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Re: <nettime> Shoshana Zuboff > The Secrets of Surveillance
Brian Holmes on Fri, 18 Mar 2016 11:59:19 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Shoshana Zuboff > The Secrets of Surveillance


On 03/17/2016 09:14 PM, dan {AT} geer.org wrote:

What I see is way,
way too much private money looking at way, way too few differentiated
ideas.

Dan, your thoughts are really interesting and I like the specifics of "the mid-space between investment capital and government programs."

It seems to me that the hard thing about understanding social change is that there are so many things to see. Felix sees lots of solar panels on rooftops and no market. You see a whole lotta government-oriented security technology getting lots of private investment. John sees effusive middle-class idealists driving Priuses and talking fooolishly about French wine. I see a huge gap between the people who used to live in my decaying neighborhood and those who are moving in. We are all catching something about society right now. And yet the many things it will become under the pressure of what is happening right now seem to escape us. This is the real difficulty of social theory. The beast in the cage is too damn big. You might think you were seeing the whole animal, then that turns out to be just the foot and it's stomping you.

There is a lot of money out there to invest in security in the same way there is a lot of money to invest in real estate, or high end craft beer in my Chicago neightborhood, for that matter. The 1% is fat and scared. It was ever thus. One of the big problems Roosevelt's team had during the Depression was convincing the people in the cities that it was even happening. The big urban centers were doing fine, if you had a job at least, and many did. The famous photos of the Farm Security Administration had the task of showing people what they could not spontaneously see. The photographers were supposed to prove to the urbanites that something dramatic was happening to people very unlike them: people who used to be farmers, and were now on the road with almost nothing, looking for a way to find some new existence and not finding it. All those former farmers with no money to buy anything were the reason that all those new factories in the city couldn't quite take the next big step and change the world in their image.

What don't we see right now, when we only look for security?

My point is that what we don't see is probably the kind of social conditions - the social sequence - that will allow the next game changer to emerge. Security does the opposite. It's what tries to keep everything the same. That's why there are not so tremendously many ideas about it. However, unlike solar panels, there is an overwhelming market for security, because people in general are scared shitless right now, and governments even more so. All the security in the world, however, will not deliver what capitalism wants, which is growth, more people taking up some new invention and becoming more productive with it. So I would say, as long as the market in security is the big thing, society won't change much in the capitalistic sense.

Now, that's not necessarily bad, by the way. Maybe without any big change in the capitalistic sense, we would have time to realize that a more fundamental kind of security can be had by installing solar panels, wind turbines, waves generators, plus better electric grids to distribute all that. I thought Felix's post in this thread was brilliant, because he says that's the important thing - do something different than in the past. But the problem is, security is what tends to drive us on, not to reflection about how life could be better, but to the unreflected practice of how it gets worse, ie war. Over the past century, and over the last four centuries if you believe Wallerstein and co, war has been a crucial part of game-changing social sequences.

In the 1940s, the most technologically violent war ever known to humankind was followed by a the largest growth wave ever known to capitalism.

In the 1990s, the largest interenational coalition ever assembled waged a relatively small war, the so-called "First Gulf War," which led on to a very significant growth wave known as globalization. That growth wave is often remembered for having laid fiber optic cables across the entire earth. How did it come to pass? It took the fall of the Soviet Union and the security coalition of the Gulf War to make the world safe for investing in the internet. Security seems to precede prosperity.

I reckon capitalism has one of more of those up its sleeve. One more growth wave I mean. To qualify as such, it has to be something both productive and profitable. In the Fifites, factories, cars, suburban houses, TVs and washing machines were definitely profitable. Vast numbers of people could use those products, and the use of the products propelled them - literally, at 70 mph on the freeway - toward producer equipment where more of such products were made. That constituted a growth wave.

The Nineties and early 2000s were different, and yet somehow similar. It was about PCs, internet connections, phones, apps, and a job in some foreign city. The PC was something you bought, a prestige item; but it was also something you worked with. You hooked it up to an immense piece of producer technology: the Internet. You got a job using the net to extend the net, somewhere, to someone, who would use it to extend it to someone else. All of that was new: new technology, new business processes, new professions, new consumer behaviors. It constituted a growth wave. Countries as vast as China and India got caught up with the West overnight. The beast is so big that people in a largely parochial country like America don't even realize how vastly the world has changed over the last twenty years.

Will such a process occur again? That's the economic and sociological question I was asking in this series of exchanges. Should it occur again? That is the philosophical and ethical question Felix was asking. Is humanity too ignorant and self-satisfied to know or even to care what happens next? That's the cynical and realist question John was asking. And you, Dan seem to be joining Shoshana Zuboff in asking: Isn't what's already happening right now just about to get much more intense?

Well, it could, for sure it could. With all that globalized financial weath circulating around in the stratosphere, you'd think that a little could come down to earth and invest itself in a techno-securitarian lid to clamp down on top of the boiling pot of disgruntled humanity. That's wouldn't mark the triumph of Googlism, though, because you can't sell advertising to prisoners. However, Eric Schmidt and his CIA friend Jared Cohen would do all right in that world, I reckon. So there's an economy there for somebody.

I think capitalist society is a bigger animal, with more desires, more ideas, and yet mostly just as dumb as John suggests, and just as self-satisfied. War or no war, capitalist society is likely to break the bounds of the present cage and make even a bigger mess than ever in the past. As a theorist, one thinks: "If we could only see the whole thing, if we could only know who we are, right now, as a totality, then we could take the better path." Yet so many of us would have to care, to constitute that collective vision.

"We now return you to the regularly scheduled discussion of whether
the developed world has a future, already in progress."

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