sebastian on Tue, 22 Mar 2016 15:33:01 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> notes from the DIEM25 launch

I wasn't in Europe at the time, so I didn't attend the DiEM25 launch. From 
afar, it sounded like a typical Volksb??hne event (1). But I wasn't there, and 
so I forgot about it again. Reading about it now though, it all sounds a bit 
like a joke.

Lets start with the name. I have no idea what it stands for, and I didn't look 
it up. "D" and "E" could be Democracy and Europe, but what do I know. At least 
once, they're using the term as part of "carpe diem" (YOLO avant la lettre), 
which is, to put it mildly, a truism. What makes it look fraudulent is the 
bizarre capitaliztion. And what makes it look scary is the 25. I assume it 
refers to the year 2025 - and not to the 25th century, or the young generation. 
But I have no idea why (2). All I know is that for those whose ears are still 
ringing with Agenda 2010 or Stuttgart 21, this is one of the most annoying 
names they could have come up with.

Then I went to the website. It plays music without asking me. Not immediately, 
but once it's done loading wp-emoji and font-awesome and jQuery and ThemePunch 
Revolution and handlebars and flexslider and nanoscroller and prettySocial, 
followed by backbone and underscore and some more wordpress junk, music will 
begin to autoplay. Apparently Brian Eno made it. It's pretty bad though. The 
first actual content that loads says: "We use cookies to personalise content 
and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also 
share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising 
and analytics partners. [More info] [Accept]" I really don't know. I just don't 
think that this is a first impression that anyone would ever want to make.

But the website also has the manifesto. Long version or short version? Turns 
out the long version is too short and the short version is too long. I didn't 
bother to do a proper diff, but some of the changes, like the variations in 
what's bold and what's not, struck me as a little odd. Anyway. Both begin with 
a statement that I think is important to make. It says: "For all their concerns 
with global competitiveness, migration and terrorism, only one prospect truly 
terrifies the Powers of Europe: Democracy!" And both end with the same list of 
19 aspirational mottos that many people will share, in spirit, but which, in 
writing, are really painful to digest. Somewhere in between, the terror 
promised in the opening must have gotten lost.

Lets be clear: I don't think this movement should be judged by what it writes, 
but by what it does. The problem however, at least up to now, is that a lot of 
what it does is write. Of course, collaborative writing can fail, and that 
doesn't always have to reflect badly on the character of the collaborators. 
Even though, admittedly, it usually does.

So. I'm done with "a historically-minded Europe that seeks a bright future 
without hiding from its past". If my adblocker was just a tiny bit better, it 
would have yelped at this. If my spam filter was just a tiny bit better, I 
would never hear from this movement again.

I'm also done with "recognising fences and borders". Europe doesn't need more 
of this. It's about abolishing them, plain and simple. Because they're not 
"signs of weakness and sources of insecurity" (3). They kill. And even though 
this is a hard sell, at a time when fences are being constructed all over 
Europe, there is no other option. Part of the program of the radical Left in 
Europe must be the abolishment of the Mediterranean Sea. That's at least one 
thing whose existence you cannot blame on weak or insecure border politics.

And I'm done with "a peaceful Europe de-escalating tensions in its 
neighbourhood and beyond". This is precisely, word by word, the mode of 
perception that Deleuze rightfully identified as the Right. And it wouldn't be 
complete without adding insult to injury. Among the many names that Europe has 
come up with for the plantations, mines, battlefields, dumping grounds, 
deserts, jungles, death camps and exotic beaches that lie outside its borders, 
"neighborhood" is the single most preposterous one. Because it suggests 
reciprocity. It's truly obscene (4), unlike "defending our freedom at the Hindu 
Kush" and such, since the latter at least doesn't make it sound as if anyone 
from out there or beyond was invited to defend their own freedom at the Harz in
return (5).

But I'm getting carried away here. Initially, none of this was my concern. And 
as hinted at above, bad manifestos don't automatically make for bad politics. 
The thing that I thought sounded like a joke was in the March 17 "update", as 
posted on nettime:

    "Every initiative needs initiators - even initiatives that seek to embrace
    a flat management, spontaneous order, horizontal organisation way of doing 
    'stuff'. We were hoping to be able to move quickly from the initiation 
    phase (during which a number of us would get DiEM25 together) to the open 
    source phase (where the rest of you would take over and run with it). 
    Unfortunately, our digital platform proved unequal to the task immediately 
    after Berlin. So, we spent a great deal longer than we wanted at the 
    initiation phase.

    We are now close to the moment of the Great Transition (to the open source 
    phase). To the moment when DiEM25 will be able to practise that which it 
    preaches regarding transparency. But before we get there, perhaps it is 
    pertinent to ask everyone: HOW DO YOU SUGGEST WE GO TO THE OPEN SOURCE 
    shall we?"

It's fine to use Open Source as a metaphor, but you have to know that it's 
always going to turn itself against you. It's always going to bite you in the 
end. So no, Open Source does not mean to practice what you preach - the 
preaching comes later, if at all. Open Source is not a phase, it's not 
something you transition to, something that begins once you've fixed your 
"digital platform", inshallah. Open Source is born open. There is no time 
"before we get there", so there's no time for questions. Open Source means to 
commit and to release. And then we're talking. And quite inevitably, we're 
going to be talking a lot about who can or cannot commit to master, who can or 
cannot close or reopen issues, etc. That's politics. But it's Open Source, so 
anyone is free to fork it. And who knows, maybe someone will (6). Of course, 
DiEM25 doesn't know that yet, other than maybe through a faint sense of the 
political possibility of internal fracture, which is a threat, or a risk, or 
some tension in the neighborhood.

