This particular quote has achieved a kind of meme status in tech, it defines our version of machismo. There's nothing obviously wrong with it either. That and the Whole Earth Catalog are my models for valorizing general competence and capability. Heinlein's military background is obvious; Stewart Brand was also in the army and acknowledges that experience as important. It's a stance I guess.
See Stewart Brand. The Catalog was a major early influence on me, particularly in its stance that one could be interested in anything and pursue anything. There was a Whole Earth Bookstore in Evanston, IL where I grew up, which is where I found both the catalog and Ted Nelson's Computer Lib/Dream Machines. When I went off to MIT I managed to fall in with a bunch of Whole Earth-friendly fellow students who were into alternative energy and other alternatives; later I got to actually share an office with SB himself in the early days of the Media Lab.
I have a Lisp library Wu Wei (Lisp) that I named for no very good reason, but I do think there is a deep relationship between wu-wei and the characterization of hackers as "lazy engineers" by Stewart Brand (see deep laziness)
One of my heroes, Stewart Brand, famously promoted something akin to this stance with his Whole Earth Catalog mottos: "Access to Tools" and "We are as Gods and Might as well get Good at It". Tools for what? It doesn't matter, whatever you might want to do (in this case, "you" was a subset of hippies and people interested in alternative ways of living).
JI: Earlier, you refer to yourself as a hacker, which typically connotes short-circuiting a system, be it a government or a computer. What’s your definition of a hacker?
SB: Lazy engineer. The aspect of hacking that appeals to me is looking for the fiendishly clever shortcut. A ‘real’ engineer will do the homework – do the calculations, run the prototypes – all the necessary stuff to make something work. A hacker is usually looking for an easy solution. The code still has to run – it has to do whatever it is you’re attempting. But a hacker tries to find a way to do it with minimal effort, which is considered good; or with great cleverness, which is considered extra good. Fun is finessing an outcome. Stuff like that is just being lazy, and lazy is not necessarily bad.
I was trained in the army to be a lazy officer. The worst officer is stupid and industrious. The best officer is brilliant and lazy. I don’t think I would be accused of industry.
I vaguely remember a quote from him, something about how peace would never replace war because "conflict was too interesting". Not his most original thought, but it made an impression on me when I first came across it. Oddly I always think of him as the one sixties figure who was too smart to engage in the political conflicts of the time, preferring instead to map out creative alternatives.
1977 book by James Ogilvy, heavily blurbed by Stewart Brand. Full title: Many Dimensional Man: Decentralizing Self, Society, and the Sacred. Very much about agency; and obviously taking off from Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man.
A technology writer who covers some of the same themes I do. Kelly was the editor of Wired and before that associated with Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog and sort of incarnates the more libertarian techno-optimist strain of thinking from that quarter.
They mentioned How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand which seemed kind of out of place. There's nothing woo about Brand's theory, the "learn" is mostly metaphorical, he's talking about how buildings are adapted by their owners and occupants over time. But he does sort of freely agentify buildings when necessary, so OK.
A unique and strange organization started by Stewart Brand and Danny Hillis, which operates a bar in San Francisco and is building a 10000-year mechanical clock in the southwestern desert. I'm a member.
Best known as the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand has been involved in all sorts of interesting projects, from Doug Engelbart's radically innovative computer systems to George Church's efforts to revive extinct species.
He was an early influence on me through the Catalog, which I found as a teenager at about the same time I found Ted Nelson's Computer Lib, which shared some of the sixties alternative esthetics.
I leave the interpretation of my role to others. …. My client is civilization and my approach is that of a hacker: to figure out the shortcuts that make things happen.
Or for a more in-depth treatment, Fredrick Turner's book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, and there's an upcoming biography by John Markoff. And a documentary We Are As Gods is in the process of being released.
Stewart was a visiting something-or-other at the Media Lab when I was a graduate student, and an unofficial advisor to the Vivarium Project. I am quoted a couple of times in his book about the Media Lab.