Posted by NetTheory on August 26, 1997 at 09:40:05:
Seduction of the Cyber Zombies
For a start, it would help if we could speak about nets rather than The
Net. Only the most extropian true believers in the Net still dream of it as
the final solution. More realistic thinkers have rejected
cyber-soteriology, but still accept the Net as a viable tool (or weapon).
They would agree that other nets must be set up and maintained
simultaneously with "the" Net---otherwise it becomes just another medium of
alienation, more engrossing than TV, admittedly, but thereby even more
total in entrancement.
The other nets of course include---first and foremost---patterns of
conviviality and of communicativeness. I borrow this word from the
19th-century phrenology---apparently there's a bump of communicativeness
somewhere on the skull---but I use it to mean something like Bakhtin's
"dialogue" transposed to the register of the social; whereas conviviality
implies physical presence, communicativeness can also include other media
as well. But---as Hermeticism teaches us---the positive act of
communicating meaning, whether face-to-face (and even without speech), or
symbolically mediated (by text, image, etc.), is always confronted by its
negativity. Not all "communication" communicates, map is not territory, and
so on. "Interactive programs" in themselves convey no meaning between
living beings but, in fact, no medium is privileged or completely open. As
Blake might have said, every medium has its form and its spectre.
What we need, then, is a Blakean "spectral analysis" of the Net. A "Fourier
analysis" would also be useful (not Fourier the mathematician, Fourier the
Utopian Socialist). But these philosophers were true hermeticists, while we
can only heap up a few shards against the whatever.
The implied question:---does the Net further the purpose of
communicativeness, and can it be used as a tool to "maximize the potential
of the emergence "of convivial situations? Or does there exist a
"paradoxical counterproductive effect" (as Illich would say)? In other
words: the sociology of institutions shows that certain systems (e.g.
education, medicine) attain a monopolistic rigidity and begin to produce
the opposite of their intended effect (education stupefies, medicine
sickens). Media can also be analyzed in this way. The mass media,
considered as a paradoxical entity, has approached the limit of total
image-enclosure---a crisis of the stasis of the image---and of the complete
disappearance of communicativeness. The unique structure of the InterNet
was considered to be its "many-to-many" patterns, the implication being the
possibility of an electronic popular democracy. The Net is an institution,
at least in the loose sense of the word. Does it serve its "original"
purpose, or is there a paradoxical counter-effect?
Another original pattern within the Net is its centerlessness (its
"military" heritage); this has launched the Net into a kind of war with
governments. The Net "crosses borders" like a virus. But in this way the
Net shares certain qualities with, say, transnational corporations
("zaibatsus")---and with nomadic Capital itself. "Nomadism" has its own
form and spectre. As the Five Per Cent Nation of Islam puts it, "not every
brother is a brother." Molecularity is a tactic that can be used for or
against our autonomy. It pays to be informed. And we can be sure that
Global Intelligence pays well for its information;---certainly the Net is
by now completely penetrated by surveillance...every bit of E-mail is a
postcard to God....
Everyone's favorite examples of imaginative insurrectionary use of the
Net---the McLibel Case, the Scientology Case, and above all the
Zapatistas---prove that the centerless many-to-many structure has real
potential. [McDonald's won the battle but seems to be losing the
war---franchises are down 50%!] Luddites who deny this are simply making
themselves look uninformed---and badly disposed toward good causes. The
original Luddites were no indiscriminate machine-smashers---they intended
to defend their hand-looms and home labor against mechanization and factory
centralization. Everything depends on situation, and technology is only one
factor in a complex and many-valued situation. Exactly what is it here that
needs to be smashed?
Global Capital openly embraces the Net because the Net seems to have the
same structure as Global Capital. It proclaims the Net as the Future Now,
and protects the netizens from these bad old governments. Why, the Net in
the very paradigm of a Free Market, no? A Libertarian's dream. But secretly
Global Capital [pardon the pathetic fallacy----gosh, I just can't help
reifying Capital...]... secretly, Global Capital must be worried sick.
Billions of "start up" dollars have been sunk into the Net, but the Net
seems to act like an eclipsed body:---there's some penumbral effect, but
the planet is black. Or even a black hole. After all, Hawking proved that
even black holes produce a tiny bit of energy---a few million bucks maybe.
But essentially there is no money in the Net, and no money coming out of
it. It seems the Net can act metaphorically as a "street market" to some
extent (possibly to a much greater extent that it does)---but it has failed
to develop into a Big Market. The WWW doesn't seem to help much in this
respect. "Virtual Reality" is beginning to look like yet another lost
future (where's my personal ornithopter?). IntraNets, point-casting (push),
and "interactive television" are the strategies proposed by the Zaibatsus
for colonizing what's left of the Net. E-cash doesn't seem to be catching on.
