Posts tagged: R.U. Sirius
Here’s the second half of our conversation with R.U. Sirius, editor of the late great Mondo 2000 magazine and the co-author of the forthcoming Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumanism and the Singularity.. This time around R.U. tells us about the state of the Transhumanist movement and what he misses about the 90s, and Chris and I go off on a tangent about algorithms and an app store for identity.
Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Counterculture, The Singularity, and the Amish with R. U. Sirius pt 2
The first half is here.
This week Chris Dancy and I talked with former Mondo 2000 editor and Counter Culture Through the Ages co-author R.U. Sirius about counter culture, quantified self and his forthcoming book Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumanism and the Singularity.
Next week we’ll the second part of our conversation, where we dive a bit deeper into the state of Transhumanism, plus gab about identity and 90s nostalgia.
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)
R.U. Sirius wrote:
If, in 1995, some cypherpunks had published a book about the upcoming “postmodern surveillance dystopia,” most commentators would have shrugged it off as just a wee bit paranoid and ushered them into the Philip K. Dick Reading Room. Now, it is more likely that people will shrug and say, “that ship has already sailed.”
R.U Sirius interviews Peter Bebergal, author of the memoir and cautionary tale Too Much To Dream: . This interview is a few months old, but I’ve only just seen it:
RU: It strikes me that psychedelics are both an enhancer and distorter of
pattern recognition. It’s like once the mind becomes too conscious and too obsessive about pattern recognition, it becomes delusional.
PB: This is probably the most succinct way of putting it I have heard. It’s essentially what we see happen with Phillip K. Dick. It’s part of the reason why no matter how non-addicting psychedelics might be from a chemical point-of-view, the capacity for the human mind to compulsively search for the same connection/insight over and over again is boundless. This same phenomena can be seen with a certain kind of occultism. Hermeticism can become an exercise in endless connection making and it’s amazing how even the most thoughtful occultists can become conspiracy theorists overnight. Psychedelics, and other forms of non-ordinary consciousness, can readily show that there is more to the human mind, and possibly the universe, than we can perceive normally, but when we lose the ability to critically distance ourselves from these experiences, the danger for delusion is great.
RU: You remain interested in the psychedelic movement even though you feel you can’t risk taking them yourself. What do you hope for people today who take psychedelic drugs in a way that is conscious of set and setting and so forth?
PB: I have come to believe in the absolute necessity of ritual and community, whether it’s the Native American Church or your local OTO lodge. However you can find it, try to access a group of people that share your spiritual/psychological sensibilities and that hopefully have a few seasoned elders and teachers. This is not to say there aren’t those that can handle the solitary journey, but I still think however one can position oneself into a larger context with its own myths and symbols can only be a good thing.
But more importantly I hope that those who use these drugs will see them not as a path but as doorway towards a spiritual/conscious way of life. As Alan Watts is often quoted as saying, “When you get the message, hang up the phone.”
21C is back with new material, plus archival material by or about Hakim Bey, William S. Burroughs, Erik Davis, Philip K. Dick, Ashley Crawford, Mark Dery, Verner Vinge, William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, Jack Parsons, Richard Metzger, Genesis P. Orridge, Kath Acker, JG Ballard, John Shirley, Robert Anton Wilson, Iain Sinclair, Terrence McKenna, Buckminster Fuller, R.U. Sirius, Timothy Leary, Bruce Sterling and more.
Sadly, in 1999, the company went bust, somewhat ironic given that 21•C in that form never made it into the Century after which it was named – the 21st. 21•C stalwart Mark Dery and I made some attempt to resuscitate the title early in the new millennium to no avail.
Yet many of the ideas and issues raised in the original magazine continued to arise, and with them perpetual queries as to how to get copies of the original articles, a nigh impossible task. With the prompting of two other 21•C stalwarts, Darren Tofts and Murray McKeich, it was decided to resurrect a core selection of articles in an archival on-line format. With Mick Stylianou’s wizard like help this was fairly painless. It didn’t take long to decide to add new material and it is hoped that new issues will be posted at semi-regular intervals.
This inaugural on-line issue takes as its theme Apocalypse Noir – the trend toward the apocalyptic, or at the least extremely dark – in contemporary writing. If earlier 21•C’s tended toward the darker aspects of cyberpunk, then the newer crop of writers have given up any pretense of a happy ending. Good luck!
(via Alex Burns)
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
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)
Signum Press is a cool online zine based in the northwest and has featured writers such as R.U. Sirius and Douglas Rushkoff. They’ve covered all sorts of interesting stuff. From their Kool Keith interview:
I’m still crazy. I will still stick a screwdriver in your back if I have to. I was in the mental hospital because I’m a quick-tempered guy. It’s like with Dr. Dooom, if I didn’t write that stuff, I probably would be a mad psycho, someone who spends the rest of his life in jail. I think rap saved me, allowing me to get out a lot of my pressures on paper. At the hospital, I was getting therapy about knowing my own strength, because at the time I felt like I could just go up and punch a gorilla in the face. I actually felt like going into the Bronx Zoo at times, climbing over the cages and punching the gorilla up in the face.
(via Boing Boing)