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The Complicated Legacy of Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog” | The New Yorker
"Brand now describes himself as “post-libertarian,” a shift he attributes to a brief stint working with Jerry Brown, during his first term as California’s governor, in the nineteen-seventies, and to books like Michael Lewis’s “The Fifth Risk,” which describes the Trump Administration’s damage to vital federal agencies. “ ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ was very libertarian, but that’s because it was about people in their twenties, and everybody then was reading Robert Heinlein and asserting themselves and all that stuff,” Brand said. “We didn’t know what government did. The whole government apparatus is quite wonderful, and quite crucial. [It] makes me frantic, that it’s being taken away.” A few weeks after our conversation, Brand spoke at a conference, in Prague, hosted by the Ethereum Foundation, which supports an eponymous, open-source, blockchain-based computing platform and cryptocurrency. In his address, he apologized for over-valorizing hackers. “Frankly,” he said, “most of the real engineering was done by people with narrow ties who worked nine to five, often with federal money.”

Brand is nonetheless impressed by the new tech billionaires, and he described two startup founders as “unicorns” who “deserve every penny.” “One of the things I hear from the young innovators in the Bay Area these days is ‘How do you stay creative?’ ” Brand said. “The new crowd has this, in some ways, much more interesting problem of how you be creative, and feel good about the world, and collaborate, and all that stuff, when you have wads of money.” He is excited by their philanthropic efforts. “That never used to happen,” he said. “Philanthropy was something you did when you were retired, and you were working on your legacy, so the money went to the college or opera.”

Brand himself has been the beneficiary of tech’s new philanthropists. His main concern, the Long Now Foundation, a nonprofit focussed on “long-term thinking,” counts Peter Thiel and Pierre Omidyar among its funders. The organization hosts a lecture series, operates a steampunk bar in San Francisco’s Fort Mason, and runs the Revive & Restore project, which aims to make species like the woolly mammoth and the passenger pigeon “de-extinct.” The Long Now Foundation is also in the process of erecting a gigantic monument to long-term thought, in Western Texas—a clock that will tick, once a year, for a hundred centuries. Jeff Bezos has donated forty-two million dollars to the construction project and owns the land on which the clock is being built. When I first heard about the ten-thousand-year clock, as it is known, it struck me as embodying the contemporary crisis of masculinity. I was not thinking about death.

Although Brand is in good health and is a dedicated CrossFit practitioner, working on long-term projects has offered him useful perspective. “You’re relaxed about your own death, because it’s a blip on the scale you’re talking about,” he said, then quoted Jenny Holzer’s “Truisms,” saying, “Much was decided before you were born.” Brand is concerned about climate change but bullish on the potential of nuclear energy, urbanization, and genetic modification. “I think whatever happens, most of life will keep going,” he said. “The degree to which it’s a nuisance—the degree to which it is an absolutely horrifying, unrelenting problem is what’s being negotiated.” A newfound interest in history has helped to inform this relaxed approach to the future. “It’s been a long hard slog for women. It’s been a long hard slog for people of color. There’s a long way to go,” he said. “And yet you can be surprised by successes. Gay marriage was unthinkable, and then it was the norm. In-vitro fertilization was unthinkable, and then a week later it was the norm. Part of the comfort of the Long Now perspective, and Steven Pinker has done a good job of spelling this out, is how far we’ve come. Aggregate success rate is astonishing.”

As I sat on the couch in my apartment, overheating in the late-afternoon sun, I felt a growing unease that this vision for the future, however soothing, was largely fantasy. For weeks, all I had been able to feel for the future was grief. I pictured woolly mammoths roaming the charred landscape of Northern California and future archeologists discovering the remains of the ten-thousand-year clock in a swamp of nuclear waste. While antagonism between millennials and boomers is a Freudian trope, Brand’s generation will leave behind a frightening, if unintentional, inheritance. My generation, and those after us, are staring down a ravaged environment, eviscerated institutions, and the increasing erosion of democracy. In this context, the long-term view is as seductive as the apolitical, inward turn of the communards from the nineteen-sixties. What a luxury it is to be released from politics––to picture it all panning out."
stewartband  wholeearthcatalog  technosolutionism  technology  libertarianism  2018  annawiener  babyboomers  boomers  millennials  generations  longnow  longnowfoundation  siliconvalley  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  philanthropy  politics  economics  government  time  apathy  apolitical  californianideology  stevenpinker  jennyholzer  change  handwashing  peterthiel  pierreomidyar  bayarea  donaldtrump  michaellewis  jerrybrown  california  us  technolibertarianism 
november 2018 by robertogreco
Interview of the Week: Peter Thiel:“Hypnotic Mass Phenomena” / by Florian Schwab (Die Weltwoche, Ausgabe 29/2018)
“The advanced technological civilization of the early 21st century is a complicated world where it is not possible for anybody to think through everything for themselves. You cannot be a polymath in quite the way people were in the 18th century enlightenments. You cannot be like Goethe. So there is some need to listen to experts, to defer to other people. And then, there is always the danger of that going too far and people not thinking critically. This happens in spades in Silicon Valley. There is certainly something about it that made it very prone to the dotcom bubble in the nineties or to the cleantech bubble in the last decade.”
PeterThiel  Interviews  AddThis 
july 2018 by cbearden

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