(Robalini's Note: To say that R.U. Sirius was an influential character over the past decade would be an understatement. R.U. is the co-founder (with the lovely Queen Mu) of Mondo 2000, the cyberculture magazine which preceded the rise of the internet. From 1989 to 1993, Sirius and his comrades-in-arms presented a magazine that as much defined and created the values of the underground cyberculture as it reported upon them. Anti-authoritarian, anti-korporate, and anarchistic with a humorist tone, it was at peak the ultimate symbol of magazine rebellion, following in the footsteps of Mad, Playboy, The Realist, Rolling Stone, National Lampoon, Penthouse and Spy. It was truly a revolutionary magazine, albeit a revolution more inspired by the Marx Brothers than Marx.
Mondo 2000 was a cultural magazine (focusing much of its space to subjects like cyberpunk literature, the rave scene, virtual reality, and alternative rock - back when it really was alternative) but did not shy away from politics. Nor did it shy away from conspiracy theory, presenting some of the most bizarre ideas to ever reach mass print. What would later become the much demonized "internet conspiracy theory" culture was first celebrated in the pages of Mondo. Yet Mondo celebrated it like a grand party, and was rewarded with a circulation of 100,000 readers. Incredibly, it would even earn a cover story profile from the ultimate arbiter of mainstream values, Time. It is likely that The Konformist would not exist if it weren't for the inspiration of this groundbreaking publication.
Eventually, Mondo 2000 would self-destruct, in part due to disputes between passionate members of the Mondo crew, and, perhaps more important, a lack of funding (rumors swirl that Queen Mu would sometimes resort to prostitution in order to raise money for publication.) To label its demise merely as self-destruction would be a simplification, however: what ultimately killed it off was the co-opting of its style - sans its subversive substance - by Wired, which premiered soon before the Time Magazine cover story. Wired proclaimed itself to be "A Magazine for the Digital Age," but rather than promote the Mondo 2000 ethics, it focused on korporate-friendly, hi-tech globalism cheerleading that was completely counter to many of the values Mondo embraced. Wired was dismissed with a smirk by many Mondo fans, who declared it to be The Monkees of cyberculture mags as compared to Mondo's Beatles. It's hard to dispute the comparison (not that The Monkees or Wired are without virtues), but Wired had money on its side, the one thing , unlike the Fab Four, Mondo always lacked.
Where did this money come from? As cyberculture journalist Douglas Rushkoff would later expose, there were powerful links between Wired and the Global Business Network (GBN), a think-tank dedicated to promoting the economic values that Wired coincidentally embraced. Was GBN and its minions trying to undermine a counterculture it deemed a menacing threat? As silly as that may sound to some, keep in mind that Mondo 2000 represented a culture which would later in the decade become the ultimate enemies of the establishment media. Conspiracy cyberculture would soon be major dissidents, which numerous mouthpieces spent incredible energy in discrediting. An information attack on cyberculture via Wired would not be unprecedented: consider the financing and promotion of Ms. Magazine and Gloria Steinem (who had undeniable links to CIA fronts by her own admission) from Katherine Graham of The Washington Post and Newsweek, and it is evident a similar operation was waged against feminism to ensure it didn't embrace radical economics. Perhaps Tim Leary wasn't joking when he declared that "Wired is a CIA plot to destroy Mondo 2000." Conspiracy or not, Wired won out: money talks and horseshit walks, and adrenaline can only take you so far. Mondo didn't stand a chance.
Rather than disappear in a cave, Sirius, continued on, publishing the webzine Revolting! ( http://www.revolting.com ) and being editor-in-chief of GettingIt ( http://www.gettingit.com ). Revolting! never really took off (although it was a blast while it lasted) and GettingIt, though having assembled an incredible crew of writers (including yours truly) and a strong readership in a short timespan, currently remains in limbo over lack of funding, the usual demon which has plagued Sirius.
This is one demon that doesn't bode well for a Presidential campaign, but hey, that's never stopped Sirius in the past. Now in a year 2000 that is both as wired and mondo as Sirius once predicted, he has formed his own political party, The Revolution ( http://www.the-revolution.org ), and decided to run for President. Some would say he has little chance in hell, if any, of winning. It would be easy to term his campaign as a joke. Maybe so. Then again, consider the absurd concept that Al Gore and George W. Bush represent the two finest choices to represent our country in the oval office. The idea is laughable, but the punchline is it is taken seriously.
