Richard Neville interview

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the wizard of Oz

UNDERGROWTH //interview with RICHARD NEVILLE

Richard Neville has been one of Australia's leading cultural dissidents since his student days in the early 1960's, when he launched the first incarnation of Oz magazine that helped spawn the underground press in Australia. Oz magazine carried on in the UK as was hailed as `the spirit of it's time' by some and as `obscene literature that corrupted the morals of children' by critics. This lead to an obscenity bust and the infamous trial in the Old Bailey in London that legitimized the merit of alternative media. His book, Playpower, `the first international book on the underground', charted the social transformations of the 60s global counter culture, and he has been a frequent social commentator in print and tv ever since. His best selling books also include Hippy Hippy Shake, Out of My Mind, Playing Around, The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj, Amerika Psycho and Footprints of the Future. His `Journal of a Futurist' articles on the current War on Terror and war in Iraq, globalisation, the re-invention of work, the consciousness movement, the new role for business in the 21st century and more provide a liberal dash of realpolitik reality expansion for these times and can be read at http://www.richardneville.com/ .

RN> UNDERGROWTH's a great name... it's good to have the resonance of the underground but to be striking out in a more ecosystemic way... you're moving from the subway station concept of underground - the London tube, grimy metaphor to a more ecological metaphor...

RR> I think it parallels what youth culture and the whole planet's going through - resetting itself to an ecological balance and a perspective that will make things sustainable again.

RN> Well you'd better hurry! Time's running out...

RR> It's going to take us all to do it! That's the problem! Now, what we're hoping for this first issue of UNDERGROWTH is to establish a bridge between people who have done what we're doing before and to look at the common issues - which seem to be the same, strangely, or not so strangely enough, for each generation. It seems like we're still tackling them against the establishment...

RN> It's all become very dramatic now because - and to me it all seems so dramatic and obvious what's going on... You have not just the militarization of the world since post 9/11, but the accelerated militarization of space, too, now. So this is pretty huge. If you think of the Pentagon as a country or an economy, it's now even overtaken Australia - it's in billions. It's now approaching almost the economy of India. If you add to that the number of bases that have multiplied like a virus, and add to that arms sales... this goes way beyond what we think of as Star Wars. On top of that you've got the complete winding down of ecological regulations. Environmental laws are being overturned or quietly corporatised. It's asbolutely frightening. Lastly you've got not just a fall back from Kyoto - which is like this blanket idea, but all the details underpinning that...

If we'd had this conversation five years ago you could have looked for rays of hope. But at this point in time with Bush - and Australia's also pulled out of Kyoto - you've now got a very dark situation. There's anti-environmentalism in terms of legislation and unilateralism backed by a huge military power. The other hope for the Earth were things like the fact that countries would co-operate and the UN would be reformed, that you'd get rid of the Security Council and have a People's Assembly, NGOs would be represented, etc... But again there's a hopeful side. Things look dramatically different since 9/11 because the cowboys have now got an excuse - there's now these bad guys holed up in caves and all that...

RR> let's get back to your roots, so to speak, in regards to OZ magazine and the peoples ability to control and represent and speak their issues... OZ was an infamous underground press magazine in Australia and Britain in the 60s and early 70s. It was brought to trial twice for obscenity by challenging the conservative morals of the day, and twice won it's case, validating itself and by proxy the generational zeitgeist. What do you think has changed with underground media?

RN> Well one of the former editors of Oz and myself, Richard Walsh, had a bit of an arguement on stage recently about this... he was arguing that things are a lot better now, that the media's a lot free-er and you've got eroticism of television and a whole range of opinions and all that. But nothings exactly the same. It's not quite full circle - it's more of a spiral - we haven't returned to exactly the same spot, and it is true there is more variety of expression in the media, whether it's through video clips or the kind of language in sitcoms, or the issues discussed. That's certainly improved. On the other hand the censorship is even more pervasive and it's much more surreptitious. You don't necessarily know what's being censored. If you have a Rupert Murdoch figure controlling something like seven and a half thousand publications and media outlets, then it's the sort of things that get blotted out that you don't find out about all that easily.

