jesse hirsh on 2 Dec 2000 02:25:25 -0000


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<nettime> The Battle of the Three Letter Acronyms



(re-released for the anniversary of that thing that happened in seattle)

The Battle of the Three Letter Acronyms
By Jesse Hirsh jesse@tao.ca

Delivered at Tulipomania Conference
At De Balie June 2nd Amsterdam Netherlands

Preface:

This was a talk I gave to a conference organized by Eric Kluitenberg,
Geert Lovink and the Nettime networks focused on deconstructing the hype
and generating a critique around the new economy and all of its trappings.
My presentation was part of a panel moderated by my colleague and friend
Felix Stalder that examined alternative (political and cultural)
strategies to the dominant forms of network organizing.

Contents:
Introduction
The Better Built Mouse Trap
White Noise
The Shell Game
The Work is Fast but the Organizing is Slow
We Are The Internet


Introduction

We're here at this conference to discuss and critique the "New Economy",
which has best been described as the virtualization of material reality,
making immaterial the basis for social and economic life. The panel that I
have been asked to participate in seeks to explore alternative strategies
to this regime, explicitly in my case, the manifestation of
anti-capitalist movements in North America.

I work with an organization called TAO Communications, which arose out of
Toronto in the early stages of this so-called "New Economy" and due to the
fetishization of the "new" we quickly embraced something very old: the
anti-authoritarian revolutionary holism of Taoist politics. We found it an
appropriate cultural body from which to understand the emerging network
society.

The New Economy is about Glocalization, the more global our perceptions
and relations become, the more localized our conditions and sensations
remain. In this regard it is a mutually reinforcing effect. The Internet
does not exist. Instead it is the shift to a Network Society that is
driving the changes our world is experiencing. The displacements and
reconfigurations we're experiencing are a result of what can be termed
Informational Capitalism, as the basis of our political economy shifts
from Industrial to Informational means of production. What is "old" exists
within a mutually contracting and expanding shell of the "new".
Co-existence marks our time in history, as new modalities emerge alongside
the preservation and reinforcement of the old. New network cultures
flourish as fundamentalism marks and in many cases protects existing and
in some cases ancient cultures.

In a society where the culture is trying to make the material immaterial
TAO Communications seeks to make the immaterial material. In this we
mobilized the virtuality of the Networks to serve the material reality of
our locality, and in time, replicated this model of local media
(collective) organizing. My own perspective comes from Toronto, as a North
American communications center. On the one hand we're fighting local and
provincial tyranny, and on the other hand we're involved in broader
continental struggles against neo-liberalism and transnational capital.

However as I speak to you here, the resources and energy of the North
American movement have been mobilized for the Battle of the Three Letter
Acronyms. There are so many it is hard to keep track of them all. On one
side we have the WTO, IMF, OAS, USA, CIA, and the FBI, and on the other
the AFL-CIO, DAN, PGA, IMC to name some of the more notorious.


The Better Built Mouse Trap

What we find in this Battle is a jihad, a clash of faiths, rather than a
genuine political economic struggle. The focus is on media (and movement)
spin and tactics, rather than long-term strategy and structure (for a
better society and economic relations).

The body of this movement is mythology, and the core of the mythology is
the Internet itself. The primary myth that unites both sides of this
conflict is the belief in consensus over the Internet. Email organizing is
central to the organizing of either body, whether it is the bureaucracy of
the WTO and IMF or the email lists of the DAN, PGA, or similar group.

The Battle of the 3 Letter Acronyms, whether in Seattle, DC, or any of the
many spin-offs, has been more of a carnival, marked by mass attempts of
direct action, met with massive mobilizations of state security forces,
covered on both sides by excessive media spin and propaganda. In the end
what becomes clear is that the name of the game is containment, with
either side trying to surround their opponent with the myths and messages
of their respective movements or institutions.

In returning to the myth of the Internet, one can see that in fact it is
the super-structure of the containment mechanism that frames these
phenomena. If anything, the message of the new economy, and the purpose of
the Internet myth itself are to contain and hold everything and anything
within itself.

Imagine it as the "better built mousetrap" if you will. Except that in
this instance, the trap is immateriality, with the myth encompassing the
material reality and the networks themselves transcending the actual
actions or institutional meetings.

