RUSirius (rusirius) Sat 18 Dec 04 13:09
Just noticed it's "desperation" and "conducive." Figured I better correct since some sticklers in the audience might not want to read the book because I let misspellings into the banter here. All this in the midst of doing my taxes...
RUSirius (rusirius) Sat 18 Dec 04 14:05
Another correction and forgive me for being spacey and sleepy today when I should be being cautious about accuracy. I said I had half-a-dozen books out on jazz. I actually had one book out that was entirely about jazz and other books in which jazz was a topic and innovation and bebop was a topic. I shall be more cautious with my future posts, use the spellchecker, and I'm going to take a nap!
Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Sat 18 Dec 04 16:30
Apparently, there was no mention of Ayn Rand. Timothy Leary absorbed her "drop out" message. I believe that the so-called "malaise" of the 1970s that Presidents Ford and Carter never seemed to grasp, came from us -- the drop-outs; the hippies -- not being in "corporate America." Having dropped out, we were not available. The result was 20% inflation, gold at $800 per ounce, American diplomats captured by rabbble, and the IBM-PC as the "most popular" personal computer. Come Ronald Reagan in 1980 and by 1984, there was no 1984. Deregulation, lowered taxes, etc., brought the "me" decade, the so-called "greed" decade. That "greed" was summed up well by the character of Gordon Gecko in _Wall Street_ and pretty much summarized the self-focused world of the anti-establishment from Socrates to Ayn Rand. Both Michael Milken and Martha Steward were persecuted under Republican administrations. Laissez-faire is not what the GOP has in mind. The GOP and the Dems have more interests in common that either is willing to admit publicly.
RUSirius (rusirius) Sat 18 Dec 04 17:21
Hmmm. That's a fairly confounding rap Mercury. I don't know if I want to ask you to unpack it of not, although it could be interesting. I'd say that when Leary was preaching dropping out at that time as a move away from ambition towards a more contemplative, gentle, inwardly focused life and Rand seems to advocate a sort of olympian god, achievement-oriented individualism. But perhaps I will contemplate Ayn Rand as a counterculture figure. One thing I love about going out with this book is that nearly every expressed view surprises me.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 18 Dec 04 18:09
Ed's comment got me thinking... this would be a good book to "open source" - at some point post it somewhere, and gather comments and corrections and weird alternative perspectives to feed into the next edition. Eventually you have an Encyclopedia of Counterculture. Could you talk a bit about how Taoism and Zen got into the mix?
Ted (nukem777) Sat 18 Dec 04 18:21
Also wondering if you could speak to the cultural (counter-cultural?) myth that acid had a lot to do with a good bit of the underlying computer programming for the Web and the Net? Is that fact or fiction?
RUSirius (rusirius) Sun 19 Dec 04 11:03
Good morning! Nothing like a real night's sleep to clear up the head. I even entered a third error into the discussion yesterday when I transposed Chicago with Detroit. Genesis discovered "acid house" records in Detroit. Christ... (but I was not asleep during the entire writing of that segment in the book so no excuses for getting words and cities transposed, which in the clear light of morning I believe I did. Hopefully I get the chance to make corrections before it goes to the more widely distributed paperback.)... Anyway, Jon you are either a mind reader or you heard on the grapevine that I was looking into publishing the book online as an open source document that people could improve on, debate over, and most importantly, add to in order to make it encyclopedic. I first of all queried several people who had published books online at the same time as they were on sale in stores to see how they felt about their experience. I got one whole-heartedly positive testimony and two ambiguous responses. So I didn't feel like I had ammunition to take to the book company to advocate the idea. A later discussion with the publisher about running selected graphs from each chapter on the web (they discouraged it), leads me to think that the notion would not have been well received. They instead encouraged running a few longish selections. btw, you can hear me talk about my flirtation with doing it open source on C-SPAN's Book TV this evening at something like 12:30 or 1:30 am EST (10:30 PM PST, thankfully... I got two different reports on the EST time but it should repeat at a better time during upcoming weekends.) I was part of a panel called "Beyond The Book" and I think I was the only one there "thinking outside the book"... but the other panelists were very perceptive. I should point at segments from the book that I DID publish on my website, since it may give some visitors here more to talk about. You can read some substantial segments here: http://www.counterculturethroughtheages.com/excerpts.php