Meanwhile the Net takes on an aspect not only of disembodied street fair
but also psychic slum. Predatory avatars---disinformationists---slave-labor
data-entry in US prisons---cyberrape (violation of the data
body)---invisible surveillance---waves of panic (K-porn, Nazis-on-the-Net,
etc.)---massive invasion of privacy---advertisements---all manner of
psychic pollution. Not to mention the possibility of bionic brainwashing,
carpal tunnel syndrome, and the sinister all-gray-green presence of the
machines themselves, like old sci-fi movie sets (future as bad design).
In fact, just as Gibson predicted, the Net is already virtually haunted.
Web cemeteries for dead cyber-pets---false obituaries---Tim Leary still
sending personal messages---ascended masters of Heaven's Gate---not to
mention the already vast lost archaeology of the Net, its ARPA levels, old
BBSs, forgotten languages, abandoned Webpages. In fact, as someone said at
the last NETTIME conference in Ljubljana, the Net had already become a kind
of romantic ruin. And here, as the most "spectral" level of our analysis,
suddenly, the Net begins to look...interesting again. A bit of gothic
horror. Seduction of the Cyber Zombies. Fin-de-millennium, hothouse
We live in a country where 1% of the population controls half the
money---in a world where fewer that 400 people control half the
money---where 94.2% of all the money refers only to money, and not to
production of any kind (except of money);---a country with the highest per
capita prison population in the world, where "security" is the only
growth-industry (except for entertainment), where an insane war on drugs
and the environment is conceived as the last valid function of
government;---a world of ecocide, agribusiness, deforestation, murder of
indigenous peoples, bioengineering, forced labor---a world built on the
assumption that maximum profit for 500 companies is the best plan for
humanity---a world in which the total image has absorbed and suffocated the
voices and minds of every speaker---in which the image of exchange has
taken the place of all human relations.
Instead of bleating liberal platitudes about all this---or raising the
disturbing question of "ethics"---let me simply comment as a Stirnerian
anarchist (a point of view I still find useful after all these
years):---since I presume to take the world as my oyster, I am personally
at war with all the above "facts" because they violate my desires and deny
me my pleasures. Therefore I seek alliances with other individuals (in a
"union of self-owning-ones") who share my goals. For the leftwing
Stirnerites the favored tactic was always the General Strike (the Sorelian
myth). In response to Global Capital we need a new version of this myth
that can include syndicalist structures but not be limited by them. The old
enemy of the anarchists was always the State. We still have the State to
worry about (police in the universal Mall), but clearly the real enemies
are the zaibatsus and banks. (The biggest mistake in revolutionary history
was the failure to seize the Bank in Paris, 1871.) In the very near future
there is going to be "war" against the WTO/IMF/GATT structure of Global
Capital --- a war of sheer desperation, waged by a worldfull of individuals
and organic groups against corporations and "the money power" (i.e. money
itself). Hopefully a peaceful war, like a big General Strike --- but
realistically one should prepare for the worst. And what we need to know
is, what can the InterNet do for us?
Obviously a good revolt needs good communication systems. Right now however
I'd prefer to transmit my conspiratorial secrets (if I had any) through the
Post Office rather that the Net. A really successful conspiracy leaves no
paper trail, like the Libyan Revolution of 1969 (but then, phone-tapping
was still fairly primitive then). Moreover, how could we be sure that what
we saw on the Net was information and not disinformation? Especially if our
organization existed only on the Net? Speaking as a Stirnerite, I don't
want to banish spooks from my head only to find them again on my screen.
Virtual street-fighter, virtual ruins. Sounds like a losing proposition.
Most disturbing for us would be the "gnostic" quality of the Net, its
tendency toward exclusion of the body, its promise of technological
transcendence of the flesh. Even if some people have "met through the Net",
the general movement is toward cartoonization---"slumped alone in front of
the screen". The "movement" today pays too much attention to media in
general because power has virtually eluded us---and within the speculum of
the Net its reflection mocks us. Net as substitute for conviviality and
communicativeness. Net as bad religion. Part of the media-trance. The
commodification of difference.
