John Hopkins on Sun, 21 Feb 1999 21:20:11 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Hacking Activism

Following are some laborous observations to Geert and Alex's conversation:

>GL: The open source movement is clearly an interesting area but what
>(and so has nettime). The question is this: How do we turn all these
>abstract issues, which are debated in a very closed circle and only
>understood by a hand full of technicians, into a large topic, understood
>by the millions, so to speak. Minor decisions in the realm of technical
>standards taken today will have enormous effects on society later on. We
>are all aware of that. So, much will depend on our political skills,
>imagination and willingness to make coalitions, if we want to succeed.

Well, I am a bit astonished that your dialogue passed by any reflection on
the question, and instead focused on a continuation of the rhetoric in the
closed circle of nettime posters. Sometimes you guys get my adrenaline
going, I love it, thanks!  Thus, I can't pass by that consequently (in the
context of nettime ) rhetorical question with some basic observations.
Some are rooted in Newtonian/mechanistic arguments, but hear me out, I
can't speak in the metaphors that are often used in this forum.

Interfacing with "the public" (i.e., everybody NOT on nettime), one will
see both the answer and a distinctive perspective on the question.  And I
am neither proposing nor am interested in audiences of millions, but rather
individuals, interacted with one-by-one, or at most in small groups.
Firstly, please, please let go of the MASS issue -- I think any "movement"
that wants to deal with masses has, by the nature of the Beast, to
coagulate its own mass in order to affect the direction, effectively ruling
out a networked environment or form.  Maybe it is too obvious to answer the
question with the word "education" especially given the horrific state of
institutionalized learning in the world.  But the sharing of knowledge,
experience, and life energy on an individual basis, the lowest common
denominator, has the greatest potential to transform life.

next5minutes, I hope, will see some open discussions on this issue.  If we
are not generous about sharing our personal energies especially in the
one-to-one sphere of action, there will be no change in the Other, much
less, the Self!

 It might be that perhaps the side-stepping illustrates the weakness of
this <nettime> listserv -- that it HAS gotten away from personal dialogue
and problem solving.

>than liberate a larger public? (I realize this sentiment is probably not
>very popular with the Dutch/German tactical media community.) New
>technologies seem, finally, to be able to give us this TAZ option as a
>widespread reality for the first time. Look at our own projects--nettime
>and rhizome--I think that communities of this nature are virtually
>unprecedented. And, hey, that may be enough for me.

unprecedented?  are you sure? Of course, SPECIFICALLY, in the sense of the
detail of mediation techniques, the protocol, but is that important to
dwell upon?  I think it is more important to look at the human results --
are these communities unprecedented in their individual human effects?

>Let's move to the issue of translating traditional leftist strategies
>into the tactical media framework. A new method is critical. We've
>experienced bottom-up political movements for some time now. But, what
>about *distributed* bottom-up strategies? This is the machinic model,
>where there is no coalition, there is no core, yet there is a "movement."
>Is electronic activism like the FloodNet too rooted in old school leftist
>politics? The real question here is: How do we make the network into a
>medium for action and resistance?

Well, a truely distributed network is distinguished from other forms of
mass society in the fact that it has a distributed inertia -- it cannot be
expected to have a concentrated mass that can be moved (given a torque
loci) as a means to im-press the surrounding cultural/social matrix.  The
distribution of inertia requires that a net, whether it is organized
through modern telecommunicative technologies or otherwise, be activated by
intra-nodal exchanges of energy, nothing amounting to a directed social
vector but more a series of trans-local point-source flare-ups of energy.
This energy pulsing is at the same time reactive and proactive,
revolutionary and transformatory.  It is agent and carrier, self and Other,
co-mingled.  What about getting rid of the "up" in bottom-up?  Why go up?
As soon as one starts climbing, ascending above the direct personal
interactive, the resistance becomes illusory and reactive (rigid and
resistive) to a Cervantes' windmill.  better to stay on the bottom and work
with the dialogue as the primary tool.  Resistivity invites reification or
at least polarity, where intra-nodal flexing redirects opposing energies
into positive channels opening lives and possibilities.

>GL: You are touching here on the question of organization. It presupposes
>common interests (or even "objectives," Marxists would say) and a basic
>set of common ethics. Today this sense of commonality has been blurred by
>the "culture wars"--in a good way, I would say. But the celebration of
>differences, chaos and complexity has prompted us to pose again the
>question of organization. Permanent deconstructions and cynical
>criticisms have turned many of the intellectuals, artists and activists
>into enlightened but powerless outsiders.

Perhaps the blurring comes from the use of the wrong optics to view the
issue -- the rhetorical tools of the intellectual class have been used to
build mazes that take us away from principled/fundamental understandings --
understandings that chart trajectories of personal convergence and action.
The weakness of rhetorical tools seems to be embedded in the instances when
they are used outside of immediate dialogic situations and instead are used
for propagandistic purposes.  I have stated before that a critical measure
of the efficacy of a text/language-based exchange is how closely or
spontaneously actions (like behavioral shifts) spring up as a result. --
That is, if we are TRUELY expecting that topics discussed here are to be
translated to REAL social transformations!  If the only response in more
rhetoric, it is a signal that we are moving AWAY from active principles
rather than towards them.

In the context of nettime, I was reflecting this morning on why I always
have a funny feeling when I make that rare effort to post.  I never have
any reaction/response from the prolific posters which leads me to 1)
consider that my ideas are not interesting to them or 2) they are not
interested in getting anything but silent nods of approval to their
postings.  Of course, there is the third possibility that what I write
doesn't make sense, but I can come to my own defense and say that many
ideas and observations have evolved in the very dynamic and social
environment of learning situations involving many tens of dialogues with
other individuals...  hmmmm.

No one is an outsider if they retain the soul-full will to speak and listen
with an Other, allowing the limitless possibilities of exchange to resonate
and evolve in the confluence.  Insiders talk to many, and listen only to

>These days, one could say that new forms of organization are formed along
>technical lines. For example, majordomo mailing-list software is creating
>specific social structures (while excluding others). The internet has the
>tendency to strengthen both global and local connections, but seems to
>neglect the nation or state level. This will backfire sooner or later.

Why will this backfire?  if people are interacting through an organically
formed communications system,   outside of total infrastructure
breakdown/takeover/intervention, where is the real loss in neglecting
geopolitical nation/state considerations?  If it is the ONLY medium through
which people are communicating, then I would suggest they get a "Real
Life," no kidding!  On the other hand, if you consider Language itself as a
form of technological mediation, then it is quite clear that what you say
is absolutely correct -- organizations ARE formed along lines of
technological specification. Forming organizations with other criteria
requires negotiation, translation -- and they must have individuals with a
foot in either domain!  Interesting!

see you two folks in Amsterdam!

John Hopkins, Tech-no-mad artist and educator back in Helsinki at the
National Academy for a week...

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