a policy on the purchase and use of surveillance equipment unless there is public outcry for them to do so. At Aaron Swartz Day this year, we aim to provide a public outcry model, automate the process for filing multiple public records requests, asking for every known variation of surveillance equipment, providing a template for the requests, and also another template to demand that your city government implement a policy regarding how surveillance is used on the citizens of any given town. Then, we’re going to split up in to “follow up groups,” whose job it is to keep making calls and sending emails until the local governments are taking action.
Efforts are in the final stages in both Oakland and Berkeley, and both should have laws by the end of the year. So, we’re going to use them as examples for the rest of the country.
I was a Yippie. Upon graduating from High School and asking that age-old question “What do I do with my life?” I decided to be part of the Youth International Party! My life plans had an expiration date that Pete Townshend might have approved of when writing “My Generation.”
Like Jerry Rubin, I’ve gone through some changes since, although I recently called one of my projects Steal This Singularity (after Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book), so maybe I didn’t change enough.
This is an insanely great book. A mix of author bio and oral history, it’s also a visual treasure trove with lots of archival moments from Jerry’s own. Physically, it’s about the size of New Jersey. And it has a lovely comprehensible story arc that — among other things — might make you feel what it’s like to believe the revolution had come; and then it had gone without bringing about a season of joy and total anarcho-communist transformation (or executions) as was expected by a few of us. And then, what do you for your next act?
If you were Jerry, you exaggerated your conversion from Yippiedom to Yuppiedom — because that’s the sort of clear narrative the media likes, and because he wanted to do cool things. At the same time, he did want to make money, so maybe he wasn’t exaggerating that much.
Anyway, the book has it all. John and Yoko during their political period. Bob Dylan being elusive but friendly. Jerry’s competitive friendship with the more legendary, fellow Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman. It has Black Panthers, the Weather Underground and all the women who didn’t get enough credit — including Jerry’s girlfriend during the thick of the late ‘60s, Nancy Kurshan — during a time when several radical leftist men became pop stars
R.U.: Aside from the fact that there hadn’t yet been a biography – and so many about Abbie Hoffman — what attracted you to Jerry Rubin’s story? You were too young during the Yippie heyday to be a part of it. (Pat Thomas is 53 years old)
PAT THOMAS: My brother was 9 years older than me. He brought Steal This Book into the house in the early 70s – I gravitated toward it despite not even being a teenager yet. I also started listening to rock music several years before my friends did (again, because of my brother). My ‘day job’ is working for folks like the estate of Allen Ginsberg, reissuing lost vintage 1960s and 70s recordings on CD and that sort of thing — so I’m into chronicling the counterculture. Jerry’s story had never been told and needed to be told — before everyone who knew him was dead. Read more “Did It! From Yippie To Yuppie: Jerry Rubin, An American Revolutionary – The Interview”
Lately my nostalgia for 4chan /b/ during the years of 2007 through 2009 4chan has been sneaking up on me pretty hard, as I realize that almost nobody I speak to, with the exception of one or two online friends, experienced this culture. It really was something else during those years, it was a special time and place to be on the internet, nothing like the eventual form it would take, and hard to describe or put into a contemporary cultural context. The culture that exists on the 4chan’s now is vastly different. In fact, the original chan culture is notably antonymic to contemporary chan culture. I am going to try to explain why 4chan culture was so special to me at the time, why it feels so unrepeatable now and why I temporarily invested so much of my identity into a large group of people, a behavior which is generally speaking, personally atypical. To give context and attempt to portray the feeling of the cultural at the time, I will detail my participation in and observations of the Hal Turner raids of 2008.
Early chan /b/ front pages usually contained at least one thread which could be labeled as a “Raid”. A “Chan Raid” or an internet Raid in general, is when a large group of people from one forum, chat, website or other social network agree to converge on a digital target, such as another forum, chat, website or other social network at the same time, usually with intent on trolling, hacking, or otherwise attacking the specified target. Some of my fondest 4chan and 7chan memories were raiding, the most fond of them being our ongoing raids of the white supremacist “Hal Turner” and his internet and radio talk show. We launched a campaign against him consisting of a creative meshing of psychological warfare and ridiculous meme spouting. About fifty percent of the calls into his show were from us and fifty percent were legitimate calls from his racist fan base, a ratio which was very much intentional and enforced with care so as to increase his paranoia. Inevitably he became hyper paranoid which is when we eased off a little so that we could muse at his inevitable incorrectly assumed accusations of his loyal followers in which he insisted they were “4chan spies” and “were not fooling him for a second”.
