Bruce Sterling on Thu, 24 Sep 1998 08:47:16 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> The Manifesto of January 3, 2000

The Manifesto of January 3, 2000
by Bruce Sterling

The rapidly approaching millennium offers a unique cultural opportunity.
After many years of cut-and-paste, appropriation, detournement and
neo-retro ahistoricality, postmodernity is about to end.  Immediately
after the end of the fin de siecle, there will be a sudden and intense
demand for genuine novelty.

Any new year offers a chance for sweeping resolutions and brave efforts at
self-reform.  But the end of a millennium offers a rare and vital
opportunity to bury all that is dead within us and issue proclamations of
particular scope and ambition.

I suspect that a group that can offer a coherent, thoughtful and novel
cultural manifesto on the target date of January 3, 2000 has a profound
opportunity to affect the zeitgeist.  (On January 1, everyone will be too
hung over to read manifestos; on January 2, nobody's computers will work.
So naturally the target date must be January 3.)  In this preliminary
document, I would like to offer a few thoughts on the possible contents of
such a manifesto.

The central issue as the new millennium dawns is technocultural. There are
of course other, more traditional, better-developed issues for humankind.  
Cranky fundamentalism festers here and there; the left is out of ideas
while the right is delusional; income disparities have become absurdly
huge; these things are obvious to all.  However, the human race has
repeatedly proven that we can prosper cheerfully with ludicrous, corrupt
and demeaning forms of religion, politics and commerce.  By stark
contrast, no civilization can survive the physical destruction of its
resource base. It is very clear that the material infrastructure of the
twentieth century is not sustainable.  This is the issue at hand.

We have a worldwide environmental problem.  This is a truism.  But the
unprecedentedly severe and peculiar weather of the late 1990s makes it
clear that this problem is growing acute.  Global warming has been a
lively part of scientific discussion since at least the 1960s, but global
warming is a quotidian reality now.  Climate change is shrouding the globe
in clouds of burning rain forest and knocking points off the GNP of China.  
Everyone can offer a weird weather anecdote now; for instance, I spent a
week this summer watching the sky turn gray with fumes from the blazing
forests of Chiapas.  The situation has been visibly worsening, and will
get worse yet, possibly very much worse.

Society has simply been unable to summon the political or economic will to
deal successfully with this problem by using 20th century methods. That is
because CO2 emission is not centrally a political or economic problem.  
It is a design and engineering problem.  It is a cultural problem and a
problem of artistic sensibility.

New and radical approaches are in order. These approaches should be
originated, gathered, martialled into an across-the board cultural
program, and publicly declared -- on January 3rd.

Global warming is a profound opportunity for the 21st century culture
industry. National governments lack the power and the will to impose
dirigiste solutions to the emission of carbon dioxide.  Dirigiste
solutions would probably not work anyway. It is unlikely that many of us
could tolerate living in a carbon-dioxide Ration State.  It would mean
that almost every conceivable human activity would have to be licensed by
energy commissars.

Industry will not reform its energy base. On the contrary, when it comes
to CO2 legislation, industry will form pressure groups and throw as much
sand as possible into the fragile political wheels.  Industry will use
obscurantist tactics that will mimic those of American right-wing
anti-evolution forces -- we will be told that Global Warming is merely a
"theory," even when our homes are on fire. Industry is too stupid to see
planetary survival as a profit opportunity. But industry is more than
clever enough to sabotage government regulation, especially when
globalized industry can play one government off against the next.

The stark fact that our atmosphere is visibly declining is of no apparent
economic interest except to insurance firms, who will simply make up their
lack by gouging ratepayers and exporting externalized costs onto the
general population.

With business hopeless and government stymied, we are basically left with
cultural activism.  The tools at hand are art, design, engineering, and
basic science:  human artifice, cultural and technical innovation.
Granted, these may not seem particularly likely sources of a serious and
successful effort to save the world.  This is largely because, during the
twentieth century, government and industry swelled to such tremendous
high-modernist proportions that these other enterprises exist mostly in
shrunken subcultural niches.

However, this doesn't have to be the case.  With government crippled and
industry brain-dead to any conceivable moral appeal, the future of
decentered, autonomous cultural networks looks very bright.  There has
never been an opportunity to spread new ideas and new techniques with the
alacrity that they can spread now.  Human energy must turn in some
direction.  People will run from frustration and toward any apparent
source of daylight.  As the planet's levees continue to break, people will
run much faster and with considerably more conviction.

