Remi Sussan, who maintains our French-language pages, has written a marvelous book about the emergence of the transhuman countercultures, Utopies Posthumaines. This book has been very well reviewed, and generated a number of interviews, the latest one being here. I have no hesitation to say that if this book were written in English, it would be an instant classic reference book on the counterculture. I have rarely encountered people with such a broad and well-rounded intelligence.
I’ve asked him 3 questions, the second specificially about how the transhuman and P2P meme’s are inter-related.
What is your book about?
My book is about the relationship between what is commonly named the “counter-culture” and technological futurism. I argue that there exists a “technological counter-culture” that has for main theme the accession of humanity to a new state of existence through technology. The figure of the posthuman may vary, from the indian yogi of the 60’s to the cyborg or the post singularity shaman, but the project remain the same. The book relates the history of this “futuristic counter culture” beginning the 1930-60, with ancestors like Alfred Korzybski, Gregory Bateson, Marshall Mc Luhan and Buckminster Fuller, continuing with the Hippie era, with people like Timothy Leary and his 8 circuits theory. It then presents the “cyberculture” of the 80-90, and finishes by what I call the “culture of chaos”, contemporary counter culture centered around biological metaphors (memes, artificial life) and “new edge” occultism.
Is there any relationship between transhumanism/techno-counterculture/chaos theory and P2P processes, how do you see the interplay?
There are numerous relationships between counter-culture and transhumanism. People like William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna or Genesis P-Orridge have strongly advocated various transhumanist ideas. One of the common points between the various trends of counter-culture is the idea that “chaos is good”, that the world, being impredictable cannot be constrained in a fixed set of rules (the map is not the territory, and yadda yadda yadda). Hence the anarchistic aspect of these movements. Even the libertarianism of some transhumanists/extropians is a kind of anarchism, after all.
The importance of chaos is especially embodied in the “discordian religion”, this semi humorous “cult” worshipping Eris, goddess of discord and confusion. The theme of chaos is present in all trends of counter-culture, but I think that is ieven more central now, in the post 2001 “culture of chaos”, where the various “collective intelligences” are increasing in complexity and impredictability, through “smart mobs”, swarming tactics, “memetic engineering”, and of course P2P systems
But there is a deeper connection, which I hope to develop in future writings: the new cultural trends, name them â€œcounter-culturesâ€? or â€œpop culturesâ€?, as you want, are indeed built on a p2p structure, where the various participants of the system exchange cultural ideas. This has always happened. But â€œcultureâ€? defined itself in a top-down way, through various institutions, religions, etc. Of course this was just the â€œconsciousâ€? representation of culture: the way it appeared to its members and to the strangers as well. Now, the way ideas spread and modify were part of a kind of a social unconscious. This is by the way, the best definition of a counter culture: a connected set of ideas that exists, are influential but remained unnoticed by the institutions and people in charge of representing the â€œreal â€œculture.
Today, things are not really different, but, thanks to the democratization of media, the â€œmainstreamâ€? culture stops to appear as a consensus, like in the past. In other words, there is no more â€œâ€™mainstreamâ€?, counter-cultures are the only ones that remains, and there is currently no known way to represent adequately the â€œcultureâ€? of our current society.
When we study things like transhumanism, or chaos magick, or psychedelic movements, we discover some ideas, some â€œmemesâ€? such as the singularity, or the â€œmetaprograming of consciousnessâ€? that people adopt and combine with other ideas they fish in the global noospherian ocean, according to their goals and tastes: For instance, the Vingian, transhumanist â€œSingularityâ€? becomes the psychedelic Eschaton, etc….
In order to process these ideas constantly bombarding us, we need some organizing schemes helping us to combine these various cultural Lego bricks. I think that many of the â€œnew age philosophiesâ€? (which are frequently based on geometric construction and classification systems, such as the enneagram, the sephirotic tree, the I king or Wilbers â€˜quadrants) have in fact no other goals.
Eventually, this P2P culture will culminate in the realization of individual â€œself culturesâ€?, everybody being able to build oneâ€™s own culture, oneâ€™s own religion, oneâ€™s own philosophy, ethics, and perhaps, soon, oneâ€™s own body and consciousness. Futuristic brain and body modification permitting anybody to go even further on the path of â€œself cultureâ€?, toward the complete recreation of oneself.
Do you see any differences between the American transhumanist culture and the way these ideas are received in Europe and France in particular
I cannot say for all Europe. France is quite resistant to this kind of ideas, and very suspicious about technology in general. Let’s not forget that well known intellectuals continue here to think that internet is a danger for democracy, so you imagine, transhumanism! But I think this reactionary attitude is more the expression of the intellectual and media elite, which is completely disconnected from the reality of people.. But the French people are neither less , nor more open to new ideas than American and English people (let’s not forget that in America also, these ideas are very marginal, when you compare them to Christian fundamentalism). I’m sure they would be more positive toward all these new trends (including transhumanism, but also any new idea or technology) if they had more frequently access to them.
Now, I think there are also some ideas which are forever “typically American” , such as libertarianism or this bizarre cult of Ayn Rand, which will never succeed in Europe (and this is a good thing, imho).