jesse hirsh on Sun, 4 Oct 1998 17:08:47 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> hacking reality - why the internet does not exist

Hacking Reality
Why the Internet does not exist

by Jesse Hirsh <>

Buddha and Lao walk into a bar.
Buddha has juice, Lao has water.
In walks Confucious. He orders a double shot of scotch.
Buddha says, "What do you call a world of multiple paradox?"
Lao says, "A paradise."
Confucious says, "I'll buy it."

And with this proclamation, Confucious seeks not only to control (via
property), but actually believes in what all present view to be
unbelievable. In this, the name Internet is used as an attempt to
commodify the intangible, control the unknowable, and through this process
the means of life on this planet. 

This may seem a bit absurd, but rest assured, for what Confucious seeks to
do, is for all purposes impossible. That is to say, try as he might,
Confucious cannot buy something that does not exist. For while our world
is filled with contradictions, the paradise that it forms, is resident
only within and throughout, but never in one specific location. In fact,
there i= s no such 'place' as the Internet, cyberspace is not so much a
'space' but rather the time between space. 

tao ch'ang wu ming - tao endures without a name

What we communally perceive as the Internet, is much more accurately
described as mind space, the shared thoughts that together form our
culture(s), generally interpreted as our existence. In contrast, what our
society names the "Internet", is itself a separate mechanism, constructed
b= y humans, as an attempt to contain 'culture', as language contains
ideas. Thi= s new 'reality' stems from Confucious' attempt to 'buy'
paradise, otherwise known as our common dreams, hopes, and visions for
life on this planet. 

I should make clear, here in this introduction, that in this collection of
words, which I have prepared for you the reader, the character of
Confucious represents the archetype of global capitalist man. It is the
purpose of these words to convey both the mystical, if not mythical nature
of global capitalism, as well as the need for we humans, to resist its
tyranny, while developing sustainable alternatives. 

So imagine if you will, Confucious and his followers, drunk with power
after centuries of empire and conquest, living on a rather large
transport, which for lack of a better word we'll call: the global village,
a/k/a spaceship earth. In between rounds of drinks (in the form of regimes
and states), Confucious contemplates which direction to take society, in
an effort to continue dividing the future, into the simple terms of
self-interest, whether isolated, or expanded. These decisions are based
upon what he sees, when looking into his (our) cultural 'rear-view
mirror'. The contents of th= e mirror are his story, and the mirror itself
his present. Of course Confucious, and all his followers, take from the
visions in the mirror, the belief in their self-determined future. 

Hacking reality begins by reversing the process of the rear view mirror.
In recognizing the mirror and it's contents as what's past, we enhance our
vision of the present, obsolescing Confucious' designs for the future,
retrieving our inherent ability to decide for ourselves. In this we must
look past the 'mirror', and towards a better society, that grows not from
our idealized intentions, but the genuine interaction and co-operation of
our diverse cultures and experiences. This is not to say an abandonment of
what has past, or the stories that shape the past in the context of the
present. Rather what is reversed is the future, constructed on a past,
that's been interpreted through self-interest. In discarding the self, we
may then view the past closer to how it passed, grounded in our experience
of the present, allowing the future to approach at a rate we may find
comfortable and consensual. 

This is why I am a reality hacker. Like others my age, and most humans who
read these words, I move and synthesize ideas and light as an integral
part of how I eek out my existence. Children of Television perhaps? Or
maybe a humanity with enhanced levels of environmental literacy, after
retrieving the benefits of an oral culture from electronic communications,
which then reverses the emphasis on the self, obsolescing the power
structures that have served the expanded self-interest of a despotic and
isolated elite. Now of course, how this elite reacts to this change, well,
that has yet to be determined, although we are surrounded by the
consequences of their reactions. 

So here we ask: What is the Internet? What is meant by convergence? 

These are two questions that may shed light on just how society is dealing
with the changes brought on by the widespread use, and adoption, of
electricity and its by-product, electronic communications. 

The answer to these questions lies not in the complexity embodied in their
character, but rather the paradox from which they originate: Tao k'o Tao
f'ei chang Tao. The Internet that is the Internet is not the Internet. 