Our cultural substance-abuse problem with CO2 may have very severe
consequences to human happiness, but the immediate physical problem is
rather well understood.  Clever people, united and motivated, should be
able to deal with this.  Carbon dioxide is not a time-honored
philosophical dilemma or some irreducible flaw in the human condition.  
Serious fossil-fuel consumption, as a practice on the grand scale, is only
about 200 years old.  The most severe rise in carbon emission occurred
during the past fifty years.  We're painfully dependent on this practice,
but it's not as if we've married it.

It's a question of tactics.  Civil society does not respond at all well to
moralistic scolding.  There are small minority groups here and there who
are perfectly aware that it is immoral to harm the lives of coming
generations by massive consumption now:  deep Greens, Amish, people
practicing voluntary simplicity, Gandhian ashrams and so forth.  These
public-spirited voluntarists are not the problem.  But they're not the
solution either, because most human beings won't volunteer to live like
they do.  Nor can people be forced to live that way through legal
prescription, because those in command of society's energy resources will
immediately game and neutralize any system of legal regulation.

However, contemporary civil society can be led anywhere that looks
attractive, glamorous and seductive.

The task at hand is therefore basically an act of social engineering.
Society must become Green, and it must be a variety of Green that society
will eagerly consume.  What is required is not a natural Green, or a
spiritual Green, or a primitivist Green, or a blood-and-soil romantic

These flavors of Green have been tried, and have proven to have
insufficient appeal.  We can regret this failure if we like.  If the
semi-forgotten Energy Crisis of the 1970s had provoked a wiser and more
energetic response, we would not now be facing a weather crisis.  But the
past's well-meaning attempts were insufficient, and are now part of the
legacy of a dying century.

The world needs a new, unnatural, seductive, mediated, glamorous Green. A
Viridian Green, if you will.

The best chance for progress is to convince the twenty-first century that
the twentieth century's industrial base was crass, gauche, and filthy.
This approach will work because it is based in the truth.  The twentieth
century lived in filth.  It was much like the eighteenth century before
the advent of germ theory, stricken by septic cankers whose origins were
shrouded in superstition and miasma.  The truth about our physical
existence must be shown to people.  It must be demonstrated repeatedly and

People with networks, websites and sophisticated sensors should not find
this task very difficult.

The current industrial base is outmoded, crass and nasty, but this is not
yet entirely obvious.  Scolding it and brandishing the stick is just part
of the approach.  Proving it requires the construction of an alternative
twenty-first century industrial base which seems elegant, beautiful and
refined.  This effort should not be portrayed as appropriate, frugal, and
sensible, even if it is.  It must be perceived as glamorous and visionary.  
It will be very good if this new industrial base actually functions, but
it will work best if it is spectacularly novel and beautiful.
 If it is accepted, it can be made to work; if it is not accepted, it will
never have a chance to work.

The central target for this social engineering effort must be the people
who are responsible for emitting the most CO2.  The people we must strive
to affect are the ultrarich.  The rentiers, the virtual class, the
captains of industry; and, to a lesser extent, the dwindling middle
classes. The poor will continue to suffer.  There is clearly no pressing
reason for most human beings to live as badly and as squalidly as they do.  
But the poor do not emit much carbon dioxide, so our efforts on their
behalf can only be tangential.

Unlike the modernist art movements of the twentieth century, a Viridian
culture-industry movement cannot be concerned with challenging people's
aesthetic preconceptions. We do not have the 19th-century luxury of
shocking the bourgeoisie. That activity, enjoyable and time-honored though
it is, will not get that poison out of our air. We are attempting to
survive by causing the wealthy and the bourgeoisie to willingly live in a
new way.

We cannot make them do it, but if we focussed our efforts, we would have
every prospect of luring them into it.

What is culturally required at the dawn of the new millennium is a genuine
avant-garde, in the sense of a cultural elite with an advanced sensibility
not yet shared by most people, who are creating a new awareness requiring
a new mode of life.  The task of this avant-garde is to design a stable
and sustainable physical economy in which the wealthy and powerful will
prefer to live.  Mao suits for the masses are not on the Viridian agenda.  
Couture is on the agenda.  We need a form of Green high fashion so
appallingly seductive and glamorous that it can literally save people's
lives.  We have to gratify people's desires much better than the current
system does.  We have to reveal to people the many desires they have that
the current system is not fulfilling.  Rather than marshalling themselves
for inhuman effort and grim sacrifice, people have to sink into our
twenty-first century with a sigh of profound relief.

Allow me to speak hypothetically now, as if this avant-garde actually
existed, although, as we all know, it cannot possibly come into being
until January 3, 2000.  Let's discuss our tactics.  I have a few cogent
suggestions to offer.

