(by way of Pit Schultz ) on Sat, 14 Dec 96 02:17 MET

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nettime: What Do We Think? [re: Rossetto Interview]


What do we think?

Consider the following.  Louis Rossetto is right.  He speaks the
truth.  We (everyone he doesn't write about) don't have a clue. 
We are living in the 19th century.  We are living in the past and
don't understand the present or how we got here.  As a result of
not thinking clearly, we are powerless to stop Rossetto and his
revolution.  I happen to believe that this is exactly where we
currently stand.  We are in deep trouble which is first and
foremost intellectual.  Or, I could say that it is so deep that it this
critical situation is more properly called spiritual.  We need to do
some serious thinking and fast or, when a breakdown crisis hits,
we will be swept away.  Maybe we've got five years; maybe not. 
It could happen tomorrow.

Here's the situation.  Until H.G. Wells wrote "Anticipations" in 1902,
no one was seriously thinking about the social implications of
new technology.  Not Marx, not Darwin, not Weber, not Freud, not
Lenin -- no one.  Wells created a new way of thinking about the
future.  This new approach took transportation and
communications technology as primary and he tried to work out
a new form of empire which would be based on understanding
and controlling these technologies.  

He invented a new class to run this empire -- what is now called
the "virtual class."  He invented a new science of social control to
propagandize the empire -- which he named Social Psychology. 
He recognized the multinational corporation as the economic
engine of this empire.  He created a new religion to mobilize the
masses to join this new empire -- which we now refer to as the
ecology movement.  And, he correctly understood that the fight
to establish this new empire would be decisive for the epoch to

No, he didn't know anything about computers or the Internet.  He
didn't need to.  He knew about humans and how they are
organized.  He knew about religion, culture and the fundamental
assumptions by which we all function.  He understood power and
conflict.  He told us where we were going.  WIRED is simply the
playing out of Wells' plans.  Yet, who has any idea what Wells
said or how it relates to today's unfolding events?

Here's what Wells wrote in 1933 (from the future historical
standpoint of looking back from the vantage of year 2116) in his
last major fictional treatment of the world revolution which
Rossetto now propagandizes for every month:

"The Shape of Things to Come", Book 3 -- "The Plan for the
Modern State Worked Out":

"The world was not able to unify before 1950 for a very simple
reason: There was no comprehensive plan upon which it could
unify; it was able to unify within another half century because by
that time the entire problem had been stated, the conditions of its
solution were known and a social class directly interested in the
matter had differentiated out to achieve it.  From a vague
aspiration, the Modern World State became a definite and so a
realizable plan."

What was he talking about in 1933?  He had predicted WW II
would start in 1940 and it's utter reliance on aerial bombing of
civilian populations -- i.e. London, Dresden and Hiroshima or what
came to be called "strategic bombing."  He had forecast that this
war would officially end around 1950 but that global conflict
would continue to threaten breakdown of social functions  -- i.e.
the Cold War.  He had foreseen that advances in the study of
psychology would provide the tools to control populations.  He
termed this new field Social Psychology and called it the "soul of
the race."  He was correct again, even though he did not name
Tavistock/Lewinites as its center, he created a fictional "Gustave
De Windt" who's 1942 work "Social Nucleation" pre-saged Lewin's
expansion of Gestalt Theory into group brainwashing.  He knew
that a new class had to arise and that all previous forms of
authority would need to step aside -- what is now referred to as
the "virtual class" because of it's global and techno-ideological
basis.  And, he focussed on the year 2000 as the cutover
between the old and the new as did the entire sweep of futurists
who followed him -- right up to WIRED.

In the earlier essay-format exposition of these ideas, "The Open
Conspiracy" (1928) he detailed the three bases for the religion
which would replace Christianity and unify the masses behind the
world revolution.  These fundamental tenets are no growth, no
war and no nations.  Think about it.  We have all been raised
within the confines of this religion (unless we're Chinese, that is). 
We cannot have war because the bomb would destroy us all and
we cannot have growth because it destroys the environment and
us along with it so we cannot have nations which wage war and
pursue growth.  It's that simple.  Wells understood how basic
these matters turn out to be.  Basic premises drive culture which
eventually drives politics.  But his basic premises are all wrong. 
Do we understand any of this?

Unless we uproot these basic premises (religious tenets) in our
thinking, then we have no chance at all of winning against
Rossetto and his army.  Otherwise, it's just a game of 19th century
foot-dragging -- precisely as Rossetto says -- until the Big Change
comes.  It's only a matter of time before a crisis big enough
forces us to hit the reset button and the institutions created in
centuries now forgotten are dumped in the dustbin of history. 
Rossetto is representing 10,000's of careers, 1000's of books and
100's of conferences devoted to Wells' plan -- even though most
of those involved have no idea what Wells' said.  Post-modern,
post-industrial, post-civilization and post-reason, this army has
been on the march since (just as Wells' predicted) the 1950's. 
They have re-defined all the important terms -- starting with what
it means to be human -- and they are positioned to take control
when crisis strikes.  In the U.S., Gore, Gingrich and Pert are all
members of this army.  2000 is still the target date for all the
preparations to be in place.

Norbert Wiener (the father of cybernetics) also knew what was
coming.  He refused to join the post-everything army.  He knew
the people leading the charge and he knew their plans.  He laid
it out very clearly in speech after speech and in his 1950 book
"The Human Use of Human Beings" (which was gutted in 1954
when he decided he had lost and covered his tracks).  This is
how he described the problem.

