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    The English Ideology and WIRED Magazine
    Part Three Of Three

    Techno-Utopianism: The Final Imperial Solution

    by Mark Stahlman November 22nd, 1996

    I t's not sufficient to demonstrate the intellectual genealogy of WIRED to fully describe their tight affiliation with the English ideology. There is a crucial component of the technological and biologically deterministic utopian worldview at the core of WIRED's "content" which must be carefully situated as well. WIRED's techno-utopianism is merely the modern expression of H.G. Wells' attempts in the first half of this century to construct a technocratic global empire ruled by a new elite - much like the audience that WIRED seeks to rally behind its now digital but still self-consciously revolutionary banner.

    In its various forms, following Thomas More's coining of the term "Utopia" with the publishing of his book with that title in 1516, utopian writing and, indeed, utopian social experiments tended to be pastoral and, if anything, anti-technology. It was H.G. Wells who changed all that with his 1905 publication of his novel, "A Modern Utopia" (one of the few of his 20th century works which is still in print). And, it was Wells who initiated the entire inquiry into a technology-defined future (and, indeed, launched the field now known as futurism) in his seminal 1902 essay, "Anticipations."

    While Wells is popularly known as the first true science fiction writer, he lived for 50 years after he completed his cycle of four major sci-fi novels in 1897. During this half century, he was very busy designing the future of the British Empire - the Third Rome as he put it (or as Toffler would later put it, the Third Wave) - as a vision of a world knit together by communications and transportation technologies and controlled by a new class of technocrats. What Wells' described in volume after volume throughout the rest of his life (both in fictional and essay format) is indistinguishable from the digital revolution WIRED hopes to lead. It's a post-industrial world that has abandoned the nation-state in favor of Wells' World State, that has scrapped the premises of its industrial past, embraced the scarcity of an anti-growth economics and based itself on the emergence of a newly indoctrinated post-civilization humanity.

    Wells had devoted himself to organizing a world revolution based on technology, synthetic religion and mass mind-control - the same revolution discussed monthly in the pages of WIRED. In Wells' "A Modern Utopia", the rulers are called the "New Samurai" and they are a caste of scientist/priests who social-engineer the global society Wells called the "World State." John Perry Barlow's "Declaration of Independence for Cyberspace," published in WIRED, would have made Wells very happy, I have no doubt. Yes, that's Wells' "World State" lurking in the margins of Barlow's manifesto despite his waffling on the specifics of future forms of "governance" - except to say that the future of politics will be conveniently (from the social engineer's standpoint) "post-reason."

    But, aren't I heading straight into the jaws of an overwhelming and categorical contradiction? Wells was certainly no free-marketeer. He was a professed socialist and WIRED appears on its face to be thoroughly free-market capitalist. How could I claim any affinity between the British radical liberals and Wells (and with both and WIRED)? Aren't I just gluing together two sets of intellectual forebears - who both just happen to be English? How do I avoid the "bizarre fusion" description favored by Barbrook/Cameron? In the end, doesn't my English ideology argument collapse as just another curious historical accident combine with an overworked imagination?

    I don't think so. Despite the naked attempt to rescue Well's socialist legacy in a recent biography by the past-head of the British Labour Party, Michael Foot, Wells was indeed a very strange socialist. Likewise, when the substance of its arguments are carefully considered, WIRED strikes the pose of a very odd sort of capitalist. I'm convinced that they both choose to adopt protective coloring to enhance their stature in their respective times and places but that, just beneath the surface, they are both simply utopian/corporativists - the same ideological impulse which gave rise to Fascism - and not what they may appear to be to the more casual and, too often, more credulous observer.

    Both WIRED and Wells are, in fact, utopians and elitists with overarching ambitions of leading a world revolution. This revolution is intended to produce radical economic and political transformation which would put their ilk in charge of running a new worldwide empire. From a strategic standpoint - fundamental goals and premises - Wells, WIRED (and their common antecedent the anti-human radical Liberals) were/are all fighting for the same new imperial outcome. While there are certainly many tactical twists and turns in this plot over the centuries, this entire grab bag is precisely what I've been referring to as the English ideology - the ideology behind a global empire which combines an anything-goes small-scale private life (libertarianism) with rigidly defined large-scale constraints (technocracy). If you would like another description of the same utopian ying-yang, refer to Jaron Lanier's November 1995 editorial in the SPIN magazine issue on the future and his characterization of the Stewards (technocrats) and the Extropians (libertarians) as the post-political poles of discourse.

