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I have just read Steve Fuller's "Ninety-degree revolution". It's an interesting article but flawed. Fuller's argument is that the old division between Right and Left is out-dated, a claim few would argue with these days, and that the real division is between those who look to the skies and those who look to the Earth, or as he puts it, Black and Green (to contrast with the Red and Blue of left-right politics). The problem is that this Black-Green dichotomy is also a false one.

Back in the 1970s, when I first got involved in politics, it really did look like that, with nice green hippies on the one side and soulless technocrats on the other. Theodore Roszak's The Making of a Counter-Culture was a particularly pernicious example of this dichotomous thinking, and I am sorry to say it had a big influence on me when I was 14. Despite the fact that I and my hippie friends consumed a lot of SF, that shiny future somehow didn't connect with our present or even the near future, which was instead dominated by the need to make the revolution, kick out the technocrats and heal the Earth, all of which could best be achieved by setting up communes where we could grow organic vegetables, smoke weed and practice free love. Interstellar travel would take care of itself at some later date. We'd make telepathic contact with Sirius, or maybe once we'd established world peace, the Vulcans would turn up and give us the warp drive.

Of course I'm exaggerating for effect here, but there's a grain of truth in it: the Green movement of the late twentieth century was a continuation of a critique of industrialisation that started with William Cobbett's Rural Rides, ran through William Morriss and the Arts and Crafts movement, and reached its finest expression in The Lord of the Rings. As Fuller correctly points out, this critique has little to do with Right-Left politics; Cobbett was a Tory turned Radical, Morriss fell out first with the Liberal Party, then with the Marxists and finally with the anarchists, and Tolkien was, in his own words, "an unconstitutional monarchist." It was a progressive movement based on a profoundly conservative worldview.

Contrasting with this movement, we had the utopian technologists, exemplified by the BBC's Tomorrow's World. Even I, as a tiny hippie, loved Tomorrow's World. It was like TED for the 1960s—science and technology would fix every problem we could think of. This was the beginning of what Fuller calls the Blacks, exemplified, as he says, by F. M. Esfandiary (a.k.a. FM-2030), but also, more wackily by Timothy Leary, with his SMI2LE formula (Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension). And it is the inclusion of Timothy Leary here that gives the lie to Roszak's counterculture/technocracy dichotomy. Leary was the father of the hippies, yet here he was saying we needed better technology, not a return to Nature. His friend Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! was almost a Bible for the late counterculture, yet in Schrödinger's Cat he warned that by rejecting technology, environmentalism could destroy the very Earth it was supposed to save.

Writers like Leary and Wilson understood that we were at the cusp of a change in the nature of technology, and it is this change that makes the Black-Green dichotomy obsolete even as it is trumpeted as an alternative to the Left-Right dichotomy. What Cobbett, Morriss and Tolkien were opposed to was not science, or even technology as such, but industrialism. (OK, Tolkien's discussion of magic vs. enchantment might have been opposed to the idea of technology per se, but that's a complicated issue. At the very least, he wasn't against windmills.) It was this gut reaction against the dirt, the destruction, the brutality and the anonymity of industrial technology that pushed me, like many of my generation, into radical environmentalism, just at the point when technology was transforming into something very different and not nearly as ugly. We saw the technological mindset as starting with Blake's Satanic Mills and leading to Huxley's Brave New World, but in fact it was going in a different direction.

I don't want to gush about how wonderful 21st century technology is, particularly when half the Internet is doing that already. The evils Tolkien and Huxley warned us about are still there, just like the injustices Marx and Bakunin railed against are still there. But we are not at a fork in the road of history where we have to choose between Gaia and galactic civilisation.


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Robin Turner

June 2014

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