David Garcia on Mon, 10 Jul 2017 13:15:04 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The alt-right and the death of counterculture

Felix Stalder wrote..

> Looking back, the shortcomings of the approaches "emanating out of
> Amsterdam", say tactical media in particular and, but the cultural/media
> left more generally, seem to be twofold, in my view.
> First, while the intuition about the necessity to interrupt the normal
> flows of communication was correct and has proofed to be very powerful
> since, there was no idea what do in the space that would thus be opened
> up. We could have used the time when the system was relatively stable to
> think about this, but we didn't. Now, the the system is falling apart,
> the far right is capable of imposing an even darker version of disaster
> capitalism.

> There has been very little interest in offering points of translation,

> that is, to think about how people who are not in the same circuit could
> appropriate and transform for their own use, the insights they find in
> the theoretical perspective one offers.

I am trying to get a sense of what is really at stake in these discussions.. what the underlying 
continuities as well as big changes that make these questions of counter-cultures and the new
autonomous zones of message boards and meme wars seem important rather than a trivial 
side show. 

The big change from the 1990s is the way internet and digital cultures (in large areas of the world)
are now fully inserted into and thus inseparable from daily life. The full impact of the web 2.0 revolution 
and the rise of the platform era is quite simply the -mainstreaming- of digital cultures. 

In this context it is nonsense to see work on the political, cultural and epistemic impact of these changes 
as a marginal obsession of -a self-selecting group geeks.. the continued development of earlier agendas 
of the cypher punks around anonymity, surveillance, autonomy, and agency as a necessity for creating 
wider progressive change has increased not decreased in urgency. Digital cultures have become quite simply a
-Total Social Fact- [Noortje Maares-Digital Sociology]. 

This -insertiability- of the digital cultures into all aspects of life is the foundation for both the success of these 
platforms and devices as well as the basis of monopolistically inclined business models that Nick Srnicek 
has called platform capitalism in active combination with the surveillance state. 

Coming to grips with this problem is more subtle than it is sometimes portrayed. The tricky point lies in understanding
that what constitutes actual participation and what differentiates these cultures from all that preceded it. 

Participation is not as it is sometimes portrayed -the difference between -the passive audience 
and the active engaged participants or users-. No, a traditional audience (or public) can be as active and 
highly engaged as anyone else. The key point of difference is that engagement in the case of an -audience- 
is invisible. The engagement of an audience is invisible because it is not -traceable-. And without traceability  
there can be no -feedback-. No feedback means no participation. 

This was de Certeau’s observation long ago and why he saw consumption as invisible co-creation with an asymmetric 
balance of power. And observed the presence of silent invisible networks of resistance that he called tactical.

It is this necessary traceability on which participation depends that has been opportunistically seized upon as the 
business models and the new forms of exploitation and value extraction we know as platform capitalism which when combined 
with state surveillance squats like a toad atop of what could still become a post capitalist culture of contribution. 

The -insertion- of this model of digital cultures into the everyday life accounts for both its success and also sub-cultural 
resistance that demands the right to anonymity and the need for unregulated spaces. It is the need for these spaces that 
accounts for the huge popularity of message bodes like 4chan where registration is not required and anonymity is an expedient 
that morphed into an ethos and then into a movement whose potential has only begun. 

Back in 2012 Gabriella Coleman wrote a journal article reflecting on the research she had been doing since 2008 
on the formative role of 4chan's random page in the emergence of Anonymous in which she asks -how has the anarchic 
hate machine of (Fox News’s epithet for Anonymous) been transformed into one of the most adroit and effective political 
operations of recent times ? - Now in 2017 we need to invert the question and ask how did the platform that gave rise to 
-the most adroit and effective political operation- spawned the even more adroit and effective operation Alt.right ? And 
more pertinently why was this once progressive domain ceded so much to the right.. why was there not a more effective 
fightback. why no equally powerful alt.left?   
The white supremacist trolls and nazi meme warriors may have had an exaggerated belief in their own influence but 
though exaggerated was and remans far from negligible. Trump’s recent speech in Poland on the battle for Western 
Civilisation has Bannon’s Alt.right finger prints all over it. He may be less visible these days but his influence in the White 
House remains undimmed.  

Whether as Anonymous or Alt.right the unregulated autonomous zones of message boards 
represent the revenge of what some on the left previously dismissed as folk politics. Far from being 
either an impotent side show or the property any particular set of political affiliations these spaces represent 
a new front line in the battle for the social mind. As Florian Cramer pointed out in a recent panel that there are 
parallels here with Punk which although often associated in the UK and beyond with the anarchist left in Germany
there was a strong constituency of neo-nazi punk.   

Felix Stalder wrote    

> import of ideas/tactics always goes from left to right. It has the
> whiny undertones of an inventor who sees his idea commercialized by
> others. But that's incorrect. If you look at what happens with the
> "Indivisible Movement", they every clearly and openly copy tactics of
> the tea party movement, 

Yes agreed- And one of the most important lessons is to be unafraid of power and to be willing to re-occupy 
traditional political parties but in new ways. 

Although it has not figured much in these discussions the UK Labour party’s successful campaign combined with the 
Momentum the organisation in support of the Corbyn agenda operating outside of the formal party structures and making 
fantastic use of independant media outlets. 

Other nettime regulars such as Richard Barbrook who were actively campaigning would be 
far better than I am to illuminate this picture. 

But from the outside the campaign seems to have taken many lessons from the US grass roindependantot’s media activism 
combining new forms of campaigning, Turning rallies into media events. Not cosying up to mainstream 
media but attacking them all appears straight out of the Trump play book of Let Corbyn be Corbyn 

Its easy too write off work around art, media and politics in the words of Jodie Dean -communicative 
capitalism’s perfect lure- a self deluding sideshow, unconnected to the disciplines of real political 
organising. But whatever else the Alt.right demonstrated that in politics *culture* particularly 
sub-cultures still matter. And that Bretitbart’s famous aphorism energetically adopted by Bannon’s meme team 
that: -politics is down-stream from culture- is a message that the far right learned well which some on the left 
overlooked as they were anxious to move on from the DIY media practices dismissed by some as -folk politics-. 

Again from the outside, Momentum have been stupidly misrepresented as a throw back 
Trotskyist entryism of the 1970s. But Corbyn himself represent a very different approach 
to what leadership is.  Part of Corbyn’s very contemporary appeal is he appears as a reluctant 
leader. Uncomfortable with the trappings of power. His clear discomfort with the normal 
logic of power brings his approach closer to what Paolo Gerbaudo has called the “emotional 
choreography” of the reluctant leaders of Occupy.

I remember a discussion along while back at the LSE  with Paul Mason in a conversation with Manuel Castells 
where Mason declared would be inconceivable for any politician today could openly declare as Labour Party's Shawcross 
notoriously did when Labour won power in 1945 that -We are the masters now- For whatever reason people don’t want 
masters .. People don’t trust traditional forms of leadership anymore.. 

But in the same conversation they discussed the fact that major social and political change takes time to unfold it can be 
glacial (then sudden). Castells pointed out how -it took 20-30 years from the arrival of mass industrialisation to the 
point when union power and the labour movement became political institutions […] its long journey from the minds of 
people to the institutions of society-.  I know.. I know.. we don’t have that long.


d a v i d  g a r c i a
Bournemouth University
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