Let us now, reader and author, hack reality, and employ language as a
means to explore not just the nature of the words Internet and
Convergence, but also the phenomena that follows in the wake of their use. 

"The conditions of freedom of thought are in danger of being destroyed by
science, technology, and the mechanization of knowledge, and with them,
Western civilization." (Harold Innis, The Bias of Communication pp. 191)

The Information Age, and the Digital Age have passed. With this passing,
so too ends the distinctions between civilization and barbarism. Now in
this age of mind, we are all civilized, and we are all barbarians.
Information becomes the content, cognition becomes the carrier. 

In the information age, we had the cold war that marked the explosion of
informatics, functioning in binary form, whether capitalist and communist,
or one and zero. In contrast this new era marks the implosion of
culture(s), and the rise of the information war that operates on waves
and currents, structured as analogy, contained in meme, spin, marketing,
or advertising. 

Here we must not glorify or idealize war. It is, and always has been,
violent, cataclysmic, and something we must avoid at all costs. And yet
this information war, which now wages all around, and even inside of us,
seems to go on, as if our bodies, and our humanity, did not even matter.
For there are no lines in this war, and there are no fronts. The running
cliche of the Information war is that it has no barriers, and is
contained by nothing save our imaginations, which themselves cannot be

Yet there is one thing that remains constant, even in contradiction to its
surroundings, which is our status as humans, and our bodies as vessels of
our humanity. So when the state we live under, proposes to change as
dramatically and violently as it has and continues to do, we as humans
must demand the rights that are inherent and inalienable to us, through
co-operation, struggle, and if need be, resistance, to those who would
deny it from us. 

So let us then, assuming that we, you the reader, and I the author, are
humans, begin to understand our surroundings, which can best be described
as a system of holism and paradox. 

For holism and paradox, are characteristics that return with our reclaimed
oral abilities, defining the system in which we reside. In this the
networks allow us multiple perspectives and even multiple realities, in
combination with a self-determination and self-destruction of identity.
This fluidity of identity encourages us to see the world and our
environments as whole. We can feel our boundaries based upon our outermost
limits. What was the margin becomes the center as the only markers of
where the circle turns. The simultaneous location of margin and center
enable the paradox of perspective. We can see our own contradictions, we
can see our societal contradictions, and we can still keep going, our
self-destruction is met equally with our self-preservation and creation.
We can accept paradox outside of the context of mythology, or inversely
our mythology has become our reality. 

Through his work on the staples thesis, Harold Innis became concerned with
the formation of monopolies of knowledge, and the related concentration and
maintenance of power. In examining information and communication as a staple
throughout the history of civilization and empire, Innis noted for every
medium there existed a tendency towards a monopoly of knowledge which then
manifested power in politics (as a system of administration) and religion
(as a system of continuance).

"Concentration on a medium of communication implies a bias in the cultural
development of the civilization concerned either towards an emphasis on
space and political organization or towards an emphasis on time and
religious organization. Introduction of a second medium tends to check the
bias of the first and to create conditions suited to the growth of
empire." H.A. Innis, Empire And Communications pp. 170

We are presently in a period of transition, in which societal biases are
balanced, and the growth of the new empire is accelerating, demonstrated
by the exponential rise and fall of global markets. The monopoly of
knowledge that resulted from the printed word is being superseded by the
monopoly of knowledge arising with the electric word. This process is
manifesting at many different levels in many ways, among them corporate
mergers and divestments, multilateral agreements on investments and
liberalization of trade, telecom deregulation and corporate media

Convergence is at the heart of this transition: explicitly as the
methodology of holism. Within the political, economic, social, and
technological arenas, convergence drives the agenda, and is the operating
metaphor enabling holistic self-organization. Globalization is the
sweeping generalization describing this notion of convergence. The
westernization of the east; the easternization of the west; capital
travels south (but never stays); poverty travels north; and global wealth
goes into orbit. 

Globalization as the process of eastern form and western content:
Confucius organizes while Mickey Mouse distracts. 

It's difficult to describe a process that is both holistic and
paradoxical. Archetypes become the basis for character description, while
specialization gives way to generalization, and linear logic yields to
non-linear analogy. A multi-perspective reality translates into a world
where contradictions exist side by side. The United States can accuse
other nations of terrorism and human rights violations while themselves
being the largest global criminal. 