RR> It's like they swamp us with their media...

RN> That's right. The only way you find out that say Michael Moore's previous book was almost pulped is from Michael Moore himself. Chris Patton was going to publish a book about China which was critical of it through a posh publishing company which happened to be owned by Rupert Murdoch, so they didn't publish it. It's more surreptitious and dangerous.

RR> How do you see the role that OZ played in the 60s and early 70s being underground media and the fact that the message and the representation of people wasn't getting out and the swamping of controlled media today? Do you see any hope in alternative media with it's internet networks, etc?

RN> Well, Google is an amazing weapon...

RR> Although they cache everything you put into Google - everything's recorded. Surveillance culture...

RN> Isn't our whole adventure on the internet recorded? We don't have any privacy in the Information Age. At all. Now there was no Internet when OZ started. You heard rumours of things being surpressed, often from disenchanted journalists. When we were starting Australian OZ the Vietnam War was hotting up. We had friends that were journalists and I phoned up the Sydney Morning Herald and asked them to send us some pictures from their photo library from Vietnam. Somebody put something in a brown envelope and it came to the office in Sydney. These were pictures of US troops doing dreadful things to Vietnamese villagers - like boiling them in oil and cutting a hole in their stomachs - but of course they hadn't actually been published in the Herald, but they'd been distributed by a photo agency. Censorship was so widespread there was no apology about it. Just because America was our ally they wouldn't print negative photos.

What was important about the youth movement is that it gave the media more and more power as the war went on to be critical. But at the beginning it was considered shameful to be critical of the Vietnam war as America was our ally. That sort of attitude has been replicated a lot and it's more sophisticated today. There are little portholes of alternative media. SBS will show a French made documentary about the CIA, or you can go onto websites like whatreallyhappened.com and you'll get links to stuff. It's possible to find alternative information but you've got to work at it.

RR> I've got an old weatherbeaten copy of `The Trials of Oz' which tells the whole story of the censorship and obscenity trial in London in 1971. One of the quotes for that says that "OZ represents the spirit of a generation". Do you think that's true?

RN> In a way we were the spoilty babyboomers who got a free university education and got excited by rock n roll; our girlfriends were taking the pill and so forth. There was such a sense of adventure and exploration, The households from which we were escaping had been pretty moribund and wounded by the Depression and by the war. And you add the Vietnam war to that mix and the beginning of travel, so there was a sense of freedom of movement. You could meet a lot of people across borders and from other countries for the first time. Out of this melange there did develop a very pleasure seeking generation that was also very critical of the old generation and the old ways of doing things. I think OZ captured a lot of that.

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A lot of the early rock n roll looks quite tame now, but at the time it was rebellious. Marijuana enters the picture; people were going off to Morocco and Asia and saying god, smoke this stuff it changes your perspective! It wasn't just Australian and American troops getting killed in Vietnam it was seeing what was happening to people in Vietnam - they weren't the enemies of Australia and it seemed such an odd thing for us to be fighting in. Because there was this boom of young people with a voice and an education. And when offset printing replaced letterpress printing you could then be very visual. I likened it to Bob Dylan going from acoustic to electric guitar. It was amplification, and suddenly this strange thing called a counter culture began to formulate. Then it began to have mainstream allies. The Beatles were very obvious examples of crossover influences. On the one hand they could be on the `Top of the Pops' and on the other hand they could be dropping acid and demonstrating outside the American Embassy in Trafalgar Square.

RR> That's one of the interesting things of the whole idea of the counter culture being embedded within the mainstream culture, whereas nowdays it's still embedded but the mainstream is so acutely aware of how it's affected and it repackages things and absorbs dissent from counter cultures...

