The communes of the 1960s were utopian experiments — attempts to develop better ways of living. Science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany’s short memoir Heavenly Breakfast provides participant observation and reflection from within one of these experiments. The communes were like irradiated psychedelic seeds thrown to the winds, each free radical allowed to evolve its own local variety, its own distinct mutations, each one searching for alternatives that might survive and thrive. Most communes failed: some because of fundamental errors, others due to an unlucky set of contingencies. Yet here and there, some survived. This process needs to continue. Broad, grassroots social experimentation will have to begin again, picking up where Hippie Modernism left off. And those of you who wish to be cutthroat capitalists — you must allow radicals the space, resources, and freedom from violence to do so if the species is to adapt to the new planetary environment.
All of those communes, those seedlings of joyful community: why did so few of them take root? Are there lessons to be found among the memories of these vanished experiments? Might we not organize to try something similar today using our own far more advanced technologies? What steps would it require? How might we organize ourselves into a cybernetic communal family? How about a crowd-funded reality experiment? Maybe the Revolution should be televised! By the end of Brand’s essay, Spacewar comes to operate as a grand metaphor. It’s no longer just the name of the first videogame; it’s a parable about cultural revolution, a metonym for real-time video- and computer-assisted reinvention of society through play. Brand also describes it as “a flawless crystal ball of things to come” (78). But what is this future state, this twenty-first century that the game ushered into being? Are we more empowered today or less? Unfortunately Brand was ultimately a libertarian, his optimistic views on the “heroism of engineering” roughly similar to the “heroism of enterprise” imagined by followers of right-libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand. In Brand’s scenario, individuals live and work “communally” in the sense of “side-by-side” or “physically proximate,” but their bodies and minds don’t do much together. Computers and screens and related kinds of machinery mediate our interactions, and capitalism as mode of production remains unchanged. Individuals feeding back but otherwise “doing their own thing” form a subconscious consensus, and a stable teapot reality — a one-world Oikos — locks into place around them.
Imagine reality evolving into the unthinkable of existing sets and disciplines. Call the results of this dream-work The Ones Who Follow: A Modern Mythology. The Jonestown Massacre lies on the outskirts of all ventures of this sort, utopian communities of joy derailed everywhere, cursed, denounced, undone. How might we again induce a change in people? How might we together achieve self-actualization, group-realization? As opposed to just repeating over and over again history’s pattern of conquest, domination through separation of people from their lands. The “altered state” is what we’re after. That phrase, in its various senses, is what we mean by our Utopia. Lovers as hemispheres, fused at the mouth, as in John Donne’s “The Good Morrow.” We’re trying to raise consciousness, awaken the sleepwalkers from their deadly slumber — beginning with ourselves if necessary.
How do we go about building the Commune? Does George Ciccariello-Maher know the answer? ‘Cuz I don’t. Not off the top of my head. I wish the “venue of the mind” would turn forth instructions in an hallucinatory rush. Spill the beans, a voice insists. Don’t just pen a bunch of commentary. Enough! Focus! Come on! Resurrect mythopoesis to combat logos. Debt permits, sanctions, ensures the perpetuation of the daily torture of compelled labor. The body and mind dragged for long stretches through thoughtless routine. When I woke yesterday, though, the world seemed imbued with elusive but occasionally-glimpsed strings of coincidence, or what others have seen fit to call “grace.” I happened upon a passage in Arthur Koestler’s The Challenge of Chance where he speaks of “l’ange distributeur des pensées,” or “the angel who distributes thought” — a phrase he attributes to the nineteenth-century French writer Xavier de Maistre. This seems as good a name as any for that invisible power that time and again intervenes on my behalf, aligning me with my surroundings, delivering up small, unexpected bounties, arranging physis and psyche into a synchronistic, meaning-bearing whole. The angel, observable only through its effects, guides us with maps and instructions toward evil’s undoing. In its place, pleasure’s pursuit. Speaking of which: Sarah and I have been watching the new season of Mr. Robot, where dystopia appears as global capitalism itself, not some national subset thereof. The live drama of terminal class rule, as narrated by a uniquely gifted schizoid myth-hacker worker-subject. Reality is far greener, I tell myself. One can approach it as alien terrain, a vast mystery. One’s life can hang on the assumption, the expectation, of eventual revelation. Why can’t we as persons intervene in Being? The system allows for the flourishing of some, while condemning the rest to privation. Get rich quick the hope of all. How do we change that? How do we reprogram?
