In her new book, We Are As Gods: Back to the Land in the 1970s on the Quest for a New America, author Kate Daloz lovingly conjures up the unbridled idealism and gritty resolve of the late ’60s and early ’70s, a period some historians now call America’s “Third Great Awakening.” Back-to-the-landers and anti-war protesters alike, yours truly included, rejected the techno-industrial system that brought us Muzak, Cool-Whip, and Agent Orange, and set out to build a new world — one that was more egalitarian, more peaceful, and more free — through the power of Love.
The Whole Earth Catalog was our field guide. I remember the day in early 1969 when I got my hands on my first copy. It was massive — a thick, black, tabloid-sized paperback. Its cover featured NASA’s first photograph of planet Earth taken from space. There it was, our celestial home — a shimmering orb laced with eddies of wispy white clouds. Oceans, grasslands, and forests glistened in blues and greens. Deserts, too hot for cloud cover, sat sun-baked and blood red. There were no borders.
That first catalog was a scrumptious smorgasbord of reviews and excerpts of the works of Bucky Fuller, Carlos Castaneda, the I Ching, the Dome Cookbook, “The Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes,” how-to guides on keeping bees, making tipis and building solar panels, where to get the best calculators, desert moccasins, kerosene lamps, baby carriers, and much more.
Stewart Brand proclaimed his publication’s purpose on the first page: “We are as gods,” he wrote, “and might as well get good at it.” I thought it was a statement of humility, not hubris.
Now, nearly half a century later, I read Brand’s statement differently. With his Long Now Foundation and his many books, most especially his Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary, Brand has become the techno-industrial state’s highest-leaping cheerleader and one of its principal spokespeople, giving talks all over the world arguing the case for nuclear power, megacities and GMO crops. Brand leads a posse of West Coast authors, entrepreneurs, and business consultants, who advocate for techno-utopianism, neo-environmentalism, and the Singularity.
In his book, What Technology Wants, former WEC editor and Wired magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly writes about what he calls “the technium, a global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us,” which is now “as great a force in our world as nature.” This a good thing, Kelly
believes, because “technology has its own imperative.” We should “surrender to its advances” and “listen to what it wants.” This will “unleash human potential” and lead to “deep progress” as we merge with machines, (the Singularity), and become greater than the merely human. Kelly concludes his apologia for the new order rhapsodizing that, “We can see more of God in a cellphone than in a tree frog.”
Asked by an interviewer for his thoughts on the future of humanity, Kelly, whose new book is titled, The Inevitable, said, “I think we’ll evolve until we’re unrecognizable, that we will become something so different from what we are that we’ll want to give it a different name … a plural. I think that our destiny is to be many species.”
Ninety years ago, in his prophetic Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence warned about “the insentient iron world … of mechanized greed, sparkling with lights and roaring with traffic … the vast evil thing ready to destroy whatever did not conform.”
Today when I think of Stewart Brand, I picture Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb contemplating man’s awesome power to split atoms, modify genes, engineer weather patterns, transplant
entire populations, even revive extinct species. Dr. Faust never had such grandiose ambitions.
Then I see Kevin Kelly as Slim Pickens’ character in the same film, straddling a nuclear bomb as it tumbles from a B-52, triggering the Doomsday Machine and rendering the surface of the earth uninhabitable. Pickens (Kelly) rides the bomb like a rodeo rider atop a bucking bronco, hollering “Whaaa Hooo!!!” the whole way down. “We are as gods…Whaaa Hooo!”
Eric Utne is writing a memoir to be published by Random House.