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<nettime> Konrad Becker's Tactical Reality
McKenzie Wark on Sun, 29 Dec 2002 07:19:55 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Konrad Becker's Tactical Reality


Konrad Becker, Tactical Reality Dictionary:
Cultural Intelligence and Social Control,
edition selene, Vienna, 2002
(distributed by Autonomedia)

Reviewed by McKenzie Wark <mw35 {AT} nyu.edu>

Konrad Becker -- a contributor to nettime since
its earliest incarnations, offers this remarkable
little lexicon as a field manual for constructing
'tactical' realities. These just might be the worm
holes through which to wriggle out of the
consensual hallucination of global corporate
media domination, in this era when the front line
has mutated "from cold war to code war." (11)

The ontology animating the text takes as its
guiding postulate that there is more to what is
actual than what is real. "The human 3D world is
embedded in 'n' dimensions, but what is out
there feeding from our dimensional sub-
domains?" (129) The virtual is foreclosed,
flattened out, and a thin reality is presented as if
it were all there is. This reality masks the
existence of "living entities living off humans,
eating brain." (81) The surplus potential of reality
is restricted in the name of reproducing a
normality that serves merely corporate interest.

To the extent that information society can be
said to exist, it exists as quite the opposite of the
enlightening, emancipatory rhetoric in which it is
usually shrouded. Becker's book is not about
information as fact, information as "a myth filled
with the landmarks of consensual hallucination."
(68)

Becker's starting point is the disturbing
proposition that "humans possess the capacity to
relinquish their autonomy." (52) Corporate
designs on the communication vector aims to
achieve precisely this. Autonomy means access
to the construction of alternate realities;
enslavement here means entrapment within a
reality coercively defined and policed. As Becker
says: "Production of wealth in the empire of
signs is the reproduction of scarcity and the
cyber-policed poverty of everything outside."
(130)

Becker's text works by turning the language of
communications research against itself. He turns
up the volume of its pseudo-scientific rhetoric so
can hear the static of power. Most of the entries
in this dictionary are successions of statements,
such as: "perception is influenced by mental
scenarios that establish the symbolic order." (9)
Or: "Enforcing homogenization of social
behavior patterns through comprehensive
automatic classification of 'normality' is in the
interest not only of large scale psychological
operations or technologies of political control but
also appealing for global mass marketing of
consumer products." (21)

What is interesting about this text is that it does
not pretend to "speak truth to power". It
dispenses altogether with the enlightenment
ideology of debunking ideology. The struggle in
Becker's terms is rather one of who controls the
mechanisms defining truth and illusion. There is
a whiff of Foucault here, but Foucault only
examined 19th century discourses within which
truth was produced. He did not tackle the
master-discourse of the 20th century --
'communication'.

Writes Becker: "Belief and imagination construct
reality, from the basic mechanisms of survival to
the brain-stem controlled hit-and-run instinct
and territorial behavior to the abstract
symbolism of the neural impulses coded in
mental images and underlying world views."
(109) This reads not so much like a parody of
communication discourse as a deadpan
plagiarism. He is not out to debunk this
language, but to repurpose its tools.

"Because of limits in capacity to cope directly
with the complexity of the world, the mind
constructs simplified mental models of reality."
(98) These statements read like outtakes from
academic journals, military manuals or public
relations pitch books -- three genres that may
effectively have merged anyway. These three
genres -- the academic, military and commercial
aspects of communication research -- come
together as corporate intelligence, which is "a
means of protecting corporate power against
democratic forces." (32)

Intelligence is the key word here, in all its
senses. "Intelligence is the virtual substitute for
violence in the Information Society." (36) On the
one hand, corporate intelligence; on the other,
cultural intelligence. The difference between
them is not in who possesses the truth, but in
the techniques each deploys for the construction
of realities. One is based on a hierarchy of
exchange values; the other on a proliferation of
use values.

