ACCELER8OR

Nov 07 2012

Why Am I Here? Notes On Getting A Second Life

Share/Bookmark

“Why am I here?” I asked myself for the twentieth time in the last hour.

I felt like a fool.  Why had I allowed Shasta to talk me into this?  An idle fantasy?  A chance to escape the humdrum daily grind and allow myself the freedom of just being myself?  This was crazy.  It was going to be just like all the other times.  Disappointing.

“Come to Second Life,” Shasta had said in the IM.  “You can work for me at the bar I’m partners in.  You’ll love it here.”

I trusted her, I really did.  Despite the fact that we had never once met IRL, Shasta has always been a friend and mentor and confidant.  She has always been one of the real believers in my artistic talents, even though I have never really been a successful artist.  I had known her for ten years, and tonight I was going to meet her “face to face” for the first time.  Despite the fact we had been out of touch for two years, when she had found a link to my new internet account, and contacted me, it had been like we had talked only yesterday.

She had begged me to come; to see her new club and to just hang out.  I had been dubious, but let her talk me into it.  I had downloaded the program, set up an account, and signed into the virtual world of Second Life.

I had been in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games before, and while I liked a few, like Ragnarok and Lineage 2, I wasn’t expecting much from Second Life.  It seemed kind of tame actually, a world with no story line, no monsters, no combat outside of a few arenas.  I expected it to be rather boring.  Indeed, just figuring out the basic interface had been confusing, and seemed rather poorly laid out compared to several other MMORPGs I had played recently.  Just figuring out how to make the Avatar of myself had taken most of the hour, it had so many customization options. It took a while, and some aspects of the Avatar really were not well done, particularly hair, but finally, here I stood on the entry platform, a tall white haired bombshell in a tight red top and black mini.

No, I didn’t look anywhere near my IRL appearance, but that was the point, no?  I was here not as the person I was stuck being in RL, but as Valkyrie Ice, Succubus.  For nearly 20 years, from the days of BBS’s and my first appearance in one of the innumerable Red Dragon Inns, Valkyrie Ice has been my online persona and more me than the person I have to pretend to be from day to day.  In “real” life, I have to spend too much of my time being what other people want me to be, from the good little drone work wants to behaving the way people expect me to just to keep the guys in white coats from coming to take me away.  Additionally, as a Transsexual, only online am I free to just be myself; free of the expectations of my RL physical appearance, social status, and gender.

But I didn’t feel right.  Sure I was roughly looking like I should, at least insofar as my human form went, but that has always been the problem with MMORPGs.  I could never get an avatar that was really “ME.”  Call it delusion, past life experience, wishful thinking, whatever, I have always had dreams of being a succubus, a real cloven hoofed, bat winged, spade tailed, and rams-horned demoness with a mischievous and flirtatious streak a mile wide, but not a real gram of evil intent in my body.  SL’s Avatar could be made to match the overall form of face and body, but I was still all too human, and once more feeling like I was wearing yet another mask over my real self. I was half expecting this to be yet another teaser that ended up just being more frustration than fun in the end despite Shasta’s assurances.

And to top it off, I was a human about to walk into a virtual furry strip club.

Yeah, you heard right.  In my daily life, I am L. S. McGill, furry pinup artist without a following, once published in the American Journal of Anthropomorphics. For those of you who have no clue what Anthropomorphism is; it means giving human characteristics to nonhuman things, such as animating a toaster.  Generally though, it is commonly used as a classification for the millions of people like me who feel that they are not “human” at heart, and are instead part animal.  Be it anime cat girls, werewolves, humans with animal ears and tails, right down to full animal forms with human intelligence and speech capabilities, Anthros, or “Furries” make up a significant portion of the online community, and can be found almost everywhere.  Go to almost any fan convention, and you will undoubtedly find some furry costumes, furry merchandise, and of course, Furry fans.  I’ve been drawing furry art most of my life, and despite various attempts to break into the market, I’m still a failure with talent, and a life plagued with bad luck, poverty, and one setback after another.  I am a very good artist, but have difficulty getting my work out where it can be seen and sold.  Basically, I am creative, bright, intelligent, and cursed with an inability to ever get anyone to actually notice any of those things since all anyone ever seems to see is the fact that I am built like a linebacker for the NFL.

Obviously, in the “real” world, if you’re a giant, the only thing you could ever possibly be good at is sports or physical labor.  God forbid you ever want to actually use your brain to make a living.  Being an artist is even worse, since no one who is 6’5” could possibly do anything other than smash things into the ground.  My talents and my A+ certification seem to mean less to employers than my size, so I’ve been forced to make my living most of my life as a bouncer.  My hesitation at the moment wasn’t about walking into a strip club, since I’d worked those for years, it was the fact that for the first time, I wasn’t going into a club as security.

For the first time in my life, even though it was virtual, I was going to leave the shadows at the edges of the bar and step on the stage as one of the dancers.

“This is stupid.  I’m going to make a fool of myself,” I muttered to myself as my fingers hovered over the keyboard and mouse.

Part of my hesitation was the fact that it had been obvious that the furry avatars in Second Life had been little more than an afterthought.  The stock AV was a fox-like head that looked horrible.  It was too big for the body, and looked like a cheap mascot head from Disney world, little more than a sphere with eyes included as part of its texture, and ears and a muzzle tacked on.  The human Avatars were far more complex, with moving eyes and mouths, and extremely customizable, but I had been a furry artist for too many years to think that most furries would settle for a human face, or really want to see a dancer who looked “too human”.  If I had my wings and tail and horns, I might have been a little more confidant, but I had known too many furries to who even my drawings of myself in full succubus form had been “too human.”  Now, as succubae are shape shifters, I could get around that by simply altering my appearance, and had for several years described myself as a white unicorn anthro with sapphire blue hair and mirror polished hooves, horn, and nails, named China Blue.  But I had gotten as tired of those masks as all the others and I was going to be making a real attempt to simply be myself… my real self… instead of yet another mask.  Don’t get me wrong, I like being a shapeshifter, but I was hoping for once to be able to be the me I usually hid away from everybody.

I sighed, then finally stepped off the platform and made my way down the path to the novice island.

 

* * * * *

If you’ve ever played any MMORPG than you should be familiar with the concept of a Novice area.  It’s were newbies to the game can familiarize themselves with the basics without annoying the experienced players.  Second Life was no different.  I ran through the tutorials about movement, camera controls, and how to move and use objects, taking my time and trying to memorize enough to avoid making a complete fool of myself.  By the time I was done, I had mixed impressions about the interface.  For one thing, it was complex.  I had controls for camera movements, self movement, and object use, which was pretty standard, but I also had a dozen options I could see no real use for yet.  I gave up after learning the basics, figuring I’d be unlikely to use the object creation menus, or any of the editing features anytime soon.  Once I was confident I could navigate around, I decided to look up Shasta and find out how to get to where she was.

“Hi Val,” came the return IM a few minutes later.  “I’m a little busy at the moment, but I can send you a TP.”

Yeah, I was dumb.  “Um, what’s a TP?”

“A teleport request.  It’s the most common way to get around.”

A second later, a blue sign popped up on my screen saying Shasta had asked me to join her in Hydrangea, the name of the area where she currently was in the virtual world of SL.  I clicked on the yes button and suddenly found myself falling through a grey void.

Okay, okay, so it wasn’t quite that instantaneous.  I had to wait a few seconds while a load screen appeared and so on, but my arrival in mid air was a bit of a shock.  Before I could hit the page up button to fly though, I landed, and the grey void started filling in around me.

And I suddenly started seeing what made Second Life so attractive.

Shasta filled in at first, and in a few seconds, she had gone from grey to the familiar form I had seen described, and even sketched a few times, but this wasn’t the typical furry cartoon art, this was a 3D person standing before me, with a raccoons head that looked far more realistic than the default furry AV had, a full body fur pattern with a creamy colored belly fur, dark brown main coat, and black “socks” on her hands and feet, and, of course, the obligatory banded tail.

I blinked.  “Oh My God…”

“Welcome to Second Life, Val,” she said, a small text balloon forming over her head as my chat box duplicated her text.  Then a small blue box popped up asking me if it was okay if Shas hugged me.  Still kinda in a daze I clicked yes, and found myself suddenly animated, stepping forward to embrace Shas in a virtual hug so much more real than the typical *hug* of IMs.  “We’re setting up a stage at the moment, but if you’ll hang out for a few, we’ll take you out shopping to get your AV all spruced up.”

Without thinking, I nodded, then smiled at myself as I typed, “Sure.”  I looked around and found a stool nearby, with a funny little pink ball hovering over it.  I had learned how to use objects on the newbie island, so I tried right-clicking, and sure enough, a menu with the option to sit popped up, and my AV jumped over to the chair and sat down facing the “stage” in front of me.

That right there made me stop and think.  It’s a virtual world, my AV doesn’t get tired of standing, but I had automatically taken a seat through an unconscious reflex.  I had reacted exactly like I would have had I been there in the flesh.

Now, go to most MMORPG’s and sitting is a function often used to speed up your recovery of hit points and so on, but what I had just done hadn’t been anything like that, I had simply taken a seat out of the natural human response to seek comfort.