Smoke from a neighbor’s fire-pit filled the air. It was a crisp autumn night. I sipped a martini at a local bar, Clover’s references to the Commune reverberating unexpectedly, creating an updated sense of reality. A friend sitting across from me explained the work he does as the head of a local food consortium. When I asked him how I might plug myself in and make myself useful, he directed me to read up on a project called Cooperation Jackson. These are the first steps, I think, toward the creation of the Riot’s successor. Another friend, improving my head in a different way, recommended I watch We Bare Bears. A third friend recalled for me “Transcen-dune-talism,” a spontaneous, off-the-cuff coinage of Clover’s referring to the weedy metaphysics distilled via the famous Frank Herbert novel. Speaking of weedy metaphysics: I spent last night getting stoned in the woods beside a campfire. Owls came and spoke to me. Crickets, mosquitoes. At times, a kind of pressure from all sides. The universe inspires an awe laced with terror. A push back into an attentiveness toward matters of survival. A becoming-responsible again with regard to one’s daily self-reproduction. I sat in a lawn chair thinking, “I haven’t really challenged myself like this since Boy Scouts.” Hiking, collecting wood, assembling a fire on which to cook one’s dinner. All mixed with an ambient apocalypticism. Reality augmented via the nightmare of precarious employment. We’ve arrived at the dawn of the idea of global imperial civil war. How are we to navigate our way in this ever more paranoid environment? Heavy self-scrutiny: perhaps the problem is that I was raised as a second-generation American suburbanite. I lack social skills, street smarts, wilderness literacy. I survive on pizza, french fries, hot dogs, burritos. How do I prepare myself for the Commune? Where does one even begin if one’s hope is to lay the groundwork for collective extraction from the formal economy? I look upward in search of answers, but (for better or worse), what I encounter instead is a night sky filled with stars.
I tumble out of the workday to the sound of Bastian Void’s Three Sides of Consideration.
Music rotates through space like a holographic projection. I race on account of low memory capacity. Catch the mind’s formulations before time dissolves their presence. Mind at play is both fast and flighty, while words assume form and assemble ’round one another only haltingly, as if the creator-self has to pause every few steps to consult unsayable rules and unreadable guidebooks. What is “language” again? Refresh my memory. Remind me how it works. Bastian Void, by the way, is Massachusetts-based Moss Archive label founder Joe Bastardo. We are of the tribe raised as much by TV as by parents. The Nintendo generation. My allies among this generation are those who have begun to flirt again with consciousness expansion, therapeutic madness, and the creation of alternative realities. We operate experimentally and pragmatically, but could benefit from engagement with precursor theorists like Theodore Roszak. An Acid Marxist avant la lettre. I close my eyes and a clear gelatin tablet splits open in my hands, spilling forth its insides: tiny multicolored micro-plastic spheroids. The 1960s and 1970s countercultures were somehow neglected, an absent thing remembered wistfully, but as an unambiguously unrepeatable past, during the years of my schooling. Roszak, however, speaks directly to my concerns of late with a rousing defense of visionary experience in a chapter from The Making of a Counterculture called “Eyes of Flesh, Eyes of Fire.” (These trance-scripts, by the way, are written for “Eyes Turned Backwards, Belonging to Heads of the Future.” Picture them sitting there with their Whole Earth Catalogs, in their nomad-architectured, “full communism now” communes, all watched over by machines of loving grace. Why can’t others view this as beautiful with me — that way we could go out and do it?) How hard it would be, though, what obstacles we would need to overcome, in order to assemble a national, international, global economy of networked communes, encampments, all servicing each other’s productive needs in a non-profit, price-set, steady-state system of systems. Could we network them, perhaps, and thus establish dual power, under the guise of a religion?