Chapter 1: Introduction - Direct Democracy and its Demons: Web 1.0 to Web 2.0

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Introduction to Chapter 1 of Proud to be Flesh - Direct Democracy and its Demons: Web 1.0 to Web 2.0

This chapter interrogates the web’s dual promise – to increase the direct democratic potential of many-to-many communication while, at the same time, perfecting the conditions for further expansion of capitalist social relations and the ‘free market’. Its timeframe spans the period between the pre-dotcom ’90s to the late Web 2.0-obsessed ’00s – a trajectory leading from the days of the internet’s initial and faltering marketisation to its mature, well-established form. As the net was popularised through Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web and the first commercial browsers, the ‘commons’ of the internet – originally developed, owned and maintained by the state – was laid open to popular usage and vulnerable to a corporate land grab. Mute was keen to rupture the market-orientated hype of the ‘digerati’ prospectors, to expose their economic bottom line, and to insist upon the continuity of social relations across real and virtual space – in this sense, we understood ourselves as the European anti-Wired.

Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron’s article, ‘The Californian Ideology’, written in 1995, describes the stakes of this struggle between commercial and radical democratic forces, and importantly exposes the economic and political underside of the seemingly hip West Coast digerati gathered around Wired magazine. Politically conservative neoliberalism and techno-determinism were being repackaged as the daring embrace of the new network culture, as Newt Gingrich shaded into William Gibson. The workaholism of ex-hippies developing internet start-ups in garages and their ‘spare time’ was revealed as anything but the slacker culture it pretended to be. As with its classical antecedents, the virtual class, performing its intellectual labour in the electronic agora, relied upon an underclass of black and immigrant workers, excluded from the networks, to perform its reproductive labour for it.

Were the digerati concerned by these exclusions and did they think the technology could help society address such inequities? In his interview with legendary techno-booster and Wired editor Kevin Kelly, Jamie King reveals, with comic aplomb, the self-referential nature of the Californian Ideology. Kelly – who famously argued in Out of Control that, like life itself, technology is a vital force that should be subject neither to ethical judgements nor to developmental interventions – is at a loss to address the question of the ‘digital divide’ that is developing as a result of the networks he so passionately embraces. Throughout the interview, while claiming that ‘technology solves the ills of society’, he continually defends its unbridled commercial development on the grounds of its naturalness. Like most neoliberals, Kelly hides his rampant free market thinking behind a barrage of unsubstantiated clichés about the natural order of things.

Pit Shultz, co-founder of the nettime mailing list (one of the hubs of ‘European’ media critique), is equally concerned with the growth of virtual life forms, but from a very different political standpoint. In his interview with Mute’s Pauline van Mourik Broekman, he rejects claims that there has been a ‘digital revolution’ while still holding out hope for new media’s ability to create channels which ‘redirect the flow of power’. Without the freight of advertising, the channel produced by the mailing list itself is described as not only free but also ‘silent’, and, curiously, as a space that attempted to ‘avoid dialogues’. Early nettime was conceived as a ‘collaborative filtering’ project, not the space of rhetorical theatrics it so often became.

Anustup Basu, in his piece ‘Bombs and Bytes’, written in the aftermath of the second invasion of Iraq, laments the role of the media in driving the shift from democratic discourses, based on knowledge and persuasion, to the mass ‘psychomechanical’ programming of thought made possible by informatics. Providing an example of (corporate and state media’s) fascistic collaborative filtering, Basu cites the combination of the events of 9/11 with the name Saddam Hussein as a lethal instance of information’s malleability. In this ‘inhuman plane of massified thought’, it is possible to combine two ideas which have no organic or narrative connection.

The final piece in this chapter, by Dmytri Kleiner and Brian Wyrick, brings the discussion full circle. Web 2.0, they argue, the tools and platforms which finally made ‘mass participation’ in the web a reality, in practice amounts to little more than ‘Info-Enclosure 2.0’. Where the first round of the net’s enclosure was centred on its infrastructure (its backbones, ISPs, browsers and means of governance), the second has focused on the capture of community-created content and a homogenisation of the means of sharing.

What Barbrook and Cameron dubbed the Californian Ideology has, over time, revealed itself to be none other than the informatic dimension of post-Fordism itself. As with flexibilisation in the work place, what might at first have seemed to present small gains for the working class quickly establishes itself as a more individualised, finely grained and decentralised form of control. With Web 2.0 sucking the majority of web content production into a pre-formatted and narcissistic micro-casting, the big bucks are now determining not only the shape of social reality in its massified form, but also what Deleuze calls the ‘imperial-linguistic takeover of a whole social body of expressive potentialities’.

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The Californian Ideology - An Insider's View (Re: Californian Ideology)

Re: Californian Ideology

I first read a draft of "The Californian Ideology" given to me by Andy Cameron during his visit to Los Angeles last summer for the SIGGRAPH 95 Convention. At that time, Andy was showing Anti-Rom at SIGGRAPH on my invitation as part of an exhibition of alternative new media called the lounge@siggraph which I organized for the conference. Andy was staying near my house at a beachside motel in Santa Monica and wore sandals for the entire period of his stay. We ate cheap Mexican food for lunch every day across the street from the Convention Center. We had lively discussions on a variety of topics. With the exception of a few technical problems during the show, he seemed to have a lovely visit with us here in California. If I am not very much mistaken, he left Southern California with a bit of a tan.

What, Precisely, Is California?

"American and England are two nations divided by a common language." so quote George Bernard Shaw some sixty years ago. But there's more to it than mere linguistics. Especially when you are talking about California.

It is typical of Americans to be myopically ignorant of their own history-not to mention everyone else's-which is how the Republican Party is able to repeatedly succeed at the polls. But a glimpse into our history, and particularly the history of California, is useful in understanding the basis for the Californian Ideology.

California is and has always been characterized by pioneers and golddiggers. From the gold rush, to the movie industry, to the computer revolution, the Californian Ideology has always been one of spirited individualism and entrepreneurialism. A less utopian way to look at it is that California is a breeding ground for greed and self-interest. Both interpretations are correct. By way of example, take a look at this list of just a few of the things California has brought the world:

LevisMoviesCharles MansonThe Grateful DeadRonald Reagan and Richard NixonSilicon GraphicsMicrosoft and AppleIndustrial Light & MagicLos Angeles and San FranciscoScientologyDisneyland

A Member of the Virtual Class

Bearing all that in mind, I'd like to analyze some of Cameron and Barbrook's points from the perspective of someone who must live-and survive-the Californian Ideology on a daily basis. By way of qualifying that statement, let me confess at once and without shame that I am a member of the "virtual class" described in the article. The description of this individual-the independent contractor, free to come and go as they wish, well-paid, but at the same time, suffering from acute workaholism-fits me to a tee. All except the well-paid part. And that is a myth. It is true that many of us are well paid by the hour. However, it is also true that many of us spend between fifty and seventy-five percent of our time trying to secure that hour of work. Furthermore, prospective clients often expect us to do work on spec or for very low rates, often with no assurance that work will not be used without our participation. Those of us to are pushing the envelope the hardest, and particularly, those who are trying to make product with social and cultural merits, must fight every step of the way. The people who are at the forefront of the digital revolution, the true vanguards, are blazing their trail at tremendous personal risk.

The condition of the virtual class cannot be blamed on the individuals within it, but must be looked at in a larger context. In America, artists receive very little support from the government or, for that matter, the society at-large. Since the 1930's and the New Deal, when WPA funding was created to support a variety of arts and cultural projects, America has systematically eroded away its art and cultural support, much as a desperate animal gnaws its own foot off to release itself from a trap. In our anti-intellectual culture, artists are considered subversive and unnecessary. In America, anything that does not generate revenue is viewed as gratuitous.

And herein lies the key to understanding the Californian ideology. The most important thing in America is making money. Period. If we begin our discussion starting from that axiom, we can start to make a little more sense of what the Californian Ideology is all about.

"Bigger is Better"

In many arenas, America prides itself on matters of size. "Bigger is better" is the general belief. But one of the primary reasons for the average American's sense of political impotency is that America is quite simply too big to manage. The European Community will ultimately be a better model for managing governments than the United States of America. If you look at any large country with a large physical area and a large population, you will recognize that it is almost impossible to run a large country with any measure of freedom to its members. If you are autocratic and highly centralized, as was the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China, you can have some measure of control. However, once you start letting people have any say in what's going on, things start to degenerate, as we are now seeing with former Soviet republics.

To compensate for this flaw in large-scale decentralized management, we have developed, in the form of corporations and companies, our own form of a tribal culture. Big companies like Disney, IBM, McDonald's or Coca-Cola, are small nations unto themselves with their own culture, ethics, even their own language. These tribes cluster themselves into "industries"-software, entertainment, automobile, and so on. It is within these corporate tribes that most Americans find the unity and security one might expect to be provided by government in a place where the "common good" is seen as a priority.

Capitalist Cyberhippies

Why is Silicon valley overrun with capitalist hippies? It is easy to label these individuals are revolutionaries who "sold out" to the capitalist ethic. But when you live within that ethic, you can also look at it another way. We learned in the 1960's, after our President, his brother, and our two most influential civil rights leaders were murdered, that politics was a dangerous path to take in building a revolution. The Nixon regime further drove home the point that politics was no place for a respectable individual to devote their time and energy. Furthermore, it doesn't take a genius to see that in reality, there is no politics in America, only economics. So to say that Americans are apolitical is absolutely correct. And that is because our country is about economics, not politics. In Europe, there are countries. In America, there are corporations. It is the corporations who take care of the people, not the government. Those things which are typically government supported in social democracies, like medical insurance, education, and even the arts, are provided by corporations. We have created a modern-day feudal society. And the only way to secure any real power in America is to either make-or control-large sums of money.

In the 1960's, the generation that seemed destined to revolutionize America was utterly derailed by the events described above from a political path to change. They did, in fact, change America, but not in the ways we thought they would. Those who would have excelled in politics turned instead to industry. In another time and place, it might have been Bill Gates in the White House rather than Bill Clinton. But their generation learned the hard way that politics is as treacherous in America as it is pointless. The mere comparison of the two Bills should attest to that.

Siliwood & the Military Entertainment Complex

From Silicon Valley, you can follow the California fault to the other nexus of activity in California-Hollywood. Hollywood is the home of the entertainment industry, Silicon Valley of the computer industry. And in the past three years, these two powerful forces have "gotten in bed together" (as we say in showbiz) and given birth to a new phenomenon aptly known as "Siliwood."

But beneath the self-congratulatory glitter of this marriage, both regions are tied together by a much stronger bond, a bond much less glamorous, but no less profitable. That bond is the military. As "The Californian Ideology" very astutely points out, virtually every aspect of the computer industry has its roots in government-funded military technology, and California has always been a leader in military contracts. This all but explodes (pun intended) the myth of the autonomous pioneer. For every Apple in California, there is a Lockheed. Considering Silicon Valley is the domain of the cyberhippie-turned-capitalist culture, there is a deep irony in the fact that people who were once anti-war demonstrators have built an entire industry on the shoulders of the military. The brushing over of this fact is yet another example of historical myopia.

But one can scarcely explore the ironies of this without acknowledging Siliwood's companion movement, the "Military Entertainment Complex." In the wake of military downsizing, many military contractors, scratching their heads and wondering "Who, but the military, can afford us?" turned to their liberal neighbors in Hollywood. The result is a whole series of hybrid technologies, some of which I have had the pleasure of participating in the development of. I rather enjoy the concept of forging weapons into ploughshares, especially since both of the military-cum-entertainment projects I have worked on consisted of nonviolent content. In spite of my staunchly pacifistic position, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the fact that none of this would be possible without the military. In a way, the military could be looked at as the front end of the technological adoption curve.

Adoption Curve

"The Californian Ideology" spends a good deal of time on the topic of technological determinism and elitism. In America, we call this the "adoption curve." Here's how it works: Technology is developed at tremendous capital expense. It is released on the market at exorbitant prices, prices that the "average" person cannot begin to afford. It is targeted to a certain demographic-affluent, young, educated, eager to impress themselves and each other. These are the people who "lead" the market. They run out and buy "the latest" thing, drop it in the trunk of their BMW's, and take it home to their house in Marin County while listening to the CD player in their trunk, perhaps having a phonecall in the car on the way. If and when enough of these " early adopters" invest in the technology, one of two things will happen. More often than not, the technology falls on its face for whatever reason and becomes obsolete, rendering the expensive device virtually useless. However, if the right combination of factors are present, and a certain saturation level is reached, then presto! The price begins to plunge, and the subsequent tiers of adoption trailers follow, and eventually, the technology becomes available and affordable on a mass level. This process can sometimes take years, and there is fairly consistent demographic sequence to this pattern. This is the general means by which technology achieves mass market penetration in the U.S. and these are the actual terms that are used to describe this.