Immersion is a word often bandied about in video game circles, but if you really look at most games, this immersion is almost always limited.  It basically is how much the player feels like they are actually in the game, and it is the little details that truly accomplish this.  In most first person shooters, especially the Id series such as Doom and Quake, they sacrifice realism in level design for various traps, puzzles, and cubbyholes that give cover for player verses player combat.  This means that often times my feeling of immersion is disrupted by a sudden nonsensical obstacle, or by illogical architecture created simply to make it hard to go from A to B.  My favorite games have always been those where the environment around me made SENSE from a real world standpoint.

I had been in numerous bars and clubs, and their virtual counterpoints, and in most of the virtual ones, chairs might have been part of the décor, but to have a completely customized animation solely for sitting in one?  For the next few minutes I bounced around from the stool to a couple of nearby couches, smiling.  It seemed a lot of thought had gone into designing the animations used to make them as realistic and natural as possible.

Then I actually paid attention to what Shas and another employee were doing, and had to giggle.  They were fine tuning a dance ball, basically an object that contains an animation routine that can be used by anyone, much like the pink ball that hovered over the stool I was sitting on.  She and the other person were hovering in mid air, being moved back and forth as Shas adjusted their relative positions, making sure they actually looked like they were touching, but not overlapping too much, and making sure they weren’t in the floor but on it.  During this process they were frozen like mannequins, but when Shas closed the edit menu, suddenly they were doing a swing dance.

I watched, amazed as their AVs swirled and embraced, circled and swung, and began to get a glimmer of what was in store for me as a dancer at the club.  I started looking around and clicking on various items around the room I was in, noticing for the first time that many had Dance! as an option, and suddenly a lot of my nervousness eased up.  I really would be able to dance here, the way I had always dreamed of.

Except… well… I still looked a bit too much like a Barbie doll.  This being a strip club, I knew getting naked was part of the fun.  “So does this game blur out the naked AV like The Sims does?”  I asked.

I heard a laugh over the speakers as Shasta replied.  “Nope.”  Then her clothes vanished, and I discovered another thing that the default AVs lacked that could be supplied by the customizations… Anatomical correctness.  I was grinning like an idiot now.

“Oh my.  I really do hope we can find the things I need to make myself look right.”

I’ll be honest.  As a succubus, I am vain.  I knew how I wanted to look, how I had looked in my dreams for so many years, and I didn’t want to settle for good enough.  I wanted to be the star attraction, the “ZOMG she’s fucking gorgeous” babe that made tongues roll out like cartoon animations, and for once, I was starting to think that here in SL it might be possible.  It wasn’t going to be enough to just have horns and hooves and wings – I wanted to have some that looked damn good.

Shas kept reassuring me that we could probably find everything I needed someplace or another.  I heard about Skins, which are the graphics covering the 3d Avatar model, Prims, which is short for primitives – basically an item made out of simple shapes that is built up like legos into whatever the creator wants, such as Shasta’s raccoon head and tail – and clothing, which went over the basic shape and skin.

Following her adjustments to the dance ball, she showed me how to run a search and we headed to a mall, which in Second Life is pretty much the same as in Real Life, a building containing lots of smaller stores.

After 2 hours teleporting from one mall to another, I had begun to despair.  Oh there were horns, and tails, and wings and hooves galore, but nothing that really matched my desires.  I had settled for the moment for a set of wings and a tail bought from a store called appropriately enough “Devil Girls”, as well as new hair, new clothes, new shoes, and some other oddments, like a walk animation override that changed the default quick step walk into a more sexy hip swaying stride, but it was becoming obvious that I might have to find other options to match my self-image exactly.

So we teleported back to the club, along with a couple of new friends I had made when Shasta had invited them to join us shopping, Jo and Greytail.  Shas had to go, but GT and Jo stayed behind to help me get everything I had just bought fitted and adjusted.  You see, having the ability to adjust almost every aspect of your avatar also means that not everything bought off the rack fits just right, so you do have to tweak the spatial relationships relative to yourself when you wear objects.  It didn’t really take me long to figure out the controls for xyz coordinates and xyz rotations, nor did stretching objects, but had Jo and GT not shown me how to be able to adjust not only objects, but sub-objects within a larger object, I might have been screaming in frustration soon. Then GT showed me how to make objects, and in just a few minutes I had ditched the rather cheesy horns that I had bought as part of the devil girls set for a pair that actually looked like I thought they should that GT made for me on the spot.

And that’s how I learned about the uses for the object creation menu, and started realizing something vitally important about SL that made it completely unique from every other game I had ever played, and made me begin to look at it in an entirely new light.

Second Life isn’t a game in the usual sense.  It’s a simulation, an emulation of the real world, but unlike any other, it’s a simulation that is not 90% developer based.

Unlike The Sims, or all the virtual IM chat programs, or any other program I had seen in years, Second Life is almost entirely the creation of its players.

That’s right, it’s Players.  Its end users.  Not Linden Labs, the developers of Second Life, not the programmers who know how to hack and hexadecimal edit game files, not the few, the select, the elite.  Those people were all in SL to be sure, but they weren’t the people who had made SL what it was.  Linden Labs had created a framework, but even they weren’t responsible for what SL was.

No, SL was something completely new in my experience, and quite possibly everyone else’s as well.  It was a world created by the people who lived in it.  It was a reflection of their hopes, dreams and desires.  It wasn’t a product of a singular vision, or a unified set of ideas, this world was a hodgepodge collection of everything.

In the mall I had been shopping in, not only were there wings and hooves and tails, but they also had X-wing fighters, Stargates, and teleporters.  Amazon fantasy armor sold right next to the full body powered armor Hardsuits from Bubblegum Crisis.  Besides the various furry AVs for sale, there were Demons and Goths and Dark Elves.  Cyborgs-ranging from such simplicities as wrist claws and armored exoskeletons to things as intricate as the full Terminator T101 series endoskeleton-could be found for sale next to Japanese schoolgirl outfits and fairy tale princess dresses.  Be it Anime, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or just everyday, it all had equal space.  I could have dressed in jeans by Bugleboy, or a Gorean slave girl outfit, or Stormtrooper armor, and walked through that mall and no-one would have batted an eye.  I had the absolute freedom to be exactly who I wanted to be, and the only real restrictions were social, so I would want to wear an outfit that hid the appropriate spots if I traveled to a PG rated zone, or if I was just wandering around, but I would have done that anyway.  The point wasn’t the clothes, it was my freedom to be myself that mattered.  And all around me were things that told me that that exact freedom was what mattered to everyone else as well.

Second Life was the world its residents wanted.  Not a world that they had to cope with, or survive in, it was the world they desired.  From sex animations to Space Stations to Angel wings, everything around me was something someone had made simply because they wanted too, and had decided to share with everyone else for a minimal recompense.  Regardless of status, race, social position, or interests, everyone was free to create, to dream, and to make into a kind of reality.  Everybody had an equal footing.

And that is also why I constantly use Second Life and my experiences there as examples in my writing – because Second Life is a model, a prototype if you will, for our world in twenty to thirty years.  It’s the future that we would make if there were no limits to the possible, if our every fantasy and wish could be made real, and as such, despite furries and demons and aliens everywhere, it offers an insight into the very things that make us human, stripped away of the extraneous deadweight of prejudice and preconception.  Like a non-stop fan convention, all of us in SL were role-playing characters, but unlike a fan con, the majority weren’t playing someone else’s creation, we were playing the person we really felt we were.

It took awhile, and I had to learn how to make objects on my own before I was satisfied, but I am myself in SL now.  I have the body that has been part of my dreams for all of my life, and I have the freedom to go anywhere I choose without having to hide who I am.  Unlike the “real” world, I was not forced to be someone I did not feel comfortable as simply because my genetics had dictated I look a certain way, or because society demanded I act a certain way due to that genetic accident. I could simply be myself.

And that made me think.  Based on some of the proposed technological advancements of the near future, there is an extremely high likelihood of medical technology being able to make such changes outside of a virtual world.  As a trans-sexual, I know that we can currently make a male such as myself into a passable female, but there are limitations that I find unacceptable personally.  Yet those limitations grow fewer every year, and the cost of performing such surgery has dropped as they become more commonplace.

When I look at Second Life, and how the people who populate it express their “inner selves”, I am struck by the fact that a desire to change how we look is one of the most commonplace urges shared by the majority of the human race.  Be it as simple as dieting to lose weight to the extremes of sex reassignment surgery, we all have a desire to make our outer self match our mental self image, and before much longer, we will have the technology to do so at a cost that many will be able to afford.

