person:robert heinlein

  • The Complicated Legacy of Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog” | The New Yorker

    At the height of the civil-rights movement and the war in Vietnam, the “Whole Earth Catalog” offered a vision for a new social order—one that eschewed institutions in favor of individual empowerment, achieved through the acquisition of skills and tools. The latter category included agricultural equipment, weaving kits, mechanical devices, books like “Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia,” and digital technologies and related theoretical texts, such as Norbert Wiener’s “Cybernetics” and the Hewlett-Packard 9100A, a programmable calculator. “We are as gods and might as well get used to it” read the first catalogue’s statement of purpose. “A realm of intimate, personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested.”

    The communes eventually collapsed, for the usual reasons, which included poor resource management, factionalism, and financial limitations. But the “Whole Earth Catalog,” which published quarterly through 1971 and sporadically thereafter, garnered a cult following that included founders of Airbnb and Stripe and also early employees of Facebook.

    Last month, on a brisk and blindingly sunny Saturday, over a hundred alumni of the “Whole Earth Catalog” network—Merry Pranksters, communards, hippies, hackers, entrepreneurs, journalists, and futurists—gathered to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication, and, per the invitation, to come together “one last time.” The event was held at the San Francisco Art Institute, a renovated wharf warehouse with vaulted ceilings, views of Alcatraz, and the cool sterility of an empty art gallery. A number of early-Internet architects, including Larry Brilliant, Lee Felsenstein, and Ted Nelson, floated around the room. Several alumni had scribbled their well usernames onto their badges.

    A week after the reunion, Brand and I spoke over the phone, and he emphasized that he had little nostalgia for “Whole Earth.” “ ‘The Whole Earth Catalog’ is well and truly obsolete and extinct,” he said. “There’s this sort of abiding interest in it, or what it was involved in, back in the day, and so the reunion was a way for the perpetrators to get together and have a drink and piss on the grave.” Brand continued, “There’s pieces being written on the East Coast about how I’m to blame for everything,” from sexism in the back-to-the-land communes to the monopolies of Google, Amazon, and Apple. “The people who are using my name as a source of good or ill things going on in cyberspace, most of them don’t know me at all,” he said. “They’re just using a shorthand. You know, magical realism: Borges. You mention a few names so you don’t have to go down the whole list. It’s a cognitive shortcut.”

    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.”

    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.

    #Stewart_Brand #Utopie_numérique

  • L’art de la guerre dans Starship Troopers- 1 Les Américains et la Première guerre interstellaire.

    Starship Troopers (Etoiles, garde à vous ! dans la version française) de Robert Heinlein n’est pas une fausse Histoire, ni un traité de stratégie, mais l’aventure d’un individu ordinaire plongé dans une situation extraordinaire, en l’occurrence un simple soldat au cœur d’une guerre interstellaire. Outre que le héros est probablement philippin, Heinlein se démarque de cet argument très américain du héros modeste en ne tordant pas la situation jusqu’à l’absurde (l’éternel point faible de l’Etoile noire dans la saga Star Wars par exemple) afin de lui permettre d’avoir des effets stratégiques, voire de sauver le monde, à lui tout seul.

    Juan Rico gravit simplement les échelons de simple soldat à chef de section de l’Infanterie mobile (IM). Il voit peu de choses mais il les voit bien et la description de son univers immédiat, même s’il combat en scaphandre des Arachnides géants, est une des plus réalistes qui ait jamais été faite de la vie d’un fantassin. Dans le même temps, et c’est ce qui va nous intéresser ici, écrit en 1959 Starship Troopers (ST) est une aussi une excellente description de la manière dont on voit la guerre à cette époque aux Etats-Unis, à l’ère de l’atome et du communisme triomphant.

    Dans Starship Troopers, la guerre est une affaire entre Etats, trois en l’occurrence : la Fédération terrienne, les Squelettes (Skinnies dans la version originale, terme repris en 1992-93 par les soldats américains pour désigner les Somaliens) dont on sait peu de choses et un Empire arachnide qui ressemble fort à la Chine communiste.

    Pas question donc, malgré le spectacle contemporain des conflits en Indochine, Malaisie ou en Algérie d’évoquer la lutte entre des Etats et des rébellions armées. Heinlein, grand voyageur, les connaît pourtant bien. Son héros dans ST cite comme grand stratège Ramon Magsaysay, organisateur de la guérilla aux Philippines pendant l’occupation japonaise avant d’en devenir le Président. Ceux de Révolte sur la Lune (1966) seront également des révolutionnaires mais cela se passe déjà pendant la guerre du Vietnam.

