Date sent: Thu, 20 Jun 96 00:17 MDT
From: Pit Schultz
Subject: nettime: Electronic Civil Disobedience - Critical Art Ensemble - 2/2

Do centralized programs still have a role in this resistance? Centralized organizations have three functions. The first is to distribute information. Consciousness raising and spectacle production should be carried out by centralized counter- bureaucracies. Cash and labor pools are needed in order to research, construct, design, and distribute information contrary to the aims of the state. The second function is for recruitment and training. It cannot be emphasized enough that there must be more bases for training technologically literate people. To rely only on the chance that enough people will have the right inclination and aptitude to become technically- literate resisters means that there will be a shortage of resistant technocrats to fill the cellular ranks, and that the sociological base for the technocratic resistance will not be broad enough. (If technical education continues to be distributed as it is today, the attack on authority will be horribly skewed in favor of a select group of issues). Finally, centralized organizations can act as consultants on the off chance that an authoritarian institution has decided to reform itself in some way. This can happen in a realistic sense, not because of an corporate-military ideological shift, but because it would be cheaper to reform than to continue the battle. The authoritarian fetish for efficiency is an ally that cannot be underestimated.

All that centralized organizations must do-in a negative sense- is to stay out of direct action. Leave confrontation to the cells. Infiltrating cellular activity is very difficult, unlike infiltrating centralized structures. (This is not to say that cellular activities are difficult to monitor, although the degree of difficulty does rise as more cells proliferate). If the cells are working in double blind activities in a large enough number, and are effective in and of themselves, authority can be challenged. The fundamental strategy for resistance remains the same-appropriate authoritarian means and turn them against themselves. However, for this strategy to take on meaning, resistance-like power-must withdraw from the street. Cyberspace as a location and apparatus for resistance has yet to be realized. Now is the time to bring a new model of resistant practice into action.

Addendum: The New Avant-Garde

CAE fears that some of our readers might be getting a bit squeamish about the use of the term "avant-garde" in the above essay. After all, an avalanche of literature from very fine postmodern critics has for the past two decades consistently told us that the avant-garde is dead and has been placed in a suitable resting plot in the Modernist cemetery alongside its siblings, originality and the author. In the case of the avant- garde, however, perhaps a magic elixir exists that can reanimate this corpse. The notion has decayed quite a bit, so one would not expect this zombie to look as it once did, but it may still have a place in the world of the living.

The avant-garde today cannot be the mythic entity it once was. No longer can we believe that artists, revolutionaries, and visionaries are able to step outside of culture to catch a glimpse of the necessities of history as well as the future. Nor would it be realistic to think that a party of individuals of enlightened social consciousness (beyond ideology) has arrived to lead the people into a glorious tomorrow. However, a less appealing (in the utopian sense) form of the avant-garde does exist. To simplify the matter, let us assume that within the present social context, there are individuals who object to various authoritarian institutions, and each has allied h/erself with other individuals based on identification solidarity (race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, gender, religion, political beliefs, etc.) to form groups/organizations to combat the mechanisms and institutions that are deemed oppressive, repressive, exploitive, and so on. From a theoretical perspective, each of these alliances has a contestational role to play that should be respected and appreciated; however, in terms of practice, there is no basis to view them all as equals. Unquestionably, some groups will have greater resource power than others; that is, some will have greater access to wealth, prestige, hardware, education, and technical skills. Typically, the greater the resources, the greater the effect the group can have. However, the configuration of access in conjunction with the groups' placement along political, numerical, and spatial/geographic continuums will also greatly alter the effectiveness of the group. (A full catalogue of possibilities cannot be listed within the parameters of this discussion). For example, a large, very visible group that is on the radical fringe, which works to change national policy, and which has reasonably good access to resources will also receive stiff counter-resistance from the state, thereby neutralizing its potential power. The rapid destruction of the Black Panther Party by the FBI is an example of this vulnerability. A relatively large liberal group with strong resources that acts locally will receive less counter-resistance. (Hence the misguided belief that if everyone acts locally for reform, policy will change globally and peacefully. Unfortunately local action does not affect global or national policies, since the sum of local issues does not equal national issues). For example, an alliance of various green groups in North Florida has been very successful at keeping oil companies off the Gulf coast line and protecting the local national forests and preserves from logging companies and land speculators; however, such success is by no means representative of the national or international situation in regard to the Green movement.

Then what kind of group configuration *will* gain the most far- ranging results, in terms of disturbing the political/cultural landscape? This is the question that CAE tried to answer in this essay. To repeat: cellular constructions aimed at information disruption in cyberspace. The problem is access. The education and technical skills needed are not widely distributed, and moreover are monopolized (though not through individual intentionality) by a very specific group (young white men). Education activists should be and in many cases are working as hard as possible to correct this problem of access, even though it does seem almost insurmountable. At the same time, contestational forces cannot wait to act until this access problem is corrected. Only in theory can we live by what ought to be; in practice we must work in terms of what is. Those who are trained and ready now need to start building the model of electronic resistance. Those who are ready and willing to begin to form the models of electronic resistance in the new frontier of cyberspace are the ones CAE views as a new avant- garde.

