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<nettime> Cronopis Associats interviews Richard Barbrook
richard on Sun, 16 Sep 2007 05:08:17 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Cronopis Associats interviews Richard Barbrook


Andrés Lomeña of Cronopis Associats interviewed Richard Barbrook on  
13th September 2007.

The Spanish translation can found on the Cronopis Associats website:  
http://cronopisassociats.entitats.mataro.cat

Question 1

AL: Franco Berardi critizices your The Holy Fools. In his opinion, you  
simplify the rhizomatic thought of Deleuze and Guattari, making equal  
it to technonomadism and the Californian ideology. Berardi argues that  
the state cannot solve the self-organisational structure of the Net.  
My question is: what ethical and aesthetic paradigm should we take for  
Internet given that the May 68 Revolution was defeated?

RB: Bifo is attacking me for the very crime which inspired my article!  
In late-1990s London, Hari Kunzru and others at Wired UK were arguing  
that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari were proponents of the  
Californian ideology. Knowing these gurus? political history and  
theoretical writings, I was curious as to why it was so easy to  
confuse their particular brand of hippie leftism with its apparent  
opposite: dotcom neo-liberalism. A decade earlier, an anarchist  
comrade who was running a pirate radio station in Paris had jokingly  
told me that Deleuze and Guattari ? and their milieu - should be  
called the ?Pol Pot tendency?. Michel Foucault only a few years  
earlier had been praising the Islamist seizure of power in Iran as a  
revolution against modernity. When D&G fantasised about nomads  
destroying the city in Mille Plateaux, they ? scarily ? did mean what  
they were saying! In The Holy Fools, I tried to explain this  
intellectual paradox: these prophets of hardcore anti-modernism had  
provided the theoretical tools for their own post-modernist  
recuperation. As Bifo?s loud protests demonstrate, there is obviously  
an embarrassing similarity between New Left anti-statism and New Right  
anti-statism. Much more seriously, D&G were also proponents of a  
post-structuralist approach which is completely compatible with the  
tenets of McLuhanism. Information ? not humanity ? is the subject of  
history. Artists and intellectuals are the new class of the new. So  
maybe it wasn?t so surprising that D&G?s vision of the Net was so  
easily misinterpreted as a celebration of the dominant imaginary  
future of the American empire: the information society?

Question 2

AL: You are really witty when you quote and analyse Eric S. Raymond?s  
essays. You are the first one. It demonstrates that you study the  
phenomena of Internet from inside, without keeping your distance; we  
need to contaminate ourselves to talk about Net (the metaphor would  
be: ?we cannot talk about dirtiness if we do not get dirty?). In my  
opinion, there is a maladjustment between the generations. Are there  
more hopes with our generation, totally immersed in new medias?

RB: I?m from the punk rock generation ? my formative moment was seeing  
the Sex Pistols and discovering Situationism as a 20-year old student  
in 1976. When the Net took off in England two decades later, I thought  
that technology had finally caught up with what me and my mates had  
been doing for all of our adult lives. In 2007, instead of climbing  
tower blocks to install pirate transmitters like we did in the 1980s,  
my students run their radio stations from their bedrooms ? and, most  
wonderfully, have many more listeners than we ever did. Respect! Of  
course, it is easy for people from my generation to say that the youth  
aren?t as politically engaged as we were, but the historical moment is  
very different. If nothing else, today?s 20-somethings have the  
advantage over us that Leninism is ancient history. In my Imaginary  
Futures book, I argue that they also possess the privilege of living  
within the information society. It is difficult to believe that the  
Net will liberate humanity when almost everyone you know has a  
broadband connection ? and corporate capitalism is more in control of  
the global economy than it has ever been.

Question 3

AL: The New Left sought anarcho-comunism, based on gift economy.  
However, the New Economy of the cyberspace is an advanced way of  
social democracy: anarcho-comunism is sponsored by corporate capital.  
This seems paradoxical. Is it possible to have a collapse of the  
system? All of this is quite disconcerting.

RB: The contemporary symbiosis of cybernetic communism and dotcom  
capitalism is only a paradox if ? like Deleuze ? you are  
anti-Hegelian! However, if you study history, this contradictory  
phenomenon is unexceptional. The feudal monarchy played a key role in  
the rise of capitalism and ? against its own intentions ? destroyed  
its own patriarchal power. Stalinist states industrialised their  
economies and ? in the process ? undermined the social foundations of  
totalitarian rule. We should not be surprised that corporate  
capitalism is similarly unaware of its own historical mission. Kevin  
Kelly in New Rules for the New Economy says that dotcom entrepreneurs  
should adopt the maxim of ?follow the free?: commercialising the  
innovations of the hi-tech gift economy. But, as the music industry  
has found out to its cost, the opposite is also taking place: the  
decommodification of proprietary information. Don?t be disconcerted,  
enjoy the paradox!