    Wells' dalliance with the Fabian Society (he tried to take it over by promoting free-love to the wives of its board members) may be one of the sources of confusion leading to Wells' apparent "socialist" credentials. But, as even a cursory reading of Wells' quickly demonstrates, their was absolutely no room for working class revolt (or certainly working class leadership) in Wells' worldview. He was thoroughly convinced that the downtrodden could never lead or even comprehend the revolution he saw coming. Wells' life was dedicated to organizing a completely new class of technical and social scientific experts - technocrats - who would assume control of a world driven to collapse and ruin by workers and capitalists alike. Wells wanted to completely reprogram humanity - through the creation of a synthetic religion - and, like all utopians, had no affection for the commoner of his time at all. Wells considered socialism, in its various Social Democratic to Marxist manifestations, to be a string of completely anachronistic failures and a throwback to the era of human folly and self-destruction which Wells sought to leap past - much like Toffler dismissing nation-states and representative democracy as "Second Wave."

    In fact, Wells was very clear what sort of corporativist world he wanted when he identified the earliest of the multinational corporations as the fledgling model of his ideal economic organization. In his 1920's novel, "The World of William Chissolm", and the companion essay, "Imperialism and The Open Conspiracy", Wells cites early multi-nationals as the only kind of globe-spanning (and, therefore, anti-nation-state) economic structures which could embody his revolutionary principles. He chides both government and business leaders who think that any remnant of the still British-nation-centered Empire could survive and calls on the heads of multinationals to join in forming the vanguard of his revolutionary "Open Conspiracy."

    He also published extensively about the inevitable scrapping of democracy and any form of popular rule in his World State. His "New Samurai" were volunteers who pledged their lives to the pure experience of ruling as a new caste of priest/scholars. No elections, no parliament, no hereditary titles and no buying your way in, Wells was clear that his new ruling class would be a religious elite with global reach. He even predicted that a new field of inquiry, which he termed Social Psychology, would arise and become the "soul of the race" by developing social control techniques which would systematically retrain the masses which he openly despised. And, following WWII, the core of British and American psychological warfare leadership created just such field to pursue worldwide social engineering. H.G. Wells was a very strange "socialist" indeed.

    Oh, he did call for the abolition of all socially significant private property. But, then so has WIRED with their repeated claims that in the Information Age intellectual property will disappear in cyberspace - a posture that has not gone unnoticed in the more orthodox neo-liberal circles as demonstrated by Peter Huber's scathing critique of WIRED in his piece for SLATE, "Tangled Wires." Such a call for abolishing property was also featured by the native U.S. fascist movement, Technocracy - which was launched out of the Columbia University Engineering Department with 1932 nationwide radio broadcast. In fact, while Wells rejected the offered allegiance to his "Open Conspiracy" by native British fascist, Oswald Moseley, he did it by pointing out that "what we need is some more liberal fascists." Being educated as he was, Wells surely understood (and I believe embraced) the philosophical heritage of radical "liberalism."

    As a matter of fact, independent economic sovereignty (the essence of politically effective private property) is what Wells (and all his empire building successors have) objected to. It is the independence of large scale economic forces - particularly those associated with strong nation-states - that both Wells and the radical Liberals both objected to so forcefully. It is only such forces, operating with determination and resolve, that function as a bulwark against empires like Wells' World State. Despite their surface appearance of conflict, WIRED-style free-marketeering and Wells' "Open Conspiracy" both lead to the same political-economic outcome - oligarchist/corporativist control of a global economy. This is why the modern intellectual progenitor of modern libertarianism, Hayek, spent his career at the nominally Fabian socialist London School of Economics alongside Keynes; they were simply two birds of the same feather. Another ying-yang twinned pairing pointing to a common endgame.

    While it admittedly flies in the face of conventional categorization, right-wing and left-wing utopian/oligarchists are still fundamentally and most significantly utopian/oligarchists - even if their protective plumage might temporarily succeed in confusing some birdwatchers. They differ merely on the tactics, while presenting a home for confused fellow-travellers of all persuasions, while they thump for the same 1000 year empire and imagine themselves sitting behind the steering wheel. This should be no more confusing than watching Alvin Toffler, and his wife Heidi, move from active Communist Party membership and factory floor colonization to becoming chief advisors to Newt Gingrich. Tactics may change; the strategy remains unaltered.