Becker follows closely the post-enlightenment
turn in corporate intelligence, which may
promote 'democracy' as an official ideology, but
is mainly in the business of exploiting the non-
rational attributes of the citizen-subject.
"Individuals are subject to very consistent and
predictable errors in judgment. These errors of
reason are not due to a lack of expertise or
intelligence but are embedded in the
fundamental mechanisms by which we process
information." (29) The struggle is over whether
these apparent shortcomings in the human
organism's processing of information can be
exploited to subjugate it, or could be the quirks
and particularities out of which the virtuality of
the world might be actualized.

With corporate intelligence, "the aim is alertness
reduction, programmed confusion and flattening
of the mind." (44) In the cultural studies
tradition, much is made of the ordinary capacity
to interpret dominant texts otherwise. But this
does not take into account the emerging
hegemony of interpretative resources. It is not a
world view that dominates, but a particular
machinery for making world views. Attacking a
dominant worldview is not the same as
dismantling its means of production. The
tantalizing possibility of the Tactical Reality
Dictionary is that it points the way to this more
pressing task.

Becker speaks of dominant media processes with
a vectoral language of flows: "The News are the
waves and ripples generated by fundamental
currents in the deep sea of unconscious
agreements, reinforcing myths and conditioned
reflexes." (105) And again: "The dramas of
mythological soap operas and their strange
attractors generate self-sustaining patterns."
(105) These are the techniques for the
reproduction of reality as repetition, much as
Debord spoke of the spectacle as a timeless
refutation of history.

In a nod to the plebian nature of genuine
recalcitrance, Becker notes that "if you cannot
read you are less vulnerable to propaganda" and
hence "intellectuals are the best targets of
Perception Management." This is of course "due
to their implanted feeling of being immune."
(111) The information society works its delusions
on the informed, not on the uninformed. Those I
have elsewhere called the 'infoproles' have the
good sense to ignore the shrill righteousness
emanating from elite American colleges as much
as the exhortations of fundamentalist preachers.

The basic principle of maintaining coercive reality
is for Becker almost a physiological one: "It takes
more information and data processing to
recognize an unexpected phenomenon than an
expected one." (100) Once a society has outlived
the founding violence with which the vector is
inserted into the body politic, it requires not
much more than coercive persuasion to maintain
the illusion that it was ever thus. Hence perhaps
the mutual incomprehension between the
overdeveloped world, where a selective reality
has become normalized to the point of boredom,
and the underdeveloped world, where it is still
being established by force.

Yet one should not underestimate the extent to
which the colonization of territory has always
been simultaneously a matter of seizing the
means of producing its representation. As
Becker muses, "with hindsight, whole empires
could turn out to be products of cultural
engineering." (10) The emergent empire of our
times seems to have a particular affinity with
"the synthetic representation of the world in a
system of game rules" (123) The globe is being
produced by a Playstation empire which assigns
relative and relational values to any and
everything. This is a world in which "the
dammed are the left-out, suppressed and
excluded data. Their graves lie at the cross
roads of Trivia." (125)

The difficulty Becker's text raises is in
conceptualizing the difference between what is
merely a variation on the same old coercive
reality and what might open a line of escape
from it. He offers this deadpan sentence --
straight from astroturf training manuals -- as an
indication of the problem: "Deactivation of a
social activist group is achieved by a three step
strategy of isolating the radicals, cultivating and
education the idealists into realists and finally co-
opting the realists." (33) One thinks of all the
well meaning folk in NGOs one meets, and the
rhetorics by which they justify their
compromises.... As Becker says, "pragmatic
realists and opportunists are manipulated
through trade-offs and perceptions of 'partial
victories'." (33)

The consensual hallucination of official reality
even has its own zealots, who critique everyday
appearances that fall short of the official social
norms in its own terms, and pretend this is a
species of radicalism. One can recognize these
thought reformers by their procedures:
"demands for confession, unconditional
agreement to ideology, manipulation of language
into clichés." (24) These are the techniques of
those who want a token presence within the
current consensual reality, rather than turning
over the means of its making to the people it
claims to represent.

