Posts Tagged ‘steampunk’

I’ve got the midwinter doldrums and heavy-duty posts are coming hard. So I’m going to take a break by doing a simple round-up of some of the trends and movements that I see as about to coalesce into a holism-based counterculture.

Trends alone are not sufficient, of course. A counterculture explodes only when there is both a volatile mixture of elements and a spark to ignite that mixture. But these trends are what will fuel the fire — and each of them is already displaying the distinctive pattern of thought that will shape the next decade.

The movements that have been catching my eye are primarily offshoots of the environmental activists and computer hackers that I previously described as heretics of the 1980’s. Their roots go back to the potent blend of holism, multiculturalism, and do-it-yourself-ism nurtured by Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog in the late 60’s and early 70’s. But what I’m seeing now suggests a new degree of assertiveness and philosophical self-awareness, along with a dedication to the nitty-gritty of everyday life that is very different from the ecotopian romanticism of the 80’s.

These movements fall into three broad groups, which intermingle at many points. The first is typified by WikiLeaks and Anonymous. It is rooted in the hacker ethic and in the belief that access to tools and information should be considered a fundamental human right.

The second, which I’ve only become aware of recently, involves a new wave of environmentalism that over the last two or three years appears to have moved away from any expectation of government-based solutions and applied itself instead to direct action.

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As I was finishing up the previous entry, it struck me that we ought to be noticing the first signs of a successor to holism around now — and in trying to think of possible examples, I was reminded of a paradox I’ve been wrestling with for the past several weeks.

Last month, I quoted Mario Savio’s famous address during the Sproul Hall sit-in at Berkeley in 1964: “That brings me to the second mode of civil disobedience. There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus – and you’ve got to make it stop!”

I assumed that Savio had come up with this image of the government as a out-of-control machine specifically to evoke the tension between a faltering science-and-democracy partnership and the disruptive power of chaos. But it also occurred to me that if I was looking for insight on the emergence of the chaos vision, it would be worth checking out what Henry David Thoreau had said about civil disobedience when he invented the concept in the 1840’s as a means of protesting slavery and the Mexican War.

So I dug up a copy of “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849), and to my astonishment I found Thoreau writing, “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

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I truly thought I’d be almost done with the 1960’s by now and ready to move on — but in the course of writing the last several entries, I realized I didn’t know nearly as much about how countercultures get started as I thought I did. That’s something I need to sort out.

I’ve believed for years that the 60’s counterculture emerged directly out of earlier, more tentative expressions of the chaos vision and differed from them mainly in being energized by the decline of the science-and-democracy partnership. That image of energization was what I had in mind when I suggested (in “Moral Agents“) that each vision generates the seeds of its successor during its countercultural peak, because it grows over-confident then and starts to run up again its own limitations and moral weaknesses.

But as I worked on the succeeding entry (“The True Voice of Chaos“), I found myself saying something very different — that the first hints of discontent with the reason vision had been based not on morality but on boredom and that they had appeared as early as the 1730’s, prior to the peak of the reason-based counterculture.

As I thought about that, it occurred to me that perhaps each counterculture begins not as a mere amplification of what has come before but in an attempt to reinvigorate a vision that has already begun losing intensity and mystery as it gains mainstream acceptance.

Was there any suggestion of that happening prior to the rise of the 60’s counterculture? Indeed there was. Around 1962-63, the year that I was finishing high school and preparing to head off to college, the chaos vision appeared to have gone distinctly flat. Rock ‘n’ roll was dead, Hollywood hipsters like Frank Sinatra seemed outdated and irrelevant, and even the beatniks were past their glory days of the late 50’s.

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