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Re: <nettime> choose-your-own adventure: a brief history of nettime
Eric Kluitenberg on Wed, 4 Nov 2015 16:59:09 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> choose-your-own adventure: a brief history of nettime

   Dear nettimers,

   It feels a bit awkward to respond in this thread as the co-editor of
   the anthology this text is going to be part of, where I think the text
   is going to be a great contribution, a fascinating account of twenty
   years of <nettime> from a first-hand perspective. However, I am deeply
   intrigued by the remarks Brian made about a `third-order cybernetics'
   and his call to start figuring this new order out (a 'third age of
   net-critique' as he calls it). This is what I want to respond to here.

   The anthology we are putting together is part of a larger project,
   on-going under a mundane working title 'tactical media connections',
   with the aim of connecting different generations of activists, artists,
   theorists, discourses and practices between the classic era of tactical
   media and current practices and conditions, with the hope of developing
   a more informed perspective to move into the future. The project has
   been introduced on the list so will not dwell on this further.

   One of the things which is on my mind with this project is to raise the
   question: "What kind of interventions are required right now?",
   assuming that we are in the post-#occupy and post-prism era. For a
   variety of reasons we have seen that the various `occupy'
   quasi-movements (formations) have failed, unable to transform
   themselves into somehow coherent and potent political forces (in part
   because of their over-reliance on the play on affective registers),
   with the possible exception of Spain as also indicated in the thread
   started by Alex Foti ("What if we were all right but all wrong?"),
   which runs interestingly parallel to this one. And the post-prism
   condition need not really be explained - the confirmation of our worst
   nightmares about the extent of the electronic surveillance apparatus
   that dwarfs all sci-fi phantasies that may have preceded the Snowden
   Files disclosures.

   So, what does `intervention' mean in this context? Does it still make
   sense to think and talk about this at all? How could intervention be
   conceived of as somehow meaningful, viable, efficacious (able to
   produce desired results)?

   What strikes me, but comes as no real surprise, is the clear presence
   of the recent work that science and political philosopher Bruno Latour
   has been doing on what he calls "Facing Gaia", and what Brian refers to
   as `Earth-system' (see: [1]http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/487 ). This
   comes as no surprise because Brian and I discussed this in private
   conversations, and also because his recent work with the Compass group
   in the Mid-West region (around Chicago) takes up the challenge of
   thinking through the meaning of this notion of `general ecology' - see:

   The crucial point here, in my view, is the boundedness of these global
   transformations Brian is referencing by our existence on Earth, the
   planet as a system of interdependent parts, and the finiteness of
   resources available to and within this system. As Latour also observes
   in one of his recent lectures, the prospect of the human species (or a
   future Ark of Noah carrying the biological diversity of the planet)
   embarking on an exodus into space to new `Earth-like' worlds has been
   emphatically referred to the realm of fiction by calculations of the
   amount of energy and resources required to ship even a tiny segment of
   the Earth's current population to the nearest inhabitable worlds, which
   makes the entire exercise an entirely laughable fiction. It equally
   reduces the chance of us ever being visited by some remote superior
   extraterrestrial civilisation (that can solve our problems) to zero. In
   short: We are Earth-bound.

   Philosopher and aesthetician Jean-Francois Lyotard once observed that
   the avant-garde arts share with the techno-sciences and advanced
   capitalism an `affinity with infinity': the infinite ability to see,
   the infinite ability to know, and the infinite ability to realise /
   make / produce. This dictum no longer holds true. We are coming up to
   final limits, material and ecological. They are drawing ever closer and
   given the rapid material developments in the so-called emerging
   economies with exponential speed. The horizon is no longer that of the
   infinity of the avant-gardes, techno-sciences, and advanced capitalism,
   but instead the finiteness of the Earth's material and ecological

   This imposes clear limits on the scope and extension of third-order
   cybernetics and the new modes of global governance (or non-governance)
   that accompany this new order. Latour develops his thinking along a
   simple line: he considers these systems as being designed by someone,
   some groups, some agencies, and that to attune them with boundedness
   imposed by the Earth-system we need to re-design these systems. The
   discipline of `design' (in a broad sense) then takes center stage in
   the process of what he has described ever since his 2004 book 'Politics
   of Nature' as `the progressive composition of the good common world'.
   This book is interesting here because it was written in response to the
   stagnation of green politics in Europe and elsewhere, so with the book
   he also put the question on the table; what kind of intervention is
   required now? -  in his case in response to a perceived crisis of green

   `Design' for Latour is crucial because it introduces among other
   things, an attention to detail. When dealing with largest possible
   systems, and especially when facing the largest of them all, the
   Earth-system (Facing Gaia), attention has to shift according to Latour
   to the smallest possible details, and intervention has to emerge at the
   microscopic level of re-design and subsequently scale up to the
   macro-level in a process of collective experimentation.