On the one hand, this can be viewed as an elitist system. And in many respects it is. But the fact is that if the technology is really worthwhile, eventually, the cost will keep being pushed down until it becomes affordable on a mass level. And the people at the head of the adoption curve are the Social Capitalism & Autodidactic Communalism.

Celia Pearce <celiapearATaol.com>

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The Californian Ideology

'Not to lie about the future is impossible and one can lie about it at will' - Naum Gabo

There is an emerging global orthodoxy concerning the relation between society, technology and politics. We have called this orthodoxy `the Californian Ideology' in honour of the state where it originated. By naturalising and giving a technological proof to a libertarian political philosophy, and therefore foreclosing on alternative futures, the Californian Ideologues are able to assert that social and political debates about the future have now become meaningless. 

The California Ideology is a mix of cybernetics, free market economics, and counter-culture libertarianism and is promulgated by magazines such as WIRED and MONDO 2000 and preached in the books of Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly and others. The new faith P has been embraced by computer nerds, slacker students, 30-something capitalists, hip academics, futurist bureaucrats and even the President of the USA himself. As usual, Europeans have not been slow to copy the latest fashion from America. While a recent EU report recommended adopting the Californian free enterprise model to build the 'infobahn', cutting-edge artists and academics have been championing the 'post-human' philosophy developed by the West Coast's Extropian cult. With no obvious opponents, the global dominance of the Californian ideology appears to be complete.

Californian Ideology

On superficial reading, the writings of the Californian ideologists are an amusing cocktail of Bay Area cultural wackiness and in-depth analysis of the latest developments in the hi-tech arts, entertainment and media industries. Their politics appear to be impeccably libertarian - they want information technologies to be used to create a new `Jeffersonian democracy' in cyberspace in its certainties, the Californian ideology offers a fatalistic vision of the natural and inevitable triumph of the hi-tech free market.

Saint McLuhan

Back in the 60s, Marshall McLuhan preached that the power of big business and big government would be overthrown by the intrinsically empowering effects of new technology on individuals. The convergence of media, computing and telecommunications would inevitably result in an electronic direct democracy - the electronic agora - in which everyone would be able to express their opinions without fear of censorship. 

Encouraged by McLuhan's predictions, West Coast radicals pioneered the use of new information technologies for the alternative press, community radio stations, home-brew computer clubs and video collectives.

Californian Ideology

During the '70s and '80s, many of the fundamental advances in personal computing and networking were made by people influenced by the technological optimism of the new left and the counter-culture. By the '90s, some of these ex-hippies had even become owners and managers of high-tech corporations in their own right and the pioneering work of the community media activists has been largely recuperated by hi-tech commerce. 

The Rise of the Virtual Class

Although companies in these sectors can mechanise and sub-contract much of their labour needs, they remain dependent on key people who can research and create original products, from software programs and computer chips to books and tv programmes. These skilled workers and entrepreneurs form the so-called 'virtual class': '...the techno-intelligentsia of cognitive scientists, engineers, computer scientists, video-game developers, and all the other communications specialists...' (Kroker and Weinstein). Unable to subject them to the discipline of the assembly-line or replace them by machines, managers have organised such intellectual workers through fixed-term contracts. Like the 'labour aristocracy' of the last century, core personnel in the media, computing and telecoms industries experience the rewards and insecurities of the marketplace. On the one hand, these hi-tech artisans not only tend to be well-paid, but also have considerable autonomy over their pace of work and place of employment. As a result, the cultural divide between the hippie and the organisation man has now become rather fuzzy. Yet, on the other hand, these workers are tied by the terms of have no guarantee continued employment. Lacking the free time of the hippies, work itself ho become the main route to self-fulfilment for much of the,virtual class'.

Because these core workers are both a privileged part of the labour force and heirs of the radical ideas of the community media activists, the Californian Ideology simultaneously reflects the disciplines of market economics and the freedoms of hippie artisanship. This bizarre hybrid is only made possible through a nearly universal belief in technological determinism. Ever since the '60s, liberals -in the social sense of the word - have hoped that the new information technologies would realise their ideals. Responding to the challenge of the New Left, the New Right has resurrected an older form of liberalism: economic liberalism. In place of the collective freedom sought by the hippie radicals, they have championed the liberty of individuals within the marketplace. From the `70s onwards, Muffler, de Sola Pool and other gurus attempted to prove that the advent of hypermedia would paradoxically involve a return to the economic liberalism of the past. This 'retro-utopia echoed the predictions of Asimov, Heinlein and other macho sci-fi novelists whose future worlds were always filled with space traders, superslick salesmen, genius scientists, pirate captains and other rugged individualists. The path of technological progress leads back to the America of the Founding Fathers.

Californian Ideology

Agora or Exchange - Direct Democracy or Free Trade?

With McLuhan as its patron saint, the Californian ideology has emerged from this unexpected collision of right-wing neo-liberalism, counter- culture radicalism and technological determinism - a hybrid ideology with all its ambiguities and contradictions intact. These contradictions are most pronounced in the opposing visions of the future which it holds simultaneously.

On the one side, the anti-corporate purity of the New Left has been preserved by the advocates of the 'virtual community'. According to their guru, Howard Rheingold, the values of the counter-culture baby boomers will continue to shape the development of new information technologies.

Community activists will increasingly use hypermedia to replace corporate capitalism and big government with a hi-tech 'gift economy' in which information is freely exchanged between participants. In Rheingold's view, the 'virtual class' is still in the forefront of the struggle for social liberation. Despite the frenzied commercial and political involvement in building the 'information superhighway', direct democracy within the electronic agora will inevitably triumph over its corporate and bureaucratic enemies.

On the other hand, other West Coast ideologues have embraced the laissez faire ideology of their erstwhile conservative enemy. For example, Wired - the monthly bible of the 'virtual class' - has uncritically reproduced the views of Newt Gingrich , the extreme-right Republican leader of the House of Representatives, and the Tofflers, who are his close advisors. Ignoring their policies for welfare cutbacks, the magazine is instead mesmerised by their enthusiasm for the libertarian possibilities offered by new information technologies. Gingrich and the Tofflers claim that the convergence of media, computing and telecommunications will not create an electronic agora, but will instead lead to the apotheosis of the market, an electronic exchange within which everybody can become a free trader.

In this version of the Californian Ideology, each member of the 'virtual class' is promised the opportunity to become a successful hi-tech entrepreneur. Information technologies, so the argument goes, empower the individual, enhance personal freedom, and radically reduce the power of the nation-state. Existing social, political and legal power structures will wither away to be replaced by unfettered interactions between autonomous individuals and their software. These restyled McLuhanites vigorously argue that big government should stay off the backs of resourceful entrepreneurs who are the only people cool and courageous enough to take risks. Indeed, attempts to interfere with the emergent properties of technological and economic forces, particularly by the government, merely rebound on those who are foolish enough to defy the primary laws of nature. The free market is the sole mechanism capable of building the future and ensuring a full flowering of individual liberty within the electronic circuits of Jeffersonian cyberspace. As in Heinlein's and Asimov's sci-fi novels, the path forwards to the future seems to lead backwards to the past.

The Myth of the Free Market

Almost every major technological advance of the last two hundred years has taken place with the aid of large amounts of public money and under a good deal of government influence. The technologies of the computer and the Net were invented with the aid of massive state subsidies. For example, the first Difference Engine project received a British Government grant of £517,470 - a small fortune in 1834. From Colossus to EDVAC, from flight simulators to virtual reality, the development of- computing has depended at key moments on public research handouts or fat contracts with public agencies. The IBM corporation built the first programmable digital computer only after it was requested to do so by the US Defense Department during the Korean War. The result of a lack of state intervention meant that Nazi Germany lost the opportunity to build the first electronic computer in the late '30s when the Wehrmacht refused to fund Konrad Zuze, who had pioneered the use of binary code, stored programs and electronic logic gates.

One of the weirdest things about the Californian Ideology is that the West Coast itself is a product of massive state intervention. Government dollars were used to build the irrigation systems, high-ways, schools, universities and other infrastructural projects which make the good life possible. On top of these public subsidies, the West Coast hi-tech industrial complex has been feasting off the fattest pork barrel in history for decades. The US government has poured billions of tax dollars into buying planes, missiles, electronics and nuclear bombs from Californian companies. Americans have always had state planning, but they prefer to call it the defence budget.

All of this public funding has had an enormously beneficial - albeit unacknowledged and uncosted - effect on the subsequent development of Silicon Valley and other hi-tech industries. Entrepreneurs often have an inflated sense of their own 'creative act of will' in developing new ideas and give little recognition to the contributions made by either the state or their own labour force. However, all technological progress is cumulative - it depends on the results of a collective historical process and must be counted, at least in part, as a collective achievement. Hence, as in every other industrialised country, American entrepreneurs have in fact relied on public money and state intervention to nurture and develop their industries. When Japanese companies threatened to take over the American microchip market, the libertarian computer capitalists of California had no ideological qualms about joining a state-sponsored cartel organised by the state to fight off the invaders from the East! 

Masters and Slaves

Despite the central role played by public intervention in developing hypermedia, the Californian Ideology is a profoundly anti-statist dogma. The ascendancy of this dogma is a result of the failure of renewal in the USA during the late '60s and early '70s. Although the ideologues of California celebrate the libertarian individualism of the hippies, they never discuss the political or social demands of the counter-culture. Individual freedom is no longer to be achieved by rebelling against the system, but through submission to the natural laws of technological progress and the free market. In many cyberpunk novels and films, this asocial libertarianism is expressed by the central character of the lone individual fighting for survival within a virtual world of information.

In American folklore, the nation was built out of a wilderness by free-booting individuals - the trappers, cowboys, preachers, and settlers of the frontier. Yet this primary myth of the American republic ignores the contradiction at the heart of the American dream: that some individuals can prosper only through the suffering of others. The life of Thomas Jefferson - the man behind the ideal of `Jeffersonian democracy' - clearly demonstrates the double nature of liberal individualism. The man who wrote the inspiring call for democracy and liberty in the American declaration of independence was at the same time one of the largest slave-owners in the country.

Californian Ideology

Despite emancipation and the civil rights movement, racial segregation still lies at the centre of American politics - especially in California. Behind the rhetoric of individual freedom lies the master's fear of the rebellious slave. In the recent elections for governor in California, the Republican candidate won through a vicious anti-immigrant campaign. Nationally, the triumph of Gingrich's neoliberals in the legislative elections was based on the mobilizations of "angry white males" against the supposed threat from black welfare scroungers, immigrants from Mexico and other uppity minorities.

The hi-tech industries are an integral part of this racist Republican coalition. However, the exclusively private and corporate construction of cyberspace can only promote the fragmentation of American society into antagonistic, racially-determined classes. Already 'redlined' by profit-hungry telcos, the inhabitants of poor inner city areas can be shut out of the new on-line services through lack of money. In contrast, yuppies and their children can play at being cyberpunks in a virtual world without having to meet any of their impoverished neighbours. Working for hi-tech and new media corporations, many members of the 'virtual class' would like to believe that new technology will somehow solve America's social, racial and economic problems without any sacrifices on their part. Alongside the ever-widening social divisions, another apartheid between the 'information-rich' and the 'information-poor' is being created. Yet calls for the telcos to be forced to provide universal access to the information superstructure for all citizens are denounced in Wired magazine as being inimical to progress. Whose progress?

