A lifeguard blows her whistle and shouts “Pool break!” Better that than a trumpet. Families return to their seats. Some pack their things and leave for lunch, never to be seen again. A boy-child trails behind one such family mewling a bit, shouting “I want pizza!” Others arrive thereafter and take their place. My dissertation reckoned with these and other visions of the future, from the utopian to the apocalyptic. “How do such visions fare,” asks the one to the other across time, “in light of the consciousness revolution, the Revolution of the Eternal Now? How many or how few present what Esalen psychologist William C. Schutz calls ‘thoughts and methods for attaining more joy’ (Schutz, Joy, p. 10)? Must the Eternal Now be an eternal capitalist present, as per neoliberal ideology — as in books like The End of Ideology and The End of History? Or can we use the present to figure forth the Commune, beloved ones all living together in common, as per the slogan ‘Full Communism Now’?”
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.
Like Mayakovsky, I “see the one no one sees / crossing the mountains of time.” Consider this imaginary friend of mine — hovering, approaching, possessing me as I meditate. Marx’s spectre, pricking on the plain. It matters not where we land, I tell myself, as my boot bottom settles on an oil slick at the base of a gas pump. The important thing is to reopen the case of language and its relation to consciousness. The important thing is to track thought with thought.
My mind feels caught between rival epistemes or paradigms. Minds, by a certain age, possess sedimented layers of knowledge — and everywhere, paths not taken, blind alleys among the forking paths of unfinished text adventures. Errant wanderings of restless hearts. But isn’t the indistinct picture, the blurred concept, often exactly what we need? Consciousness needs avenues down which to scheme and hatch itself. The same is true of communism. Inventing communism means inventing a game and convincing others to play it. “Today,” Sarah says, “is all about feeling like we’re trespassing.” How many years are we talking? The mind exaggerates the details. Cut to the straight-toothed grin of a southern white park official as he scolds us for disobeying park rules and walking on lands not ours.