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Re: <nettime> a petition by Writers Against Mass Surveillance
Florian Cramer on Sat, 14 Dec 2013 19:42:05 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> a petition by Writers Against Mass Surveillance


This petition made lots of waves in Germany but seems to have remained
unnoticed elsewhere despite the many international writers who signed it.
In Germany and France, such public interventions are a post-WWII tradition.
They go back to Sartre's concept of "litterature engag??" which the 'Gruppe
47' circle of West-German novelists and poets picked up soon after it had
been coined. Historical precursors are the public inventions of writers
like Zola.

The notion of writers as public figures and moral authorities seems to be
rather typical for countries under authoritarian rule, as well as
post-fascist and post-Stalinist societies. The petition echoes this because
it is mostly written as an appeal to authorities ("STATES AND
CORPORATIONS", "UNITED NATIONS", "GOVERNMENTS") and even addresses
"CITIZENS" in the third person, thus implying some separate space for the
writers (who thus speak, as neither authorities nor citizens, from a bird's
eye view).

Likewise, the wording of the petition remains stuck in old-fashioned and
often problematic humanism. The statement that the "basic pillar of
democracy is the inviolable integrity of the individual" is a literal
translation of a passage from the German constitution ("Die W?rde des
Menschen ist unantastbar"), thus projecting a particular notion of
democracy with priorities that many political thinkers and activists might
not share, onto the rest of the world. The statement that "a society under
surveillance is no longer a democracy" is technically correct but also
naively suggests that society has been democratic before.

>From a media critical point of view, the statement that "democratic rights
must apply in virtual as in real space" is telling, because it shows that
the authors of the petition still think in 1980s/1990s media theory
categories of the "virtual" and the "real" in a world where technological
development (with software control of almost all devices including
Stuxnet-infected nuclear plants) have rendered this distinction moot if not
dangerously naive. The problem is: the people working at the NSA understand
this, the writers apparently don't.

-F


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