The Dumb Waiter

As Hegel pointed out, the tragedy of the masters is that they cannot escape from dependence on their slaves. Rich white Californians need their darker-skinned fellow humans to work in their factories, pick their crops, look after their children and tend their gardens. Unable to surrender wealth and power, the white people of California can instead find spiritual solace in their worship of technology. If human slaves are ultimately unreliable, then mechanical ones will have to be invented. The search for the holy grail of Artificial Intelligence reveals this desire for the Golem - a strong and loyal slave whose skin is the colour of the earth and whose innards are made of sand. Techno-utopians imagine that it is possible to obtain slave-like labour from inanimate machines. Yet, although technology can store or amplify labour, it can never remove the necessity for humans to invent, build and maintain the machines in the first place. Slave labour cannot be obtained without somebody being enslaved. At his estate at Monticello, Jefferson invented many ingenious gadgets - including a 'dumb waiter' to mediate contact with his slaves. In the late twentieth century, it is not surprising that this liberal slave-owner is the hero of those who proclaim freedom while denying their brown-skinned fellow citizens those democratic rights said to be inalienable.

Foreclosing the Future

The prophets of the Californian Ideology argue that only the cybernetic flows and chaotic eddies of free markets and global communications will determine the future. Political debate therefore, is a waste of breath. As libertarians, they assert that the will of the people, mediated by democratic government, is a dangerous heresy which interferes with the natural and efficient freedom to accumulate property. As technological determinists, they believe that human social and emotional ties obstruct the efficient evolution of the machine. Abandoning democracy and social solidarity, the Californian Ideology dreams of a digital nirvana inhabited solely by liberal psychopaths.

There are Alternatives

Despite its claims to universality, the Californian ideology was developed by a group of people living within one specific country following a particular choice of socio-economic and technological development. Their eclectic blend of conservative economics and hippie libertarianism reflects the history of the West Coast - and not the inevitable future of the rest of the world. The hi-tech ideologues proclaim that there is only one road forward. Yet, in reality, debate has never been more possible or more necessary. The Californian model is only one among many.

Within the European Union, the recent history of France provides practical proof that it is possible to use state intervention alongside market competition to nurture new technologies and to ensure their benefits are diffused among the population as a whole. 

Following the victory of the Jacobins over their liberal opponents in 1792, the democratic republic in France became the embodiment of the 'general will'. As such, the state attempted to represent the interests of all citizens, rather than just protect the rights of individual property-owners. The French revolution went beyond liberalism to democracy. Emboldened by this popular legitimacy, the government was able to influence industrial development.

For instance, the MINITEL network built up its critical mass of users through the nationalised telco giving away free terminals. Once the market had been created, commercial and community providers were then able to find enough customers to thrive. Learning from the French experience, it would seem obvious that European and national bodies should exercise more precisely targeted regulatory control, investment, and state direction over the development of hypermedia, rather than less.

The lesson of MINITEL is that hypermedia within Europe should be developed as a hybrid of state intervention, capitalist entrepreneurship and d.i.y. culture. No doubt the 'infobahn' will create a mass market for private companies to sell existing information commodities - films, tv programmes, music and books, across the Net. Once people can distribute as well as receive hypermedia, a flourishing of community media, niche markets and special interest groups will emerge. However, for all this to happen the state must play an active part. In order to realise the interests of all citizens, the 'general will' must be realised, at least partially, through public institutions.

The Californian Ideology rejects notions of community and of social progress and seeks to chain humanity to the rocks of economic and technological fatalism. Once upon a time, west coast hippies played a key role in creating our contemporary vision of social liberation. As a consequence, feminism, drug culture, gay liberation and ethnic identity have, since the 1960s, ceased to be marginal issues. Ironically, it is now California which has become the centre of the ideology which denies the relevance of these new social subjects.

It is now necessary for us to assert our own future - if not in circumstances of our own choosing. After twenty years, we need to reject once and forever the loss of nerve expressed by post-modernism. We can do more than 'play with the pieces' created by avant-gardes of the past.

We need to debate what kind of hypermedia suit our vision of society - how we create the interactive products and on-line services we want to use, the kind of computers we like and the software we find most useful. We need to find ways to think socially and politically about the machines we develop. While learning from the can-do attitude of the Californian individualists, we also must recognise that the potentiality of hypermedia can never solely be realised through market forces. We need an economy which can unleash the creative powers of hi-tech artisans. Only then can we fully grasp the Promethean opportunities of hypermedia as humanity moves into the next stage of modernity.

Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron are members of the Hypermedia Research Centre, University of Westminster

http://www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/

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Proliferating Futures (Re: Californian Ideology)

Re: Californian Ideology

1: Proliferating Futures What about the Becoming of the Net? We cannot describe the Net as one single process of Becoming, but as proliferation of different coexisting processes. Therefore we can't make a statement about the future of the Net. Many different futures will coalesce within it.

Different intentions can enter the Net, different processes of semiotization can coevolute. The Net is not a territory, but a multiplanary Sphere. Infinite plateaux are rotating inside this Sphere. What is forbidden on one level can be done on another.

The Net cannot be conceptualized within the Hegelian concept of Totality. In Hegel, the Truth is the Whole. The Hegelian Whole is Aufhebung - the annihilation of every difference. In the Net, every connection between points of enunciation creates its own level of truth. Truth is only found in singularity.

In the Net, the world cannot be considered as the objective reference point of a process of enunciation. The world is the projection of enunciation itself.

Networking is the method of a new social paradigm - one that goes beyond the social oppositions and conceptual contradictions inherited from the modern world. Because capitalism is still in power, acting as the general semiotic code, the old social oppositions and conceptual contradictions are not vanishing yet. This is the reason why we are still concerned with the old problem of the State versus the Market. Notwithstanding the emergence of the Net, the State and the Market still exist.

2: High Tech Deregulation

The discourse about the Net (cyberculture) is still dominated by ideologies which are the legacy of the past twentieth century. Cyberculture is still dominated by the conceptual and political alternatives coming from the industrial society. A sort of high tech neo-liberalism is emerging from the American scene. In the theoretical core of this philosophical movement, I see a misunderstanding: the identification of technology with economics within the paradigm shift. Thinkers like Alvin Toffler, Kevin Kelly and Esther Dyson support the neo-liberal agenda of Newt Gingrich because, they argue, the free market is the best method for expanding free communications - and free communications are the key to the future world.

Sounds good, but what does the 'free market' mean? In the social framework of capitalism, free market means power to the strongest economic groups - and the absorption or elimination of society's intellectual energies.

Kevin Kelly, in 'Out of Control', says that, thanks to the digital technologies and computer networks, mankind is evolving into a superorganism, a new biological system. The biologisation of culture and society which is described by Kelly is nothing but the disappearance of any alternative from the social field, the absorption of intelligence itself within the framework of capitalist semiotization. The possibility of choice is denied, eradicated.

This is the main effect of the integration of technological development, scientific work and economic power. Michel Foucault describes the formation of modern society in terms of the imposition of discipline on the individual body and on social behaviour. What we are now witnessing is the making of what Gilles Deleuze defines as a society of control: the code of behaviour is being imprinted directly onto the mind through models of cognition, of psychic interaction. Discipline is no longer imposed on the body through the formal action of the law - it is printed in the collective brain through the dissemination of techno-linguistic interfaces inducing a cognitive mutation.

3: Old Alternatives are Misleading

In their article 'The Californian Ideology', Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron criticize the mystification of this high tech neo-liberalism. But what do they oppose it with? They talk of a European way - the way of the welfare state, public intervention within the economy, public control over technological innovation. Can we believe in this solution? I don't.

Barbrook and Cameron say that MINITEL in France has shown the possibility of a European way to build the Net. But this is pointless. This example shows exactly that public intervention cannot achieve this goal. MINITEL is a rigid and centralized system, unable to face the challenges of virtualization. And in Italy, the experience of Olivetti shows that it is impossible to develop innovation on the basis of state investment and controls. From this point of view, the American model of development is working better. It opens the way to creative innovations. It captures these innovations through techno-social interfaces.

Barbrook and Cameron say that Europe must oppose the process of globalization which is led by the U.S. But this idea is naive and dangerous. Stopping globalization, preserving identities: these are the ideas which are generating nationalism and fundamentalism. These are what are called retrofascism by Kroker and Weinstein in their book 'Data Trash'.

The war between neo-liberalism and the old fashioned welfare state is not over - as shown by the strikes of the French railwaymen. The struggles of Fordist workers will probably go on for a long time, but they are doomed to defeat. The strategic defeat of industrial labour has already happened - FIAT 1980, Peugeot, the Miners Union, Detroit were the stages of this defeat during the '80s. The marginalisation of industrial labour began in that period.

The new composition of social labour is marked by the emergence of the cognitariat - what Kroker and Weinstein call the 'virtual class'. The social labour of the collective intelligence, or general intellect as Marx calls it in 'The Grundrisse', remains dominated by capitalist social relations in spite of its formal independence. Marx distinguishes two different kinds of domination of capital over human activity: formal domination and real domination.

Formal domination is the legal imposition of discipline, the legal subordination of human time to the capitalist exploitation. Real domination is the technological and material dependence of social activity on the capitalist form of social relations. We are probably entering today a new phase of capitalist domination, beyond formal and real: mental domination, realized through the pervasiveness of the semiotic code of capital within the collective brain, within language, within the mind, and within the cognitional activity. The capitalist paradigm is imprinted on the collective intelligence, inside the techno-social interfaces, in the semiotic framework of social communications.

The alternative between policies of deregulation and policies of state intervention is a false alternative. There is no way of regulating capital. Capital is a proliferating process of semiotization, informing techno-social interfaces and producing neural pathways and frames of social interaction. Since capital is pervading all social relationships, it is the regulator, not the regulated. The problem is not the legal regulation of capitalism, the problem is capitalism itself.

The industrial world is fading, the industrial composition of labour is dissolving, and a new composition of social activity is emerging. But the capitalist code is still pervading it. And in its current virtual (dis)incarnation, capitalism seems to be a system without any alternative. The alternative cannot be found in the past.

Franco Beradi (Bifo)id the author of author of Neuromagma

Anthology: 
Proud to be Flesh

To: Mutoids (Re: The Californian Ideology)

Louis Rossetto's reply to The Californian Ideology

A seeming understanding of the Digital Revolution's crucial left-right fusion of free minds and free markets, followed by a totally out-to-lunch excursion into discussions of the role of the government, racism, and the ecology in California, ending with a startling admission of the need to marry "some of the entrepreneurial zeal and can-do attitude" of California to a uniquely European (but not even vaguely defined) mixed economy solution - all of it betraying an atavistic attachment to statism, and an utterly dismal failure to comprehend the possibilities of a future radically different than the one we currently inhabit, one that is actually democratic, meritocratic, decentralized, libertarian. * Far from building the Digital Revolution, the US Defense Department sucked up 6 to 7 percent of US GNP for 40 years and utilized up to 40 percent of all engineering talent, channelling these resources not into technological growth, but into tanks, bombs, and military adverturism. In point of fact, it was the cutback in American defense spending following the Vietnam War and the subsequent firing of thousands of California engineers which resulted in the creation of Silicon Valley and the personal computer revolution. * A descent into the kind of completely stupid comments on race in America that only smug Europeans can even attempt. (Any country which prohibits its own passport holders from residing within its borders, or any people who are currently allowing genocidal war to be waged in their own back yard after the stupefying genocide of WWII, shouldn't be lecturing Americans about anything having to do with race, much less events which occurred 200 years ago.) The charge of technological apartheid is just plain stupid: "Already 'red-lined' by profit-hungry telcos [isn't every company, by definition, "profit hungry?", although that description in this context is also stupid since telcos are regulated monopolies with government enforced rates of return], the inhabitants of poor inner city areas are prevented from accessing the new on-line services through lack of money." Oh really? Redlined? Universal telephone access is mandated in the US. And anyone with a telephone has access to online service. Lack of money? Online is cheaper than cable television, and you can get a new computer for less than $1000, a used one less than $500.* The utterly laughable Marxist/Fabian kneejerk that there is such a thing as the info-haves and have-nots - this is equivalent to a 1948 Mute whining that there were TV-haves and have-nots because television penetration had yet to become universal, the logical conclusion being that, of course, the state had to step in and create television entitlements. This whole line of thinking displays a profound ignorance of how technology actually diffuses through society. Namely, there has to be a leading edge, people who take a risk on new, unproven products - usually upper tenish types, who pay through the nose for the privilege of being beta testers, getting inferior technology at inflated prices with the very real possibility that they have invested in technological dead ends like eight track or betamax or Atari. Yet they are the ones who pay back development costs and pave the way for the mass market, which, let me assure you, is every technology company's wet dream (the biggest market today for the fastest personal computers is not business, but the home). Not haves and have-nots - have-laters. * This anal retentive attachment to failed 19th century social and economic analysis and bromides is what allows you to claim that the laughable French Minitel system is a success, when in fact it is a huge impediment to France developing a real networked economy since the dirigisme which mandated an instantly obsolete closed technology for deployment into every home in France - and then conspired to stifle any alternative - has insured that France remain resolutely outside the mainstream of the Internet. * A profound ignorance of economics. The engine of development of the Digital Revolution was not state planning, whether you call that an industrial policy or a defense policy. It was free capital markets and venture funds which channelled savings to thousands upon thousands of companies, enabling them to start, and the successful to thrive. Contrast this with the sorry history of European technology development, where huge plutocratic organizations like Siemens and Philips conspired with bungling bureaucracies to hoover up taxes collected by local and Euro-wide state institutions and shovel them into mammoth technology projects which have proven to be, almost without exception, disasters. The true measure of the failure of European (in other words, statist) direction of technology can be measured by the fact that in ten years, during the biggest technology boom the planet has ever witnessed, Europe has gone from a net exporter of technology, to a net importer.* Let's get real here: High European taxes which have restricted spending on technology and hence retarded its development; state telco monopolies which have kept prices high and service bad, again impeding networking in business and the home; state-directed technology investment, which has resulted in the monopolization of risk capital, uniformly bad technology policy, and the squandering of resources and opportunities; social welfare policies which reward parasitical living rather than risk-taking; a truly atavistic, sick attachment to the compulsion and non-meritocratic elitism of statism as a way of life; and a kneejerk disdain for truly radical social and political thought which falls outside Euro PC dogma (read failed Marxist/Fabian) - have all retarded and will continue to retard Europeans; if the US and Asian countries had conspired to insure Europe continued to cede export markets, they could not have come up with a better strategy that the one you advocate: continued statist meddling ). * Meanwhile, it's Europeans who are discussing "California ideology," not Californians who are discussing "European ideology." And not because some clatch of bureaucrats in Strasbourg or Luxembourg have issued yet another directive. Because Europeans are recognizing that 19th century nostrums are not solutions to 21st century problems - on the contrary, they are the problem - and it's time to encourage competition, risk taking, democracy and meritocracy, and dare I say it, dreaming about a different, better future. Ask me again, and I'll really tell you what I think.