There are numerous possible methods through which such radical reconstruction might be achieved, such as nanotech, biotech, or cybernetics, but the simple fact that such desires exist is almost a guarantee that some sort of method for achieving such radical alterations in human form will come into being.  Like the evolution of the modern cell phone from the appeal of the concept of communicators in the original Star Trek series, Second Life is a showcase of concepts, expressing the desires of its inhabitants and allowing a virtual test drive of them, so that we can see what concepts work, and which don’t.  From such things as virtual land baronies to virtual banks to the legality and acceptability an adult playing a child like avatar while engaging in adult activities, SL is likely to set the course and policies that will eventually govern the development of “Cyberspace”, the term coined by William Gibson for the virtual reality world which co-exists and interacts with the real word in his “cyberpunk” novels.  Like the communicator/cell phone example above, I believe the simple existence of Second Life will create a demand in real life for the kind of things available in virtuality

It’s simple supply and demand philosophy.  Demands were made that lead to the development of the supplies needed to meet the demand.  Every item made in SL by a player was created to supply a demand, be it as simple as better looking hair to such complex items as large scale virtual space craft.  Using myself as an example, my demand to look exactly as I had envisioned in my dreams lead to my creating a completely custom avatar, in which every item that I wear is my own creation.  I own the intellectual property rights for all of it, and having now met my own demand, I have a supply available to meet the demands of others who wish to look like me, or just like a particular aspect.  In a similar fashion, by the demands being met in SL, I see a demand being created in the real world for what’s available in the virtual, and that means that someone is going to be finding a way to meet that demand.

And it was this realization that first led me to begin formalizing the various observations I have been making for decades into written form. My experiences in Second Life made me begin to look far more closely and deeply into the way in which technological advance actually affect our social and political realities. Having the freedom to actually be myself showed me just how fundamentally different the world would be as that continuing advance forced us to adapt.

And that is why I am sharing that initial experience with you. Whatever you think of me, my desires to be a succubus, or my views about the radical changes we are about to undergo, I’m just a human, like you. It’s just as novel, hard to conceptualize, and even a little unnerving for me too. But I’m willing to face it without fear, and use logic, reason, and an open mind to analyze it,

Oct 31 2012

Dementing Augmented Reality: How Future Activists Will Break People Out Of Their Digital Trances

It’s less than two months prior to the “End of the World” on December 21, 2012. Terence McKenna predicted that we would see a spike of “infinite novelty” at the end of the year, when the ambient strangeness in the world hit the point of no return, the Omega Point beyond which we entered post-historical hyperspace.

With not much longer to go, it’s clear to me that he was right, but that he probably “confused the planes,” as it were. The model applies perfectly to the world of information and data: just check Facebook and Twitter and you’ll see what he meant. Meanwhile, down here in the physical world, it’s the same haves-and-have-nots, except there’s a lot less rainforest and everybody’s glued to screens checking f*king Facebook, lost in the infinite hallucinatory kaleidoscope.

“This is the generation who grew up and forgot to lead their lives,” caws Borgia Ginz in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee. “They were so busy watching my endless movie… I sucked and sucked and sucked. The media became their only reality. And I owned their world of flickering shadows.” Of course, the greatest triumph of social media is that now the “powers that be” have tricked us into hypnotizing each other for them, and volunteering all of our data in the meantime.

Over the next ten years I can imagine this trend only increasing. As physical reality becomes grimmer, our endless virtual realities will only become more and more complex and enticing. As we will likely face increasingly vicious oil wars in the countdown to Peak Oil — and, towards the middle of the century, water wars—those who are privileged enough to do so will become more and more disassociated from the physical world, vanishing into the comforting data ether, in which the illusion of participation takes primacy over actual contact with the world.

Soon we will have augmented reality, and behind our glasses or held-up phones we will move through the reality tunnels that Google, Facebook and their successors will lay out for us, all with ads targeted to our increasingly focused consumer desires. Why bother dealing with reality when you can walk through a personally tailored data tunnel instead? Now this is worrying, because as if people weren’t drugged and hypnotized enough, now we’re going to have this level of immersive corporate hallucination to deal with.

So without further ado, and as a gift to the poor bastards of the future, I present four ways to troll augmented reality.

  1. 1. Tunnel Swapping. No, this is not a sexual fetish. It’s a great opportunity for applying the old Gurdjieffian shock: taking people’s data feeds and simply swap them with those of others. Imagine the augmented reality feed of an investment banker swapped with that of a drug dealer. A Republican demagogue’s switched with a welfare mother’s. The endless possibilities for the bridging of social opposites and antimonies should be more than apparent.

 

  1. 2. Dataleaks. While we currently live in the world of Wikileaks and the celebrity sex tape, when augmented reality rolls out it’s inevitable that we’re going to see leaks from people’s personal feeds. The unfairly panned 1996 movie Strange Days has this concept at the center of its plot, and is worth a repeat viewing in the context of new augmented reality technologies.

 

  1. 3. Détournement. Old tactics never die, they just get refreshed for new technology. Détournement is the Situationist practice of changing the words in advertisements and other media to show what they “really” mean. Imagine having your data feed compromised and suddenly seeing the physical world relabeled. Instead of seeing prices and buy links on those Nike shoes you just walked by, you’re shown the wages and life expectancy of the sweatshop children who made them. Taglines on billboard supermodels are replaced with text reading YOU’RE TOO UGLY TO GET TO HEAVEN. Candidates in political debates and advertisements are suddenly shown wearing not suits but racecar driver-style jumpsuits bearing the logos of all of their corporate sponsors.

 

  1. 4. Reclaiming the Physical. Faced with a totally controlled, monitored and owned online world, in which every utterance is immediately scanned and filed away, many have yet to make the connection that the best solution may not be running Tor and eighteen proxies, but writing things down on paper and talking face-to-face. Remember the mail? Remember conversations? Yeah, those still exist. Want to shake somebody out of their online trance? Send them a letter. Send them art. Want to record something that will last longer than a few seconds on Facebook or Twitter? Write a book. The physical world didn’t go anywhere. In fact, physical artifacts and experiences have only grown in totemic power the more we’ve pushed them away.

Further ideas will undoubtably present themselves in spades to the creative reader. Under the datafeed, the beach!

 

Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine

and editor of Thee Psychick Bible, Ultraculture Journal and Generation Hex. He currently helms the group futurist blog Ultraculture . @jasonlouv ( https://twitter.com/jasonlouv )

Oct 09 2012

Mutant Glory: The MONDO Moment (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #33)

While I mostly employ a playful, self-deprecating voice throughout the upcoming epic combined memoir and as-told-to history of MONDO 2000, I’ve been advised that — somewhere toward the beginning of the book — I should let people know just how brightly the MONDO star shined .  Here then is a segment from the chapter, “Mutant Glory: The MONDO Moment” from the upcoming book, Use Your Hallucinations: MONDO 2000 in Late 20th Century Cyberculture.  Some particularly strong parts are under embargo until publication, for a variety of reasons, so if it seems a bit discontinuous, that’s why.  

Still, pardon my ego, or use it as if it were your own.

I’m seated on the couch in the living room of the MONDO House, the neogothic aerie high (in every sense) in the Berkeley, California hills; my blue fedora with the Andy Warhol button rakishly titled to the right, a hint of my beyond-shoulder length hair swept across my right eye, femme fatale style.  It’s the same couch where, earlier this afternoon, Queen Mu had refused the Washington Post photographer’s suggestion that she and I pose John and Yoko style… naked… for the Post Arts & Leisure secton cover story about MONDO 2000.  

The editorial meeting was running longer than usual. Mu had held the floor for almost an hour with a monologue that veered from her recent argument with Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek about Jim Morrison’s use of Tarantula Venom as an intoxicant — Morrison, in accordance with Mu’s gonzo anthropological researches, had joined a centuries-old secret brotherhood of poets and musicians in the use of this dangerous substance for Orphic inspirations; to the unending details of said tarantula venom theory; to the connections that simply must exist between our Mormon printers in Nevada and John Perry Barlow and the CIA and how they were all plotting to destroy us with a new magazine called Wired; and finally to the efficacy of writing after taking a few tokes of marijuana and then putting on Animals by Pink Floyd (to which our unofficial GenX spokesperson Andrew Hultkrans muttered, Pink Floyd? It must be a generational thing.”).  When Mu was on one of her strange fantastic rambles she somehow didn’t seem to need to stop to breathe, so there was never an opportune moment to interrupt.  Finally, she decided she was thirsty and went into the kitchen to boil some tea.

The editorial pow wow had produced the usual stuff — good stuff, as a matter of fact.  An interview with early singularitarian Hans Moravec was in the works.  Some peculiar and obscure German industrial band/performance art group had contacted us looking for PR and this might pair up nicely with the Laibach interview that Mark Dippe and Kenneth Laddish had submitted.  Mad Lester Thompson had finally turned in a pretty good “Ultratech” column, rounding up of the latest in homebrew Virtual Reality and cheap digital video tech.  St. Jude told us her “Irresponsible Journalism” column titled “The Grace Jones School For Girls” was almost ready and asked if her interview with Mike Saenz about his porn CD ROM, Virtual Valerie, had been transcribed yet.  Our Art Director, Bart Nagel, as usual, said something that made everybody laugh.

Presently, Queen Mu returns to the living room with her cup of tea and our quiet, softspoken music editor Jas. Morgan pipes up.  “Liz Rosenberg says Madonna will review the new Papal Encyclical for us,” he understates. My famewhore eyes nearly pop out of my head.  “Be sure to follow up on that,” I say.  Everyone else feigns blasé.

