RUSirius (rusirius) Tue 21 Dec 04 14:37
That's precisely what I was driving at when I said that Taoism is not an assertion of individualism but an assumption. And we can see what emerges out of that. Both the Sufis and Transcendentalists had "circles of friends" rather than organizations. If there was anything to achieve, it would be achieved organically. It would blossom and spread without requiring a big push... "you can't push the river" as they say. Of course, emergence is the big buzz these days. We begin to see political campaigns like the Dean candidacy emerge out of distributed processes like the meet-ups and so forth. The biggest antiwar demonstrations on the planet were organized largely through decentralized, net-based "word of mouth." But by "organized", I mean that the word was spread and people were motivated to come. The actual detailed organization of events was left to... errrr LEFT to groups like International Answer, Marxist oriented groups or groups that wouldn't represent the broad spectrum of march participants. So we can see some problems with relying on emergence in political situations or where there are specific goals. It can also lead, I think, to a level of self-delusion where you think your particular flap of the butterfly wings are going to emerge into some kind of effect. So we might say that emergence is perfect for counterculture but counterculture doesn't resolve everything. Boy, that's one I've had to restate many times during the course of this book promotion. We're not saying "here's the new ideology" (or the old ideology) that's going to resolve all our problems both personal and political. It doesn't even really tell you whether to go left or right, although it does steer people towards non-authoritarian versions of either of those tendencies.
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Tue 21 Dec 04 16:21
In a McLuhan-esque sense, isn't the medium - this decentralized, self organizing emergence of countercultures - the message here? The message isn't about left or right, but about the decline of centralization vs. the long awaited Temporary Autonomous Zones of Hakim Bey. It's the same message from the Swift Boat Veterans and MoveOn: "We don't report to the RNC or DNC - you're not the boss of me!"
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 21 Dec 04 16:47
I think grassroots and anarchic movements and countercultures have failed in the past because they they couldn't sustain their connections and communicate their message effectively and quickly. Their ideas may be adopted, but slowly. The Internet might change that... though as you (Ken) say, there's more to organization than communication. I actually formed a company/community once (FringeWare, Inc.) from an assumption that every community has its fringes, and with the Internet you could bring all the fringe people together to form a community and a street market in cyberspace. A dozen years later I'm not sure I can say anymore what's fringe and what's not. I think you said something similar earlier - that it's not clear what's counterculture these days. Are you writing about a phenomenon that's ended with the advent of global connectedness?
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 21 Dec 04 16:49
There's a question implicit in what you're saying, too. Are all the counter-cultural impulses anti-authoritarian? Have they made any progress over so many centuries?
RUSirius (rusirius) Tue 21 Dec 04 18:04
Dennis... Yes, the medium IS the message in the Mcluhanistic sense and the counterculture impulse IS decentralized and self-organizing. But those same impulses can be used by forces that don't represent countercultural values.. at least as we defined them in the book. I make a point in the book that decentralization can be Balkanization and lead to situations where warlords/gangs etc. can become the new "state", a rougher, rawer, more undemocratic source of coercion, at least when compared to democratic states. I don't pretend to offer a resolution to this. Again, we don't claim to solve all complexities and problems through the magic of counterculture. We assume that for a lot of people counterculturalnes; a certain assumption of liberty, free thought, a right to experiment and follow the muse as weirdly as one wishes is its own reward. Political responsibility is an afterthought... or maybe a pressure that sometimes can't be ignored or danced around. Jon... I think counterculture has been tremendously successful. We obviously don't have peaceful anarchy but, you know, the freethinkers of the Age Of Reason all renounced masturabation. History isn't a linear narrative of constant progress, even of the two-step-forward and one-step-back variety, but it does seem to me -- even in this "age of terror" that we assume levels of sexual liberty and open discussion; rights to dissent and blaspheme; opportunities to gather into fairly autonomous zones... out in the desert, in the streets of Berlin, online ad infinitum that would have shocked the 18th Century, or even our parents (some of your grandparents) if they hadn't rather lived through it all themselves... and in Europe they are at least flirting with the right to use mind-altering drugs at the official level; in much of the world heterosexual domination and absolute gender identity is under attack; etc. ad infinitum. That's why the culture warfare of the authoritarian right is so effective. Lots of people find this to