Louis Rossetto, Editor & Publisher, Wired

Anthology: 
Proud to be Flesh

Mute in Conversation with Nettime (Pit Schultz) (Digital Publishing Feature)

Pauline van Mourik Broekman Could you tell me something about how nettime was started, and how it has developed since then?

Pit Schultz: nettime started as a 3-day-meeting in a small theatre in Venice during the Biennale 95. A meeting of Media-activists, theoreticians, artists, journalists from different European countries. (Heath Bunting, Geert Lovink, Diana McCarty, Vuk Cosic, David Garcia, Nils Roeller, Tomasso Tozzi, Paul Garrin, and many more.) We developed the main lines of a Net-critique along the topics of virtual urbanism, globalisation/tribalisation, the life metaphor. Also, it became obvious that it was necessary to define a different cultural (net)politics than the one Wired Magazine represented in Europe. It was a private and intensive event, and in a way, it defined the 'style' that we critique and discuss issues on nettime. Nettime is somehow modelled on the table of the meeting, it was covered with texts, magazines, books, whatever we had to offer the group. It was the start of our 'gift economy' with exchanges of information. Today the list has nearly 300 subscribers, it's growing constantly with around 10 subscribers a week. We do no PR and the list is semiclosed, which means new subscriptions must be approved.

PvMB: Were you intensely involved with computers?

PS: My first computer was an Atari2600 TV-game, then a ZX81, C64, Amiga1000, I switched to Mac when I began with DTP in the Botschaft group after '90, used Dos/Linux for Internet, and ended up with a DX66 under Win95, mainly to run Eudora, in an Intranet. So these machines document certain phases in my life, but they don't determine them. I also studied computer science for a couple of years, but it was not what I expected, which was a more conceptual approach that reflected the development of software on a much broader, maybe cultural, level.

PvMB: ...and net culture

PS: I was involved with The Thing bbs network from 92-94, the high time of ascii and text based internet like MUDs and MOOs, before the Web. At the same time I was working with the group Botschaft. There were also some exhibitions of low media art, a communication performance in the TV tower in Berlin, meetings, long term projects in the public sphere like an installation with Daniel Pflumm in a subway tunnel, a collaboration with the group 'handshake' which later became Internationale Stadt, or Chaos Computer Club which Botschaft shared office space with. After a Bilwet event we organised, I started to work with Geert Lovink, which was a truly new phase of work.

PvMB: ...as an artist

PS: Yes and no. I got a stipendium and did exhibitions, but always had problems accepting art as a 'closed system', and I have to emphasise here that nettime is a group project, it is not a 'piece of individual art,' but a medium formed by a collective subjectivity, a sum of individuals. I'm moderating it and it has its aesthetic aspects. But you don't have to call me an artist for this.

PvMB: ...before you started the list and how do you think that has affected how nettime was set up?

PS: Well, you can call it a continuation of my art practise. But, it functions without naming it art. In '94 I tried to begin with projects on the Web, especially the Orgasmotron Project (a database of recorded brain waves of human Orgasms) which reflected the early euphoric times of 'first contact.' With Botschaft e.V. in 93-'4, we did the Museum fuer Zukunft, a group project and database of future scenarios, ideas, and views, but during these projects it became clear that I needed a deeper understanding of the collaborative, theoretical, and discursive aspects of cyberspace to continue. During this time I also gave up doing installations in defined art spaces. Generally, after a euphoric entry phase I got extremely bored and disappointed with what was and is happening in the art field. My main interest remains what Andreas Broeckman calls 'machinic aesthetics', a field between the social, political, and cultural economy of the so called 'new media'. So I was happy to meet Geert, and through Venice and a list of other meetings, a group of people with shared interests that we're trying to bring together on the nettime list.

PvMB: It seems that nettime has gravitated more towards net-political and -philosophical discussion than that directly to do with 'art'. What role do you (and Geert Lovink?), as (a) moderator(s), have with regard to that?

PS: Art today, especially media art, is a problematic field. When I listen to music, it may happen that I don't like it, but it comes through the radio. That's how art appears to me. You can switch it off, but there is still a lot of music around. So much about art. With the moderation: it is also a contradictory role. The less the moderator appears the better the channel flows. It is, of course, this power-through-absence thing, but we hope that we handle it carefully and in a responsible way, with the continuous group process in mind. Power flows through networks, and you cannot switch it off. From different sides, Geert and I have an interest in working with the dynamic of the aesthetic contra the political field. There are many fault lines and frontiers. One of them seems to become the art system which still has some kind of Alleinherrschaftsanspruch in the symbolic cultural field. This changes through new media and even if new media will not make the term 'Art' obsolete, there is something about the paradox between media and art or media art that I find deeply problematic. Both have components of totalatarian systems of representation. There is the chance that new media creates channels to redirect the flow of power. That's what nettime is made for. An experimental place for (re)mixes, something I missed for a very long time. Never perfect and always 'in becoming,' but not explicit, not descriptive but performative, and pragmatic.

Both Geert and I have our own reasons to distance ourselves from today's 'art discourse'. You can name nettime a political project in terms of the real effects we try to trigger, in terms of conflicting debates reflecting and criticising economic and social implications of the 'digital revolution'. It is a philosophical channel in terms of describing a certain 'condition', while accessing and applying the traditional knowledge including the 'postmodern' stuff. It is an aesthetic process in many aspects, while developing a collaborative writing space, experimenting with modes and styles of 'computer mediated communication'. Finally, we have the luxury of silence and don't advertise, so we don't need big investments into labels and surface, it gets spread by word of mouth, and the footer 'cultural politics of the nets' can mean many things. It's about clouds. There is this 'field of virtuality or potentiality,' multiple contexts and personas, interests and intensities which, like the social aspect, the time aspect, the knowledge and news aspect, make nettime something which modulates a flow of heterogeneous subjective objects, something with an existential aesthetic of living with nettime, (including the group, events, projects which grow here) a collective and singular info-environment which exists without the need to be named art.

PvMB: At the discussion at DEAF96, I think you described nettime as a 'dirty' ascii channel; how 'dirty' or unmoderated is it?

PS: Dirtyness is a concept here, especially for the digital realm, which produces its own clean dirtyness, take the sound of digital distortion of a CD compared to analogue distortion of Vinyl. Take all kinds of digital effects imitating the analogue dirtyness, which means in the end, a higher resolution, a recursive, deeper, infinite structure. I used the concept because of its many aspects. It means here to affirm the noise aspect, but only to generate a more complex pattern out of it. It does not mean 'anything goes', or a self-sufficient ethic of productivity. It is slackerish in a way, slows down, speeds up, doesn't care at certain places, just to come back to the ones which are tactically more effective.... there is a whole empirical science behind it, how to bring the nettime ship through dark waters... how to compress and expand, how to follow the lines of noise/pattern instead of absence/presence...

(In fact I pushed the big red button of the moderator mode only once, after a period of technical errors and a following unfocused dialogue.) The phenomenon is, and I think this is not such a rare thing, that a group of people, in a repetitive, communicative environment, begin to filter a field of possible 'communication acts' in a certain way, quasi machinic. You don't have to be professional or especially skilled in the beginning. The production of 'information' along the borderline of noise means to constantly refine a social context, maybe an artificial one, what some call immanent, I mean with rules which are self-evident, and are interdependent in a dynamic way. The list-software sends a kind of basic netiquette to the new users but this affects only some formal factors. One is that we decided to avoid dialogues, without forbidding them. Nettime is not a list of dialogues of quote and requote, but more of a discursive flow of text, of different types, differentialising, contextualising each other. On the net it is called 'collaborative filtering' or earlier, it was 'social filtering'.

Dirtyness means here many things, first of all the absence of purity, you always have mixtures, 'agencements' ... but this becomes too trivially 'postmodern'. The constant commentary, forming a socially defined body of knowledge, and of course, a field where power is generated out of undifferentiated forces, which includes the position of the moderators, or other very active participants, for defining where the scope of the flow tends to go. But actually, anyone can post whatever she likes. This risk, which often leads to a situation of overflow and re-orientation, is also the productive freedom of nettime. Another is the limited set of signs, like the Euro-English or net-pigeon, using English as a non-native speaker or the reduced character set of ascii, or the minimal features of the perl-scripts which run the mailinglist. Finally, for the authors, there is always a multiple aspect of why to write, and for the readers, why to read nettime. You definitely have to filter, I guess nobody, including me, reads every mail from start to finish. The sender has the chance to actively select texts she finds on the net and forward them. The author can pre- or republish texts, send pre-versions, test certain ideas, or sample others. On the material side, there are the Printouts of ZKP, readers which come out in small numbers during conferences. The process of inscription combined with a filtering process functions a bit like a news-ticker, if you want to find a comparison in the publishing world.

PvMB: Two other pertinent issues that came up at the DEAF discussion were those to do with size and finance. If online journals or lists are akin to creators of community, for example, where discussion can be catalytic due to the small size of the group and many of the contributors also knowing each other 'in real life', does their effectivity decrease beyond a certain size (I think Geert mentioned a couple of hundred). Although nettime is still a 'closed' mailing list, its subscriber base has grown; have you adapted your methodology?

As you can see, nettime is still going well. It seems there is a self-regulation process on the side of the contributors. There is the growth, which is around 10 new subscribers per week, mostly on a word of mouth basis, which leads to a certain social consistency. Then, in the way texts get selected/produced and find their way to the list. The 'group' is circumscribing a network of real life relationships, a network of shared interests, and a network of contextualising documents. This happens in relation to the 'outside', to the 'wideness' of the net, and to the 'deepness' of the local places where people work and live. Every document represents a vector through time in a social context, a discursive environment with many levels of reference, but a relatively concrete and simple surface: ascii-text. The complexity and aesthetics which come out of the simple practical rules of a mailinglist are complex and dynamic enough to not feel the urge to experiment with multithread, hypertextual, multimedia environments, even if we think about certain extensions you find in common with infranet or groupware solutions in the corporate world. It says: never touch a running system. I think the next level will evolve through a certain economic pressure, certain cases where texts reappear somewhere without permission, or other cases where the unwritten norms are subverted by other 'content machines' running on other principles, but sharing similar fields of issues. There is a need to use the chance and experiment with new horizontal networks of producers, to respect the collaborative editorial work of a user community and most of all, to think about financial models in terms of a sustainable quality of discussion, which includes the 'currency' of trust and credibility.