This was the age — the heyday — of MONDO 2000. A shorter but far stranger trip, if you catch my drift.

You didn’t hear about it?  Well then, indulge me as I let some other voices tell you that I’m not hallucinating; not this time, anyway.  There was, in fact, a MONDO moment and it seemed somehow important to some interesting people.

There will be plenty of time for self-deprecations, stinging criticisms and embarrassing revelations later, when we return this epic true adventure story back to its beginnings and follow it through ‘til its mad finale.  But for this chapter, let’s bask in MONDO Mutant Glory.

Diana Trimble: You know how certain people, places or things can come to define an era?  The same way that clubbers d’un certain age speak wistfully of the “MK years” in New York City or “the Hacienda era” in Manchester; the same way you can’t talk about the art scene of the 1960s without talking about Warhol’s Factory? Well, that’s the way certain people who were in the Bay Area during the “MONDO days” feel about the house up on the mountain where madness met inspiration for a few remarkable years that directly influenced the development of popular culture on a global scale; a little-recognized fact for which proper credit to MONDO 2000 is long overdue.

It’s one of the best-kept secrets of postmodern history:  the Bay Area psychedelic revival and the explosion of computer science innovations of the late 1980s and early 90s were not only simultaneous and connected by geography but involved deeply interconnected personnel.

 

 

Rex Bruce: The MONDO scene was like the escape hatch out of the 80′s. While hanging onto the rebellious aspects of punk, it successfully retrieved some of the more colorful aspects of the sixties — the hippyish candy raver thing — along with a very thoughtful mingling of technology which had just gone exponential. 

It was the beginning of the period we are still in, pretty much. Nobody really knew what the web was back then or what enormous potential it held. People in the MONDO scene knew and were going at it full force. 

Emergent technology is still a huge area of cultural change. The cyberpunk people made it a movement and an identity — the scene grew to be a substantial part of a long history of bohemian culture that runs against the grain. This time it was armed with the internet, smart drugs, ubiquitous technology and the ubiquitous interface we still love and live in daily. It both began and predicted the times we live in. 

 

Douglas Rushkoff: The idea of having a scene… a place… I mean, oddly enough, MONDO was the last scene of the last era. It’s the last sort of Algonquin group or whatever.  I mean, physical reality isn’t what it used to be. Now you create a Facebook group to do what MONDO did. 

A physical scene… it’s so much more fertile. What I experienced more than anything else in that whole cultural milieu was: “Here are human bodies and human egos attempting to navigate this wholly discontinuous hypertext reality; trying to live in  — and with a full awareness of  — these liminal transition states.” And now, when we’re fully in the Internet era, it’s totally easy to do if you leave the body fucking behind. It’s totally easy to do if your friends are on Facebook and you’re just jerking off to their pictures or something. But try doing that for real. It’s that physical and psychic stress that someone like R.U. Sirius or Stara or Jody Radzik put themselves through… that’s when you gotta start worrying about things like gender and psychogenic dystonia [LAUGHTER]… just the basic… hold your fucking self together, man! [LAUGHTER] You don’t have casualties of the same sort in the Facebook era. It’s a different thing.  It’s bloodless. There’s no pubic hair in that reality. (Laughter).

 

Randy Stickrod: You had the feeling that the people who were creating this were tapped into some source that was outside of the range of the rest of us ordinary mortals. I’m serious, man! It was the real thing… the real fountainhead. 

 

William Gibson: MONDO was arguably the representative underground magazine of its pre-Web day. It was completely outside what commercial magazines were assumed to be about, but there it was, beside the commercial magazines. I was glad it was there. And then, winding up on the cover of Time — what does that do? How alternative is something that makes the cover of Time?  Could MONDO even happen today? 

 

Robert Phoenix: Around 1992 or ’93, MONDO was so on fire.  They’d been on the cover of Time and had a major feature in Newsweek.  Heide Foley was the poster child for the cybergrrl.  She was it!  Everybody was sniffing around MONDO. MTV was at MONDO. Apple Computers basically wanted to advertise in MONDO for life! It was a really, really, really big moment.  I’ll never forget walking around the floor of Macworld with copies of MONDO to hand out. It was like I was passing out the Holy Communion. It was like, “oh my God, oh… MONDO! Thank you!”

 

Josh Ellis: When I interviewed Neil Gaiman, he said something to me I’ve never forgotten: “MONDO 2000 was the coolest thing in the world for six months.” And it’s true, although I do think it was a little longer than that.

 

Hakim Bey: I can’t help thinking that the world, not just MONDO 2000, came to an end in around 1997. And we didn’t know it. And we’re living in the ruins.

Sep 30 2012

Shocking Shocker! Alex Jones & David Icke Are Illuminati Disinfo Agents!

I guess it all started about a year ago.  As part of my duties tracking conspiracy sites for my Illuminati Masters, I started noticing that Alex Jones was ranting more and more frequently against the transhumanists and singularitarians. 

Now, my job with Illuminati Central is fairly simply.  I track the conspiracy sites and warn the Illuminated Ones if anyone is getting to close to the truth as I understand it.

The illuminati’s plans — under constant revision — are conveyed to plebian members such as I every June at a week long Tantric DMT reorientation workshop held in Bavaria, soon after the Illuminated Ones return from that big Bilderberger shebang that they seem to enjoy so much.  Every year, it’s the same thing: they come bearing tales.  Once again, they were amazed at the size of Kissinger’s schlong.  Once again, they laughed so much they shat while bowling on acid with the frozen head of Dr. Leary.  Once again, Sandra Day O’Conner told that same damn story about eating cow balls, which they then insisted on repeating word for word for our “benefit.”  Blah blah blah.

Well, it’s all jolly until you have to ingest curare and lie in a casket for 24 hours.  “If a Bush can do it, anybody can!” they always tell us. They don’t mention that John Kerry died during his initiation.  They just assume we can’t tell.

Anyway, at some point, the Alex Jones rants started to bother me.  It wasn’t that it was at all close to the Secret Plans as I understood them.  Far from it.  But what if Jones was right? What if it was all true?  What if the Illuminati Masters weren’t really plotting to bring about a hedonic paradise on earth for all sentient beings, like that nice Dr. Benway promised me at that Virtual Reality party back in ‘91?  What if, in fact, they were simply brainwashing us now so we would march submissively to our deaths, all the while thinking that we were uploading our brains into a cool-ass pornographic adventure game?   I couldn’t stop wondering. It became an obsession. I wanted to know the truth.  I was willing, even, to risk the wrath of the Illuminated Ones to find out.

I sent message after message to my handler, begging her to pass it up the chain to the Perfect One — The Master Of All Masters — he who we dare not speak of but who some call Kurzweil 9.0.  It got so I was sending her 8, 9, even 10 notes a day — long notes disguised as official reports so that she would have to open them, speculating about the horrific possibilities that were tormenting my mind.

Then, one day, just as I was about to inject my daily dose of dep-Testosterone, my cell rang.  It was not the usual ringtone.  It was the Master Of All Masters ringing me up with the secret code:  “Oy ve! Oy ve!  Oy ve!  Oy ve! Oy….”  Excitedly, I pressed receive.  “This is Hipler,” I said, hoping that my voice would not betray too much fear.  “Hipler,” the jovial voice responded. “How the heck are ya?  This is Kurzweil Nine.  What’s the haps?”  “Did you get my notes about Alex Jones?” I managed to squeak out.  “Sure. Sure.  Read enough of them to get the gist.  Listen, Hipler, don’t worry about Jones.  Jones is one of ours.  Him and that creepy Icke fellah.  Icky Iche, I call ‘im.  He pouts so.  Say, you ever notice how a Brit will always overreact to an insult unless you also call ‘im a cunt?  Like if I say, ‘Icky Iche, ya cunt,’ then it’s all friendly jesting and ‘Hey, let’s head down to the pub and ‘ave a session.’”

I was starting to get impatient.  Why was The Master Of All Masters making with the small talk when I had serious matters to discuss?  As if he were reading my mind, Kurzweil Nine said, “Anyway, sorry for the small talk.  It gets lonely down here underneath the Denver Airport; no one to talk to but those creepy giant grey insects. Plus, the second you let your guard down and start really saying what you feel, they’re literally 11 inches up your ass.  I mean, human vulnerability really makes ‘em hot!

“Look. Here’s the scoop, Hipler.  Jones and Icke are Illuminati Disinformation  agents.  In fact, their function is so obvious I would have figured even you would figure it out, not to get insulting.  They make conspiracy theory look so absurd, so bizarre, so unattractive that no sane, talented investigative journalist will go anywhere near it.  I mean, you know the drill.  The Pentagon Papers.  The Church Committee after Watergate.   Iran-Contra.  LIBOR. All just the tip of the iceberg and, as you know, there were a few others that were never revealed  — legitimate conspiracies, some of them not even under our control!  I mean, who the hell knows what the Queen and that LaRouche asshole  are  up to?  And… is there something not quite right with that whole 9/11 thing?  How the hell would I know?… what with Jones and Icke riling up all those new age ditzes… no sane investigative journalist  wants to be associated with that.

