Geert Lovink on Thu, 21 Nov 96 10:17 MET

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nettime: The English Ideology Part II by Mark Stahlman

[Copyright New Media Associates, 1996]

Mark Stahlman: Part II -- "The English Ideology and WIRED Magazine"

Techno-Utopianism: The Final Imperial Solution

But, it's not sufficient to demonstrate the intellectual genealogy of
WIRED to fully describe their tight affiliation with the English
ideology.  There is a crucial component of the technological and
biologically deterministic utopian worldview at the core of
WIRED's "content" which must be carefully situated as well. 
WIRED's techno-utopianism is merely the modern expression of
H.G. Wells' attempts in the first half of this century to construct a
technocratic global empire ruled by a new elite -- much like the
audience that WIRED seeks to rally behind its now digital but still
self-consciously revolutionary banner.  

In its various forms, following Thomas More's coining of the term
"Utopia" with the publishing of his book with that title in 1516,
utopian writing and, indeed, utopian social experiments tended
to be pastoral and, if anything, anti-technology.  It was H.G. Wells
who changed all that with his 1905 publication of his novel, "A
Modern Utopia" (one of the few of his 20th century works which is
still in print).  And, it was Wells who initiated the entire inquiry into
a technology-defined future (and, indeed, launched the field now
known as futurism) in his seminal 1902 essay, "Anticipations."

While Wells is popularly known as the first true science fiction
writer, he lived for 50 years after he completed his cycle of four
major sci-fi novels in 1897.  During this half century, he was very
busy designing the future of the British Empire -- the Third Rome as
he put it (or as Toffler would later put it, the Third Wave) -- as a
vision of a world knit together by communications and
transportation technologies and controlled by a new class of
technocrats.  What Wells' described in volume after volume
throughout the rest of his life (both in fictional and essay format) is
indistinguishable from the digital revolution WIRED hopes to lead. 
It's a post-industrial world that has abandoned the nation-state in
favor of Wells' World State, that has scrapped the premises of it's
industrial past, embraced the scarcity of an anti-growth
economics and based itself on the emergence of a newly
indoctrinated post-civilization humanity.

Wells had devoted himself to organizing a world revolution based
on technology, synthetic religion and mass mind-control -- the
same revolution discussed monthly in the pages of WIRED.  In
Wells' "A Modern Utopia", the rulers are called the "New Samurai"
and they are a caste of scientist/priests who social-engineer the
global society Wells called the "World State."  John Perry Barlow's
WIRED-published, "Declaration of Independence for Cyberspace"
would have made Wells very happy, I have no doubt.  Yes, that's
Wells' "World State" lurking in the margins of Barlow's manifesto
despite his waffling on the specifics of future forms of
"governance" -- except to say that the future of politics will be
conveniently  (from the social engineer's standpoint) "post-

But, aren't I heading straight into the jaws of an overwhelming
and categorical contradiction?  Wells was certainly no free-
marketeer.  He was a professed socialist and WIRED appears on
its face to be thoroughly free-market capitalist.  How could I
claim any affinity between the British radical liberals and Wells
(and with both and WIRED)?  Aren't I just gluing together two sets
of intellectual forebears -- who both just happen to be English? 
How do I avoid the "bizarre fusion" description favored by
Barbrook/Cameron?  In the end, doesn't my English ideology
argument collapse as just another curious historical accident
combine with an overworked imagination?

I don't think so.  Despite the naked attempt to rescue Well's
socialist legacy in a recent biography by the past-head of the
British Labour Party, Michael Foot, Wells was indeed a very
strange socialist.  Likewise, when the substance of its arguments
are carefully considered, WIRED strikes the pose of a very odd
sort of capitalist.   I'm convinced that they both choose to adopt
protective coloring to enhance their stature in their respective
times and places but that, just beneath the surface, they are both
simply utopian/corporativists -- the same ideological impulse
which gave rise to Fascism -- and not what they may appear to
be to the more casual and, too often, more credulous observer.  

Both WIRED and Wells are, in fact, utopians and elitists with
overarching ambitions of leading a world revolution.  This
revolution is intended to produce radical economic and political
transformation which would put their ilk in charge of running a
new worldwide empire.  From a strategic standpoint --
fundamental goals and premises -- Wells, WIRED (and their
common antecedent the anti-human radical Liberals) were/are
all fighting for the same new imperial outcome.  While there are
certainly many tactical twists and turns in this plot over the
centuries, this entire grabbag is precisely what I've been referring
to as the English ideology -- the ideology behind a global empire
which combines an anything-goes small-scale private life
(libertarianism) with rigidly defined large-scale constraints
(technocracy).  If you would like another description of the same
utopian ying-yang, refer to Jaron Lanier's November 1995
editorial in the SPIN magazine issue on the future and his
characterization of the Stewards (technocrats) and the Extropians
(libertarians) as the post-political poles of discourse.