PvMB: And then regarding finance. This obviously has enormous effects on how things can run. Nettime is a 'no budget' operation; what are the advantages and disadvantages of this and how do you manage to keep going?

PS: First I have to say that your question already has certain implications. It may seem natural to put anything you do into an economic model and ask, what do I get for it? what do I pay for it? But it cannot even be said that such an exchange economy runs effectively with money. There is clearly a drive to profit from new media, and, of course, money must be there, for a basic funding, but the goal of nettime is not financial profit. One easily comes to this point with a defensive position, or a dogmatic one, fighting against the all too present, not to say, totalitarian system of a world wide integrated capitalism. Even after Marx, there are social fights, and especially within the new media, you have to face, like in the art world, certain problems, which often mean, make money fast, but bad work; work, but don't get good money. There is a certain kind of luxury today, which is somehow overcoded by 'slackerdom' which is contrary to the work ethic of the yuppie or the political activist. It is a pragmatic level, we do not have to talk about just economics, but we have to develop a working model, a constant fight with risks of exploitation, burn-out, sell-out.

Finally we would have to change nettime from its microeconomical, very basic structure if we would force its commercialisation. To make it clear, especially for mailinglists, but also many other sites with hi content, that it is not at all clear how to finance them for the long term. The time of the hype might be over soon, and then you have to face a shake out of centralisation that we already know from the history of radio and TV. On the other hand, I do not believe in the concept of autonomy. It leads to a sad double life, it might be that you live by state grants, or that you have to do a stupid job during the day. Between, there are many shades of grey, and among them is the possibility of alternative online economies which may once reintroduce less-alienated semiotics into the circulation of capitalism.

PvMB: You've talked about the importance of editors being sensitive to the exchange economies of the nets; these many economies intertwine, they are not separate are they? Highly commercial and competitive ones share technologies, content and 'participants' (for want of a better word) with ones that are more clearly like the potlach economy you refer to. In practice, what has your experience been of keeping nettime independent within this situation?

PS: These economies intertwine, but not without friction. From the view of the poor, there is the need to disrespect certain economic barriers, for example, licenses and copyright. That's what is happening in many Eastern countries. The new markets are not functioning like they promised to, at least not for all. There are still many chances to use new technology as a tool to reach more independence, but it also gets used in the other way, for a huge 'Darwinist' shakeout. And as one can see with Microsoft, it is not at all the best who survive. So I strongly resist any logic of preaffirming the situation. Potlatch is only a circumscription of a kind of exchange economy which is pretty common, as soon as you have the privilege to do so. I am sure that we will face models which are based on a certain local exclusion of money economy. Any family, community, or friendship is based on such models. Finally, you need the friction, the potential of mixed economies, for a vivid and creative market, at least from what I understand about markets.

PvMB: This links with one of the ongoing discussions on nettime, the one to do with libertarianism or neoliberalism and social justice. It has, over time, involved posting extensive 'dialogues' on the role of Wired, the demonisation of the State and been presented as an attempt to start generating a productive, European contribution to the development of ideas on techno-cultural political organisation for the future. Is this right and how do you feel it is going?

PS: You can describe it like that. But I don't like to make predictions here. One thing nettime does is critique, this means it reflects and constructs the present. Of course there are strategies, and part of a strategy is that one should not talk too much about it. The important task is not to give up against the homogenising, centralising, and alienating networks of a global integrated capitalism, to use these very ethical-political techniques as 'cultural' ones. To push against what is forced on us as 'economic factors' in favour of a necessary quality.

contact: <pit@contrib.de>, <geert@xs4all.nl>reading: news://alt.nettime or news://news.thing.at/alt.nettime

Pauline van Mourik Broekman <pauline AT metamute.com>

Anthology: 
Proud to be Flesh
Storify: 

Part of the Radical Net Cultures seminar, Leuphana University by Clemens Apprich and Simon Worthington, assisted by Nicolas Stille. 2012-13

Tea with Kevin Kelly

JJKing interviews Kevin Kelly

"Imagine that we live on a steel planet, and there's a whole bus-load of things that arrive from outer space and they have these big bags of seeds - life - and they're like, 'Do you want it?' and we're like, 'File an EPA report,' - we'd reject it. It's too risky, it's out of control, it's full of diseases. We would reject life if it was given to us right now. And that's exactly what we're doing with technology. Technology has all the same kind of qualities, and we're saying 'we can't deal with it.'"

This anecdote, related to me in a recent interview with Kevin Kelly, speaks volumes about the attitude towards technology and culture promulgated by Kelly, John Perry Barlow, Nicholas Negroponte et al, whose self-promotional chutzpah has established them as the 'digerati'. The unchecked substitution of 'life' for 'technology' is a semantic sleight-of-hand that gives way, here, to the assertion that the same sceptics who want to refuse technology today would be the kind to have wanted to refuse life at its dawn (the implication of the gag, its utter fatuity notwithstanding, being that since only a dumbass would want to refuse life, only a dumbass could want to refuse technology); elsewhere it's a 'switcheroo' (Kelly's word, not mine) that will lend technology the working status of a vital force that, like 'nature', operates outside the reach of social imperatives.

That, of course, leaves a nasty taste in the mouth for those comfy with a 'Tomorrow's World' technology that is 'put to work' for us, achieving palpable results which can be lauded, applauded and then comfortably consumed. Connectionism, with all its zany, bottom-up, out-of-control-ness is anathema to the prevailing picture of technology as humankind's servant. And the digerati, bless 'em, are just bursting to relieve you of such a paradigm.Fair enough, you might think.

There is a whiff, though, of something rather more pernicious here. For many of us, the invocation of the old bogie 'Mother Nature' as a legitimation for any discourse raises hackles, largely because she's been made bedfellow to some particularly unscrupulous types in her time, lending dumb support to (amongst other things) radical racism and gender discrimination. But it's worse than that, for the connectionists, because they're not merely attempting to substantiate an ideology upon nature, but to use nature as that ideology: in the free-market ecology of Kelly, Negroponte and Barlow, nature, with all its savage vicissitudes, becomes the law - a naturally occurring phenomenon beyond the dictat of culture. The middle term is expelled. No longer: 'x is right because it's natural'; just 'x is natural - so talking about its rightness is pointless'.

Should the network, I ask Kelly, really be viewed as irreproachable? What happens when its emergent phenomena are violent, acrimonious, undesirable?

"I do think," he confirms, "of technology as a form of life. And in general, I think, the more life we have the better. Are there specific powers or disruptions that are caused by specific forms of life? Yes. What does that mean? Well, that means we have to kind of deal with it. But does it mean that we should try to stop life altogether, stop technology altogether? No."

Well, no-one was actually offering that as a serious option. We could ask, in its stead, for simple concessions: is there, for instance, room for a social conscience in such a paradigm? A social support network? An anaemic one, at best. "I don't think technology solves the ills of society," Kevin says bluntly. "Those are socio-political problems, not technological problems. Technology's not going to change those things."

Convenient how it's possible to pull apart economics and technology after spending 600-odd pages putting them together in his somewhat infamous book. But how cool is it, I wonder, to study and promote the growth of distributed, out of control technologies when those technologies are not being put to work to help people? After all, wasn't technology, at least nominally, supposed to try to help? Vehicles to move people. Agricultural machinery to feed people. Medicine and medical technologies to save people's lives. But this network - because it's part of nature - doesn't need to help anybody.

Somehow it feels wrongheaded, or perhaps just deeply unfashionable, to pop the question. "So what about the people who fall through the network," I ask nonetheless, "the homeless people, the starving, the mentally disturbed? How does the network try to extend its help to them?" Kevin doesn't falter for a moment. "The people you're talking about have very little to do with technology and much more to do with politics and social skills. I know of no technology that is going to help the people you've just mentioned." Well. At least we know where we stand. Nature doesn't help anybody, and why should technology?

Except that the digerati don't go this far. They don't want to be accused of cruelty, and they've developed a little fantasy that helps them to feel they're helping you. It goes like this: there's no have-nots, just 'have lates'. Everybody will get the Network in the end, even those who don't even have food right now; everybody will benefit wonderfully from it, and "in about ten years this question [of have-nots] is going to be perceived with great amusement. The problem is not going to be all those people who are not connected, 'cause they're just have lates. Everybody's going to have the stuff sooner than they think, and then we're all going to be worrying about what happens when they're connected."

But this connectionist riff about 'haves and have-lates' is another wholly unacceptable bit of semantic manoeuvring that, looked at from ground level, seems flimsy, insubstantial, and more than a little crass. The question of access to knowledge is critical, especially as such access is becoming increasingly an issue of economics, and attempting to close it with so flippant a soundbyte is unforgivable. The world outside the virtual class has big problems that preclude large sections of the population from access, or even thinking about access. "We're in an era," Kevin Kelly said to me, "where we have tremendous stuff to gain by looking at the bottom." Unfortunately he wasn't talking about the rock-bottom, and the very limited gains the people who reside there have to make from the connectionist project.

How many of us are going to be 'having' this pan-capitalist global Network, anyway? Is the process towards one really that clear, that inexorable? In Europe, despite isolated moves towards non-government organisations and quangos, the general political swing is manifestly towards a centralised system - which seems utterly polarised to the digerati's connnectionist pronouncements about the world. How does Kelly reconcile this with his picture of a global shift to decentralisation, deregulation, and bottom-up governance? By ignoring it, as far as I can tell. "Despite backsliding in various parts of the globe, there's a very clear trend towards the decentralisation of governments. Very few would dispute that there's a general trend in that direction," he asserts in response to my questions. I'm sorry? Backsliding? Various parts of the globe? Aren't we talking about the whole of Europe here, Kevin? He leaps over the continent in one gigantic visionary stride, hardly even taking in the point. This is typical of the quite deliberate and obstinate myopia that characterises the Californian ideology of the digerati, the same myopia that has led Negroponte to make wild assertions about the redundancy of issues of race and gender in a recent letter to Wired US.

I suppose I've given the game away: there's something about connectionism that I can't quite connect with. Its ideology, for reasons I hope I've pointed at, is fundamentally unsound. "But the ideological part of it is irrelevant," Kelly protests. "The pervasive, ubiquitous spread of this technology will continue because it's practical." Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm not even convinced that any of it is going to happen, but were it to I'd be deeply suspicious of any process funded on a purely 'natural' and 'practical' rationale, the trajectory of which sweeps straight over a whole gaggle of nasty, sticky little objections.

What happens, for instance, to privacy in a world where every dumb little thing is talking to every other dumb little thing? Isn't it all queasily resonant of some disgustingly bloated global Neighbourhood Watch scheme? "Well, in America, the idea of privacy is a very loaded word that is actually not very clear and which means a lot of different things. A person who had true privacy was the Unabomber." My worst fears confirmed: a network this ubiquitous, this voracious, would never tolerate absence: every silence, every unknown, would be regarded as the stirring of dissent. Mad bombers in huts in the forest; pinkos, revolutionaries, and freaks hiding behind encryption codes and firewalls. It all adds up to a situation in which silence will need to be justified. "But who wants to have no relationships?" Kevin demands incredulously. "Who wants to have no-one know anything about you? That's inhuman, that's sick." Who are you calling sick? I'm not saying that I necessarily want to be cut off from society, just that I'd like it to be a possibility. "Well, if you make it easy to rebel, then there's no value in doing it," says Kevin blithely. Great to know he has our best interests at heart.

Privacy, that's one issue. Another: protection. Have the digerati failed to notice the violent and unpalatable emergent phenomena at football matches and mob rallies? Have they ever considered that from 'natural' flux, society has doggedly organised itself into top-down and often totalitarian systems? That if you strengthen the ability of humans to communicate ideas without tempering them, you invite the spontaneous emergence of systems which may not reflect your own political intentions? A distributed system, I point out to Kevin, need not stay in motion, but can reach a resting point in any one of a plethora of constellations.

For a while we skirt around each other, me arguing that his Network will speed the process of tyranny and revolution into a kind of continuous repression and revolt, him arguing that it will make such tyranny "more difficult. I'm not saying it can't be done, just that it becomes more difficult." We manage to agree that the Network, already generating conspiracy theories like Billy-o through its younger sibling, the internet, might in future give them an environment in which they can proliferate with even greater efficacy.

