Category: Theory

A look at the Californian Ideology

californian ideology

"Not to lie about the future is impossible and one can lie about it at will" – Naum Gabo (1)

As the Dam Bursts…

At the end of the twentieth century, the long predicted convergence of the media, computing and telecommunications into hypermedia finally happened (2). Once again, capitalism’s relentless drive to diversify and intensify the creative powers of human labour is on the verge of qualitatively transforming the way in which we work, play and live together. By integrating different technologies around common protocols, something is being created which is more than the sum of its parts.

When the ability to produce and receive unlimited amounts of information in any form is combined with the reach of the global telephone networks, existing forms of work and leisure can be fundamentally transformed. New industries will be born and current stock market favourites will swept away. At such moments of profound social change, anyone who can offer a simple explanation of what is happening will be listened to with great interest. At this crucial juncture, a loose alliance of writers, hackers, capitalists and artists from the West Coast of the USA have succeeded in defining a heterogeneous orthodoxy for the coming information age: the Californian Ideology.

{loadposition content_adsensecontent}

This new faith has emerged from a bizarre fusion of the cultural bohemianism of San Francisco with the hi-tech industries of Silicon Valley. Promoted in magazines, books, tv programmes, Web sites, newsgroups and Net conferences, the Californian Ideology promiscuously combines the free-wheeling spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies. This amalgamation of opposites has been achieved through a profound faith in the emancipatory potential of the new information technologies.

In the digital utopia, everybody will be both hip and rich. Not surprisingly, this optimistic vision of the future has been enthusiastically embraced by computer nerds, slacker students, innovative capitalists, social activists, trendy academics, futurist bureaucrats and opportunistic politicians across the USA. As usual, Europeans have not been slow in copying the latest fad from America. While a recent EU Commission report recommends following the Californian ‘free market’ model for building the ‘information superhighway’, cutting-edge artists and academics eagerly imitate the ‘post-human’ philosophers of the West Coast’s Extropian cult (3). With no obvious rivals, the triumph of the Californian Ideology appears to be complete.

The widespread appeal of these West Coast ideologues isn’t simply the result of their infectious optimism. Above all, they are passionate advocates of what appears to be an impeccably libertarian form of politics – they want information technologies to be used to create a new ‘Jeffersonian democracy’ where all individuals will be able to express themselves freely within cyberspace (4).

However, by championing this seemingly admirable ideal, these techno-boosters are at the same time reproducing some of the most atavistic features of American society, especially those derived from the bitter legacy of slavery. Their utopian vision of California depends upon a wilful blindness towards the other – much less positive – features of life on the West Coast: racism, poverty and environmental degradation (5). Ironically, in the not too distant past, the intellectuals and artists of the Bay Area were passionately concerned about these issues.

Ronald Reagan v. the hippies

On 15 May 1969, Governor Ronald Reagan ordered armed police to carry out a dawn raid against hippie protesters who had occupied People’s Park near the Berkeley campus of the University of California. During the subsequent battle, one man was shot dead and 128 other people needed hospital treatment (6). On that day, the ‘straight’ world and the counter-culture appeared to be implacably opposed. On one side of the barricades, Governor Reagan and his followers advocated unfettered private enterprise and supported the invasion of Vietnam.

On the other side, the hippies championed a social revolution at home and opposed imperial expansion abroad. In the year of the raid on People’s Park, it seemed that the historical choice between these two opposing visions of America’s future could only be settled through violent conflict. As Jerry Rubin, one of the Yippie leaders, said at the time: ‘Our search for adventure and heroism takes us outside America, to a life of self-creation and rebellion. In response, America is ready to destroy us…’ (7)

Read More

Control me.

A government must control people in order to give them what they want. Food and drink, a decent roof, a nice quiet place to take your lover, skiing or snow boarding in the winter, vacations to Thailand in the summer.

Read More
Loading