I'd still like to open source the book although I suspect I will have to wait until the paperback has its shelf life... so it could be a couple of years. Taoism/Zen: I don't know that there's any particular mystery to the inclusion of taoism and zen. One thing we didn't want to do is make this simply a western historical narrative. If anything, I would have liked to have had more non-Western cultures. As I said in the book, the Tao te Ching includes so many countercultural tropes that I was tempted to just tell readers to go and read the book. Dig this, from Stephen Mitchell's translation: When rich speculators prosper While farmers lose their land; When government officials spend money On weapons instead of cures; When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible While the poor have nowhere to turn- All is robbery and chaos. It is not in keeping with the Tao. Taoism is in some ways the most daring counterculture in the sense that it really advocates the utter dissolution of boundaries, judgements, and other mind states that call on us to "gird our loins." Conventional notions of responsibility and righteousness are critiqued, dismissed... but mostly ignored. Yet "The Way" is all about gentleness and ease of living. Zen was in some ways a class revolution that resulted from the migration of Buddhism from India, with its rigid caste system, to China. I like this graph about the subversive nature of Zen... >> Then there was the Laurel and Hardy of Zen, Cold Mountain and Pick Up. Zen tales portray these two as always singing, joking, and poking fun at the more self-serious monks. Iconography portrays them wild-eyed, leaning on brooms and laughing uproariously. This Zen laughter is entirely subversive. Hyers: (Zen) Laughter leads toward the debunking of pride and the deflating of ego. It mocks grasping and clinging, and cools desire It turns hierarchy upside down as a prelude to collapsing them The whole intellectual and valuation structure of the discriminating mind is challenged, with a result that is enlightening and liberating. >> Both these philosophies provoked enough interest and activity during the 20th Century, particularly in the West as the result of hippie/psychedelic influences and writings by Jack Kerouac, Alan Watts, Leary, Ginsberg, Gary Snyder etc. for us to consider them "influential" enough for inclusion. Ted (Nukem) >> Also wondering if you could speak to the cultural (counter-cultural?) myth that acid had a lot to do with a good bit of the underlying computer programming for the Web and the Net? Is that fact or fiction? >> While not wanting to sound like former President Clinton, I guess the answer to that question would depend to some extent on what "a good bit" means. One early software developer told me that he felt that psychedelic experience was essential to being able to really relate to the notion of a thinking machine. But I'm pretty sure that most of the early pioneers in thinking about such things, like say Vannevar Bush were straightforward slideruler/engineering types. I also met one person who claims to have designed... channeled, really... some successful software on a high dose of acid, but he refuses to go public. There were certainly plenty of trippers among the early hackers, including Bill Gates, and I dance around that influence in the book briefly. But it's hard to measure direct cause and effect wit these things.
RUSirius (rusirius) Sun 19 Dec 04 12:57
A few more thoughts on psychedelics and computer programming etc. I happen to think that psychedelics and other drugs do enhance creativity, at least sometimes. In the psychedelic/shamanic model, the tripper journeys into the spirit realm for visions, powers, solutions and so forth. A more modern, engineering metaphor compares taking a mind-altering substance to changing the filters on your perceptual camera so that you get a different "picture" or view of reality or of the specific problem you are working through. I think this often works, even with a "dumb drug" like alcohol or a "smart drug" like caffeine. Ordinary mind seems to get stuck in a particular groove, at least for some of us, and we may require some help in moving off of dead center before we open up to new solutions. Sometimes that can seem like direct cause and effect... for instance, I occasionally get paranoid, critical insights from marijuana where I see that I'm fucking up, saying something for instance that might piss somebody off pointlessly, or whatever I've learned to review those insights or corrections yet again when I'm straight, but more often than not, the pothead insights prove useful. Other times, a drug experience can just jog a few brain cells or loosen a person up. The solution might appear a week or two after a high dose psilocybin session and not be obviously associated with the trip. Another common experience with both writers and hackers and scientists etc. is simply sleeping on it. You can't seem to find a solution. You sleep, you dream, and something emerges the next day....
