From Satori to Silicon Valley

by Theodore Roszak
Copyright 2000 by Theodore Roszak. All rights reserved.

The Light That Failed?

With the benefit of hindsight, one can easily see the pathos of the reversionary-technophiliac synthesis -- though I think more than a little of it still survives among the computer enthusiasts. The reversionary and the technophiliac choices with which our society confronts us do not so readily combine; indeed, I suspect there is an insurmountable hostility between the large scale technology on which the computer industry is based and the traditional values that the counter culture wished to salvage. The military-industrial complex battens off the gigantism of advanced technology; it is not the ally of communal or organic values. Nor are the corporate leaders of the industrial world so easily outsmarted and outflanked as the Fullerite Technophiles always wanted to believe. Moneyed elites are no slouches when it comes to defending their interests. They can outspend their opposition; they can outwait and outwit their enemies by hiring the brains they need as well as the brute power.

It is sad in the extreme to know, as we now do, that before Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary brought the gospel of LSD to the streets, the CIA had long since undertaken an exhaustive run of experiments with the hallucinogens using human beings as guinea pigs to explore the possibilities of mind control. Similarly, it now seems abundantly clear that long before the personal computer has the chance to restore democratic values, the major corporations and the security agencies of the world will have used the technology to usher in a new era of advanced surveillance and control. As for the space rocket and satellite, we can be sure that by the time the L-5 Society has raised the funds for its first modest colony, the military will already be encamped on the high frontier armed with unheard of genocidal weaponry.

It was an attractive hope that the high technology of our society might be wrested from the grip of benighted forces and used to restore us to an idyllic natural state. And for a brief moment -- while the music swelled, and the lights flashed, and the dope cast its spell -- it looked like the road forward to many bright spirits. But ultimately -- and really in very short order -- the synthesis crumbled, and the technophiliac values of the counter culture won out. They are, after all, the values of the mainstream and the commanding heights, forces that have proved far more tenacious than most members of the counter culture guessed.

Does this mean that the reversionary wing of the movement was simply a light that failed? In one sense, obviously yes. The urban-industrial dominance is more tightly locked to the planet than ever; the search for viable alternatives has gone into a deep eclipse. But a light that fails is still better than unchallenged darkness. For besides winning, there is also being right. And on another level where the historical clock measures out its story in millennia not minutes, the Reversionaries may be regarded as prophetical voices that, though largely unheeded, spoke truth to power. Not all that the Reversionaries stood for was born from a naive infatuation with simple cultures and native peoples. Besides looking back with fondness, they also looked forward. As Allen Ginsberg did when he spoke of the Beat poets as the world's Distant Early Warning System. And what he saw ahead made the neo-primitivism of the sixties more a matter of desperate animal survival than charming nostalgia: the death -- slow or sudden, by fire or blight -- of a civilization grown tragically estranged from the mothering Earth, our imperial cities turning feral, crumbling beneath the weight of their own arrogance, the lordly power of our machines humbled, the wildness reclaiming its planetary preeminence, perhaps not gently. The bad end of a Faustian bargain that was signed when the first pyramid was raised.



Some Afterthoughts in the Year 2000

From Satori to Silicon Valley by Theodore Roszak
Copyright 2000 by Theodore Roszak. All rights reserved.