An example that articulates this dynamic was an action that took place in
late January 1998 in Toronto. Nearing the end of a one-day student strike,
radical (anarchist and socialist) members of the protest decided to
spontaneously occupy the foyer of the headquarters of one of Canada's
largest Banking institutions (http://toronto.tao.ca/cibc/). While this
action caught nearly everyone by surprise, including the organizers of the
student strike, the police or the Bank itself did not respond with any
violence or immediate move to eject the occupiers. In fact, the Bank,
ending up paying $40/hr for each Police Officer who stayed overnight, when
otherwise the Police would have most likely ended the protest with arrests
and beatings.

The next day the Bank issued a statement saying they supported the
students struggle against the Government, and similarly, the Government
issued a statement saying they supported the students campaign against the
Banks. It seemed that both sides were playing the spin so as to make it
seem they were with the students.

Yet here were the students occupying the supposed centre of Canadian
capital? Unfortunately the capital was not there, and in its place, was an
empty foyer, that could easily accommodate a bunch of anarchists and
students willing to stay the night. Indeed the immateriality of money had
created a hollow shell of a Bank, where power could easily spin itself out
of harmís way, and leave the material world for those willing to spend a
night in a glass box, guarded by $40/hr officers.


White Noise

The focus is on the immaterial. Institutions like the WTO and the IMF
implement policies with impacts well removed from either their intent or
authors. Similarly groups like DAN and PGA focus on pragmatic and broad
campaigns that appeal to many, but over the long term achieve relatively
little in the face of the power and mobility of transnational capital
flows which dominante the nanoseconds of each and everyday.

One of the primary consequences of this, in the case of DAN in North
America, is the ethno-socio-economic makeup of their members. While people
of colour tend to be by far those who experience the most devastating
aspects of globalized capitalism, most members of groups like DAN tend to
be fairly well educated middle class "white" kids. Is this a new kind of
"noblesse oblige"? What kind of mechanisms do groups like DAN employ in
terms of conducting outreach or identifying and selecting the targets for
their actions and campaigns?

Compare this with the notorious unresponsiveness of the large multilateral
institutions, which have historically been criticized for only
representing the narrow interests of a global elite. How does the IMF and
World Bank set its policies and choose its priorities?

Part of the problem is being able to see the bigger picture. Corporate
media may be concentrating and homogenizing a vision of globalization that
excludes genuine narratives and stories, but alternative and independent
media are themselves guilty of similar mistakes in depicting what is
actually transpiring and what is relevant to our struggles.

The problem is white noise. Information overload is actually an easy thing
to avoid, but it seems nobody is willing to take the necessary measures to
effectively cut through the crap and draw out the context necessary for
political and economic cognition and strategizing.

We need to focus on the editorial and contextual flows that describe our
struggles because the open flows of the computer networks that currently
govern our communications are just too overwhelming for effective
organizing. Context and relevance are extraordinarily important
characteristics that need to be developed, in order to contrast to the
romantic American notions of free speech as lack of editorial control.
While the corporate media takes great care to protect and contain that
which they allow to flow, the rest of us drown in the vast openness and
cacophony of Internet euphoria.


The Shell Game

The Battle of the 3 Letter Acronyms is part of the larger shell game that
is the volatile and hyperactive global capital markets. From the likes of
billion-dollar capital institutions to the whims of manic day-traders
everyone ponders, "Where's the Money?" Its become an accepted fact that
with the fluidity and mobility of capital, companies, industries, and even
countries, can rise and fall in a matter of hours, as valuations and
resources travel based on the perception of power and potential. However
behind this manic logic lies a genuine and material reality that is
disguised, if not obscured by the dominance of the culture of
immateriality.

The Internet may be a myth, but the material reality behind it, the nut
under the shell if you will, is indeed the telecommunications industry,
and its rapid conglomeration. While the Internet is offered as the magical
utopia of all promise and peril, telecommunications infrastructure
actually provides the means by which these dreams and domains actually
exist.

Given the recent configuration of the American telecommunications
industry, and its manic merger activity, it would be safe to actually call
the Internet: America OnLine. I mean what is the Internet but a
hyper-projected image of the American Dream (Nightmare). Everyone wants to
get to the Internet, just as people from all over the world want to get to
America. The supposed land of freedom, the mythical free market economy,
the world of riches and excess. Whether Roman Empire resurrected or New
World reinvented, the vision of America OnLine is not only an Imperial
nightmare, but more importantly an immaterial depiction of a very real
(material) military prison industrial complex driven by a religion of
technology and obsession with entertainment.


