t byfield on Wed, 18 Nov 2009 19:05:16 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Phil Agre's gone missing

Very sad. And very strange that he's been missing since "2008/2009":


On another list, someone pointed out this writing of Agre's, which 
he described as a cri de coeur, from late '98:

     I don't normally get emotional about political issues.  I don't
     know why, but I don't.  Nonetheless, in October 1997 I heard
     something that I found so disturbing that I haven't been able to
     write about it until now.  At the Telecommunications Policy
     Research Conference, the conference organizers put together a
     plenary panel presentation about so-called cyber war.  The
     presenters were all US military guys, both officers and military
     academy intellectuals, who have developed what is apparently an
     entirely new US military doctrine for the cyber world.  I judged
     these guys to be honest about their reasoning, and I was hardly
     alone in finding everything they said to be astonishing.


     That's bad enough, but it's just the start.  In the new world,
     the military guys said, warfare is no longer conducted along
     borders and boundaries, with front lines and supply lines and all
     of that. Warfare, in fact, can no longer be comprehended in
     spatial terms. To the contrary, in a world where communications
     infrastructure is everywhere and every element of communications
     infrastructure is a sensitive military target, war has no spatial
     limits.  And when terrorists can use public communications
     networks to conduct endless low-level attacks anywhere in the
     world from anywhere else in the world, war has no temporal limits
     -- they actually used the phrase "permanent war".

And more:

     War, on these guys' conception, is now conducted in every aspect
     of society.  Foreign manipulation of the content of American news
     media, for example, is "cultural war".  Taken all together, the
     result is -- and this is their term -- "total war". You might
     have thought that the Soviet Union had fallen, that the United
     States was by far the greatest military power on earth, that the
     heavy cloud of the Cold War had lifted, and that it was time for
     the United States to stand down from its total mobilization,
     disband the national security state, end the culture of secrecy,
     reshape the military in some reasonable proportion to its
     plausible adversaries, and get to work on the rest of society's
     problems.  You might think all of that, but you would be wrong.
     In the world of the Internet, it would seem, things have only
     gotten worse.  We are now in a world of permanent, total,
     omnipresent, pervasive war.  Cold War plus plus: all war, all the
     time.  They said this.

     The military guys' view of the emerging nature of war has
     numerous consequences, and they spelled some of them out.  They
     stated, for example, that in the event of war it would create no
     precedent for the government to take control of facilities that
     are sensitive from a military perspective.  But they asserted
     that war is no longer an event but a permanent state, and they
     had also asserted that virtually the entire productive
     infrastructure of the country was relevant to war as it is now
     defined.  During the question period, therefore, I asked them
     where the boundary between military and non-military facilities
     could be found, and they answered, with seemingly genuine
     distress, that the boundary does not exist.  The consequence,
     which they did not spell out, is that the emerging economics of
     information infrastructure have required the United States
     government to adopt as official policy an authoritarian variety
     of communism.

The whole thing's well worth reading, as is just about everything
Agre wrote:


And that was eleven years ago. For context, it's also worth a glance
of what was afoot on this list at the time:


Naturally, my eye was drawn to the two messages I sent:


As Vuk used to say: bingo.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between individual
biographies and the mood of the broad trends and discourses that people
recognize and articulate. I hope that Agre doesn't turn out to be a victim
of his own formidable intelligence; he wouldn't be the first, and he
certainly won't be the last in the coming years.

Not cheers,

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