Ringing the Changes

By Mute Editor, 10 March 2002


Including: Saul Albert on Space Hijackers, Matthew Hyland on Blunkett's version of UK citizenship, Peter Carty on Opiates for the Masses, Keith Hart and Stewart Home on the Euro, Matthew Fuller on Banksy, CCRU on theories for a bust economy, JJ King on why Terror is the Network and the Network is You, Gregor Claude on the digital commons debate + Dave Mandl interviews Rudy VanderLans, Coco Fusco talks to hacktivist Ricardo Dominguez and Benedict Seymour revisits Pier Paolo Pasolini

The UK media are operating under the tacit assumption that the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement has been mired in a profound crisis of legitimacy ever since September 11. This notion has established such an iron-fast grip that most newspapers either ignore protest, or feature it as the obliging midwife to a newly self-conscious business sector eager to flagellate itself for inequitable practices while it thinks up sufficiently profitable ways of saying everything has changed.

Political philosopher Antonio Negri (whose popular description – with Michael Hardt – of the rise of a nameless anti-imperial multitude hasn’t aided his own anonymity much) recently described the post-September 11 crisis rather differently. It touches everything, he asserted, but the core crisis is threefold. First, there is the military component – borne of the paradigmatic shift that an asymmetric attack like that on the World Trade Center foists on the conventional military apparatus. Second, there is the crisis of currency and ‘measure’: the exponential increase in risk which the insurancy industry now has to accommodate cannot be shouldered without the international financial markets it supports buckling under the pressure. Third, communication, which he stated has reached a critical level of complexity. In the face of this unholy triad, Negri described the creation of a public commons as the most vital need.

Unlike the last three, this issue of Mute is not themed. Instead its main features look into what have become some of net culture’s recurrent topics during the past months: in Coco Fusco and Ricardo Dominguez’s conversation (p. 42), the supposed crisis of activism is examined together with the mindset that granted the North’s protests such pride of place to start with. In ‘Terror is the Network and the Network is You’ (p. 24) JJ King asks how the US military has been squaring up to the threat of asymmetry. ‘If you can’t beat them imitate them’ appears to be in the running as a new motto for war. In ‘Goatherds in Pin stripes’ (p. 32) Gregor Claude puts the sacred cow of the commons through its paces by asking whether the digital-ecological analogy favoured by such influential thinkers as James Boyle (featured in Mute 20) really holds water.

Home secretary David Blunkett has articulated the new conditional forms of citizenship that phenomena like September 11 apparently call for in his book Politics and Progress (see Matthew Hyland, p. 12). What has possibly been the most depressing thing about the past few months’ worth of media turnover is seeing a comparable use of fear to instigate a ‘politicisation’ process: can anyone remember greater coverage of Islam or more thought being put into the West’s relation to its various Others? In this context, it seems the only campaign worth signing up to is one that disqualifies any politician who confuses the self-interested quest for security with a new global politics. Africa’s new messianic saviour, Mr. Tony Blair, should be first in line.

Pauline van Mourik Broekman <pauline AT>