Rather than confronting the illusion of reality
with the reality of illusion, Becker counsels a
different strategy: "reality as a normative
hallucination is the virtual prison system of a
social organization. Individuals who flee from
these representations and concepts of the world
have more choices than those who cannot
escape the straight-jackets of imposed reality."
(53) Let a thousand realities bloom.

As Becker notes, "most of the early hopes of
emacipatory practice in a society based on
information exchange seem to have vanished."
(13) Information is not transparent or neutral,
and while we may wonder whether it actually
exists, even the illusion of its existence is a
powerful effect. What would it mean to dispense
with the reality of information? It's a difficult line
of thought. As Becker notes, "the difficulty is
not in acquiring new perceptions or new ideas,
but that already established perceptions are
difficult to change." (17) And so we are stuck
with information, as it is. Perhaps we can figure
out how to deploy the illusion of its existence
differently.

Says Becker: "Humans need to find ways to
escape the vicious circle of forced work for
wages and imposed leisure, to escape symbolic
dominance and cultural entertainment, the
'reality' of everyday life and the flatlands of
binary logic." (34) There is hope. "The movement
of hedonistic escape from materialism is a global
language of zero work ethics in full e-fact.
Towards the united international hedonistic
diversification, critical escapism will dance at the
grave of ordinary pan-capitalism." (35) If the
vector can be used to orchestrate and conduct
flows, perhaps it can also be used to extend the
dimensions of existence of that more
autonomous, embodied movement that appears
here in the figure of the dance.

Like Critical Art Ensemble, Becker turns one
edge of his rhetorical creation against actually
existing art practice. "In a conflict of resistance to
zombie culture it is understood that traditional
art can no longer be justified as an activity to
which one could honorably or usefully devote
oneself." (36) He proposes an image of "the artist
as a reality hacker" (36) The artist does not
construct (or even deconstruct) images of the
world, but constructs worlds of images.

In place of the artist, one might imagine what
Becker calls cultural intelligence, which "gathers,
evaluates and processes meta-information about
the foundations of information based society."
(38) Cultural intelligence might be no less
committed to deception and ambiguity than
corporate intelligence, but toward other ends.
Evading surveillance for Becker's reality hackers
is a matter of "avoiding anything a computer
would find interesting." (39) These "hedonistic
engineers explore escape routes from an
anxiously bored society knowing that speed and
deception secretly free from imposed values."
(53) The goal is the production of "autonomous
neuro-stimulation zones" (131)

Becker sometimes couches statements in the
political rhetoric of the times, but with a
somewhat different purpose: "A key ecological
issue concerns the preservation and increase of
the use value for the public at large and the non-
commercial properties of information as opposed
to the exchange value." (45) Or: "Digital human
rights are based on the understanding of
communication as motor of civilization and a
base of individuality as well as society." (46)
Becker rethinks the ecological for a world that
has passed beyond second nature to third
nature, and human rights in a world which
hovers on the precipice between the posthuman
and the inhuman.

In what may be a nod toward the kind of art-
practice of groups like The Yes Men, Becker
notes that: "The nets are used by cultural
activists as meta-data tools according to a new
artistic tradition of inspired interpretation of
data within a panopticon of commodified world
views." (115) By which we might take the Yes
Men not as a critical negation of dominant
ideologies, but as an instance of the autonomous
production of a parallel reality -- one in which
Dow Chemical really does apologize for the
mistakes of its subsidiaries. One might ask, in the
gap between these world, which is less possible.
All we know is that "What is 'real' is not certain,
but what is certain is not 'real'." (109)

The most invigorating aspect of this book is not
its playful paranoia about communication as a
power of constraint, but its joyful insistence that
there are more dimensions to this reality that the
impoverished three we are told exhaust it. As
Becker puts it: "Lock picking the future requites
multi-dimensional maps of the world for new
exits and safe havens in hyperspace." (110)

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