    The New Dark Age

    What sort of future do the futurists see for us? Despite the sugar-coated promises of wealth and power being held out to those who make the cut and get inducted into the supreme religious cult which gets to play imperial Wizard of Oz, the reality of a Wells/WIRED future won't be nearly so cinematic for most earthlings. As every honest futurist has admitted, the future will be painful and pointless for most who survive. The Information Age will be a Dark Age. It will bring premature death to half or more of the earth's population and it will represent the deliberate scrapping and then forgetting of humanity's greatest achievements.

    Perhaps, the harsh truth of the Information Age was best described in Michael Vlahos' January 1995 speech, "ByteCity, or Life After the Big Change." Vlahos is a Senior Fellow at Newt Gingrich's think tank, the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF), and a past geopolitical analyst who has led PFF's exploration of implementing the Toffler/Wells plans. Vlahos presents a terrifying future scenario roughly 20 years in the future in which society has stratified into elites and gangs. In fact, life is so threatening in ByteCity that we spent most of our time in our rooms staring at wall-sized vidscreens - if we're lucky enough to have a room, that is.

    Vlahos' world is run by stateless modern robber-barons, which he terms the "Brain Lords" and which he characterizes as "rampaging not through the landscape but making billions in the ether." These new aristocrats will come from the merger of telecommunications and entertainment multinational giants and much like in Wells' formulation, the "Brain Lords" do not inherit their class status and they will burn out from looting at an early age. After 40 they will retire to run the world. They will comprise five percent of the population, he says. They are Wells' "New Samurai."

    Below them he stratifies in the "Upper Servers" and the "Agents" who comprise another 20% who will spend their lives destroying the value of professional education and association in a vicious "information" driven chase for individual recognition. Below that, roughly 50% of the population lives as service workers slaving twelve to fifteen hours a day in front their living room vidscreens "servicing" their global clients in a world that respects no time zones.

    And the bottom 25%, who, if they are not pacified will provide ample motivation for people to stay indoors to avoid being attacked by roving gangs, are what Vlahos calls "The Lost." Roughly twice as large a population share as those who were discarded by the Industrial Revolution in Britain according to Vlahos, "The Lost" are those that will never become a functioning part of "ByteCity." Sustained by modern "Victorians" who know the threat posed by the poor, "The Lost" are merely the most wretched of the wretches. Life all the way up the line from "lost" to "lord" will entail such radical disruption of personal safety and well-being that, in effect, Vlahos has turned dystopian cyberpunk literature into a policy statement. Naturally, expecting to rise to the top, Vlahos appears to feverishly await the "Big Change."

    No less chilling is the scenarios planning exercise that WIRED's wizards-behind-the-curtain perform on their multi-national clients. From General Motors to AT&T;, the Global Business Network (GBN) charges hefty sums to show the yellow-brick-road towards "ByteCity" to strategic planners and top corporate brass. In one recent and rare public discussion of the results, GM's top planning team defined the three "alternative futures" which emerged after years of GBN counseling. The first is just like our world and, so by definition, is not very interesting. The second is an eco-fascist regime in which car designs are completely "Green" and the companies can only follow orders. The third is the fun one, however. This is the world in which armed gangs roam the streets and surface travel is a series of car chases. This scenario has already been anticipated with a Cadillac that includes armored protection and a "panic" button installed in the middle of the dashboard. The car has a satellite tracking system built in and it can call the local authorities (presumably your multi-national's private swat-team) and get help when you get trapped by the natives.

    Vlahos/PFF/Gingrich and WIRED/GBN/Brand and Wells/Toffler/"Open Conspiracy". What is the ideology being expressed by all these 20th century New Dark Age "revolutionaries"? Is this ideology "Californian"? Or, does it have another historical context and another tribal association? I merely suggest that accuracy, intellectual faithfulness and international solidarity require us to pin the tail on the real (Benthamite) donkey. This is the English ideology and, as usual, its hell-bent on ruling the world - over our dead bodies.

    <---back to part one
    <---back to part two