Thursday, 23 June 2011

LSD Magazine interviews Douglass Rushkoff - Issue 7

Douglas Rushkoff could very well be our perfect interviewee here at LSD. Harnessing the rational to illuminate the transcendental, sharpening reason and academic rigour to crystallise a non linear, deeply human radicalism, he synthesises the measured discipline of scientific method with a psychedelic enlightenment immersed in the counter cultural understanding of social geometery and multi dimensional consciousness. From his revolutionary first book Cyberia which projected the evolutionary leap into a digital matrix, he has gone on to pen 10 best selling works of non fiction, novels, graphic novels and a steady stream of ground breaking columns for the New York Times, The Guardian, The Daily Beast and Time magazine to name but a few...

What impact did the social and cultural shifts of the ‘60’s have on your development personally and the community around you?

Well I wasn’t conscious during the seminal shifts of the 60’s or a direct, contemporary part of them, but I was born into a culture where 60’s values had already been substantially marketised and the real energy had been pretty effectively muted. I remember a couple of experiences on the playground where strange young people with long hair would drift in wanting to play with the kids, only to realise way later that they were probably tripping hippies getting off on our innocent energy! But I didn’t become fully aware of what the 60’s actually meant – the full impact of which really took place in the 70’s – until I was in college, having my own psychedelic experiences and looking for our lineage, our heritage; at which point you start pulling out the Velvet Underground through Brian Eno to examine where the roots lay and what they meant. Then of course you begin reading Tim Leary, Ram Das and everybody else. But that non linear sensibility, that lateral thinking, that psychedelic realisation was perhaps best described for me by Robert Anton Wilson as coming to see the world as just one of many possible reality tunnels.

He shaped the idea that each of us has our own template, our own filter through which we observe and construct reality, all of which are both equally arbitrary and equally real and that it almost doesn’t matter what angle yours is coming from as long as you realise that it’s both plastic and temporary. At the time, I was a theatre director, so for me, theatre seemed to be the best way to impart those ideas and that prism onto life because theatre is already an acknowledged social construction, so if you can show the transitions in and out of the play – being in character and in narrative, then not - that metaphor should prompt people to conceive of their own consciousness in those terms.

So I got very interested in Bertholt Brecht who for very different reasons tried to highlight what he called ‘the alienation effect’ by emphasising that ‘this is a play – the actors are donning their costumes and now we’re going to act out these scenes’. Now he did it in a search for intellectual distance and a bid to create revolutionary activity, but what with interpretation always subsuming intent, for me it was all about going meta and that cosmic element of a play within a play within a play. The question then becomes, how many of these realisations do you have to have before you look over your shoulder and wonder ‘who’s the audience watching me, what’s the play I’m in and who’s writing the script’. Psychedelics and theatre were parallel for me and very much about the same kind of exploration.

What confused me was that many of the most psychedelic people I knew after college didn’t end up going into crazy musical experimentation, lighting design or the wilder arts - all the things I thought they’d be doing, but moved out to Silicon Valley and started working for nascent computer companies. They were all into seriously bizarre stuff like virtual reality, 3D imaging, chaos mathematics and non linear equations and I needed to figure out why that had happened. As luck would have it, I was living in LA at the time, so I would take regular field trips up north to see what they were up to. They’d be working at Sun Microsystems by day before coming home to their hippy communes in Oakland’s Skyline Drive to shave the buttons off a Peyote cactus and embark on all night fractal drawing sessions.

I realised that the most out there, psychedelic people I knew had fully embraced computers and networking technologies as their principal path towards realising some of what they were searching for and had seen within their voyages into consciousness. And they would quite literally spend huge chunks of their time trying to render their hallucinations on screen (which is what Ralph Abraham and some of the Chaos mathematicians were talking about and of course the fractal is a visual representation of a feedback equation) or just understanding that we were now constructing the operating system for the next stage of human evolution and they wanted to be in on that. These were people who were already comfortable hallucinating reality, so who better to visualise the realities of the future that we’d all be living in?

So I guess the lessons, the mindsets and the epiphanies of the 60’s combined with the microchip helped me see in a real sense – not just in a theatrical or artistic way – that we were developing and creating a fresh reality and the computer seemed like the most literal tool and the best metaphor to help people understand the open sourceness of the world they were living in and the obligation we have as conscious human beings to participate actively in the writing of these new paradigms.

Was the open source generation of early networking a classic example of a self organising complex system on a consciousness level– a virtual organism?

Absolutely, and the funny thing was that the ‘makers’ of the internet kept trying to resist that quality. The internet was originally built to share computing resources rather than being based around people talking to one another. The fact was that there simply weren’t that many computers around. There were lots of terminals, however, and networking was devised to share the cycles of a powerful processor somewhere in a university with everyone who needed them. So the whole thing was based on a platform and a logic completely divergent to corporate capitalism or a market based framework. Consequently it became very biased towards social activity and establishing a connection between people.

The Defence Department had built this ‘thing,’ thinking that scientists would use it to discuss the merits of weaponised technologies and the finer details of nuclear detonators, and much to their horrified surprise, it was used to debate Star Trek and swap recipes. It became naturally social. At which point of course they gave it up and offered it to AT&T who didn’t want it either, as they couldn’t see the profit and ultimately, it fell into a government niche because no one organisation saw the value in exploiting it. Until, of course, the web came along and it turned into something resembling a shopping mall and the corporations all piled in. Now corporations actually own the web which is why we’re about to fight and lose so drastically on this Net Neutrality Act.



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