by Lutz Dammbeck
Other Cinema, San Francisco, CA, 2006
DVD, 1:55 mins., col.
Sales/Rentals: $24.95, $100 institutional
Distributors website: http://www.othercinemadvd.com.
Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University
Lutz Dammbecks "The Net"
begins with invocation of Gödel's
incompleteness theorem, "the truth is
superior to probability". The filmmaker
accepts incomplete answers (and implied,
but sometimes barely explored, connections)
that emerged when he innocently asked:
What brings computers, hippies, and LSD
The subjective camera walks in the woods
to Ted "the Unabomber" Kaczynski's shack,
but soon returns to universities, labs,
and think tanks to explore interfaces
of computers and art among what interviewee
John Brockman calls the "digerati", the
computer-savvy elite. In the 1940s, Norbert
Weiner postulated that the human nervous
system calculates reality, equipped with
circuits for feedback, switching and controlling,
and this inspired much subsequent computer
science. Robert Taylor, leader of the
Department of Defense project ARPANET
two decades later reminisces, "Those were
good years, we knew what we had to do"
towards "eliminating ignorance". The viewer
starts to notice how many persons interviewed,
or their own avowed teachers and mentors,
attended the Macy meetings. These were
meetings of psychologists and scientists
organized by the publisher of an influential
1950 book The Authoritarian Personality;
contemporaneous, which Dammbeck notes,
with Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno
founding the Institute of Social Research.
The Pacific Ocean retreat Esalen grew
out of Macy group scientists Stewart Brand,
John Brockman, Buckminster Fuller and
John Cage, who all hoped to give a "non-military
aura" to many of the ideas being discussed.
Hans von Foerster was the secretary of
these Macy gatherings, who later (1970)
ran the Biocomputer Lab at the University
of Illinois. This ontological old contrarian
had emerged from Ludwig Wittgensteins
Vienna circle, and with a glint in his
nonagenarian eye like Dr. Strangelove,
Dr. von Foerster gruffly demands "What
is reality? Can you show it to me?"
Kascynski was involved in CIA drug experiments
at Harvard in 1958 with Henry A. Murray,
studying and testing gifted male students
in the "Laboratory of Social Relations".
All that remains of its findings is a
note that Kascynski was proven to be "lawful".
In tests sponsored by the Office of Strategic
Services (the OSS), Murray carried forth
his work in the ultimate service of a
US-driven one-world government, intending
to provide its citizens with psychological
safeguards against totalitarianism. One
might today substitute "totalitarianism"
for "terrorism" to obtain similar funding.
In Murrays vision, Americans would
all sport an immunized "superego" as a
buttress against totalitarian inclinations,
with one of the tools of this immunization
the psychedelic LSD. The Laboratorys
Dr. Timothy Leary was involved in the
counterinsurgent "MK-Ultra" or "Artichoke"
project, as well as investigations of
the sacred Mexican mushroom from which
psilocybin is derived. Laboratory experiments
were filmed, but the films have somehow
test results", the narrator points out.
Interviewee Stewart Brand talks of novelist
Ken Kesey's Acid Tests as "open systems"
and "alternative systems of cybernetics",
developed in a moving laboratory on the
open road. "Not research, search!" Brand
cites Keseylike Kaczynskias
another subject of US government LSD tests.
The filmmaker intersperses bits of visual
poetry, lingering shots of blossoms in
Harvard yard in the moonlight, then zooms
in portentously until the big pixels of
digital photos fill the screen in an abstract
design. Kaczynski called math a "monstrous
swindle, a game, a reckless prank" and
currently sees technology as a dangerous
and willful force that adapts human behavior
to its own demands After Harvard, Kaczynski
did his doctoral work at the University
of Michigan. One wonders if he had any
interface (surveillance of?) Ann Arbors
radical White Panther Party, leaders of
which were indicted, and later exonerated,
for planting a bomb in a military recruiting
office. Years later Kaczynski performed
"scientific" explosive experiments
in the woods, detailed on his own maps
of his trails and multiple hideout cabins.
Kaczynski's neighbors are glad to be interviewed
and happily spied on him for the FBI (one
doing so even "before the FBI began cooperating
with me"), posed as geologists or truck
drivers. We see footage of his 10' x 12'
cabin brought on a trailer back to Sacramento
for his trial, though his exuberantly-cooperative
neighbors mentioned his other "secret
Whether or not the dissident Kaczynski
was truly the Unabomber or not, he raises
provocative Luddite issues, and serves
as an interesting pivot to the network
of connections between the celebrity digiterati
and shadowy US government programs. Kaczynski
denies he's the "Unabomber", and a dense
media collage emphasizes Kaczynski's "schizophrenia",
a message that the mass media did its
best to reinforce. Shots of western vistas
lead us to Florence, Colorado prison where
Kaczynski is now housed. Agreement between
the defense, state prosecutor, and court
resulted in the verdict that Kaczynski
would not have a regular trial, no commitment
to a psychiatric unit, no death sentence,
and no possibility of parole. In one interview,
Yale scientist David Gelernter takes angry
offense at the filmmaker's interest in
Kaczynski, an understandable reaction
as Gelernter was irreparably maimed in
a Unabomber letter-bomb blast.
The filmmaker gives thanks are to Hans
Haacke, John Perry Barlow, John Markoff
and Rudolph Arnheim in the credits, and
the viewer wonders what each offered Dammbeck.
In one of the DVD's extras, open source
developer Paul Garrin describes how old
media co-opts the Net into the centralized
model of cable TV, the content from one
edge not reaching the other edge. Garrin
recounts the myths of the Internet, how
it's really not public but now resting
upon private infrastructure, how it does
have borders (BGP firewalls serving as
its customs police), how it's a loose
confederation of private nation-states
who agreebut are not requiredto
exchange info packets. Its center is the
root domain, with a very hierarchical
authority and corporate control. His Namespace
mode is peer-to-peer situation for domains.
This extra serves as a brief but interesting
introduction to a topic too little discussed,
the privatization of the Internet.
Like Linda Thompson's 1993 film "Waco:
the Big Lie" (which this viewer saw
in an Other Cinema presentation), "The
Net" raises serious questions about a
criminal of whom the public has been couched
by the mainstream media towards the proper
conviction of guilt. Dammbeck insinuates,
in his silences, that Kaczynski might
be no more than an Oswald-like patsy for
forces wide and sinister. In an age where
the US and UK go to war with the secular
Saddam to avoid upsetting petroleum providers
who bankroll the Islamic fundamentalist
Osama, it is wise to question all drumbeats
of "conventional wisdom". Liberatory tools
like personal computers and the Internet
also have their dark sides, their lurking
agendas of control. John Brockman frighteningly
reminds us, "We create technology, then
we are the technology".