So what does this all come to? What does it mean? What is the literal
translation of holism and paradox into structural (and metaphorical)
reality? The answer is the interplay and mutual dependence of Artificial
Intelligence and Virtual Reality.

Political power, or the administration of space, is embodied by the
archetype or technology of artificial intelligence. Religious power, or
the continuation of time, is embodied by the archetype or technology of
virtual reality. Artificial intelligence is a mode of organization that is
used to describe concepts such as the global market, the network of
networks, and everything from our information/communications systems, to
the way we organize our societies, whether political, economic, or social.
Virtual reality is a polytheistic belief system, represented best as
consumerism, o= r the ability to buy your reality via products tailoring
to lifestyle, identity, status, character, or communications. Both of
these concepts are resident within corporate organization, as trade
liberalization accompanies communication deregulation, and the market
determines policy and perspective.

The relationship between AI and VR is definitive of the relationship between
holism and paradox resident within our ruling structure. As archetypes, AI
and VR run throughout the empire as the unifying elements of politics and
religion. They are the two extensions that form the reality of present-day
global corporate rule. They represent the dominance of technological
determinism and fatalism that forms the governance of our society. As they
continue to supersede the old monopoly of knowledge, this new state
increasingly embodies an absolutist authoritarian consensus that becomes the
market determined and manufactured reality.

AI has been a dominant metaphor within the management and governance of
our society for many decades. As more and more of our trade and
communications is virtualized: reduced to a digital form of 1s and 0s, we
rely upon networked forms of organization to manage our perception and
interaction with the world. The notions of 'convergence' and 'networks'
combine to form the archetype of artificial intelligence. McLuhan
described the printed word as having an effect of externalizing our
experiences while the electric word encourages us to internalize our
activities. AI is the hybrid between the two phenomena whereby we can
manage the constant interaction between the two: newspaper and television,
book and internet, terminal and network. Rivers of information that more
and more resemble an electronic maelstrom where information overload
threatens to prevent, if not overwhelm, real tim= e cognition of our
living reality.

AI's most powerful manifestation is as the amorphous entity called the
'market'. All across the world political authority is being ceded to this
institution, and further pursuit of trade liberalization and communication
deregulation is entrenching this authority within what is increasingly a
'global market'. In the 1960s McLuhan described the unification of the
sensory environment under electronic communications as producing a global
village: a shared space in which all inhabitants of the world become
tribesman in a common collective global reality. Contributing factors such
as national government debt and increased use of 'global' information
technology has facilitated this shift in governance, and the economic
dependence upon trans-national corporations who prefer the market place as
the arena of governance, simply because it is also the basis of their
identity and power. 

Virtual reality as the religion, or system of continuance, arises as a
natural extension and partner to the role of AI as a system of
administration. VR is the archetype that is able to harness that vast
array of information organized by the networks. VR is the technology that
allows our identities to change faster than our bodies or brains may
allow. VR is the polytheistic religion that not only allows us to choose
our own gods and goddesses, but more importantly allows us to become them.
VR allows us to change our reality so as to empower ourselves, albeit
through enslavement. 

Virtual reality is the out-of-body experience that is consumer capitalism.
Whether new age gnosticism, Christian fundamentalism, or technological
millenarianism, VR as religion allows the individual to exist in a tribal
world of paradox and holism, allowing the illusion of either choosing a
tribe or escaping to a hermitage. VR is consumer reality: it's the ability
to choose your own media, choose your own lifestyle, choose your own
identity. VR enables a new liberal isolationism divorced from social
responsibility, enclosed in privilege and luxury. 

Virtual reality is the utopian police state currently on sale from
corporate capital. Privacy is discarded for total surveillance, and
imagination is commodified and captured while our bodies remain in urban
prisons staring at flashing screens flooding us with electrons. VR has the
most insidious potential when coupled with its natural mate AI. Together
reality and identity no longer become a question of perspective, but
rather a product manufactured for resale. With advertiser driven
broadcasting the audience was the product. With network driven virtual
reality, the audience becomes the prisoner. 

