dwh@berlin.snafu.de (David Hudson) (by way of Pit Schultz ) on Tue, 10 Dec 96 15:34 MET

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nettime: LR Interview, pt. 1


Pit Schultz and I were chatting a bit last night about the outstanding need
for a "European" response to the challenges posed by some of the
predominant ideas in net.culture -- not in the form of a consolidated stand
or movement, and of course, not necessarily originating or even based on
the continent!

We thought that the following, though some of you may have seen it, read it
or skipped it, might serve as a catalyst for a few considered responses
from the list.


What Kind of Libertarian?
An Interview with Louis Rossetto

By the time I approached Louis Rossetto for comments on a story I was
writing about the collapse of Paulina Borsook's book contract with
HardWired immediately following her interview with Rewired, he had already
read an early draft of that story. That in itself is a long story; suffice
it to say, email spreads very quickly.

A few sharp messages were exchanged, but things cooled off after this one
from Rossetto, which serves as good an introduction as any to the

"I'd be willing to talk about Borsook, David, but only if the discussion
includes the charges and allegations about Wired she's been making for the
past year -- and has been given a free pass on by the people, like you, who
would like to believe them. In other words, I want to get into "'And you
know, I've heard horror stories...' And she goes through a few, the scene
after the Jon Katz review was killed by Kevin Kelly, the ones she touches
on in wired_women. 'So there is this thing about how they have their
worldview, or actually religion. "Don't contradict with facts, please."'"

"Yeah, I want to get into the 'horror stories.'

I get the feeling that the people who empathize with Paulina's 'worldview,
or actually religion,' don't want to get 'contradicted' with the facts when
it comes to Wired. I think maybe it's time to inject a little reality

Piecing together an interview conducted via email, or regular mail for that
matter, is something akin to trying to make a coherent narrative out of a
three-ring circus. Discussions of various points split and branch off, but
are all carried on "simultaneously". I've tried to capture the flow without
letting it get too choppy or losing any of the content or context.


David Hudson: When people talk about Wired, its politics, its ideas, how
the business is run, it very rapidly gets personal. Never ceases to amaze

Louis Rossetto: From my side, it gets personal because no matter how far
it's come, in many ways Wired is still the same company it was when twelve
people invested their passion and suffered a whole bunch of pain to bring
out the first issue almost literally four years ago. There's no cover of
bureaucracy here. You make a charge against Wired, it's not rhetoric, it's
an accusation against a real person.

DH: How do you respond to the accusation that there's "too much Louis in
it"? One often hears, especially now that Wired has so many projects going
on, expanding into other media, etc., Look, the guy can't have a hand in
everything, and yet he tries to.

LR: I have two major responsibilities. I'm the editor-in-chief of Wired
magazine, where I've been very hands-on since I co-founded it. And I'm the
chief editorial officer of Wired Ventures. In effect, all creatives
ultimately report to me, and I'm ultimately responsible for all content.

That doesn't mean, however, that I'm hands-on in all projects. That would
be as counter-productive as it would be physically impossible. What I do is
manage a creative process through an organization run by senior creatives.

Sometimes in that process I am very present -- especially when we are
creating new brands and products. Even there, however, there's no fast
rule; a major new HotWired initiative was recently presented to me after it
was already pretty fully baked. Often I'm completely absent; I'm pretty
much hands-off on a large majority of the content that we create here.

Which, in point of fact, was the case with Paulina's book at HardWired. I
didn't even know it was happening until Peter told me it was one of the
books for next year, and then I only found out after the fact that it
wasn't. Which is similar to my relationship to HotWired, where I read the
content on the site for the first time on the morning it's posted, like
most of our members do.

Which is entirely normal for an enterprise with three companies, dozens of
different projects and products in production, and 335 employees spread
across four offices.

DH: [Quoting from a portion of the early draft] "Wired is robbed of 'any
credibility as anything other than a glossy stooge for out-of-whack
libertarians'" And for color, [let's] set it next to Mark Dery's assessment
of Wired as "a bully pulpit for corporate futurists, laissez-faire
evangelists, and prophets of privatization."

I think what gets a lot of people so riled up about Wired is that it's been
enormously successful, has literally become a cultural icon doing just that
-- not simply giving voice to the Gilders, Tofflers, etc., but actually
serving as a mouthpiece for them.

And I think these same people sense the Net slipping out of their hands.
They sense a very rapid evolution over which they have little or no control
from the realization of the Net's many-to-many potential to the old "top
down" media models.

LR: Perhaps the most telling sentence here is that "what gets a lot of
people so riled up about Wired is that it's been enormously successful."