You know, Hipler, sometimes our agents work a little bit too hard and it only causes problems.  In fact, why don’t you take a breather? Come visit me under Denver.  I could use some company.  Oh, by the way, that’s an order. And bring Vaseline.

 

 

 

Sep 21 2012

Use Your Hallucinations: MONDO 2000 In Late 20th Century Cyberculture (Preface) (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #30)

Here then, for your Friday MONDO, is the preface for the book in progress, Use Your Hallucinations:  MONDO 2000 in the Late 20th Century Cyberculture

 

Listen up, youngsters, and citizens of any territory located anywhere within reach of normalcy, and I’ll tell you a story that’ll blow your little minds.

Way back in time; as the decade of the 1980s was turning into the 1990s; way back before the days of Facebook and iPhones and Sexting and Siri and Twitter  — before even the Web and WiFi and the dominance of electronic dance music; way back when the fax machine was considered revolutionary, the Cold War was just winding down and your typical New York Times reporter had never even heard of the internet — there appeared the strangest magazine ever to make its way onto mainstream newsstands all across America and the world.

Called MONDO 2000 — the magazine took the just-then-emerging future of digital culture, dangerous hacking and new media; tossed them in the blender along with overdoses of hallucinogenic drugs, hypersex and the more outrageous edges of rock and roll; added irreverent attitudes stolen from 20th Century countercultures from the beats to the punks, the literary and art avant gardes, anarchism, surrealism, and the new electronic dance culture— and then, it deceptively spilled that crazy Frappe all out across really slick, vaguely commercial looking multicolored printed pages with content that was Gonzo meets Glam meets Cyberpunk meets something else that has never been seen before or since… but which those of us who were there simply called MONDO — as in, “Yes, the article you submitted is definitely MONDO.” Or, “No. This isn’t MONDO.  Why don’t you try Atlantic Monthly?”

We called it “a beribboned letterbomb to the core address of consensus reality.”  Briefly, and, in retrospect, unbelievably, it became the flagship of the new culture; the new world that was being created by the onrush of the new technologies.

What sort of perverse imps could generate such madness on the printed page and carry it all the way to the cover of Time magazine in three short years?  Well, back in the day, in those cultural places where the hippest and sexiest and most revolutionary insiders and outsiders whispered to one another of escapades out on Shasta Road in Berkeley (where else?), California, the home of the MONDO 2000 Queendom; the antic and, most likely, certifiably insane culture around MONDO was almost as legendary as the magazine itself.

Here then, is the story of that magazine and the people who lived it.  It’s the story of the early days of the new digital culture — and so you’ll bump into the likes of Craigslist Craig Newmark, Virtual Reality legend Jaron Lanier, the Beats’ only futurist — William S. Burroughs, and industrial music’s only major pop star, Trent Reznor (just to drop a few, among many, tantalizing boldface names).

And, deeper inside the MONDO world, you’ll marvel at the stories of magical and/or tragical and/or laughable extravagances — drugged excesses, boundless cosmic ambitions, dangerously illicit activities, inexcusable amoral strategies, ultraprovocative artifacts, extreme paranoia, swelled (acid)heads experiencing borderline celebrity, and a grand Fuehrer Bunkeresque denouement.

And, just to bring it all back home and make it a wee bit relatable, you will also find herein stories of those things that happen in ordinary lives; fatal and near fatal car crashes, financial losses, fistfights, love affairs and breakups, unwanted and unexpected competition, accusations, work done or not done, careers made or lost; friendships that lasted or didn’t — and people who want to remember it all and several who wish to forget.

I’m the person who got the whole thing started by first publishing a small psychedelic periodical called High Frontiers in 1984.  This, then, is partly my memoir.  But in true MONDO style, I’ve thrown it into that blender with comments from other participants who were interviewed either by myself or by Simone Lackerbauer, Morgan Russell or Tristan Gulliford; and outtakes from the magazine itself along with some of its printable memorabilia.

Finally, while the telling of the story is mine; the story, in some sense, belongs to Alison Kennedy aka Queen Mu. Although she didn’t join the effort until about a year into the High Frontiers experience — she was the Publisher, Queen and Domineditrix of MONDO 2000 and the only one who remained throughout and to the bitter (and it was bitter) end.

So take off your google goggles; drink your goddamn second-rate store-bought energy drink, roll up some of that medicinal weed and set your twitter feed to Shock and Awe.

Aug 13 2012

H+ The Digital Series — A Review

The first six episodes of the much anticipated transhumanist apocalyptic micro-drama H+ The Digital Series are now out. This is a brief review and set of initial impressions.

Warning: It includes spoilers for all six episodes out so far.

H+ The Digital Series is directed by Bryan Singer (X-men) and distributed online by Warner Brothers in a novel short episode format via YouTube. The series tells the story of a near future world where an Irish corporation known as H+ (H plus) Nano Teoranta has developed a neural implant technology used to link humanity into a global real-time augmented reality.

The short YouTube video format is probably as controversial as the content of the program. Can a 140 character culture relate to characters in 4 minute segments?

The series consists of short YouTube videos lasting about six minutes and each featuring something like 2-3 minutes of time in the fictional world. I found it hard to relate to the characters in this short format especially when you consider that only about four minutes and 30 seconds is the actual programming and the rest is just the intro and outro title sequences.

The first two episodes, “Driving Under” and “On Their Level”, were released first, and these consist of what is essentially the first five minutes of the story. The second batch of episodes, 3-6, were released initially only to subscribers to the program’s YouTube channel. A new episode is to be released every Wednesday.

Episode 1 is set “five minutes before it happened”. We are introduced to the H+ Nano medical implant technology and HPlus Nano Teoranta the company that has developed it. The H+ interface is a sort of real time connected augmented reality system that employs a neural implant rather than glasses. The system creates a personal interface only the user can see and is controlled by hand movements. In addition, the system provides real-time monitoring and feedback of the user’s own biological functions.

The first episode also introduces us to the concept of transhumansim, which in case you weren’t aware is an “international movement that supports the transforming of the human body and thereby the human condition through advanced technologies”.

Singer clearly lines the series up with the cyberpunk tradition, presenting a dystopian near future where tech stocks have tumbled, cybercrime is on the rise, and people are protesting being used in scientific experiments against their will despite the amazing technological advances.

Cut to a couple parking their car in an underground garage at the airport. The wife is interacting with her H+ system via her neural implant as they look for parking. The husband is covertly watching a sporting event via his interface, a fact that upsets his wife and causes an argument between them.

It is, of course, traditional for a geeky review of any new science fiction film or TV program to locate and dissect minute technical flaws in any science or technology described. This review will be no exception.

Not even five minutes in o the series and there is already some problematic stuff. In the H+ series future, we’ve got magical nanotech implants but the cars don’t have autopilot. In fact any sort of AI, a central theme of modern transhumanism, seems to be entirely absent from this H+ world so far.

In reality the husband Lee would just switch on the car’s autopilot and crack open a beer. Yes, in the future it will be legal to drink in a vehicle if you aren’t driving and the cars will be designed such that they won’t let you drive if you do drink.

The H+ implant itself is some sort of near magical nanotechnology allowing direct neural interface without invasive surgery. You simply inject this thing and you become connected to the global hive mind via a neural augmented reality interface. The notion is well beyond the current state of the art. Implantation for example with cochlear implants involves actually cutting open someone’s head and wiring a jack into their skull.

More silliness, the neural interface requires you to move your hands and talk in order to use it.  A direct neural interface of this sort will allow thought to be directly transformed into action. That is, you won’t actually need to reach out and touch the imaginary interface, you will simply imagine touching it and the system will sense and respond to the pattern of activity in your brain. Imagine if everyone was waving their hands around in this way. Not only does this look ridiculous, people would slap each other in the face accidentally while using it.

Five minutes and six seconds in, something goes very wrong. People exiting the elevator start collapsing like ragdolls. Someone is running, a car crashes and then an out of control airplane smashes directly into the garage. It’s The Event, a sort of digital viral apocalypse that is going to be the focus of the series.

It is good to get this sort of thing out of the way up front. Singer has an axe to grind. In this vision of H+, transhumanism is bad… really bad. In fact it is the cause of the collapse of civilization and the deaths of millions of people. We can’t have something like direct universal access to the sum total of human knowledge turn out to be a good thing, now can we? It must be dangerous.

Episode 2 expands on the immediate after effects of The Event and introduces us to a few survivors including (naturally) a mysterious man who seems to know more than he should about what is happening.

Episode 3, “The Prophetess”, is a flashback to seven years prior to The Event. We get to play voyeur on a first date that ends badly between Manta and Topi. For a minute I thought this was going to veer into WTF territory, but it turns out that Topi is some sort of future cop who is collecting information on Manta. Perhaps Manta is one of those cyber criminals we heard about in episode one? It’s the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo moved to Finland. I wonder if they will include a tango.

Episode 4, “Airport Security”, takes us back to the original timeline and group of survivors, to just 1 minute after The Event. Does anything really happen in this episode? It turns out that the mysterious stranger is (surprise) one of the developers of the H+ technology.