In this context we see the true unity of politics and religion, of church
and state. The combined communication biases of AI and VR balance off to
negate time and space, empowering and stabilizing an entrenched yet still
emerging empire. The new monopolies of knowledge are a hybrid of old power
structures, appropriated from many civilizations, operating within an
accelerated present that obsesses with the immediate future. 

This future holds itself as a 'unified sensorium with ubiquitous
centrality', where everything is here and it is all in contradiction. The
most vivid example of course are increasing income disparities, where the
rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. However in this
age of mythology and virtuality, this dichotomy is articulated as
information haves and have nots, or even worse "knows" and "know-nots". In
other words, what is being described is a society that positions itself as
running behind the rate of change

Yet it is essential that we recognize that the change we are all
experiencing is not driven by technology but by humans. People are
responsible. People have designed, created, implemented, and use the
technology. We cannot say that technology has arisen on its own. It is
imperative that we acknowledge that in fact humans are behind the
technology, and that humans (as political actors) are behind the current
regime of technological change. 

The real question of course is who, or rather which humans are in
political control? Or even further, which humans are trying to gain,
obtain, or even retain control. These are the questions that matter most
to a human society that needs to come to grips with the consequences of
its actions and more importantly its fantasies. 

Throughout the world, at the behest of the World Trade Organization and
under the leadership of American legislators, national governments are
being either coerced or seduced to deregulate their communications. This
has had the effect of accelerating corporate concentration, and
centralizing power amidst a handful of conglomerates. Many analysts have
regarded these changes as an act of faith, in which national governments
hand over the basis of their sovereignty to what is called: market
control. The ideology describes an era of free markets, but the reality
depicts global giants operating a capitalist command economy. AI enables
this accumulation, while VR permits the illusion of free trade, and the
dependence upon faith as a form of policy.

The notorious three letter acronyms of the WTO, IMF, MAI, are concrete
examples of organized tyranny. Whether it be the World Bank using global
debt to leverage technological development, or all the major banks and
brokerages in the world coming to bail out the ultra-rich hedge-fund 'Long
Term Capital Management', what we see is an agenda of protracted
self-interest driven by the upper echelon of society at the expense of the
vast majority of the planet's population. With the World Trade
Organization's recent telecom deregulation and the financial services
agreements, the basis of empire (communications and finance) have been
deregulated and privatized to enable swift and complete global
concentration. Furthermore as the OECD passes on the MAI to the WTO, its
focus shifts to 'E-Commerce', and another mandate for further
deregulation, in this case the final erosion of the ability for the nation
state to levy taxes on corporations. 

This process marks a record rate of consolidation, from pharmaceuticals,
to defence and aerospace, from banking, to telecom, they're all getting
bigger, and the number of players is getting smaller, all at a time that
was originally heralded as the dawn of a new age of free markets and
competition. Rather these are elements of a private, unaccountable,
anti-democratic, authority. 

They call it market regulation, but what is the market? The inevitable
future predicted by pragmatism? Or maybe a self-aware, self-learning,
self-healing, self-absorbed, self-destructive, complex neural network of
expert systems comprised entirely of humans, who we'll identify as a
ruling class, coccooning themselves in a self-constructed virtual reality. 

The information economy, the crisis economy, the global economy, are all
pseudonyms for an economy based on perpetual war. Capital centralizes into
the hands of conglomerates, originally the global military industrial
complex: AT&T, General Electric, Westinghouse, Disney. A melee of media
mergers make the way for corporate giants to wage information war in the
battle for your mind. 

The world is transformed as the planet plugs into itself. A unified
mediated environment emerges which presents an epic struggle of change.
The media, after successfully consuming the masses, reverses and implodes
into a universal black hole. We are caught collectively staring into a
narcissistic pool of distorted self-reflection and self-absorption,
desperately wondering where it all leads. 

In this the Internet is the black hole at the center of our universe: it
is the negation of time and space. Comparable to gravity, the Internet is
an imploding force that draws everything into it. 

"Looked at, but cannot be seen
This is called the Invisible
Listened to, but cannot be heard
That is called the Inaudible
Grasped at, but cannot be touched
That is called the Intangible
These three elude all our inquiries
And hence blend and become One." (LaoTse, Chapter 14)

The Internet by definition, does not exist. It is an abstraction that
nobody has seen, smelled, or touched. It is a myth used to shift our
belief systems and dramatically alter our behaviour. It transforms our
linguistic framework by changing the context in which language interacts
with mind. It is a redefinition of literacy as the linguistic system
itself becomes simultaneously individual and communal. 