We can increase our chances of success by rapidly developing and expanding
the postmodern culture industry.  Genuine "Culture" has "art" and
"thought," while the Culture Industry merely peddles images and

I know this. I am fully aware of the many troubling drawbacks of this
situation, but on mature consideration, I think that the Culture Industry
has many profound advantages over the twentieth century's physically
poisonous smokestack industries.  Also, as digital technologists,
thinkers, writers, designers, cultural critics, und so weiter, we
Viridians suspect that the rise of the Culture Industry is bound to
increase our own immediate power and influence vis-a-vis, say, coal mining
executives.  This may not be an entirely good thing.  However, we believe
we will do the world less immediate damage than they are doing.

We therefore loudly demand that the Culture Industry be favored as a
suitably twenty-first century industrial enterprise.  Luckily the trend is
already very much with us here, but we must go further; we believe in
Fordism in the Culture Industry.  This means, by necessity, leisure. Large
amounts of leisure are required to appreciate and consume
cultural-industrial products such as movies, software, semi-functional
streaming media and so on.  Time spent at more traditional forms of work
unfairly lures away the consumers of the Culture Industry, and therefore
poses a menace to our postindustrial economic underpinnings.

"Work" requires that people's attention to be devoted to other, older,
less attractive industries.  "Leisure" means they are paying attention and
money to us.

We therefore demand much more leisure for everyone.  Leisure for the
unemployed, while copious, is not the kind of "leisure" that increases our
profits.  We specifically demand intensive leisure for well-educated,
well-heeled people.  These are the people who are best able to appreciate
and consume truly capital-intensive cultural products.

We Viridians suspect that it would require very little effort to make
people work much less.  Entirely too much effort is being spent working.
We very much doubt that there is anything being done in metal-bending
industry today that can justify wrecking the atmosphere.  We need to burn
the planetary candle at one end only (and, in daylight, not at all).

As much time as possible should be spent consuming immaterial products.  
A global population where the vast majority spend their time sitting still
and staring into screens is a splendid society for our purposes.  Their
screens should be beautifully designed and their surroundings
energy-efficient.  The planet will benefit for everyone who clicks a mouse
instead of shovelling coal or taking an axe and a plow to a rain forest.

The tourist industry is now the number one industry on the planet.
Tourists consume large amounts of pre-packaged culture.  We believe
tourism to be a profoundly healthy development.  We feel we must strongly
resist the retrograde and unprofitable urge to make migrants and migration

Given the unstable condition of the environment, this practice may soon
become tantamount to genocide.  It is also palpably absurd to live in a
society where capital can move faster and more easily than human beings.
Capital exists for the sake and convenience of human beings.

We believe that the movement of human beings across national boundaries
and under the aegis of foreign governments is basically a design problem.
If guest workers, refugees, pleasure travellers and so forth were all
electronically tracked via satellite or cell repeaters, the artificial
division between jet setters and refugees would soon cease to exist.
Foreigners are feared not merely because they are foreign, but because
they are unknown, unidentified, and apparently out of local social

In the next century, foreigners need be none of these things.  Along with
their ubiquitous credit cards and passports, they could carry their entire
personal histories.  They could carry devices establishing proof of their
personal bona fides that would be immediately obvious to anyone in any
language. A better designed society would accommodate this kind of human
solidarity, rather than pandering to the imagined security needs of
land-based national regimes.

We believe that it should be a general new design principle to add
information to a problem, as opposed to countering it with physical
resources (in the case of migrants, steel bars and barbed wire).
Electronic tracking seems a promising example.  While the threat to
privacy and anonymity from electronic parole is obviously severe, there is
nothing quite so dreadful and threatening as a septic refugee camp.  We
consider this a matter of some urgency.  We believe it to be very likely
that massive evacuations will occur in the next few decades as a matter of
course, not merely in the disadvantaged Third World, but possibly in areas
such as a new American Dust Bowl.  Wise investments in electronic tourist
management would be well repaid in stitching the fraying fabric of a
weather-disrupted civilization.

For instance, we would expect to see one of the first acts of 21st century
disaster management to be sowing an area with air-dropped and
satellite-tracked cellphones.  We believe that such a tracking and display
system could be designed so that it would not be perceived as a threat,
but rather as a jet-setter's prestige item, something like a portable
personal webpage.  We believe such devices should be designed first for
the rich. The poor need them worse, but if these devices were developed
and given to the poor by socialist fiat, this would be (probably
correctly) suspected as being the first step toward police roundup and a
death camp.

