Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 12:40:14 +0200 (MET DST)
From: Geert Lovink <email@example.com>
Bey Watch: Four Near Death Encounters with Pamela Anderson
Netbase Coffee 'n' Cake meet Hakim Bey
edited version by Public Netbase t0
Hakim Bey (HB) talking to Peter Lamborn Wilson, Sebastian from Spiral Tribe technopagans, an official from the UN Drug Control Department, a lecturer at University of Vienna, artists, writers, tech-heads, political activists, Konrad Becker (KB) and some Public Netbase t0 crew. Names witheld to protect the innocent.
X: There is a position that it's absolute necessary to commodify our ideas, because this is a way of communicating them beyond the reach of our personal time and presence in space time. The other position is: that's not good, it's better that people meet and come together in person and share space and time together, by talking, touching, dancing, whatever. All commodifications of those things that happen in this specific situation should be banned, and there should be a glass-ball around these temporary events of realness.
HB: There is nobody to ban anything. There is no pope of the Temporary Autonomous Zone to say what's doctrinal or dogmatic. But I don't believe that the best way to communicate ideas is to commodify. I think there is a trend now which is called anti-media and the idea is to even actually reach more people without being recuperated into the medium. There, once you are taken in by the media, yours ideas are no longer alive. The are precisely commodities which are going to be sold by somebody. They are representations of their desires. I would resist the idea that jumping into the media as if it were just a neutral ocean of discourse, is always the best tactic. Right now it seems to me to be a particular bad tactic, because the mediaworld is eager for false images of dissidence and resistance. I think this is because people everywhere feel disgust with the commodity "deal" and they would like to have something different, but they are still susceptible to believeing that a commodity or a lifestyle item, like a T-shirt, is the thing itself instead the representation of the thing. It's in this area that I perceive some danger in promiscuous embrace of media.
X: This shows us that in the end you need physical space. If you want Immediatism, you want physical space.
XX: Maybe we should go to virtual space.
X: But this is a contradiction to immediacy, cause immediacy claims that you shouldn't use the media to come together but you use physical space.
HB : This is not exactly what I've said. What I said was that there is no Temporary Autonomous Zone without physical space. I didn't say that there is no interrelationship between cyberspace and physical space. Of course there's a relationship - there are many different kinds of relations. But what I'm talking about, how I'm defining freedom for the time being, if it doesn't include the body it is an illusion. If my eyes are free but my nose isn't, so this is not what I call freedom. I say there is no festival inside cyberspace. If it doesn't interpenetrate with the physical world, then it's simply another form of representation. Everything which was once lived, has now moved away into representation. And if this is felt to be a form of un-freedom, than it is precisely representation which we find ourselves in a struggle against.
In this sense it may be necessary to ultimately take up a very hostile stand toward cyberspace, or we may find it is a useful weapon, but we will not find our freedom in a machine. We won't find our freedom as a representation in a machine. I can turn myself into a cartoon figure going to virtual reality and act all kinds of fantasies but that won't be live, that would be representation. A representation of myself to the space and a representation of the space to myself. In that circularity there is no exit - there is no escape from that kind of viscous circle. So that's why I don't say that there's some dichotomy between the physical and the non physical but the one without the other is not freedom. You see what I'm saying?
XXX: All life is representational anyway, we are living in a type of illusion or cyberspace reality where we have these meat machines to walk around. Cyberspace doesn't exist yet. In the moment the closest space that we have to cyberspace is innerspace, where creativity - perhaps - ultimately comes from.
HB: Well, we all know, that there is no absolute direct experience - that the body itself is a medium, that proprioception is mediated by the nervous system etc. etc. But I still maintain that it is possible to construct a hierarchy of values in which certain things are more and certain things are less embodied. To simply take some kind of Berkleyan idealism, which is what I'm getting from you - to say that the body has no reality and therefore there is no difference between virtual reality, whether it be virtual or actual virtual reality, is something that I have to reject. I don't see this lack of distinction. I know that there is a great platonic, mystical, gnostic dualist tradition, which you guys seem to be here today to represent, which really does believe, that we are going to leave our body, that there's some real eternal entity inside the body, which is going to escape and is going to heaven when you die. I don't know this shit and frankly I don't believe it - it's finished - I might as well go become a Christian.