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 19 Dec 04 13:56
Drugs were a big part of sixties counterculture, was that unusual? Or do countercultures generally have a drug aspect? How might the sixties/seventies been different if there hadn't been so many white, middle-class kids who were stoned out of their gourds?
RUSirius (rusirius) Sun 19 Dec 04 16:20
If people are expecting a history of cultures revolving around psychedelics and other drugs, they will be sorely disappointed by this book. Drugs do pop up before the 20th century... in the chapter on Sufism, and very peripherally in the history of Taoism. If my memory serves me correctly, that's it until we get to the Parisian scene in the early 20th century where opium, cocaine, ether, hashish, and marijuana make appearances. Even there, it's not a major point of focus. When we hit the American beats in the 1950s, drugs become important. For Ginsberg and Burroughs (in radically different ways) drugs seem to be a way of liberating the mind from severe constrictions that particularly characterized the decade of the "grey-flannel suit" and the "organization man" or a way of boilng a deadening consumer culture down to its essence (as with Burroughs and heroin). The early sixties, of course, sees the beginning evolution of an explicit psychedelic culture as Leary and Ginsberg turned rather evangelical about the drug's properties; Huxley's writings about psychedelics continued to spread; and people like Kesey were turned on in government programs. There were, no doubt, a plethora or social factors that made the psychedelic movement possible; a certain economic comfort level, a broad and lively, active questioning of fifties conformism that was probably an inevitable reaction against that level of restraint; the baby boom that provided the receptive audience for the psychedelic message. Maybe people in earlier cultures didn't need drugs to let go and feel the rhythms; to feel some sense of connection to an inner-dwelling divinity or to experience agape. Maybe rationalism and industrialism disconnected us from our ability to naturally induce or experience brain states that were valuable to us or made us feel good. In any case, psychedelic drugs become a major stream in the story of counterculture starting in the 1950s, although it's not the only stream. I can't honestly imagine a 1960s without lots of people stoned out of their gourds. It's not like a political event, like what would have happened if Bobby Kennedy were elected President or if Eastern European socialist experiments that tried to liberalize were left alone by the Soviet Union?... etc. The effects of these things, as I pointed out in an earlier question reflecting on their effects on individuals, are tremendously diffuse. There is a fairly strong belief among some political activists on the left that drug culture diverted the movement just as it was building strength. The idea is that young people would have brought about social change more effectively and with greater dedication than they did if they had not been giggling at Yellow Submarine while ripped on orange sunshine. I think this is utter horseshit. The political movement, antiwar activism and all its contingent forms of activism, among the young exploded and expanded in size and scope WITH the explosion of psychedelic use. The anti-war movement was still pretty weak in 1967. By 1969 it was massive. The war and the draft were of course the major factors, but a generational sense of being part of something really novel and distinct from the culture of their parents thanks largely to being "experienced" provided the daily cultural milieu out of which large numbers of people were likely to incautiously participate in demonstrations, guerrilla art happenings, civil disobedience, riots, resistance to police repression ad infinitum. This idea that the psychedelic culture distracted youths from a political revolution came mostly from Marxist elements in that movement. But there wasn't going to be a communist or socialist revolution in America in the 1960s or the 1970s. The New Left did about as well as it could have done, given the relative economic comforts and the relative tolerance that existed in a democratic country (even with all of the violence and contradictions). There are some caveats here. Psychedelic use undoubtedly contributed to some groups like the Weather Underground and the White Panthers and various elements of the "freak left" taking their fantasies... that the revolution had started, for instance... for reality. Some of their actions were decidely unmoored. But that was also largely because these same people were impressed by the idea of a guerrilla vanguard that they were getting from third world Marxist revolutionaries like Giap, Mao, Che, and so forth that had no applicability to the American experience. In other words, the ultraleft ideology was actually more disconected from reality than the drug experience. Drugs, at least, WORK...
