We Are As Gods takes its title from a line in subject Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, a book Steve Jobs described during his June 2005 Stanford University commencement speech “was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along.” The documentary tells a two stories. One presents Brand’s biography, revealing a counterculture Zelig who was at the forefront of movements, including those relating to the environment and technology. The other story focuses on his current work and interests, such as the 10,000-year clock being built by the Long Now Foundation.
Brand went to Stanford University for biology, graduating in 1960. He connected with author Ken Kesey and became part of the Merry Pranksters. Before moving on from them, he organized the Trips Festival, a notable event he manifested into being at the beginning of the hippie movement. Instead of making inquiries, Brand wrote down names of bands he wanted to perform, like the Grateful Dead, and they showed up after seeing themselves on the poster.
During an afternoon LSD trip spent on a rooftop, he pondered whether human’s consciousness would change if they saw a picture of the whole Earth, which was rumored to have been taken. NASA eventually released it soon after he sent every Congressperson a button that asked why we hadn’t seen one yet, and he used that image for the counterculture catalog which focused on essays and products to help one become self-sufficient. However, due to Brand suffering from depression, he ended the catalog in 1971 and two years later ended his first marriage. With meditation and a psychiatrist, he was able to find happiness. Then got involved with hackers and the personal-computer revolution.
I was fascinated to learn about the Pleistocene Park Project, a geoengineering attempt by George Church, a geneticist from Harvard, and his team to introduce DNA-modified mammoth/elephant hybrids into Siberia in an effort to help fix climate change. Co-directors David Alvarado & Jason Sussberg provide opposing viewpoints of people like environmentalist Winona Duke and Dr. Ross MacPhee, paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, who push back on this hubristic embrace of technology to alter nature, which echoes Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
Although his name might not be well known, Stewart Brand is a fascinating figure whose passions and optimism have led him to impact culture, both American and global, in a life well lived. The directors of We Are As Gods do a great job telling this important, factual Forrest Gump-esque story through modern-day interviews and archival footage.
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