be too much. That leads to the second half of your question. Is there a fringe? By the mid-90s, it became increasingly clear to me that "fringe culture" -- culture jamming, pranks, extreme types of performance, the whole cultural guerrilla matrix had turned into a form of entertainment for sophisticated urbanites, for Time magazine and Wired magazine readers who may, in fact, be quite conservative but can enjoy a spot of Negativland for their media dessert. I believe the quest for the fringe has now been reformatted as "outsider art" and that seems to involve mostly people operating at a level of naivete that borders on retardation (I don't necessarily mean that as a put down and I don't necessarily mean to apply that to everyone who has been roped into the genre)... that too is dessert for cultural consumers. So I guess, forget the fringe. The open source idea is something quite different and that seems to be a vital and healthy area of exploration. Anybody can throw a pie. Contributing to a community think-a-long or making something in an open source process requires more creativity, I believe. (but once again, it doesn't resolve everything... .up and down we go weeee!) Gail: I think maybe I've answered your question already but I'll throw out a few thoughts. We define counterculture as anti-authoritarian. Webster's New World Dictionary defines counterculture as "a culture with a lifestyle that is opposed to the prevailing culture"... If you google the word counterculture the first site that comes up is christiancounterculture.com. Some groups that oppose pluralism, abortion, rationalism, sexual freedom, science, materialistic self-indulgence, and a high level of free speech consider themselves counter to mainstream culture. But maybe that's not your point. Anti-authoritarians fuck up; counterculturalists fuck up. They can do stuff that has authoritarian implications. Kicking in a Starbucks window is coercively raining on somebody's parade. Ad infinitum. All attempts to live out a cluster of values are subject to human imperfection and our ability to sometime turn what is intended into its opposite. I'm not sure if I'm covering your question (or maybe it was directed at Jon) I'd be curious to see more...
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Tue 21 Dec 04 19:29
From off-Well, William McCann writes: Nanotechnology & Quantum Mechanics prove higher levels of Pure Unadulterated Consciousness exist and as the Mystics have been telling us it is possible to return our " attention " ( the outer expression of our Pure Awareness or Soul ) back to it's source and in this way become one with the Pure Awareness in the microcosm and in the macrocosm it's outer expression.
RUSirius (rusirius) Tue 21 Dec 04 21:11
I'll have what he's having...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 21 Dec 04 21:56
To what extent is "counterculture" an urban phenomenon? Any examples of a rural counterculture?
Gary Lambert (almanac) Tue 21 Dec 04 22:57
That question makes me smile, because it reminds me of one of my favorite books of recent years, TC Boyle's novel "Drop City." As someone with a first-hand knowledge of the back-to-the-garden impulse of the late 60s/early 70s, I was knocked out by the book's dead-on take on those days -- it manages to be savagely satirical, poignant, affectionate and filled with regret all at once. Have you read Boyle's book, Ken/R.U.? If so, did it have some of the same effect on you? (And if not, I highly recommend it!).
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Wed 22 Dec 04 06:05
#58: I would submit that there's a couple of them, probably with some overlap. the homesteading movement the survivalist movement hippies producers of illegal intoxicants hermits of various flavors, including religious
RUSirius (rusirius) Wed 22 Dec 04 09:15
#58... In the context of the 14 or so cultures I explored for the book, there is very little that is rural in character, as opposed to just say location. Certainly within Taoism, Zen, and Sufism there is a strong element of dropping out, moving away from urban centers (to the extent that such a thing was relevant to those particular periods) but most of this is in such a spirit of philosophic divergence from average cultural perception that they're difficult to connect to rural characteristics. However, in radical Zen, one element of its radicalism was the way it rejected the Hindu-inflected class elements that had continued into Indian Buddhism, and some early Zen wanderers (radical Zennists refused to be called Masters) were notable for being the products of poor, rural cultures and they are noted in the literature for having spoken and written in styles that were direct, gruff, earthy, and of the people. They were funny and popular among rural audiences who would turn out to listen to them. The Zen saying, "Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood carry water" seems to indicate a path that is for working people as opposed to wandering Saddhus or privileged contemplatives and has a certain rural character. The Transcendentalists seem sort of like suburbanites who longed to be rural. But Gopod bless Thoreau, he truly made himself into a wildman counterculture of one. There was the Brooks Farm experiment, but really these were Boston suburbanites trying for rural experience. The hippie communes were much the same thing. I would say that most of the notions that Sharon listed fall into that category