But what's the difference between conspiracy theory and religious and political movements, I ask? Kevin cuts through the question with a prophetic assertion: "We're not going to see tyrannies, but things that are like conspiracies to the extreme." He then comes over a bit vague and seer-ish, in an Ides of March kind of way. "Very, very toxic, conspiratorial and rumour based things. We haven't, probably, seen that kind of thing yet." I decide to leave it at that, and we move on swiftly to the subject of mob rule.

Suddenly we hit pay-dirt. "I think it's impossible to have any kind of sophisticated civilisation that's run entirely from the bottom. Sure, that's a mob, and you get mob rule. So you absolutely need to have top-down control." In a flash, I get it: even Kelly doesn't really believe any of this gab about distributed rule. "That," he admits, "is just one part of the equation. You need points of control within the system. Leverage points, I'd call them."

This, of course, is the crux of what many sceptics are trying to get across to the digerati: that the architecture of a system defines the movements of those who traverse it, and that those who design and influence that architecture should therefore pay close attention to their motivations and mind-sets. Whilst the claim was for a system that had an entirely open architecture, similar somehow to those found in 'nature', we merely wanted to point out that that didn't sound like the way 'nature' worked - or that open systems, in human society, have often led to abusive, coercive movements. Now our position, as critics of this emergent Californian Ideology, changes, for here is a far more dangerous admission: that the digerati, or at least some of them, are fully aware that 'leverage points' have to be hardwired into their network, and that those points will define control within that network. Now we want to know - and we have to ask - what ideology informs the placement of those points of control, what strategies govern their operation?

"Yeah," muses Kelly, "can we agree on a set of moral heuristics that we want to wire in?"

Oh, oh. And then,

"How do we engineer consensus?"

This has all started to sound very, very worrying indeed, and I find myself considering the opinion of a couple of notable Nettime writers - to whit, that the digerati are the new Mussolinis and Hitlers of our time - in a new light. Could Kelly really be an embryonic InfofŸhrer, exhorting the virtual class to sneak leverage points and fulcrums of control into the systems they are helping to fashion? Somehow it doesn't ring true. I have to add a new criticism to the list of those he is already surrounded by: that Kelly is an intellectual naif. By his own admission, he relies on other people to provide ideologies. "I am very eager," he says to me, "to hear someone else map something out that make sense to me."

You really get the feeling, talking to him, that he honestly doesn't feel equipped to talk about certain issues. He's a bright guy, but I start to realise that he just isn't comfortable discussing the implications of his work when that discussion starts to touch on philosophical and socio-political theoretics. It may be that Kelly feels on safe ground in his book, therefore, with nature on his side. It's hard to go wrong with nature. It doesn't answer back, and if you describe it convincingly enough, most of your readers won't either.

Sceptics would of course point out to me that I bought into his disingenuity, and that I'm the naive one; they'd probably be right. But, before I finish, let me point out that this charge of naivetŽ should not be taken as an attempt to mitigate Kelly's, or the digerati's, astonishing intellectual irresponsibility. "What are your ideas?" Kelly asks me as the interview is closing. "I'm an editor at Wired, I have many times asked people to prepare something that I can believe in. Give me something that makes sense in terms of what I know, and I'll try to disseminate it." Not good enough, I'm afraid: the way to respond to the fact of your own misguided, malnourished and half-assed ideology is not to ask me, or anyone else, to come up with one, it's to start doing some thinking yourself.

"Well," Kevin says meekly, "I'm not much of a preacher. I'm a devout Christian, I have my own faith, my own beliefs, that very few people share and very few people are actually interested in hearing about. I'm not a preacher." Now that, I think, is interesting. But I'm going to resist giving a Christian reading of the notions of Gaia and hive mind - and I'm going to resist setting Christianity alongside the 'natural law' argument and saying "Look!"; both of those actions would be somewhat below the belt. I will also resist going into any detail about the incompatibility of Jesus' teachings with a system that promotes pan-Capitalism and which is all but blind to those at the bottom. All this is part of a different article.

What I will say is that I, for one, would be very interested in hearing a technological discourse based not on nature, but on the Bible. Kevin Kelly, if you're truly committed to pointedly unfunny speculations about the future, you might as well jettison all this prosaic, 'natural' claptrap, put your money where your mouth is and head for the heavens. "I am the Common Gateway Interface, the truth, and the light". Cor, now wouldn't that be something?

Jamie King <jamie AT metamute.com> is currently researching the impact of information technology on contemporary culture and editing a collection of Net criticism, Thinking Online.

Anthology: 
Proud to be Flesh

Bombs and Bytes

Can the intense economy of information short-circuit knowledge? Anustup Basu follows Gilles Deleuze in analysing fascism as a hijacking of linguistic potential. Facsism, he argues, realises itself through a technology of habituation parasitic on our willingness to be informed – a biopolitical sovereignty that percolates individuals and communities at the micro-level. No longer is world-order decreed by the word of the sovereign, but by an inhuman sovereign will constituted on the plane of informationINTRODUCTION

During the publicity drive towards building up domestic and international support for the 2003 war on Iraq, no functionary of the United States government actually made a public statement to the effect that Saddam Hussein had an active part to play in the devastation of September 11, 2001. Nevertheless, it was subsequently noted in the opinion polls that an alarming number of American people believed that the Iraqi despot was involved in the conspiracy and its execution. Hence the two propositions – Saddam the evil one, and 9/11, the horrible crime – seem to be associated in a demographic intelligence without having any narrative obligation to each other; that is, without being part of the same ‘story’. The outcome, it seems, was achieved by a mathematical chain of chance, by which two disparate postulates, in being publicised with adequate proximity, frequency, and density, gravitate towards each other in an inhuman plane of massified thought. They, in other words, are bits and bytes of newspeak which have come to share what I will call an ‘informatic’ affinity with each other, without being organically conjoined by constitutive knowledge. The formation of the latter entity is of course something we are prone to consider a primary task of the philosophical human subject, who is also the modern citizen with rights and responsibilities. Attaining knowledge by reading the world is how we are supposed to self-consciously exercise reason, form views, and partake in an enlightened project of democratic consensus and legislation. Hence, insofar as these much hallowed protocols of liberal democracy are concerned, this 9/11 opinion poll poses some disconcerting questions:

1. How does one account for the fact that what is, at face value, the most sophisticated technological assemblage for worldly communication and dissemination of ‘truth’, should sublimate what, in Kantian terms, must be called an unscientific belief or dogma?

2. To be mediatised literally means to lose one’s rights. Hence, what happens to the idea of government by the people and for the people if the ‘false’ is produced as a third relation which is not the synthetic union of two ideas in the conscious mind of the citizen or the general intellect of the organic community, but is a statistical coming together of variables?

 

3. If the ‘false’ is merely a moment in an overall control and management of an information environment and its electronic herd, that is, if it is simply a matter of manipulated distribution and saturation of facts in order to get a desired feedback in terms of public perception, what consequences does that have in terms of human politics? How is the cynical intelligence of power that calls this into being to be configured?

4. Lastly, this distillation of the false as ‘informatic’ perception requires money. In other words, it requires a tremendous amount of wealth in order to not only bring the variables Saddam Hussein and 9/11 into a state of associative frequency, but also to minimise and regulate the appearance of other variables from appearing in the scenario. For instance, in this case, to reduce, for the time being, the frequency of the proper name Osama. Hence, the obvious question – what is the role of money in the purportedly post-modern, increasingly technologised, sphere of communicative action?

These are not new questions. They are a continuation of what a long line of western thinkers, from Antonio Gramsci to Giorgio Agamben, have been asking from various philosophical standpoints: how was it that modern technologies of reproduction of the art work and electrification of the public sphere should produce European fascism as one of its first, grotesque spectacles? In a way, this anxious query seems to resonate, in a particular context, the old Pascalian question posed at the very gestative period of a godless modern world: how does one protect the interests of abstract justice from the real, material interests of power in the world?

WHAT IS INFORMATION

The paradox, qua modern publicity and communication, as it is expressed in Walter Benjamin’s ‘Work of Art’ essay, can be outlined as follows: from the perspective of the enlightenment humanist one could say that mechanised mass culture in the 20th century was supposed to ‘de-auratise’ the work of art and make it more democratically available; but what Benjamin notices in his time is a disturbing incursion of aesthetics into politics, rather than the politicisation of art that could have been possible. This, for him, constitutes a ‘violation’ of the technologies of mass culture, by which the ‘F¸hrer cult’ produces its ritual values of aestheticising war and destruction. Benjamin formulates the problem as belonging to a society not yet ‘mature’ enough to ‘incorporate technology as its organ’. In Benjamin’s essay, ‘The Storyteller’, we can see this problem being articulated as a situation in which forms of storytelling (which are at once educative and exemplary to the citizen for his cosmopolitan education, and also amenable to his freedom of critical interpretation and judgement) are replaced by a new form of communication which he calls information. The first characteristic of information is its erasure of distance – its near-at-hand-ness grants information the ‘readiest hearing’ and makes it appear ‘understandable in itself’. The dissemination and reception of information is thus predicated on the production of the event as ‘local’, as ‘already being shot through with explanation.’’ For the conscious subject, this also entails the disappearance of a temporal interval required for movement within the faculties, from cognition to understanding and then finally to knowledge. Information is that which is accompanied by the entropic violence brought about by a supercession of the commonplace, and a reduction of language into clichÈs. It is in the ruins of a constitutive or legislative language that the instantaneous circuit of the commonsensical comes into being. In this case therefore, the establishment of Saddam’s crimes does not remain a matter of old jurisprudence, following normative rules of argumentation, proof, and deduction; it becomes an absolute movement of the commonsensical as the ‘already explained’.

WHAT IS FACISM?

Fascism is the common name we accord to totalitarian power. However, we often do it irresponsibly or ahistorically, categorically identifying the concept with limited, sociologistic understandings of the German or Italian scenarios around the great wars, or confining it to grotesque figurations of human agency, like that of Mussolini or Hitler. If the concept is to have any critical valence whatsoever in our global, neoliberal occasion, it needs to be unpacked and re-articulated before we begin to transpose it here and there. Gilles Deleuze has re-articulated Benjamin’s argument by transposing it from its organicist parabasis into a sub-human, molecular-pragmatic one. According to Deleuze, the discourses of fascism, as dominant myths in our time, establish themselves by an imperial-linguistic takeover of a whole social body of expressive potentialities. There are different forms of life and expressive energies in any situation of the historical which are capable of generating multiple instances of thought, imaginative actions, and wills to art. Fascism destroys such pre-signifying and pre-linguistic energies of the world, extinguishes pluralities, and replaces them with a monologue of power that saturates space with, and only with, the immanent will of the dictator. This is the moment in which the language system sponsored by the sovereign is at its most violent; it seeks to efface historical memory by denying its constitutive or legislative relation with non-linguistic social energies; it casts itself and its unilateral doctrine as absolute and natural. For Deleuze, this is a psychomechanical production of social reality more than an organicity of community torn asunder by human alienation and the incursion of reactionary ideologies, false consciousnesses, and agents. Not that the latter do not exist, or are unimportant components in this matter, but that this technology of power cannot be simply seen as a neutral arrangement of tools misused by evil ones. The figure of the dictator is therefore not that of the aberrant individual madman, but a psychological automaton that becomes insidiously present in all, in the technology of massification itself. The images and objects that mass hallucination, somnambulism, and trance produce are attributes of this immanent will to power.[1] The hypnotic, fascinating drive of fascism is thus seen to paradoxically operate below the radar of a moral and voluntaristic consciousness of the human subject; fascism becomes a political reality when knowledge based exchanges between entities of intelligence give way to a technologism of informatics.

