This post was derived from a Twitter thread I did a few months ago. It’s been lightly edited for clarity, with a new introduction and conclusion. It moves a little fast for a blog post given the restrictions of its medium of origin, but it provides useful background to my last post, “Winning Hearts and Minds, from the Computer’s Perspective.” This content of this post is a little redundant with the content of the previous post, but I’m not really going to state a thesis and elaborate here on this blog so much as look at the same ideas and events over and over from different perspectives and eventually let some big picture accumulate like pixels on a screen.
The following paragraph is me mildly trolling you, the reader, with a kind of clickbaity provocation to see some mundane and ubiquitous aspects of American pop culture in a new light.
Sesame Street was created by veteran officers of the US Army’s Psychological Warfare Office with the goal of blunting the force of social-justice radicalism in the United States by promoting the liberal ideology that oppression not a structural economic injustice, but a matter of poor individual character or bad social skills. In a 1970’s state-directed project to determine how humans establish cathexis with military hardware, computer engineer Alan Kay leveraged the graphical capabilities of highly-advanced prototype personal computers to display animations of one of Sesame Street’s most popular characters, Cookie Monster, because he felt this would help children see personal computers not as technological artifacts derived from Air Force weapons, but as friendly and even “magical” helpers in their lives.
Kay, who developed the PARC Alto computer and Smalltalk programming language concurrently with Xerox funding the creation of Sesame Street, is very clear about this in his “Early History of Smalltalk.” Building the Sesame Street characters in to the design of the Alto’s user interface was an evolutionary step in ARPA’s 20 year study on “Human-Computer Symbiosis.”
When I was trying to come up with an image for the header of this site (which we call a “hero image” in the industry) I found two different pictures in my archive of people looking at screens that made a compelling contrast when placed side-by-side. The first picture shows an Air Force officer in the early 1960’s pointing a light gun at a weapons direction console. The second photo shows a woman in around 1970 wearing casual clothes sitting on a cushion on the floor using a prototype personal computer.
So rather than try to group things out thematically or in a narrative, I’m probably just going to dive right in with this blog. I’ll probably start with a backlog of posts from my twitter account since recapitulating that research in chronological order will probably bring some linkages and themes to the surface between ideas.
I’m imagining there’s going to be roughly 2 different stories going on here – one is a contrarian history of the Internet, and computer networks in general, as a doomsday machine, where doomsday is the end of capitalism and the doomsday scenario that must be prevented evolves from tactical nuclear warfare between supersonic aircraft (SAGE) to counterinsurgency warfare (ARPANET) to behavioral influence across entire populations (pervasive “Social Network Software”).
The name of this blog is a Pynchon reference (a fictional Dukedom from a fictional Jacobean revenge drama featured in The Crying of Lot 49) and while this won’t strictly be a Pynchon blog, the works of Thomas Pynchon, a technical writer who worked on some of the Nazi-derived rocket technology in the SAGE system, will be a guide to this story of how Nazi technology (rockets) psychology (behavioralism and mind-altering drugs) and geopolitics (anti-Communism and an aggressive stance against the Soviet Union) were incorporated into American society over the course of the Cold War.
The second theme that this blog will cover will be how this “Fourth Reich” or “Underground Reich” manifests itself “between the Fake Left and the Alt-Right.” This will be presented as “New You Can Use” posts explaining hidden or obscured aspects of certain individuals, events or organizations (CIA operatives posing as well-known counterculture figures activist leaders, for example) .
The computer stuff might get a little technical but I’m hoping to keep this all as accessible as possible. I’m not going for exhaustive or comprehensive coverage of any of the subjects I’m writing about – I want to give just enough of a map in terms of a narrative and sources that readers can pick up some of these threads and follow them on their own.