Replacing natural resources with information is a natural area for
twenty-first century design, because it is an arena for human ingenuity
that was technically closed to all previous centuries.  We see
considerable promise in this approach. It can be both cheap and glamorous.

Energy meters, for instance, should be ubiquitous.  They should be
present, not in an obscure box outside the home, but enshrined within it.
This is not a frugal, money-saving effort.  It should be presented as a
luxury.  It should be a mark of class distinction.  It should be
considered a mark of stellar ignorance to be unaware of the source of
one's electric power.  Solar and wind power should be sold as premiums
available to particularly affluent and savvy consumers.  It should be
considered the stigma of the crass proletarian to foul the air every time
one turns on a light switch.

Environmental awareness is currently an annoying burden to the consumer,
who must spend his and her time gazing at plastic recycling labels,
washing the garbage and so on.  Better information environments can make
the invisible visible, however, and this can lead to a swift re-evaluation
of previously invisible public ills.

If one had, for instance, a pair of computerized designer sunglasses that
revealed the unspeakable swirl of airborne combustion products over the
typical autobahn, it would be immediately obvious that clean air is a
luxury. Infrasound, ultrasound and sound pollution monitors would make
silence a luxury.  Monitor taps with intelligent water analysis in
real-time would make pure water a luxury.  Lack of mutagens in one's home
would become a luxury.

Freedom from interruption and time to think is a luxury; personal
attention is luxury; genuine neighborhood security is also very much to be
valued. Social attitudes can and should be changed by the addition of
cogent information to situations where invisible costs have long been
silently exported into the environment.  Make the invisible visible.  
Don't sell warnings. Sell awareness.

The fact that we are living in an unprecedently old society, a society
top-heavy with the aged, offers great opportunity.  Long-term thinking is
a useful and worthwhile effort well suited to the proclivities of old

Clearly if our efforts do not work for old people (a large and growing
fraction of the G-7 populace) then they will not work at all. Old people
tend to be generous, they sometimes have time on their hands.
Electronically connected, garrulous oldsters might have a great deal to
offer in the way of managing the copious unpaid scutwork of electronic
civil society.  We like the idea of being a radical art movement that
specializes in recruiting the old.

Ignoring long-term consequences is something we all tend to do; but
promulgating dangerous falsehoods for short-term economic gain is
exceedingly wicked and stupid.  If environmental catastrophe strikes
because of CO2 emissions, then organizations like the anti-Green Global
Climate Coalition will be guilty of negligent genocide.  Nobody has ever
been guilty of this novel crime before, but if it happens, it will
certainly be a crime of very great magnitude.  At this moment, the GCC and
their political and economic allies are, at best, engaged in a risky
gamble with the lives of billions.  If the climate spins out of control,
the 21st century may become a very evil place indeed.

The consequences should be faced directly. If several million people
starve to death because, for instance, repeated El Nino events have
disrupted major global harvests for years on end, then there will be a
catastrophe.  There will be enormous political and military pressures for
justice and an accounting.

We surmise that the best solution in this scenario would be something like
the Czech lustration and the South African truth commissions.  The
groundwork for this process should begin now.  The alternatives are not
promising:  a Beirut scenario of endless ulcerous and semi-contained
social breakdown; a Yugoslav scenario of climate-based ethnic cleansing
and lebensraum; a Red Terror where violent panic-stricken masses seek
bloody vengeance against industrialism.  Most likely of all is a White
Terror, where angry chaos in the climatically disrupted Third World is
ruthlessly put down by remote control by the G7's cybernetic military.  
It is very likely under this last scenario that the West's gluttonous
consumption habits will be studiously overlooked, and the blame laid
entirely on the Third World's exploding populations.  (The weather's
savage vagaries will presumably be blamed on some handy Lysenkoist
scapegoat such as Jews or unnatural homosexual activities.)

With the Czech lustration and the South African truth commissions, the
late 20th century has given us a mechanism by which societies that have
drifted into dysfunctional madness can be put right.  We expect no less
for future malefactors whose sly defense of an indefensible status quo may
lead to the deaths of millions of people, who derived little benefit from
their actions and were never given any voice in their decisions.  We
recommend that dossiers be compiled now, for the sake of future
international courts of justice.  We think this work should be done quite
openly, in a spirit of civic duty.  Those who are risking the lives of
others should be made aware that this is one particular risk that will be
focussed specifically and personally on them.

While it is politically helpful to have a polarized and personalized enemy
class, there is nothing particularly new about this political tactic.
Revanchist sentiment is all very well, but survival will require a much
larger vision.  This must become the work of many people in many fields of
labor, ignoring traditional boundaries of discipline and ideology to unite
in a single practical goal: climate.

