Vice interviews Gareth Branwyn, a writer for the late great Mondo 2000 magazine and author of the forthcoming Borg Like Me:
What are some of weirdest fringe scenes out there?
Well, the whole dark net world of Anyonmous, 4chan (the anonymous images/bbs where rebels, criminals, and crusaders hang out), anonymous P2P networks are pretty kooky. And things like Tor, which you can use to buy mailorder illegal drugs with bitcoin. It has been said that what you see on 4chan will melt your brain, and that’s no lie. You see things, you hear things, that you can’t unsee or unhear.
Then, of course, there’s the whole Jihadist net, but I’ve never checked that out. I’ve also been researching a feature article on sexcam sites and that’s this whole specific world and there’s very kooky stuff on there—naked yoga shows, sexual game shows, women who craft and run raffles and then masturbate when they’re done and send the craft item to the raffle winner. That’s a fascinating subculture that I don’t think anybody outside of it knows much about.
Ah yes, I’ve heard about the sexcam trend. So how do you go about researching something like that?
So far, I’ve just been watching A LOT of cams… for research. I’m establishing relationships with various models and will hopefully convince some of them to talk candidly to me about themselves and their work. This isn’t going to be a piece about the business of these sites, but rather, about the models themselves and their “shows,” who their fans are, the nature of these relationships. I think it’s rather unique and an interesting twist on DIY sex work and net-based intimacy here in the early 21st century.
Michael Stevenson revisits the “Mondo 2000 vs. Wired” of the early 90s to compare it to the contemporary blogger and startup culture:
The co-optation argument, however, fails to recognize a subtle but important difference between Mondo’s ‘rebel cool’ and that found in previous subcultures. Where subcultures are typically conceived of as ‘outsider’ scenes, from those in the counterculture that consciously ‘dropped out’ of mainstream society to more recent outsider scenes like punk and rave culture, the subversive computer culture Mondo proclaimed to represent was different. To borrow a key theme from Alan Liu’s book The Laws of Cool, Mondo’s cyberculture is best described as a scene of insiders-outside and outsiders-inside. The ideal subversive computer culture was something simultaneously inside and outside of mainstream, corporate America – for example, the corporate- and state-employed hackers and cyberpunks that Mondo imagined to be driving a social and cultural revolution from “inside the belly of the beast,” as Robert Anton Wilson wrote in the magazine’s first issue.
Wired’s style was similarly built on this contradictory positioning. Think, for example, of its portrayals of tech CEOs as rogue upstarts, as outsiders bringing about a subversive future from inside the system. This was also the essence of how Wired itself was imagined and operated – as an independent magazine that would infiltrate and revolutionize the mainstream publishing industry (on this, see especially Gary Wolf’s history of Wired, in which he often points out Louis Rossetto’s ambivalent relationship with his traditional publishing ‘peers’). This was not a co-optation of Mondo’s style, but an elaboration of its outsider-inside identity.
(via John Ohno)
(Disclosure: I write for Wired)
We do, in fact, now constantly inhabit a sort of blended VR, but we now assume that we don’t need the goggles as long as whatever’s on the screen is sufficiently engrossing. And the distinction between real and virtual continues to blur. The virtual is colonizing the real, but generally in ways we don’t notice. VR was predicated on a notion of real/virtual that now seems very last-century. Our grandchildren won’t be able to readily imagine where we were at, with that one!
Whatever Happened to Virtual Reality? - Virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier interviewed by R.U. back in 2002.
Notes from a William Gibson Q&A Session (9/08/10), which covers a little of the same ground.
Here’s an old Mondo 2000 interview from 1993 with both Genesis P-Orridge and Hakim Bey conducted by Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow:
JOHN: Right, Taoism has no truck with good and evil at all.
HAKIM: Taoism seems to be the one religion that doesn’t have the Gnostic trace.
JOHN: In our culture, the problem arose with the Romans.