RN> That's your greatest problem in a way. Because a lot of people in advertising have all done media courses and communication courses and they're extremely hip to it all. The commodification of dissent is a real problem. Dissent becomes sort of groovy and marketed... I guess that's what that whole Adbusters magazine is trying to deal with on that level. I guess a lot of people of the current generation and state of mind would consider advertising in many ways very amusing and even an artform. There is a lot of interaction between a consumer culture, a conformist culture and a radical culture.

RR> What's your perspective nowdays on the whole commodification of counter cultural terms like `hippie'? What do you think it originally stood for and what do you think it's come to represent?

RN> It's an interesting question that, because whenever I use the term hippie myself it's alsways with a sense of irony about it as well. Very few people who had long hair - even if they'd taken acid or wore tribal necklaces and maybe lived in a squat in Notting Hill - very few would necessarily call themselves Hippies. But the media needed a colourful term to encapsulate all the varieties of protest. So sometimes the term was accepted and sometimes you winced. Language is fluid - it's not a simple rigid category.

RR> And some of the media aware `hippies' or people within that community even branded themselves and subdivided. You had the Yippies...

RN> The best definition of the world Yippie is a Hippie who's been hit on the head by a policeman. And that happened really after Chicago in 1968, which changed everything. << editor's note: The Democratic Political Convention was protested by tens of thousands of politically active youth and brutally beaten back by the cops>> Up until '68 - and not just Chicago because you also had Paris in '68 <<> ... there's a book of mine called Hippy Hippy Shake <<>> which has all the dates and references you need.

Those two events really were the climax of the soft option of the flowers in your hair and the peace and the love and Woodstock and all of that. The reaction of the establishment , to use a term that now sounds corny, was so violent in both cases that you did have parents watching their children being beaten up on tv, and that actually widened support for the counter culture. I mean - the city of Chicago was just running with blood. It was completely extraordinary what happened. Finally, even very straight establishment figures like Walter Cronkite - I'd liken him to Ray Martin, someone like that - they were horrified at what their own government was doing to stifle freedom of speech.

RR> There seems to be so many similarities between what was going on in the 60s and modern youth culture now. Like the Paris and Chicago uprisings in 68 and the 1999 + anti-globalisation protests. There's almost direct parallels except governments now have rebranded their response to become a `War on Terror' and the whole idea of dissent is now anti-patriotic, anti-American, aiding and abetting terrorists etc etc... The governments have one upped a whole generation of protestors by controlling their image, and if they do respond they will still beat them senseless, but now they surpress the media, own the media or don't give a damn because they've so effectively spin doctored public opinion.

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RN> That's one of the key issues, isn't it? At the demonstrations recently in Miami in Florida apparently the violence used against protestors was horrific. Yes, now you can brand anyone who demonstrates as being anti-patriotic. That's a very severe criticism in the States because it's a much more flag waving country than we are. But I would say that it's really important to separate the American people from the American government. I personally find the amount of dissent from US pages on the web quite remarkable. There's hundreds of dissenting sites - from counterpunch.org, which is the intellectual side of dissent, to quite a lot of paranoid ones, but there's definitely extreme dissent and suspicion of the government on the web. But then, a lot of website hosts are being visited; there's a lot of people whos movements are being recorded; and laws like the Patriot Act, which is being revised again, are getting very, very tough. Some people in the States fear that facism is in the air.

RR> Indymedia is, I guess, the best parallel to old underground media - but it's web based, global, has a further reach and allows everyone to publish - everyone is a journalist. Everyone becomes their own media. But one of the things they've said at a conference recently was that in a way they've given up on the idea that any of their voice and their issues will ever be represented in the mainstream media... they've got their own networks ... but...

RN> I think that's exactly the point... That's something to develop and think about... The trouble with Indymedia is that weirdly, it's a closed world. It's a closed circuit. Somewhere, somehow, people in the mainstream media whether it's by direction or by ... I mean not everything is a conspiracy - most people are working so hard just to keep up anyway with what's going on, that there's a complete wall now between Indymedia and mainstream media. And that is one of the differences between now and the 60's.