The Internet is the virus from West Virginia that will consume all media
until it becomes the information superhighway media monopoly brought to
you by AT&T. 

The Internet is the ultimate red herring, the dazzling distraction that
abducts our attention while power plays with totality. Instead of
addressing the decline of democracy in the real world, Internet consumers
discuss and debate the democratization of the Internet. 

The Internet is the post-modern gold rush, a mass anxiety to get 'plugged
in'. People ask themselves, 'why fight gravity?', and our mother responds:
'If all your friends (or co-workers) jumped off a cliff would you?'

If we undress the myths surrounding the Internet, and examine the true
meaning of the word, we see that it is not a story of technological
revolution. Rather it is a narrative of popular revolution. It isn't about
technology, it's about people. People coming together and expressing
themselves freely. That in itself is a revolution. We are the Internet. We
are the revolution. We drive it, we make it, we use it, we are it.

Unfortunately as we use the Internet for free expression, others use it
for free exploitation. Furthermore this exploitation is so inherent in the
system, that our immediate response is to again ask ourselves, what is it
to be human, which in linux terms translates as: whoami? 

Enter the reality hacker, grounded in humanity and community, inseparable
from the larger social context. 

Hacking reality is the resistance to tyranny, the revival of democracy. It
is a bag of tricks, a set of tactics and strategies: insurrectionary art,
popular theatre, culture jamming, unix hacking, and network organizing.
Mix in with this: participatory education, media literacy, and a radical
political, economic, social analysis. 

The goal is to agitate, instigate, inspire, and support social change and
action. The forum is a global theatre, the movement is for peace, social
justice, and human rights. A data, surrealist, beatnik, situationist,
hippie, freak, queer, slacker, hacker, geek, book worm, free for all, and
everyone is invited. 

More importantly however, this phenomena is imbedded in social movements:
Zapatista, Reclaim the Streets, Tactical Media, People's Global Action,
and all movements for democracy on all continents. 

These are the people who are voicing, employing, playing, and developing:
reality hacking. The struggle to return sanity to society, ending the
schizophrenic self-destructive out-of-body experience that is consumer
capitalism. For consumer capitalism places us, against our will, in an
ecological crisis, that threatens not only our own existence, but quite
clearly, life on this planet. Witness the ongoing flooding around the
world= , el nino and el nina, global warming, and not to mention the
devastation of the biosphere. Many of these environmental phenomena are
cyclical and normal, and so the crisis is to be found in the human
cognition and respons= e to these events, which tend to aggravate rather
than alleviate, this environmental change. Millennial madness, apocalyptic
anxiety, these are al= l symptoms of a culture in crisis. 

So we ask ourselves again, what is the Internet, and what is convergence?
The easy answer is the unknown, and faith in the unknown. Or at least
that's what we're supposed to believe, or even worse what the ruling class
believes, and hence what we should aspire to. 

Tao K'o Tao Fei Chang Tao
The Internet that is the Internet is not the Internet.
Which does less to define as it does to undefine.

"All things come to life, but we cannot see their source. All things
appear but we cannot see the gate from which they come. All men value the
knowledge of what they know, but really do not know. Only those who fall
back upon what knowledge cannot know really know." (Chuang Tse, 7:4,
Chapter 25)

So who is lost in the rear-view mirror? And more importantly who has or is
trying to obtain control in the midst of this apparent if not imposed
confusion? I have used the term 'Confucious' but even that is but a myth.
The real answer to 'who is responsible' lies in politics, not the politics
of blame, but the politics of grassroots activism. For we must take
responsibility, as humans who live in a society. And the first step in
doing so is to redress, if not clearly discard, the mythology that
contains us in the technological state of tyranny that has been imposed
for centuries by king, president, and executive alike. 

