Interview with Stewart Brand on the 50th anniversary of the Whole Earth Catalog

Originally published at:


After reading Fred Turner’s “From Counterculture to Cyberculture” I can’t help asking myself, though, if Brand’s influence hasn’t done at least as much harm as good.

As a relatively conservative, as counterculturalists went, and fervent anticommunist and thus supporter or at least not explicit opponent of the Vietnam war (he might have gone himself) he helped dissociate the communalist movement and psychedelic counterculture from the wider social movements of the day. His projects have, as they say, tended to have a particular attraction to people of a particular social class, cultural background, skin color, even gender (i.e., to white middle-class males).

And as such, movements like “The Well” helped shape modern Silicon Valley neoliberalism and Ayn Rand-style libertarianism (though I won’t accuse him of being a Randian himself, of course).

And his fixation on tools was ultimately the source of the Republican techno-messianism which WIRED magazine radiated from the get-go.

In a 2006 TED talk on shantytowns/favelas, his disillusionment with the 1960s self-sufficiency drive (which most likely failed because of lack of the kind of skills later developed in permaculture, not because self-sufficiency is in any way impossible), he preposterously claims that people are deserting rural areas because they are “boring” (and not because they’re driven out by property developers and agro-business, their land is stolen, or by floods and earthquakes and other natural disasters), and that slums are actually signs of wealth, since they are areas where “everybody is working” (cleaning rich people like him’s houses, /s).

Which is not intended as an all-round condemnation, the many positive contributions of the above are difficult to deny, and I definitely recognize a tremendous achievement. But I do question whether these achievements were, in the end, always or even largely for the good.


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