HAKIM: I think it goes further back. It’s Babylon. It’s just like the Rastas say, “It happened in Babylon.” It’s Marduk and Tiamat. It’s Mr. Hard-on God up against Sloppy Mom. In China, chaos is a benevolent property. Huntun is the gourd or the egg out of which everything comes. He’s a wonton. Huntun and wonton are the same words. He’s like this little dumpling and everything good comes out of him. In Babylon, chaos is the disgusting monster vagina that has to be ripped up by Marduk into myriad blobs of shit and slime. And we are those globs of slime. That’s how the human race came into being. What is the purpose of the human race? To serve Marduk, to serve the masculine principle, to store up grain in the granary for the priests, to pay for the priests for their sacrifice so they get the free hamburgers. That’s the whole Western myth. It’s St. George and the Dragon. St. George pins the dragon down.
In China, the dragon is the free expression of creativity. He’s the mixture of Yin and Yang, the principle of power. But here’s evil, plain and simple. This is why chaos has kicked off, for me, for Ralph Abraham, and others, an interest in making a critique of this Western mythology, and saying, “Let’s put Humpty Dumpty back together.”
JOHN: There’s been an interesting co-evolution lately of a lot of apparently disconnected things, like chaos mathematics and neo-tribalism, a sudden interest in Taoism and what I perceive to be a deep feminization of Western culture.
GEN: Some philosophers feel that there’s a risk in absolute unconditional surrender of that male-God power, even though it’s obviously failed miserably. Should we seek out every possible male trait and subordinate it to a female principle?
HAKIM: I didn’t like the rule of Dad, but I don’t think I’m going to like the rule of Mom either.
I interviewed Richard Metzger and R.U. Sirius last week at Contact. We talked about the Occupy movement, what it’s like to start a new publication today and whether tools for free speech have room for improvement.
I apologize in advance for the audio quality - I didn’t have a windscreen for my microphone, so things get pretty noisy when the wind picks up.
R.U. Sirius was the co-founder and editor of the influential cyberculture magazine Mondo 2000. He also ran for president on the Revolution Party ticket in 2000 and has worked for publications such as Wired and H+ Magazine. He recently started a new online publication called Acceler8or. He’s also working on an open source history of Mondo 2000. My previous interview with him is here.
Richard Metzger was the co-founder and creative director of Disinformation, where he served as the host of the online show Infinity Factory and the Channel 4 show Disinfo Nation. He’s now the editor and host of Dangerous Minds. My previous interview with him is here.
Before The Open Source Party. Before The Guns and Dope Party. Before The Revolution Party. In 1969, Timothy Leary ran for governor of California against Ronald Reagan. The motto was “Come together - join the party” and John Lennon originally wrote the song “Come Together" for Leary.
According to a letter from Leary published in Mondo 2000 # 6 in 1992, this was Leary’s platform:
1. The basic function of government is to protect individuals against organized gangs and groups.
2. Decentralization: California secedes from the USSA.
3. Another basic function of govt. is to entertain/educate.
4. The government makes a profit. Instead of paying taxes, the citizen received dividends.
5. The profits derived from licensing pleasures: Marijuana license like an auto license/registration, hard liquor, gambling; prostitutes were professionals like dentists or lawyers; LSD, etc., used in state parks or theme parks; Entry taxes - California would be like an amusement park - entrance fees and daily residence fees; Education - California specializes in education - non-Californians paid substantial fees.
The only other info I could find about the platform:
Revealing part of his guber-natorial platform for the first time, Leary pledged solutions to California’s 10 major political problems.
He leaked out only a few of those solutions, but what did emerge was unique — to say the least.
"I’m going to legalize marijuana and charge a $1,000 a year permit fee for those who want to make it," he said.
"Given the size of California population, that will generate a huge amount of additional revenue each year.
"Then I’ll turn that money over to the police and the forces of the right wing to keep them happy and off people’s backs," Leary explained.
Wouldn’t that be discriminating against the poor who can’t afford $1,000 a year for the privilege of turning on? he was asked.
"That’s not really a problem," he explained, "because it’s only a short-term situation — in five years I’ll eliminate all money from Californian society and return to a barter system."
See also: Timothy Leary Dossier
I actually thought I’d posted these before, but I can’t find them in the archives anywhere. They are older interviews, but they’re a good introduction to DeLanda.
