February 18, 2011

Just Do It

Stewart Brand's "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist's Manifesto": this is the sort of breathless book you'd write if you'd never met a technical fix you didn't like, you'd never met a tech bandwagon you couldn't jump on, you'd never met a tech guru you couldn't idolise, and you'd spent your life believing that all it really takes to solve the problems of the world is a bit of optimism and a lot of technology. It's very Twentieth-Century-American in the way that it's both wildly-optimistic and a gloomy jeremiad, all painted in primary colours; and very political in the way that it wants to think of itself as above or beyond politics (and deeply ideological in the way it thinks of itself as purely pragmatic).

On the evidence of this book, Brand's a more coherent descendent of the sainted Bucky, with the same capital-"B" serial Believer mentality, and a Belief that — when you really get down to it — all problems are really just technical issues with technical fixes. The fact that he and his gurus have been wrong in the past (while being equally certain), and that all those unintended side effects just … happen … regardless of any good intentions or expert dictats airily strewn around books like his — all that just seems like so much water off a duck's back for him, apparently.

All of which strikes me as a shame, given that I basically agree with a lot of the less-breathless observations and fundamental insights into technology and the Green movement. Cruelly, he's like the old hippy in the corner of the Mediterraneum up on Telegraph who goes on and on (and on) to anyone who'll listen (and many who won't) about his latest Deep theories (most of which are either self-evident to most of his enforced listeners, or about as deep and coherent as any other old hippy philosophy — and he's probably about as effective to a general audience. Just as cruelly, his book reminds me of the old Python skit about how to build box girder bridges or play a flute… you jolly-well just do it, ya know.

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