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Re: <nettime> Peace-for-War
Felix Stalder on Wed, 9 Aug 2006 15:19:26 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Peace-for-War


On Monday, 7. August 2006 00:34, Brian Holmes wrote:

> There seems to be a difference in the way the groups of
> steersmen operate, both on the diplomatic and economic
> levels.
<...>
> Generally the Marxist theorists give you a 
> systemic explanation; capitalism does this or that, it has a
> long-term trend. I have always thought that the only way to
> help get the Left moving again is to say, groups and
> individuals do this or that; and we can stop them.

I think of the reasons why understanding the present -- in the amateur 
world-theory mode that we are engaged in here -- is so difficult is that 
we have a number of very different dynamics and we do not really know how 
they intersect, reinforce and transform each other.

First, there are structural dynamics which creating a playing field that is 
anything but level, rather it is skewed in favor of some groups. Michael 
Hudson's book "Superimperialism" explains the establishment of such a 
skewed playing field in the area of international finance rather well (as 
far as I can tell from skimming it just now). The reason why the WTO talks 
have collapsed is that the developing countries tried to make the "free 
trade" rules work a bit less against their interests. No change for that.

Second, there's old-fashioned interventionist power politics, with a 
repertoire from targeted sanctions to full scale war. This is brute-force 
intervention by very powerful and relatively easy to pin-point actors, 
usually states or their proxies. The states often act in the interests of 
the powerful national groups, but I would hesitate to see them as a simple 
extension of, say, corporate interests.

Third, their are processes that are largely out of control of any actor, 
but where a range of actors scramble to exert influence as good as they 
can to bend the outcomes to their strategic interests, without ever 
achieving anything such as real control over the developments.

Now, this is nothing particularly new. Any complex historical situation has 
structural, interventionist/strategic and chaotic dimensions. What is new, 
and what makes analysis so difficult, is that their relative weight, and 
how they shape each other, is changing. 

My hunch is that interventionist power politics are loosing weight, whereas 
processes that are too complex to control are gaining. I don't mean that 
power politics ceases to exist or that there are no more state-sponsored 
wars (well, that would be pretty dumb things to say right now), but that 
even hard-core military interventions quickly get bogged down in chaotic 
situations where the occupying army quickly becomes one of many actors 
scrambling along, rather than successfully imposing its own long-term 
strategy. Iraq, of course, is the prime case for this argument.

The reason for this change in the composition of complex historical 
processes is, I presume, that the number of actors has grown massively. 
Not the least due to the fact that large-scale coordination does no longer 
require a difficult to manage, expensive apparatus, but can be done on the 
fly, cheaply through open networks of communication and transport. 

So, we have a lot of actors, each following their own strategy, which can, 
in some way or the other, influence the course of events. Of course, not 
all actors have the same amount of resources at their disposal -- power 
differentials still exists. However, in a situation of asymmetric warfare 
this might less important that it used to. Or, perhaps more precisely, 
this is precisely what contributes to feeding complex, hard-to-control 
processes in the first place. The number of actors has grown that are 
powerful enough to disturb the establishment of order without being 
powerful enough to establish order themselves. 

Felix


----http://felix.openflows.org------------------------------ out now:
*|Manuel Castells and the Theory of the Network Society. Polity, 2006 
*|Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks. Ed. Futura/Revolver, 2005 


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