The technocratic avant-garde offers one slim hope of effective resistance on a national and international scale; and, in its favor, in terms of efficiency, and unlike its Modernist predecessors, the intelligentsia, this group does not have to organize "the people." Much like the problems of resource access, this necessity or desire has always bothered the forces of democracy. Avant-gardism is grounded in the dangerous notion that there exists an elite class possessing enlightened consciousness. The fear that one tyrant will simply be replaced by another is what makes avant-gardism so suspect among egalitarians, who in turn always return to more inclusive local strategies. While CAE does not want to discourage or disparage the many possible configurations of (democratic) resistance, the only groups that will successfully confront power are those that locate the arena of contestation in cyberspace, and hence an elite force seems to be the best possibility. The increased success of local and regional resistant configurations, in part, depends upon the success of the avant-garde in the causal domain of the virtual. As for "enlightened consciousness," CAE believes blind groping is a more accurate description. Avant- gardism is a gamble, and the odds are not good, but at present, it's the only game in town.

Addendum II:
A Note on Absence, Terror, and Nomadic Resistance

In *The Electronic Disturbance*, CAE argued that a major change in the representation of power had occurred over the past twenty years. Power once represented itself as a visible sedentary force through various types of spectacle (media, architecture, etc.), but it has instead retreated into cyberspace where it can nomadically wander the globe, always absent to counterforces, always present whenever and wherever opportunity knocks. In "Electronic Civil Disobedience," CAE notes that for every strategy there is a counter-strategy. Since cyberspace is accessible to all of the technocratic class, the resistant within this class can also use nomadic strategies and tactics. Indeed, the primary concern among the military/corporate cyber police (Computer Emergency Response Team, the Secret Service, and the FBI's National Computer Crime Squad) is that nomadic strategy and tactics are being employed at this very moment by contestational groups and individuals (in the words of authority, "criminal" groups). The cyberpolice and their elite masters are living under the sign of virtual catastrophe (that is, anticipating the electronic disaster that *could* happen) in much the same way that the oppressed have lived under the signs of virtual war (the war that we are forever preparing for but never comes) and virtual surveillance (the knowledge that we may be watched by the eye of authority).

The current wave of paranoia began in early 1994 with the discovery of "sniffer" programs. Apparently some adept crackers are collecting passwords for unknown purposes. The reaction of the cyberpolice was predictable: They are convinced that this could only be done for criminal intent. Of prime concern is the development of the tactic of data hostaging, where criminals hold precious research data for ransom. Motivations for such an activity are construed solely as criminal. (This is typical of US policy-criminalize alternative political action, arrest the guilty, and then claim with a clear conscience that the US has no political prisoners). CERT, the FBI, and the SS seem convinced that teen crackers have matured and are evolving past information curiosity into information criminality. But something else of greater interest is beginning to occur. The terror of nomadic power is being exposed. The global elite are having to look into the mirror and see their strategies turned against them-terror reflecting back on itself. The threat is a virtual one. There could be cells of crackers hovering unseen, yet poised for a coordinated attack on the net-not to attack a particular institution, but to attack the net itself (which is to say, the world). A coordinated attack on the routers could bring down the whole electronic power apparatus. The vulnerability of the cyber apparatus is known, and now the sign of virtual catastrophe tortures those who created it. As James C. Settle, founder and head of the FBI's National Computer Crime Squad, has said: "I don't think the stuff we are *seeing* is the stuff we need to be worried about. What that activity we do see is indicative of, however, is that we have a really big problem.... Something is cooking but no one really knows what." The motto of the sight machine reverberates out of Settle's rhetoric: "If I can see it, it's already dead." At the same time, the opposite-what Settle calls "the dark side"-is out there, planning and scheming. Nomadic power has created its own nemesis-its own image. This brings up the possibility that as a tactic for exposing the nature of nomadic power, ECD is already outdated without having ever been tried. No real "illegal" action needs to be taken. From the point of view of traditional terrorism, action that can reveal the cruelty of nomadic power need only exist in hyperreality, that is, as activities that merely indicate a possibility of electronic disaster. From this moment forward, strategies of the hyperreal will have to be downgraded into the real, meaning the technocratic class (those with the skill to mount a powerful resistance) will have to *act* on behalf of liberation from electronic control under the nomadic elite. The reason: They are not going to have a choice. Since the individuals in this class are the agents of vulnerability within the realm of cyberspace, repression in this class will be formidable. Since "the dark side" has no image, the police state will have no problem inscribing it with its own paranoid projections, thus doubling the amounts of repression, and pushing the situation into a McCarthyist frenzy. To be sure, each technocrat will be paid well to sell h/er sovereignty, but CAE finds it hard to believe that all will live happily under the microscope of repression and accusation. There will always be a healthy contingent who will want to die free rather than live constrained and controlled in a golden prison.

A second problem for nomadic power, as it finds itself suddenly caught in the predicament of sedentary visibility and geographic space, is that not only could an attack on cyberspace bring about the collapse of the apparatus of power, but the possibility also exists for attacking particular domains. This means that ECD could be used effectively. Even though nomadic power has avoided the possibility of a theater of operations emerging contrary to its needs and goals in physical space, once a resistant group enters cyberspace, elite domains can be found and placed under siege.

Whether or not the barbarian hordes-the true nomads of cyberspace-are ready to sweep through the orderly domains of electronic civilization remains to be seen. (If the hordes do their jobs well, they never *will* be seen. The domains will not report them, as they cannot expose their own insecurity, in much the same way a failing bank will not make its debts public). The hordes do have one advantage: They are without a domain, completely deterritorialized, and invisible. In the realm of the invisible what's real and what's hyperreal? Not even the police state knows for sure.