A brief sketch may help establish some parameters.

Here I conclude with a set of general cultural changes that a Viridian
movement would likely promulgate in specific sectors of society.  For the
sake of brevity, these suggestions come in three parts.  (Today)  is the
situation as it exists now.  (What We Want)  is the situation as we would
like to see it.  (The Trend) the way the situation will probably develop
if it follows contemporary trends without any intelligent intervention.

The Media

Today. Publishing and broadcasting cartels surrounded by a haze of poorly
financed subcultural microchannels.

What We Want. More bandwidth for civil society, multicultural variety, and
better-designed systems of popular many-to-many communication, in multiple
languages through multiple channels.

The Trend. A spy-heavy, commercial Internet.  A Yankee entertainment
complex that entirely obliterates many non-Anglophone cultures.

The Military

Today. G-7 Hegemony backed by the American military.

What We Want. A wider and deeper majority hegemony with a military that
can deter adventurism, but specializes in meeting the immediate crises
through civil engineering, public health and disaster relief.

The Trend. Nuclear and biological proliferation among minor powers.


Today. Currency traders rule banking system by fiat; extreme instability
in markets; capital flight but no labor mobility; unsustainable energy

What We Want: Nonmaterial industries; vastly increased leisure; vastly
increased labor mobility; sustainable energy and resources

The Trend: commodity totalitarianism, crony capitalism, criminalized
banking systems, sweatshops

Industrial Design

Today: very rapid model obsolescence, intense effort in packaging; CAD/CAM

What We Want: intensely glamourous environmentally sound products;
entirely new objects of entirely new materials; replacing material
substance with information; a new relationship between the cybernetic and
the material

The Trend: two design worlds for rich and poor comsumers; a varnish on

Gender Issues

Today: more commercial work required of women; social problems exported
into family life as invisible costs

What We Want: declining birth rates, declining birth defects, less work
for anyone, lavish support for anyone willing to drop out of industry and
consume less

The Trend: more women in prison; fundamentalist and ethnic-separatist
ideologies that target women specifically


Today: large-scale American special-effects spectacle supported by huge
casts and multi-million-dollar tie-in enterprises

What We Want: glamour and drama; avant-garde adventurism;  a borderless
culture industry bent on Green social engineering

The Trend: annihilation of serious culture except in a few non-Anglophone

International Justice

Today: dysfunctional but gamely persistent War Crimes tribunals

What We Want: Environmental Crime tribunals

The Trend: justice for sale; intensified drug war


Today: MacJobs, burn-out track, massive structural unemployment in Europe

What We Want: Less work with no stigma; radically expanded leisure;
compulsory leisure for workaholics;  guaranteed support for people
consuming less resources; new forms of survival entirely outside the
conventional economy

The Trend: increased class division; massive income disparity;  surplus
flesh and virtual class


Today: failing public-supported schools

What We Want: intellectual freedom, instant cheap access to information,
better taste, a more advanced aesthetic, autonomous research collectives,
lifelong education, and dignity and pleasure for the very large segment of
the human population who are and will forever be basically illiterate and

The trend: children are raw blobs of potential revenue-generating
machinery; universities exist to supply middle-management

Public Health

Today: general success; worrying chronic trends in AIDS, tuberculosis,
antibiotic resistance; massive mortality in nonindustrial world

What We Want: unprecedently healthy old people; plagues exterminated
worldwide; sophisticated treatment of microbes; artificial food

The Trend: Massive dieback in Third World, septic poor quarantined from
nervous rich in G-7 countries, return of 19th century sepsis, world's
fattest and most substance-dependent populations


Today: basic science sacrificed for immediate commercial gain; malaise in
academe; bureaucratic overhead in government support

What We Want: procedural rigor, intellectual honesty, reproducible
results; peer review, block grants, massively increased research funding,
massively reduced procedural overhead; genius grants; single-author
papers; abandonment of passive construction and the third person plural;
"Science" reformed so as to lose its Platonic and crypto-Christian
elements as the "pure" pursuit of disembodied male minds; armistice in
Science wars
The Trend: "Big Science" dwindles into short-term industrial research or
military applications; "scientists" as a class forced to share imperilled,
marginal condition of English professors and French deconstructionists.

I would like to conclude by suggesting some specific areas for immediate
artistic work.  I see these as crying public needs that should be met by
bravura displays of raw ingenuity.

But there isn't time for that.  Not just yet.

Bruce Sterling (

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