Wells' dalliance with the Fabian Society (he tried to take it over
by promoting free-love to the wives of its board members) may
be one of the sources of confusion leading to Wells' apparent
"socialist" credentials.  But, as even a cursory reading of Wells'
quickly demonstrates, their was absolutely no room for working
class revolt (or certainly working class leadership) in Wells'
worldview.  He was thoroughly convinced that the downtrodden
could never lead or even comprehend the revolution he saw
coming.  Wells' life was dedicated to organizing a completely
new class of technical and social scientific experts -- technocrats
-- who would assume control of a world driven to collapse and
ruin by workers and capitalists alike.  Wells wanted to completely
re-program humanity -- through the creation of a synthetic
religion -- and, like all utopians, had no affection for the
commoner of his time at all.  Wells considered socialism, in its
various Social Democratic to Marxist manifestations, to be a string
of completely anachronistic failures and a throwback to the era
of human folly and self-destruction which Wells sought to leap
past -- much like Toffler dismissing nation-states and
representative democracy as "Second Wave."

In fact, Wells was very clear what sort of corporativist world he
wanted when identified the earliest of the multinational
corporations as the fledgling model of his ideal economic
organization.  In his 1920's novel, "The World of William Chissolm",
and the companion essay, "Imperialism and The Open
Conspiracy", Wells cites early multi-nationals as the only kind of
globe-spanning (and, therefore, anti-nation-state) economic
structures which could embody his revolutionary principles.  He
chides both government and business leaders who think that any
remnant of the still British-nation-centered Empire could survive
and calls on the heads of multinationals to join in forming the
vanguard of his revolutionary "Open Conspiracy."

He also published extensively about the inevitable scrapping of
democracy and any form of popular rule in his World State.  His
"New Samurai" were volunteers who pledged their lives to the
pure experience of ruling as a new caste of priest/scholars.  No
elections, no parliament, no hereditary titles and no buying your
way in, Wells was clear that his new ruling class would be a
religious elite with global reach.  He even predicted that a new
field of inquiry, which he termed Social Psychology, would arise
and become the "soul of the race" by developing social control
techniques which would systematically re-train the masses which
he openly despised.  And, following WW II, the core of British and
American psychological warfare leadership created just such
field to pursue worldwide social engineering.  H.G. Wells was a
very strange "socialist", indeed.

Oh, he did call for the abolition of all socially significant private
property.  But, then so has WIRED with their repeated claims that
in the Information Age intellectual property will disappear in
cyberspace -- a posture that has not gone unnoticed in the more
orthodox neo-liberal circles as demonstrated by Peter Huber's
scathing critique of WIRED in his piece for SLATE, "Tangled Wires." 
Such a call for abolishing property was also featured by the
native U.S. fascist movement, Technocracy -- which was
launched out of the Columbia University Engineering Department
with 1932 nationwide radio broadcast.  In fact, while Wells
rejected the offered allegiance to his "Open Conspiracy" by
native British fascist, Oswald Moseley, he did it by pointing out
that "what we need is some more liberal fascists."  Being
educated as he was, Wells surely understood (and I believe
embraced) the philosophical heritage of radical "liberalism."

As a matter of fact, independent economic sovereignty (the
essence of politically effective private property) is what Wells
(and all his empire building successors have) objected to.  It is
the independence of large scale economic forces -- particularly
those associated with strong nation-states -- that both Wells and
the radical Liberals both objected to so forcefully.  It is only such
forces, operating with determination and resolve, that function as
a bulwark against empires like Wells' World State.  Despite their
surface appearance of conflict, WIRED-style free-marketeering
and Wells' "Open Conspiracy" both lead to the same political-
economic outcome -- oligarchist/corporativist control of a global
economy.  This is why the modern intellectual progenitor of
modern libertarianism, Hayek, spent his career at the nominally
Fabian socialist London School of Economics alongside Keynes,
they were simply two birds of the same feather.  Another ying-
yang twinned pairing pointing to a common endgame.