XXXX: What about the interfacing of creativity and technology?
HB: I think what we need is critical consciousness. Critical consciousness towards the entire construct of technology. Technology is not neutral, it's not God-given, it doesn't come from the burning bush, it doesn't emerge from the world of antimatter. It's something that human society makes. So all of human society is inscribed in the machine in this sense - and then the machine becomes a force to reinscribe something on society. And you can have the negative aspect of this, and you can be truly creative - why not. I'm absolutely not denying anyone's creativity. All I'm asking for, for myself, is critical consciousness about technology.
XX: What do you think about the internet? Is it possible for you to see the humans using computer technology to organize human knowledge to communicate with each other? Should people have one common understanding of what is true?
HB: The internet works very well on a epistemological level. If we see the internet as a epistemology rather than ontology I think we would be on the right way. The internet is a great tool for knowledge but as a state of being it leaves something to be desired, perhaps. And knowledge after all is something that finally only exists when information is appropriated to the individual or to a group and becomes an actual active part of live. So I would be hesitant to - a modern hesitant, I think I would be distrustful of a global epistemology and that is to say system of knowledge, because that would imply that each and every user of the net must experience the knowledge coming into their body and into their live in a more or less precisely the same way and that would bother me. The internet as a tool or even as a weapon for knowledge strikes me as the - why not - maybe the most exiting and interesting area of discourse that we have going right now this very hot little minute. But I see i t as a field of struggle, not as a beautiful gift that we've been given, which has its own inherent profection in it - in some structural way but just as another kind of technology which has brought about some very very perculiar side effects having to do with chaotic pertubation, with actual you know - chaos - bringing it to be in a chaos. And within that chaos there's a potential for the most hideous misery as well as the most - you know - amazing freedom and happiness. And it's a curious and interesting fact that the internet derives from military structure to begin with. It's a fact that the structure of the internet is already compromised in this sense. And the task that faces us is, if we can go and consider ourselves netactivists.
XXX: Hold on a moment though, the road system in the US, the federal Highway system was built for military purposes.
HB: Yes, absolutly. Most of civilization is derived from military purposes.
XXX: But if you drive on a road it doesn't mean you buy out to the military philosophy ?!
H.Bey: Does it not? In a certain indirect way, it does. You know, how many people die in automobiles every year,on the face of the earth?
XXX: Would you rather walk?
H.Bey: Actually, yes. But that's just my taste.
XX: But the military never do it by themselves, they always use scientists to do it for them.
HB: This is called pure war. We don't have Generals and armies and all that stuff. This is war in virtual space. This is war on a global space. This is war which can be hot or cold or luke warm.
XXX: So where does that leave room for art?
XXX: Art as the tool of the resistance?
HB: Yeah. That's what I said earlier. I feel the internet is still on this chaotic stage where it is very much worth while struggling for it. But I also don't accept it as a given. I think it began in war and it will continue in war and it's we are in the struggle, if we are on the net we`re in that struggle.
XX: What about going to these people that you think make all the bad and cooperate and try to establish my communication?