too, to the extent that the participants are even counterculture according to our definition. Of course, there are exceptions. Stephen Gaskin's The Farm has successfully settled in in Tennessee and probably qualifies as a rural counterculture. Then again, I see Stephen once and awhile and he surfs the urban world pretty naturally as well. Of course, plenty of people from the "boonies" participte in various sub-counterculture flavors that are available through the media, and I have no doubt that their are some tribes and memetic aggregations that do have a rural character, I just haven't come across them in my research. #59... Gary... first of all that posting made ME smile too and what may make you smile even more is that the gentleman may be refering to some "Leary Theory" about evolutionary circuits in the brain and post-terrestial possibilites where in his "8th Circuit" he links quantuum physics and nanotechnology. I could actually try to roll a full doobie out of that one but I don't really feel like it... I LOVED LOVED LOVED Drop City. I laughed and laughed and cried etc. Truly. It starts off almost right off the bat with a woman being coerced into sex in the name of liberation and not being uptight, moves soon thereafter into a gang rape and then spotlights the same woman (the main protagonist in the book) being coerced into sex again. But those who haven't read it shouldn't think it's all melodramatic and dour and negative. It has ALL the qualities Gary just described and I found it to be VERY VERY real. I do not shy away from the dark side of counterculture; and of the hippie and post-hippie experiences in the book either. So read them in tandem! Boyle is one of my favorite novelists in any case.
Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Wed 22 Dec 04 09:23
<57> ...Tee Hee
Are You My Caucasian? (shmo) Wed 22 Dec 04 11:33
The increasing swiftness with which mainstream media (especially the Advertising World) co-opts/commodifies counterculture imagery has been a fascination of mine over the past decade. What happens to counterculture when terms like "underground" and "alternative" become genre-labels for mainstream pop music? The music that emerged in the wake of Kurt Cobain's death was called "alternative" throughout the '90s even though it had become the dominant form of rock on the radio. And "underground" as a descriptor of non-gangsta/arty hip-hop is thrown around even though this subgenre of hip- hop is well above ground these days. Has the word "underground" lost its meaning? To me, it used to refer to countercultural creativity that existed below the radar of media/mainstream social awareness. Hippies were underground until Life Magazine, et al, got hold of the imagery, so the Beats before them. They remained countercultural even after media awareness set in, but they were no longer underground. Disco, too, began as an underground dance scene, mostly in gay clubs, but by 1977 it was THE mainstream pop form heard on the radio, though much of the club scene remained "countercultural" in a way. By the early '80s Disco had gone back underground, morphing into House and Techno etc. with its denizens developing the Rave culture that came out from "underground" and getting media play while remaining "countercultural." I guess what I'm wondering is: Has the word "underground" become as meaningless or vague as a term like "avant-garde."? And what is the relationship between the term "underground" and the term "counterculture?"
RUSirius (rusirius) Wed 22 Dec 04 13:12
Bingo! A lot of people are obsessing over these issues. It is the single issue/question that keeps coming up as I speak about counterculture/the book. I'm going to be holding conversations with Tom Frank, the author of The Conquest of Cool (and What's The Matter With Kansas?) about Counterculture and Commodification that will be published on a website called RAWstory. http://www.rawstory.com. I have about a dozen different and contradictory thoughts on all this as, I suspect, most of you do. Taking it first of all from the defining elements of counterculture as expressed in the book.. and I'll be a bore and post them here verbatim... *** 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. Sum Exile or dropping out. * A playful prankster attitude **** I see nothing here that says that counterculture has to be "underground"... whatever that means. In fact, a radical argument has been made by some that underground means you're actually hiding from authorities who are pursuing you or actively engaging in secret, revolutionary activities against the authorities. Many ridiculed the assumption of the mantle of the "underground press" in the 60s on that basis. So in some sense, "underground" is already trivialized as a hardassed revolutionary ideal. So, since we're all basically a bunch of culture vulture pussies anyway, the thought is that it comes down to maintaining individual authenticity or the authenticity of a scene, maybe. (In the chapter on the 70s, I question the authenticist sensibility as imposing a sort of rigidity that may not necessarily be countercultural) The African American spoken work poet in dreads recites a credible few lines of street poetry in a McDonalds commercial in the mid-90s. What does that change? I'm not sure it changes much. Poetry slams and spoken word plunges forward, the validity of the scene or the liberty and power of any performer to express themselves to effect has probably