Episode 5, “A Large Family”, is another flashback this time to just seven months before The Event. This seems like it will be a pivotal episode going forward. We meet Breanna, a high powered executive with H+ Nano and and her husband Connal. Breanna is set up to be the evil transhumanist bitch queen, but perhaps they will humanize her later. Or maybe not.

Breanna and her husband meet a young Indian woman Leena to arrange a surrogate pregnancy. But as part of the deal they want Leena implanted with H+ so she can be monitored until the birth. When things get complicated, Breanna ends the conversation and enters a teleconference via her H+ device. Connal and Leena leave to have a more human conversation. I am assuming the baby is modified in some way, possibly to include the H+ interface in the womb or perhaps it will be genetically enhanced in some other way.

Episode 6, “Voci Dal Sud,” Voices from the South, takes us to Italy two years after The Event. Things have gone from bad to worse, and we’re given a picture of a world in collapse with no access to modern medicine or doctors.

It will be interesting to see if there will be additional transhumanist elements beyond those included in the opening few episodes. Covered so far: neural implants, the hive mind and global 24/7 Internet connectivity, augmented reality, computer viruses, apocalypse or singularity — The Event.

Notably absent from the series so far is any appearance of Artificial Intelligence or General Artificial Intelligence, and, in particular, the favorite theme of transhumanists everywhere — the self improving superintelligent AI — is no where to be seen in H+. Ray Solomonoff must be rolling in his grave.

The short format is problematic. About 25-30% of each video is simply the title sequences, which I have now seen six times. This is too much and it is distracting. The total program length of all six videos so far is just about 30 minutes. As a result the majority of the characters haven’t been developed and they are not relatable or interesting, at least not quite yet. I think a somewhat longer length for each program would work better.

Even so, the show is worth watching. The Event and the H+ device are an obvious analogy to our existing world of connected mobile devices, networked economic systems and eCommerce, real time social media, and so on. We don’t have neural implants yet, but we’re already susceptible to infectious viral agents passed by social media. The Event could happen to us.

H+: The Digital Series

Jul 29 2012

From Psychedelic Magazine With A Tech Gloss To Tech Magazine With A Psychedelic Gloss (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #23)

Another segment from the rough draft of Use Your Hallucinations: Mondo 2000 in the 20th Century Cyberculture.  Note that “the total fucking transmutation of everything” is established as a conceit early in the narrative, thus its use here reflects on a major theme.

…Meanwhile, we made a rash decision.  Despite High Frontiers relatively successful rise within the ‘zine scene (where 15,000 in sales was a pretty big deal), we decided to change the name of the magazine itself to Reality Hackers. 

It was my idea.

We’d been hipped to cyberpunk SF and I’d read Gibson’s Neuromancer and Sterling’s Mirrorshades collection.  His famous introduction for that book, describing what cyberpunk was doing in fiction — seemed to express precisely what a truly contemporary transmutational magazine should be about. Here are some parts of it:

The term, (cyberpunk) captures something crucial to the work of these writers, something crucial to the decade as a whole: a new kind of integration. The overlapping of worlds that were formerly separate: the realm of high tech, and the modern pop underground.

This integration has become our decade’s crucial source of cultural energy. The work of the cyberpunks is paralleled throughout the Eighties pop culture: in rock video; in the hacker underground; in the jarring street tech of hip hop and scratch music; in the synthesizer rock of London and Tokyo. This phenomenon, this dynamic, has a global range; cyberpunk is its literary incarnation… 

An unholy alliance of the technical world and the world of organized dissent — the underground world of pop culture, visionary fluidity, and street-level anarchy… 

For the cyberpunks… technology is visceral. It is not the bottled genie of remote Big Science boffins; it is pervasive, utterly intimate. Not outside us, but next to us. Under our skin; often, inside our minds.

Certain central themes spring up repeatedly in cyberpunk. The theme of body invasion: prosthetic limbs, implanted circuitry, cosmetic surgery, genetic alteration. The even more powerful theme of mind invasion: brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, neurochemistry — techniques radically redefining — the nature of humanity, the nature of the self.

The Eighties are an era of reassessment, of integration, of hybridized influences, of old notions shaken loose and reinterpreted with a new sophistication 

Cyberpunk favors “crammed” loose: rapid, dizzying bursts of novel information, sensory overIoad that submerges the reader in the literary equivalent of the hard-rock “wall of sound.”  

Well, then…

Also, Jaron Lanier was hanging around some, sharing his lofty goals for virtual reality; and Eric Gullichsen, who was teaming up to do some writing with Timothy Leary — with whom he shared a mutual fascination with drugs, extreme technology and Aleister Crowley — was already even a bit deeper in the mix, while dreaming his own VR schemes.  Various hackers like Bill Me Later and John Draper (Captain Crunch) were popping up with increasing frequency.  Hanging in hacker circles, we were also befriended by John Morgenthaler, who was getting very serious about the exploration of smart drugs.  Something was starting to surface.  Several small subcultures were drifting together, and some of these, at times, esoteric groupings included men (yes, men) who were creating the next economy.  Clearly, we were positioned to become the magazine of a slow baking gestalt.

Other factors played into this change.  While a strutting, pop-intellectual, irreverent psychedelic magazine (in other words, High Frontiers) could surely build an audience somewhat larger than 15,000, we probably weren’t all that far from our optimum, unless we wanted to stifle our Gonzo-meets-Camp writerly excesses and dumb ourselves down to something more like a High Times for psychedelic drugs.  Also, acid dealers didn’t advertise.  The number of potential advertisers for a magazine that revolved primarily around psychedelics was limited, particularly in this “just say no” period. Hell, dope friendly humor was even voluntarily eliminated by Saturday Night Live, the once-hip show inspired by a Lorne Michaels mescaline trip.    And then, admittedly, by emphasizing technology, we could, in theory, put a bit of a buffer zone between ourselves and “the man” — throw him off our druggy tracks while sneaking sideways into the center of the oncoming digital establishment, all the better to affect the total fucking transmutation of everything (bwahaha)… or maybe even make a livelihood!

Lastly, it had really been my intention from the start to create a magazine that (to slightly detourne the original subhead of High Frontiers) was balanced between psychedelics, science, technology, outrageousness and postmodern pop culture.  The psychedelic impulse had gloriously taken center stage for the first four years.  Now it was time to push into new territory.

To consolidate my thoughts about the Reality Hackers, I wrote a small manifesto (a list, really) titled:

What Are The Reality Hackers Doing

1: Using high technology for a life beyond limits

2: Expanding the effectiveness and enjoyment of the human brain, mind, nervous system and senses

3: Blurring the distinction between science fiction and reality

4: Making big bureaucracy impossible

5: Entertaining any notion — using what works

6: Infusing new energy into postmodern culture

7: Using hardcore anthropology to understand human evolution

8: Using media to send out mutational memes (thought viruses)

9: Blurring the distinctions between high technology and magic

10: Replacing nerd mythology with sexy, healthy, aesthetic, & artful techno-magicians of both genders.

With this, I was also aligning the magazine ideologically with a transhumanist agenda.  I’d attended meetings of a nanotechnology interest group hosted by Christine Peterson and, sometimes, Eric Drexler.  I started to see the actual dim outlines of a plausible “total fucking transmutation of everything;” with molecular technology giving us total productive control over matter for unlimited wealth; biotechnology giving us the potential for positive mutations in the human organism; and neurotechnology theoretically allowing us to maximize our intelligence — not too mention cleaner, better highs with no downside.

Of course, we were maybe throwing away four years building a brand but, if we were anything, we were impulsive.

Ken Jopp: Reality Hackers was, to me, inelegantly titled. Still, the cyberpunk thing was revving up.  The weekly tabloid in my town ran a cover story on hackers: teenagers who lugged computers into phone booths, and then, when nobody was looking, they made long-distance calls for free! This was subversive stuff. Off the Establishment! I bought the issue of Reality Hackers and adopted it and its kin as a cultural security blanket.  These proto-Mondo publications, arriving during the Dark Ages of President Ronald Wilson Reagan (666), were a source of what later would become hollowed out to form a tinhorn. I mean, Hope and Change?

Lord Nose: I think it kept getting more and more mainstream in hopes of getting on to the newsstand and getting advertisers. It was being slowly made more palatable — or seemingly palatable — for the corporate interests that had no taste. I mean, it was so different. High Frontiers had a very different thrust.

Jeff Mark: Those of us serious about psychedelic exploration continued. Indeed, there was considerable activity, particularly around Tim Leary and Terence McKenna, but the momentum was spent. People started worrying about making a living.  High Frontiers/Reality Hackers had to get their shit together. 

