The revolution grows micro, happens everywhere. Except everybody knows that everywhere is as a good as nowhere. As we float in our plastic domes. Is neoliberalism birthed in the summer of ’69? What did Woodstock and the Moon Walk do to us? Did they remake us all as cybernetic astronauts, tethered as if by umbilical cord to an AI similar to the one that awakens and talks to us at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey? What accounts for the recurrence of “space” in so many of the texts of Hippie Modernism? Why, too, is this the moment of LSD and “Spacewar”? Did neoliberalism shoot us all into space? Where does acid figure in relation to this transformation? What effect did it have on the collective imaginary? Abbie Hoffman had his helment smashed, he says, (and by “helmet,” he meant his “subjective experience”), during a bad acid trip at Woodstock. (The book to consult for an account of Abbie’s trip is Ellen Sander’s Trips: Rock Life in the Sixties.) Even as he imagines the festival as a prefiguration of a new WOODSTOCK NATION, he also describes it as the first time in history that we successfully landed a man on the Earth. “Calling Planet Earth,” echoes June Tyson at the end of “Space is the Place.” Perhaps what we saw is that we’re all one thing, one brain, the General Intellect, a new infant floating out in space. What do we do with ourselves? Stewart Brand assumes that this condition makes us as gods, and that we might as well get good at it. But he does so while involved in a counterculturally-conducted investigation of communal living. The neoliberal cognitive map clicked into place in multiple minds at once there in the late 60s and early 70s. We’re all right there in that “Earthrise” photograph, our collective self-portrait. My hunch, however, is that this map is the veil that we need to pierce if we’re ever to get free.
I resolve to become more knowledgeable and fill the world with flower punks and psychedelic bands. For heads already in the know, thoughts may turn to the cynicism of the Zappa / Mothers of Invention song of that name.
But we needn’t be cynical today. Listen instead to Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” listen to the 1979 version of “Space is the Place.” Shine on, sister. Gotta reach that highest ground. After reading poems from Thom Gunn’s Moly, the Port of San Francisco flashes like a voice in a dream. Dr. Robert is there with me, as is Homer — consciousness leaping between multiple domains.
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.
I want my Age of Aquarius! “Grab passion,” sings the radio. “Make it happen.” Next thing I know, I’m listening to “Ride My See-Saw” by The Moody Blues and digging it, entering through doorways new states of mind.
Thinking truly is the best way to travel. Floating like a kite and then grounded again, eyes open, the world brighter, sharper, and superimposed atop it a corridor of integral concepts. That album of theirs, In Search of the Lost Chord, allows for quite an experience. I follow it with Moby Grape’s Grape Jam — a relaxing listen, though a bit sloppy and indulgent. But that’s what’s so wonderful about it: “This music happened,” as the group says on the back cover of the LP, “when we could escape for awhile the intimidations of the virtuosity and perfections demanded by posterity. Relaxed, free, unselfconscious — Just laying down some music when the mood struck.” Bellbottomed legs leap and spin among a tribe of hippie whirling dervishes in Milos Forman’s Hair, which I watch afterwards while I practice breathing.
I wish I could convince others to enjoy birds whistling, the tap of a woodpecker, dogs barking. But students prefer Ozzy Osborne’s angsty theatrics, several of them requesting we listen to “War Pigs / Luke’s Wall.” I can hold off, soak in some rays of sunlight, wait until the time is right. Sit beside trees and practice breathing. Expand consciousness into new modes of sensitivity and sensibility. One way I do so is by listening closely to “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Berkeley-born John Fogerty sings from the standpoint of a critical working-class subject suffering persecution at the hands of hawkish militaristic elites. He calls the latter out, naming them for what they are: hypocrites / phony “patriots” who wave the flag but send others off to fight in their stead. (The rich were able to exercise influence to receive deferment from the draft, while working-class males had no choice but to fight or flee the country. One thinks here, for example, of former US president George W. Bush and other warmongers who themselves never served.) Drums and guitar notes shimmering with reverb, the song kicks into action. It starts marching at you, picket sign aloft, hips swaggering. On the album cover for the band’s fourth studio album Willy and the Poor Boys (1969), they’re seen performing like an old-time jug band on a sidewalk before an audience of African-American children. When Fogerty says, “I ain’t no senator’s son, son,” he’s damning benefactors of nepotism, he’s damning multi-generational elites, he’s damning the entire American anti-democratic system of inherited privilege.
The light tapping of a pick across the muted strings of the guitar on Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” reminds us as listeners that a clock is ticking. Dylan’s lyrics are in part about remaining cool despite the pain of mortality, the pain of accepting one’s wounds in order to live. What about those initial verses, though: they reference the possibility of nuclear apocalypse, don’t they? Doesn’t the Cold War form the song’s political horizon, “eclipsing both sun and moon”? I worry, though, that the song is also somehow an indictment of me, the teacher who teaches that “knowledge waits” — one who “must obey authority,” one who does not respect it “in any degree,” one who despises his job and his destiny and “speak[s] jealously of them that are free.” The same figure Nietzsche condemned, in other words, for being moved by a politics of ressentiment. But is Dylan singing as the voice of a student who can’t please me, or am I the one who can’t please them? “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” comes up a few tracks earlier on Bringing It All Back Home, and it’s a riotous, rowdy picaresque — the story of a poor sailor who dodges his way through the nightmarish slapstick of my country ’tis of thee.
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.