Date: Wed, 15 May 1996 15:30:44 -0700
Five questions to RU Sirius from Pit Schultz
this interview took place in end of May 96 via e-mail and refers to "The R.U. Sirius Interview: It's Better to be Inspired than Wired by Jon Lebkowsky" which appeared in Ctheory, Special Edition 1.6, end of April 96.
you used the term 'lumpenproletariat', do you think that like other historical ghosts, Marxism will come back through cyberspace and free our oppressed virtual selves? How does the cybernetical info=money worldview fit together with it. Do you see an utopical option for the 'digital revolution' to overwhelm info-capitalism by bringing it to it's terminal state? With which tactics, which mantras? Or do we have just another electronic 'opium des volks', then how to break in with the material conditions...?
RU: I have no interest in bringing back any nineteenth century philosophers and I consider ideology to be a brain disease. I actually mean that in a literal sense. Ideology causes the brain to reject raw data that doesn't fit into the model the ideology provides for. Only by eschewing ideology and religion and really by engaging in a process of compassionate conceptual nihilism--the annihilation of concept married to an instinctive liberatory humanity--can we respond to the situation at hand. You might call it educated atavism. Having said that, one aspect of the situation at hand is that a lot of my Californian technoculture buddies subscribe to rightlibertarian or anarcho-capitalist beliefs. And I do argue, as Marx did in the 19th Century, that you can't have the withering away of the state until you've eliminated scarcity. Also, particularly in the late 20th Century, you can't have the withering away of the state until you've built other defenses against total rape by the multinationals... but you already know this.
I believe that capitalism ultimately dissolves in the net because of infinite replicability and immateriality. It's an extraordinarily dissipative medium. Indeed, info-capitalism brings itself to its terminal state in some ultimate speed rush where all-at-onceness overwhelms the distinctions necessary to place value on money or to have exchange. When you're in at-onceness, there's no exchange involved. There's only total access and total surveillance. Of course, there's always raw physical power.
Tactically, I suggest that the young be re-seduced against the "employment ethic" here in the US. Not necessarily against work, but against pride in slavery, pride in the sale of self. So perhaps the slacker attitude should be spread. I hate slackers in my personal life. I have a terrible work ethic. I work day in and day out to defeat the work ethic and I resent people who think it's cool to be lazy and unreliable. Funny thing...
2) autonomy of cyberspace
how does the binary world model of inside and outside, mind and body, being on- or offline work together with the idea of 'autonomy'? How can the movements of 60ies, early 80ies, early 90ies get connected to the now. In which mixes could one reach new levels of social intensity. The virtual subject which declares its own law sounds very much like what was known from art, poetry, political fights and psychosis. Should one fight for an independent cyberspace? Which territory is to defend? How to define its borders?
RU: There was a level of idealism to the demands made by radicals in the 1960s around notions of a new radical praxis, and around notions of autonomy within a kind of spontaneous collectivism, that I don't think you will ever see revived because an increasingly complexifying world culture leaves us too contaminated for absolutes. So I'm not really radical, in the purist sense. And I think we would do well to compare the situation wrought by technoculture to current and historical reality, rather than to absolute ideals. Of course, my position is ambiguous rather than oppositional. I'm oppositional towards the power configuration as it exists but not towards the notion of extreme technical revolution. There I'm ambiguously hopeful.
Anyway, I think that the binary or digital model as a kind of eschatology is so limited as to be silly--of course it's Christian... Yet it's something that we have to work with, in terms of computers, in terms of embodiment. It's one model that we have to work with for certain particular problems. It's too bad that we tend to (anthropomorphize) computers. I mean, that's the sort of effluvia of cyberculture that people really enjoy--changing the langauge, and the music, and lifestyle around fetishization of the computer as a kind of persona. I've got to admit that there's an attraction there myself. It's probably related to what historically has been a strategy of reclaiming the language and instruments of your oppression by sort of ironically embracing and aestheticising it. Although I wouldn't see it only in terms of oppression in this case, maybe oppression/liberation... although both terms are too pompous and absolute.
I'm certainly convinced that embodiment is a problem. Disease is certainly a blow to autonomy, etc. When someone declares his or her autonomy within cyberspace, I'm sure that means just don't fuckin' try to tell me what to do. Which seems to be sort of an American thing, just as our government really moving against that kind of autonomy in the most vulgar sort of way is also an American thing. So the territory and the border to defend is the border of one's words, one's fingertips, one's actions. Don't tell me what to say. Don't tell me what to put inside my body. Don't tell me how to fuck. Very simple stuff. Of course, this is all contaminated. On a deeper level, we are told what to say by language, socialization, and there is probably some value in being aware of ourselves as biological robots. We certainly didn't invent our biology, the physical environment that we find ourselves in, the rules by which it operates.