Thinking, knowledge, or communicability (which is different from this or that technologism of communication) becomes foreclosed in such an order of power because one cannot really say anything that the social habit does not designate as something already thought of and pre-judged by the dictator. The publicity of fascism is one where friend and foe alike are seen to be engaged in tauto-talk, repeating what the dictator has already said or warned about. Benjamin calls this an eclipse of the order of cosmological mystery and secular miracles that the European humanist sciences of self and nature, and an enlightened novelisation of the arts sought to delineate and solve. There can be neither secrecies in fascism, nor anything unknown. Conspiracies in that sense can only be manifestations of what is already foretold and waiting to be confessed. The SS can of course procure and store ‘classified information’, but it can never say anything that the F¸hrer does not know better. Information therefore becomes an incessant and emphatic localisation of the global will of the dictator; in its seriality and movement, it can only keep repeating, illustrating, and reporting the self-evident truth of the dictatorial monologue.[2] For Deleuze, it is in this immanence of dictatorial will that Hitler becomes information itself. Also, it is precisely because of this that one cannot wage a battle against Hitlerism by embarking on a battle of truth and falsehood without questioning, and taking for granted, the very parabasis of information and its social relations of production. ‘No information, whatever it might be, is sufficient to defeat Hitler’.

Hence, like any other individual, Adolf the Aryan anti-semite does not exhaust the figure of Hitler. Informatics has not ceased after the death of Adolf and his propaganda machine, or the passing away of the particular discourse of the Adolphic oracle and its immediate historical context. As a figural diagram, as a special shorthand for a particular technology of power, Hitler subsequently must have only become stronger, that is, if indeed we are to still account for him as an immanent will to information that invests modern societies. But how can one conceptualise him without the formalist baggage, in other words, without the grotesque, arborescent institutions of repression, like the secret police or the concentration camps, which constitute a historicist definition of fascism? If one were to put the question differently, that is, occasion it in terms of a present global order of neo-liberalism, marked by American style individualism, consumer choices, democracy, and free markets that supposedly come to us after the agonistic struggles of liberation in the modern era are already settled, how can one enfigure the dead and buried tyrant in our midst in such an ‘untimely’ manner? How is Hitler possible in a liberal constitution? The question is a complicated one, because if we go back to the example we began our essay with, we will see that it actually satisfies the conditions of democratic accountability in terms of the human lie (the President never said this). Besides, it is also not the result of the state, as collective capitalist, monopolising the public sphere for propaganda purposes.

Perhaps one has to begin by not trying to enfigure Hitler in the contours of the human, as the irrational apex of the suicidal state, or the pathological Goebbelsian liar who perverted the tools of human communication into mass propaganda machines. Hitler in that sense, would not simply be the mediocre and grotesque madman who uses or abuses technology. He would still be a proper name for technologism itself, but in his latest neoliberal incarnation, he would not be one who simply imprisons the human in enclosed spaces like the death camp or exercises a Faustian domination over him through arborescent structures like the Nazi war/propaganda machine. The ‘postmodern’ technology of information that we are talking about qua Hitler is neither external nor internal to the human; it is one that is a part of the latter’s self-making as well as that of the bio-anthropological environment he lives in. Hitler enters us through a socialisation of life itself, through a technology of habituation that involves our willingness to be informed. It is a diffuse modality of power that perpetually communicates between the inside and the outside, erasing distance between the home and the world. It is in this context that Deleuze’s statement, that there is a Hitler inside us, modern abjects of capital, becomes particularly significant. Hitler, as per this formulation, becomes an immanent form of sovereignty that is biopolitically present, percolating individuals and communities in an osmotic manner. Hitler as information, as socially immanent micro-fascisms, is not the addresser who speaks to us while we listen. It was only Adolf who did that in the old days, as the anachronistic caricature of the sovereign who had not yet had his head cut off, but had simply ‘lost it’. Information on the other hand, is a metropolitan habit of instant signification; it is an administered social automaton that does not presume a contract between the speaker and the hearer. Since it has no point of origin other than the person informed, the instance of information is thus always one where the self listens to the commonsensical within the self itself, to the point where the two become indistinguishable. Hence, it is neither a lying President who says that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, nor was such a sublimation the result of unilateral state propaganda in the style of old Adolf or old Stalin. Information in this sense, is indeed a commodified effect – a compact of words and images that is called into being by a non-linear and inhuman intelligence that, amongst other things, produces the human caricature or the icon of the Dictator himself. Informatisation therefore, evades the legal question altogether, by creating a situation where the commonsensical relation between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida is established not by the word of the sovereign (which can always be produced as evidence and contested in tribunals of justice) but by a manifest immanence of an inhuman sovereign will.

It is only when we understand the cult of information as a social mode of production that we can understand that the problem of mediatisation that we have been talking about does not concern the agency of the individual human at all. To put it blandly, this is not about a conspiracy of a cabal of capitalists and money mongers who manufacture truth in a determined manner. That is, Hitler in an anthropomorphic form who arbitrates what should be said and what should not. We are also not simply talking about representational intentions (what Karl Rove really wanted us to believe) or prejudices about representational capabilities (Americans, as a people, need to mature in order to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff). The effort, on the other hand, is to understand a situation where screen time is money time, where one has to have money, or be sponsored by corporate interests of money, in order to be able to exercise one’s right to ‘self representation’. The fact that we are mediatised, hence bereft of rights, thus applies only differentially – all of us are Hitlers who command attention, or nigger-infants (the Greek etymology of the word infant, as in in-fans, refers to the being without language) who listen without speaking, but only in differential degrees of hierarchised mediation. Without old Adolf’s old dividing walls, everyone can speak, blessed with the freedom of speech. Nominally, everyone can play the game of representations, since everyone has money. It is a different matter altogether, one that has not much to do with the language games of neo-liberal economics and ideology, that some have a lot more of it than others.

CONCLUSION

A new form of political thinking has to begin by taking into account vast amounts of energies in the world that are antagonistic to capital. This has to be done in terms other than those pertaining to the figure of the human citizen and his charter of rights. It is part of the transcendental stupidity of the cult of information to impart such energies with a catalogue of profiles: the criminal, the delinquent, the madman, the negro, the woman, the child, the African AIDS victim, the poor, the unemployed, the illegal immigrant, or the terrorist. Informatics is about the reporting of the state’s pharmacopic action on these bodies, as objects of charity, aid, medication, schooling, or military action. This is why the unspeakable antagonism of living labour in the world is never ‘visible’ on CNN, Fox or any other corporate geo-televisual schema of metropolitan representation. The latter can discern only the ontology of money and its coalitionary interests – that which perpetually makes screen time money time. Humans, who are merely refugees great and small, can only climb into one or many of the designated profiles of massification. The centralising, perspectivist drive of CNN ­­– as commentary of the world, as a repetitive human psychodrama of development (birth pangs of modernity in the frontier, subjugated and freed consumer desires) – overlooks the energy from the margins of the frame in trying to fit entire crowds into the telegenic face. This is why populations can be categorically divided into simple binaries like ‘with us’ or ‘against us’. Labour and its multiple wills to antagonism (of which various narratives of resistance are only partial but undeniably important molar expressions) are thus un-representable precisely because they lack a ‘human’ face, or rather the face of the future American consumer. Global antagonisms to capital are at once utopic (as in ‘non-place’ since the logic of globalisation cannot posit an ‘outside’) and pantopic; they are, in multiple forms, and in different degrees of sublimation, nowhere and everywhere. It is a complex, political understanding of such matters – like linking insurrectionary violence in different corners of the world to unfair and imbalanced trade practices like agricultural subsidiaries, dumping, and tariff walls by first world countries – that spectacular informatisation removes or minimises from the public sphere. Politics therefore is replaced by symbiotic exchanges between peace and terror, and fear and security; communication likewise, is overwritten by a great monologue of global managerial-elite interests, in which power speaks to itself.

A judgement of the panorama of expressions of this global antagonistic will on the lines of good and bad can take place only as an afterthought; political thinking in our occasion can begin only with the acknowledgement of these energies as eventful, and not subject to essential categories of a state language that has become global. In other words, thinking has to proceed acutely, from an awareness of that very point of danger, where the state fails to ‘translate’ such affective hostilities into repetitive instances of its own already explained story. It must be remembered that informatics, as a form of social production of consent, is able to attain a normative power precisely because it is accompanied by an epistemic presumption of the end of the historical process altogether.[3] Stories therefore cannot be seen to be teaching us anything new in terms of constitutive politics because in the new world order of a globally rampant neoliberalism, there can be nothing new to narrate at all, in terms of alternative destinies and potentials of the world. They can only be local instances of crisis and management, in a grand chronicle of financialisation of the globe that is already foretold. It is this dire poverty of political language that the neo-liberal state tries to cover up with violence dictated in a situation of ‘emergency’ that is legitimised by an emotionalist, folksy rhetoric of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Here I must strongly clarify that I am not registering support for either the undeniably tyrannical Saddam Hussein, or a statist ideology of violence like that of Al Qaida. These two totalitarian entities, like some of their western counterparts, merely capture and mobilise some of these antagonistic energies. As far as the latter is concerned, it is not difficult to see how informatics peddles the worst clichÈs of neo-liberalism in trying to enframe antagonism through a host of good and evil profile doublets according to which a population is invented and managed, or policed and fed – the model minority contra the inner city delinquent, the healthy contra the mad, the peaceful Arab contra the Islamic bigot. In terms of spectacle and violence, it thus falls perfectly within the logic of war/information to have the yellow cluster bomb be interspersed with the yellow food packet during the recent war in Afghanistan. The global state of surveillance and security today violently tries to foreclose the political by informatising complex insurrectionary potentialities in terms of a simplistic, self-evident, and bipolar logic of peace and terror. The latter thus becomes a generic term to reductively describe a multiplicity of forces – from Latin American guerilla movements, to African tribal formations, to Islamic militancy in the Middle-East to Maoist rebellion in Nepal. The freedom of choice offered by the globally rampant North Atlantic machine of war and informatics is no longer between dwelling as a poet or as an assassin, but between a statistic or a terrorist.

[1] See Deleuze, Cinema 2, p. 263-69[2] In this context see Hannah Arendt’s useful elaborations in The Origins of Totalitarianism [3] I am of course alluding to Francis Fukuyama’s KojËvian-Hegelian thesis in The End of History and the Last Man

Works Cited:Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism, New York: Harvest, 1973 || Benjamin, Walter ‘The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov’ in Illuminations, Hannah Arendt ed., Trans. Harry Zohn, London: Fontana, 1973, pp. 83-107 || Benjamin, Walter ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ in Illuminations, pp. 211-244 || Deleuze, Gilles, Cinema 2: The Time Image, Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta, Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1989 || Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and the Last Man, New York: Avon Books, 1992

Anustup Basu <anbst42@pitt.edu> is Cultural Studies Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of English

Anthology: 
Proud to be Flesh

InfoEnclosure 2.0

The hype surrounding Web 2.0’s ability to democratise content production obscures its centralisation of ownership and the means of sharing. Dmytri Kleiner & Brian Wyrick expose Web 2.0 as a venture capitalist’s paradise where investors pocket the value produced by unpaid users,  ride on the technical innovations of the free software movement and kill off the decentralising potential of peer-to-peer production

Wikipedia says that ‘Web 2.0, a phrase coined by O’Reilly Media in 2004, refers to a supposed second generation of internet-based services – such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies – that emphasise online collaboration and sharing among users.’

The use of the word ‘supposed’ is noteworthy. As probably the largest collaboratively authored work in history, and one of the current darlings of the internet community, Wikipedia ought to know. Unlike most of the members of the Web 2.0 generation, Wikipedia is controlled by a non-profit foundation, earns income only by donation and releases its content under the copyleft GNU Free Documentation License. It is telling that Wikipedia goes on to say ‘[Web 2.0] has become a popular (though ill-defined and often criticised) buzzword among certain technical and marketing communities.’

The free software community has tended to be suspicious, if not outright dismissive, of the Web 2.0 moniker. Tim Berners-Lee dismissed the term saying ‘Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means.’ He goes on to note that ‘it means using the standards which have been produced by all these people working on Web 1.0.’

In reality there is neither a Web 1.0 nor a Web 2.0, there is an ongoing development of online applications that cannot be cleanly divided.

In trying to define what Web 2.0 is, it is safe to say that most of the important developments have been aimed at enabling the community to create, modify, and share content in a way that was previously only available to centralised organisations which bought expensive software packages, paid staff to handle the technical aspects of the site, and paid staff to create content which generally was published only on that organisation’s site.

A Web 2.0 company fundamentally changes the mode of production of internet content. Web applications and services have become cheaper and easier to implement, and by allowing the end users access to these applications, a company can effectively outsource the creation and the organisation of their content to the end users themselves. Instead of the traditional model of a content provider publishing their own content and the end user consuming it, the new model allows the company’s site to act as the centralised portal between the users who are both creators and consumers.

