Morningstar Commune and the roots of cybernetics

A photo of Morningstar Ranch featured in Time Magazine in 1967.
By the time I visited Morningstar Ranch (aka The Digger Farm) in 1968 it was becoming a suburb of the Haight Ashbury. Young hippies, like myself, were drifting through the Sebastopol commune not quite knowing why we there but feeling we needed to be there. It felt less like an actual community than a halfway house for people yearning for community. None of us were actually ready to settle down yet. We were too fucking young. The idea of going back to the land was nice in theory, but we were still digging what the cities had to offer: rock clubs, bookstores, Love Burger on Haight St., hot water and supermarkets.

Lou Gottlieb founded Morningstar Ranch in 1966. A former member of the folk group The Limelighters, Lou had a spiritual epiphany and felt compelled to explore alternatives to the status quo approach to living. Morningstar was Lou’s experiment in communal living, a work in progress that wasn’t really work but some kind of joyous attempt at re-defining how we lived as neighbors, lovers and caretakers of planet Earth.

Morningstar had an anarchic spirit. It was literally open to everyone. What you did when you got there was up to you. I don’t remember any rules. Most of us didn’t have the discipline or patience to become active members of Lou’s wild dream. We were either too lazy, too restless, or both. There was a core group that kept the place functioning as a community, but for the most part nomadic flower children passed through the place on their way to something called the future.

In nearby Palo Alto, the beginning of virtual realities were stirring in the shadows of mainframe computers.

Long before he co-founded The Hackers Conference, The WELL (considered by many to be the first online social network) and the Global Business Network, Stewart Brand was staging acid tests with Ken Kesey and his ragtag band of Merry Pranksters. Brand, who popularized the term personal computer in his book II Cybernetics Frontiers, took his first dose of acid at the International Foundation for Advanced Study in 1962.

The proto-cybergeeks conjuring electric magic in what would eventually be known as Silicon Valley were dropping Owsley and conceiving realities in which brain meat interfaced with machine and the mind could perceive itself in its true limitless state. Many of these bearded outlaws from computerland were Gottlieb’s close friends and early pilgrims to Morningstar.

We - the generation of the ‘60s - were inspired by the “bards and hot-gospellers of technology,” as business historian Peter Drucker described media maven Marshall McLuhan and technophile Buckminster Fuller. And we bought enthusiastically into the exotic technologies of the day, such as Fuller’s geodesic domes and psychoactive drugs like LSD. We learned from them, but ultimately they turned out to be blind alleys. Most of our generation scorned computers as the embodiment of centralized control. But a tiny contingent - later called “hackers” - embraced computers and set about transforming them into tools of liberation. That turned out to be the true royal road to the future.”  Stewart Brand (founder of The Whole Earth Catalog).

In this short clip from Canadian television, Lou envisions a cybernetic world where machines do the work while humans have all the fun.

Posted by Marc Campbell
04:06 am



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