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

Paradise Is Santa Cruz: First Ecstasy (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #15)

William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

Ted Nelson & John Perry Barlow For MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #17)

R.U. A Cyberpunk? Well, Punk? R.U.? (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry # 18

The New Edge At The New Age Convention (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #19)

The Belladonna Shaman (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #20)

NeoPsychedelia & High Frontiers: Memes Leading To MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #21)

“I’d Never Met A Libertarian Before” (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #22)

 

May 22 2012

Ted Nelson & John Perry Barlow For MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #17)

“I went to a party on Nelson’s Sausalito houseboat and wound up in a house in San Rafael in a scenario that involved some folks I’d met at Nelson’s party — three beautiful hookers, John Gilmore and a chimpanzee wearing bondage gear and assless chaps…”

John Perry Barlow and Ted Nelson blew into Mondo space around the same time…  probably mid-1990, as the magazine was just taking off. At the time, Barlow was fresh off the farm… that is to say, it’s my impression that he’d been laying low as a gentleman rancher in Pinedale, Wyoming for many years and was just starting to get into the wind. (He’s been running around at a fair pace in the wider world ever since.)

Morgan Russell had met him at some public event and was bringing him around to meet us.  I remember that there was some fair warning that Barlow was coming around… and that he was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, which I knew nothing about.  At the time, I thought Robert Hunter wrote all the words for the group.  I was not, obviously, a deadhead, but was nevertheless excited to meet someone connected to their scene.

The actual meeting is a blur, although I do remember we gathered around the fireplace and talked agreeably for a long time.  Did he give us $1,000 right then and there to help with the project, or was that later?   How the money happened for those transitional Mondo moments is a curiosity to me… one that will be explored in more depth in the History Project book.

I’m pretty sure that Ted Nelson smoked his first DMT on his first visit to the Mondo house and that he found it impressive.  Some time very soon thereafter, I went to a party on Nelson’s Sausalito houseboat and wound up in a house in San Rafael in a scenario that involved some folks I’d met at Nelson’s party — three beautiful hookers, John Gilmore and a chimpanzee wearing bondage gear and assless chaps…  but that story I will hold for the book itself.  (And I’m only lying about the chimp.)

In this unpublished segment from an hours-long chat between the two — really organized as an interview with Ted — Nelson goes into his rap about “biostatus.”  He had explained his biostatus concept to myself and Russell one time, sitting in his office at Autodesk and, to be honest, I couldn’t quite grasp the novelty of it as it sounded like basic sociobiology (Nelson seemed surprised that I knew of such things.).  Maybe it’s a behaviorally-specific exfoliation of sociobiology… a few years before people started talking about evolutionary psychology?

This was during a brief period where the hacker genius John Walker — cofounder of Autodesk,  the famously successful Sausalito, California-based producers of AutoCAD, let the experimental freaks in.

At some point around 1988, Walker, as head of Autodesk decided to use the company’s wealth to experiment. There was the Virtual Reality project, worked on by Eric Gullichsen among others. “Cyberpunk” SF writer and math genius Rudy Rucker was hired to create a Cellular Automata program called CelLab, and James Gliek’s CHAOS.  

And perhaps most interestingly, our man Ted was gifted with the opportunity to try to achieve the Xanadu vision —I always understood it as a hypertextual project linking everything to everything in an ever-evolving and highly intelligent way (and with much more intentionally than… say…  Google).

Owen Rowley was also there in some capacity, and those of you who know Owen Rowley (rhymes with Crowley) know just how cool that is.

A monthly speaker’s program featured Timothy Leary and Todd Rundgren, among others.

As you can guess, it was an interesting (and casual) place to spend an afternoon. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but at some point, fiscal responsibility (some might say sanity) returned, John Walker moved on, and Autodesk returned to its core task.  Carol Bartz became CEO.  You’ve heard of her.

The conversation between Nelson and Barlow took place in a restaurant in Sausalito and was published in 1990 in MONDO 2000 Issue #4 under the title “Caverns Measureless To Man: An Interview with Xanadu Founder Ted Nelson by John Perry Barlow.”

Listen to Nelson tell Barlow about “biostatus”

Listen to the audio now:

 

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

Paradise Is Santa Cruz: First Ecstasy (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #15)

William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

 

 

May 20 2012

William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

 

“Cyberpunk today is mainly like a Pantone chip in the Pantone culture-wheel. ‘Those pants are sort of cyberpunk.’ ‘That video has a sort of retro-cyberpunk feel.’”

We were honored that William Gibson agreed to talk to us for the upcoming MONDO 2000 History Project book about MONDO… and about the ‘90s cyberculture in general and how it looks today.  The interview was conducted by Simone Lackerbauer (with my kibitzing).  These are a few fragments.

Gibson was incorporated into the first “cyberpunk” edition of the magazine via a somewhat devious route, as discussed here.

 

ABOUT CYBERPUNK, MONDO & UNDERGROUND MAGAZINES

Underground magazines had been very important to me. I started with Mad and Cracked, which may not have been formally underground, but were, initially and in terms of context, decidedly off-center, and I remember buying the issue of The Realist with the pornographic faux-Disney centerfold. MONDO 2000 was clearly an underground magazine, and as such I was definitely glad it was there.

I had never thought that the “cyberpunk” label was particularly a good thing, but it obviously wasn’t going away too quickly, so I’d generally shrug and go along with it. I doubted the immortality hackers were going to live forever, the idea of smart drugs didn’t do anything for me, but the attitude was fun. Just the fact that the thing existed, and popped up on fairly normal magazine stands, was cheering.

I’d say it was arguably the representative underground magazine of its pre-Web day. It was completely outside what commercial magazines were assumed to be about, but there it was, beside the commercial magazines. Could that even happen, today?

Posterity, looking at this, should also consider MONDO 2000 as a focus of something that was happening, rather than  exclusively as a broadcast-point. It was a brave magazine, but it was also a magazine of its day. Stuff was happening all over, with no Internet to pass it instantly around.

 

MONDO & TIME

I wasn’t surprised by the rise of Mondo. Something was clearly afoot, memewise. I wondered about the thing’s durability. Winding up on the cover of Time – what does that do? How alternative is something that makes the cover of Time? Of course, that was when Time was still Time, sort of, but I also wondered, after that, how seriously one should take Time? It wasn’t as though I ever read it, ordinarily.

 

MONDO & WIRED

Wired never felt like Mondo, to me. It never felt like an underground magazine, but neither did it occur to me that it was MONDO 2000 tuned down for straight people. I’d assume the difference had more to do with the business model. They definitely had one.

 

90S CYBERCULTURE

I think that whole scene in the 90s  was in some ways the cultural equivalent of all the glorious hype of the Space Age. The iconic babe in the VR goggles and gloves! Iconics, heroics… The difference would be that the end result was somehow akin to the invention of habitable space!

 

TIMOTHY LEARY

We’d bump into one another on the VR rubber chicken circuit. Barcelona, Linz, Venice…  He was really great to have at your table. Kept the evening in flux. And people would come up to him and give him drugs, which he’d give to someone else, usually a perfect stranger, as soon as the gifter was gone. He said that this was a win-win proposition, as the first person could now say that he’d given drugs to Timothy Leary, and the second person that Timothy Leary had given him drugs. I never saw him look to see what was in the envelope.

 

THE VR & SMART DRUGS HYPE

Evidently we didn’t need either one, at least not as we (sub)culturally imagined them then. We do, in fact, now constantly inhabit a sort of blended VR, but we now assume that we don’t need the goggles as long as whatever’s on the screen is sufficiently engrossing. And the distinction between real and virtual continues to blur. The virtual is colonizing the real, but generally in ways we don’t notice. VR was predicated on a notion of  real/virtual that now seems very last-century. Our grandchildren won’t be able to readily imagine where we were at, with that one!

Smart drugs were something I read about. After my time. Had I ever encountered anyone who struck me as 20 IQ points up from where they ordinarily were, I’d have paid it very close attention. (It’s difficult to imagine what that would even look like.) But if it was just a sort of temporary cognitive fine tuning, I didn’t find it that intriguing.

 

ON WRITING THE NEW “CYBER” SF

Whatever I did emerged from the need to find a way to write SF that I could stand to write, that I could live with. That led me to replace outer space with cyberspace, and everything I’ve done since has grown out of that. But I had the advantage of almost accidentally having latched on to the most powerfully emergent technology of my day as a subject.

 

REGARDING THE ’90S UTOPIANISM

I never though that cyborgs and virtual worlds were particularly utopian, so I’ve never been disappointed. The world is always more interesting than some futurist’s vision. If you think it’s not, you’re not really looking.

 

THE SINGULARITY

The Singularity has always sounded to me like a secular version of the Rapture. It seems to fit very neatly into that same God-shaped hole. We’re been there before. I like us better when we aren’t.

 

NOT A FUTURIST

I don’t have thoughts about the future. I probably have fewer than the average person. I’m not a fortune-teller. I construct very large, highly inaccurate models in my head, built from memory and random junk, and run them. Sometimes they seem to have predicted things, in some very vague way, that happen later, but I don’t think of that as prediction. It’s closer to augury, and I can’t do it without, so to speak, pulling the entrails from a real bird. Otherwise, the last thing I am is someone who walks around knowing what the future’s going to be.

