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nettime: The English Ideology and WIRED Magazine Part III - Mark Stahlman

From: Mark Stahlman <newmedia@mcimail.com>
Date: Nov. 22 1996

The English Ideology and WIRED Magazine  Part III

Techno-Utopianism: The Final Imperial Solution 

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 its 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 "Declaration of Independence for 
Cyberspace," published in WIRED, 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-reason." 

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 

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 grab bag 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 reprogram 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 he 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 

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 retrain the masses which he openly despised. And, following 
WWII, 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

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 premature death to half or more of the 
earth's population and it will represent the deliberate scrapping and then 
forgetting of humanity's greatest achievements. 

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 think tank, the 
Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF), and a past geopolitical 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 five percent 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 twelve to fifteen 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. From 
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 counseling. 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 natives. 

Vlahos/PFF/Gingrich and WIRED/GBN/Brand and Wells/Toffler/"Open Conspiracy". 
What is the ideology 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 

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