Okay, maybe R.U. Sirius won't become president in 2000 (or 2004, or 2008, or any year for that matter.) Even so, he may just change the face of politics by rewriting what is considered "radical" politics. At the very least, he's made a great book out of the deal: The Revolution: Quotations from Revolution Party Chairman R.U. Sirius (just published by Feral House.) The book is a blast, a small red propaganda sheet that mocks the style of Mao's little red book. Unlike Mao, Sirius is a true revolutionary for the people, as the values and ideas he embraces in his work clearly shows.
But enough of this rant: here, for your enjoyment, is an event better ranting dialogue. Jim Redden (author of the upcoming book Snitch Culture) and R.U. shoot the shit for The Konformist, and the interview gives some entertaining insights into the Sirius mind. Enjoy.
Thanks to Disinformation for background material for this essay.)
REDDEN The first question is post-ironic - are you serious?
SIRIUS Am I Sirius about winning the White House? No. Am I in general a serious person? Compared to most people, no. Am I serious about trying to evolve a political party around the ideas of The Revolution? Yeah, sort of. Seriousness and Siriusness of course varies from moment to moment.
Pretty serious answer, huh?
REDDEN Well, let me put it this way. I understand you announced for President at the DisinfoCon on February 19, just nine months before the November general election. You don't have wealthy lobbyists willing to pour millions of tainted dollars into your campaign coffers, an army of sycophants prepared to turn out for your rallies, or a slick Madison Avenue ad agency lying for you to the voters. In fact, you're only trying to get on the ballot in the 24 states that require 5,000 or fewer signatures to get on the November ballot - which seems to make you kind of a long shot at this point. So, realistically speaking, what do hope to accomplish with this campaign?
SIRIUS The most optimistic blue sky result of the campaign might be that various memes from the campaign spread like wildfire, and a substantial number of people use it as an opportunity to ask the Republicratic system, R.U. Sirius?. So the slogans, like "Derision 2000: Fuck The Vote" "Mock the Vote" "Victory Over Horseshit" "I'm a Revolting Voter" "Register The Rabble", "The Revolution: It's a Party, Stupid", and "R.U. Sirius: the Only Possible Response" are the most important aspect of the campaign. I have no plans to spread these at this point via stickers and bumperstickers, t-shirts, graffiti, leaflets, or to profit from it in those ways. But it's wide open for a kind of viral marketing campaign. Make your own damn bumperstickers, etc. And people could plague candidates and talk shows with the essential R.U. Sirius question. The Revolution campaign is pretty ripe as a context for grass roots pranking. And maybe a few million people will get to express themselves by writing in R.U. Sirius at the ballot box (In fact, I don't expect at this point to get onto the ballot al all). But again, the spread of the memes means more to me than the votes.
But even if this optimistic blue sky projection doesn't happen, and this doesn't catch on and live large, the campaign still gives me a context to hang a bunch of ideas on. Those ideas are of course available at http://www.the-revolution.org and will also be available in the form of a "little red book", published by Feral House, called The Revolution: Quotations from Party Chairman R.U. Sirius. Already a few tens of thousands of people have gone onto the site to at least glance at the ideas there, and a few hundred have responded by wanting to help. I don't think that would have happened if I'd just announced a political party or organization without the candidacy.
All of this might go towards building The Revolution as a political party and/or organization. And this is where I think I might have a contribution to make. Particularly in the wake of the Seattle WTO protests, there's a renewed energy and a sense of possibility and victory among dissenters that we haven't seen since the early 1970s. And what made Seattle so powerful was that it was about coalitions. In that case, it was the anti-corporate globalism coalition made up of unions, environmentalists, human rights activists, and countercultural anarchists. What I see now is the possibility for a broader coalition that operates through the electoral/political system that includes this group with a large group of people who are concerned about the police state, the HUGE mass of people who are so alienated from politics that they don't even go near it, and the radical center that has gone for Perot, Ventura, and even John McCain. The radical anti-corporatists and civil libertarians need the drop outs and the alienated center to form a majority. And if you look at Ventura and McCain's campaigns, they were basically about "Victory Over Horseshit." McCain called it the "Straight Talk Express." I'm not endorsing McCain by the way, just looking at the kids that were inspired by him simply because he was not absolutely entirely full of shit like the other candidates. Occasionally he acted like a human being. Anyway, I see the possibility of a winning coalition that actually gets to enact policy, to change some essential things about the operation of the state and who it favors. I think this could be enacted over the coming decade.
