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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part Three,
Patrice Riemens on Sat, 2 Aug 2014 10:35:23 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part Three,


Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part III

The Freedoms of the Net


Orwell, Huxley, and the Sino-American model (section 2)

Online freedom is (counter)balanced by the demand for greater security,
which in its turn begets a demand for more control. The wish to be
anonymous is at odds with the will to go after those who present a threat
to the social stability. In democratic regimes, this may be about
paedophiles, serial killers, mafiosi, terrorists, subversives, etc. The
wave of emotions caused by some spectacularly heinous crime or other
sensational misdeed has triggered a crazy response: the enacting of laws
trampling the most fundamental liberties. But all the same, a (potential)
perpetrator is (made) aware that sHe is under surveillance. But since sHe
is aware of this, and even in the (rare?) cases the perpetrator is not in
cahoots with her/his watchers, a delinquent is actually freer that the
rest of the population, which is subjected against her will to an
increasingly stringent, blanket electronic control. And never mind the
fact, already underlined, that control does not prevent crime. At most it
simply eases the metting out of punishment, at least in theory, by further
hardening of the courts and of the prison system.

The pressure to regulate the Web goes together with a demand for more
transparency, better traceability, and generally, the all-out probing of
what happens on-line. Such requirements also allow for the bringing
together of very heterogenous social categories. Parents associations are
worried about the risks their kids may be exposed to. Lobbies of big media
copyright owners (Hollywood, the music industry, publishers) all want to
make investigation into, and removal of (on-line) protected content
easier. Banks wish they could better verify their account holders'
identities so as to cut online fraud back. Harassed ethnic minorities want
to find out the identity of their tormentors. Xenophobe nationalists
(which, once in power, and amidst generalized indifference, will give a
totalitarian twist to already security-obsessed democracies), want to
identify and register all foreigners in order to assuage their
frustrations and bolster their group identity by going for ritual pogroms.
Victims of violent incidents want to be able to denounce their
persecutor(s) without risk of retaliation: on one hand they want the
police to protect their anonymity, while at the same time demanding
stricter control measures in order to identify criminals better. Outraged
citizens want to see the income tax returns of corrupt politicians
published so as to name and shame them in the media. Even authoritarian
regimes like more transparency since they want to keep a close eye on
their citizens . Transparency enhance the opportunities for surveillance
and that is precisely the wish of next to all political powers.

The 20th Century saw two major dystopias profoundly influence Western
thought in the matter of surveillance: George Orwell's Big Brother in his
novel /'1984'/ (1949) and Aldous Huxley's /'Brave New World'/ (1932,
followed in 1958 /'Brave New World Revisited'/). Both authors (re)present
opposite dystopias: Orwell, Englishman, was worried about total 'optical'
control, whereas the Californian Huxley saw an upcoming emotional
mutilation generated by out-of-control consumerism.

For Orwell, the emergence of totalitarian systems marked a new phase,
smacking of the Inquisition, in which technology serves to abolish any
private life for citizens. Big Brother's omnipresent eye exercises a power
both sadistic and oppressive, meant to modify reality through baneful,
continual propaganda worded in newspeak, the language specifically created
to limit the range of possible expressions. Every personal move must be
completely predictable, and everybody must obey. The main character in
'1984', Winston Smith, indeed discovers that neurologists in employ of the
regime are working on the elimination of orgasm, so as to cancel desire as
well, that tricky moment of psychic and physical instability, which could
therefore well be able to trigger a revolt.

In Huxley's vision, technology, on the contrary, is applied so as maximize
pleasure, as (essential) part as of the consumption loop. In Huxley's
Fordist consumerism, throwing away is far preferable to repairing, and
citizens have no incentive whatsoever to think in an autonomous and
critical way, since their pleasure find satisfaction even before having
been formulated. For sure, not everyone's desire are identical: a rigid
system of castes, from 'Alphas' to 'Epsilons' obtains, managed by edgenic
control. Different categories of consumers exist, which are (pre)assigned
by their consumption of specific goods and services. But then, exces has
stumped desire, so that a compulsive system has been put in place: sexual
promiscuity is encouraged, family bonds are deemed pornographic, since
they are privileged links; social interactions organized in a fully
transparant way, so much so that women are forced to wear a contraceptive
belt, which signal their (eventual) immediate disposability for sex.
Individuals, being consumption goods like many others, must tell who they
are without ambiguity, so as to be always available.

Whereas, with Orwell, one glimpses a higher grade of conspiracy in which
some freedom is possible, at least among the oppressors, with Huxley,
nobody is free, not even the 'Alphas'. They too must perform their
consumers' duty, just as those they command. Conformism is the supreme
good, submissive obedience is necessary to have the whole population
reduced to a state of mandatory infantile bliss. A daily dose of 'Soma'
and of hypnopedia (indoctrination session administered during the sleep)
does away with such mortal sins as the desire to be left alone and the
possibility to perceive oneself as /different/ from other people. And
(hence) to be able to choose, to be autonomous and independent.

It is precisely to these forbidden desires that we will have to return in
order to imagine a new format for social networks. Refusing to participate
in the competition society is the only way to escape conformism and
induced desires. One cannot deny that both Orwell's fear-filed dystopia
and Huxley's   enforced entertainment have become variously mixed up in
(our) contemporary societies. Evgeny Morozov stresses our tendency to
underestimate the number of Orwellian elements in democratic regimes (no
wonder the reality show 'Big Brother' reaches such a wide international
audience: the fear of control has become the butt of jokes [****]), while
at the same time discounting the Huxleyan elements present in
dictatorships. Most dictators rather distract and entertain the masses
than dominate them by terror, the more so since repression tends to beget
bloody, unmanageable revolts in the long run. Enjoyable consumerism on the
other hand, allows, if not for full consensus, at least for acceptance
from the side of the oppressed.

Better still, /'panem et circuses'/ politics may even prod the masses into
supporting a despotic regime. Why shouldn't a Chinese, a Turkmen or a
Cuban person not applaud a government if sHe gets some benefit in
exchange? By and large, the Internet does bring to many undemocratic
societies exactly the type of entertainment people need to escape the
(daily) frustrations of reality: rancid porn, gossips, zestless TV series,
quizzes and betting shows, videogames, online dating chat forums, together
with government supervised discussion forums devoid of political
references. (Guess what:) Precisely the same type of entertainment
allowing citizens in democratic societies to escape /their/ reality. Naomi
Klein does not err in forefronting marked similarities that exist between
China and the West (and more specifically, between China and the United
States). In "China's All-Seeing Eye, she describes the well-balanced combo
of Orwellian control with Huxleyan distraction dished out to citizens in
the following words:

"China is becoming more like us in very visible ways (Starbucks, Hooters,
cellphones that are cooler than ours), and we are becoming more like China
in less visible ones (torture, warrantless wiretapping, indefinite
detention, though not nearly on the Chinese scale)." [11]


(to be continued)
Next time: more on China-USA Bhai Bhai, and on profiling, Google Facebook,
etc.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[****] No wonder either that Big Brother is a Dutch invention, from the
country that contributed the word 'apartheid' to the world language.
[11] Naomi Klein, "China's All-Seeing Eye", May 2008:
http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2008/05/chinas-all-seeing-eye
"With the help of U.S. defense contractors, China is building the
prototype for a high-tech police state. It is ready for export."


-----------------------------
Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
(http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/)
The Antenna Foundation, Nijmegen
(http://www.antenna.nl - Dutch site)
(http://www.antenna.nl/indexeng.html - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy


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