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Re: <nettime> It's the Environment . . . Stupid!
Brian Holmes on Mon, 8 Nov 2004 05:06:15 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> It's the Environment . . . Stupid!


Being an amateur social psychologist, I'm intrigued to see someone mention
"The Authoritarian Personality" on nettime, and actually consider the range
of mentalities that have succeeded each other from the early 20th century
to now.

However, the McLuhanesque "media instrumentality" and implicit conspiracy
theory of a sentence like the following is a bit too drastically
simplifying for me:

>television came to be considered to be a medium that could "cool" down a
>population that gotten far too "heated" under the  influence of radio.

Does one get "hot" while listening to the AM hits on the freeway, and then
"cool down" to the Fox News warshow in the living room?

The development of the various media is inextricable from the interrelated
complex of social, economic, political and cultural factors which come to
characterize a period, and which ultimately provoke responses from those
who live through that period.

The enormous aggregate of material infrastructure and societal usages that
goes under the name of the Internet slowly began to take form in the 1970s
and 80s, as the developed societies of Europe and North America gradually
abandoned the Keynesian-style regulation that had stabilized the postwar
industrial economies, and gradually exited from the familiar, "modern"
pattern of clearly defined, coherently articulated spheres of activity,
each governed by its own sub-population of experts. What do I mean by
spheres? For example, the vertically integrated corporation; the system of
co-management associating unions and owners; the provision by the state of
a range of social services; the spatial and temporal frontiers of domestic
and waged labor, professional and leisure activity, educational culture and
recreational entertainment; and perhaps most crucially of all, the
distinction between national citizen and foreigner - all these clearly
defined spheres began to interpenetrate a nd blur with the transformations
of what came to be known as the "postmodern" period. Did TV "produce" the
stability of the Fordist industrial period? Did the Internet "cause" the
breakdown of the postwar equilibrium?

I think you would get a lot further by looking at the destabilizing factors
of the crisis decade, from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, during which the
Internet itself was invented. Among those factors it would be at least be
necessary to list the cultural effects of mass education and mass
consumption precipitating the so-called "youth revolution"; the political
instabilities that ensued when the ongoing process of decolonization made
it both possible and necessary for the US and the Soviet Union to engage in
ever-shifting "proxy wars" in the Third World; the multiple social
conflicts that arose from the increasing demand for entitlement programs
within the framework of the Welfare State; and finally, the inability to
sustain economic growth that resulted from the combination of all the
preceding factors, and led to the turn away from the large, labor-intensive
industrial corporations, and the development of a financialized "flexible
accumulation" regime.

Like probably most people on this list, what I remember from the 80s was
not the Internet (the science people did talk about it then) but rather the
dizzying multiplication of TV channels, the emergence of satellite
communications, the new accesssibility of air travel, the appearance of
portable elcetronic devices, the new surge in immigration, special effects
in movies, the use of networked computer technologies such as ATM machines,
the 24-7 experience of all-night supermarkets and automated phone-menus.
What all this was leading to only became clear in the aftermath of the
decisive event: the fall of the Wall, the disappearance of the Soviet
Union. After that, mass access to the Internet was inseparable from the
finance-driven rush to install all across the globe the new economic system
of just-in-time industrial production, container-cargo distribution, and
electronically linked, real-time services.

What I find fascinating is the way the new mentality of the 80s and 90s is
shaped by responses to the old one that stabilized in the 50s and 60s. This
is where complexity theory gets interesting: you have to look at the
feedback loops of multiple and unpredictable learning experiences. A first
loop or spiral seems to set itself in action with the political and
cultural ties between emancipatory movements within the developed countries
and Third-World liberation movements. That interaction shattered the
clearly defined spheres of modernist education/culture and mass consumerist
entertainment, introducing both a radical plurality of values and the
notion that one could become other, mutate, create new ways of living. The
multiplication of media channels and the introduction of portable
content-production devices seems to respond to those changes, and to try to
integrate them in a new image-economy. Meanwhile, the phenomenon of
transnationalized production and finance appears as a quite different kind
of response, by the owning classes, to the demands of the traditional
working class, as expressed within the national frame of the Welfare State.
This response brought about the new labor-force mobility, and spurred on
the creation of far-flung communications systems. These are two very
different kinds of transformation, or "deterritorialization," to use the
terms of the arch-complexity theorists Deleuze and Guattari. In other
words, these are two intertwining yet distinct dynamics that take a system
- and, in the case we're discussing, a "mentality" - far away from
equilibrium. But then how do these dynamics reterritorialize? And what
happens after that?