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Sun 19 Dec 04 17:12
Let's play Dialectic Materialism for a moment and call the Somnolent Fifties (I Like Ike and Ozzie and Harriet, too) our Thesis, and the 60s Counterculture our Antithesis. What has the synthesis brought us?
RUSirius (rusirius) Sun 19 Dec 04 20:17
Great question! Let's put the synthesis into the 1970s, since I think all these tendencies are probably still with us. 1) Yuppies! (Today, BoBos -- bourgeois bohemians... NOT included in the book as a counterculture) I think this is the best fit to what you're suggesting. A lot looser than the Nelson family and everything they represent. A lot tighter than your friendly neighborhood 60s acid commune. Fifties-style Taking Care of Business competence and work/make money ethic and '60s-style hedonism (turned down by about 50% in the 70s and by about 80% in the 90s.. ) and cultural pluralism with possibilities of alternative religion or no religion, sexual liberty -- premarital, cohabitation, "casual" sex is no longer shocking, drug use (mostly pot and cocaine) but generally less than the hippies (except for those who went deep into the coke...) Fifties-style cleanliness, home ownership, keeping up with the Joneses. The man in the grey flannel suit is joined by the women but no one wears grey flannel or is really an organization man or woman... free agents. White people have long since learned to shake their asses to the rhythm of rock and roll but that's no longer a revelation or a revolution. Politically, some of the economic conservatism of the fifties (they went for Reagan in '80 but they probably would have gone for Gary Hart in '84) and a lot of the cultural liberalism of the 60s. None of the innocence of the fifties or the idealism of the 60s. 2) Punk rock, New York City style. The original punk rock (with the exception of Patti Smith) rejects the loosey goosey hippy hedonism and the Ginsberg/Kerouac/Grateful Dead aesthetic of (ahem) irmprovisation, stream of consciousness, spontaneous blather of the mind in favor of some tightassed minimalism (and it actually makes for good music and art!). Much much much looser and stranger than the Nelson family (the early Talking Heads maybe looked and acted like the Nelson family wired on irony and a few too many of Harriet's diet pills) but definitely a lot tighter than the '60s hippies; generally enamored of competence and dressing up and hated pothead spaciness (and then again, smoked pot once in awhile.) By fifties standards, they were just another bunch of fucking hippies (except maybe the Ramones) with avant-garde pretentions, but the minimalist aesthetic, the use of understatement (again, I'm talking pre-Sex Pistols) after a decade of OVERstatement may qualify the original NYC punk rock scene as a synthesis. 3) (Into the 80s and 90s) Technoculture. The future is WOW! Enthusiasm for "yesterday's tomorrows" returns and the new kitchen of the future features a talking nanotech toaster and a ketamine dispenser. Mark Dery said Mondo 2000 was like The Jetsons on DMT. 60s hedonism, anti-authoritarianism as expressed in the "hacker ethic", "Power to the People" through technology married to the (relative) trust in engineering and at least some of the consumerism of the 1950s. Libertarian political tendencies can represent a synthesis of the '60s cultural revolution with the '50s embrace of capitalism. So a '50s wide-eyed embrace of new technological advances and consumer items and elements of '60s radicalism; all of it up against a deep, consistant undertow of '70s cynicism that makes the whole thing feel just a little bit forced. 4) New Age Fifties cleanliness and (in some cases) discipline, reverence, reverence for authority... (perfect masters etc.); 60s style seeking after deeper meaning, radical transformations in society and consciousness. Fifties-style ideologies of success (Werner Erhardt and other "grow rich" therapies) in some corners, sixties-style rejection of materialism in other corners (give your car to Da Free John). Other post sixties Western tendencies covered in the book: Glam rock, environmentalism/pagan environmentalism/eco-anarchism/"anti-globalization", hip hop, veterans of moderate tendencies of the movement who entered mainstream politics (Jerry Brown, Hart, Clinton, Gore, etc.) don't seem to me to fit the model but I'm open...
