Excerpt from the original unpublished unfinished MONDO 2000 book. A new one is in the works for Zero Books! Whoo hoo!
As you already have surmised, I came up through the New Left Revolution years. From 1968 – 1971 — during and just after high school, I knew that the revolution had come. Some as yet inchoate mix of left anarchist radicalism and newly psychedelicized youth mutation was simply taking over the world by storm. As Hunter Thompson famously rhapsodized, “There was madness in any direction, at any hour… You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.… Our energy would simply prevail…We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.” Right (or left) or wrong, it was exciting and energizing to be a part of it.
But by the mid-70s, people on the left radical countercultural scene had become — at best, mopey and quarrelsome — and, at worst, either criminally insane or very tightly wound politically correct environmentalist/feminist/health-food scolds. People were either bitchy; or they were in retreat smoking pot and listening to the mellow sounds of James Taylor and Carole King.
I didn’t know it consciously at the time, but I needed to create a space within my psyche that liberated me from the constancy of moral judgment and eco-apocalypse mongering — and one that also didn’t represent a retreat into the mediocrity of middle class liberalism.
Thus, I was attracted to flamboyant “hip pariahs” who were very un-left, politically incorrect… even, in some cases, right wing.
There was the glam rock rebellion against blue denim hippie populism. These performers insulted egalitarianism by dressing and performing in ways that set them apart from their generation’s rock audiences . (Naturally, good old Mick Jagger was the major rock god who didn’t need to change to be a part of it.) David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed all nipped — in interviews and lyrics and musical styles — at assumed countercultural values while also mocking, at least, cultural conservatism by their very androgynous existences.
I gobbled up materials on, or by, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali — each, in their way, pariah outcasts from political decency — particularly Dali.
By being an unsane solipsistic monarchist, loving money, supporting the fascist Francisco Franco, Dali seemed to me to be the purest of surrealists, running with his subconscious atavistic impulses against the earlier sympathies of the surrealists with the left and developing an utterly inexcusable (sometimes when I say that aspects of my story and my mind are inexcusable, I’m not just using colorful language. I mean it literally.) but original persona. His autobiographical and philosophic texts defied logic in ways that seemed to me to be more genuinely playful and funny than his former fellow travels in 20th Century Surrealism who had long since denounced him.
Warhol played an even more important role in liberating my soul and psyche from the depths of resentment and rational piety since his very role in art and culture was to create a space free from judgment. While Andy was nominally a liberal, his deadpan consumerist art and aphorisms had a Zen quality — it could, paradoxically, cause you to embrace the flow of frozen moments and artifice for artifice’s sake by inducing silence in the chattering, protesting, judging brain. To properly experience Warhol was to almost stop thinking… in the best possible way… while still hanging on by a thread to a sense of humorous irony.
And then there was Dr. Timothy Leary. There was the legendary Leary… all that stuff about turning on tuning in dropping in the 1960s. I had read and enjoyed his book High Priest, but actually thought of him as something of an old guy who seemed to be trying too hard to fit into the youth culture. It was the Leary of the ‘70s that fascinated me. During the height of my own romantic infatuation with “The Revolution,” Leary had made a heroic prison escape. He had been spirited away by the guerrilla warriors of the Weather Underground and had shown up in Algeria with Eldridge Cleaver’s exiled Black Panther chapter, pronouncing unity between the psychedelic and leftist and black revolutions and promising to help Cleaver form a revolutionary US government in exile. At that time, all of these people — Weather Underground leader Bernadine Dohrn, Eldridge Cleaver, Timothy Leary, Stew Albert who led a contingent of Yippies over there to cement the alliance — were icons to me, more or less on a par with The Beatles and The Stones (or at least, the Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix).
Then, after conflicts with Cleaver — and just as the buzz of the revolution was souring, he had disappeared, showing up only in a few gossipy pieces that portrayed him hanging out with fellow exile Keith Richards and issuing bon mots that were more of the flavor of Oscar Wilde than Che Guevara.
Then, he was caught in Afghanistan and shipped back in chains to the USA facing a lifetime in prison. And not long after that, rumors circulated that he was ratting out the radical movement. This was very depressing. But at the same time, occasional interesting signals emerged — usually published in the underground press — from Folsom Prison where he was being held. Strange little quotes about being an intelligence agent for the future; about “offering the only hopeful eschatology around today;” about dna being a seed from outer space; about “going home” to galaxy central and human destiny being in the stars; about how he was writing a “science faction” book. Odd signals not fully formed — nevertheless somehow intriguingly differing from the dour vibe emitted by the rest of those publications at that particular time. I couldn’t help myself. My mutant brain was already starting to find the apostate Leary’s signals refreshing. I was doomed to become a “science faction” mutant.