I call this the MelodyMaker syndrome. In the UK, MM used to be the arbiter
of what was cool in music. They discovered new bands. Then they hyped them
until they started to get a modicum of commercial success. Then they turned
on them and denounced them for any number of sins. Mostly that they had
became popular. Success envy. Why don't people like success? The question
is more about the people who don't like success than the people who are

DH: People love success. Around the world, they pay Hollywood hundreds of
millions of dollars a year to have success stories told to them. Especially
those "come from behind" and "up from nothing" stories. That's why Wired,
at first glance, usually the only glance mainstream media bothers with, is
such an exhilarating story on the one hand.

LR: People love it, and hate it. There's a reason why envy is in the top
seven sins.

DH: A small group of people squeezed into an office in San Francisco
building an empire; it's the stuff of legend, the American Dream come true,
and I certainly don't have to tell you people admire you tremendously for
that accomplishment.

On the other hand, what people can't stand is having the hero turn on them,
being told to either hop aboard the steamroller or get flattened into the
road. Because there are a couple of different kinds of successful people,

LR: Wired never set out to be anyone's hero. All we wanted -- and still
want -- to do is report accurately on the future that's arriving. The Wired
editorial line today is exactly the same today as it was when it launched.
We believe as strongly in Mitch Kapor's vision of a Jeffersonian Democracy
in cyberspace today as when we published it in our first year. We have
fought very hard for freedom in cyberspace. IDG and Ziff haven't, the New
York Times hasn't, Mother Jones hasn't. We have turned on no one.

Wired reports on the world that's really out there, not the world that the
PC left or the Christian right would like to believe is out there, nor the
one that the Cynical/Mindless media distortion machine would have us
believe is out there, but the one that's really emerging today.

That world is in the midst of a profound revolution driven not by
disgusting political ideologies, but by the people creating and using
convergence technologies to solve problems and create opportunities in
their business and private lives. That is the overwhelming fact of our
time. To deny it is to live in a fantasy world shaped by 19th century or
older social nostrums that border on religions. I don't believe in

This new world is characterized by a new global economy which is inherently
anti-heirarchical and decentralist, and disrespects national boundaries or
the control of politicians and bureaucrats or power mongerers of any; and
by a global, networked consciousness that is creating a new kind of
democracy for achieving social consensus that is turning the bankrupt
electoral politics we are witnessing this year into a dead end. These two
factors are not about top down control to accomplish either selfish or
noble ends, but about a global hive mind that is arriving at a new,
spontaneous order.

There are a lot of people who are upset about this emerging world.
Especially the right and left of the traditional political spectrum, who
have invested centuries in attempting to achieve political power in order
to control the state to accomplish their particular agenda. Pat
Buchanan/Mark Dery, they are
the opposite sides of the same coin -- people stuck with 19th century
social thinking who are unhappy with the emerging new world.

Each attacks us with their worst epithets -- "godless pornographers" from
the right, "prophets of privatization" from the left. Both are most upset
that the world is moving out of even the possibility of their control,
indeed, out of control period.

"Stooge," "bully pulpit," "mouthpiece." The rhetoric attacking Wired is
laughably hyperbolic, from the idiotic piece that the Baffler ran to the
most current criticism. What ignorance. Wired has been an incredibly
independent voice since our founding. We have sucked up to no one, have
bowed to no one.
If we have attracted readership and advertising, it's because we resonate
with our times, not because we are kissing ass.

Wired is not about regurgitating 19th century social thinking. If people
want that, they are free to look at the Nations and National Reviews of the
world, there are plenty enough of them; indeed, I would probably say that
all of the rest of media is stuck in that place. Wired is about talking
about this erupting future. Economists, philosophers, artists, scientists,
technologists, and business people -- and yes, Gilder and Toffler -- are
talking about this future, and we report on them.

If there was anyone on the left that had any original thoughts about the
future, we would report on them too, as we have on the Krokers. But the sad
fact is there aren't many at all, and I mean the word "sad" precisely.

DH: Really? The mailing lists I subscribe to seem full of them. To be fair,
a lot of my fellow subscribers work at Wired or HotWired. Probably a dumb
question, but I have to ask: Do you pursue new ideas on this side of the
fence as actively as those on the other?

LR: Story ideas at Wired come from two sources: internal and external. The
majority of ideas that get turned into stories come from the outside. They
are brought in by editors, and anyone else at Wired with an idea. If you
have an idea, send it in.

