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Re: <nettime> NSA-spying-on-Europe outrage somewhat disingenuous
t byfield on Wed, 3 Jul 2013 19:33:39 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> NSA-spying-on-Europe outrage somewhat disingenuous

keith {AT} thememorybank.co.uk (Wed 07/03/13 at 09:57 AM +0200):

> This observation does not undermine Brian's or Marko's, but the
> perspective oif comparative law amplified to tak ein broader cultural
> practices might lend some precision to what we expect when private and
> public law meet.

Wolfgang Schivelbusch's _Disenchanted Night_ traces an analogous
distinction very nicely through -- literally -- light. French streetlights
were suspended over the center of the street illuminating all by grace of
the king, whereas the tawdry Brits delegated lighting to shopkeepers -- who
melded new technologies of light with the more primitive tradition of
suspending whatever object they were  flogging. Voila: modern commercial
signage. It's well worth thinking about the kinds of sovereignty that these
'internets of things' are giving rise to. 

But back to Snowden etc.

I've found it harder and harder to navigate between, on the one hand, a
principled stance toward issues like 'privacy' and 'surveillance' and, on
the other, the need to adapt how I apply those principles to boggling
changes in 'communications' -- which in many ways is a technocratic cartoon
of sociability, which itself is a mirror of subjectivity. That latinate
language masks aspects of life that couldn't be more concrete: what we
share of ourselves, how and when and where and why and with whom, and what
others share with us -- flows and eddies without which many of us would go
mad surprisingly quickly. 

I don't think it's safe, wise, or shrewd to rely on nostalgic assumptions
about the boundaries of the self. Those models are deeply intertwined with
normative assumptions that, in other contexts, we're trying to leave
behind. A useful case in point is 'homosexuality,' which only a few years
ago could be used as a tool par excellence for blackmail (a view that was
specifically carved in the stone of official state policies). Now the
situation has changed. My dearly departed friend David Rakoff used to joke
that he couldn't possibly come out to his parents because he was afraid his
father would come out too; but that isn't really a joke anymore. The
freeing of gender worldwide, which is a profound form of liberation, is
just one facet of the reconstruction of the boundaries between public and
private, societies and selves.

I think 'surveillance' itself is a deeply reactionary category. I'm not at
all naive about the concrete consequences that can be assigned to
differentials in who knows what about individuals and groups. Only recently
have these consequences been framed in terms of individuals or joy; more
often, they were (and are) matters of life and death -- and not just for
individuals. (This is how and why the disappeared exert such a powerful
force: their *absence* becomes an ongoing presence, a ghost, a threat.) 

The hysteria that the watchers feel is very real, and when they speak of
'firehoses' or 'tidal waves,' they mean it. But their problem isn't just
the x>exponential quantitative growth in 'information,' it's the
*qualitative* changes that are shaking their markets --  the *meaning* of
information, its valence and impact. They know in their dark institutional
heart of hearts that we're heading into some kind of endgame. It won't be
long before the spies confront someone with some 'damning' revelation only
to find that s/he says, "Talk to my agent" -- because some other media
conglomerate will make a *much* better offer than merely refraining for a
time from destroying his or her life or whatever.

Way too many of these debates orbit around axes that haven't made much
conceptual progress since, say, the DKs put out their "Give Me Convenience
or Give Me Death" album in '87 -- a few years before the depths of certain
Stasi archives were revealed to be too abysmal ever to reveal.

It's clearer every day that we need deeply principled ways of thinking
about the metastasizing of the state, and that those principled ways need
to be organically tied to action. And it's for that very reason that I
mistrust so many of the arguments made against 'surveillance.' The idea is
too much of a 'construct,' it's too deeply embedded in the architectural
and conceptual stasis -- the tragic *elegance*, if you like -- of the 
panopticon. We need a response that's more comic than tragic.


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