OPERATION MINDFUCK WAS TOO SUCCESSFUL — R.U. Sirius Interviewed by Douglas Rushkoff (Part 1)
“Sartre said hell is other people. Now, hell is other people’s tweets or posts. They just irritate the crap out of all of us. The feeling is mutual.”
On April 5, I was on Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human radio show. We agreed to get the interview transcribed for possible publication somewhere.
I’ve decided that rather than trying to edit a truncated version to pitch to more popular websites, I’m just going to keep it conversational and run it here. Maybe less people will see it, but that’s ok. I get to say what I want.
I’ve added to my own spew as I edited. We hope you enjoy.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: I came in contact with your work for the first time at a psychedelics conference in Los Angeles. Albert Hoffman and Laura Huxley [Aldous Huxley’s wife] were there. Timothy was there, and I think Ram Das and Ralph Metzner. It was the original psychedelics crowd.
And there were a bunch of issues of your first magazine, High Frontiers. And to me it was like a calling card from the future.
I was in my early 20’s, and your magazine was an amalgamation of everything that I had been interested in yet had never seen connected before: cultural, scientific, biological, cosmic, spiritual, and pharmacological advances, all in one place. How did physics and math and drugs and music and culture and transgender and cultural alchemy all end up considered part of the same strand of cultural information? How did you come up with that?
R.U. SIRIUS: In a way, it just came together in my head. I assumed that there were other people out there like me. Sort of like what Paul Krassner said about starting The Realist at the start of the ’60s. He put it out to meet the other aliens…
So this was a new generation of aliens.
And to me, the generational aspect of it was important. And the cultural aspect of it was important. Because even though I was from a generation that had a lot of hippies and deadheads and so on, we were also the people who created the cultures of punk and new wave. I was in my mid-twenties when all that came along and it was a refreshing blast to my pot-soaked mind.
So I was adapted for a very speedy, hyper, futuristic mentality by that, as well as by scientific ideas and psychedelic ideas and so forth.
And by the time we were doing High Frontiers in the mid-80s, one could clearly see the so-called digital revolution coming on, and one could be fairly optimistic about it… actually, radically over-optimistic. (laughter) So all these things just felt like the makings of a truly contemporary magazine.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: High Frontiers really ran the full gamut of hallucinatory experiences. It was a flag in the sand. Leary had said, “Find the others.” And this was saying to a new generation, “Yes, there are others. These are our experiences.”
But then, you turned it into Reality Hackers and eventually Mondo 2000. It became the voice of this 21st century post-television, designer-reality society.
R.U. SIRIUS: Yeah, the Jetsons on DMT, as Mark Dery snarkily labeled it.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And then, by the early 1990’s, cyberdelic scene spawned a new cultural phenomenon … the early rave-club-kids. And that helped give it an aesthetic that was more pleasing to young people than the old Haight-Ashbury world of Wavy Gravy and tie-dye T-shirts.
R.U. SIRIUS: That’s true. But I have to say that’s where I was a bit of a crusty old rocker myself. I was never that enamored of the musical style, and I would always be the one leaving the rave at four in the morning rather than staying ’til dawn. But sure, it was an incredible flowering of a new kind of hedonic optimism that was very reminiscent of late ’60s hippie optimism.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: I always blamed Wired magazine and the investment ethos for changing the internet from an anything-can-happen, new human-potential movement that was represented so well by MONDO 2000, into the same old expansion of capital through IPOs and digital companies. I hate to even term it like this, but what went wrong? Why didn’t we get the whole everything changing at once for the human better that we were all imagining up in the Berkeley hills in the MONDO 2000 living room?
R.U. SIRIUS: I thought material abundance would come faster. The plan — such as it was — was that ideas and content could be replicated infinitely and therefor couldn’t be hoarded and had to be shared… and this would be matched by molecular technology that would turn matter into data that also could be infinitely replicated. I think that was the underlying utopian narrative. So aside from the ideology of the market, which we didn’t necessarily share with Wired, there was the excess of techno-optimism. I have to say that there was always a dark undercurrent with Mondo though. Critics quote the first editorial that was very woo-woo, but after that, ambiguity and tongue-in-chic were watchwords.
Anyway, the logic was that replicability would lead to a collapse of the barriers — of the turnstiles — around what people want and need. And we would have a post scarcity society that would liberate people and allow them to be playful and creative and friendly. I mean, that was the hippieish or post-hippieish aspect of Mondo — “the machines of loving grace.” There was definitely an underestimation of the tenacity of greed and power baked in to the early issues. There was this Buckminster Fuller notion that the technology changes the situation materially and that humans would response rationally to that. That’s sort of a Marxist view too… or an element of it. So the technology failed, the people failed, and the system failed to live up to these fever dreams.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: So we were heading for a Star Trek replicator reality, more than 3D printers?