Don’t call me Gaia. The Gaia hypothesis is a very interesting point. […] Philosophically, it is a terrible mistake. It is a terrible mistake precisely in the neo-materialist sense because it takes the metaphor of the organism, it sees life, living flesh as the most magical thing that happened on this planet. This is of course a chauvinism, a kind of organic chauvinism on our part. It takes the metaphor of the organism and applies it to the whole planet. Now the whole planet is alive, that what Gaia is. Not only do you call it an organism, you also give it a goddess name just to make sure you are ridiculous enough. The way out of this is to think that the planet is indeed something special, but it what Deleuze and Guttari called a body without organs, which is the exact opposite of an organism. It is a cauldron or receptacle of non-organic life, a body without organs. Because it can be alive in the sense of being creative and generating order without having genes or having organs or being an organism. In my view, the very fact that the atmosphere connected with the hydrosphere can generate things like hurricanes and cyclones and all kinds of self-organizing entities means that indeed the planet, even before living creatures appeared, was already a body without organs, a cauldron of creativity, a receptacle of spontaneously emerging order.
I have my shaman there, since I was like 19, this woman called Julietta. She is a direct heir of a long, long line of Mazatec knowledge.
I hate mysticism. I’ve always hated the whole idea of taking psychedelics and then going, “Western science is bullshit, let’s turn to Eastern philosophy.” I always strive to have a materialist explanation for what’s going on. I always thought that matter had much more to it than just this inert stuff that sits here. And now I’m being proved right.
Think about the Game of Life [computer-based cellular automata developed by mathematician John Conway]. At first the rules of interaction of the little cells in an abstract space were so simple that everybody thought it was a game. Then they found ladders and glider-generating guns spontaneously forming. So this tiny, abstract, stupid space all of a sudden began exploding with possibilities.
XNX Designs has a catalog of clothes that look like they could have been on the cover of Mondo 2000.
(via Die Puny Humans
There was a time when the name R.U. Sirius was synonymous with cyberculture. His seminal magazine Mondo 2000 predated Wired, and was even more enthusiastic in its wow-gosh sexification of the new geek order. Articles predicting a slick future of nanotech parties and smart drugs were mixed in with batches of fearful predictions of terrorism, economic collapse, draconian copyright enforcement, increased surveillance and invasive advertising. But Sirius didn’t stop there: After the collapse of Mondo, he went on to write for magazines like 21C, Salon and Disinformation, and edited Getting It. He created the Revolution Party, a non-ideological anti-authoritarian political organization (“If even the alternative parties like Libertarian and Green seem a bit rigid to you, consider joining us”), and campaigned for Presidency of the United States. His latest project, The Thresher, is a political magazine.
But The Thresher is a print magazine. Sirius hardly goes online anymore, except for research. The truth is, the Godfather of GeekChic has moved on.
K: Have you ever read Patrick Farley’s e-sheep comic? He did this one, this autobiographical comic, where there’s this guy, a parody of you… What he tells the main character, the autobiographical character, is that you made up all the stuff for your magazine.
RU: Actually, I say that all the time in public interviews, “We made it all up.” Which in a sense is true — some of it we made up and some of it we didn’t. Mondo 2000 clearly wasn’t journalism in the conventional sense. It was mostly composed of interviews, very subjective, really dedicated to people speaking in their own voice. It was very playful and very surrealistic. I never really wanted to do journalism — I do now because I have to to make a living. And we do it at Thresher, I guess because it’s become a habit now. To say we made it all up is kind of flippant, but we weren’t concerned with responsibility or credibility. We were more concerned with creating a sense of excitement and energy and a sense of belonging to the next wave of culture. And we were concerned with making people laugh.
K: It seems like rather than inventing things, you brought them together. I mean, you could have Terence McKenna and GWAR in the same issue.