It was several years later, in 1976, that I came across an edition of Crawdaddy, a very cool rock magazine with regular columns by William Burroughs and Paul Krassner, that contained an article about the recently released Dr. Tim. The writer hung out with Tim as he wandered around NYC rattling off his ideas about SMI2LE — Space Migration Intelligence Increase Life Extension — sending up the first coherent transhumanist flare of the 20th Century. There was a picture of Leary in a business suit standing between the newly built twin towers wearing a smile that laughed out loud and pointing, almost violently, with his right forefinger upward to outer space. This was something new. The picture took its place on my wall in between the cover of the first Ramones album and the picture of Squeeky Fromme being arrested after her attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford.
My final “conversion” to Learyesque transhumanism came in 1977. It was summer and my mother had the intuitive sense to hustle me away from Binghamton, where my friends were becoming junkies, and moved me early to the college town of Brockport New York where I would start school that fall. The town was empty and there was nothing to do. But there was a bookstore. I walked in and there — on prominent display — were two books by Timothy Leary, Exo-Psychology and Neuropolitics. The latter also credited Robert Anton Wilson.
I read those books frontways and back and inside out. And then I read them again. It all resonated. It all made sense to me. It was a way of interpreting the world that respected my psychedelic experiences and my times within the counterculture and gave them a new context — one that hadn’t yet failed! These were now the evolutionary experiences of a premature mutant breaking at least partly free of the programming of an unhappy, repressive civilization so that I could move it towards a bright and expansive future. The expansiveness that had so energized and delighted me during the late 1960s and early ‘70s would now be — at least partially — a science project to literally expand our space and time and minds perhaps unto infinity.
I was excited, but I was also tentative. I paced around my small one room apartment. Was I crazy? Was I wrong? By now, self identifying as a 1977 spikey-haired hipster who liked to put his cheap punk nihilism unapologetically front and center (yes, trendiness haunts all my days), could I tell anybody about my philosophic attraction to the upbeat pariah and possible fink Dr. Leary? Actually, that’s something I still ask myself today, although it is clearly too late.
One final thought. Digging the works of all three of these characters are considered by many to be a display of bad taste. This was perhaps the greatest attraction — not just creating a mental space for from the maddening aging “new left,” but also thumbing my nose at intellectuals and critics.
On September 13, 1970, Timothy Leary escaped from a low security California prison by pulling himself on a high wire over a 12 foot chain linked fence topped with barbed wire. He was ferreted underground by the radical Weather Underground who helped him escape America. He ended up in Algeria with an exiled chapter of the Black Panther Party lead by Eldridge Cleaver.
All MONDO readers probably know this, but I thought I’d set the scene a bit.
While I was a participant in the late 1960s counterculture — to the extent that a high school student in a smallish town could be — I wasn’t particularly obsessed with Leary. I enjoyed reading his occasional piece in the underground press, but Abbie Hoffman was more my thing. Until the escape. After that, I developed a lifelong interest in his action adventure episode and how it impacted on his philosophical ideas.
That’s why I was excited to learn of the publication ofThe Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD by Bill Minutaglio and Steve Davis. The book doesn’t disappoint. The narrative is in present tense and fast forward. It’s a ripping yarn that bounces back and forth between Leary’s life on the lam and President Richard Nixon’s own personal delirium as he copes with the Vietnam war, extreme rebellion in the streets of America and his own obsession with capturing Leary.
For those MONDO readers, who have followed Leary’s philosophical musings over the years, this period is kind of the last phase of Tim’s cosmic hippieishness. He comes across as deep into mysticism; consulting the i Ching and the Tarot for strategic decisions and so forth. In some ways, his intellectual credibility would rely on things he wrote before this time and after it. And yet, I think he gained a lot, in terms of sophistication and insight from the experience, that showed up in his later writing.
I interviewed Steve Davis about the book via email
R.U. There are a number of things that are illuminated for Leary fanatics (as many Mondo readers are) by your book. One of them is the degree to which many of the ultra-radicals of that crazy period in the early 1970s were not really Tim’s friends. Particularly the lawyer, Michael Kennedy. What can you tell us about this “alliance”?