REDDEN I absolutely agree with you about the rebirth of the radical left. I know terms like "left" and "right" are inherently limited and don't acknowledge the full spectrum of opinions and debate and blah, blah, blah until you qualify your statements so much you're not saying anything at all, so forgive me for using the term "left" to speak about the coalition which came together in Seattle, which I think is primarily to the left of center. That's just how I look at things.
But I believe you're right, and I agree with you completely about how alienated and fed up so many people are, and how they responded to John McCain. My girlfriend has a brother who's a long haul trucker, and he's on the road so much he doesn't even have a home half the time. He doesn't follow politics at all, not one bit. And he was over a few months ago and saw McCain on one of those talking head shows and had no idea who he was and just stared in awe at the TV and just thought McCain was the most honest politician he'd ever seen - and he doesn't think any of them are honest.
So I think a lot of people are ready for your message.
But, just like the 1970s, you face that "lesser of the two evils" argument. Al Gore is a pathetic, scandal-ridden spectacle, but he's better than George W. Bush on issues like abortion, the environment, education and, um, well you know, all the basic liberal issues. Your supporters are more likely to vote for Gore over Bush, so every write-in vote you get hurts Gore and helps Bush. How do you respond to the argument that you - like Ralph Nader and Harry Brown - might get Bush elected.
SIRIUS As I told an interviewer from Playboy.com at the Disinfo conference, I don't believe anybody pragmatic enough to vote for Gore over Bush over those issues is going to vote for R.U. Sirius instead. I believe that I afford those who are alienated enough from the two party system that voting for Gore isn't viewed as an option to make a statement.
Does it make a difference if it's Bore or Gush? Well, I suppose at the level of the environment and the Supreme Court there could be repercussions to allowing Bush into the White House.
Granting that the Prez campaign is more or less an attention-getting device for some ideas and a platform, ultimately a new party like The Revolution might want to set its sights on the House of Representatives first. A number of alternative parties, like the Greens and the New Party, have set there sights primarily on local elections with some success. But I think there's a big risk in ignoring national politics, both in terms of actual power and in terms of national politics' memetic media power. By staying outside the big races, we allow mainstream political "common wisdom" an unchallenged free reign within that mainstream.
REDDEN But why not just throw your support behind the more established, liberal-oriented third-party candidates, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and Libertarian Party candidate Harry Brown. I suspect you already agree with many if not most of their positions on the issues, and I believe they will be on the ballots in most of the states. They don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning, of course, but they will qualify for federal funding in future campaigns if they get enough votes this time around. So why not just urge your supporters to vote for one of them?
SIRIUS First of all, it's worth mentioning that I critique Nader as a candidate and the Libertarian Party both in my Campaign Announcement statement on the site. Besides that, as we've already established that my primary interest isn't in effecting this presidential campaign, but in using the campaign as a platform to attract people to the ideas of The Revolution, I'll say why I think The Revolution is a better bet than the Greens or the Libertarians.
Mainly the problem is that both those parties are highly ideological. They're locked into very rigid belief systems that have limited appeal. The Libertarians are absolutist in their belief that privatizing everything is the solution to all problems You can know their position on any issue if you understand their ideology. Just run the issue through the ideological machine and PRESTO, out comes the answer. The Greens are a little bit more complex. They have no Party Platform because having a platform is too centralized a concept. Which, in itself I think is a bit rigid. They do have a rather new agey set of principles that will surely alienate 95% of the mosh pit if they ever see it.