The Work is Fast but the Organizing is Slow

TAO Communications, and the world of tao.ca has arisen as a counter power
to this Empire, organizing labor and social networks while building
alternative network infrastructure for genuine political, social, and
economic change. Our activities revolve around making the immaterial,
material.

We sought to actualize the Internet (Network Society) via access and
literacy, not of technology but of social and political networks: the real
(material) Internet.

We plunged directly into the "Gift Economy" starting with labour,
hardware, bandwidth, and code (open source free software), and focused
these resources on political and social activism.

We found it relatively easy to drop GNU/Linux systems into the networks,
and as a result, a considerable amount of North American organizing
happens over the tao.ca networks, in addition to groups from all over the
world. This primarily manifests as email lists, but we offer all types of
network facilities that we can, including web, email, chat, databases,
other network-based media. With that said our primary resource that people
come to us for our own political and social networks. We provide the
infrastructure that brings movements and groups together across time and
space.

In this regard it is important to strongly note, that we are not an
Internet Service Provider (ISP) and never were. We do not charge for
access, and have always upheld article 19 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, taking it one step further to say that all communications
facilities should always be free:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right
includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and seek, receive
and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of
frontiers."

Personally I see network communications as an aspect of cognition, and the
sheer idea of paying for access to me is an equation of paying to use the
cognitive abilities of one's mind. I've always regarded computer networks
as externalized cognitive facilities, which to pay for, would be in my
opinion, the ultimate in bondage and slavery. Paying for the labour behind
it however is something completely different.

As regard to tao.ca, we have regulated access to our communications
facilities and political networks via a membership system that is
essentially based on solidarity, which asks that each new member adopt
rights and responsibilities that contribute to the larger whole. As an
anarcho-syndicalist international network formation, we practice
revolutionary holism.

We use as our statement of unity a modified version of the Black Panther
10-point program that has been changed so as to be anti-authoritarian and
international. With the 10pp we occupy space and make revolutionary
demands. We use the immaterial Internet to bring together material
political and social networks.

Power in our organization is localized, focused on solidarity and
diversity, working with groups like the IWW (Industrial Workers of the
World), ARA (Anti-Racist Action), and the BRC (Black Radical Congress).
While we initially got started supporting alternative media movements such
as micropower (pirate) radio broadcasting, we're involved in supporting
and working with different cultural movements such as KEEP (Korean
Diaspora), and ANALAI (Tamil Diaspora), and LACAR (Latinos Against
Racism). We've also been instrumental in establishing successful
alternative news services such as A-Infos the International Anarchist News
Service.

While after five years of organizing it may seem like we have become a
large and infectious organization, the only way to learn about us is via
face-to-face exchange. The only way to catch our virus is to be infected
by an existing member. We are constantly flooded by requests for help and
access to our networks, as we are one of the only worker-run member
controlled network facilities in the world, and hence the demands and
stress placed upon our organization are substantial. While we have been
able to inspire and in some cases literally help establish similar
organizations and structures elsewhere in the world, we do not represent
established organizations like big-labour or large NGOs. In this regard,
the resources are scarce, and the available channels of support limited.
We are the rank-and-file of the movement against capital.


We are the Internet

If the Internet does indeed exist, we are it, and the various 3 letter
acronyms are trying to capture us for purposes of integration and
neutralization.

We are half of the power behind the scenes, the forces outside of the
spectacle that manifests as the Battle of the 3 Letter Acronyms. The other
half however is the emerging glocalized state held up by transnational
capital, which is distributed, volatile, brutally violent, and contrary to
what is depicted in the mythology: materialist if not fundamentalist.

While most people pay attention to and try to play the Carnival of the
Shell Game, we're involved in the real struggle. The struggle to defend
against the attack on the poor, the rising tides of xenophobia, and the
fear that comes with the displacement of rapid technological change
(induced by expansive Informational Capitalism).

It is time to stand and defend our selves by any means necessary. While
this may not always be on the streets, it is always in social networks.

-30-




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