Steve Davis: Well, you can see this alliance of “dope and dynamite,” as Michael Kennedy enjoyed calling it, play out throughout the book. In some sense both Tim and the radical left were using each other for their own purposes. For Tim, of course, the revolutionary outlaws provided the means for his escape from prison – something he wanted desperately. But then of course once he climbed over the prison fence he entered a blind maze of new prisons – and as you say, these people did not have Timothy Leary’s best interests in mind, from the Weather Undeground demanding his rhetorical fealty to their vision of a violent revolution to Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers demanding that Tim renounce LSD and join them in calling for Death to the Fascists. On and on it went. Tim had to keep shape-shifting to save his own skin. He basically became a pawn of both the far left and the far right (Nixon and his cronies) during this era – and of course when everything ended and he looked back on it, he realized that the law-and-order struggles between the far left and the far right were two sides of the same coin. I think the experience made him suspicious of any alliance after that. Hell, it would do the same to any of us! Read more “Timothy Leary’s Great-ish Escape”
It is worth pointing out that we have been making virtual realities for a very, very long time. That language, spoken language, is the original code for hacking virtual reality. When you sit the children down around the fire and begin to tell the old, old stories and pictures rise out of the flames—that is virtual reality
We live in a condensation of our imagination.”
An idea that tended to ride alongside this “VR is covertly equivalent to civilization” reading arrived through my years in psychedelic publishing and research. I picked up a line supposedly attributed to Timothy Leary, but popularized by Robert Anton Wilson—Reality Tunnels. A reality tunnel refers to the cultural virtual reality and the belief system that you acquire through socialization, conditioning, and exposure; the psychosocial orthodoxy that arrives thanks to everything from your local place of worship, to your language, to the shape of your home. You are what your neighborhoods make you. We become our scenery and our scenes. We become the local VR. Indeed, VR headset technology is designed to throw us into a reality tunnel in the exact same way that walking through a metropolitan street boggles our senses into a very particular worldview.
One of Wilson’s well-known remarks on the reality tunnel:
We’re all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels. And when we begin to realize that we’re all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels, we find that it is much easier to understand where other people are coming from. All the ones who don’t have the same reality tunnel as us do not seem ignorant, or deliberately perverse, or lying, or hypnotized by some mad ideology, they just have a different reality tunnel. And every reality tunnel might tell us something interesting about our world, if we’re willing to listen.
Wilson also observed: “‘reality’ is always plural and mutable.”
I think that culturally, once early humans started speaking and thinking in terms of an animal world and a spirit world, or distinguishing between a waking world and a dream world, we began to plant the seeds of the VR dialogue. VR then, is a way of discussing the multilayered shared fantasy called the human world.
Appreciating the worldview-generating effects of reality tunnels, civilization, language, culture, media, architecture, and seeing how they were all very much like VR, captured my imagination. Even the otherwise simple standing stones dotting the British countryside have VR-generating “magical” effects. They activate the imagination. It wasn’t long after that the observation came to mind: “There is likely no more singularly important consideration than the consideration of alternative worlds, illusory worlds, projected worlds, and manipulable worlds.” That is—there is likely no deeper issue, in philosophy or otherwise, than that of the possibility of more than one world or one worldview. For a worldview is merely a virtual reality. This is Plato and his Cave.
Yet another event that pushed me beyond the veil of hyperspace was the fateful arrival into my reality tunnel of Tom Campbell, a NASA, Department of Defense, Army Technical Intelligence nuclear physicist and consciousness researcher who I discovered around 2008. Campbell, who has a résumé longer than most people’s arm, published a model of the universe as a virtual reality simulation in 2007 called My Big TOE: A Trilogy Unifying Philosophy, Physics, and Metaphysics. In it he describes the universe as a simulation, and our consciousness as the nonphysical computer that “renders” the physical universe into existence via the act of what physicists call “measurement.” Campbell’s major follow up to his book was a paper published online in March 2017, in the International Journal of Quantum Foundations, called “On Testing the Simulation Hypothesis,” which also focused on the issue of measurement and “wave collapse.” After Campbell, I started reading other scientists who wrote about nature and computation, virtual reality worlds, simulated universes, digital mechanics, video game thought experiments, and observations in nature that we have historically branded with the moniker ‘spooky.’ I devoured Nick Bostrom, Edward Fredkin, Brian Whitworth, Seth Lloyd, David Chalmers, Sylvester James Gates, Roger Penrose, Paola Zizzi, Zohreh Davoudi, John A. Wheeler, and other mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers who were also absorbed in the issues of computation, simulation, and virtual worlds. Brian Whitworth may have summarized the longstanding problems in physics best when he wrote in his essay Simulating Space and Time:
VR theory is only on the table because objective reality theory doesn’t explain modern physics. In an objective reality time does not dilate, space doesn’t bend, objects don’t teleport and universes don’t pop into existence from nowhere. We would not doubt the world’s objective reality if only it behaved so physically, but it does not. Adjectives like “strange”, “spooky” and “weird” apply, and common sense concepts like object, location, existence, time and space simply don’t work. The world of modern physics doesn’t behave at all as an objective reality should.