For the user, access to these applications empowers them to create and publish content that previously would have required them to purchase desktop software and possess a greater technological skill set. For example, two of the primary means of text-based content production in Web 2.0 are blogs and wikis which allow the user to create and publish content directly from their browser without any real need for knowledge of markup language, file transfer or syndication protocols, and all without the need to purchase any software.

The use of the web application to replace desktop software is even more significant for the user when it comes to content that is not merely textual. Not only can web pages be created and edited in the browser without puchasing html editing software, photographs can be uploaded and manipulated online through the browser without the need for expensive desktop image manipulation applications. A video shot on a consumer camcorder can be submitted to a video hosting site, uploaded, encoded, embedded into an HTML page, published, tagged, and syndicated across the web all through the user’s browser.

In Paul Graham’s article on Web 2.0 he breaks down the different roles of the community/user into more specific roles, those being the Professional, the Amateur, and the User (more specifically, the end user). The roles of the Professional and the User were, according to Graham, well understood in Web 1.0, but the Amateur didn’t have a very well defined place. As Graham describes it in ‘What Business Can Learn From Open Source’, the Amateur just loves to work, with no concern for compensation or ownership of that work; in development, the Amateur contributes to open source software whereas the Professional gets paid for their proprietary work.

Graham’s characterisation of the ‘Amateur’ reminds one of If I Ran The Circus by Dr. Suess, where young Morris McGurk says of the staff of his imaginary Circus McGurkus:

My workers love work. They say, ‘Work us! Please work us!We’ll work and we’ll work up so many surprisesYou’d never see half if you had forty eyses!’

And while ‘Web 2.0’ may mean nothing to Tim Berners-Lee, who sees recent innovations as no more than the continued development of the web, to venture capitalists, who like Morris McGurk daydream of tireless workers producing endless content and not demanding a pay cheque for it, it sounds stupendous. And indeed, from YouTube to Flickr to Wikipedia, you’d truly never see half if you had forty eyses.

Tim Berners-Lee is correct. There is nothing from a technical or user point of view in Web 2.0 which does not have its roots in, and is not a natural development from, Web 1.0. The technology associated with the Web 2.0 banner was possible and in some cases readily available before, but the hype surrounding this usage has certainly affected the growth of Web 2.0 internet sites.

The internet (which is more than the web, actually) has always been about sharing between users. In fact, Usenet, a distributed messaging system, has been operating since 1979! Since long before even Web 1.0, Usenet has been hosting discussions, ‘amateur’ journalism, and enabling photo and file sharing. Like the internet, it is a distributed system not owned or controlled by anyone. It is this quality, a lack of central ownership and control, that differentiate services such as Usenet from Web 2.0.

If Web 2.0 means anything at all, its meaning lies in the rationale of venture capital. Web 2.0 represents the return of investment in internet startups. After the dotcom bust (the real end of Web 1.0) those wooing investment dollars needed a new rationale for investing in online ventures. ‘Build it and they will come’, the dominant attitude of the ’90s dotcom boom, along with the delusional ‘new economy’, was no longer attractive after so many online ventures failed. Building infrastructure and financing real capitalisation was no longer what investors were looking for. Capturing value created by others, however, proved to be a more attractive proposition.

Web 2.0 is Internet Investment Boom 2.0. Web 2.0 is a business model, it means private capture of community-created value. No one denies that the techology of sites like YouTube, for instance, is trivial. This is more than evidenced by the large number of identical services such as DailyMotion. The real value of YouTube is not created by the developers of the site, but rather it is created by the people who upload videos to the site. Yet, when YouTube was bought for over a billion dollars worth of Google stock, how much of this stock was acquired by those that made all these videos? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Great deal if you are an owner of a Web 2.0 company.

 The value produced by users of Web 2.0 services such as YouTube is captured by capitalist investors. In some cases, the actual content they contribute winds up the property of site owners. Private appropriation of community created value is a betrayal of the promise of sharing technology and free cooperation.

Unlike Web 1.0, where investors often financed expensive capital acquisition, software development and content creation, a Web 2.0 investor mainly needs to finance hype-generation, marketing and buzz. The infrastructure is widely available for cheap, the content is free and cost of the software, at least that much of it that is not also free, is negligible. Basically, by providing some bandwidth and disk space, you are able to become a successful internet site if you can market yourself effectively.

The principal success of a Web 2.0 company comes from its relationship to the community, more specifically, the ability of the company to ‘harness collective intelligence’, as O’Reilly puts it. Web 1.0 companies were too monolithic and unilateral in their approach to content. Success stories of the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 were based on the ability for a company to remain monolithic in its brand of content, or better yet, its outright ownership of that content, while opening up the method of that content’s creation to the community. Yahoo! Created a portal to community content while it remained the centralised location to find that content. EBay allows the community to sell its goods while owning the marketplace for those goods. Amazon, selling the same products as many other sites, succeeded by allowing the community to participate in the ‘flow’ around their products.

Because the capitalists who invest in Web 2.0 startups do not often fund early capitalisation, their behaviour is markedly more parasitic as well. They often arrive late in the game when value creation already has good momentum, swoop in to take ownership and use their financial power to promote the service, often within the context of a hegemonic network of major, well financed partners. This means that companies that are not acquired by venture capital end up cash starved and squeezed out of the club.

In all these cases, the value of the internet site is created not by the paid staff of the company that runs it, but by the users who use it. With all of the emphasis on community created content and sharing, it’s easy to overlook the other side of the Web 2.0 experience: ownership of all this content and ability to monetise its value. To the user, this doesn’t come up that often, it’s only part of the fine print in their MySpace Terms of Service agreement, or it’s the Flickr.com in the url of their photos. It doesn’t usually seem like an issue to the community, it’s a small price to pay for the use of these wonderful applications and for the impressive effect on search engine results when one queries one’s own name. Since most users do not have access to alternative means to produce and publish their own content, they are attracted to sites like MySpace and Flickr.

Meanwhile, the corporate world was pushing a whole different idea of the Information Superhighway, producing monolithic, centralised ‘online services’ like CompuServe, Prodigy and AOL. What separated these from the internet is that these were centralised systems that all users connect directly to, while the internet is a peer-to-peer network, every device with a public internet address can communicate directly to any other device. This is what makes peer-to-peer technology possible, this is also what makes independent internet service providers possible.

It should be added that many open source projects can be cited as the key innovations in the development of Web 2.0: free software like Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL, Python, etc. are the backbone of Web 2.0, and the web itself. But there is a fundamental flaw with all of these projects in terms of what O’Reilly refers to as the Core Competencies of Web 2.0 Companies, namely control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them – the harnessing of the collective intelligence they attract. Allowing the community to contribute openly and to utilise that contribution within the context of a proprietary system where the proprietor owns the content is a characteristic of a successful Web 2.0 company. Allowing the community to own what it creates, though, is not. Thus, to be successful and create profits for investors, a Web 2.0 company needs to create mechanisms for sharing and collaboration that are centrally controlled. The lack of central control possessed by Usenet and other peer controlled technologies is the fundamental flaw. They only benefit their users, they do not benefit absentee investors, as they are not ‘owned’.

Thus, because Web 2.0 is funded by Capitalism 2006, Usenet is mostly forgotten. While everybody uses Digg and Flickr, and YouTube is worth a billion dollars, PeerCast, an innovative peer-to-peer live video streaming network that has been in existence for several years longer than YouTube, is virtually unknown.

From a technological stand point, distributed and peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies are far more efficient than Web 2.0 systems. Making better use of network resources by using the computers and network connections of users, P2P avoids creating bottlenecks created by centralised systems and allows content to be published with less infrastructure, often no more than a computer and a consumer internet connection. P2P systems do not require the massive data centres of sites such as YouTube. The lack of central infrastructure also comes with a lack of central control, meaning that censorship, often a problem with privately-owned ‘communities’ that frequently bend to private and public pressure groups and enforce limitations on the the kinds of content they allow. Also, the lack of large central cross-referencing databases of user information has a strong advantage in terms of privacy.

From this perspective, it can be said that Web 2.0 is capitalism’s preemptive attack against P2P systems. Despite their many disadvantages in comparison to these, Web 2.0 is more attractive to investors, and thus has more money to fund and promote centralised solutions. The end result of this is that capitalist investment flowed into centralised solutions making them easy and cheap or free for non-technical information producers to adopt. Thus, this ease of access compared to the more technically challenging and expensive undertaking of owning your own means of information production created a ‘landless’ information proletariat ready to provide alienated content-creating labour for the the new info-landlords of Web 2.0.

It is often said that the internet took the corporate world by surprise, coming as it did out of publicly funded university and military research. It was promoted by way of a cottage industry of small independent internet service providers who were able to squeeze a buck out of providing access to the state-built and financed network.

The internet seemed anathema to the capitalist imagination. Web 1.0, the original dotcom boom, was characterised by a rush to own the infrastructure, to consolidate the independent internet service providers. While money was thrown around quite randomly as investors struggled to understand what this medium would actually be used for, the overall mission was largely successful. If you had an internet account in 1996 it was likely provided by some small local company. Ten years later, while some of the smaller companies have survived most people get their internet access from gigantic telecommunications corporations. The mission of Internet Investment Boom 1.0 was to destroy the independent service provider and put large, well financed, corporations back in the driving seat.

The mission of Web 2.0 is to destroy the P2P aspect of the internet. To make you, your computer, and your internet connection dependent on connecting to a centralised service that controls your ability to communicate. Web 2.0 is the ruin of free, peer-to-peer systems and the return of monolithic ‘online services’. A telling detail here is that most home or office internet connections in the ’90s, modem and ISDN connections, were synchronous – equal in their ability to send and receive data. By design, your connection enabled you to be equally a producer and a consumer of information. On the other hand, modern DSL and cable-modem connections are asynchronous, allowing you to download information quickly, but upload slowly. Not to mention the fact that many user agreements for internet service forbid you to run servers on your consumer circuit, and may cut off your service if you do.

Capitalism, rooted in the idea of earning income by way of idle share ownership, requires centralised control, without which peer producers have no reason to share their income with outside shareholders. Capitalism, therefore, is incompatible with free P2P networks, and thus, so long as the financing of internet development comes from private shareholders looking to capture value by owning internet resources, the network will only become more restricted and centralised.

It should be noted that even in the case of commons-based peer production, so long as the commons and membership in the peer group is limited, and inputs such as food for the producers and the computers that they use are acquired from outside the commons-based peer group, then the peer producers themselves may be complicit in the exploitative capturing of this labour value. Thus in order to really address the unjust capture of alienated labour value, access to the commons and membership in the peer group must be extended as far as possible toward the inclusion of a total system of goods and services. Only when all productive goods are available from commons-based producers can all producers retain the value of the product of their labour.

And while the information commons may have the possibility of playing a role in moving society toward more inclusive modes of production, any real hope for a genuine, community enriching, next generation of internet-based services is not rooted in creating privately owned, centralised resources, but rather in creating cooperative, P2P and commons-based systems, owned by everybody and nobody. Although small and obscure by today’s standards, with it’s focus on peer-to-peer applications such as Usenet and email, the early internet was very much a common, shared resource. Along with the commercialisation of the internet and the emergence of capitalist financing comes the enclosure of this information commons, translating public wealth into private profit. Thus Web 2.0 is not to be thought of as a second-generation of either the technical or social development of the internet, but rather as the second wave of capitalist enclosure of the Information Commons.

Virtually all of the most used internet resources could be replaced by P2P alternatives. Google could be replaced by a P2P search system, where every browser and every webserver were active nodes in the search process; Flickr and YouTube could also be replaced by PeerCast and eDonkey type applications, which allow users to use their own computers and internet connections to collaboratively share their pictures and videos. However, developing internet resources requires the application of wealth, and so long as the source of this wealth is finance capital, the great peer-to-peer potential of the internet will remain unrealised.

Dmytri Kleiner <dk AT haagenti.com> is an anarchist hacker and a co-founder of Telekommunisten, a worker-owned technology company specialising in telephone systems. Dmytri is a USSR-born Canadian, currently living in Berlin with his wife Franziska and his daughter Henriette

Brian Wyrick <brian AT pseudoscope.com> is an artist, film maker and web developer working in Berlin and Chicago. He also co-founded Group 312 Films, a Chicago-based film group, and posts updates regarding his projects and adventures at http://www.pseudoscope.com

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