While it admittedly flies in the face of conventional
categorization, right-wing and left-wing utopian/oligarchists are
still fundamentally and most significantly utopian/oligarchists --
even if their protective plumage might temporarily succeed in
confusing some birdwatchers.  They differ merely on the tactics,
while presenting a home for confused fellow-travellers of all
persuasions, while they thump for the same 1000 year empire and
imagine themselves sitting behind the steering wheel.  This should
be no more confusing than watching Alvin Toffler, and his wife
Heidi, move from active Communist Party membership and
factory floor colonization to becoming chief advisors to Newt
Gingrich.  Tactics may change; the strategy remains unaltered.

The New Dark Age

What sort of future do the futurists see for us?  Despite the sugar-
coated promises of wealth and power being held out to those
who make the cut and get inducted into the supreme religious
cult which gets to play imperial Wizard of Oz, the reality of a
Wells/WIRED future won't be nearly so cinematic for most
earthlings.  As every honest futurist has admitted, the future will be
painful and pointless for most who survive.  The Information Age
will be a Dark Age.  It will bring pre-mature death to half or more
of the earth's population and it will represent the deliberate
scrapping and then forgetting of humanity's greatest

Perhaps, the harsh truth of the Information Age was best
described in Michael Vlahos' January 1995 speech, "ByteCity -or-
Life After the Big Change."  Vlahos is a Senior Fellow at Newt
Gingrich's thinktank, the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF),
and a past geo-political analyst who has led PFF's exploration of
implementing the Toffler/Wells plans.  Vlahos presents a terrifying
future scenario roughly 20 years in the future in which society has
stratified into elites and gangs.  In fact, life is so threatening in
ByteCity that we spent most of our time in our rooms staring at
wall sized vidscreens -- if we're lucky enough to have a room,
that is.

Vlahos' world is run by stateless modern robber-barons, which he
terms the "Brain Lords" and which he characterizes as "rampaging
not through the landscape but making billions in the ether." 
These new aristocrats will come from the merger of
telecommunications and entertainment multinational giants and
much like in Wells' formulation, the "Brain Lords" do not inherit
their class status and they will burn out from looting at an early
age.  After 40 they will retire to run the world.  They will comprise
5% of the population, he says.  They are Wells' "New Samurai."

Below them he stratifies in the "Upper Servers" and the "Agents"
who comprise another 20% who will spend their lives destroying
the value of professional education and association in a vicious
"information" driven chase for individual recognition.  Below that,
roughly 50% of the population lives as service workers slaving 12-
15 hours a day in front their living-room vidscreens "servicing"
their global clients in a world that respects no time zones.

And the bottom 25%, who, if they are not pacified will provide
ample motivation for people to stay indoors to avoid being
attacked by roving gangs, are what Vlahos calls "The Lost." 
Roughly twice as large a population share as those who were
discarded by the Industrial Revolution in Britain according to
Vlahos, "The Lost" are those that will never become a functioning
part of "ByteCity."  Sustained by modern "Victorians" who know
the threat posed by the poor, "The Lost" are merely the most
wretched of the wretches.  Life all the way up the line from "lost"
to "lord" will entail such radical disruption of personal safety and
well-being that, in effect, Vlahos has turned dystopian cyberpunk
literature into a policy statement.  Naturally, expecting to rise to
the top, Vlahos appears to feverishly await the "Big Change."

No less chilling is the scenarios planning exercise that WIRED's
wizards-behind-the-curtain perform on their multi-national clients. 
&gtFrom General Motors to AT&T, the Global Business Network (GBN)
charges hefty sums to show the yellow-brick-road towards
"ByteCity" to strategic planners and top corporate brass.  In one
recent and rare public discussion of the results, GM's top planning
team defined the three "alternative futures" which emerged after
years of GBN counciling.  The first is just like our world and, so by
definition, is not very interesting.  The second is an eco-fascist
regime in which car designs are completely "Green" and the
companies can only follow orders.  The third is the fun one,
however.  This is the world in which armed gangs roam the streets
and surface travel is a series of car chases.  This scenario has
already been anticipated with a Cadillac that includes armored
protection and a "panic" button installed in the middle of the
dashboard.  The car has a satellite tracking system built in and it
can call the local authorities (presumably your multi-national's
private swat-team) and get help when you get trapped by the

Vlahos/PFF/Gingrich and WIRED/GBN/Brand and 
Wells/Toffler/"Open Conspiracy".  What ideology is being
expressed by all these 20th century New Dark Age
"revolutionaries"?  Is this ideology "Californian"?  Or, does it have
another historical context and another tribal association?  I
merely suggest that accuracy, intellectual faithfulness and
international solidarity require us to pin the tail on the real
(Benthamite) donkey.  This is the English ideology and, as usual,
its hell-bent on ruling the world -- over our dead bodies.

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