HB: The best of luck to you. Somebody mentioned Wired magazine which is widely known here but Wired magazine is a financial support of the Think Tank, which has some marvelous name like Institute for Peace and Justice or something like that - which is actually run by Newt Gingrich - so that he could have access to the people. So the cooperations can get access to mailing lists, where they can sell their products. What I'm saying is, that the cooperation with people, whom I'm not calling evil, put simply inamicable to my interests - o.k.? - is almost bound to involve me in a situation which can only increase my misery. If, for example, I were to believe that Wired magazine represents the hippest, coolest attitude towards the net - and many people believe that because Wired magazine tells them it is, then you will find yourself upshit creek without a paddle, as we say in my homestate. You find yourself in a position where your energy will be coopted in ways that will not result in your increased happiness. It would be like the story that Sebastian's told about certain rockgroups who made certain music, that made that move to cooperate with global market forces and who in fact find themselves in a very sad and miserable situation and that drives some of them to suicide. While the millions of dollars they are making, they have no longer a creative relation with their listeners, they co-creatives. So, I would say: each situation is a new situation - there are no hard and fast rules to be made about these things. Every offer of a million pounds has to be read on its own merits. Every offer of a smack in the face has to be read on its own merits. But there's no forgone conclusion that will gonna choose the million pounds over the smack in the face. Because sometimes it's necessary to resist. And you know whether this resistance ever comes to an end - I don't know and frankly I don't care. That's not what is important to me. The struggle is probably eternal. But on my small personal level there are definite ups and downs. There is a definite map that I could draw based on experience. If not on the future, which will lead me to make value judgments about who I'm gonna collaborate with - what actions I'm going to perpetrate, what art I'm gonna create - I'm not asking for socialist realism here, I'm not even asking for committed art or political art. I'm simply asking of myself on a critical awareness of these issues. So when Wired magazine comes to me, if it ever does, and offers to buy a piece from me, this is what they get from me. [shows his middle finger] I can't do other. The expense is too great.
XX: Should they go to hell or what?
HB: Yeah, I'd like to blow the bastards up!
X: Wouldn't that be more interesting to offer them a piece that would expose exactly what you think about?
HB: No, it wouldn't necessarily be a good thing. I just did an interview with High Times which is a magazine I have a lot of problems with, but ultimately I felt that the audience - it was going to reach - there might be some interesting things I could say for them. And so I swallow some distaste for High Times as a magazine and I do collaborate. That was a choice I made - might turn out to be a hideous mistake - I don't know. On the other hand I don't collaborate with Newt Gingrich. High Times is independently owned. S. Newhouse or Rupert Murdoch does not own it. S. Newhouse owns half of Wired and the other half is going to Newt Gingrich. There's no space for me, even if they would publish my bitter, viscious critic of them and their politics. Even if they would put it in their magazine it would be contextualized in such a way, that they can say: See how cool we are? We even let this ranter come into our magazine. We can absorb those ideas - we are rich - we are big, we are bigger than he is, we are bigger than you are - we've got it all - baby! This is theonly answer. [shows his middle finger again]
XXX: Wired magazine showed its true colors by wanting to copyright the "@"- sign. I believe that's one of the things that clearly showed them for what they are.
HB: Sure and then everyone on the net who uses the "@" has to pay them and then, you know that's $5 less freedom for you and me.
X: But the virus is more than the cell. The cell has all the productive facilities. Still it is the virus that kills the body.
HB: Anyway, I don't also even use the virus as a symbol of total negativity. I think there is a positive virus too. It's something that goes through a membrane. It penetrates a membrane and crosses a border and a lot of border crossings are very useful.
X: The question is: Are we creative enough to formulate phrases and texts that are subversive enough to value their inclusion in that text we basically oppose? That was basically the Pasolini line of argumentation. [H.Bey groans] And I think if we invest some thinking in what is the basic motivation of people to read Wired? Because they want to feel like being part of something spectacular, and out of the norm and an innovation and so on. Maybe that's it and they want to be part of the community. So if anyone offers an alternative points of entry or points of access for the feeling of the immediate contact - so this might have an effect and it would maybe induce people to adopt the difference stand towards regulation of communications in Cyberspace.
HB: Yeah - maybe that's true. The spirit bloweth where it listeth, as the good book says. The spirit goes where it wants to go. And so if the spirit feels like making an appearance in a Tom and Jerry cartoon - somebody told me the other day on morning television - well the spirit is bloody well going to do it. If somebody wants to read Bugs Bunny as the eternal anarchist, that is in fact a possible reading of Bugs Bunny. And in fact a lot of popular culture is completely infested with subversive memes. And there are plenty people whose first turn on to the idea of resistance actually comes from an area which is theoretically not where that's supposed to happen. After all, if school is supposed to socialize you for a lifetime of consumption and death, never the less some people sometimes inadvertently come across some poem or painting or mathematical formula in school, which has a different effect - and drives them away from the socialization process and education and into a field of resistance - you know, romantic rebellion or selfrealization or journeying to the east or whatever it might be. So far be it from me to dictate to the spirit, where it's going to manifest itself - HOWEVER! Right? There's a big "however". And that "however" is, that we have some brains, we have some taste and we can make decisions. There is absolutely no vast, monstrous force from the unconscious that is preventing us from making these decisions. We can actually make decisions.