not been much diminished by the fact that it has been marketed as a symbol by advertising writers who want to be hip to consumers who want to be hip. Maybe the take home message is that lots of people want to be hip. Maybe this is good. Maybe it's not so good. You can be a hip Bush supporter. What does hip mean? I don't know. Our idea of counterculture though is that it means what I posted above. If people who want to be hip can be moved a bit towards those values that would be good, I think. But I'm sort of moderate and permissive these days. Now, a strong critique on the left is that counterculture IS commodity culture. That rebellion, individuality, self-indulgent playfulness, the "politics of identity" and non-conformism is perfectly suited to capitalism and commodification. Maybe. I don't see anything in our broadly interpreted freethinker's set of values that promises the overthrow of capitalism. Maybe that's why I'm getting my best reviews from libertarians, even though I ain't quite one of 'em. I happen to think that corporate capitalism IS authoritarian in many ways, and on the other hand, it's a (more or less) free country. If advertisers and politicians want to detourn alternative cultural expressions they are free to do so. Hell, they may even have someone mimick Tom Frank if he gets popular enough. And if you effectively communicate countercultural memes (or hardassed lefist memes) you are pop culture, at least to some extent. Having said all that, gopod bless Larry Harvey and Burning Man and many other cultural activists who give people opportunities to not settle for virtual relations and the consumption of the artifacts of alternativeness, and bring people together in real space to have experiences in which everyone is challenged to create and respond as what the diggers called "life actors"... As Larry says, he wants people to have a life and not a "lifestyle", which is what the advertisers are selling. And that's finally the danger of the book that I'm flogging... I've posted what I think are a great set of social values; but they ARE a linear list of values and when we see those ideas bunched together in a book published by Random House, owned by Bertlesman, it fairly screams "LIFESTYLE FOR SALE." My tendency when writing the book was to want to toss out all linear listings of countercultural attributes and to try to convey the essence of counterculture in a more expository style, to convey life as opposed to lifestyle. But life happens, even when you're trying to be stylish about it, so I'm sure people will continue to manifest counterculture in spontaneous, real ways and I will get pied and then go on to write more books for alternative and mainstream publishers. And I better be less rambling when I go mano a mano with Tom Frank, hey?
Are You My Caucasian? (shmo) Wed 22 Dec 04 13:29
Wow, great answer, Ken. Thanks!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 22 Dec 04 14:49
To what extent have countercultures been marginal by choice? Was the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. a counterculture?
RUSirius (rusirius) Wed 22 Dec 04 16:09
Jon, Some countercultures go for willful obscurity and some don't. The great preponderance of these cultural episodes embrace open communication and go out of their way to broadcast their messages. Socrates took it to the public forum, the Troubadours wandered around looking for attention (particularly of the sexual sort), the philosophes and revolutionaries of the Age of Reason were trying to convince everybody of their various messages. And on through the proverbial ages. The point of creating art and so forth, I would think, is to make it available and have it considered. Of course, the whole commodification question has added a sort of perverse ambiguity to it all. It's hip to seem like you're trying to be obscure and somebody happened to find you hiding under a rock playing grunge rock etc. Civil Rights Movement.. I would ask the participants in the Civil Rights movement if they see themselves as corresponding to most of the various traits and ideals I've suggested. If they say they are, than I say they are. If they say they're not, I say they're not. I'm a bit afraid that somewhere along the line I'm going to get dragged into a game of "Are They Counterculture?"... maybe it would make a good board game... My own general impression would be that the Civil Rights movement was not particularly interested in being a manifestation of most of the values we attached to counterculture, it was interested in getting civil rights. Many counterculturalists were part of the movement though. And the spread of the notion of civil rights to all people forms a sort of countercultural influence, particularly when closely aligned with ideas of civil liberties....
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Wed 22 Dec 04 16:25
To the extent the Civil Rights Movement was the first (modern) non-partisan mass political movement to have (most of) its agenda enacted, it served, at the very least, as a model for the anti Vietnam war movement, thus leading us closer to the various counterculture manifestations of today.
RUSirius (rusirius) Wed 22 Dec 04 20:03
I can hang with that. I will be flying from one coast to the other tomorrow and then getting settled into Tampa FLA. So I'll be MIA but I think my coauthor Dan Joy may be popping in. In any case, I should be back on Friday in a Central Florida state of mind....