   Such a process can only begin with a clear and critical analysis of the
   `design' of 'third-order cybernetics, and all this clearly exceeds the
   frame of the tactical media book as such. It does however suggest a
   clear call for at least one particular intervention in response to this
   question that has been haunting me since at the very least the
   beginning of this tactical media connections trajectory (but actually
   much longer), what kind of interventions are required now?

   Whatever you call it, a `third age of net-critique', a critical
   examination of the design of third-order cybernetics, figuring out the
   post-anarcho-llbertarian condition, this is certainly an important and
   challenging suggestion to take up.

   The next steps then already clearly indicate themselves: How can one
   imagine such processes of re-design, at what levels, through which
   practices? What are the roles that activists, artists, theorists can
   assume there? And how can these things be put into practice? (politics)

   Amidst the gloom we can see hopeful beginnings, the theories and
   practices of the commons that rely on scalable and self-sustaining
   community based systems of exchange, co-operation and governance. The
   transference of principles of free software to open content and free
   culture production, the experiments with distributed currency and
   transaction systems - but none of them and also not combined are enough
   to produce a viable counter-veilling force to what Brian has so nicely
   described as third-order cybernetics.

   One possibility is of course simply not to act, at least not initially,
   and wait for these systems to collapse under the weight of their own
   internal contradictions (the crash-scenario). I very much oppose this
   view, the damage and the amount of suffering this would produce are
   unimaginable and the whole point of critique and (attempts at)
   re-design is to avoid exactly this scenario.

   It is the failure of `global governance', in as far as such a thing
   exists at all, that it is unable to address the ravages of this
   impending new order and so we cannot resign ourselves to either only
   re-design on the microlevel, nor to the design of self-sustaining
   communities, let alone to inertia while waiting for the crash.

   The critical analysis  / deconstruction of this impending order can be
   a step one towards developing (`designing') new and efficacious forms
   of intervention - that I see as a clear and potentially productive


   Then a final practical note: we are participating in some debates and
   with a workshop with the tactical media connections project in the
   upcoming edition of Transmediale (Feb. 3 - 7, 2016). We will also use
   this opportunity of the festival as a gathering place to hold an
   informal meeting during the festival, exact date and time still need to
   be determined as soon as the overall festival schedule is fixed. Much
   in the tradition of the nettime meet ups that are referenced in Ted's
   and Felix's text. It would be great to see people there and debate
   about these and other ideas.

   We'll post details also here and on our blogs when we know place, date,
   time, but as stated in the text such physical meet ups are extremely
   important so we hope we can have a more direct exchange there.



   On 04 Nov 2015, at 04:53, Brian Holmes <bhcontinentaldrift {AT} gmail.com> wrote:

   As noted last April Fools', there will be good reasons for fresh
   conceptual collaborations in the future. The neoliberal order with its
   bewildering anarcho-libertarian ideology is on the way out. We are
   headed toward a new state-form based on third-order cybernetics, or
   general ecology, in which finely grained data on global populations
   will be used to repress those populations, but also to facilitate and
   channel behaviors more adaptive to the overall earth system. As
   resource use continues to grow, survival issues will increasingly make
   earth-system dynamics into an ultimate reference point, directly
   present and determinant for all experience, yet not susceptible of
   direct control. This leads to fundamental epistemological shifts, with
   many cascading effects on human-machine combinations (we cyborgs, I


   However, I think that key aspects of the coming round of global
   development will be orchestrated by the new
   inter-state/inter-imperialist order, in order to coordinate
   production/consumption and provide earth-system level services for all
   included populations. Who will do this? A consortium of countries
   including China. Whether the US or the EU will be part of it, I don't
   know. In short, the 21st century is not likely to be your grandpa's
   political economy!

   I don't expect any recognizable pattern to become visible for a decade
   or more; but it is likely that that the decisive breakthroughs of the
   future are actually being invented right now, without us knowing it.
   First-order cybernetics was analyzed, critiqued and subverted in the
   Sixties and Seventies, and second-order forms were at the heart of our
   concerns in the Nineties and the Noughties. Don't you think a Third Age
   of net-critique is dawning? Who wants to have a go at that one?
   curiously, Brian


   Cybernetics essays ("Dark Crystals" section):
   Two forks of Technopolitics:


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