Bruce Sterling on Sun, 9 Mar 97 04:12 MET

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nettime: more leakage from the WELL Tide Pool

Topic 200 [wired]:  Goofy Leftists Sniping at WIRED
#804 of 817: Peter Ludlow (ludlow)      Sat Mar  8 '97 (08:40)     8 lines

 I never thought I would see the day when someone could be branded post-
 modern for defending the Enlightenment.  But it has happened, and who
 else besides Stahlman would be so utterly confused as to do it.

 <bruces>, since Mr. Stahlman is complaining of his mistreatment to the
 on Nettime, I think it is only fair that they see a sample of our
  and unfair criticism.  Would you please repost my initial criticism to

(((No sooner said than done -- obliging x-poster

Topic 200 [wired]:  Goofy Leftists Sniping at WIRED
#662 of 818: Peter Ludlow (ludlow)      Sun Mar  2 '97 (03:23)   152 lines

 As long as pointing out factual errors is the sport of the week, I
 thought I would go back to the Stahlman essay "The English
 Ideology and WIRED Magazine" which is reprinted in topic 268.

 I'll focus primarily on the "English Ideology" end of things, since I
 am in no position to speculate on the intentions of WIRED
 management.  I marvel that Stahlman is able to do so on such
 slender evidence, but perhaps he has abilities that I do not.

 I won't speak to the whole piece, but just certain key portions.  Let's
 begin with the following rather remarkable passage:

 >You can be certain that the free-markets, "invisible
 >hands" and the libertarian thought patterns that have
 >motivated WIRED publisher Louis Rossetto since his college days
 >are all very proper and all very English, indeed.
 >First there was Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon, then Locke
 >and Hume and tm, Smith and the Mills (then
 >Bertrand Russell and H.G. Wells).  The intellectual movement
 >named after these Englishmen has been dubbed the
 >Enlightenment and it is billed as a radical break with dogma-
  >based religious authority ostensibly in favor of human reason.

 <sigh>...Where to begin.

 In the first place, David Hume and Adam Smith were not English,
 but were Scots.  That might not matter to Stahlman, but it does to
 the Scots.  (The point is significant in the case of Smith, since
 Scotland historically had a tradition of Roman Law with which
 Smith was familiar and which by some accounts figured in his
 theory of contractual obligation as well as in his broader theory.)

 The Scots won't be the only ones offended by Stahlman's version of
 intellectual history.  Apparently the French Enlightenment is of no
 account in Stahlman's eyes.  What are we to say about
 Enlightenment giants like Voltaire and Rousseau?  Or are we to
 view them as stooges of the English (and Scots)?  The same might
 be asked about the German Enlightenment.  Is Kant an intellectual
 stooge of the English?

 Secondly, while people will argue about the dates of the
 Enlightenment, the figures that Stahlman seems to associate with
 it fall outside of the period by CENTURIES.  Most would say that
 the Enlightenment would fall within the 17th and 18th Centuries.
 How Bertrand Russell and H.G. Wells figure in this is beyond me
 (Russell only died in 1970).  But even John Stuart Mill
 falls in the 19th century.  If I wanted to nitpick I would take
 exception to including Bacon as an Enlightenment figure, but there
 are enough catastrophic errors so as to make nitpicking a waste of

  >Bullocks, as Barbrook would say.  Instead, the Enlightenment was
  >an attack on the largely continental-based Renaissance and its
  >championing of imagination, creativity, science and freedom,
  >indeed, on human consciousness itself.

 This is false from top to bottom.  It was not an attack on the
 Renaissance.  Indeed on many accounts the Renaissance had played
 itself out, and the Enlightenment was a return to those ideals.  It is
 certainly an outright falsehood to say that the key figures in the
 Enlightenment were opposed to "imagination, creativity, science
 and freedom" (For that matter, it is false to say that any of the
 non-Enlightenment figures from other centuries dragged in by
 Stahlman were opposed to imagination, creativity, science and
 freedom.  Think about Bertrand Russell, for crying out loud.)  These
 are the figures whose lives were monuments to imagination,
 creativity, etc.

 >As a philosophical
 >movement (which did also have a continental component), the
 >Enlightenment is closely associated with attempts to reform and
 >therefore perpetuate the British Empire (many of these
 >"philosophers" were employed by the British East India
 >Company) -- particularly against those Renaissance inspired
 >upstarts like the gang who revolted and won their independence
 >over in America.

 I agree that the Enlightenment is associated with attempts to
 reform the British Empire, but it is also associated with the French
 Revolution and with revolutionary political movements in
 Germany.  What I don't see is that the attempts to reform
 British/French/German governance structures were thereby
 attempts to perpetuate the British Empire or any other empire.

 As for the "many" philosophers who worked for the East
 India Company, the only ones I know of are James Mill
 and his son John Stuart Mill, and  I would be interested to know
 what policies they advocated toward the furtherance of the
 British Empire in that capacity.

 As for the American Revolution, it is usually viewed as being
 philosophically connected with the Enlightenment.  This is the
 first time in my life I've heard someone so confused as to connect it
 with the Renaissance, which was played out several hundred
 years before the American Revolution.  And of course the
 Enlightenment giant John Locke was a key figure in American
 revolutionary political thinking.

  >British radical liberalism was its political form (expressed in our
  >days as libertarianism by way of nominally Austrian but actually
  >London School of Economics professor and Nobel Prize winner,
  >Frederick Hayek).   It's philosophical twin, British radical
  >empiricism (essentially, re-tooled form of  Aristotelianism), is its
  >far-flung and anti-human intellectual form propounding that all
  >knowledge comes from the senses -- denying the uniqueness of
  >human consciousness and laying the foundation for the inevitable
  >degrading of humans to the level of farm animals which always
  >accompanies "liberal" social policy.

 More howlers.  British radical empiricism is not a re-tooled form of
 Aristotelianism, but is completely antithetical to it.  That was the
 point of Bacon's writing on experimental methodology.  One
 *shouldn't*  follow the methods of the Aristotelian Scholastics.

 As for "degrading humans to the level of farm animals", I couldn't
 help but think of John Stuart Mill's remark that he would rather be
 Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.  Of course these figures
 don't deny the uniqueness of human consciousness.  Think about
 Locke on the soul, for example!

 >And, for its obvious role in attempting to
 >address the issue of morality in human affairs, religion was the
 >Enlightenment's arch-enemy -- not because religion was anti-
 >rational, a common but demonstrably ahistoric and ignorant
 >opinion, but because it sought to curtail depravity -- the essence
 >of "liberalism."

 Again completely false.  Rather, the goal of numerous
 Enlightenment figures was to *secure* a foundation for morality by
 cutting it loose from religion (think about Kant here).  The same is
 true of post-Enlightenment ethical thinkers like J.S. Mill.  They
 had very sophisticated normative ethical theories -- certainly not
 theories that would admit depravity.

 > is just the latest installment of the now perennial English-led
 > counter-Renaissance Enlightenment project of the 17th-19th
 > century.  WIRED's philosophical platform is thoroughly derived
 > from this English Enlightenment and, if its program were to ever
 > become broadly successful, the result would only favor the same
 > ilk of oligarchist "reformers" who started this whole ball rolling
 > a few hundred years ago.

 Again, I can't speak to the nature of WIRED's philosophical
 platform, but I can say that virtually every last one of Stahlman's
 claims about the so-called "English Enlightenment" was false.  Not
 just false, but in many cases the claims were ugly smears against
 good and thoughtful figures in intellectual history.  This naturally
 makes me wonder about the level of his scholarship as regards his
 claims about WIRED, H.G. Wells, etc. etc.

Peter Ludlow (

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