I found myself at a very small, but luminary event at the Exploratorium in San Francisco this week with VCs, tech pioneers, psychedelic research experts, a famous poet, the founder of Burning Man, among others — celebrating the 60s and looking back on what’s changed since then, at the 50 year anniversary of the Summer of Love.
The lineup included:
Joon Yun, venture capitalist
Rick Doblin, founder of MAPS
John Perry Barlow, founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Larry Harvey, founder of Burning Man
Eric Weinstein, managing director at Thiel Capital
Tim / Adam Draper, venture capitalists
I was fascinated by the broad spectrum of ideas, political attitudes, and casual apathy of some of the speakers, contrasted with the unending passion of others.
The standout of this whole event was John Perry Barlow, who is rhythmic, poetic, humble, kind, and exceedingly wise.
The event was put together by Joon Yun who kicked things off in a rosy sort of manner, talking about how far we’ve come since the 60s, how much better things actually are and how we actually underestimate the happiness of individuals within nations. He proposed that the reason we don’t have cultural heroes like the Beatles, Martin Luther King, or rock legends anymore is because we no longer have a monoculture — things now are more divided, so there is less fame directed at any one single person.
Joon spoke of how the peninsula is like birth canal for new things to be born, birthing everything from:
– Silicon revolution
– Gay rights
– Summer of love
– Young entrepreneurs
– The internet
– Social media
– Burning Man
When John Perry Barlow spoke — he was less enthusiastic about where we’ve been and where we’re going, speaking about deep economic inequality and the incarceration of black men inside our prisons.
By sheer numbers or even per capita, there are more black men incarcerated than slaves during slavery — and a wealth disparity that makes the U.S. look more like Guatemala than Sweden. He went on to say that we’re also drugging everyone up — especially our children with a catastrophic addiction to dumbing kids down by putting them on speed for ADD.
After John Perry Barlow outlined the problems, he went on to say:
“We need to reconfigure and reimagine investment…”
“We need to build a future that naturally flows around connection and the truth — to find the core among us to angle ball to create gentle conspiracy to create the America we had all along, which is actually free.”
Later, when venture capitalist Bill Draper took the stage, he looked at John Perry Barlow and said, “I’m not nearly as pessimistic as you.”
John quickly retorted, “I’m pronoid,” meaning that he thinks the universe conspires to help itself, even if that’s not immediately obvious.
Bill and his grandson Adam Draper didn’t really have much to say that you haven’t heard before about entrepreneurship or investment. They were both almost blindly optimistic, talking about how entrepreneurship stimulates the economy and promotes freedom. Tim also casually talked about empathy, but didn’t ground that with anything of substance.
Tim Draper said, “We’re in heaven. Things are great. I’ve been to over 100 countries and there is no country like this country.”
When asked what’s changed since his involvement in venture capital in the 1950s, he said, “There is more competition in VC, so there are more favorable terms for entrepreneurs — also traffic is much worse.”
Tim also answered another question, when it came to what they look for in entrepreneurs with, “You want to own your customer, be curious, solve a big problem, and have passion.” Meh.
Onto deeper topics, Joon proposed a different idea between sessions. “We value stewardship, yet we always talk about leadership, but it’s different.” He gave the example that out of the courses in the Stanford course catalog, there are several hundred mentions of leadership, but only a few instances of the word stewardship.
Up next, drugs!
Rick Doblin has been working on psychedelic research for a long slog — and he wants to make the use of these drugs for medical conditions, “Not counter culture, but culture. Not criminal, but legal.”
His organization, MAPs started in 1986. Early in his career, he sent 50 or so mystics MDMA to see if their experience with MDMA was similar to their spiritual paths. He realizes that we’re still in the uncomfortable period when it comes to recreational drugs being used for medical purposes. He mentioned that even yoga used to be a threat — now you see it everywhere! And today, we even have mindfulness being taught in the military, so there is progress behind made, it’s just slow.
One of the thoughts Rick ended with is the fact that marijuana is not covered by the FDA, so most people pay for it on their own, but that insurance companies are starting to catch on and realize that if they cover medical marijuana, people will consume much less other, more expensive prescription drugs.
And what would drugs be without Burning Man.
Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man took the stage next. You can see most of the conversation in the video below. Larry Harvey is always a favorite and with John Perry Barlow still on stage, and Joon Yun guiding the conversation — these three were beautiful to watch.
Larry thinks adversity is what creates the need for communities to meaningfully draw together.
When he was talking about how people deal with tragic situations where they don’t have any control and something else overrides…
“When you have nothing else you can do, you think — you might ask, what if I opened my heart? …put my ego on shelf. In those moments, it’s the only thing you can do.”
John Perry Barlow added some wisdom to the end of the conversation with Larry Harvey regarding the role of technology and wisdom.
“We need technology that explores the opportunity space — to advance technologies that connect us, and disadvantage those that do not.”
Eric Weinstein was the last to speak. His intent, if I got it right, was to draw everything together and explain how the 60s haven’t disappeared, they just have new names.
He contrasted the 60s to modern life:
Space / Bio
Nixon / Trump
Scarcity / Abundance
“Once upon a time, a pencil was technology. And in early times, horse crap was spreading disease and everyone was worried about that. There are complicated trade offs and it’s an enchanting time to be alive.”
Someone from the audience asked, how can we nurture trust and authentic relationships with technology?
John Perry Barlow said, “Be trustworthy with oneself. Be discerning, thoughtful, and educated. The internet is capable of creating substrate for trust on massive basis. People believe in the truth — Wikipedia is the perfect example of that. The internet can help you see when you don’t have trust.”
Later in the conversation, media came up. Fake news. Algorithmic news. Faceless news. News that’s not news at all.
Eric Weinstein went on a few rants — but this one was especially memorable.
“Media is malware,” he said. “You hate people who are on behalf of you.” Eric really drilled in the idea that we aren’t even equipped to know when news is real. And he thinks this is one of the biggest problems of our era. The types of news that you think are a problem, are really just the tip of the iceberg.
There are all different varieties of of fake news, including:
– Institutional (Fox, CBS, CNBC)
– Algorithmic (Facebook, Twitter feeds)
– Narrative (New York Times)
– Macedonian (Buzzfeed)
Another question from the audience: how can we change capitalism and still hold what we have in place?
Eric spoke about an article he wrote on Anthropic Capitalism.
Just then, John Perry Barlow laid down some insightful words
We need capitalism with a human face. Just because it happens to made by people, doesn’t make it human.”
Another question, how do we know what’s true and what’s made up?
John Perry Barlow, “Since the 1650s, science has been the domain of repeatable results. Before that, beliefs reigned. Today, we need new ways of thinking about what’s true and what’s not. Of course, there is newsdiffs.org, but we need more than this.”
Eric Weinstein added to all of this, “You can’t fake check yourself to real news — it’s emotion. This is a period of weaponizing empathy, the empathy superhighway.”
As a counter to that, he suggests running empathy programs in brain by watching people you don’t know, don’t like, and disagree with. Find out what they are doing and how they are communicating — so you know what you’re dealing with.
The event didn’t really conclude with anything major, but here are some more upcoming events to celebrate, remember, and reimagine the Summer of Love in modern day:
Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll at the De Young Museum, goes until August 20th
Summer of Love 50th Anniversary Concert, on June 4th, a free event with 20 bands and 30 speakers
Hippie Hour at the Center SF – Time to connect without electronics or alcohol, contribute, and play music
Flower Power”: In honor of the Summer of Love, the Asian Art Museum, from June 16-Oct 1st