One of the things about starting OZ in the 60's - we started in `63 in Sydney, was that it almost immediately got a bit of media attention. Even if it was critical it was certainly acknowledged by the mainstream media as a phenomenon and finally when we were prosecuted, they were forced to cover the trial. In London this happened all the time. I could ring up almost any person with a byline on a British newspaper or magazine and get them to write for OZ. And they were really happy to do it. I ended up bloody well having a column in the London Evening Standard called the `Alternative Voice'. So that sort of crossover was quite extensive. Murdoch hadn't grown into this huge mushrooming media fungus of control - that didn't exist. It wasn't one or two huge megacorporations owning everything - that whole nexus from Foxtel and Disney etc... The Australian and Fox media and the London Times - it's all the one voice now. You had a lot of sympathetic, almost rogue or maverick journos who were very happy to crossover between the two mediums, not just with OZ but with other underground papers themselves. Indymedia is in a ghetto and while there is a lot of dissent on the Internet, only people with a propensity to explore will find it.

RR> Well, what do you think the next step is?

RN> Well that's a very good question. I think of figures like Chomsky and Pilger who occasionally kick a door down, don't they?

RR> But they're in a position inside the mainstream where they can kick doors down, too.

RN> Well that's right... But even Pilger has a lot of trouble getting published in Australia, Robert Fisk doesn't get published at all. Pilger's last documentary was shown quite late on SBS. Whereas actually you'd really expect that to be a Four Corners flagship, but it isn't because the ABC's too nervous.

RR> And the mainstream audience is like a walled city to itself and is a market that is constructed as such, saturated by distraction and consumerism. If the masses hold the key how do we get into their locked kingdom?

RN> Well, on one hand you can get quite discouraged, but on the other hand I think we've got to also look at the people who do break the wall down. Isn't Michael Moore a pretty good example? They were within minutes of his last book - Stupid White Men - being pulped, and in the new book he tells the story of what saved it: one bloody librarian that was at a community meeting he spoke at, about the trouble he was having getting his book published. They wanted to hold it up for six months after 9/11 and they were telling him to rewrite it, etc. He just mentioned this to a group of maybe thirty people and one librarian was so shocked she sent emails to other librarians and suddenly all these librarians were starting to email the publisher. And as he says in his book - the last thing a publisher wants, the last terrorist group they want to arouse are librarians! Don't you think that's a hopeful story?

RR> I do - it's like viral networking, using your community to push the message through to other communities.

RN> That's right. But he was really lucky that a) he writes in a very folksy, accessible style, b) that he had a librarian with brains and a network, and that this network was essential to the publisher. And all that worked together. You're not always going to get that - no one in Australian media is going to give a fuck if Robert Fisk ever gets published here or not. And yet he's the world's leading investigative reporter - he's always in Baghdad, he writes for the Independant in London, but he will never get sydicated here. And when you ask someone why he isn't in the Herald they say, well he costs too much.

RR> One of the interesting things you touched on in your book Playpower <> was the whole idea of the positive, life affirming and revolutionary value of play and creativity and unbridled expresion. Nowdays it seems the establishment has eroded the capacity for that to come through again, would you agree?

RN> Well that brings us to the subject of the work ethic. One thing PLAYPOWER got right was the prediction that computers would become of pre-eminent importance. But I thought that computers would actually be liberating people to be not so burdened by toil. But the opposite has happened. A lot of the opinion makers in Australia say that the more American values conquer the world the better the world will be; we have to fight this war because it's a war for American values etc. But what does American values really mean? One American value - Freedom of Speech - is a fantastic one, but that doesn't actually exist in the States right now. It doesn't even exist in Iraq right now. One of the very first things Paul Bremer did when he got to Iraq was to bring in these laws saying that anti-Coalition material couldn't be published. There's absolutely no freedom of speech there. You keep on reading it's great Saddams gone - there's freedom of speech - it's absolute nonsense.