For when society is fully saturated with media, technology, and
information, the focus on the networks reverses and we retrieve the
sanctity of the human. Defining what is human has never been an easy task,
but let us define humanity as what it appears to us to be, whatever that
is. And here I, as the author, have addressed you, as the reader, assuming
that anyone who may read and comprehend these words, must indeed be human.
So now that we find ourselves, together, sharing thoughts, amidst this
space, that others (even us) may call the Internet, let us stand together,
not just with each other, but all others who seek to live out their
humanity, as fully as our dreams motivate us to do. For this let us
organize ourselves via community based, participatory democracy, and let
us confront any other human who seeks to hold power above us, or power
above others, with the following demands: 

1) We want freedom. We want the power to resist tyranny and inevitability. 

We believe in community based participatory democracy arising from direct
action and public accountability. In this we believe that people will not
be free until we are all able to effectively engage our society as equals
in a process of voluntary co-operation. This process includes the freedom
for everyone to become, belong, and just plain be, in a manner that does
not violate the rights of others. 

2) We want full employment and support for all people, engendering
political, economic, and social egalitarianism. 

We believe that every person is inherently entitled to either full
employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that the means of production
should be placed in the hands of the people, so that communities are able
to organize full employment, providing a responsible standard of living
which sustainably tries to meet the needs of all people now and in the

3) We want an end to the robbery of our communities by capitalists. 

We believe that that the global ruling class and it's corporate economic
entities have been built on plunder, pillage, conquest, and tyranny. We
demand an end to economic slavery and dependence, with the cancellation of
all debt, and restitution to be paid to all aboriginal and formerly
colonized peoples. 

4) We want free and decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings. 

We believe that if the landowners and landlords will not freely give
decent housing, then the land should be made into co-operatives, so that
local communities, if necessary with aid, can build and make decent
housing fit for their people. 

5) We want free participatory education for all people that allows us to
explore the diverse histories found in our cultures, and the diverse roles
we all play in the present-day society.=20

We believe in an education system that enables people to develop a
knowledge of self within a participatory and democratic learning process
that also allows and encourages the transcendence of self. 

6) We want an end to all forms of war. We want all people exempt from
military service. 

We believe that people should not be forced into military service, while
also recognizing that people will protect themselves from violence and
attack, by whatever means necessary. In this we support communities'
efforts to organize self-defence groups to defend and protect their safety
from the violence of the state. 

7) We want an immediate end to the oppression and victimization of peoples
at the hands of the state. 

We support and are involved in feminist, as well as aboriginal, black,
queer, youth, human, and animal liberation struggles, including the
valuation of elders. We are anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-racist,
anti-ageist, anti-homophobic, anti-speciest, anti-ableist,
anti-authoritarian, and against neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. We
support the liberation of identity, and the right to self-determination. 

8) We want freedom for all political prisoners, and a gradual abolition of
all prisons, jails, and authoritarian mental-health institutions. 

We believe that the legal system is neither just, nor representative of
the needs and demands of the people. We envision a society that employs
community engagement rather than social ostracization in dealing with
those most disaffected. 

9) We want a justice system that resides in the communities it affects,
responds to the needs of all within those communities, protects the
inalienable human rights of all, and seeks resolution rather than revenge,
equality rather than the protection of elite interests. 

We believe when all parties are represented, equally and fairly, as part
of a due democratic process, that conflict resolution, aiming towards
consensus, tends to sufficiently resolve crises, and leave all parties
content. In this we admire and take as a model a number of aboriginal
justice systems. 

10) We want clean air, clean water, free universal access to all forms of
media, health care, and public transportation, as well as the ability to
produce and consume foods, herbs, and drinks, free of industrial toxins,
pesticides, genetic engineering and manipulation. 

We believe that our environment and our interaction with and within it,
determines not only our health and well-being, but our ability to
participate as active members of our society.

"'Not at all,' said the Spirit of the Ocean. 'Dimensions are limitless;
time is endless. Conditions are not constant; external limits are not
final. Thus, the wise man looks into space, and does not regard the small
as too little, nor the great as too big; for he knows that there is no
limit to dimensions. He looks back into the past, and does not grieve over
what is far off, nor rejoice over what is near; for he knows that time is
without end.'" (Chuang Tse, 4:11,12, Chapter 17)

Jesse Hirsh - -
P.O. Box 108 Station P Toronto Ont M5S 2S8 Canada
IWW x346204 |--PGP-->
Tao K'o Tao Fei Ch'ang Tao

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