R.U. Sir (rusirius) Sun 19 Dec 04 20:20
<scribbled by jonl Mon 20 Dec 04 06:00>
RUSirius (rusirius) Sun 19 Dec 04 20:20
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 20 Dec 04 06:01
Heh... deleted 38, it was a duplicate.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 20 Dec 04 06:09
That's a great list - what're today's countercultural movements?
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Mon 20 Dec 04 08:41
. . . a reminder to those of you following along but not members of the Well: you can join in the conversation, too! Just send e-mail to email@example.com and we'll post it for you . . .
RUSirius (rusirius) Mon 20 Dec 04 12:08
Actually #38 was the one I posted after proofreading but what the hell... the last few days have been a comedy of errors in all aspects of my life. What are today's counterculture movements??? The question that comes up frequently is whether counterculture is "counter" anymore? All "Culture War" screaming heads to the contrary, we have become accustomed to a fairly high level of free discourse in much of the world. The countercultural idea about transvaluation -- constant change -- seems fully realized -- our ex-President Clinton used to love to tell us about how we would all change jobs seven times, everybody is aware of the dynamism brought about by computers, transportation, globalized economies ad infinitum. A counterculture critique, in fact, may be that amidst all this change, nothing ESSENTIAL is really changing. I know a few people who are fond of saying that nothing has REALLY HAPPENED since France in May of 1968. We took counterculture as a popular label for a particular cluster of values. Those values are certainly counter to a lot of values that are still extant and powerful in the world today. "Counterculture" has not quite taken over the world... Counterculture might also appear vital wherever communities of mutual interest, or nation states or ad infinitum start to ossify; where someone or some persons need to break homeostasis and give things a swift kick in the pants so as to allow new creative juice to flow. So there are always counterculture rebellions within countercultures -- punk vs. hippie being the classic example. Having said all that, I tried to look towards the existence or introduction of countercultural memes and forms in "third world" countries as an example of new terrains where this spirit might appear, or might have long been evident but ignored thanks to Western historical/media dominance. So I actually put a section on the Brazilian Tropicalia movement of the '60s into the final chapter as an example of where counterculture may be coming from in the future. Specifically, I looked (briefly) at a flourishing literary avant-garde in China, at the Zapatista movement in Mexico and the global intellectual trends that have accumulated around that. I could also have written about students in Iran, a few of whom I've heard from, the fact that a mild but nevertheless existing boho avant-garde cafe society existed in Iraq under Saddam, raves in Saudi Arabia, lots of activities in Eastern Europe in some of the worst areas of conflict there ad infinitum. Finally, the whole open source, file-sharing culture impresses me as being a pretty sophisticated manifestation of countercultural memes related to gift economics, community, and non-hierarchical creative processes -- lots of people doing stuff out of enthusiasm and as part of communities rather than explicitly for profit or because they are forced to (this spirit also crosses over into the hard core of dance culture), and the various forms of non-hierarchical, or meritricious organizations of information and ideas that are following from that... as manifested by Slashdot and the whole WIKI thing that I don't quite understand but intend to get involved with. I've had the pleasure of interviewing Cory Doctorow and Clay Shirkey for NeoFiles and I came away really impressed with how ideals that were articulated in some of the pieces we did in Mondo related to free software, collaborative work and so forth have begun to exfoliate out into the real world. Finally, there is the environmental anarchist movement. I have some problems with some of the politics there (not a lot) but I'm again impressed by the ease with which people seem to organize in a non-hierarchical fashion. There seems to be much less of a tendency to look for "leaders" and "heros" and central organizations among young people today.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 20 Dec 04 14:51
That makes me think how Bob Dylan writes in _Chronicles_ about all the people who were trying to make him their hero or ideal, and he didn't want any part of it. He just wanted to get on with his life and play music. And there's also Gnossos Pappadopoulis, remember him?
