Saturday, October 17, 2009



Listen to an interview with Brand talking about the 1960s on this Rolling Stone podcast.

Brand concludes the ’60s produced at least one good thing: The Grateful Dead: 'Communes failed, drugs went nowhere, free love led pretty directly to AIDS. A lot of people thought Mao Tse-tung was a hero. Domes leaked. Graphic art was dreadful, except for Andy Warhol and Robert Crumb, the underground cartoonist. The rest was basically tie-dye. Music was good.'


Has 70-year-old Stewart Brand lost the plot? Some might think so on the evidence of his new book 'Whole Earth Discipline'  [Viking 2009] and judging by his TED presentation at the US State Department, both of which are of great interest, even if you completely disagree with his take. [From the TED link you will find further biographical details, links to other TED speeches and numerous Brand websites.]

 41jPzpLf-VL._SS500_ In essence, Brand believes that we have to do a number of things if we are to save the planet from extinction: embrace George Bush's plan for building a network of nuclear micro-reactors across the globe; expand the use of genetically-modified crops; support plans to geo-engineer the planet as a way of tackling the problems of global warming. Brand perceives these to be highly practical tools that we must urgently employ if we want to survive.

PREVIOUS POSTS:                                                                                                 THE GLOBAL NUCLEAR ENERGY PARTNERSHIP  (July2007) / PLANET NEWS (Sept 2007) about The Climate Engineers, an excellent and detailed essay by James R. Fleming in the Wilson Quarterly

First knowledge of this came to The Generalist via an excellent interview  in the brilliant Seed magazine, in a piece entitled  'A Manifesto for the Planet' by Maywa Montenegro

Brand says he'd 'accumulated a set of contrarian views on some important environmental issues— specifically, cities, nuclear energy, genetic engineering and geoengineering ...That led me to the larger strategy of trying to move the environmental movement from a romantic identification with nature toward a more scientific basis. And moving on from that, toward an engineering approach to solving environmental problems.'

Brand believes we must abandon 'faith-based' environmentalism', forsaking ideology for the good of the planet.

Seed: Can you tell me about your vision of the Greens and the Turquoises?
SB: I question whether “green” or “environmentalist” will be a big enough tent to contain a growing variety of disunity within the modern environmental community. People who are fiercely against nuclear have very little good to say to someone who is otherwise totally green but likes nuclear.

'So one approach is to say, okay, there are different flavors of green—the traditional “Greens” and this other thing. I wanted a name for them, so I just called them “Turquoises,” mixing green and blue. There’s enough work to keep both of them busy with more projects than they can possibly handle. Traditional Greens are already good at things like preserving, protecting, and restoring natural systems. The Turquoise types may be the ones who find new ways to push these projects in cities. Here I think they can collaborate completely, or almost completely. '


md-fall-1968-1010-cover Stewart Brand has always been a seminal figure in the world of 'The Generalist' not least for being the founder in 1968 of 'The Whole Earth Catalog' - one of the major publishing enterprises of the 1970s and beyond. Its many forms and editions were always intellectually stimulating, full of ideas, books and tools that cried out to be studied and used. From this sprang the CoEvolution Quarterly, to which I contributed an article. (SEE PREVIOUS POST: THE BERING BRIDGE PROJECT )

For full history and current status of publications see: Whole Earth Mag from where you can download a pdf copy of the Whole Earth Catalog cheaply.

But Brand, who I once had lunch with in a smart Mayfair restaurant (for a piece in the Sunday Times in December 1980), was a broader influence than that. SEE NEXT POST: The Whole Earth Enterprise.TRUX SPACE GAME344

Image from An Index of Possibilities shot in an amusement arcade in Leicester Square London c. 1972/73 showing an early electronic computer game. Can anybody identify it ?

We had read his piece in Rolling Stone  - 'Space War :  Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums'  [7th December 1972] about the very first computer game, and followed his interests in the emerging digital culture, leading, amongst other things, to the founding of the WELL, which makes him one of the inventors of social networking.


Books from The Generalist Archive:  The Media Lab (1987) and The Whole Earth Software Catalog (1984). The latter is a treasure trove for those interested in retro computing.

Brand's huge range of achievements are studied in great detail in the excellent and important book 'From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism' by Fred Turner [University of Chicago Press. p/b 2008] which credits Brand as being a key linking figure between two worlds.

The blurb describes its as:  '...the previous untold story of a highly influential group of San Francisco Bay entrepeneurs...Between 1968 and 1998, via such familiar venues as the Whole Earth Catalog, the computer-conferencing system WELL, and, ultimately, Wired magazine, Brand and his colleagues brokered a long-running collaboration between San Francisco flower power and the emerging technological hub of Silicon Valley. Thanks to their vision, counterculturalists and technologists alike joined together to reimagine computers as tools for personal liberation, the building of a virtual and decidedly alternative communities, and the exploration of bold new social frontiers. Turner's fascinating book reminds us that the distance between the Grateful Dead and Google, between Ken Kesey and the computer itself, is not as great as we might think.'

SEE PREVIOUS POST: What the Dormouse Said: Counter-Culture and Computing Extended review of the book by New York Times science writer John Markoff [Viking Books. 2005]

Brand is an important figure. His new ideas, which will be unpalatable to many, nevertheless have a force to be reckoned with. His impressive track record of being ahead of the curve gives added weight to his thesis. The Generalist will be following his work and the progress of these ideas in future posts.

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