Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) on Thu, 17 Jul 1997 20:53:24 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Anyone Heard Thoth Lately?


Having just returned from a John Perry Barlow speech at the "Plug-In '97"
conference in NYC, (held in conjunction with the "Intel New
York New Music Festival, -- no Thoth is not the name a band
at the event, as far as I can tell), I thought it might be fruitful to
reflect on some of Barlow's comments, their relationship to the "Long Boom"
WIRED cover story from one of Barlow's "patrons", the Global Business
Network, and the implications of all this for art in our times.

The speech was vintage Barlow, filled with shibboleths flying over the
heads of most in the audience mixed with familiar notions about the end of
intellectual property and rambling remarks about devils, value shifts and
odd historical references.  I'd like to briefly reflect on some quotes from
Barlow's speech, which are emblematic of his reasoning (hopefully accurate
and not taken out of context):

"If I treated my farm animals like record companies treat their artists
then I would have been out of farming even sooner than I was",

"Behind every working anarchy there is an old boy's network",

"There's something enlightened about the patronage system" and

"We are now going from monotheism to pantheism almost overnight."

I'd like to suggest that these characterizations by Barlow constitute
elements of an argument in favor of a kind of New Dark Age which far
surpasses the medieval period in European history in its ignorance,
brutality and ignobility.  Indeed, what Barlow ennunciates is the core of
an argument for ending what we now think of as the human race and replacing
it with a form of animal husbandry presided over by priestly caste akin to
the experimental "society" which surrounded the Grateful Dead -- the
touchstone of Barlow's life.

We are all familiar with the now standard remarks that the Internet
represents the "biggest change in what it means to be human since the
capture of fire."  Should we view this comment as worthy of discussion or
merely as hyperbole?  I'm convinced that Barlow, along with many others, is
quite serious about literally changing humanity -- to end war, poverty and
unhappiness, of course.  Although he will no doubt take this as flattery,
unfortunately, I believe these folks should be taken quite seriously since
the psychological and genetic technologies to abolish humanity are all too
likely to soon be in firmly hand and the unintended consequences of there
efforts could become cataclysmic.  

Indeed, this theme of "ending humanity" is all too common in the widespread
cyberspace and "cyborg" literature and, often enough (ironically, of
course) in nettime posts as well.  As in the recent,

"OVERTHROW THE HUMAN RACE -- Luther Blissettt"

What would Barlow's vision of an Information Economy, with its coincident
"overthrowing the human race" mean for art?  Art would simply cease to
exist.  I suspect that this would superficially appeal to some nettimers
but, perhaps, it is time to consider the consequences of such a drastic
course of action.

Despite Barlow's characterization that this New Economy has "creative human
endeavor" as it's essense (not all that different from Richard Barbrook's
notion of "Digital Artisans", in my view), nothing could be further from
the truth.  Without humans, conscious humans, creativity is simply *not*

Having just had the opportunity to tour a remarkable new exhibit at the
Israel Museum consisting of artifacts honoring Eqytptian Gods, I am mindful
that none of this Eqyptian statuary is art.  As historians take great pains
to point out, all these objects, as beautiful as they may appear to us,
were not created to express beauty at all (a concept quite foriegn to the
Eqyptians) -- they are magical totems ment to propitiate the pantheism of
the Gods.  And, indeed, if one follows Julian Jaynes (as I do), it is not
exagerating to say that the Eqyptians were not conscious humans and,
therefore, they were incapable of producing art -- just as the
Eqyptologists emphasise (without any reference to Jaynes, naturally).  In
periods of human pre-history like the great civilizations of Eqypt and
Assyria/Babylon or the cave painting of Southern France, for that matter,
Jaynes posits that life was "determined" by hallucinated God-voices --
which he called the "bicameral mind" -- and that this mental regime began
to be replaced by consciousness beginning around 1000 BCE with the advent
of written history.  

True pantheism is likely to be of the sort described by Jaynes. 
Hallucinated God-voices.  This is presumably the reason why Barlow
continues to take LSD and goes out into the desert to worship the rocks and
the trees.  Indeed, while Gnostics (as brilliantly characterized by Eric
Davis on nettime) enervate much of post-modern religiousity, the
Neo-gnostic desire to accomplish "spiritual alchemy" and to "re-integrate"
with the perfection of humanity before the Fall would mean the end to
Gnosticism along with the humanity who invented it.  Gnosticism has been
the creation of monotheistic and conscious humans.  Pantheism is
pre-Gnostic.  It is pre-conscious.  In fact, it is pre-human.

What does all this have to do with the Global Business Network (GBN)?  The
abrupt turnabout by GBN head Peter Schwartz in his recent cover article
represents an important tactical shift which nettime related
poltical-economists would do well to focus on.  Instead of preaching that
the future is impossible to predict and that a detached, scientific
examination of alternative scenarios is the only responsible approach (the
basis of GBN's present consulting practice), GBN has privately and now
publically committed themselves to one particular scenario.  In their own
terms, they have committed the greatest possible sin -- gone "normative." 
Like Barlow's denounciation of media giants, GBN is now preaching that the
multinational is dead or, at least, severely crippled. (Shades of Soros, as

GBN's peon to the New Economy is but one form of the "soft argument" which
accompanies Barlow's, actually more honest, "hard argument."  As Barlow
makes abundantly clear, the basis of the shift away from humanity (and
monotheism) towards pantheistic post-(pre-)humanity is the shift from atoms
to bits.  It is his conviction that most people make their livings from the
effluvia of their minds rather than their hands -- the result of computers
and automation -- that makes the more fundamental shift away from humanity
possible and even desirable. 

Indeed, Barlow characterizes all forms of hierarchy as the "devil we know"
and suggests that the end of the nation-state and a "return to emphasis on
city-states", will make the shift towards a "working anarchy", which he
hopes for, to become possible.  This "working anarchy" will be patterned on
the "canon of religion without dogma" which characterized the Grateful Dead
and in which, one can hardly doubt, Barlow wishes to continue to be among
the new "old boys network."

Art becomes tie-dyed, swirling, twirling comparisons of song-lists and the
need to "be there" so that you won't miss the best version of "Truckin'"
ever played.  Or, as I've otherwise suggested, art ceases to exist.

Today in his speech, Barlow called corporations the "devil" and declared
that the coming battle -- in which he is sure that blood will be spilled --
is between the "devil" and the "individual."  "We're all human", he says,
"and we're all capable of experiencing individual freedom."

Herein, of course, lies the great contradiction in Barlow's version of the
future and the past.  Individuality (with it's interiority, subjectivity,
privacy and intentionality, or what Jaynes refered to as mind-space) is the
certain hallmark of human "volitional" consciousness.  It was the
"invention" of monotheism which most clearly represented the transition
from "bicameral", pantheistic, pre-conscious homo-sapiens towards become
conscious humanity -- in turn, capable of creating art and understanding
the Good (beauty).  If Barlow's thoughts are carried to their conclusion,
and the legacy of Abraham is overturned (Barlow's reference, BTW), the
"individual" disappears.  Truly pantheistic cultures don't have
"individuals"; they have Grateful Dead concerts.

So, boiling it all down to the gristle, Barlow is calling upon
"individuality" to overthrow individuality, "artists" to overthrow art and
"creativity" to overthrow creativity.  Perhaps, it will become clear in his
future work if he is aware of this overarching and, quite possibly
deliberate, connundrum.  Moreover, it is undoubtedly time for nettime to
consider the likely consequences of transmuting such rhetoric into reality.

Mark Stahlman
New Media Associates
New York City
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