Peter Lamborn Wilson

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Posted by Newsroom on March 11, 1997 at 16:23:14:

Peter Lamborn Wilson

Opening Speech of Public Netbase Media-Space!
28th of February 1997

Up till a few years agoóno, up till last year, well, up till ten
minutes agoóthere was a very religious feeling
surrounding the Internet. I call it the mumbo-jumbo factor, a kind of
magical aura that surrounds any new
technology. There is an old saying that any technology that you donít
understand is like magic. In other words,
how many people could fix that television if it broke? Maybe there are
actually a few people here who could do
that. But, by and large, it is magic. The Internet is so new, the
computer itself is so new that it has this kind of
magic aura, a halo around it. Out of that feeling, there came certain
expectations that were almost messianic:
the feeling that the Internet was going to save us, that the Internet
was out of control (thatís the title of a very
popular book). Because it was out of control, that no government could
control it, just by existing it was going
to be a factor for liberation. Over the last few of years, there were
a number of conferences and a number of
publications and quite a lot of thinking along these lines.

It turns out that that there were two different kinds of people who
had these expectations. One is what we call in
America "extropians," people who think that the machine is the next
stage of evolution, and that the intelligent
machine will somehow replace human intelligence. This is science
fiction. It might be; one never likes to make
predictions about technology. Maybe someday there will be artificial
intelligence. But there certainly isnít any
now. In fact, the question is whether there is any un-artificial

The other type of person who talked about the Net as freedom basically
had an antigovernment line. The idea
was that the Internet could not be controlled by government. It was
somehow going to create this wonderful
anarchy in the world just by existing, just because of the strange
horizontal network aspect where there is no
control center for the Internet.

When you come to think of it, all communications systems are out of
control in this way, including language.
Language itself, after all, is the original communications technology,
and language is out of control.
Governments try to control language, especially in the 20th century,
but they find finally that language is out of
control. There are always poets, there are always people who use
language in creative ways. I donít mean
people who write poetry as uneven lines on the page. I mean poets in
the ancient Greek sense of the word:
creative people.

The idea that the Internet would free us from government actually
meant that it would give us to capital. In other
words, if government canít control the Net, then it should be free as
a space for money to circulate freely. In this
sense, the Internet is really just a mirror of capitalism, or
capitalism if you want to use the old term. I donít like
to like to say capitalism because I donít think it is an ideology
anymore. In the 20th century...I think the 20th
century is over, it ended in 1989 or perhaps in 1991... the 20th
century was the century of government. The
21st century began with the collapse of communism in the USSR and the
idea that now there is only one true
force in the world, and that force is capital. It may look very
different in Europe, I should really only speak about
America. In America, the perception is that capital itself is free, is
liberated. It no longer has to deal with
communism or with any aspect of the social movement. All the
arrangements, the deals that were made
between capital and various other forces in the world are finished. In
America, for example, there was a deal
made with the working class in about 1950 or 1948. The deal was
basically: we will lift you up, we will make
sure that you live well, we will recognize the unions, and the price
of this is that you will not become communist.
Or religion, for example, was brought into the crusade against godless
communism, so a deal was arranged
between capital and religion.

Now, after 1991, these deals are not necessary for capital any longer.
They do not have to have allies in the
struggle against the movement of the social because there is no
movement of the social. There are many
remnants of the social movement but there is no cohesive resistance
against capital unless it might come for
government. This is very interesting because the struggle that is now
around the Net, to a certain extent, is a
struggle between government and capital. You see this in the attempt
of governments to censor the Net. This
happens in America, but other countries it is much more severe. In
Iraq, for example, I understand that there is
no Internet access at all. In China, the access is severely
restricted, perhaps non-existent. Governments that
still consider themselves ideological and strong, that is, the few
remaining communists governments or some
Islamic governments, they want to censor the Internet. Also the
American government would like to be able to
censor the Internet.

It seems that, technologically, this is impossible. You cannot finally
censor a system that does not have a
center. For example, you probably know about the Scientology case
where somebody put some secret
documents on the Net, and the Scientology Church succeeded in closing
down the access company in
Finland that had allowed those documents to be published. As soon as
they did that, in fifty countries around
the world the same documents were posted on the Net and they are
completely available. You can have a
stack like that of secret Scientology documents if you can struggle
through such boring crap. Bad science
fiction. It was a complete failure. The Church of Scientology can hire
as many lawyers as they like. They will
never be able to suppress this information. Same thing with
McDonaldís. The "McLibel" case which has been
going on in England for years is the longest court case in English
history. That, too, centers around the Internet.
No matter how many times McDonaldís could succeed in crushing these
poor people for telling the truth about
their lousy food, somebody else will post the same material.

The Internet is technically out of control but, socially, it is a
different matter. There will always be some area of
freedom on the Internet but it can be surrounded by vast cyberspace
city of high-rise multinational corporations
which will dwarf the tiny little settlement of hackers and pioneers
and artists. In fact, that little space of freedom
where the artist and hackers congregate is even rather useful to
capital because it spins out many ideas, it
discovers new technologies which capital can use.