    Au moment de la parution du roman, Heinlein reste plutôt dans le cadre d’une vision militaire américaine comprend mal cette forme de guerre. Politiquement, elle est associée à la décolonisation, affaire qui ne concerne pas les Etats-Unis. Techniquement, la guérilla est considérée comme un harcèlement mené par des partisans à partir d’un milieu difficile généralement en liaison, comme en Corée, avec une armée régulière sur la ligne de front. Pour le commandement américain, il s’agit simplement d’un combat « léger » à mener donc aussi par une infanterie légère, qui par son excellence et ses appuis, ne pourra manquer de l’emporter. Heinlein est plus subtil dans la mesure où par de nombreux aspects, c’est son Infanterie mobile (IM) qui va conduire une guérilla. Nous y reviendrons.

  • Neal Stephenson : Innovation Starvation | WIRED

    par Neil Stephenson

    Still, I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done. My parents and grandparents witnessed the creation of the airplane, the automobile, nuclear energy, and the computer to name only a few. Scientists and engineers who came of age during the first half of the 20th century could look forward to building things that would solve age-old problems, transform the landscape, build the economy, and provide jobs for the burgeoning middle class that was the basis for our stable democracy.

    The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 crystallized my feeling that we have lost our ability to get important things done. The OPEC oil shock was in 1973 — almost 40 years ago. It was obvious then that it was crazy for the United States to let itself be held economic hostage to the kinds of countries where oil was being produced. It led to Jimmy Carter’s proposal for the development of an enormous synthetic fuels industry on American soil. Whatever one might think of the merits of the Carter presidency or of this particular proposal, it was, at least, a serious effort to come to grips with the problem.

    The audience at Future Tense was more confident than I that science fiction [SF] had relevance — even utility — in addressing the problem.

    I heard two theories as to why:

    The Inspiration Theory. SF inspires people to choose science and engineering as careers. This much is undoubtedly true, and somewhat obvious.
    The Hieroglyph Theory. Good SF supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place. A good SF universe has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to scientists and engineers. Examples include Isaac Asimov’s robots, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ships, and William Gibson’s cyberspace. As Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research puts it, such icons serve as hieroglyphs — simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.

    Today’s belief in ineluctable certainty is the true innovation-killer of our age. In this environment, the best an audacious manager can do is to develop small improvements to existing systems — climbing the hill, as it were, toward a local maximum, trimming fat, eking out the occasional tiny innovation — like city planners painting bicycle lanes on the streets as a gesture toward solving our energy problems. Any strategy that involves crossing a valley — accepting short-term losses to reach a higher hill in the distance — will soon be brought to a halt by the demands of a system that celebrates short-term gains and tolerates stagnation, but condemns anything else as failure. In short, a world where big stuff can never get done.

    #Science_fiction #Innovation #Neil_Stephenson

  • Continuing the Margaret Thatcher Memorial Season on this blog: why the Left gets neoliberalism wrong, by political scientist Corey Robin.

    poke @monolecte : It turns out that the thing about rugged individualism is (once one gets beyond the pulp novels of Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein, not exactly founts of academic rigour) a red herring, and the true atom of the neoliberal world view is traditional, vaguely feudal, hierarchical structures of authority: patriarchial families, and enterprises with owners and chains of fealty:

    For all their individualist bluster, libertarians—particularly those market-oriented libertarians who are rightly viewed as the leading theoreticians of neoliberalism—often make the same claim. When these libertarians look out at society, they don’t always see isolated or autonomous individuals; they’re just as likely to see private hierarchies like the family or the workplace, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees. And that, I suspect (though further research is certainly necessary), is what they think of and like about society: that it’s an archipelago of private governments.
    What often gets lost in these debates is what I think is the real, or at least a main, thrust of neoliberalism, according to some of its most interesting and important theoreticians (and its actual practice): not to liberate the individual or to deregulate the marketplace, but to shift power from government (or at least those sectors of government like the legislature that make some claim to or pretense of democratic legitimacy; at a later point I plan to talk about Hayek’s brief on behalf of an unelected, unaccountable judiciary, which bears all the trappings of medieval judges applying the common law, similar to the “belated feudalism” of the 19th century American state, so brilliantly analyzed by Karen Orren here) to the private authority of fathers and owners.
    By this analysis, while neoliberalism may wield the rhetoric of atomised individualism, it is more like a counter-enlightenment of sorts.