At this point, Mark Stahlman's answer seems to me a little short:

>In sharp contrast to the tranquillized-feelgood-flatland of "stupid"
>television, the new media environment of the Internet is notoriously
>riotous with beliefs and, crucially, the social support to act upon them.
>In Frankfurt School terms, the "authoritarian personality" is back.

The idea that the authoritarian personality is "back," and that the kind of
"belief" we're seeing among the far right in the United States is somehow
similar to what we imagine or think we know about the fascist
propaganda-state mentalities of the 30s and 40s, and that all this happens
"thanks to" the Internet, is extremely dubious to my eyes. What I see is
much more an emerging conflict between at least two (and maybe, we will
ultimately realize, more than two) different ways of adapting to the new
environment, which is not just a media environment.

One of those ways - one of those "reterritorializations" - seems to involve
a hyperindividual cultivation and, if you will, "peer-to-peer" sharing of
belief in the sanctity of self, body, culture, nation, combined with a
confident ability to perceive the visible signs of that sanctity, and to
act on them - despite all the contrary indications of what used to be known
as reality. This is, on the one hand, a very regressive, traditionalist
posture (it looks back 2000 years into the past for guidance); but at the
same time, it involves a totally postmodern acceptance of the power of the
simulacrum to shape the real. Perhaps it tries to recreate the stability of
the interlocking, modern social spheres through the hermetic closure of a
personal sphere, allowing only intimate, individualized contacts. In any
casee, it depends crucially on the combination of unwavering, but
hyper-individualized - and at the extreme, even uncommunicable - Christian
belief, and a willingness to use an y technological means necessary,
including the Internet of course, to convince one's fellows that they to,
are completely right to pursue their personal vision of sanctity, along
with a few bits of common ideological program.

That we first observe this regresso-futurist reterritorialization in
America makes perfect sense, given that Americans have most thoroughly
destroyed the old Keynesian Welfare-State balances, and have been most
subject to the globe-spanning, 24-7 production regime, which is, after all,
primarily the creation of their (somehow I hesitate to say "our") society.
To me, this is a classical state capture of a process of change and
metamorphosis: it doesn't turn back the clock, it doesn't halt time's
arrow, but rather makes the future into a horrible rejoinder to all the
awful and failed pasts that constitute the trash heap of civilization.

What's more, I think that this kind of manipulation of American religiosity
is completely cynical, I think it's being encouraged by the Bush people
(the neocons, the figureheads) because the Cheney people (the transnational
owning class) have seen in the past that it's a successful way to establish
an electoral majority (along with rigged voting machines, of course). The
unfortunate thing is, this particular "coalition of the willing" works so
well that it could be (and is being) adopted in many countries - perhaps,
with variants, even in those European lands where religion is considerably
less important.

The interesting question in a complex system with multiple learning curves
and feedback loops is, what will be the response to the response? Can there
be another, less stupid way of inhabiting the "new environment"? And of
dealing with what now clearly appears as the adversary, the contrary trend?
I have seen some signs of this other response in the uses of the Internet
that Claire Pentecost talks about; and in contemporary social movements,
art collectives, forms of cooperating and cohabitating... It would be great
if we could learn to belief in these things with a little more passion,
actually. But with a passion for their reality.

Like a lot of people, I think the US Democratic Party (like most of the
social-democratic parties in Europe too) is at this point mainly an
obstacle to the possible emergence of such new responses. The democrats and
the social-democrats generally pretend to cling to the old, shattered
equilibrium of the Welfare State, while actually all they can support is a
market capture of the most interesting new possibilities, in the form of
the famous commercial multiculturalism that someone like Clinton promoted,
and someone like Zizek has denounced ad nauseum. We have to brush away
these sterile diagnostics, and all the outdated compromise-formations that
constitute the center-left absence of a world view.

On one level, the problems of disenfranchised people and the specific
realities of oppression have to be addressed in the only possible way: by
limiting the obscene power of the rich to dictate what everyone else is
going to do for their profit. No political party or movement is going to be
any different from the ruling power until it can say out loud: we are going
to limit the obscene power of the rich. On another level, times and spaces
within our cultures have to be created for the cultivation of values and
above all, practices that will make life worth living for different kinds
of people, so that everybody doesn't go on lashing out in pain against
everyone else. This isn't a pious wish, it's an institutional question: how
do you create cultural and educational opportunities for a radically
multicultural society, so that people are reassured that they don't have to
go on the offensive to protect what they think they're losing? The fact
that neither of these things can be done within the borders of, say, the
United States, the fact that these are world problems, that they traverse
borders and involve people in intersecting flows, gives the level of the
real political challenge - or the real complexity of the
reterritorialization that we would need.

>Many thanks to nettime for making all this possible!!

You said it, Mark.

Brian


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