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Re: <nettime> The beginning of the end?
Brian Holmes on Sun, 13 Feb 2011 03:45:52 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> The beginning of the end?


Hi Felix,

This exchange has been extremely interesting for me, it has caused me to 
think in detail and revise my ideas, so I thank you, what a pleasure.

The quote from Weizenbaum is great (gotta read that book someday). 
Indeed the deployment of radically new computer tech in order to keep 
entire patterns of governance the same would seem to be what has 
happened with the national power complex. Yet I agree with you, the 
Internet as we know it (TCP/IP, an extremely open, unformatted protocol) 
has and continues to be a game-changer with respect to the hierarchical 
controls of what Keith Hart is calling "national capitalism." 
Information technology enables new organizational forms, new public 
spaces, new political tactics and strategies. If we pursued the argument 
over "informationalism" it would be purely semantic, and what's in a 
word? The interesting thing is what's happening now, the transformation 
of those controling structures.

As you write:

 > I think it is necessary to separate Keynesianism from Fordism (or more
 > generally, industrialism), and neoliberalism from informationalism.

This seems to be the key, and I'll add a twist that might make it even 
more persuasive. It has always been puzzling to me that leftist circles 
have so easily taken to the term "Fordism" to designate the post-WWII 
boom, despite the fact that Ford's great invention came in the 1910s. 
Within twenty years, Detroit, one manufacturing center, was producing 
some 2/3 of the world's cars, exporting them across the earth. A huge 
transformation had already occured during Ford's own lifetime. So why 
call the postwar system by this antiquated term, Fordism? History geeks 
who have read James Beniger's great book The Control Revolution know 
that the auto industry is no isolated case: the assembly-line 
mass-production revolution had been gathering steam (and electricity, 
and petrol) in both Germany and the US since the close of the 19th 
century, i.e. since the Great Slump of the 1880s. Yet there was a 
crisis, 1929, the Great Depression. As you have gathered, I think this 
kind of crisis is fundamental. For a decade or more it disrupts 
everything, socially, industrially, geoplitically. It marks a paradigm 
shift.  But what does that mean, a paradigm shift? Does it change 
everything?

When talking about the postwar period, I always say "Keynesian Fordism." 
And I think of it as *at once* a new paradigm, in social, industrial, 
geopolitical and many other terms, *and* as a stabilization of the 
tremendous productive energies unleashed by the techniques of 
assembly-line mass production. The postwar boom brought order after a 
period (1890s-1940s) which also constituted a long wave of development, 
but one that was marked by intense and violent disruptions. It was 
stabilized, within the developed countries at least, by the Cold War 
balance and the welfare-state constructions. Now, just to be precise, I 
actually think Keynesian Fordism is a variety of state capitalism, and 
in that sense, while there are obviously differences of kind between the 
US cybernetic/military Keynesianism, the European social-democratic 
flavors, and the Soviet formula of central planning (and don't forget 
the Japanese MITI green-tea variety either), nonetheless I think all 
these constitue a broad worldwide paradigm or range of paradigms which 
emerges as the resolution to what you might call the "regulation crisis" 
of the assembly-line mass production system. This, by the way, is also 
what Alex Foti thinks, in his text on "The Grid and the Fork" published 
on nettime some years ago; and you find similar ideas in the work of 
different thinkers across the political spectrum, Carlota Perez being a 
notable one on the techno-financial-geeky side of things. Yet most of 
these versions (maybe not Alex's) are too simplistic, and the 
techno-financial ones are far too rosy.