Looking back it was rather masturbatory, juvenile and arguably even vaguely sadistic on our part but we were a group of mostly angst and anger filled teenagers and young adults that were also brilliant, talented and marginalized by society, so that was to be expected to some degree as we slowly realized we were not as powerless as we had been told.
We raided Turner as an exercise and test of our various skills and artistry, as a social experiment and because he stood for something we despised. We were not rebelling against his racism as you might guess, although most of us found it very distasteful, but the illogical and authoritarian platform all of his ideals and rhetoric was born from. We targeted him not because we were social justice warriors but because he was an idiot who was profoundly devoid of logic. His lower more base emotions presented themselves so transparently that it frankly disgusted us. His attitude, demeanor and pompous style was eerily similar to that of contemporary Donald Trump. Consistently exuding the shallow embarrassing insecurities and projectionist egotism you might expect from a spoiled middle class 6 year old child feeling threatened or entitled to something they felt they were missing.
The aggressive rhetoric President Trump uses when condemning an enemy as well as his over simplistic proposals for defeating his enemies are strikingly reminiscent of Turner to me, to the point where I sometimes confuse Trump for Turner in my mind briefly. The way Trump speaks aggressively before taking any real action or announcing any plans when asked about defeating formidable enemies such as MS-13 or North Korea is fairly close to verbatim the methods and rhetoric we heard from Turner at the time when he was dealing with anything he felt was threatening him. We were not an exception. When we first started he frequently boasted that he would “destroy us” and made claims we would end up paying the server bills that were financially destroying him as a result of our consistent denial of service attacks on his servers. Once we had doxed him thoroughly we discovered his history of abuse of animals and all sorts of awful things. He was truly was a deplorable, pathetic and hateful human that I had, and still have, very little sympathy or empathy for. In the end we returned his name and career to total irrelevance and obscurity. He was just done.
Towards the end of the raids some hackers managed to compromised his mail servers and some other sources and uncovered emails from and to Turner and his FBI handler, confirming that Turner was indeed an FBI informant, a position which is needless to say, frowned upon heavily to put it mildly by Turner’s Neo-Nazi community and the releasing of these emails undoubtedly led to Turner being shunned by the only community that supported him. Many people believe and assert that Turner was used by the FBI to stir up racial controversy and was effectively an FBI controlled pawn but I am skeptical of this. He was however, an active FBI CI.
Turner represented what we hated about the system that oppressed us, to most of us, who felt we could never easily assimilate to a system so transparently flawed. This sentiment and many of the more radical ideas that we had thought or felt quietly, had been quite militantly and systematically discouraged in our society, especially in the educational system most of us felt captive to. To hear other people say these things we had thought alone but which were never encouraged or validated and to unite behind them to destroy a man who represented and reflected not only our oppression but the majority held beliefs that seemed illogic to us felt very good. More importantly it helped nurture in me, and I can only assume many others, a self confidence which had been taken away by the relentless indoctrination and intellectual suppression of the educational system and our society in general.
Although we shared emphatic distaste for authority and rule, we were not anarchists nor were we nihilistic. Our culture’s core values were not written out neatly in the form of document or dogma but still were, to me, very clearly defined. They consisted of, at their core, a militant adoration and reverence for both logic and humor. We exalted these two values above all other morals in a way that scared the shit out of normies and had them all figuring us for nihilists and shock jockies. Which is unfortunately mainly what the culture eventually digressed into before the SJWism and hacktivism that popularized 4chan in the mainstream media, seeped in, causing our precious short lived cultural bubble to burst and leaking our culture, values and memetics into the ocean of mainstream internet cultures where they were thoroughly bastardized and diluted to impotence.
