People who need Judaism – who need to “believe” in its myths – are the least likely to be able to see its iconoclastic core, and its strong demand that we give up our belief systems and put social justice before our own transcendence or salvation.
Excellent interview with Douglas Rushkoff over at Pop Image.
Well, I always saw Club Zero-G as a way to express some pretty esoteric ideas in a very simple, and tangible way. So while the thinking might be inspired by Hegel, de Chardin, or Foucault, the story and characters are really straightforward. On the other hand, the premise for the story came to me in a dream – so while my dreams are probably affected by the kinds of stuff I read, this notion of a world we can all access together while we’re asleep came from my subconscious. Really, for a few days after this weird dream, I was convinced that I had been to a real place, inhabited psychically by hundreds of people I knew.
We countercultural luminaries all tend to hang out together at seminars and summits all round the world so I’ve known Doug for years (he was a fan of The Invisibles and I loved his Cyberia book, so we hit it off fairly quickly) and met Gen at the Disinfo Convention in 2000, when we were both speakers and felt like I’d known him all my life. The book we talked about doing together wasn’t Pop Mag!ck (that’s the name of the book I’m currently writing about the new magical system I’ve developed over the last twenty five years of occult practice) but the brief idea was for us all to get high on Ketamine and talk about the universe until a book of discussions popped out. I’ll be seeing Doug again soon at the Omega Institute workshops in August so we’ll probably get moving on this again in some form.
Been meaning to mention this for a while: technoccultist electronic music group Psychic TV has reformed (with Douglas Rushkoff as keyboardist). They played their first show last night, here’s Rushkoff’s blog entry about the show.
The film company, Deepleaf Productions, also plans to release a new documentary called Utopia USA featuring Noam Chomsky, Tom Robbins, Robert Anton Wilson, Riane Eisler, RU Sirius, Douglas Rushkoff, John Zerzan, Raymond Smith, Ralph Abraham, David Loye, John Mohawk, Lyn Gerry, John Kekes and Howard Zinn.
The future is going to be much more like the extremely distant past. It’s not that technology is going to disappear. It’s that technology is going to be much less obtrusive. I can imagine a future where the entire culture has been shrunk down and downloaded onto a pair of black contact lenses that you implant behind your eyelids. And you’re naked, tattooed, scarified, and wearing your penis sheath and so on. But when you close your eyes, there are menus dangling in mental space. You go into that and have the complete database of the Western Mind.
-Terrence McKenna, Mondo 2000 vol. 1, issue 10, 1993
Whether open only to a few friends, like a dinner party, or to thousands of celebrants, like a Be-In, the party is always ‘open’ because it is not ‘ordered’; it may be planned, but unless it ‘happens’ it’s a failure. The element of spontaneity is crucial.
The essence of the party: face-to-face, a group of humans synergize their efforts to realize mutual desires, whether for good food and cheer, dance, conversation, the arts of life; perhaps even for erotic pleasure, or to create a communal artwork, or to attain the very transport of bliss- in short, a ‘union of egoists’ (as Stirner put it) in its simplest form-or else, in Kropotkin’s terms, a basic biological drive to ‘mutual aid.’
-Hakim Bey, The Temporary Autonomous Zone, 1990.
I’m sitting in front of a sound stage in the middle of a horse pasture watching robotic kids shift and rotate to electronic music. A computer thumps out crunchy, mechanical melodies over the funky beats oozing from turntables. Neon drawings float under the black light from the plywood dance floor. Off to the side of the stage, a guy sits cross-legged and meditates. I’ve been up since 6:30 in the morning, it’s 2:30 at night now, I’m freezing, and have no plans of going to bed. Fatigue has given way to fascination. I feel great.
It’s the first night of Phoenix Festival 2002, one of many week long outdoor art and dance festivals to offshoot from Nevada’s Burning Man festival. Although the organizers didn’t have Burning Man in mind when they created the festival – some of them have never even been to Burning Man – the festival has become a refuge for people fed up with Burning Man’s commercialization. The theme of this year’s Phoenix Festival is rebirth, the final stage in the cycle of the phoenix myth. It’s the final Phoenix Festival and the first to acquire the required permits to hold the event. In previous years the festival’s location was announced the night before the event, like many other electronic music parties and festivals. But despite the festivals legit legal standing and increased promotion, the festival remains largely underground. Only about 2,000 people are attending. According to Chris “Fussik” West, who helped organize the festival, this year’s festival attracted a more diverse crowd but didn’t significantly increase the total number of people attending.
Phoenix Festival seems to be a perfect embodiment of Terrence McKenna’s “Archaic Revival” concept and Hakim Bey’s “Temporary Autonomous Zone” idea. McKenna believed we are striving to recover ancient social forms to escape the oppressive nature of modern living. He expected people to return to tribal forms of living, with an emphasis on ritual, organized activity, and ancestor consciousness. He sees everything from New Age-ism, UFOlogy, body modification, and of course raves as manifestations of this tendency.