Technology will inevitably automate human labor.  There is no
way to stop this process.  First it will devalue manual labor and
then it will undermine administrative and managerial labor.  The
result will be either of two outcomes.  Either humans will be
predominately treated as cattle or as fully capable humans.  He
understood that technological elites (he focussed on spies,
generals, and Big Science types) would try to take advantage of
the situation and, in order to stay on top, favor policies which
would bestialize (and pacify) the population.  He proposed an
alternative.  Teach people to think, he said.  This does not come
naturally and requires all the energies of a society to achieve, he
asserted.  When the machines finally arrive to replace us, we will
still be able to think, he proposed.  He was right.  Right on all
counts.  But, he didn't have a chance.

His was not an easy message to get across, as you can imagine. 
A big rotund "egghead" with a funny name who says that he's
from MIT is here to tell us that we need to teach the steelworkers
and the secretaries how to think.  We'll meet with him out of
courtesy but we've got an American century to build and the
Cold War and the "commies" to worry about.  He tried to rally
support -- focussing particularly on Walter Reuther of the United
Auto Workers -- but was largely dismissed.  Furthermore, most
intellectuals (those who presumably knew how to think) were
looking for patrons and/or hoping to join the new elite.  They had
either tasted power from their role in OSS during the war or they
had simply been convinced that the lesson of the war was that
"the people" couldn't be trusted to think.  After all, who was better
educated than the Germans and look what destruction that
knowledge has wrought?  Teach people to think?  You must be
kidding.  We've got our own existential horrors to contemplate.

As a result, nearly all social scientific (and more broadly
intellectual) work after WW II has been directed at Wells' project
to end Western civilization by undermining its premises and to
construct the technocratic world empire on its ashes which Wells
first described.  An "Open Conspiracy" with hundreds of
independent centers, coordinated only by underlying strategic
goals, differing on tactical priorities has defined much of the past
50 years.  It didn't matter what the details of the petty little
arguments might be.  All this was in the context of the coming of
the machines.  Rossetto is right.  There has been no organized
resistance.  No one since Wiener has proposed an alternative to
what we now refer to as the Information Age.  We have all been
saturated with the anti-human propaganda of those who claim
we are advancing to a New Age.  We have been intellectually
and spiritually fatted for our own slaughter.

When I fingered the eco-movement as the most visible
expression of Wells' new religion, Eric Davis took issue with me. 
But, these are our allies, he said.  No, I retorted.  These are our
enemies.  They are the yang to Rossetto's yin.  They are the other
half of the tactical picture.  Free-markets *and* global limits.  It
was spelled out by Jaron Lanier over a year ago in his SPIN
editorial.  The future is both "Stewards" and "Extropians."  The
"bizarre fusion" described by Barbrook/Cameron operates at the
tactical level because strategically there are no important
distinctions.  Freedom in the small and oligarchic control in the
large.  It's friendly fascism (or what Wells called "liberal fascism"). 
It's a New Dark Age.  It's Wells' "World State."  It's McLuhan's

Go back to Rossetto's interview.  It's only a matter of "which
libertarians" get into the magazine, he said.  He wishes he had
some "left-libertarians" to write about, he confessed.  But, the left
is so TIRED, he gleefully blurted.  Watch the pages of WIRED.  The
talent hunt is underway.  If Rossetto survives the magazine's
remake he will embrace eco-limits.  The folks at GBN know this. 
The "optimism meme" will be tempered with recognition of the
destruction that really being "out of control" can bring.  The
ecology movement's fundamental reliance on Wells' primary
tenet of "no growth" is the give away.  This viewpoint is not our
ally.  All anti-growth movements feed into Wells' "Open
Conspiracy."  Eco-think doesn't help.  It's about to be harvested

Remember how the world looks to Rossetto and his army.  There is
the Old way and the New way.  Each has it's left and right
expressions.  WIRED is simply trying to represent all facets of the
New way.  But, any Old way point of view, left or right is
completely beneath interest.  So, futurists (Toffler) from the 1960's
and technologists (Gilder) from the 1990's are all welcome since
they are the harbingers of the New.  Toffler and his compulsively
self-revealing stunt-double, John Perry Barlow, arguably represent
the "left" wing of this movement (as did Wells in his time).  Gilder
and Max More (founder of the Extropian movement) represent the
"right" wing.  Old attitudes ("PC left" or "Christian right" as Rossetto
puts it) are powerless to stop the New way.  Step aside.  And, he
is right.

The characters represented in WIRED are all utopians ("trust the
universe" says Rossetto) and all corporativists ("commerce is
inherent in human life" says Rossetto) and all adhere to the same
Wellsian tenets of no growth, no war and no nations -- although
they are often confused into thinking that computers generate
growth.  It is at the level of these basic assumptions about society
and humanity that we must wage a counter-attack.  This will not
work by simply clinging to the past.  Unless we can figure out
what it will take to ensure the human use of human beings in a
world of overwhelmingly automated menial tasks, we will be
forced to concede the stage of history to Rossetto's army.

What do we think?  We are apparently confused and largely
incapable of sorting all this out.  This is the dangerous situation in
which we find ourselves.  As unpopular as Wiener's mission was in
the 1950's, the mission of forcing a fundamental re-examination
of premises which we only dimly apprehend and which we tend
to religiously adhere to (even while we falsely believe that we are
irreligious) is not likely to be a popular one either.  Drawing the
connections between ideas, their historical expression and the
eventual social consequences requires re-learning much of what
we have come to take for granted.  Oh, it couldn't be so bad,
let's party, or where did this wacky "conspiracy" stuff come from
anyway, will be (and have already been) the common response. 
No wonder Rossetto is so smug.  He has every reason to be.

Without a theory that is even newer than Wells, Toffler and Gilder
(and their English forebears), we will not be able to generate an
acceptable human future.  Are we up to the task?  What do we

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