This is an area of freedom. Even if we get crushed for the decisions we make, we have that moment in which we can act freely. Or at least within the parameters of our whole cultural, social conditioning or whatever you believe in along those lines - I'm not a behaviourist - I think there is a little sneeky area where freedom occurs. On that bases and on that bases alone. There is ... I think pressing cause to distrust and even to despise certain areas of the media .. now.. today .. here. And on that bases I simply can't accept to be absorbed into every medium. I'm going to resist, because my little area of freedom is valuable to me. And I see it threatened through the media - I really do.Maybe this is because I'm a writer and a media worker and I overvalue the media but I really, literally think this is true for a vast numbers of people. There is such a thing as media trance, which is a negative form, there really is such a thing as brainwashing, as there really is such a thing propaganda. In fact every advertisement is a form of brainwashing and propaganda on some level even if it's very clever and it's very artistic. So - oh God - I'm forced - you know, it's a funny paradox - I'm forced to make these choices about my freedom.
XXX: But is freedom a position?
HB: Well, freedom is a psychocinetic skill, by which I mean its a skill which is developed through the selftraining of mind and body. Its psychic martial arts. Freedom is a process, it's not closed and can't be defined within closed borders and it's in a constant state of becoming. So there's never an end or beginning to it and there's also never a definition to it. Nevertheless something we taste, something we smell, it's something we make love to.
KB : Your essay on the Chinese secret society the "Tong" on Zero News.I find it relevant in respect with how to work from a heretical, autonomous position. Are you suggesting to have new secret societies?
HB: It's one of my most experimental ideas and I feel on shaky ground, because many secret societies have been used for many different things. Well, specially Vienna as one of the hot spots of conspiratorial Freemasonry through all history would be a good place to talk about secret societies. It's one of my most experimental ideas and I feel on shaky ground, because obviously many secret societies have been used for many different things not all of which we would approve of. But actually what kicked me off on thinking about this was William Burroughs in an interview he did with a very small zine called Homocore. They talked about the Tong as a possible model for homosexuals in an age where aids and neopuritanism would cause them to have to disappear tactically from certain areas of society for self-protection if nothing else. But it is also clear that early masonic organizations where mutual aid societies, rather than beeing run for the profit of an corporation, a genuine non-hierarchical mutual insurance scheme. The Tongs in China were originally revolutionary groups. They were supposed to restore native Han Chinese autonomy against the Mongol invasion which became Djing dynasty. They wanted to restore the Ming. But they were soon historically diverted into crime which is also the fairly useful idea for a secret society because we all know how many nice and enjoyfull things are considered to be crime in our modern nations, which are in fact completely harmless. Like smoking pot. In America it's a terrible crime; There's half a million people in jail for smoking pot. Perhaps, I'm asking, might it be better, instead of going out on the street, smoking a joint to become a martyr and get thrown in jail and make some kind of weird political point out of our own misery, maybe it would be better just to have a little "secret society" for the production and consumption of marihuana. That just would ignore the state and his histerical bullshit. Now extending that metaphor in other activities, social, economic, sexual or creative activities even,where you don't want, for one reason or an other, the incursion of outside powers and forces, which are bigger and stronger and have all the guns and all the money - one way to do it is to disappear. The model for that would be a secret society. I like to say that I don't believe in absolute secrecy; Virtual secrecy would be plenty. By which I simply mean, you don't make an ass out of yourself in the media. The worst example I've seen is Waco. Koresh the leader was a media hawk. And he went on television and boasted about the guns he was collecting and dare the Texas police to come and get him. He made a big splash at the local media and that was enough to reach the ears of people in Washington, who thought it would be very convenient to burn up some right winged Christians, right on that point of history, to show that Bill Clinton is the hero of left liberalism. So there was this woman Attorney General take the rap for what was essentially an act of political suppression. It was meant to terrify every autonomous christian right wing group in America, just the way two years before the same tactics were used against a group in Philadelphia called Move - a black nationals group - who put loudspeakers on the roof of their houses and constantly broadcasting their back to Africa message to the whole neighborhood. They were not hurting anybody, they were just being noisy and obstraperous. So the city of Philadelphia came in and burned down 90 square blocks of the city and killed everybody, with one or two exceptions, including women and children who died inside the buildings. The same happened in Waco.
