This is a mini-interview with Ken Goffman (a.k.a. R.U. Sirius), co-author of Counterculture Through the Ages.
Q. How would you compare the counterculture of the '60s with today's?
A. In the 1960s, there were three television channels, newspapers and magazines, pop radio. People got their messages from very few sources. There was a mainstream culture that had a strong sense of itself--the generally accepted rules around sex, swearing and style of dress were very narrow. A youth counterculture that emerged to challenge those cultural mores surprised and delighted people in the media. So the counterculture was worthy of a lot of attention, which gave it power. And you could have a pretty simple and straightforward sense of us and them--counterculture vs. the establishment.
Today, we have a zilllion media channels vying for people's attention--pushing attention in millions of different directions. Everything is distributed and diffused and confused. And then, extreme types of dress and irreverence are mainstream." In fact, we can question whether a mainstream or a counterculture really exists any more. Our cultures today are cauldrons of confusion and contradiction. Rather than a counterculture, you have these sorts of counter-subcultures. Cultures that evolve out of punk, raves, riot grrls, and body mod freaks. And it gets pretty tribal--the eco-anarchist may have a war with the techno-anarchists.
However, the Bush Administration has been so distressing that people seem to be setting aside some of their differences. Increasingly, subculture as a source of an identity that needs to be exclusive to remain hip is giving way to a desire among lots of different people to preserve the right to non-conform and dissent.
Q. Tell me about your current projects.
A. I've started two companion projects that I hope will alter the current course of American politics and culture, or at least amuse and inform and incite some fellow rabble.
QuestionAuthority is an attempt to bring together everybody who thinks we've gone too far in an authoritarian direction and who wants to push back against that. We have a five-point platform that I think most of your readers will agree with, related to getting back civil liberties lost to the war on terror and the war on drugs, reigning in the runaway executive branch and defending free expression, and we are planning some very cool educational projects. Perhaps most important, we're trying to create some cohesive structure through which people can respond the next time this administration or the next one does a mind-twisting assault against our basic constitutional rights. You know, don't leave it up to the lawyers. The QuestionAuthority proposal is here.
Open Source Party is an attempt to apply some of the principles of the Open Source movement, which started out as a software movement and has evolved into a cultural sensibility, to the current and future political situation. Why are our political institutions decades or centuries (Washington B.C.) behind our technology? It's also an attempt to define a sort of alternative political agenda that seems nascent in our culture right now--this novel mix of liberalism, libertarianism, pragmatism and vision that many of us see buzzing around us. The Open Source Party is here.
Both projects try to bring liberal, libertarian and my favorite political type--other--together around common agenda items that are in dire need of being addressed. Imagine Michael Moore and John Stossel coming together to defend the constitution and end the drug war? You may say I'm a dreamer.... A social network that is hosting both organizations is here.
Q. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
A. Maybe I'm poptimistic--I'm all about mergers of opposites. Seriously though, I don't believe in optimism or pessimism. Either way, it's going to skew your perception of the world. I find it interesting that people who like the free market can marshal facts and figures to show that the living standard of the world's people has grown by leaps and bounds since globalization took hold in the 1990s, with all its new agreements and virtually no opposition. Anti-capitalists and nationalists can marshal facts and figures to prove that third world people--and the working class in the advanced world--are facing economic destruction on an unprecedented scale, because globalization has taken hold with virtually no opposition. The facts and figures used by each side may be entirely accurate.
Our mutual friend Robert Anton Wilson wrote, "The prover proves what the thinker thinks." I always try to keep that in mind. So as I get deeper into advocacy, I always have to remind myself to take even my own glorious bullshit with many grains of salt.