For years in the late 1990s and then disturbingly, for way too many 
years after the bursting of the New Economy bubble, the ambient 
discourses stressed only the breakthroughs of the new informational 
toolkit. Because of that overemphasis, I've oriented a lot of my 
research over the last five or six years to the actual 
political-economic conditions in which that toolkit came together with 
other societal factors to form a very unstable paradigm, one which is 
actually founded on various sciences of crisis-management. I'm talking 
about neoliberalism, or neoliberal informationalism. I do think this 
kind of paradigm formation is the technical meaning of the term "mode of 
development" which Castells borrows from the Regulation School 
economists: it refers to the ways in which a technology set and its 
associated organizational forms are intergrated into other social, 
institutional, economic and political dynamics, so as to achieve a 
relative balance and make things predictable for at least twenty or 
thirty years. But again, let's not worry too much about semantics. What 
I'm trying to say is that I agree with you: what is coming into crisis 
now is the neoliberal form given to informationalism, which so far has 
decisively shaped the major deployment of the computer/network toolkit 
and has overdetermined most of its functions (look at finance, 
logistics, biotech, surveillance, weaponry, e-commerce, all the sectors 
in which informationalism has been put into major production). But this 
has not closed off all the doors, not by any means. On the contrary, 
what we have seen since the Asian Crisis of 1997-98 revealed the 
dead-end of neoliberalism, is a rising tide of contestation taking many 
different forms, most of which are somehow centrally enabled by the 
computer/network toolkit. One example of that enabling role can be found 
in the Egyptian revolution that has just happened: but as our friend 
Armin Medosch argues, it is still human beings, and not computer 
networks, who play the central role. Hopefully we will learn more about 
how this revolution was done, very soon.

So what our conversation makes me see much more clearly is that the 
current crisis is something like the regulation crisis of 
informationalism. This has to be faced in its fullest implications. 
Because of the fact that informationalism in its neoliberal form has 
been so tied up in the maintenance of the US-centered power system, this 
regulation crisis could involve a huge nasty shooting war, or a series 
of wars, or a period of global civil war (as we already have at low 
intensity) or many other unsavory outcomes, including lots of dark 
police-state stuff. Keith Hart makes that point very clearly in his last 
brilliant post. However, as Keith points out, this crisis could also 
involve extremely positive things, like the exploration and use of the 
democratic potentials of networked communications, and also the 
inventive potentials of a debate across borders and continents, the two 
of which together are at the heart of any positive outcome to this 
crisis of the uses of information. Such an outcome has to make equality 
rhyme with ecology: that is the only way to avoid the kind of "descente 
aux enfers" that we saw in the 20th century.

People all around the world are longing for access to the fruits of 
technical progress, the fascinating and engaging pleasures of 
cosmpolitanism, and the satisfaction of seeing the members of their own 
national, linguistic or religious communities rise out of poverty and 
enter a brighter future. The wealth has to be shared, the access to 
productive activity has to be shared. At the same time, the whole world 
is heating up with the acceleration of capitalistically oriented 
technical progress, and this negative dynamic, like the 
surveillance/warporn complex, works against the positive ones. You can 
see that so clearly in China, where, despite the best efforts, the huge 
deployment of industry creates the kinds of ecological disasters that we 
already have in North America and Europe. You can feel it in Korea, 
where in the spring and the fall, people wear face masks against the 
sandy wind that blows across the ocean from the breakneck industrial 
development of northern China. And this kind of environmental abuse 
originated in Europe and especially in the United States, where we are 
still facing the same things: Halliburton everywhere, they're drilling 
in the backyard, poisoning the water. Just-in-time is too much, too 
fast, with no thought for the future. A whole universe of ideas that 
accompanied the development of informationalism, namely the ecological 
side of the various versions of complexity theory, has been largely 
abandoned under the neoliberal paradigm. There is tremendous cooperative 
work to be done in order to surmount the dissolution of that paradigm 
and find new pathways toward the peaceful, egalitarian and ecological 
development of the constructive and destructive energies unleashed by 
informationalism. This is what intellectuals and artists and scientists 
can contribute, along with all kinds of other people, in the upcoming 
years. Let's bring some flowers to the Arab Spring.

Thanks again for so many ideas -

Brian

PS - For bibliography on the version of neoliberalism that has developed 
in China, in terms of ownership structure, labor markets, citizens' 
rights, entrepreneurialism, corporate involvement, trade patterns and 
cultural forms, see the footnotes in my text "One World One Dream."


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