Aside from this criticism of the Net from the point of view of the
Individual Sovereign we could also launch an analysis from a Fourierite
position. Here instead of individuals we would consider the "series", the
basic Passional group without which the single human remains
incomplete---and the Phalanstery, or complete Series of Series (minimum
1620 member). But the goal remains the same:---grouping occurs to maximize
pleasures or "luxury" for the members of the group, Passion being the only
viable force for social cohesion. (In fact on this basis we might consider
a "synthesis" of Stirner and Fourier, apparently polar opposites). For
Fourier, Passion is by definition embodied; all "networking" is carried out
via physical presence (although he allows carrier pigeons for
communications between Phalansteries). As a number mystic, Fourier might
well have enjoyed the computer---in fact he invented "computer dating" in a
sense---but he would most certainly have disapproved of any technology that
involved physical separation. (I believe it was Balzac who said that for
Fourier the only sin was eating lunch alone.) Conviviality in the most
literal sense---ideally, the orgy. "Passional Attraction" works because
everyone has different Passions:---difference is already "luxury". The data
body, the screenal body, is only metaphorically a body. The space between
us---the "medium"---is meant to be filled with Aromal Rays, zodiacs of
brilliant light (new colors!), profusions of fruit and flowers, the aromas
of gastrosophic cuisine---and ultimately that space is meant to be closed,
Another critique of the Net could be made from a Proudhonian perspective.
(Proudhon was influenced by Fourier, though he pretended not to be. They
were both from Bezanšon, like Victor Hugo.) Proudhon was more "progressive"
about technology than our other exemplars, and it would be interesting to
see what kind of role he would design for the Net in his ideal future of
Mutualism and anarcho-federation. For him "governance" was a matter of mere
administration of production and exchange. Computers might prove to be
useful tools under such conditions. But Proudhon as well as Marx would
undoubtedly modify their optimist view of technology if they could be
channeled today for their opinion:---machine as social pollution,
technology itself (and by implication Work) as alienation. This argument
was of course made by libertarian Marxists, Green anarchists,
etc.---legitimate descendants of Marx and Proudhon, such as Marcuse or
Illich. The InterNet cannot be fairly considered outside this critique of
technology. (Neither can bioengineering.) The work of Benjamin, Debord, and
even Baudrilliard (until he fell exhausted) makes it clear that the total
image---"the media"---plays a central role in this critique. Proudhon would
question the Net about justice, and about presence.
But I would prefer to focus more narrowly on the question of the image.
Here we might return to Blake as our "philosophical hammer" (Nietzsche
really meant a kind of tuning fork), since we are speaking of the idol, the
image. I would argue that we are suffering from a crisis of overproduction
of the image. we are, as Giordano Bruno put it, "in chains", entranced by
the image. In such a case we need either a healthy dose of iconoclasm, or
else (or also) a more subtle kind of hermetic criticism, a liberation from
the image by the image. Actually, Blake supplied both---he was both an
idol-smasher and simultaneously a hermeticist who used images for
liberation, both political and spiritual. Hermeticists understand that the
"hieroglyph", the image/text or mediated (symbolic) communication, has a
"magical" effect, by-passing linear working rational consciousness and
deeply influencing the psyche. This is why Blake says one must make one's
own system or else be a slave to someone else's. The autonomy of the
imagination is a high value for hermeticism---and the critique of the image
is a the defense of the imagination. The screen is an aspect of the image
that cannot escape this "spectral analysis"---media as "satanic mills."
Ultimately it seems there's no escape from technology or alienation. TechnÚ
itself is prosthesis of consciousness, and thus inseparable from the human
condition. (Language is included here as technÚ.) Technology as the obvious
melding of technÚ and language (the ratio or "reason" of technÚ) has simply
been a category of human existence since at least the Paleolithic.
But---are we permitted to ask what point the heart itself is to be replaced
by an artificial limb? At what point does a given technology "flip" and
begin producing paradoxical counterproductivity? If we could reach a
consensus on this, would there still exist any reason to speak of
technological determinism, or the machinic as fate? In this sense, the
oldtime Luddites deserve some consideration. TechnÚ must serve the human,
not define the human.
We are prepared to accept the inevitability of consciousness, but only on
the condition that is not to be the same consciousness. Rational, machinic,
linear, aufklaerung, universal consciousness has enjoyed too long a
tyranny---or "monopoly". There's nothing wrong with reason (in fact we
could use a lot more of it) but rationalism is simply a passÚ ideology.
Reason must share space with other forms of consciousness:---entheogenic
consciousness, or shamanic consciousness (which has nothing to do with
"religion" as commonly defined)---bioconsciousness, the systemic awareness
of the hermetic ideal of the living earth---cultural or ethnic
consciousness, different ways of seeing---indigenous peoples---or the
Celts---or Islam---"identity" consciousness of all sorts---and
trans-identity consciousness. Variety of consciousness is the only possible
ground for our ethics.
Well then, what about InterNet consciousness? It has its non-linear
aspects, doesn't it? If there can exist a "rationality of the marvelous",
is there not a place for Net mind at the feast?
In the end we must be content with ambiguity. A "pure" answer is impossible
here---it would stink of ideology. Yes and no.
But---"Between Yes and No, stars fall from heaven and heads fly off at the
neck", as the great sufi Shaykh Ibn Arabi told the Aristotelian philosopher
A fitting image for a romantic ruin.....
Aug. 18 1997
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