To be clear I am not bitter about these events. The fact that something so pure, self sustaining and artistically and philosophically inspirational existed for as long as this, did is amazing to me. It was a hive mind of people drawn together by a love of logic, intellectualism, humor, art, hacking and technology in general as well as a shared distaste, or even hate, for protocol, dogma, rules, and social constructs. I identified with these people in a very real way because I saw that they recognized our societies consistent and fallacious tendency to normalize and systematize the arbitrary social, political and emotional constructs that we knew in our hearts were just that, constructs.
Julian Shirley, also known as the songwriter/producer Juji, lives in Alameda, California, where he works in computer science and the arts. He is the son of author John Shirley
This Is Not A Game, The Alternate Reality Game Of The Real
“In modern political performances,” writes Richard Sennett in The Culture of New Capitalism, “the marketing of personality further and frequently eschews a narrative of the politican’s history and record in office; it’s too boring. He or she embodies intentions, desires, values, beliefs, tastes — an emphasis which has again the effect of divorcing power from responsibility.”
Consider this in contrast to the scheme presented in “They Live,” where there is one true reality that underlies all the messages that we are bombarded with. Nada puts on the glasses, and those covert messages are rendered overt. OBEY. CONSUME.
Reality, of course, is far more confusing. All messages are “in code”, every collection of data points can be fictionalized in any number of ways. And we must ask to what purpose? All fictions stand in for the truth as they are repetitively performed. This is the central fallacy behind Enlightenment or pop-cultural re-interpretations of the implicit awakening, getting #woke, or taking the Red Pill. There is no one truth hidden beneath propaganda. The rise of conspiracy news should not be mysterious in light of this. One does not “step out of ideology,” one switches one pair of glasses for the next.
We may find no better presentation of the crisis of the hollowness of appearance than Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation — the surface has subsumed the possibility of an essence. The anxiety here is that without some sort of Neo-Platonic ground to rest on, an immoveable point to hang Foucault’s Pendulum from, the whole world will come undone. And people are right to feel anxious, though the fear is ultimately baseless.
…even the Pendulum is a false prophet. You look at it, you think it’s the only fixed point in the cosmos. but if you detach it from the ceiling of the Conservatoire and hang it in a brothel, it works just the same. And there are other pendulums: there’s one in New York, in the UN building, there’s one in the science museum in San Francisco, and God knows how many others. Wherever you put it, Foucault’s Pendulum swings from a motionless point while the earth rotates beneath it. Every point of the universe is a fixed point: all you have to do is hang the Pendulum from it.
All being is ungrounded. That central assertion of existentialism — that existence precedes essence — is not one that we’d like to challenge. Much of Baudrillard’s book seems to react directly with today’s headlines, of the collapse of ‘consensus reality’ (or the sense that there is one), into the event horizon. Consider this rather lengthy passage,
The impossibility of rediscovering an absolute level of the real is of the same order as the impossibility of staging illusion. Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible. It is the whole political problem of parody, of hypersimulation or offensive simulation, that is posed here. For example: it would be interesting to see whether the repressive apparatus would not react more violently to a simulated holdup than to a real holdup. Because the latter does nothing but disturb the order of things, the right to property, whereas the former attacks the reality principle itself. Transgression and violence are less serious because they only contest the distribution of the real. Simulation is infinitely more dangerous because it always leaves open to supposition that, above and beyond its object, law and order themselves might be nothing but simulation. But the difficulty is proportional to the danger. How to feign a violation and put it to the test? Simulate a robbery in a large store: how to persuade security that it is a simulated robbery?
There is no “objective” difference: the gestures, the signs are the same as for a real robbery, the signs do not lean to one side or another. To the established order they are always of the order of the real. Organize a fake holdup. Verify that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no human life will be in danger (or one lapses into the criminal). Demand a ransom, and make it so that the operation creates as much commotion as possible — in short, remain close to the “truth,” in order to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulacrum. You won’t be able to do it: the network of artificial signs will become inextricably mixed up with real elements (a policeman will really fire on sight; a client of the bank will faint and die of a heart attack; one will actually pay you the phony ransom), in short, you will immediately find yourself once again, without wishing it, in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour any attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to the real — that is, to the established order itself, well before institutions and justice come into play.