The Californian Ideology

"The Californian Ideology" is a 1995 essay by English media theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron of the University of Westminster. Barbrook describes it as a "critique of dotcom neoliberalism".[1] In the essay, Barbrook and Cameron argue that the rise of networking technologies in Silicon Valley in the 1990s was linked to American neoliberalism and a paradoxical hybridization of beliefs from the political left and right in the form of hopeful technological determinism.

The original essay was published in Mute magazine[2] in 1995 and later appeared on the nettime Internet mailing list for debate. A final version was published in Science as Culture in 1996. The critique has since been revised in several different versions and languages.[1]

Andrew Leonard of Salon called Barbrook and Cameron's essay "one of the most penetrating critiques of neo-conservative digital hypesterism yet published."[3] In contrast, Wired magazine publisher Louis Rossetto criticized the essay as showing "a profound ignorance of economics".[4]

Critique edit

"This new faith has emerged from a bizarre fusion of the cultural bohemianism of San Francisco with the hi-tech industries of Silicon Valley...the Californian Ideology promiscuously combines the free-wheeling spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies."

Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron[5]

During the 1990s, members of the entrepreneurial class in the information technology industry in Silicon Valley vocally promoted an ideology that combined the ideas of Marshall McLuhan with elements of radical individualism, libertarianism, and neoliberal economics, using publications like Wired magazine to promulgate their ideas. This ideology mixed New Left and New Right beliefs together based on their shared interest in anti-statism, the counterculture of the 1960s, and techno-utopianism.[6]

Proponents believed that in a post-industrial, post-capitalist, knowledge-based economy, the exploitation of information and knowledge would drive growth and wealth creation while diminishing the older power structures of the state in favor of connected individuals in virtual communities.[7]

Critics contend that the Californian Ideology has strengthened the power of corporations over the individual and has increased social stratification, and remains distinctly Americentric. Barbrook argues that members of the digerati who adhere to the Californian Ideology, embrace a form of reactionary modernism. According to Barbrook, "American neo-liberalism seems to have successfully achieved the contradictory aims of reactionary modernism: economic progress and social immobility. Because the long-term goal of liberating everyone will never be reached, the short-term rule of the digerati can last forever."[8]

Influences edit

According to Fred Turner, sociologist Thomas Streeter of the University of Vermont notes that the Californian Ideology appeared as part of a pattern of Romantic individualism with Stewart Brand as a key influence.[9]Adam Curtis connects the origins of the Californian Ideology to the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand.[10]

Reception edit

While in general agreement with Barbrook and Cameron's central thesis, David Hudson of Rewired takes issue with their portrayal of Wired magazine's position as representative of every viewpoint in the industry. "What Barbrook is saying between the lines is that the people with their hands on the reins of power in all of the wired world...are guided by an utterly skewed philosophical construct." Hudson maintains that there is not one, but a multitude of different ideologies at work.[11]

Andrew Leonard of Salon calls the essay "a lucid lambasting of right-wing libertarian digerati domination of the Internet" and "one of the most penetrating critiques of neo-conservative digital hypesterism yet published." Leonard also notes what he refers to as the "vitriolic" response from Louis Rossetto, former editor and publisher of Wired magazine.[3]

Rossetto's rebuttal, also published in Mute, criticized the essay as showing "a profound ignorance of economics". Rossetto also criticized the essay's suggestion that "a uniquely European (but not even vaguely defined) mixed economy solution" would be better for the internet, arguing that Europe's technological development is hampered by "huge plutocratic organizations like Siemens and Philips [who conspire] with bungling bureaucracies to hoover up taxes collected by local and Euro-wide state institutions and shovel them into mammoth technology projects which have proven to be, almost without exception, disasters." and by "High European taxes which have restricted spending on technology and hence retarded its development".[4]

Gary Kamiya, also of Salon, recognized the validity of the main points in the essay, but like Rossetto, Kamiya attacked Barbrook and Cameron's "ludicrous academic-Marxist claim that high-tech libertarianism somehow represents a recrudescence of racism."[12]

Architecture historian Kazys Varnelis of Columbia University found that in spite of the privatization advocated by the Californian Ideology, the economic growth of Silicon Valley and California were "made possible only due to exploitation of the immigrant poor and defense funding...government subsidies for corporations and exploitation of non-citizen poor: a model for future administrations."[13]

In the 2011 documentary, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, Curtis concludes that the Californian Ideology failed to live up to its claims:

The original promise of the Californian Ideology, was that the computers would liberate us from all the old forms of political control, and we would become Randian heroes, in control of our own destiny. Instead, today, we feel the opposite—that we are helpless components in a global system—a system that is controlled by a rigid logic that we are powerless to challenge or to change.[10]

In 2015, Wired wrote that "Denounced as the work of 'looney lefties' by Silicon Valley's boosters when it first appeared, The Californian Ideology has since been vindicated by the corporate take-over of the Net and the exposure of the NSA's mass surveillance programmes."[14]

In 2022, Hasmet M. Uluorta and Lawrence Quill wrote that "The recent tech-lash, concerns over the gig-economy, and the dubious imperatives of datamining, require us to reconsider the prospects for open societies that rely upon platforms as we enter the next phase of the Californian Ideology."[15]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ a b Barbrook 2007, Imaginary Futures: Other Works.
  2. ^ The Californian Ideology, Barbrook, Cameron, 1995-09, Mute Vol 1 #3 CODE, ISSN 1356-7748, Mute, London,
  3. ^ a b Leonard, Andrew (1999-09-10), "The Cybercommunist Manifesto",, retrieved 2012-11-01
  4. ^ a b Rossetto, Louis (1996), Response to the Californian Ideology, archived from the original on 1997-06-14{{citation}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  5. ^ Barbrook & Cameron, Revised SaC Version; Borsook 2000, p. 173
  6. ^ Ouellet 2010; May 2002
  7. ^ May 2002
  8. ^ Barbrook 1999
  9. ^ Turner 2006, p. 285
  10. ^ a b Curtis 2011
  11. ^ Hudson 1996
  12. ^ Kamiya 1997
  13. ^ Varnelis 2009
  14. ^ Sterling, Bruce (2015-10-24). ""The California Ideology" after twenty years". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2023-07-25.
  15. ^ Uluorta, Hasmet M.; Quill, Lawrence (2022-11-01). "The Californian Ideology Revisited". University of Westminster Press: 21–31. doi:10.16997/book54.b. ISBN 978-1-914386-08-4.

References edit

Further reading edit

External links edit