Australia is now a country with less holidays than any other Western country and basically the whole point of it is to consume as much as fast as you can and the whole should be divided between individuals all competing with one another. Now that was not a core value of Australia when I was young. Everyone's working incredibly hard and the thing about working so hard is that that combined with the fact that most people are mortgaged up to the hilt means that no one wants to rock the boat. They're really busy. They're not into play except in the sense of spectator sport. There's this kind of fake play where you sit in a grandstand and get pissed. Passive spectatorism. The French were really good at isolating this with their whole notion of the Spectator society - that we would all turn into these passive spectators. I see the same thing even in American Idol or Australian Idol - not just sport but the whole entertainment industry. The fact is most people are passive spectators and they're getting very emotionally caught up in something which doesn't matter very much.

They're not increasing their human potential. I think people can increase their human potential but they're not by being in a passive situation. So whatever happened to play? Well the rise of the work ethic. The conquest of the work ethic. When you think of other cultures and the idea that real estate has become central to our being - well, there would never have been a revolution in Paris in 1789 if Parisians all had a mortgage. That's why Howard's so popular.

RR> It seems like some of the hotbeds for dissent used to be places like universities - but now they're privatised with private security guards and you pay to get in and you can't risk rocking the boat there, either.

RN> Well exactly. I see that everday. I live pretty close to Sydney University and the incredible mood and intensity on the campus is terrifying because of HECS and the like. To be indebted while you're still a student is a psychological burden. To go to university - let's say it's free or you've got a Commonwealth scholarship, which is piddling, but it's still a completely different experience - you're a free person. I don't think a student in debt today can really be a conessieur of freedom. You are already starting to work out what your career options are even at high school.

RR> You're buying into the system from the start, not being able to challenge it.

RN> Exactly, because it's so competitive. I mean, I left university without a clue what I wanted to do. A proportion of our society are people who make things up as they go along. It gives us our spontaneity, but that's all being robbed because of privatisation and the like. That's another American value. Look at Iraq - as horrible as it was for the majority of its citizens there was free education and free medicine and has that all ended now?

RR> Well if the WTO have anything to say about it it will. It's like we've got all the worst values of America being promoted through the whole empire system, or all the catchphrases, but none of the real values.

RN> And we have less safeguards on our freedom of expression than they do. At least in America you can say things in the public interest and not be sued but we don't have that safeguard in this country. When I'm sometimes doing my website I've got to be a little more careful what I say about Howard and Ruddock then I would be if I was writing it in America. In America you might have the FBI to fear but you wouldn't be able to be sued for it - here you can. So we have limited freedom of speech. And the encrustation onto our soul of American values is terrifying. It seems to have drained people of the ability to improvise and to put their future on the line. We're all much more competitive now, much more into real estate, more materialistic and we have very little time.

RR> It seems like the whole American Dream has narrowed and narrowed until it's not what the original architects intended - and truth and freedom and the pursuit of happiness has gone by the wayside to pursue the material endeavours. The pursuit of material happiness is now the core value of the American hegemony. Whereas the whole counter culture of the 60s was also promoting a more spiritual aspect that's been totally forgotten.

RN> The only way happiness is pursued in modern America is through pharmaceutical drugs. The pursuit of happiness now boils down to Prozac - that's it. It's not a pursuit - it's just a tablet you take so you're not depressed, because you get depressed if you fully face up to the rape and pillage of the planet. Something like 4% of stories in the media are about the environment - an incredibly low percentage. In terms of the spiritual side I think one of the things about the counter culture is that it came to a point where all these kids were getting arrested for smoking a bit of pot. On one occasion we were bombing the agricultural fields of Vietnam on Christmas Eve and the war had become so insane... the CIA were doing this `Phoenix' program where they were aboslutely ... you know... they were disembowelling children - it's quite well known now, but there were all these rumours seeping up, and I think that the counter culture thought that the protests should become more extreme because there seems to be a collective insanity affecting the establishment, so they had to become more outrageous to expose or provoke the insanity.