The other point is that when the Internet has a few thousand or even a
couple of million people on it, most of
those people were fairly well informed. Probably most of you belong to
that group. But now there are millions
and millions and millions of new subscribers to the Internet. As far
as they are concerned, it is just another
entertainment medium. In America, I would say the average user of the
Internet is waiting for America On-Line
to come up and is looking forward for some chat-line about their
favorite sitcom on television or their favorite
music group. They are not interested in freedom or discussing the
theories about freedom of information. They
are not interested in issues of censorship and control. They are
simply interested in being entertained. As the
Internet and television come together, which is what is happening now,
with systems such as point-to-point or
pointcasting as it is called a program can be designed just for you.
You can have your own channel that will
entertain you. Intelligent search engines will go and look up the kind
of news or entertainment you are
interested in and feed it to you everyday along with little
advertisements that run in the upper right-hand corner
at the same time, thus proving that human being can do two things at
once. They can read news and look at
advertisements at the same time. It is a great step forward.

The future of the Internet in this sense is simply to become a mirror
of capital because capital, like the Internet,
has no borders. If capital discovers that shoes can be made more
cheaply in Indonesia, Taiwan or Mexico,
they take the shoe factory there. The jobs in New York, Chicago or
Vienna go away. There is no border for
capital. In the same way, there is no border for the Internet. If I
send e-mail to somebody in Finland, it is the
same. It practically costs the same to send mail to someone in my
neighborhood in New York. So there are no
borders on the Internet. If the Internet is out of control, so is
capital. There is no center for capital. There is no
hope of capital. There is no king of capital. There are just 200 or
300 major corporations fighting it out for the
market. We could probably map this mathematically as a pure chaos.
Capital is a pure chaos. Well, so is the

In my opinion, any technology has this mirror relationship with the
society or the economic reality that brings it
into existence. Technology doesnít come from God. Technology doesnít
come from outer space. We human
beings make technology, and then technology makes us, and then we make
more technology, and then that
influences us, and so on and so forth in a very complex multiple
feedback situation which essentially a chaos.
What I see now is that the problem is that the people who are
interested in an "Internet activism"ópeople who
look on the Internet as a revolutionary possibility or toolómust ask
themselves where they are going to situate
their work or desire in this context of the mirror of capital, this
mirror of production as Baudrillard said in an
early book before he became a hopeless pessimist.

The question is, to a certain extent, which side are you on? Are you
going to go with capital? Are you
capitulate to capital and accept the comfortable world that capital
offers to people like you and me? Because
we are very privileged people. We donít live in Iraq. Or the other
alternative: are we going to re-invent
ourselves in some kind of oppositional framework? Are we going to be
the opposition to capital?

Right now, capital presents itself as a single world, a globe. They
talk about global markets. The neoliberal
idea is that there is a global market and that money should be free
within this system. As far as they are
concerned, there is only one world. There is no Second World. That was
communism. So, certainly, there is no
Third World, because if you donít have a Second, you certainly canít
have a Third. It is one world and, in that
world, there are areas of inclusion, there are areas of exclusion.
There are areas of security, there are areas
of depletion, of debt, of sucking away all vitality. The world will be
divided on this basis. Instead of two clashing
ideologies, there will be simply capital and that which is excluded
from capital. Including even perhaps
government. This is a very curious business. As an old anarchist
myself, it is difficult to make this mental
adjustment: that it is no longer government that is the number one
problem. In fact, in a strange kind of way,
there may even be political possibilities. I donít want to say more
about this because it is very fuzzy in my
mind. The future is going to be very strange indeed. We are now
beginning the 21st century. Most people are
so tied to the clock that they havenít realized that yet. They think
that the 21st century will begin in 2000 or
2001, but it has already begun and it is really just getting under
way. As we go into this new century and into
this new situation, we have to ask ourselves, as workers in media,
which of these directions are we going to

That doesnít mean that if I decide to oppose capital that I
necessarily mean that I would physically or politically
remove myself entirely from the flow of money. You canít do anything
without money. So that is impossible. But
it does mean that I would have a strategy. I would have not just have
tactical thinking but some kind of overall
strategy with a long term goal to oppose the injustice and imposed
debt that capital sees as our future. In this
case, I think that the Internet will take on a new meaning. We know it
is not going to save our souls. We can be
pretty sure that we are not going to be replaced by intelligent
machines. That would solve a lot of problems, of
course. We could all just retire to Florida and enjoy ourselves. But
now Iím afraid weíre stuck in the human
condition. We could either capitulate and become part of that
comfortable world, or we could somehow move
into opposition.

