Since there isn’t a decent recording online, and as a gift to the Future, I’ve started the process of transcribing key chunks of Bruce Sterling’s closing speech at SXSW, which I’ll post over the coming days, as I complete them. This is taken from this rough recording and maybe a better recording will surface soon, but here you go for now, because he’s saying a lot of stuff here that needs to be said:
It’s very difficult to talk about politics, because all the political language has been rendered toxic. It’s just decades of Culture War now.. reduced all the nouns and verbs to rubble so, you know, it’s either ‘blood sucking bankster[?] moguls’ or ‘socialists punishing success’ and everybody in politics has learned how to deploy this kind of polarising ‘brand management.’ Culture War there is just all over the place.. [The] US has a very bad case of this, but not the worst case in the world, ’cause I’ve seen it worse and we’re gonna get into that.
So I’d like to talk about politics from the point of view of the Design Critic, really.. ’cause I am a Design Critic.. generally I criticise stuff that doesn’t exist yet, that’s kind of a metier for me, as someone that’s a Futurist science-fiction writer. Of course I’m interested in things that have one foot in fantasy and maybe a toe in reality, stuff like Augmented Reality, Generative Art, Design Fiction. Are they good or bad? Are they interesting or boring? Are they cool ideas? I spend a lot of time accumulating cool ideas. I’m a zealot for this. If you want cool ideas, like cool, political ideas.. techno-political [ideas], here you go, World Changing 2.0 is just out.
It’s great, it’s got thousands of ideas. They’re pre-sorted, almost kind of practical, cool out there, fabulous, well illustrated, beautifully designed, nifty keen.. an endless parade of ‘em. But from the point of view of a critic, like a culture critic, are they really good ideas? It’s not enough that there are huge numbers of them. Cause that’s just kind of a sci-fi notebook approach. What you really need to have critical success it’s pretty simple and it’s Passionate Virtuosity.
It took me a long time, I had to read a bunch of boring critical stuff to figure that out, but that’s really what it’s about in the Arts or Design. And what does that mean? Well first you gotta find someone who really cares about what he’s doing and he’s capable of higher than average performance (she is), and that would be Passionate. Then they’ve gotta be really, really capable of doing it, they’ve mastered the minutiate of it, just on top of their game, performance wise, and that’s Virtuosity.
So typically in a writer’s career, any creative person really, you’ve got the opening period where they’re super passionate, full of burning things to do, sometimes they actually set fire to stuff.. wild rebels.. eager, hard charging, youth fervour there. Then at the end of their career they’re very much masters of their field, but they don’t really feel like doing much. They’ve found their favourite easy chair, they like to make wise-cracks about younger people.. and somewhere in the middle there, is Passionate Virtusoity. Where they still really want to do it, and they’ve got some kind of burning energy and motivation and they’re also really great at it..this are the works that are the peak of their whatever.
[Bruce holds up WorldChanging 2.0] So the ideas in this thing kind of lack Virtuosity, ’cause they’re speculative. They’re not gone into in great detail. So though there’s a lot of passion in the book, it lacks people who have been able to pick it up and deploy it. Now, if these ideas and approaches and tools in this book were actually deployed in our society, our society would improve radically and it would be better by almost every metric. But we’re not getting there because we don’t have the political will and we also don’t have the organisational skill and also we’ve just got a series of problems that are poorly recognised.
The passage of time turns Cyberpunks into Design Professors, or in the case of my pal Rudy Rucker, a Mathematics Professor, and we end up practicing a lot of Attention Philanthropy; bring attention to stuff as critics rather than creatives. Teaching in design school, rather than designing stuff, so forth and so on. Politically in our society, we don’t have any Passionate Virtuosity. If you look at it objectively, as a political situation, it’d be the polar opposite of Passionate Virtuosity. If there was a term for that, it’d be Disgusted Incompetence. It’d be a good term for what’s going on..