 

CYBERPUNK TODAY

Cyberpunk today is mainly like a Pantone chip in the Pantone culture-wheel. “Those pants are sort of cyberpunk.” “That video has a sort of retro-cyberpunk feel.” We know what that means. If someone says “her attitude is very cyberpunk”, I don’t think we’re as certain of what’s meant. I’m not sure what this means, but I do think it indicates something. In a cyberworld, there’s no need for the suffix, and ours is a cyberworld. In a cyberworld, cyberpunk is punk. But it’s not punk if you call it “cyberpunk”.

 

WHO WE ARE

Who we are is largely who we meet. Cities are machines that randomize contact. The Internet is a meta-city, meta-randomizing contact. I now “know” more people than I would ever have imagined possible, because of that. It changes who I am and what I can do.

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

Paradise Is Santa Cruz: First Ecstasy (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #15)

May 06 2012

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

After the confident declarations of inevitable cyberpunk youth takeover in the first edition of Mondo 2000 and the philosophically trippy and mostly utopian read on Virtual Reality in #2, it was inevitable that affairs in the world would bring us crashing down to earth… at least a little.  The third edition revolved largely around the hacker crackdown that was called Operation Sundevil — a situation in which a confused and clueless law enforcement establishment pursued crimes they didn’t understand on a terrain they hadn’t realized existed.

Issues #4 and #5 found us, meanwhile, reacting to Operation Desert Storm — the first full-on return to American Triumphalism since the Vietnam war turned sour in… what?… 1968?  We weren’t watching much TV at the Mondo house/office but I remember CNN being on as a sort of background phenomenon during the run-up to the war.

This was the first time the media’s inevitable participation in the sort of unquestioning jingoist war propaganda that we’re always treated to during the run-up to a major intervention was ginned up by computerized special effects.  And prideful current and former military leaders sharing technical details about shiny new weapons systems would bring irresistible frisson to certain types of technophiles.  Smart bombs!  Wowee!  Well, as John Fogerty sang, “It ain’t me.”

President George H.W. Bush even enunciated the idea of a “New World Order” spawning a million new byzantine conspiracy theories that have iterated and turned into ever-weirder and more complex alternative realities since.

As for me, I organized a radio show called “New World Disorder” on KALX fm in Berkeley with Don Joyce from Negativland and wrote an editorial in #4, also titled “New World Disorder.”  But more on that (including some audio) in a later post.

In issue #5, John Perry Barlow took up the antiwar banner identifying Desert Storm as the first Virtual War in the layout and text provided below.

Don’t get me wrong.  Mondo wasn’t freakin’ Mother Jones or something.  The rest of the edition featured an erotic quantum physics limerick; newer smart drugs; the cyber-surrealism of Mark Leyner in the immediate aftermath of his incomparable Et Tu, Babe; a gigantic section on industrial music; Mark Dery deconstructing machine sex and sex machines; a much criticized spread with lovely ladies with their bare nipples shining through microchips; and speaking of smart bombshells, that cover you see is Dr. Fiorella Terenzi who talked to us about her music of the galaxies.  I was told later that every male in the building — except me — stopped work that afternoon to gather in the art room where the interview took place.  Was I noble?  No,  I was shut in my office working on something… completely unaware.  I was the editor-in-chief and nobody told me a damn thing.

Oh it might also be worth mentioning that we scrambled the names of two avant-garde guitarists on the cover, leading to embarrassment followed by some theorizing about “Art Damage” in the next edition.

Anyway, here’s “Virtual Nintendo” by John Perry Barlow from issue #5 of Mondo 2000. 

R.U. Sirius

Below the scan of the actual magazine, you will find a purely textual version of the article.

 

Mondo2000 Issue 5

 

VIRTUAL NINTENDO 

by John Perry Barlow

It is precisely when it appears most truthful that the image is most diabolical.
-Jean Baudrillard

Like most Americans last February, I was hooked on the new CNN sports series War in the Gulf. It didn’t sound strange to me when a friend said he didn’t know whether he wanted to watch the War or the Lakers game that evening. They were fairly indistinguishable. Both commentated by fatuous men well removed from the action. Indeed, in the case of the War, one wondered if there even was any action. The closest one got to that was the occasional footage of people scurrying around in the darkness following a Scud warning, followed by a blurry flash of distant fireworks as the Patriot took out the Scud.

Which was, in a way, a perfect metaphor for the abstraction and bloodlessness of this new form of combat. A missile would emerge without any tangible point of origin, its senders anonymous and devoid of human characteristics. A machine would detect it, another would plot its trajectory, and a third would rush out to kill it. It was like an academic argument. Flesh and bone were miles away from anything that might rend them.

Finally, after weeks of this shadowboxing, it was determined that the map of Kuwait had been sufficiently revised that it was now safe to send in live Americans. Personally, I still had such fear of the Republican Guard that I thought we should soften them some more. What I thought we faced was an army as large as ours, toughened by almost a decade of the nastiest combat since World War I, comprised of Muslim fanatics, each convinced that death in battle was just a quicker trip to Paradise. Certainly more than a match for a bunch of rag-tag American kids who’d joined the military because they couldn’t get a job at the 7-11.

Then we saw them for the first time. Trying to surrender to the Italian television crew through whose cameras they were beamed to us, they looked hapless and confused. They were devastated refugees from the real world, trying desperately to enter the sanctuary of the Screen, a sanctuary we had enjoyed throughout this affair whether in an armchair in Terre Haute or at the bombardier’s workstation in a B-52.

More video arrived of the areas we had been softening. I realized for the first time, astonishingly enough — that there had been people down there. The Republican Guard was not a thing. It was a bunch of human beings, with wives, and best friends, and babies who loved to be thrown in the air. The charred and contorted remains I saw would toss no more babies. Indeed, they didn’t even look all that soft, more like briquettes than people.

A wave of revulsion and shame hit me. Like most everyone in America, I had been suckered. I had become part of what Hannah Arendt, referring to the Nazi bureaucratization of murder, had called “the banality of evil.” What I had seen of the war had been a computer generated simulation; with perhaps higher production values than Nintendo, but otherwise the same. I had been placed in a reality which was sufficiently complex to seem like the real thing even though it was entirely manufactured.

A far more persuasive reality had been in the bunkers where several hundred thousand human beings had been treated to explosives which first sucked all the air out of their lungs and then roasted them alive. Meanwhile, the object of this exercise — the Butcher of Baghdad — in whose place we butchered so many ourselves, is still in power. In fact, he is there because we want him there.

According to James Derderian, a defense analyst at the University of Massachusetts, the War in the Gulf was a precise replay of a computer simulation which had been constructed in the summer of 1990 before Saddam invaded Kuwait. Called “Operation Internal Look 90,” the simulation had been accurate all the way to victory. Trouble was, it had included no endgame. The screen went blank end of the tape, and so did the administration. They looked up, blinked in the light of the real world, and said, “Holy Shiite! If Saddam goes, he’ll be replaced by something worse!” No one had given that much thought while the exercise was in progress.

But never mind that. Saddam was old news. The camera was now on the Victory Parade. A patriotic exercise with my countrymen staggering on in TV hypnosis. The massacre, in which we may have incinerated as many as 400,000 while losing 179 of our own troops, was pronounced a great and courageous victory.

Not since Agincourt, when the technology of the English long-bow thoroughly undid the French, has there been such an unfair fight. But at least the English had the grace to mourn the French. They had been in direct contact with the humanity they had snuffed out. For us, it was a statistical exercise.

Suddenly, I realized that my America has become the most dangerous country the world has ever known. We are a country of unspeakable and unchallengable military power which is now under the impression that war is as easy, cheap, and fun as a Lakers game. In the field, we are so abstracted by our weapons systems that we can slaughter an army and never see a dead man. At home, we are so abstracted by television that we can commit these atrocities and then celebrate the courage of our executioners with ticker tape and Budweiser commercials.

Now America can’t wait to kick some more ass. America’s a vacant-eyed man in middle age, his lumpish belly barely contained in his Desert Storm t-shirt, yelling at his kids. The polls tell me he represents the overwhelming majority of Americans, 78% of whom say that the “victory in the Gulf’ makes them “feel better about America.”

Not me. For the first time, 1 am genuinely ashamed of my country.

And angry.

The object of my wrath is as virtual as its cause. I can’t blame Dick Cheney or Pete Williams, both old friends of mine. In removing the merciless eye of the camera from any real gore, they were only doing what I would have done in their position. Many lessons were learned from Vietnam, one of which is that if the folks back home can see Hell, they’ll want to leave it. Given that Cheney had been told by the President and Congress to conduct a war, he set about, in his crisp analytical way, to see that it was done right this time. This meant exposing no voter to its reality until it was too late for anyone to object.

Thus when Bush exulted “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all,” he meant merely that he had figured out how to give war a new lease on death-by keeping it at a distance and transposing another, denatured, reality between the electorate and barbecued bodies.

The enemy then is Mediated Information. This is a new, almost concrete form of abstraction we have developed, which Jean Baudrillard referred to when he wrote: “Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a ‘real’ without origin or reality: a hyperreal”

It is this “hyperreality” which has become the new and terrible American Dream. And it is a lucid dream, subject to selective mutation by the Dreamer. As long as we remain in it, no atrocity is beyond us, for we have kicked the Reality Syndrome once and for all.

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)