R.U. SIRIUS: There was this vibe among people in the cyberculture of the ’90s that things would change very fast. Some of it was inchoate. Some of it was… ummm… less inchoate.
A lot of these emerging technological potentials like nanotechnology — we didn’t examine the timelines and the realities as closely as we might have. Somebody who spent some time with Al Gore while he was vice president told me he worried that the singularity was going to happen during his presidency! Obviously, neither of those things happened… but that was the sort of thing that was going around in technoculture. And capitalism was there and figured out how and when this online world could be useful and made it more banal. It turned things to crap and also performed some useful services. And that’s the conundrum that we’re stuck with now.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It feels as if capitalism is much more suited for the net than humans or culture are. You know, capitalism is abstract. Of the three factors of production — land, labor, and capital — capital is the only one that can expand infinitely. It’s not real.
R.U. SIRIUS: Yeah. We don’t even need to have any humans left for the stock market to go through the roof. It can all be done by AIs.
If you look at that famous Wired magazine issue about the so-called Long Boom — this idea in the late ’90s that it was all uphill from here — the greatest emphasis is on how the market … the stock market… NASDAQ and so forth would grow to these unthinkably awesome numbers. Improvements in the lives of humans were almost a footnote.
I almost got sold. If wealth became vast enough, it would actually trickle-down. Most everything would be given away for free to everybody. You’d somehow manage to buy a few dollars worth of stock and it’d explode into abundance — or at least that was the sort of capitalist theory of post-scarcity. That theory is certainly still out there, albeit far less popular.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: The problem with capitalism is that we didn’t own these networks, so they started extracting more value than they were giving us. So do you think the main problem was capitalism taking over the net or were we not really ready culturally — or did we not have the consciousness — to do what the net was suggesting, to really connect with other people on this new level?
R.U. SIRIUS: It has as much to do with people as it does with capitalism. The masses, so to speak, came online. And the coming together of the global mind — or whatever idealistic metaphor from the cyber-90s we might use — did not prove to be as delightful as John Perry Barlow or whomever might have hoped. What we realized is that –- within the terrain of disembodied minds — familiarity breeds contempt. And lots of death threats! I don’t want to know most people’s thoughts! Sartre said hell is other people. Now, hell is other people’s tweets or posts. They just irritate the crap out of all of us. The feeling is mutual.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: I know. It’s almost as if internet users should have had some kind of a psychedelic training before they went online so they would be better prepared for this level of social interaction.
R.U. SIRIUS: It could help, although there are certainly plenty of intolerant psychedelic users online as well.
That’s a whole other area where I’ve become more critical… that whole thing about psychedelic people believing in bizarre stuff. I found it benign and amusing in the past, but it’s one of the consequences of the psychedelic revolution that I find far more irritating and consequential now.
Hippie culture is a folk culture. It’s pre-scientific and memes spread and take over fast. Suddenly everybody knows that the Rothchilds own everything and that there’s a magical hugging lady on tour.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: I remember you and I bonded again 20 years later, shortly after 9/11, when some of the more extreme conspiracy theories were going around. We both took a lot of heat for not buying into them. I wrote a piece where I was arguing these were disinformants spreading these stories because they’re trying to keep us from seeing the simple basic truth of what had happened, which is horrible enough.
And it feels like 9/11 and the acceleration of conspiracy theory that it spawned, combined with the internet and the ability to connect anything to anything else, has yielded this bizarre world of ontological relativism that we’re in today where people can be so easily manipulated and drawn into these rabbit holes of false truths.
R.U. SIRIUS: Yeah, I’m sorry I blew up consensus reality, man. Operation Mindfuck was too successful. (laughter)
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: You take responsible for it!? Do you think the counterculture did this?
R.U. SIRIUS: Probably, yeah. If you follow some of the ideological discourse from people who are really influential in Russia, it’s postmodernism and Operation Mindfuck in the service of amoral raw power and political strategy. I know secondhand that there are people in Putin’s mindtrust who have read their Leary and their Discordianism and so forth and they are following a chaos strategy for disrupting the American consensus… or however you want to phrase the collapsing neoliberal order. And not collapsing towards a good end.
And I don’t mean to pin it all on the Russians. The contingency of truth — or the multiplicity of realities — is a great way to understand things existentially or ideologically, but it’s impinged too deeply into the area of actual news versus fake news and science denial. That’s probably what I mean when I say Operation Mindfuck has been too successful.