But there was also a sort of spiritual shift. It was the very first time I'd heard of people starting to meditate or start looking at Buddhism or the Tibetan Book of the Dead or listen to Timothy Leary talk. On one level you'd sometimes think, oh this is all a big wank, especially if you're in a room with a Trotskyite, or some political people and some soul searchers... but in a way I think this customisation of religion is not entirely bad, because it partly underpins the ecological movement. What fundemental Christians basically believe - and we're talking about George Bush, almost certainly Blair, certainly John Howard, is that the bible is true, and that humans are justified to have dominion over the planet and that includes it's species... That's the thrust of fundemental Christianity, which is very much part of the war in the Middle East - and not just Christian but Jewish and Islamic fundementalism.

RR> And again it's all the material things they're trying to control with their so called spiritual agendas...

RN> Well exactly... you want to control all the material goods and you're running all the extractive industries to extract from the planet, and they pay a bit of lip service to pollution and the like, but basically they do whatever they want. But counter to that is this other thing that okay, the world is a living system - you can call it Gaia - and we're not just here to get fat and rich but maybe we have to alter our behaviour, maybe everthing's accelerating so fast we need to work on our capacities, our spiritual, intellectual and emotional capacities. I would even use the word mindshift. Things are happening so quickly and there's such an acceleration of innovation, which is a positive sign, but there's also the acceleration of all the problems, too. So what do you do - do you have a psychotic nervous breakdown - which I think some people are doing. In a way, when Bush talks about us and them , good and evil -

RR> It's schizophrenic...

RN> Yes, it's schizophrenic - it's not a systems thinking response. I think that was the importance of the original counter culture, and in the end, I think it's possible to argue that there are intimations it's returning with a new counter culture. Because in a way the only way you can deal with the absence of certainty and the acceleration of change and the fact that the globe is really a collection of families - is with some sort of mind shift that develops qualities of empathy and seeing the whole picture living in a multiple state of realities. I think that the spiritual quest, despite all the wanking, and despite the New Age psychobabble, is in the positive rather than the negative basket.

RR> Well on that tact, what's your current response to the whole idea of drugs, or sacraments, chemicals or however you want to label them?

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RN> Well I don't really have a problem with them. The only drugs I'm really afraid of once we get over prescribed pharmaceuticals, which is a whole other issue, are the drugs like heroin, which I've never liked. There are definitely some drugs which can cannibalise the soul. And heroin and it's associate drugs are definitely in that category. On the other hand I think that the judicious use of other substances can have a very positive effect. But the danger is there that if you use those drugs with the ethic of Western materialism, ie - more is better, I think there's a danger.

RR> It's still the out of balance Western mindframe driving the vehicle.

RN> Having ecstasy occasionally in a group situation is a lot different than having ecstasy every day. Drugs are not Coca-Cola.

RR> And some would argue that Coke is a dangerous drug in itself. Well what about the idea, and I guess it was fresh back then, that something like acid could open a lot of minds and was a floodgate for a generation to a larger perspective, wheras now it's pigeonholed as just another niche consumable.

RN> Well that's exactly right, you really don't hear anyone talking the way Timothy Leary used to talk about the way acid will change your life forever, about being a tool of total sensory empowerment and the old Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out mantra. I don't think you hear so much sloganeering. There is a danger to that as some people are incapable of using drugs judiciously. You take a risk proselytizing with drugs so some say it's better not to say anything in public so a lot of people don't. But it's absolutely true that now it just seems to be another consumer lifestyle attribute. It's just a device to make the party a bit more fun.