Question 4

AL: I would like to read a critical evaluation of Google. What do you  
think? Do they symbolise a huge change in the recent history of the Net?

RB: So would I. What is interesting is that Google makes its money out  
of searches not content. When most of the information on the Net is  
made by amateurs who work for nothing and pay for their own hosting,  
then the profit-making point is owning the large numbers of servers  
needed to catalogue and sort this data. Google is getting rich off  
what neo-classical economists call a ?natural monopoly?: a privatised  
public utility. I wonder if Bifo disapproves of the French state?s  
plans to launch a European competitor to this American hegemon?!

Question 5

AL: Creative commons modified the map of Internet. Many people think  
that this licence is a restrictive choice (with a libertarian make  
up). They would prefer the deregulated situation before Creative  
Commons. I do not have opinion here. What about you?

RB: Tellingly, Tim Berners-Lee ? the inventor of the web - didn?t  
release html under a copyleft licence because its provisions were too  
restrictive. Despite its name, Creative Commons is also a form of  
private property. If you want to operate within the contemporary  
economy, this licence does offer some protection against your work  
being ripped off or being used inappropriately. If you were a cynic,  
copyleft could also be seen as the last stand of intellectual property  
lawyers against the decommodification of information on the Net.  
Imprisoning teenagers for sharing music or movie files with each other  
is absurd in the 2000s. According to its promoters, Creative Commons  
is the only way that commercial organisations can sue each other for  
making money out of what private individuals are doing on a daily basis?

Question 6

AL: What do you think about Technorealism Manifesto  
(www.technorealism.org)? I sort of agree with it. It is very  
symptomatic of lot of manifestos that I?ve read on the Internet.

RB: Sweet. We should encourage all signs of resistance in America  
against the neo-liberal hegemony which dominates that long suffering  
country.

Question 7

AL: Is it possible to have a new Luddite movement in our society (I  
still remember a Thomas Pynchon?s article where he was really ironic  
about the Luddites)?

RB: I?m all in favour of celebrating Luddism as long as we?re talking  
about the Luddites in early-19th century England. These heroic rebels  
were founders of the Labour movement in this country. Unfortunately,  
many on the Left believe the smears of the liberal bourgeoisie against  
them. Contrary to the dictionary definition, the Luddites were NOT  
against all new technologies ? only those which deskilled and  
displaced skilled workers. Spinning Jennies deserved to be smashed -  
and Jacquard Looms were rightly cherished. If we want to learn from  
the Luddites, we should welcome technologies which make our work more  
interesting and our lives more pleasurable?

Question 8

AL: We must to extend the political history of Internet into all areas  
of life. However, the thing is that if we begin transforming  
cyberspace and then we want to change our society... it seems to me  
that we are adopting a naive reformism. The Internet is a good  
battlefield, but it?s not the only field where we can fight, right?

RB: The Net is a tool not a talisman. When Debord published The  
Society of the Spectacle in 1967, only the privileged few could make  
radio and television programmes. Four decades later, anyone with the  
time and money in the North can broadcast their efforts to a global  
audience over the Net. Contrary to Debord?s expectations, the smashing  
of the spectacle didn?t require a proletarian revolution. Does this  
make us backsliding reformists?  Or does it mean that we realise that  
we live within a historical process which capital and labour ?  
consciously or unconsciously ? compete to mould society in their own  
interest? If we?re lefties, our ambition is to ensure our side is more  
conscious about what we?re doing than our opponents.

Question 9

AL: How do you value the role of John Perry Barlow in the history of  
the Internet? Everyone can laugh at his neo-liberal utopianism, but he  
founded the EFF, among other things. Maybe we should consider his  
Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace like poetry, not like a  
political programme.


RB: John Perry Barlow was also Dick Cheney?s campaign manager when he  
stood for the US Senate in 1978! Conclusion: you can smoke good weed  
and still be on the wrong side of the barricades.

Question 10

AL: Is there anything else that you want to add?

RB: Check out the website of my new book: http://www.imaginaryfutures.net

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