It became clear that virtual reality was not just a philosophical or cultural issue; it was a deeply scientific one as well.
After all, a universe popping into existence seemingly out of nowhere for apparently no reason—completely with freakishly fine-tuned physical laws, as well as with all the matter and energy that will ever exist simultaneously—makes a hell of a lot more sense once you think of a computer hitting GO.
The story of Timothy Leary’s conversation with William Gibson is here. This is most of the text as it was published in the first edition of MONDO 2000 magazine
TIMOTHY LEARY: If you could put Neuromancer into one sentence, how would you describe it?
WILLIAM GIBSON: What’s most important to me is that it’s about the present. It’s not really about an imagined future. It’s a way of trying to come to terms with the awe and terror inspired in me by the world in which we live. I’m anxious to know what they’ll make of it in Japan.
WG: Oh, god. I’m starting to feel like Edgar Rice Burroughs or something. I mean, how did Edgar Rice Burroughs finally come to feel about Tarzan in his own heart, you know? He got real tired of it. Wound up living in Tarzana, California.
TL: You’ll end up living in a space colony called Neuromancer.
WG: That would be OK. I don’t think we’re going to have this kind of future. I think this book is so much nicer than what seems to be happening. I mean, this would be a cool place to visit. I wouldn’t mind going there.
WG: To the Sprawl, to that future.
TL: Go up the well?
WG: Yeah. Go up the well and all of that. A lot of people think this is a bleak book but I think it’s optimistic.
TL: I do, too.
WG: I think it’s actually gonna be more boring. I think some kind of Falwellian future would probably be my idea of the worst thing that could happen.
TL: Yeah. That was a wonderful scene where you have those Christians who were gonna mug those girls in the subway.
WG: It’s not clear whether they’re going to mug them or just try to force some horrible pamphlet on them or something. Personally, I have a real phobia about guys like that coming up to me on the street . . .
TL: That’s a powerful scene! And you describe the girls as like hoofed animals wearing high heels.
WG: Yeah. The office girls of the Sprawl.
TL: Yeah, and they’re wearing vaginas, and — Oh, God! That’s a powerful scene.
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”
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”
Then this tree, like a cosmic vacuum cleaner, went ssssuuuck, and every cell in my body was swept into the root, twigs, branches, and leaves of this tree. Tumbling and spinning, down the soft fibrous avenues to some central point which was just light.
Timothy Leary AP (After Psychedelics) — The Harvard Psilocybin Project
Timothy Leary’s First Trip
When David McClellan, director of the Center for Personality Research at Harvard asked Timothy Leary to teach there under his aegis, he told Tim to “stir things up a bit.” In his later years, Leary liked to quip, “I think he got his money’s worth.”
Leary first heard about the effects of psilocybin in 1959 from his friend Frank Barron, who had recently tried the mushrooms and came away impressed by their visionary properties. Tim reacted negatively to Barron’s suggestion that he try them. Lacking any awareness of psychedelic substances — and in spite of Barron’s vivid description — he thought of drugs, along with such gross physical methods as electroshock therapy, as blunt, harmful, coercive tools that behavioral psychology used to force patients to conform. However, the following year — perhaps undergoing one of those much vaunted “midlife crises” as his fortieth birthday was approaching — Leary suddenly got the urge to try the mushrooms.
Timothy Leary’s poolside psilocybin trip on August 9, 1960 in Cuernevaca, Mexico is an oft-told tale — central, as it is, to the history of Western psychedelic culture.
The ‘shrooms were copped by Leary’s friend, historian Lothar Knauth, from “Old Juana,” a disheveled, hunchbacked old woman in raggedy clothes who led him wordlessly out of town and onto an old dirt road before effecting the deal.
Timothy Leary’s first trip began pleasantly. He felt lightheaded “as if from laughing gas.” One of the people who had not taken the drug had been assigned to take notes. He was nerdily-dressed in oddly mismatched clothes. Leary, seeing him scribbling earnestly in his notepad, went into fits of laughter that only increased as he reflected on the pomposity of socialized professionals, himself included.
As the trip intensified, he had a brief moment of panic, worrying that the effects may be too strong, and that his kids, playing blissfully unaware inside the villa shouldn’t be around a bunch of drug-crazed adults. He had one of the straight adults send the kids off to the movies for the afternoon. Then he let himself go.