RU: *Laughs* A lot of it definitely didn’t make any sense. We had a great liberty to basically be about technoculture, and at the same time we could run stuff that had nothing to do with the main theme of our magazine, which Wired could never do. When we started Mondo, Eric Gullichsen brought around these Japanese magazines and pointed out that Japanese magazines included everything. They’d have serious political articles, children’s stories, pornography, anything you could possibly imagine… It was every magazine in America and every theme they’d have packed into one magazine and they wouldn’t differentiate. Which to me is sort of ideal.
K: To change the subject somewhat, where do we stand on the war on drugs right now? Is it more or less important than it was, say, two years ago?
RU: It’s all sort of integrated into the war on terror, and there’s a lot of complex connections there. It’s amazing that it’s all happening in Afghanistan, which is sort of a nexus for the drug underground and also turns out to be the nexus for Al Quaeda and the place where America wants to build an oil pipeline and the place where we have our troops and bombs. And all those things converge. Narcopolitics, as much as class, is at the center of politics in our time. I don’t think any of that has changed. You also see this integration in Columbia where they’re fighting over drugs and they’re also fighting against leftists and they’re fighting for their oil interests — it’s still rather the same story. On the positive side of course, Europeans almost uniformly are liberalizing drug laws. I don’t know how things are in Canada… I think Vancouver is pretty liberal.
K: Do you think there’s a potential use for psychedelics in psychotherapy?
RU: Yeah, I’ve always thought it was a useful tool. The great thing about having a guide, rather than doing it on your own or in a party, is that it grants permission to take a pretty walloping, great massive dose and go through changes without having to worry about what kind of incursions might occur during the trip. I think if it could be approved for psychotherapy, that would be a tremendous step in the right direction. There’s basically two schools of thought on ending the drug war. One is the libertarian point of view, which is that it should be legalized because it’s a cognitive liberty, a matter of personal choice. And then there’s the attempt to medicalize the situation… harm reduction and so forth. And while I agree with the libertarian view on that, I think medicalization is more likely to be allowed.
K: You wrote about smart drugs years ago, do you still take any of that stuff?
RU: No, actually I’ve had stomach problems for a number of years. I’ve found that I can’t take most of those drugs. I certainly can’t take them regularly.
K: What did you feel worked for you, though?
RU: Oh I can’t remember of course. DMAE, I remember being one that was interesting. There was one that came in liquid drops, Deprenyl… quite good! Hydergine definitely — if you take it every day — sharpens up your memory. It was very closely related to LSD, actually.
K: Yeah, Albert Hoffman invented both of them didn’t he?
RU: Yeah. They all had a stimulant effect. As far as the studies that all the advocates quoted to prove that they were effective long-term enhancers of cognition, I don’t know. I’m not in a position to judge the quality of those researchers. They definitely functioned as stimulants. And they were much more even in terms of how they would take you through the day than cocaine, or methamphetamines…
K: Or caffeine…
RU: Or caffeine, right.
K: The only one of those [types of drugs] I’ve taken is vassopressin.
RU: Yeah, vassopressin is nice.
K: It worked for me, but every half hour I had to take a couple snorts.
RU: It was the one that was the most like coke; I think its effect on brain chemistry was compared by Pearson and Shaw as blatantly uhhh…
K: It was definitely, ah… addictive and expensive
RU: I gave some of that to William Gibson once, and he really liked it.
K: It’s funny, now the whole smart drug thing has been written off as snake oil.
RU: Bruce Sterling used to joke about people taking things that didn’t work, but I think I convinced him that they’re stimulants.
K: So they’re just stimulants and not long-term brain enhancers?
RU: It’s hard to know. I was taking them regularly during the Mondo 2000 period in the early nineties, and I was definitely quick. I don’t know if I was wise, but I was just quick.
K: How did The Thresher come about?
RU: Dave Latimer is the publisher, and he kind of liked Tom Frank’s The Baffler, a sort of neo-Marxist political journal out of Chicago that’s gotten a lot of response. He liked that and he liked McSweeney’s, and he liked the whole idea of this rough, sort of intellectual form of publishing. Also, it’s become a trendy thing. And I thought it would be a fun way of organizing materials and expressing ourselves. I’d done the opposite with Mondo 2000, which came to the party way over-dressed. We decided to take it the other direction.
