Beer’s Exile [...]

Stafford Beer, creator of Project Cybersyn, went into a self-imposed exile after the Chilean coup that shattered his dream. Of course, he got to influence Eno and Bowie, so it wasn’t all bad.

Stafford Beer was deeply shaken by the 1973 coup, and dedicated his immediate post-Cybersyn life to helping his exiled Chilean colleagues. He separated from his wife, sold the fancy house in Surrey, and retired to a secluded cottage in rural Wales, with no running water and, for a long time, no phone line. He let his once carefully trimmed beard grow to Tolstoyan proportions. A Chilean scientist later claimed that Beer came to Chile a businessman and left a hippie. He gained a passionate following in some surprising circles. In November, 1975, Brian Eno struck up a correspondence with him. Eno got Beer’s books into the hands of his fellow-musicians David Byrne and David Bowie; Bowie put Beer’s “Brain of the Firm” on a list of his favorite books.

Isolated in his cottage, Beer did yoga, painted, wrote poetry, and, occasionally, consulted for clients like Warburtons, a popular British bakery. Management cybernetics flourished nonetheless: Malik, a respected consulting firm in Switzerland, has been applying Beer’s ideas for decades. In his later years, Beer tried to re-create Cybersyn in other countries—Uruguay, Venezuela, Canada—but was invariably foiled by local bureaucrats. In 1980, he wrote to Robert Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, to gauge his interest in creating “a national information network (operating with decentralized nodes using cheap microcomputers) to make the country more governable in every modality.” Mugabe, apparently, had no use for algedonic meters. (Source)

Anatoliy Ivanovich Kitov, the proposer of Russia’s first cybernetic network, faced similar circumstances after the military mobilized against him. See Economic Automated Management System

Portions of The Brain of the Firm are available here


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