Moving into opposition doesnít mean giving up any potential certain
strategic advantage. In this sense, all
technology represents potential strategic advantage. It is not a
question of giving up the Internet. I think it is
more about growing up around the idea of the Internet not as a divine
answer to our problems, not as a
magical system which will help us to achieve freedom simply by
existing, but as a tool like a hammer or
something even simpler like a stick with a sharpened point, going back
to the earliest tools that human beings
used. As long as we can see the Internet from this perspective and not
expect it to save us and not expect us
to save it either, but simply to be aware of it and its possibilities
as a tool, then it could become very
interesting for those who wish to be in opposition to capital. Of
course, it will also continue to be a tool for
capital. The situation on the Net will not be clear. It will not be
clear which is the good and which is the evil side.
Itís not going to be like that. Each situation is going to be
different. We have to bring in a strategic awareness
so that we can decide in each situation what the correct tactic would
be. I look at the next couple of years as a
very interesting period of strategic thinking. I myself do not have
any easy answers to this question. Iím looking
also. But what I wish to do is to pose the question. Iíd like to
sharpen the discourse in order to ask the question
in a very specific way.

How could we use these new technologies in a strategic overall
movement? Yes, I would even use that word:
movement. With very specific goals. Empirical goals, not ideological
goals. We are not talking about the
triumph of an idea. Weíre not talking about the triumph of a political
system or a philosophy, be it capitalism,
Marxism, or anarchism even. Each situation has its own strategic
necessities and each situation will have to
be approached in a situational manner to decide what power there might
be in that situation. Some people
use the word "self-empowerment". That sounds perhaps more New Age,
softer than the word "power". But Iím
not afraid of the word "power". I think that this is what weíre
looking for. Power. Yes, power for ourselves, not
power over other people. Not power over money, or power over God or
over fate or over anything. Power for
ourselves, yes, self-empowerment, but itís still power. In this
search, we must make us of whatever weapons or
tools lie to hand.

I think I like to say that Iím not an optimist because that would be
fatuous and stupid. And Iím not a pessimist
because that would be even more fatuous and more stupid. I do like to
say that Iím an anti-pessimist. This at
least leaves open a few doors. I would like to make a call for an
"international non-centered think tank" kind of
activity: more conferences, more meetings, more talk on the Net, about
strategy and about the basic situation
that we find ourselves in. There are people living as if it were still
1989. In America, we have the right wing who
no longer have communism to worry about so they are worrying about the
U.N. They have just taken all that old
communist symbolism and pasted it on the U.N. so that they can worry
about that. Or itís the Arabs, or itís
drugs, or something. There is an attempt to find an enemy, to find
some kind of focus. There is no enemy in
that sense. The enemy is simply the unopposed rule of money over human
values. No human being represents
that. Think about it. If you are a stockbroker or a currency exchange
person, you have your computer
programmed to make certain decisions. You donít make those decisions
anymore because it is all happening
too fast. It is all happening before you can even think. No time, no
space. You donít have time to think, so you
have your computer programmed to buy and sell.

Who is in control? Actually, nobody is in control. There is not even
what you would call a ruling class anymore. I
read that 432 people in the world control 50% of the money. Of the 500
wealthiest entities in the world, about
250 of them are not governments. They are corporations. Itís a
completely different world and it is stupid to act
as if it is still 1950. As if the world is split into two opposing
camps. This is not the case. It may become the
case again. I donít look forward to it myself. I think will be a very,
very ugly situation when capital is finally
opposed with violence and the anger it deserves. Nevertheless, at the
moment, there is no such thing. There is
no schizophrenic split in the world.

I would like to see the next year or two devoted to a very intense
discussion about that situation. What is the
world now? What is the economic situation? What is the political
situation in the world? How has it changed
radically in the past five six years? To give an example, five or six
years ago about 40% of all money in the
world was not related to production. It was all related to currency
exchange and arbitrage. That figure is now
94.2. 94.2% of the money in the world not only does not exist as cash,
but it also bears no relationship
whatsoever to production, not even to building computers. Not shoes,
not food, nothing. It is just money relating
itself to more money. In that system, they say about $2 trillion moves
around the world every day. I canít even
tell you how many zeros go in to making the figure one trillion. It is
just a virtual figure to me, it doesnít mean
anything. These are the kind of changes: from 40% to 94.2%. It is one
of these curves. If you look at other
curvesóeconomic and social curvesóthey probably also follow this kind
of trajectory in the last five years. It is
very hard to keep up it this. Itís hard to have the facts and it is
even harder to have the consciousness.

I think there is very interesting work ahead of us in places like
this. A "think tank" is perhaps not the right word.
I donít know what the word is, really. That is the kind of thing. We
must put our hearts and heads and souls
together and work on this because other wise we are going to be left
behind. We will live in a world where we
donít have any choice to even consider strategic possibilities. Many
people already live in that world, the
former Third World, perhaps. Zones of exclusion.

That is my anti-pessimistic message. But there is something to do, at
least, and that something is very
interesting. Whether that will save us or not, I doubt also. But,
after all, one must live oneís life some way and
not just lie around by the side of the swimming pool wearing mirror

That is how I see the future for Public Netbase and for all the other
interesting radical centers or non-centers
concerned with communications technologies. I think it should expand
beyond just the Internet and should
become a study and a critique of all communication and communications
theory. That is a very busy work
proposition and it will keep us from being bored. I hope.

Thank you.

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