K: It kind of seemed that Mondo 2000 was the stoner geeks goofing off in the back of the class.
K: The Thresher is more serious.
RU: Yeah, it’s pretty serious. The second issue, which is just about to go to press, is actually pretty irreverent and a lot weirder, probably as a result of world events and also as a result of my being too busy on other things to concentrate on it closely. I sort of let it slip through my fingers, and as a result, we’ve unintentionally created a darkly comedic, rather nasty issue that I’m looking forward to seeing. I was actually trying to create a publication initially that was pretty serious and politically pragmatic, and sort of trying to operate on the boundaries between mainstream and alternative views. But we sort of blew that all to hell on the second issue. It’s pretty radical. Conspiracy theory and a radical Islamist who writes in a sort of hip postmodernist style.
K: It seems that The Thresher is still largely about technology, just in a different context. Instead of being emerging or future technology —
RU: In the first issue there was an alternative energy thing and also a biowar thing — actually one of the interviews with [Richard] Preston was actually done for an issue of Mondo 2000 that never came out. So yeah, those kind of obsessions are still there. But I don’t know how much of that’s in the new issue, I think it may not be. I had actually considered making number two a technology issue, but again, world events pushed us in another direction.
K: What’s the status of the Revolution Party?
RU: Well, we still have a discussion group [on Yahoo!] but we haven’t really done anything. I feel like it’s time to rethink a lot of things… Not necessarily to renounce where you’ve been before but… I kind of feel like I am (and we are) in a cultural and political, certainly economic and maybe even technological place of standing still. And for me, it’s a great moment to take a deep breath and not immediately presume to be able to come out with a lot of opinions…
We’re questioning not just what’s next, but what it means to be human and what sort of real value it has. A few years ago, I wrote that we’re at a point where we’re thrilled with technology, and we’re disappointed with human beings. At this point I’m not sure that we’re very thrilled with technology anymore.
K: Do you have any idea of how to get control? Was that what the Revolution party was about?
RU: Control and powerlessness are two different things, of course. We shouldn’t expect control but we should expect some kind of power over our lives, government, et cetera… One of the main ideas [behind the Revolution Party] was that people of counter-cultural sensibilities could actually organize and become a political force. Sort of a countervailing force to the Christian Coalition.
K: What can we do to have some sort of effect on our lives and comfort?
RU: I don’t know. I don’t see much point in any of the strategies that people currently employ. I think that the apparatus that we have, in terms of democracy and free speech, is probably as good as it’s going to get — we just have to find a way back to real power within the democratic apparatus that’s been captured by money and so forth.
K: What about blogs, where you’ve got giant decentralized conversations going on between different people?
RU: Yeah, that’s definitely a value.
K: But it seems discussion can only go so far.
RU: Yeah, discussion needs to lead to action. I don’t know if you follow Douglas Rushkoff’s mailing list or not, but he just sent out an email saying that we should act as if we’ve already won. But I think if we’ve already won, we should be able to find ways of supporting each other, and we should have an alternative place to find quality health care, and make a living, and have a home. And we’re so far away from that. We’re just talking. We have this vast information matrix through which we can sort of form these temporary autonomous zones for our mental activities, but I don’t see how it is going to extend beyond that. We can get people out to protest or whatever, and that has a certain amount of effect. But in terms of livingry, in terms of people going into a space together and changing the way we live and consume energy — I’m not saying that can’t happen, I’m just saying that I can’t see how we’re getting there right now.
K: What else are you working on?
RU: I’m writing a book called Counter Cultures Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House, a history book about 15 different cultures that were anti-authoritarian and accepted a philosophy of constant change — what Nietzsche called transubstantiation. I’m doing that for Villard, which is a subsidy of Random House. I’ve never written a history book before, and it’s taking all of my time. It’s a very complicated project…
I’m really kind of boring right now. Studying history, right now I’m studying Sufism. I’m advancing through the years in this book and trying to get up to the stuff that I already know, which would begin with the Enlightenment… the Age of Reason.
K: How far are you into the book?
