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<nettime> Liberation: Sometimes there is a deep truth in rumors (Konrad Becker interview)

[Another fine translation brough to you by Google translate.]

By Frédérique Roussel

- February 8, 2017 at 17:36

Austrian researcher Konrad Becker, whose "Tactical Reality Dictionary"
has just been translated into French, discusses the concepts of
rationality and propaganda in the digital era.

Konrad Becker, born in 1959, a Viennese artist and hacktivist, founded
the Institute for New Culture Technologies in 1993, which organized the
major international event World-Information (1) from 2000. He defined
the concept of "Cultural intelligence", foreshadowing WikiLeaks. A
hypermedia researcher, he developed a theoretical approach based on the
Tactical Reality Dictionary  (2002), whose translation into French is
now a small event. For the last fifteen years, Konrad Becker has been
questioning information environments and the growing control of
algorithms in all areas of society.

__In what state of mind have you written the Tactical Reality Dictionary?

My plan was to design a tactical intelligence manual. A kind of open
think tank. At the end of the 1990s, the Internet was brand new and we
created Austria's first independent Internet access provider, Public
Netbase. Today, everyone has a laptop, but at the time it was not
obvious to have access to the Internet. We thought the world would be
dominated by digital information and intelligence agencies. I wanted to
make an instrument for political and cultural activists that would have
the form of an anonymous handbook without my name on the cover.

__You laid the foundations of digital human rights, digital ecology,
cultural counter-intelligence ... Were you visionary?

Perhaps. I've been in it forever. Small, I was already fascinated by
electronics. I had my first computer as a teenager and I was probably
the first one to have one in Vienna. In the 1990s, with progressive
left-wing movements, we conducted a sort of media guerilla war. Many
artists were working to make false entities, false citizens, playing
with the media and creating false sources. Some of these "fakes" have
been spectacular.

__Are not these extreme right-wing and pro-trump methods today?

I have seen that young Americans interfere in the French election by
creating false profiles on social networks ... In our time, it was
mischievousness and disassemble the functioning of the media that
animated us. It was about the hoax and the artistic intervention. It was
not just for fun, but also for trying to influence the context. One of
our fields of action was the Karlsplatz in Vienna. One of our projects
was to rename it Nikeplatz or create a false security agency, Global
Security Alliance ... Before the far right took it, this strategy was
marketed as "viral marketing". It has become a field of advertising for
ten years. We can not fight ...

__You write: "Information is increasingly difficult to distinguish from
propaganda." It's worse today, is not it?

The distinction is very difficult, even historically. When I was a
child, we were told that there was no more propaganda, that it belonged
to the Nazis and the Communists. But someone like Jacques Ellul explains
that propaganda does not work on ignorant and uneducated categories.
Propaganda is based on a belief system. And its target today is an
educated population, with cadres, otherwise it could not be manipulated.

You say that "objective information is only a myth, henceforth relegated
to the frontiers of consensual hallucination."
Objectivity is a big word. In my speech at the Gaîté lyrique on January
28th, I refer to the work of Lorraine Daston, author of an interesting
book on the history of the concept of objectivity. The concept of what
is objective has changed throughout the centuries, responding each time
to an ideal vision.

__In your opinion, objectivity does not exist?

It interests me for my dictionary dealing with tactical strategy. But it
does not exist in a simple way. The same applies to rationality.
Reality, rationality, objectivity, all these powerful concepts are of
the same world, right? I am interested in what rationality means. Our
economic world is based on "rational actors", on machines and
algorithms. One of my last installations with Felix Stalder, Painted by
Numbers , compiles interviews of researchers, artists and activists on
algorithmic strategies at work. The algorithms are supposed to be
rational because they are intended to increase the efficiency and
optimization of things. The result seems increasingly irrational. Just
look at the policies of the last ten years. Also look at how the economy
and financial markets are dominated by algorithms. We are building sorts
of state planning, much like the communists did in the past, except that
it is not communist planning but planning by 1% of an obscure elite. So
from the super-platform Google and consorts.

__Are you near Guy Debord?

I do not épiloguerai the fact that Guy Debord is not the XXI th
century, but it's a tradition that I feel close. There are quotations
that come from him in the Dictionnaire ...

__... which is full of references without notes!

I have a little aversion to academicism. I sometimes put footnotes, but
I prefer to send them around so that the reader may live his own
adventure with what is reflected in the text (2).

__Cognitive science is also one of your obsessions ...

I'm passionate about that. This aspect is not sufficiently addressed by
left-wing authors, who sometimes regard it as doubtful. When autonomous
space travel gained momentum in the 1960s, it was also the time for the
scientific exploration of "inner space": experiments on human behavior,
drugs included or not. Intelligence agencies were waiting for advances
in cognitive science to better handle people ... I deal with this in the
second volume, Strategic Reality Dictionary . On the left, one generally
avoids talking about strategy because it is considered reactionary and
right. When we talk about territorial strategies, it is not just about
geography, but it also concerns concept, representation, desires and
dreams. It is to reoccupy space, which is not only warrior or military.
To think too little is to say that territory is the only form in which
power is found.

__In 2002, your dictionary already dealt with the economy of attention ...

Talking about how the government is acting is not just about the
government and the police. There is a more intangible form that has to
do with attention and seeks to conquer our neural space. Diverting
marketing methods, it saturates the retina of public slogans and visual
shock associations. It is a method that internalizes a certain way of
thinking. It also affects my interest in illusionism, how to direct
attention. It is still something that intelligence agencies or
politicians do. It's just a question of framing. Not a matter of fact or

__What do you think of the current debate on "fake news" and post-truth?

This corresponds to the translation of my recently published book,
Fiktion und Wirkungsmacht , in other words, fiction and power of things
that become reality. Nothing new. This goes back to antiquity and to the
Roman goddess Fama who circulates the rumors, controls fame and gossip.
If you're on the right side of Fama, you're famous, if you're bad,
you're having a lot of problems. Rumors have always been important
throughout the centuries. The Americans created methods to prevent
rumors and during the Second World War, major newspapers developed
methods to control their rationale. But there is sometimes a deep truth
in the rumors and a sociological dynamic in the way they develop. In our
modern world, the way our reality is created holds much of this, I would
call it, "magical" tradition.

__Why do not you use social networks?

I have a complicated relationship with them, first because I hate them.
I work in this field, so I know better than anyone I'm talking about. I
use Facebook for some projects, such as the civic tool on elections to
encourage the participation of young people (3). We wanted to reach
those who voted for the first time and we went through Facebook. But
Facebook is the best way to become a misanthropist!

__How to be an activist in this world?

It's difficult. In the past, we have organized dramatic interventions,
but I would not want to compete with viral media and commercial
strategies today. I am obliged to ask myself: what can be done? The
answer is not so easy these days. Being only an observer? I have friends
totally overwhelmed by activism, who also have a job and a family. With
all their activities, it is difficult for them to sit for a moment and
think. It can be a form of action! To be able to have a position, it is
important to get out of the situation in order to have a clearer view.
By tactics, we are fighting for things we believe in, but maybe in five
years it will not be valid anymore. It is also important not to be
fooled by our own propaganda. I tell my friends and myself that what I
believe in today may not be true in five years.


(2) The annotation device has been drafted by the translator.


Frédérique Roussel
Konrad Becker Tactical Reality Dictionary, Cultural Intelligence and
Social Control Translated and annotated by Ewen Chardronnet Editions
Supernova, 208 pp., 20 €.

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