RR> I read on your wesbite a while back about a Rainbow Gathering and how at the end of the article was one quote where you said you were "too old for acid but too young for a nursing home".

RN> Well, I'd stick by that... (laughs) I'd forgotten I was so witty... There's truth in that. What's the interim possibilities?

RR> I guess one of the things with Western culture in general seems to be that it's so egocentric and that some of the psychedelics and some of the plant sacraments are coming back a bit more in the underground, and they have that ego dissolving quality...

RN> Yeah... talking about these issues - and my name's going to be on it in print - I immediately feel so cautious. It's like trying to discuss pedophilia - it's very very dangerous territory. But drawing from my experience I'd say there's definitely, looking back at my life, ways that marijuana has enhanced the lives of a lot of people and widened their horizons. We talked earlier about the roots of the counter culture being rock n roll, the war and censorship, but marijuana was also another root in the fact that it did encourage a lot more collaboration between people and a sense of tolerance towards foreign cultures. And it was a journey of inner exploration. But I would also have to say that for some peoples' lives it was very bad. That paradox now is completely part of the scenery and must be part of the discourse.

RR> Do you think technology has become a modern drug?

RN> I think for a lot of people, yeah. You've only got to look at the relationship between people and their computers and laptops. They're much more in tune with that and spending much more time with them than with their partners. It's no longer just a computer or a source of information. The laptop itself is becoming more globalised and a source of pleasure in terms of downloading movies, sexual gratification when downloading pornography, even love. People use it to meet strangers and go off and marry them when they've never met them in the flesh before. It's not a glorified typewriter anymore. It's moved beyond being the office - it's the office and the bedroom and the house and the shopping mall. When Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein the Doctor created this monster which ran amok and we considered it dangerous. But now we're supposed to marry the monster. I feel like I'm a Filipino bride and the scientists are the marriage brokers!

What's happening is that the walls are coming down between the real and the artifical - or the embrace of the Matrix. On one level you can see a lot of positive things... I've got a friend who was blinded and now with new technologies - both nano and computer technology, he can have his vision restored. There's a lot of health achievements with a high technical skill and genetic manipulation. On the other hand this embrace of the Matrix is rather frightening. In the old days we were all pretty sure - and this would apply to the counter culture, too, we were all like George Bush - we were sure we knew what was right and what was wrong, what was good and what was bad. Things are much more paradoxical now.

I don't believe technology is neutral - I believe it does affect our behaviour. The computer revolution has brought incredible benefits but a lot of it's frightening. There are people right now on MRI machines where their levels of consciousness are being peeled away, because a lot of cognition happens below a conscious level. And they're being tested about their response to brands. The marriage between machine and human kind seems to be imminent and instoppable. And the fruits of that are completely unpredictable. Where it is useful is in facilitating exchange between human beings, as with the web and medical advances. But if you look at the weapons systems that are in the pipeline using this technology - we're going way beyond the Predator drones and they're now assassinating people with robots - from space. The next generation of Boeings, I think the 45T, will be able to fly to a target in say the Middle East, it'll have computer footage on it which it can use to compare with the landscape it's flying over - it can navigate itself. It'll have targeting programs written into it in terms of deciding what targets to drop bombs on it can make those decisions without any recourse to humans.

I was at a Futures Conference a few months ago in San Francisco. There's all these different types of futurists - academics, salesmen looking for a new trend, police futurists etc. I went into the special forces meeting where all personnel had a crewcut and they were wearing fatigues, and their scenarios for war in the future as special forces are absolutely terrifying. They've got miniature aerial vehicles to be held in your hand to be released, as the guy said, to do really mean and nasty things to the enemy.

RR> You've done a lot of work in recent years with futurism. It seems an interesting niche market in that it's so rapidly integrating into the present that it's like the future's disappearing as we're documenting it.