I guess you could say that both those parties are primarily for political activists who feel pretty sure of where they stand, and who might tend to be a bit self-righteous about it. The Revolution probably would appeal more to people who get uncomfortable chanting slogans at demonstrations, very quirky, individualized, and yet able to agree that at least 2/3 of the points on the platform are the way to go
One more thing about Nader as far as I know, he hasn't come out against the War on Drugs, which I consider the most important issue of our times. Ending the War on Drugs in 2000 is the moral equivalent of ending the war on Viet Nam in 1970.
REDDEN I absolutely agree with you about the War on Drugs, and I'm appalled that no elected official, with the exception of the Governor of New Mexico, is even willing to question it. The public is clearly ready for a cease-fire. Oregon, where I live, is one of several states which has legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Despite that, police here in Portland have repeatedly busted clinics offering marijuana to people who theoretically qualify for the drug. The mayor, Vera Katz, is in charge of the police bureau. She used to be a very liberal state representative. She's not only been silent about these raids, but has supported a regional marijuana task force which uses dubious "knock and talk" visits to arrest small-time growers. She didn't even question this policy after a female police officer was shot and killed during a botched raid on a grow house a few years ago. Didn't even say, maybe we should think about whether her life was worth a few marijuana plants. And, of course, the War on Drugs has been much, much worse on minorities. All cities probably have a Ramparts scandal in their police departments. Self-professed civil rights advocates like to say that Skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members are a threat to blacks and other minorities. Hell, the government's anti-drug policies are the greater threat, by far. There's just no comparison.
But enough of that rant. Let's me ask you this. Let's say a miracle happens. USA Today publishes a front-page interview with you the day before the November election and everyone realizes you're the best candidate and writes "R.U. Sirius" on the their ballots and you win. What's the first thing you'd do as President?
SIRIUS Probably the first thing I'd do is get assassinated! And then they'd probably take out my VP, which, if she accepts, will be Jocelyn Elders. But assuming I'm not taken out right off the bat, the first thing I'd do is pardon all drug prisoners in for possession charges who don't have any history of violence.
Here's a question for you? Do you think that prison officials, governors and other authorities in all states would obey President Sirius' constitutionally correct orders, or would we immediately confront one of several power structures in America that, when push comes to shove, consider themselves beyond democratic control?
REDDEN Excellent question about the potential ramifications of pardoning all non-violent drug offenders, which, as I understand it, is the majority of them. The federal government has no trouble overruling local actions it doesn't like, from forcing the South to integrate its schools(a good decision) to cracking down on marijuana clinics in states where the voters have approved cannabis for medical use (a bad decision). In my jaundiced view of politics these days, I assume that all 50 governors would immediately rush out and commission polls on where the voters stand. In those states where the voters are overwhelmingly in favor of releasing the prisoners, they'd be free. In those states where the voters are overwhelmingly against it, they'd stay in jail. In those state's where the voters are split 50-50, they'd still stay in jail because the governors would want to "play it safe." So the follow up decision you'd face is, would you send federal troops to the non-complying states to free the prisoners?
SIRIUS Well, I think that's exactly what I would do. Then the question is, would the federal troops obey my orders? Even though this is essentially a parlor game, the implications I think are extraordinary. Would someone who seriously challenged the power of the police and military establishments be allowed to govern? And of course, you do NEED the cooperation of those forces in order to govern, even if your intention is to minimize their importance.
Well, we've never really even confronted the fact that Clinton faced this crisis at the beginning of his administration around the issue of gays in the military. Essentially you had at least the threat of mutiny by military brass and by soldiers. Jesse Helms actually said something to the effect that Clinton would likely be shot if he visited military bases in North Carolina. Clinton, of course, backed down totally, which is a shame.
REDDEN: Not only did Clinton back down on the gays in the military issue, as I understand it, more gays and lesbians are being kicked out of the military now than before Clinton took office. Which is so typical of Clinton. He says he understands how hard it is for poor people in this country because his mother was poor, then he signs the welfare "reform" bill which kicks millions of poor mothers off welfare. He says how much he respects working people, then he pushed for "free trade" legislation which sends millions of American jobs overseas. He talks about how the government needs to protect peoples' privacy, but law enforcement wiretaps are at an all time high and he wants the FBI to be able to tap everyone's computer and cell phone. Gee, why are so few people voting these days? Can it be that we know we can't believe anything politicians say? Nah, that can't be it. It must be because we're so damn lazy and irresponsible.