So it's not a right wing plug or a left wing plug. It's a plug of power against autonomy. Anyone who behaves an autonomous fashion is the vilain. If you go and boost about it in the media, you are asking to be smashed. Cause they have the guns and the have the money. So I'm only suggesting the Tong as a possible model we need to explore. I'm not saying I believe in it. I don't think it's the solution to anything but I think it's a very interesting model which needs to be explored again. In the 18th century the secret societies were the edge of the revolutionary wedge and we are maybe in a situation like that again now.
KB: How does this relate to conspiracy theory. It seems to be a very touchy item with liberals but is embraced by highly obscure right wing fanatics.
HB: I love conspiracy theory. I make some use of it in my work but I try to keep it on a metaphorical level and not to get carried away and become a literal believer in anyone's conspiracy for a number of reasons. Because first there is an old problem, with which even Tolstoi was dealing with - is whether history is made by great individual human beings, who act on history, or whether history is made by great unconscious surges of economic and social movements, that are far greater and broader than any individual. So that Napoleon is simply the one who is carried on the front of this wave. Rather than being a leader he is actually pushed forward by the wave of history. The great-men theory of history is a very dangerous trap and clearly if you believe literally in conspiracy theory, then you are believing in the great-men-theory. You are believeing that a very small group of very brilliant individuals who can actually conspire to change history, usually to their advantage.
XXX: Like Bill Gates?
HB: For example. Is he the leader of this thing or is he just pushed forward on the wav e of some kind of techno-economic development and if it was not Bill Gates it would be someone else. Robert Anton Wilson likes to quote: "When it is steam engine time it steam engines." Like when it is time to rain it rains. When it is time for steam engines some vast IT produces the steam engine. In fact we know plenty of examples where the same scientific discovery is made simultanously by five or six people within minutes around the world. Not because of some Jungian archetypal anima floating around but because science got to that point. And five or six people were smart enough to realise it right away. There is also the point that the first working steam engine was actually built on an incorrect scientific theory, if I am not mistaken. It was made by someone who thought he was doing one thing but actually did something else alltogether and it just happened to be a steam engine. That happens plenty of times too.
The problem with conspiracy theory is to believe that there is one particular group of human beings who are in control of my destiny. That's a philosophical extreme to which I don't wanna go. On the other side it's obvious that people do conspire. That there are conspiracies, secret forces behind outward political shows of power. It is clear that there is not one single known politician in America who has any real power at all. They are simply working for big corporations and economic interests like oil, or the global market itself. The best model is, that there are many, at least several conspiracies and that they interlock, that they compete, that they melt into each other, that they separate from each other. If we wanna know what's going on, if we wanna understand history as it is happening we should know something about these conspiracies. Again critical consciousness is a useful tool here.
S: Maybe there could be some common denominator that would create a collective behavioral pattern that people seem to follow. It could show itself materialy when it is actually guided by conscious individuals minds.
HB: Absolutely but would it make any difference? I often think it does not matter whether this conspiracies are conscious or unconscious, there could also be an unconscious conspiracy. Consciousness is maybe not allways that great a force in this.
S: But don't you think that probably came back through the idea of behavourial patterns and the way people react to that kind of situation. Is the western world finding it so hard to kind of attain the same kind of discipline on consciousness that was known through - I suppose - other cultures, you know ?
HB: I would say that we don't wanna have to reinvent the wheel every ten years. So it is possible for us to look at these historical models, whatever you wanna call them. At the same time we don't wanna become the slaves of those models. We want our own model - we want a model which is continouly not finished, because any model which is finished then you become a slave of your own system. Blake said, that he had to have a system of his own or he would become a slave to somebody else's system. I say, your own system must be unfinished or you become a slave to yourself.