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RN> That's what makes being a futurist so weird. You can almost make up someting in a phone conversation that might happen and then you open the paper an it's happened. Futurism is not really about predicting the future as it is about engaging it and trying to prepare people and help them adapt to it. As events that seem to make no sense happen we try to find the pattern behind them. It's already there.

RR> Everything seems possible.

RN> Everything seems possible which is what's worrying when the special forces conjure up their alternative scenarios... almost by conjuring up - and this is gettinga bit mystical - but they almost come true. The acceleration of the future is a motif of our time. It comes as fast as information does down an optical cable. And also the future is accelerating because of things like Moore's Law and the way Networks expand. But all this acceleration is happening in all the different fields of scientific and technological expertise so it's in astrophysics as well as telecommunications as well as psychopharmacology - it's this incredible exponential growth. Yet our own psychology's not really growing at the same rate.

RR> What's the social impact of time disappearing as everything accelerates?

RN> We're living in a perpetual state of emergency and that hasn't always been true. Every time you buy a piece of technology to save time it actually annhilates that time. So email makes communication quicker on on level but it actually robs you on another. You don't have any extra time because of that and it's much more complicated because you have spam on top of that, etc. We're living in a very dynamic universe and we always have, but now this rapidity is accelerating so we're moving over unfamiliar terrain at night travelling very fast and we need to lift the beams of our headlights upwards. That's a perceptual skill. We have to nourish skills within ourselves to be able to engage the rate of change. That's why I'm a futurist and that's the side of futurism that interests me, not so much predictions of what David Jones will sell next year or how linoleum will change, but how do we avoid future shock, this psychotic reaction that George Bush has of retreating into fundemantalism and us/them and good and bad.

That's not the full agenda, but I think you need a little of that going on as well as saying okay, I'll campaign for the reform of the World Bank, the IMF, democratise the UN etc. I think you've got to fight the battle on many fronts now. You can't just fight it politically or on environmental issues.

RR> What do you forsee for the future of the counter-culture, Richard?

RN> As we talk the world is becoming more militarised. Arms expenditures are increasing, the environment's being denuded, global warming's increasing, the number of resources is diminishing. And we have the peeling away of humane laws. No one takes much notice of international laws anymore - you can have targeted assassinations, you can kill innocent bystanders, you can use depleted uranium. So on the one hand we have this black tableau. It's almost like anarchy mixed with rampant materialism and degrading of the environment. That's the dark picture.

In the bright picture, the conversation you and I are having here is being replicated across the world multiplied by a thousand, maybe even a million. There's the World Social Forum in Mumbai with about 75,000 people - NGOs, radicals, are all coming together to be a counter trend to this main trend. So what I really see is on the one hand you have this dark macro trend and on the other level you have a counter trend which is something the marketers always forget to talk about. There's bubbling about on the Net, NGOs etc, and all these people are beginning to talk to each other, and maybe this counter trend will gather momentum. To every action there's an equally strong reaction. The original counter culture came out of a feeling that on one level it was impossibe to change this whole Western, monolithic culture - Fortress Australia, foreign war, etc. But through conversations, books, information and the reinvention of the underground press partly through the internet - there is at least a fighting chance that an alternative future is really being talked about and devised and conjured up.

I don't go to sleep at night in a state of total despair. A lot of people are really shocked by not just the social injustice, but the gap between the rich and the poor's getting bigger, we have a lot of Orwellian corporatespeak through the media. Quite a lot of people are aware that the mainstream media's not telling the full story. The connievance between mainstream media and the war in Iraq's shocked a lot of people and woken them up about that. There's a lot of environmental warriors, a lot of spiritual warriors - there's a lot of everyday, ordinary Australians just looking for a seachange themselves. When you start seeing yoga mats on sale at K-Mart you know something's changing. Another world is possible.

RR> Another world is happening.

RN> The seeds are sown. The Undergrowth is the first sprouting. So good luck!

This interview first appeared in a truncated form in Undergrowth Magazine #1 - Seed and is presented here in it's entirety.