Felix Stalder on Sat, 7 Mar 2009 08:49:52 -0500 (EST)

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Re: <nettime> Cybernetics and the Internet

On Thursday, 5. March 2009, Florian Cramer wrote:

> Unfortunately, these misunderstandings thoroughly pervade the field
> - and, most importantly: utopias - of "new media" studies, art and
> activism. I wonder what will be left of it as soon as people wake up
> and realize that the hopes they put into "open systems that organize
> themselves" have been just another god delusion.

Self-flagellation is a time-honored practice, but I don't really see who 
within new media -- other than right-wing libertarians in the 1990s -- put 
forward seriously such an idea. Nettime has always been about the critique 
of such ideas and the introduction of politics, culture, history, you name 
it, into the technological discourse and practices. So, I'm not sure which 
people might "wake up" one day.

The problem that Florian highlights is much older, namely the import of 
metaphors from the natural into the social sciences (and, by extension, 
politics), hoping to profit from their prestige. This goes all the way back 
to the beginning of social sciences themselves. Auguste Compte (1798-1857) 
envisioned a social physics, Herbert Spencer translated the evolutionary 
theories of his day into Social Darwinism, and so on, right to today, when 
network theorists like Watts and Barabasi speak of a "new social physics". 

Such imports -- unless they are very lose and metaphorical -- never work 
and the attempt to short-cut political processes by references to some 
natural law (or, as it is put today, some pervasive statical patterns) is a 
sure sign of right wing politics. 

Though I would really hate to see the notion of "self-organization" to be 
reduced to some insidious cybernetic fantasy. There is a rich anarchist 
tradition that uses the term quite differently, and if you look at actual 
activists projects, say indymedia, they are much closer to that tradition 
than to some "god delusions" when they speak of self-organization.

And, the Internet does play a real role here. Network technologies have 
vastly increased the ability to scale voluntary cooperation, which I think 
is a very important source of social change today (not always for the 
better, of course, be bad guys have internet too). 

--- http://felix.openflows.com ----------------------------- out now:
*|Mediale Kunst/Media Arts Zurich.13 Positions.Scheidegger&Spiess2008
*|Manuel Castells and the Theory of the Network Society. Polity, 2006 
*|Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks. Ed. Futura/Revolver, 2005 

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