Review: Counterculture Through the Ages–From Abraham to Acid House

5 Star, Change & Innovation, Complexity & Resilience, Consciousness & Social IQ, Culture, Research

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5.0 out of 5 stars From Socrates to Brand, Sterling, and Rheingold: Good Stuff,

December 25, 2004
Ken Goffman a.k.a. R.U. Sirius
I found this book in an airport, and bought it for three reasons: 1) because Bruce Sterling plugged it; 2) because my 15-year old is well on his way to being part of the emerging counter-culture; and 3) because I do believe that “power to the people” is now imminent–not if, but when.

It starts slow, quickly improves by page 50, and as I put down the book I could not help but think, “tour de force.” This is both a work of scholarship and an advanced commentary that puts counter-culture movements across history into a most positive context.

Across the ages, the common currency of any counter-culture is the will to live free of constraints, limiting the impositions of authority. Indeed, it is very hard not to put this book down with an altered appreciation for hippies, war protesters and civil rights activists, for the book makes it clear that they are direct intellectual, cultural, and emotional descendants of both Socrates and the Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson.

From Socrates to Taoism, Zen, Sufis, Troubadours, the Enlightenment, the Americans, Bohemian Paris, and into the 1950's through the 1970's, the author's broad brush review of the history of counter-culture in all its forms is helpful to anyone interested in how the next twenty years might play out.

The bottom line is clear: we need the counter-culture, and it is time for this century's culture hackers–of whom Stewart Brand may be the first–along with the author–to rise from their slumber.

Some side notes:

1) An underlying theme, not fully brought out, is that anything in excess or without balance can be harmful. Absolute dictatorship by religions is as bad as absolute secular dictatorship. Science without humanity, humanity without science.

2) The Jewish religion is favorably treated in this book as perhaps the most counter-cultural and individualistic of the religions. I found this intriguing and was quite interested in some of the specific examples.

3) I disagree with the author's attack on Roger Shattuck's “Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography,” and would go so far as to say that the two books should be read together, along with “Voltaire's Bastards,” “Consilience,” and a few of the other books on my information society list.

The author concludes somewhat somberly, not at all sure that there is much good ahead. He very rationally notes that before we begin the next big counter-cultural movement we should probably focus on fundamentals first: do we have enough water, energy, food, medicine?

I agree with that, and I agree with John Gage's prediction in 2000, that DoKoMo phones in the hands of pre-teens, and Sony Playstations at $300 with access to the Internet, are irrevocably changing the balance of power. Jonathan Schell is on target in “Unconquerable World: Power, Non-Violence, and the Will of the People,” and both Tom Atlee (“The Tao of Democracy”) and Howard Rheingold (“Smart Mobs”) as well as James Surowiecki (“The Wisdom of the Crowds”) all show us clearly that information is going to out the corrupt and restore balance to our lives. It is not a matter of if, but when. Collective intelligence–public intelligence–is here to stay.

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