As Paulina herself admits in the interview with her you published, the left
is, let's be as charitable as Paulina, "exhausted." It has no new ideas.
Instead of embracing the erupting future, it flirts with neo-Luddites -- in
other words, the most reactionary tendencies in our society. Again, as
Paulina herself admits, to the "lefty" groups she feels affinity for, the
fact that she is even conversant with this domain makes even her a
perceived threat.

This lack of new ideas is perhaps mirrored in Borsook herself, who instead
of wanting to write a book about a positive, "lefty" view of the future,
chooses instead to make a career out of attacking "cyberlibertarians."

DH: Isn't this a tad presumptive? Doesn't Paulina in fact spend most of
part 2 of the interview explaining why she's drawn to them, why she feels
that the "cyberlibertarians" have plenty to say worth listening to, that
they matter?

LR: And I was actually surprised that she admitted that. But the reason you
wanted to talk to her had nothing to do with her grudging appreciation of
"cyberlibertarians," it was her opposition. The point anyway is the
inability or unwillingness to forward a positive agenda for change.

Again, the fact that anyone thinks the Net was ever in "their hands" in the
first place is itself an indication of a certain twisted addiction to
control. The Net was never in anyone's control, and it still isn't. It is,
as the Federal appellate court put it when holding the CDA
unconstitutional, the most democratic medium ever invented.

This medium is evolving, as it has from the day the first byte moved across
it. If you think the corporate world has a clue about what's going on, that
it can "control" it, go ask Microsoft how they let Netscape become the
fastest growing software company in history.

DH: And then once they felt it breathing down their neck, are even now
swatting it dead like some pesky fly.

LR: It's totally unclear how this Microsoft/Netscape thing is going to turn
out. If you know, you can become one hell of a rich guy. Netscape is not
going away. And Microsoft may have bitten off more than it can chew.
Microsoft is still less than 20K people, with under $7 billion in sales.
That's a fraction of one of the large media companies, much less the other
forces that could be said to be arrayed against them, from the million of
users at the bottom who are skeptical, to say the least, about the
desirability of their running everything, to the commercial interests like
the telcos and banks who have absolutely no interest in letting Microsoft
have a monopoly.

In addition, the battle for the desktop is a lot more complicated than the
battle of the browser. The fact the browser battle got to the cover of Time
indicates perhaps that the story is over. The new battle is in push media
and the active desktop. And there again, it's not clear who's going to be
the major player.

The Net is, and will remain, many-to-many. Top-down media models do not
work, and are not present on the Net today. There aren't three networks.
There are 500,000 websites. You do not need to talk to the programming
director of NBC to put REWIRED out on the Net. All you have to do is get a
computer, and buy access, at a derisory cost compared to what it used to
take to get a press, develop the distribution channels, etc. People who
talk about the arrival of top-down control don't know what they are talking

DH: The sad irony they're picking up on is that the voice of what was
supposed to be our "revolution" is telling us to let the top run wild and
do its thing.

LR: The sad irony is that the group which used to shout "Power to the
People" don't really trust the people, and continue to insist that
"controlling" this revolution is necessary, much less possible.

Because the reality is, this revolution really is "out of control." And the
more out of control it is, the better. The top isn't "running wild," as
anyone who has spent any time talking to so-called media leaders, it's
running scared. No one knows what the Net is going to look like six months
from now,
much less five years. And the larger the company, the more "top" they are,
the more clueless they are.

No, this obsession with the "top running wild" is a characteristic kneejerk
reaction of the left when confronted with the idea of freedom, the same way
"child pornography" is the kneejerk reaction of the right when they think
about freedom. Each obsession is a product of the dark corners of their
respective psyches. On the one hand, that the successful might continue to
be successful, on the other that somewhere, someone might actually be
enjoying themselves.

And sorry, both are wrong -- and neither is going to get space in Wired.

DH: That's why the mishap over Paulina's book reverberates the way it does.
Wired (Hot, Hard, etc.), with all its tremendous influence, comes off
looking as if its stifling an important perspective on probably the most
decisive factor determining how this revolution's going to turn out.

LR: Look, the question is no longer what sort of statists we should be
supporting -- republicans or democrats, communists or fascists. The
question really is what sort of libertarians we should be supporting. There
is no alternative to a world that's out of control. Central power not only
doesn't work, it's not even possible anymore.

The financial markets are entirely out of control of any one or combination
of states. And as Dylan put it, money doesn't talk, it screams. And it's
screaming at states that they better not do anything stupid, or it's going
to trash their economies. (It's saying the same to companies too, for that

DH: Oh, Louis, Ouch! "While money doesn't talk, it swears..." ! (Rhymes
with, "Obscenity, who really cares...")