So we generate worlds where we do make the rules. Oh, I see the next question is, in fact, about "virtual life."
3) virtual life
the life metaphor is very hip, information becomes part of a natural law, technology part of evolution, the whole technique becomes more like a pet and all kinds of Darwinisms are discussable again, one is trying to bring together machine and body -- but who profits, in which interests? You are using a more wild metaphoric of life, is there a possiblitity to enforce a techno-vitalism in the interests of bodies, pleasure and wealth for all, or whatever model of life is the perfect one in your perspective, today?
RU: This question of vitalism is a very good one. The possibility for cyborg liberation--for an interpenetration between humans and machines, artificial life forms, nanotechnology ad infinitum--in a way that wildly expands human freedoms--to jump like a kangaroo, see like a bee, live a million years, change sexes, get ripped on drugs without physical deterioration--all of these things look to be becoming possible. But what I see in front of me is not a people being vitalized and dynamic. What I see is people diligently working on the machines that will replace them. It is really a time of people being distressed and disappointed with the species while at the same time being excited and awed by the technology we've created.
In this environment, philosophies of artificial superiority like those of Minsky and Hans Moravek are gaining a lot of credence. As for who profits, well, what Arthur Kroker calls the virtual class profits from a propoganda campaign to make us see ourselves as replaceable biological units going about the great work of building the perfect artifice. The wired elite would like us to accept our superflousness as not only natural but unimportant. That's why I remain sort of old fashioned in clinging to a kind of vitalist romantic instinctivist core. I find something a little bit strange about the kind of post-ego, post-rave, twenty-something media gulch kids that I party with sometimes here in San Francisco. They're smart, sweet, and light. But there's no intense rebellion. And so, they're not vital.
4) the future of the future
future is an overhyped term, do you think we will stop talking about it? what is your favorite time model at the moment? how we can avoid the redundant and selffulfilling rhetorics of 'this is your future, adapt or die', of Zeitgeist economy, and the media policies of bundling imagination. How one could subvert a Wired future and the Net.Prawda role of this mag? Btw, what are your plans, books, projects?
RU: Future is an overhyped term. So we should be here now? I think that we would be mistaken to underestimate the speed and density of change being wrought by technical revolution. And I think that there is the sense, for anybody paying attention, that we are in motion. We're not in homeostasis. We're in process. We're molting. And that process is necessarily goal oriented. There is--if not an end point--some point where things will suddenly be obviously different. That's very much real. Cyborgization, nanotechnology--- these things have arrived already but they're also in process of intensification. As far as adapt or die goes, we need to marry the conceptual nihilism necessary for human adaptability to rapid technical change to an instinctive liberatory humanity. So we engage--rather than oppose--this technical zeitgeist and demand that it's first goals be to make life materially better for everybody. Period. You will get a better human response to the annihilation of social and identity certainties if material uncertainty is eliminated or greatly reduced. If you follow that around the block a few times, you can come up with an argument that can engage ethologists and social Darwinists on their own terms.
5) tactics, tools and weapons
it seems that the more implicit tactics, the invisible activities, the strategic events and symbolic fights get a new potential when combined with the war machine of 'The Net'. Are counternetworks, hackers, code warriors more than a myth for the disappointed emancipatory movements and are there some examples to give? Does 'culture' function as a new kind of thing to fight for? If the state is not 'the enemy' any more but transnational corporate structure, than with which kind of knowledge, which kind of competence does one need for such fights?
RU: The myth of the hacker, the electronic guerrilla, provides a countervaling influence to the myth of total surveillance and control. The myth and the actuality of hacking, counternetworks etc. are the smallest chink in the armor of the national security state and the multinational security demi-states, but these are all, in a sense the games of boys with toys. It all kind of operates on the spy vs. spy warfare model.
But I think electronic guerrilla warfare could be effective as a kind of attention-getting, heroic, propoganda that would bring attention to a sophisticated post-scarcity, pro-freedom, compassionate political analyses if it's directed with great skill and precision. I'm not sure exactly how to get to that point.
We should be careful about strategies for "defeating" the transnational corporate structures. These things really are enormous parasitic life forms. If they die badly, they will kill off the host. So there has to be a strategy of incorporation. Former revolutionists siezed the state apparatus. Despite the rush to virtuality, there's still a window of opportunity to sieze the corporate structures through popular revolution, although you must realize that this will only be in the service of an agreeable compromise not some sixties vision of autonomous collectives or total economic democracy. But the structure can be attacked. Everybody sort of assumes that the structure is too amorphous and can't be attacked. I think the structures are actually less well defended than those of the nation states and that this whole notion of invincibility through invisibility and distributedness of the ever mutating corporate oligarchy might be a paper tiger. For the moment.
The book "How to Mutate and Take Over the World" by R. U. Sirius, St. Jude and the Internet 21 just published by Ballantine Books