Bey proposed a complex network of “pirate utopias” where people could be free to do as they pleased without state intervention. Once the state got wise to a temporary autonomous zone, its inhabitants would up and find a new location.
Phoenix Festival is isolated on private property in rural Washington and people are camped out in tents. Primarily they’ve brought their music equipment, and they’re powering it mostly with biodiesel. Oakes, a guy I picked up in Portland in exchange for a ticket, told me on the way down that the electronic music scene is a community. Oakes’ own plan is to “become so integrated into the scene that I can make a living on it.” He designs and makes clothes, and plans to launch a music journalism career as well. He’s certainly not the first to make a living in the community. There are vendors at the event selling home-made fashions, musical instruments, and food. There are large groups of production companies that throw parties and festivals on a regular basis. DJs and musicians who try to live off their music. Glass blowers. Drug dealers. Homeless drifters relying on the kindness of strangers.
Of course, the community isn’t entirely self-sustaining yet. Most of its members still have to work day jobs. My friend Brian, a long time electronic music community member who told me about Phoenix Festival, makes a living manufacturing circuit boards.
Fussik doesn’t believe that the model the Phoenix Festival is based on can work in the real world, but he does believe that Phoenix Festival is “A safe place for people express themselves in a free area with as few rules as possible.”
FXCannon, the group playing in the stage right now, is from Houston. They work day jobs and spent all their money getting here. They brought a bunch of burned CDs with them to give away, but now they’re selling them to try to make enough money to get home.
Jeff Montgomery, who does a live PA set from his laptop for the group, used to be in an industrial noise group that traded boxes of tapes with other musicians all over the world, and then sold the other musicians’ tapes to make money. When asked about how he feels about peer to peer music trading he said, “I don’t give a fuck. I just want people to hear my music.”
This is a pretty common attitude in the electronic music scene, where cutting and pasting sounds from other musicians’ work is a standard technique. For them intellectual property is a moot concept. The musicians mostly self-publish their albums and live a traveling minstrel lifestyle, depending on donations and day jobs live. The members of FXCannon have day jobs in addition to seeking extra money from gigs and throwing their own parties.
Between sets, conversations often turn to politics. Someone discusses how government officials threw Ralph Nader out of the 2000 presidential debates, essentially meaning the government was using tax payer money to subvert democracy. Others criticize Bush’s foreign policy, or his plans to drill for oil in Alaska.
On the second day of Phoenix Festival the members of FXCannon and I are sitting in an old Ford school bus that has been converted into the tour bus of Aura, a Seattle performance art troupe. Aura will perform tomorrow’s nights “death ritual.” We’re hanging out with a member of a troupe, who makes his living as a glass blower. We talk about the economy and the collapse of Enron, and Jeff points out that the electronic music scene is on the cutting edge of the coming economic change. “We’re going to go back to the way this country was meant to be by the founders. Everyone was meant to have their own business, not to work for megacorporations that own everything,” he says. Here people are founding the new new economy, consisting sustainable personal businesses.
I met a girl from South Carolina, who has a degree in public relations and has she says she’s just been laid off from a job designing circuit boards for MCI and that it’s the best thing that ever happened to her. “I’m on severance for the summer, then I’ll be on unemployment for a year. Then I’ll figure out what to do next,” she said. Oakes is in a similar situation: he’s launching his new career as a cog in the electronic music community wheel while receiving unemployment.
On my last night at the festival before returning to Olympia, WA early for my day job, I watch Aura’s “death” ritual. Fire is twirled, people are entranced by the performance. Fussik says that he and the organizers were never big on the ritual aspect of the festival, but last year they left the ritual out and people missed it. It’s back this year to provide some closure to the series of festivals. Next year Fussik and company will organize a new festival, designed with Burning Man in mind, that he hopefully get away from the rave scene. “We’re sort of the darling of the rave scene right now,” he says, “We want to create a new festival that rips away the facade. With a rave, you’ve gotta have particular elements. So the new festival will be purely a community art and music project, with no myth, no religion.”
Though Fussik sees Phoenix Festival as being a vacation from the real world, rather than a permanent replacement for civilized society, many of its attendees don’t agree. They’ve made electronic music parties a way of life. Phoenix Festival is but one of many other large outdoor gatherings this summer, and many more will occur indoors during the rest of the year. A high tech, nomadic tribal community has emerged and is thriving despite government intervention. Whether they realize it or not, they’ve incorporated Bey’s TAZ model into their organizational process, and are the living embodiment of the Archaic Revival.
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)