LR: Ouch is right. I've been quoting that for years. Short term memory loss
has apparently turned into long term memory mismanagement.

State power today is impotent, and will get even more so, until, as Barlow
has put it, the Congress will be as relevant as the House of Lords.

What "kind" of libertarian? At the moment, a lot of the new ideas are
coming from market-oriented libertarians. Of course, that is only one
strain of the libertarian tradition. The older strain is actually
left-libertarianism, which predates Marxism. The Haymarket Martyrs, for
instance, whose death is celebrated on 1 May as the International Day of
Labor around the world, were left-libertarians, and anti-Marxists, for that
matter. Indeed, the Marxists systematically destroyed the
left-libertarians, culminating in actually exterminating them in Spain
during the Spanish Revolution. Read George Orwell about his experiences in

If "lefties," as Paulina puts it, really want to have an impact on how the
revolution is going to turn out, they should stop fighting the inevitable,
recognize that like the earth is not the center of the universe, the state
is not the engine of social change, forget about trashing the
cyber-libertarians who are probably their allies in fighting the existing
social order, rediscover their roots, and begin developing a truly
progressive vision for the future.

DH: With a few minor changes, that's kind of a paraphrase of the entirety
of part 2 of the interview, isn't it?

LR: Maybe. I would perhaps insert after "social order:" start fighting the
real enemies. To me, those are enemies of freedom, whether that's media
companies, telcos, and cableco's seeking to maintain monopoly privilege,
the Christian right seeking to censor free speech in cyberspace, or the
PC-left which is still pretty much addicted to the idea that intentions are
more important than results and that state power is actually a good thing,
rather than a major problem.

You can ask any of the people I discuss politics with at Wired, and they
will tell you that I have despaired at not being able to publish modern,
progressive, "lefty" social analysis. Because, as even Paulina admits,
there frankly isn't any. Blaming Wired for that is like blaming the
weatherperson for the weather.

DH: People who recognize and relate very deeply to Paulina's point of view
can't help but ask again: Are you trying to "cover" the revolution or be
the driving force behind one particular element of it?

LR: Covering the revolution is itself being an agent of change.

But let's not let this get out of perspective. I may think deregulation of
telecommunications is good because it will result in competition and more
supply, but, hey, Wired had very little impact on what happened in
Washington last year. If we had, the law wouldn't have turned out the way
it did (like, with CDA?). Some kind of larger forces are at work here,
forces with incomes counted in 10+ digits. Wired is still a small magazine,
with limited influence in the current centers of power, not least because
the currently powerful are techno-illiterates.

Again, however, I return to: what is the alternative to the ideas that
Wired covers? What is the other "particular element" we are not covering?
If not deregulation, what? If not free speech, what? What is the cogent
alternative? The right regulation? Just the correct speech?

We don't cover the fossilized left any more than we cover the fossilized
right, for precisely the same reason, they have nothing to say about today,
much less tomorrow. They are the status quo, or worse, and that is not what
Wired is about. Again, you want to read that, you got all the rest of the
media to consume.

Wired is about critical optimism. It is about saying that the universe is
out of control, and that's okay. It's about embracing the erupting future.
It's about rebuilding civil society in the 21st century. It's about
transcending political practices and labels, and encouraging a new kind of
democracy that grows out of discussion of genuinely new ideas.

DH: "Out of control." Kevin Kelly has indeed put forward a set of
fascinating ideas -- how do you respond to the charges of social Darwinism
many interpret in them?

LR: I would respond by saying, like, pull your head out of the 19th century
and take a look around. Kevin is describing how the world is working today,
not the way social or religious creationists would like to believe the
world works.  He is saying that technology is becoming biological, and
biology is becoming technological. Which is absolutely true. Again, blaming
the weatherperson for the weather is just plain stupid.

DH: Would you go as far as the "techno-transcendentalists" (Rushkoff,
Barlow)? Will the two realms actually merge into a single global mind?

LR: Fifty years ago, Teilhard de Chardin spoke of electric technology as
being part of evolution, of the earth clothing itself with a brain. I think
the metaphor is pretty accurate. A single global mind? Probably not any
more than there's a single human brain inside our skulls. We actually have
a bunch of different "minds," which negotiate with each other. What seems
to be evolving is a global consciousness formed out of the discussions and
negotiations and feelings being shared by individuals connected to networks
through brain appliances like computers. The more minds that connect, the
more powerful this consciousness will be. For me, this is the real digital
revolution -- not computers, not networks, but brains connecting to brains.


David Hudson                    REWIRED <www.rewired.com>
dwh@berlin.snafu.de             Journal of a Strained Net


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