Once again though, the capitalization gives it away. What the fuck is the 
"Great Transition"? Hello?! Even the most favorable reading - a tongue-in-cheek 
reference to the Great Leap Forward, indicating that DiEM25 is *not* planning 
to kill 25 million people by going Open Source - is not a very favorable 
reading, really. Because even if it's a joke, it doesn't increase my faith in 
their will to transition.

I remember a party that had formed around a seafaring motif, but never made it 
beyond the shallowest of waters. They called it Liquid Democracy TM (7). The 
new European movement should try to not immediately repeat this charade. Open 
Source is a fetish here. The reference to it communicates nothing but the 
desire to cybernetically manage a social and political process, by way of 
technology that none of the protagonists understands or gives a shit about. And 
why should they? Because the labor of separation is grounded in the separation 
of labor, in other words: If your movement falls apart, the first sign is 
usually that you urgently have to delegate some stuff related to your website, 
or something about "Open Source".

And if you totally have to plunder Free Software metaphors, then I really don't 
understand why they don't just make Varoufakis BDFL. It's not the worst 
organizational model, and I actually still think the guy deserves some, um, 
credit. Seriously, I'm willing to forgive him this pile of junk that has his 
name all over it, and his face all over it (8). Why am I willing to? Because I 
think that his initial proposal had something to it. What was it? That the 
remaining task for the radical Left in Europe today is to save capitalism. And 
not just from itself, but, and increasingly so, from fascism. I'd be on board 
for that, since I think the question of fascism in Europe is still not decided. 
It's a 40% yes. So you're not going to want to sit out many more cycles of 
"crisis", just to find out what the European Left has to gain from a collapse 
of the European economy. If the question is fascism or barbarism, then maybe 
Varoufakis is right, and our time is best spent by trying to remind our 
barbarian opponents of the mutual benefits of civilization.

At least I'd find that more urgent, but also more promising, than what appears 
to be the main goal of this movement, namely: "transparency". The fight for 
transparency has already produced its own genealogy of martyrs - Chelsea 
Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden - and their sacrifices have actually 
demonstrated something. Which is that a particular, century-old bond, one of 
the core mechanisms of enlightenment, appears to be broken. The fact that we 
know stuff seems to no longer enable us to change stuff. And it's not just a 
case of "commodified knowledge without use value", or "the leak as spectacle", 
or just the Guardian's fault. The problem runs much deeper than that. No-one 
can really explain why, but in the societies of control, knowledge no longer 
equals empowerment. At the same time, access to information and data 
processing, i.e. real time social media firehose plus neural networks, promises 
absolute power (modulo the still prohibitive costs of the police state required 
to fully exercise it, even though a lot of executive power can and will be 
automated). Does anyone really think that maximal transparency through 
voluntary self-surveillance - which is what an "Open Source" political movement 
proposes - is a good idea in this context? Did we reach consensus that "Open 
Source" is the default mode of organization for progressive politics, and that 
top-down transparency will be achieved by means of bottom-up transparency? (9)

My last point is about the failure modes of these two agendas. If you fail to 
create sufficient transparency, you will most likely never notice it. If you 
fail to defend society against fascism, you will.

(1) For non-Berliners: Volksb??hne is famous for its unique blend of critical 
    events, usually a very majoritarian political theater of the minorities.

(2) Anders Breivik titled his manifesto "2083". It was a much better title, 
    because it clearly communicated the scope of his operation.

(3) Of course you can say that they are, just like you can say that holding 
    slaves makes you look weak, or that murdering civilians creates insecurity. 
    It is still insulting.

(4) Just because you're so lucky to live inside a gated community, it doesn't 
    mean you're not required to at least retain some grace. And you retain that 
    by shutting up, not by fantasizing about the "social fabric" of your city.

(5) At the same time, just geographically, Europe would be a perfect place for 
    the mode of perception that is the Left. Simply because Europe is not a 
    geographical entity. There are 20 miles of Bosphorus that everyone can kind 
    of agree on, but other than that, Europe has no borders. You have to see 
    Europe outside-in, and you can. A European Left would know more about 

(6) Actually, someone should do it immediately. It can be parody, it can be a 
    joke, that's not a bad thing. Fork it as DAiM24 (24 is a much better number 
    than 25!), try to get sued for trademark infringement by Kraft, ride on a 
    huge wave of free publicity. Do something confusing. And don't forget that 
    you're doing the master branch a service. It can only get better by having
    to deal with this.

(7) "Die Leute sind so selbstbewu??t, selbstsicher und gut aufgelegt. Sie 
    beherrschen die Stra??e und meinen darum, da?? sie die Welt beherrschen. In
    Wirklichkeit irren sie sich doch. Hinter ihnen sind schon sie Sekret??re,
    Beamten, Berufspolitiker, alle die modernen Sultane, denen sie den Weg zur
    Macht bereiten... Je weiter sich eine ??berschwemmung ausbreitet, umso 
    seichter und tr??ber wird das Wasser. Die Revolution verdampft, und es
    bleibt nur der Schlamm einer neuen B??rokratie. Die Fesseln der gequ??lten
    Menschheit sind aus Kanzleipapier." (Franz Kafka)

(8) - wrong motif, 
    wrong framing, wrong composition, wrong depth of field, wrong image
    format... lets just admit this is wrong, ok?

(9) Do we know this? Do we have data on this?

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