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 23 Dec 04 12:46
Have a great trip! I just thought to check a dictionary definition of counterculture: "a culture with values and mores that run counter to those of established society." If you take that view, then what's counterculture and what's not depends on what you think is "established." Given the cultural polarization we see today, I think it's harder to say what's "established." I think you said more or less the same thing earlier, but I wanted to restate that point. I think we're in a period of real confusion. You have a section on James Joyce, who changed our perception of literature. Was he just following his muse? Or was he aware that his art had significant political and cultural implications?
Ted (nukem777) Thu 23 Dec 04 14:46
I want to follow up on Jon's thought about our being in a period of real confusion. As I have followed all of this conversation, I've been focusing on just that. It seems like all the rules have changed; media manipulation and the establishment's ability to control have become so sophisticated; new emerging technologies that have unrealized potential to inform, enrage, and mobilize; a sense of personal disassociation with society in general; and a general feeling of everything and everyone simply losing their way. It's a complicated world without much of a road map. I'm pretty sure the old ways won't fly but not sure what might prove to be effective. Your thoughts?
Jeffrey G. Strahl (jstrahl) Thu 23 Dec 04 21:23
>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. Not counting the Huichols in Mexico, who've been ingesting peyote for over 3000 years, or the amanita-eating tribes in Siberia and the northern US (and Scandinavia in earlier times), or the ones eating psilocybin ones all over the Americas, and in the Mediterranean area in ancient times (depicted well in artifacts from both regions), or the ayahuasca imbibers in the Amazon, or.....In fact, mighty few cultures that didn't employ psychoactives. Western "civilization" (still "a good idea") is a rare exception, and one that has by far the worst drug problems of all, as noted by Peter Devereax, standout British archeologist, in "The Long Trip".
Uncle Jax (jax) Thu 23 Dec 04 21:59
And all because the Christians made 'em all lay off the amanita and mistletoe!
RUSirius (rusirius) Fri 24 Dec 04 09:08
Confusion is the watchword! It's interesting that Jon is basically saying that the center has not held; that there is no consensus for counterculture to dissent or deviate from and then Ted is saying that "The establishment" has become sophisticated at controlling (and presumably co-opting alternative culture and dissidence) and then also goes on to say that people are adrift, without a center or consensus reality. I have to agree with everybody. It seems that as the result mostly of media, but also population, transportation, relative freedom to spread a nearly infinite variety of ideas and suggestions ad infinitum we have gone so far from binary choices/discussions or even comprehensible multiple choices that we may be into territory that can only be handled by complexity theory or quantum physics. Pass me some of that Amazonian ayahuasca! I commend the second chapter of the book on the counterculture website again (sorry) http://www.counterculturethroughtheages.com where I actually talk about people being thrown for a total loss by the confusion of values in our (despite many recent protestations to the contrary) post-modern mapless era. We did include a chapter about Counterculture now and into the future and I could easily have questioned whether the term remains useful but I didn't go there. Certainly it might be a time for new language that describes the phenomena we tried to define in the book. I sometimes feel that questioners are hoping that I might resolve this confusion but I can't. Maybe a good dose of psychedelics can. Seriously, how is it that experiences with drugs that simply allow more signals to fire across synapses seem to frequently resolve into a feeling of harmony, where the fragments seem to cohere into a gestalt and... IT FEELS GOOD! (sometimes, it feels terrifying of course. Or both) It's sort of mysterious to me, actually. James Joyce: We show Joyce as being enmeshed in a sort of countercultural cabal but really living more or less in his head, in his obsession wtih doing these things with language that he just had to do. That kind of character pops up alot... pursuing his or her own muse with counterculture community there as a support base. Well, ho ho ho (and the meaning of THAT has certainly changed, beeyach!) I will probably check in again tomorrow but definitely on Sunday...
RUSirius (rusirius) Fri 24 Dec 04 09:15
Oh yeah. Wanted to acknowledge jstrahls comments on psychedelic use in all those cultures. Since we defined counterculture mostly in anti/non-authoritarian terms and then made some selections based on that and other criteria I've already beaten to death, the book is NOT a history of psychedelic cultures. It might be interesting to explore the extent to which psychedelic cultures from different places and times do or don't conform to many of the aspects of counterculturalness we've suggested. I suspect that we would not necessarily find as much correspondence as some of us (well, me) would like to. ho ho ho...
Members: Enter the conference to participate