Geo Barcan: Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron: The Californian Ideology

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Key words:

  • free-market economics
  • technology and science
  • libertarianism / libertarian
  • electronic democracy / electronic agora
  • Californian Ideology = right-wing neo-liberalism + counter-culture radicalism + technological determinism and optimism + ANTI BIG GOVERNMENT
  • Wired = the bible of the "virtual class"



Barbrook and Cameron's essay discusses the paradoxical development of the neo-liberal, technologically driven culture of Silicon Valley also known today as "big-tech" (paradoxical, because it militated for freedom, but lead to modern day slavery). Today's big technological business owners are actually the hippies, radicals or academics of the past. Their determinism and belief that the development of technology will lead to a kid of "electronic democracy", actually encouraged the acceleration of capitalism. The "Californians" were anti-state and government and pleaded for a free-market economy. In this sense, one's worth is in relation to one's relation to jobs and income. The "Californians" optimistically thought that technology will liberate society by being a space of free speech and open trade, independent of any other external power structures.

This is a key essay in understanding the emergence of contemporary internet culture and economy, as well as the fast metamorphosis of the political and social agenda at the end of the 20th and beginning of 21st century. It bases the roots of neo-liberalism in the optimism and libertarianism of the hippies. I believe that this paper help in contextualizing both the research of capitalism as well as the internet. To conclude with, all propagators and inhabitants of the corporate climate are Californian Ideologists, living the false dream of the forever-happy-ever-after "virtual class", where science and technology are the main heroes and the lower class, non-white people the villains.



Relevant paragraphs:

  • "Californian ideologists' [...] politics appear to be impeccably libertarian - they want information technologies to be used to create a new `Jeffersonian democracy' in cyberspace in its certainties, the Californian ideology offers a fatalistic vision of the natural and inevitable triumph of the hi-tech free market."
  • "the power of big business and big government would be overthrown by the intrinsically empowering effects of new technology on individuals."
  • "many of the fundamental advances in personal computing and networking were made by people influenced by the technological optimism of the new left and the counter-culture." ⇒ "By the '90s, some of these ex-hippies had even become owners and managers of high-tech corporations in their own right and the pioneering work of the community media activists has been largely recuperated by hi-tech commerce."
  • "As a result, the cultural divide between the hippie and the organization man has now become rather fuzzy."
  • "work itself ho become the main route to self-fulfillment for much of the,virtual class'. "
  • "Because these core workers are both a privileged part of the labour force and heirs of the radical ideas of the community media activists, the Californian Ideology simultaneously reflects the disciplines of market economics and the freedoms of hippie artisanship. This bizarre hybrid is only made possible through a nearly universal belief in technological determinism."
  • "In place of the collective freedom sought by the hippie radicals, they have championed the liberty of individuals within the marketplace."
  • "Gingrich and the Tofflers claim that the convergence of media, computing and telecommunications will not create an electronic agora, but will instead lead to the apotheosis of the market, an electronic exchange within which everybody can become a free trader." → Amazon ? ? ?
  • Californian ideologists want to reduce the power and influence of the state, BUT "All of this public funding has had an enormously beneficial - albeit unacknowledged and uncosted - effect on the subsequent development of Silicon Valley and other hi-tech industries. Entrepreneurs often have an inflated sense of their own 'creative act of will' in developing new ideas and give little recognition to the contributions made by either the state or their own labour force."
  • "Although the ideologues of California celebrate the libertarian individualism of the hippies, they never discuss the political or social demands of the counter-culture. Individual freedom is no longer to be achieved by rebelling against the system, but through submission to the natural laws of technological progress and the free market. In many cyberpunk novels and films, this asocial libertarianism is expressed by the central character of the lone individual fighting for survival within a virtual world of information"
  • "As technological determinists, they believe that human social and emotional ties obstruct the efficient evolution of the machine. Abandoning democracy and social solidarity, the Californian Ideology dreams of a digital nirvana inhabited solely by liberal psychopaths."



By Celia Pearce, 10 March 1996

Why is Silicon valley overrun with capitalist hippies? It is easy to label these individuals are revolutionaries who "sold out" to the capitalist ethic.

  • California is and has always been characterized by pioneers and golddiggers. From the gold rush, to the movie industry, to the computer revolution, the Californian Ideology has always been one of spirited individualism and entrepreneurialism. A less utopian way to look at it is that California is a breeding ground for greed and self-interest. Both interpretations are correct. By way of example, take a look at this list of just a few of the things California has brought the world:

LevisMoviesCharles MansonThe Grateful DeadRonald Reagan and Richard NixonSilicon GraphicsMicrosoft and AppleIndustrial Light & MagicLos Angeles and San FranciscoScientologyDisneyland


  • Virtual Class = this individual-the independent contractor, free to come and go as they wish, well-paid, but at the same time, suffering from acute workaholism


  • In our anti-intellectual culture, artists are considered subversive and unnecessary.


  • The most important thing in America is making money. Period. If we begin our discussion starting from that axiom, we can start to make a little more sense of what the Californian Ideology is all about.


  • Big companies like Disney, IBM, McDonald's or Coca-Cola, are small nations unto themselves with their own culture, ethics, even their own language. → Furthermore, it doesn't take a genius to see that in reality, there is no politics in America, only economics. So to say that Americans are apolitical is absolutely correct. And that is because our country is about economics, not politics. In Europe, there are countries. In America, there are corporations. It is the corporations who take care of the people, not the government.


  • Capitalist Cyberhippies


  • Those who would have excelled in politics turned instead to industry. In another time and place, it might have been Bill Gates in the White House rather than Bill Clinton. But their generation learned the hard way that politics is as treacherous in America as it is pointless. The mere comparison of the two Bills should attest to that


  • For every Apple in California, there is a Lockheed. Considering Silicon Valley is the domain of the cyberhippie-turned-capitalist culture, there is a deep irony in the fact that people who were once anti-war demonstrators have built an entire industry on the shoulders of the military. The brushing over of this fact is yet another example of historical myopia.




+++++++ Interesting influence/connection with hippies and technology enthusiasts maybe?

Timothy Leary - powerful influence on American Culture

Leary continued to take drugs frequently in private, but stayed away from proselytizing psychedelics. Instead, he preached about space colonization and extension of the human lifespan. He expounded on the eight-circuit model of consciousness in books such as Info-Psychology: A Re-Vision of Exo-Psychology and others.[115] He invented the acronym "SMI²LE" as a succinct summary of his pre-transhumanist agenda: SM (Space Migration) + I² (intelligence increase) + LE (Life extension).

He proclaimed that "the PC is the LSD of the 1990s" and admonished bohemians to "turn on, boot up, jack in".

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