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Mon 20 Dec 04 15:56
Damn him! Do you know how much time I wasted soaking cigarettes in terpin hydrate because of that bastard!?
RUSirius (rusirius) Mon 20 Dec 04 17:19
The way people looked to Dylan or John Lennon or Jerry Garcia for "the answer" (not even answers)... man, that makes me sad. And all those kids who followed Gnossos Pappadopoulis around, trying to do all the crazy things he did? WHO????!!!!!????
RUSirius (rusirius) Mon 20 Dec 04 17:20
ahh, just looked him up on the web. Never read that book, for some reason...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 21 Dec 04 02:27
Heh, sorry to toss in an obscure reference. (The book is Richard Farina's _Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me_, for those who didn't get it.) There's something in there about the hero rejecting the adoring crowd, but he can't get the adoring crowd to reject *him*. Similar to Dylan's predicament. I figure the hero is in the perception of the crowd, a projection of their needs and their desires. Does a counterculture need heroes?
RUSirius (rusirius) Tue 21 Dec 04 09:20
I would look at the basic principles that we applied to counterculture... and I'm going to actually post those from the posting on my website for the sake of clarity and perhaps to juice the discourse here a bit: >> The primary characteristics of counterculture are threefold: Countercultures assign primacy to individuality at the expense of social conventions and governmental constraints. Countercultures challenge authoritarianism in both obvious and subtle forms. Countercultures embrace individual and social change. ...nearly universal features of counterculture are: Breakthroughs and radical innovations in art, science, spirituality, philosophy, and living. Diversity. Authentic, open communication and profound interpersonal contact. Also, generosity and the democratic sharing of tools. Persecution by mainstream culture of contemporaneous subcultures. Sometimes exile or dropping out.... Finally, the antic behaviors and easy sensuality found in countercultures across time is, in some ways, the special ingredient that makes many countercultures attractive. >> So, no... counterculture doesn't require heros and in many cases it subverts the very notion of heroism. Some of the "spiritual" countercultures particularly -- Taoism, Zen, --- pretty much try to annihilate the romantic self. You may well ask why they fit the premise of assigning primacy of the indlvidual while denying the solidity of the individual ego. Briefly and painting in broad strokes and particularly in the case of the Taoists, there's is an individuality of disconnection from social assumptions and norms, and in the case of the Taoist hermits, from civilization itself. It's not an ASSERTION of non-conformity but an assumption of it. And of course, if you meet the Buddha by the side of the road, kill him. And then, radical anarchist philosophies like Situationism and some punks and so forth declare "No More Heros" as well. Counterculturalists can be heroic though and countercultural figures can be seen as heros as they stand up to grim authority or lead the herd off into new terrain. Socrates' bravery in facing death, Thoreau's non-violent civil disobedience, Ginsberg's public nakedness (in every sense of the word) and vulnerability, Jello Biafra's defense of free speech come to mind (among dozens of examples.) They seem heroic to me. Even in the chapter on Taoism, there's a story of some gentle antiwar dropouts who starved to death rather than eating the produce of their warring kingdom. They were more popularly honored in death than the ruler who died around the same time. The thing to be avoided is the unquestioning worship of leaders. A central bit of the ideological dna of this book is Timothy Leary's "Think For Yourself and Question Authority." The countercultural response to that isn't "Oh great Tim. I want to follow your ideology. So... what should I think and how should I question authority?"... I seem to recall a scene from The Life of Brian that made this point pretty well...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 21 Dec 04 10:27
In Buddhism you have the sense of the perfect realization of the unique individual who is also a manifestation of Buddha... sort of like the wave on the ocean is unique in its form, but a manifestation of the ocean. The perfection is emergent, not imposed. Would you say that countercultures are more about emergence of social and individual movements and behaviors from a specific context? And what emerges may be a fool, a prankster, or a great thinker/leader?
Members: Enter the conference to participate