Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) on Tue, 13 May 1997 23:10:11 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Better Living Through Electronics


Find any retired secret agent.  Take your pick.  CIA or KGB.  British or
Czech.  Ask them for the real story about LSD and why it has never been
told.  Then, ask them for the real story of easy-to-use,
everywhere-around-you computers and why it has never been told.

Or, if you can't find a secret agent right now, you'll have to be patient. 
The story will be told.  It will be worth the wait.  But, you might want to
prepare yourself.  Get ready.  Take it one step at a time.  See if this

I once interviewed a very interesting man named Willis Harman.  He heads a
little outfit called the Institute for Noetic Science in Saucilito, CA.  He
has been at the center of many of the most interesting cultural
developments in and around San Francisco since the 1950's.  

He started out as an Electrical Engineering professor at Stanford and wound
up as the head of the Futurism department at the Stanford Research
Institute (SRI, then a largely government supported thinktank).  He helped
to found Maslow's  Association for Humanistic Psychology.  He launched one
of the first LSD "clinics"  with money from the electronics firm Ampex. He
helped to start the West coast anti-war movement.  He became the patron of
the amazing Captain Al Hubbard, the "Johnnie Appleseed" of LSD (and who Tim
Leary described as "that mysterious triple agent." presumably meaning US,
British and Vatican). He wrote many books (including one with eMinds'
Howard Rheingold on Creativity) -- most importantly a New Age manifesto
called "The Changing Images of Man."  He is still very active, particularly
in the burgeoning field of consciousness studies.

I had just met Tom Mandel at breakfast and he strongly encouraged me to
call Harman up and drop by to get my story straight.  Tom was then still a
futurist at SRI and he took it upon himself to argue with me about my
postings regarding SRI and about futurism more generally.  He was also
dying of cancer (he died a few weeks after we met) and you can read all
about him in the current WIRED cover-story regarding the WELL.  My sense of
the article is that the WELL died with Tom, but more about that later.

I called Willis up from the carphone and used Tom's name as my
calling-card.  Through his secretary, she said come on up (breakfast was in
Palo Alto) and that Harman would try make some time.  We wound up talking
for two hours and it was one of those peel-the-onion discussions that
always amaze me.  He probably had no idea who I was, but I kept adding
significant bits to his fairly limited disclosures so he would just move
right on to the next level, presuming that I had some need-to-know. 
Nothing that he told me has so far been contradicted in my other research.

He was quite specific.  LSD was designed and ultimately deployed for only
one reason: to change the world by re-designing people.  Those who were
involved were largely religious gnostics who had established themselves in
and around the various intelligence services around the world.  They
coordinated their actions and debated what should happen next and who
should do what.

When I asked him how an anti-war activist like himself felt about
collaborating with the CIA (in particular), he told me "At first I was very
hesitant but Al convinced me that the Gnostic truth is now protected by an
armored system."  Hmmm . . . very interesting.

There appear to have been at least two groups of rivals.  There were those
who wanted to keep it fairly quiet and only initiate the elite (or so they
now say).  Then there were those who wanted to build a mass (or at least
many small groups) movement.  Harman, Aldous Huxley, Humphrey Osmond (the
English psychiatrist who coined the term "psychedelic") and Hubbard (no
relation to L. Ron) were, along with their hand-picked spokeman Tim Leary,
more focussed on the elite.  Ken Kesey's band of merrymen (the Grateful
Dead, etc.) along with the Esalen crowd were more into the "hottub" model
of putting it in the water-supply.  No doubt many of the accounts now given
are self-serving and attempt to distance people from their real
responsibilities at the time (not to mention crimes).  That's all right. 
The real story will be told.  All in due time.

But then Harman went on to say something very interesting.  Drugs were not
the end of the process of looking for technologies which could
fundamentally alter society.  It is fairly well documented that the
original MK-ULTRA (the CIA's final codename for their drug "experiments")
was wound down in the late 1960's.  The follow-on efforts were not
principally drug related -- which is why continuing drug experiments became
very difficult to conduct.  The second generation of MK-ULTRA was primarily
electronic, he said.  Computers became the next LSD.

It is well known that many of the public leaders of the LSD movement
underwent a transformation towards the use of computers -- still to change
the world -- during the 1970's.  Leary was very visible.  Stewart Brand
shifted from drugs to computers also.  From the "Trips Festival" where he
promoted LSD to his first large-scale demonstration of the SRI-designed
windows/mouse user interface, Brand never altered his utopian worldview. 
He was still trying to make a better world.  They all were techno-utopians
of the first order.

"Better living through chemistry" had become "Better living through
electronics."  The man-machine interface became much more interesting than
zapping neuro-transmitters with hallucinogens.  Some, like Harman, shifted
to PSI research (telekinesis and "remote viewing" where "sensitives" would
picture enemy installations from great distances).  Others tried to cook up
electronic means to read and even insert thoughts into test subjects. 
Electrodes were replaced by microwave beams.  Some focussed on UFO's. 
Others pursued ever more exotic forms of artificial intelligence.  Some
focussed on computer networks.  That's where Harman's interview stopped. 
Apparently, he had told me all that I needed to know.

Some of the details of all this are beginning to surface as a result of the
Soviet interest in "Psychotronics" and the fact that some ex-operators hope
to sell their inventions on the newly opened market -- often as
"non-lethal" weapons.  But the larger story has still not been told.  The
most widely read histories of the LSD-era completely miss what was going
on.  The participants have been understandably reluctant to report on their
associations and funding sources.  This was, afterall, a secret operation. 
But, circumstances have now changed.  What and why this all happened has
become important to bring out.  Finally, a fuller accounting of the
relationship between the Frankfurt School and both drugs and the occult are
beginning to be made, for instance.  The full story will eventually be

This note has been a loose account of one of many interviews I have
conducted on this and related subjects over many years.  Among other
matters, it has not touched on the related investigations into the use of
group processes (large and small) to alter attitudes and behavior.  There
the literature is vast and largely public.  It is the basis of the field of
Social Psychology which now sports dozens of degree-granting PhD programs. 
It's a training ground for modern techno-utopians, of course.

What may be most interesting, in our day, is the combination of electronics
and group processes.  These are the so-called "Electronic Communities" like
the WELL and NY's Echo and eMinds.  I've participated in all these (and
some others) in the hopes of being able to stimulate some discussion about
how they operate, their origins and where they are headed.  This has not
been a successful effort.  I'm not sure that I really thought that it would
be.  Instead, I've collected a great of "data" about the techniques and
methods employed (particularly when a "foreign object" appears) and I've
departed from those environs.  So have most of the people that I respect
for thoughtfulness and honesty.  These places are simply not honest.  So
they are not worth my time -- except as an anthropologist and, for now, my
field research is finished.

Bruce Sterling contacted me to ask why I had dropped my request that he not
x-post my nettime notes to the WELL.  He even tried to convince me
(jokingly, I'm sure) that the WELL was far more important than nettime.  I
informed him that my "ban" on x-posting to electronic hottubs like the WELL
remained in force as does my encouragement that anyone who wishes to x-post
these notes into forums where honest discussion is possible go right ahead.

We have much to learn about our past and about our future.  First we need
to learn how to think.  Then we need to learn some truths about history. 
Then we need to understand how our actions cause results.  The truth about
techno-utopian efforts to re-design humanity with chemicals and then
electronics will be an interesting and hopefully significant chapter in
that new learning.

Mark Stahlman
New Media Associates
New York City

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