RU: I’ve finished almost half of it. I had to turn in half of it to get the rest of the advance, and they’re way pleased with what I have so far. So that’s good news, that I’m not wasting my time and this thing will go to print. It should be done in about a year, so it will be a year and a quarter before anyone sees it.
K: What do you do online these days?
RU: I do a lot of my research online, for the book, and also for various journalistic assignments I have. I just finished a piece on Michael Ruppert for Rolling Stone. He’s the 9/11 conspiracy guy, he’s sort of become the most famous person presenting evidence, supposed evidence, that the Bush administration knew what was going to happen, even in a more precise manner than we know now. That he knew exactly what was going to happen and allowed it to happen for a political advantage. Anyway, in relevance to your question, I use the web for research on something like that.
K: More for work than for fun then?
RU: Yeah, more for work than for fun. I’m not really participating in a lot of discussion groups; sometimes I still go on The WELL and let myself get sucked into conversation there. And I don’t use multimedia at home, because all I have [is a 1999 iBook]… it just doesn’t really do multimedia adequately. I got to enjoy the peer-to-peer music and all that while working at the Getting It office and I miss that.
K: Do you have any favourite blogs or porn sites?
RU: It’s been a while since I’ve been on the blogs…
K: So you don’t keep up with them?
RU: Well, I used to, but I’ve sort of fallen off now. I can’t remember the names now, but there were some people I really liked. MetaFilter? I think was it MetaFilter? I thought that was good. And one run by Jorn Borger the name of which escapes me [Robot Wisdom]. But no, I haven’t been following the blogs lately. Like I said I’ve been so busy working on research. I’ve been following conspiracy sites primarily because of my work for Rolling Stone.
K: Lately there’s been a lot of talk about a return to the old days of the internet, a return to the non-profit spirit. At the same time, there are a lot of new startups and venture capital is finally being pumped back into the net. This might not really be your field anymore, but do you feel that the internet and business can ever be separate again, or do you feel that it’s going to go back to its non-profit roots?
RU: People are going to try to form businesses there — some of them are going to fail and some of them are going to succeed — but the sense that this is some sort of agora that you pump yourself in and everything turns into gold… there was never any logic to it whatsoever, and I don’t think we’re going to return to that. But the business is there, and people are using it for other purposes; politics, creativity, porn, communication… it’s all going to go on there at once. That’s good. I think community and experimentation was the dominant mythology in the early nineties and then business in the late nineties, and now there isn’t one… There’s no zeitgeist now.
K: In terms of what you’ve written about, you’ve basically gone from psychedelics, to technology, to tabloid stuff, to politics. So was that a natural process of one thing leading to another?
RU: Well, I was actually very political when I was younger. I was a member of the Yippies in my early adulthood, and was editor of an underground newspaper — a Yippie newspaper in Binghamton, New York. So I started off writing about politics, and by the time I got to Mondo in 1989 it was just a different way of approaching what we thought at that time was the progressive revolutionary thing. In some ways the politics were kind of hidden in Mondo 2000. It was odd because we were interpreted as being libertarians by some people, whereas we were the type of people who would tend to glamorize the Weather Underground or something like that. But we did take sort of an experimentalist, “let the cards fall where they may” stance and up-front claimed to be politically irresponsible. That was sort of our pose.
K: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, politics and history, what would you be doing?
RU: I’d like to take a long slow ride across America and talk to people out there beyond the San Francisco bay area and see what people are thinking about.
K: Have you ever thought about relocating?
RU: I’ve thought about it from time to time. If I did relocate it would probably just be to go to New York City because my fiance’s relatives live there. But I do think it would be fun to live in a small town out in the middle of nowhere.
(Originally published at http://www.shift.com/content/web/387/1.html July, 2002)
I’ve used links from Boing Boing frequently, but never formally recommended it. Boing Boing started out as a magazine in the early 90s. Along with Future Sex and Mondo 2000, Boing Boing helped start up the cyberpunk culture. Now it exists as a really hip web log. You can read the old magazine articles in the book Happy Mutant Handbook which is out of print but not hard to find.
Update: There’s now also a free anthology of material from the BB zine available here.