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<nettime> to the vector the spoils...
McKenzie Wark on Fri, 14 Feb 2003 08:01:12 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> to the vector the spoils...

To the Vector the Spoils
McKenzie Wark interviewed by Roy Christopher
from frontwheeldrive.com


Roy Christopher:  Let's get our terms aligned first:
How do you define the term  'hacker'? Do you
include artists, software developers and other so-
called  'knowledge workers'?

McKenzie Wark: I think everyone who actually
creates 'intellectual property' could consider
themselves part of the same class -- the hacker class
 and as having convergent interests. So, yes, that
could include programmers, musicians, writers, and
also engineers, chemists -- all sorts of people who
are culturally distinct. What we have in common is
that we have to sell the products of our intellectual
labor to corporations who have a monopoly on
realizing its value. We invent the idea, but they
control the means of production. The laws that
used to protect us  copyright and patent -- have
been subtly changing over the course of the last
few decades to protect corporate owners of
existing 'intellectual property', not individual
creators of new ideas. And so I wrote 'A Hacker
Manifesto', to dramatize this emergent conflict.

Roy:  I like the idea that information's world
doesn't have an  equivalent to physical world's
second law of thermodynamics and that this idea
represents true freedom. Is there a danger of this
auspicious  outlook  failing?

Ken: The commodity economy runs on scarcity. It's
all about making the wealth produced by labor the
exclusive, private property of the few.  At the
moment its hard to argue for the socialization of
wealth. Some part of it needs to be social, or things
just won't function at all. Every civilized society
recognizes the need for socialized health and

But when we come to information, there's no need
for it to be privatized. Economists call information a
'non-rivalrous resource'. Which is an oxymoron.
Basically it is an admission that information need
not be subject to the laws of scarcity at all. My
possession of some information does not deprive
you of it. The cost of making a copy is being
reduced all the time.

So the one place where we can still entertain the
idea of a release from scarcity is the world of
information. It could have a quite different
economy, or a non-economy. It is by legal artifice,
the repressive force of the police and cultural re-
engineering that we are being persuaded of the
necessity of a purely private economy of
information, where Mickey Mouse is somebody's
fiefdom in perpetuity, where nothing ever comes
back to the public domain. I think we have to fight

But where Lawrence Lessig and others see this as
a fight to get the law to recognize the common
sense of a public domain, I think it is much more
than that. We are up against a new and powerful
class interest, which profits by the commodification
of information rather than the manufacture of
things. We have to resist this new interest with
technical and cultural means as well as through legal

Roy:  The idea of education as slavery seems to be
becoming more and more prevalent in intellectual
circles. What do you think should be done  about
the education problem?

Ken: So-called critical theory in the universities
becomes merely hypocritical theory if it doesn't deal
with the fact that education is now part of the
problem, not part of the solution. Education is
about creating scarcity. Here in the United States
we have the least democratic, most aristocratic
education system in the (over)developed world. It
is all about rationing prestige. It has nothing to do
with seeking knowledge.

Knowledge too has to be released from scarcity
and hierarchy. Forcing  people to submit to 20
years of mental enslavement -- all their childhood
and young adult life -- just to secure a reasonable
standard of living is a status quo that needs to be

Roy: With information as commodity and
media/communication as
architecture, where should the hacker seek to
gain/maintain power  and/or control?

Ken: Firstly, its a question of realizing that all
intellectual creators are 'hackers'. It is about
realizing a common interest that has nothing to do
with choices of identity, culture or taste. A class
interest, in short.

Secondly, its about realizing that our class interest
confronts another, what I call the vectoralist class.
The vectoralist class controls the means of realizing
the value of what we create. They control the
vectors along which new information moves. A
broadcasting network is a vector, but so too is a
drug company. New information could be in the
form of a digital file or a little pink pill. The form
doesn't matter. What does is that the class interest
of the vectoralists lies in making ideas a form of
exclusive, perpetual and global private property.

Thirdly, it's a matter of tactics. One can mount legal
challenges to the
enclosure of information in ever more restrictive
intellectual property law. One can mount political
challenges, in uniting the various branches of the
hacker class. Or one can mount a cultural challenge,
by showing that the interests of the public are not
served by the exclusive control of information by a
handful of corporations. And of course there is the
technological strategy, of creating new tools for
sharing information freely. But really, its a question
of getting all of these tactics to work together, to
create a strategy, perhaps even an alternative
logistics in which information is free.

Roy:  While reading 'Virtual Geography,' I couldn't
help but feel a  weird  sense of amnesia. I
remembered all of the media events therein,  but
only   as vague blips on the radar. How do we
interject the idea of  memory into  the

Ken: As Guy Debord used to argue, the triumph of
the spectacle is in the defeat of history and the
installation of 'spectacular time' which is purely
cyclical. We no longer have history we have
fashion. Of course history always crashes the
party, but it appears as something inexplicable. The
nightmare of 911 video footage on endless replay,
defying explanation

The temptation in media criticism, especially in
America, is to claim a
higher access to truth. All media is false, but one's
personal experience of identity is somehow
authentic. Politics is atomized into subjective feeling
and turned into a species of moral judgment. This
creates that peculiarly American pseudo-leftist
language that is really about moral authority, a kind
of weird mutant puritanism.

An alternative is to take the great events that cross
the media vector, and to freeze the frame. Look
closely at the decisive images. Wind the tape
backwards, looking for patterns. Play the whole
thing in fast forward to look at the rhythm of the
edits. In other words, we can discover history
*within* the media image, without making claims to
an external, superior grasp on truth. Through the
classic Burroughsian techniques of cut up, play
back, repetition, we can produce our own
knowledge of media as history, history as

Roy: Is there anything else on which you're
working that you'd like to
bring up here?

I'm increasingly interested in the dual character of
the vectoral empire. It has its engines of privatized
information, but it also has its engine of
vectoralizing military power. We are truly in the
age of infowar. Of course real people die, killed by
real bombs, but information over where those
people, are, how to target them with bombs --
that's the new face of warfare. The new warfare is
a suspected terrorist in Yemen being assassinated
by a remote controlled drone. It's the
infrastructure of Serbia being jammed with
strategically placed bombing that shuts down all
command and control.

Now, the two faces of empire are closely linked in
that they both run on the same vectoral
technologies. There is a military-entertainment
complex that turns civilian and military space alike
into a gamespace for the calculation of moves,
governed by arbitrary but nevertheless effective
rules. We are in the middle of a great game, the
goal of which is subordinate history to reason.
Not to Hegel's historical reason, but the logic of the
game. And anyone who won't play by the rules is
to be contained (Kim Jong Il) or eliminated

To the vector the spoils...



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