In High Priest and other autobiographical books, Leary describes visions of “Nile Palaces, Bedouin pleasure tents, mosaics of flaming color, jewel encrusted reptiles, mosaics lit from within.” And then he re-experienced all of evolution; floating “down through snake time, fish time, giant jungle-palm-time, green lacy fern leaf-time” until “hello, I am the first living thing.”
The change has become so complex that it can only be perceived incompletely and then only fleetingly in the quicksilver shimmering pulse of electrons across the consciousness of the hive mind.
Louis Rossetto, former Publisher of Wired magazine, and Erik Spiekermann have a successful Kickstarter project — a novel and “a revolution in book printing” titled Change Is Good. According to their Kickstarter site, “Every generation has its creation myth. This is the creation myth of the Digital Generation. A novel about the Digital Revolution, written by Louis Rossetto, co-founder of Wired.” It also promises “A masterpiece of the printer’s art —published by design legend Erik Spiekermann and printed on his own classic Heidelberg letterpress… The proof of concept for a revolution in letterpress printing: Post Digital Printing.” And the thing that really caught my eye (thanks to Eve) is the claim of Post Digital Printing that marries the advances of modern typography & design with the quality & artisanship of letterpress. I liked that they were marrying this artisanal approach to the “edgy” Wired mythology. Erik is even making a customized ink from scratch.
“What,” you ask? Louis Rossetto, father of Wired, on the MONDO website? Sure. I’ve had my criticisms of Wired over the years, but Louis and his partner Jane Metcalfe (who has her own new project, Neo.Life) have remained friends and they’ve always got some cool stuff going on. Hell, even their chocolates are good.
LR: With fiction, you can often tell more truth than non-fiction.
When you say change is good, some change isn’t good… or hasn’t been good in the past. What change are you talking about and why is it good?
LR: “Change is good” is what we used to say all the time in the face of the resistance all of us used to get from the status quo. We joked that the only story the New York Times would write about the Digital Revolution was “Internet, Threat or Menace.” It was also a way to keep the disruption moving. If you overthought it, you might falter, or you might miss it. It was a big wave. Had to stay on top. Or if you don’t like that metaphor, there was always Stewart’s: You were either part of the steamroller, or you were part of the road.” But whether change is really good — that’s a question the book tries to address.
I’m intrigued by the classical craftsperson-like choice to use specialized ink and letterpress. Please ell us more about what you guys are doing with that. Is this a mix of the archaic and the novel?
LR: Erik, I’m sure would have his own — and better — answers.
As for me, my father was a mechanical engineer, worked at Merghenthaler Linotype making hot metal machines — the first breakthrough in letterpress back in the late nineteenth century. Even though he ended his career building computers into his heavy machinery, he was really an atoms guy. How I grew up. Then I became a writer, editor, media guy, web adventurer — my life became increasingly ephemeral, from atoms to bits (paceNicholas). And then after Wired, I helped start a chocolate company, and suddenly I was confronted with the hard world of atoms again. Chocolate may be based on formulas and scientific abstractions, but when you’re making it, it’s nothing but big machinery, bags of beans, supply chains based on fucking steamships that straddle the globe, and ultimately farmers who are planting, harvesting, and fermenting beans. All to make a slab of atoms that you can only really experience by putting on your tongue.
In other words, I was again immersed in sensuality. And ultimately, that’s what print and paper are about. Screens might have resolution higher than paper at this point, but the experience of using them is not the same. Screens emit, paper reflects — catches the light, which changes as you hold it, changes color depending on the time of day, the source of light. Paper engages more senses — touch, it’s smooth or rough or slick, it’s thin or thick. It smells — the inks, the paper, the glue all have their own subtle yet distinctive odors. Print has a visible past and future, not just a present like the screen; with paper, you can see and feel what you’ve read, what’s to come. I guess you can also hear paper. It rustles or rips. Probably the only thing you don’t do is taste it.
One of the reasons I loved Wired, the magazine, was we tried to push what we could do with print. The press we printed on, we were lucky, was a brand spanking new, state-of-the-art Heidelberg six color press. We were literally the first clients to print on it. Offset is normally four color, CMYK. Six colors means you have two more ink towers you can play with. That’s partially why Wired looked the way it did — we put fluorescents or metallics or double hits of blacks on those extra two towers, and the mag would have colors literally no other magazine was using. We were also on the leading edge of digital production. We used a $100K Kodak proofer at the printer that could not only show us what our pages would look like, but actually replicate the dot gain we would get from the screens we were using on press. So we really knew what a page would look like as we were designing it. We were among the first to go direct-to-plate.
Letterpress has made an artisan revival, because it delivers on the premise of print and paper… the letters being pressed ever so slightly into the paper, creating a well which catches the light, making the page subliminally alive as you move it.