XXXXX: And what do you think about the world wide increasing repression from the Mafia that becomes bigger and kills more and more people?
HB: I think that's a function of the global market. Up until 1989 there was a dichotomy between communism and capitalism. It might have been a false show, a pseudo spectacular illusion. But never the less it defined the discourse. The evil empire here and the evil empire there in contradiction with each other. Then in 1989 suddenly this discourse collapsed and there's no more dichotomy. Instead there's a false unity built on a - what seems to me to be a multiplicity of misery. And within the inelectable process of dialectics, the global market will also produce instantly its own negation. And that negation, you could say, has a positive form and a negative form. The positive form of the negation might be these Zapatista uprising in Mexico. Which I look on as the first true revolutionary action taken against the global market. But the negative result of this - the "negative negative", if I can put it that way, would be a phenomenon like the mafia, which is moving into the vacuum of power, left by the collapse of the discourse of '89. I don't know whether this is the future we are looking at. If you study certain reports from Russia these days you might think this is actually the future we are looking at.
Again conspiracy theory. I have been fascinated with Mafia related Freemasonic, you know the Italian Propaganda Due lodge and all this kind of thing. It is conceivable that this is in fact the new negation. And we haven't even realized that yet, that we are in a new war and we haven't even seen what the war is. But other than that, I can't answer your question, because I can't read the future. Let us not forget, that there are reasons why the Mafia is so popular. The Mafia actually delivers what you want, whereas the government doesn't - the Mafia actually delivers what you want whereas religion doesn't. I think Malcom Mc Larren said: Drugs will allways be popular because drugs actually can make you feel like the people on television advertisements appear to be feeling. And precisely this is where the Mafia comes in with the most brilliant commodity strategy in the modern world, possibly, which is that they deliver the drugs. Which is what people want. We can't just cup some moralistic stance here - that's the Mafia and this is us. We are implicated. We have to decide in what way we extracate ourselves from that implication or in what way we make use of it even. Who knows? It's a very mysterious, entangled situation.
KB: Do you see a convergence of mythology and politics?
HB: Well, on the mythological level all the stuff is working but that has a relationship with the media which will be very complex to try to track in detail. Well every once in a while these mythological memes also make their appearance in the media as well . And in that way some of them can be killed, if you know what I mean. But the source, the unconscious storehouse for all this stuff is never emptied - are never empty. The human consciousness or imagination. And all the more so, because it penetrates into a world which still believes in the rational, in unified consciousness, in history - in the negative sense that I would give to that word. In other words we basically are still living, despite the romantic movement, despite modernism, in the 18th century.
In this respect the public discourse is assumed to be rational, assumed to be secular, separated from religion through some quasi-linguistic fiction. These mytho-memes are not received in this world of pseudo sunlight in a religious sense anymore, the way they would have been in the past, let's say in the 17th century or going on back to the stone-age. When they make their appearance they don't appear in the world of religion, they don't appear in this recognized separated sphere of spirituality. They penetrate everything including the secular consciousness. For example: satanic abuse, the UFO, abductions... These things make an appearance in the rational media and people talk about abuse and they get panic stricken and they don't know why they get panic stricken. Because we are now anti-modernist, not postmodernist.
Anti-modernist in the sense that for example Freud has been chucked out of the window and we don't deal with the unconscious any more. That only happened for a few years. Maybe in the 40's, 50's, people tried to deal with the unconscious. A lot of people - fascinating stuff came out of that. And now that's finished. A friend of mine said we don't need the unconscious, we have advertizing. Now we don't even have advertizing so much, even advertizing is finished. So whatever this unconscious is - I mean it's sort of spread out in supermarket newspapers, home videos, mallculture... and basically a lot of this stuff does not appear and can not appear and will never appear in the media, in a sense, it's too freaky. There are some things that the monster can't eat.
And the truth is America is churning up out of its subconscious, political subconscious, churning up all these enemies ... filthy Arabs, crazed terrorists, kiddy porn on the internet and all this - choose your favorite symptom, some symptoms are noticed by people of the right, some symptoms are noticed by people on the left but the subject is pathology. And there is a pathological search for the scapegoat, the enemy, and naturally a society like that is waging war on itself.