But I digress. I have a question about your "free the drug prisoners" proposal. You made a very important distinction which illustrates a major dilemma facing liberals and libertarians there days. You said you only want to release "non-violent" drug offenders, which implies you believe some people deserve to be in jail. I do, too, but it's very common to hear left-wing types denounce prisons in general these days, as though they are worse than any crime that someone might commit.
Where do you draw the line on who should go to jail? No one ever said running for President was easy.
SIRIUS In a sense, there's the abstract question: is it OK for the state to put a human being in a cage under any circumstances? I'm going to take the pragmatic view that this is, for the moment, necessary to separate some people from public life, and to let it be known that there are consequences to certain heinous acts. When, in the platform, I advocate shutting down the prison/industrial complex, I'm referring to prisons as the country's main growth industry. Effectively, ending the drug war shuts down the prison/industrial complex. But I'm not talking about shutting down ALL prisons.
Beyond that, I would like to see the justice system reorganized so that crimes of violence (which would include, for instance, dumping chemicals in a community and causing bodily harm) are punished more severely than crimes of property every time, and that those who abuse power are punished more severely than those who are powerless. Right now, we have the opposite. We need an "Abuse of Power" act of some sort.
I see The Revolution as an anti-authoritarian movement. I'd like to challenge certain authoritarian assumptions. Right now, our society is way too casual about throwing some people in prison. A week doesn't go by without reading some absurd story about some guy doing prison for driving on a cup of Kava Kava or a woman in for having sex with a 16-year-old boy. We're way too prison happy, way to punishment-oriented. And I think we're infantalized by it. We're encouraged to believe that we want to be bad little boys and girls, but the law is there to keep us in line. It's the scared straight mentality. You're either a self-and-other-destructive Johnny Rebel or you're disciplined, militaristic, pure, straight. Those are the choices of the authoritarian culture. And then there's stuff like South Park, letting kids know that you can make fun of both sides.
REDDEN I love the idea of an Abuse of Power Act. You'd be the only President who wouldn't veto it, though.
We've kind of covered a lot of "domestic" issues in our way, so let me ask you a foreign policy question. Do you have one? And what is your view of global capitalism as it is currently being practiced, especially in light of the recent World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund protests?
SIRIUS The party platform calls for a "new globalism," and talks about supporting a global minimum wage and environmental standards. It also talks about emphasizing human rights. I've got to admit though that "foreign policy" in these times has to be pretty ad hoc. The players change from moment to moment, and none of them make very much sense.
As for global capitalism, although I supported the Seattle protests and the anti-IMF actions, I think it's all way more complicated than most of the anti-globalists probably do. It's amazing how, depending how you marshall your facts, you can PROVE that things are getting astonishingly better or horribly worse. I think that somewhere in the dialectic between global capitalism and its opponents, we're likely to arrive at a working synthesis. Right now though, the mainstream media insists on covering up the actual content of agreements like NAFTA and WTO, purveying instead vague generalizations. Thanks to the demonstrators, the information is beginning to break through.
Ultimately, I see a reformation of global capitalism, rather than a revolution against it. But it will probably happen only under the threat of revolution.
Well, Robert Sterling at Konformist.com is on my case to wrap this up while there's still an election underway, so just one more question - and a softball at that. What message would you like to leave with the readers, and hopefully voters?
SIRIUS Well, if you check out the Revolution Party and think it should evolve from one guy with a weird name who occasionally enjoys the congratulations of a few thousand people, and who gets a few volunteers a week who don't actually DO anything, then get involved. You can write to me that you want to Volunteer, sure, at email@example.com. But more than that I'm looking for one or two... maybe three... really dynamic people preferably with organizational experience who are willing to put some elbow grease into the process. Also, get me invited to speak. My fees are next to nothing. I want to spread the word.
Also, it wouldn't hurt to buy the book The Revolution: Quotations from Revolution Party Chairman R.U. Sirius, available from Feral House, and to spread the word any fuckin' way you can. So let's do this thing.
Kirby The Konspiracy Boy Says, "I NEED 2 KONFORM!!!"