waz on Tue, 2 Feb 1999 07:49:23 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Article 68-Resisting the Neoliberal Discourse of Technology

It is becoming something of a rarity to read such complete and
thorough-going bollocks on nettime as this article, but this one is so
bad it really does deserve a section by section dismemberment. I'm
pretty rude in some of this, but I found it pretty upsetting, 
mainly because I see this article and the point of view it espouses to
be precisely the kind of defeatist bullshit that will lead to people on
the left - us - allowing the neoliberal swine - them - to take over
technology completely in precisely the way that this essay asserts they
already have, which they obviously haven't, or nettime itself wouldn't
be here. 

>  Totalitarianism is already present in
>  the technical object. - Paul Virilio [1]

No it isn't. - Me.

>  Such penetrating assessments of technology are increasingly
>  exceptional: nearly all the political, economic, and cultural texts
>  that surround us suggest that we are entering a truly new
>  technological and democratic age

Only if an individual chooses to surround themselves with such texts,
and frankly, I would have thought a CTHEORY contributor - from
everything I've heard about CTHEORY - would have better taste than that
suggested by this assertion. A truly new age, yes. A truly new
technological age - obviously. A truly new democratic age? Um. Well. It
would indeed be truly new, wouldn't it, if we ended up living in a
democracy. However... 

>  However, while pan-capitalism appears largely impregnable to various
>  oppositional political forces and survives broadly uncontested, it
>  nonetheless relies extensively on a specifically neoliberal discourse
>  of technology. What is more, this discourse is principally concerned
>  with legitimating the political and cultural control of individuals,
>  groups, and new social movements through the material and ideological
>  production, promotion, distribution, and consumption of self-styled
>  "virtual" technologies like virtual reality (VR) and cyberspace.

Legitimating? VR? You mean, like, Quake? Man, Quake is
self-legitimating. You should go and play it. More seriously, if the
above paragraph is attempting to suggest that everyone "involved with
the production, promotion, distribution and consumption of self-styled
"virtual" technologies" is only able to operate with a single discourse
- that which is principally concerned with sustaining and supporting
pan-capitalism, the neoliberal power elites and so forth - then what you
are really saying is "I haven't got it about the internet, yet." Yup. 

It is true that the money-men and the pan-capitalists and whathaveyou
are doing very well indeed in the war to control this new cultural
possibility space - call it virtual or cyber as you will. Part of the
reason for this is that there are too many people on the left who still
use phrases like 'self-styled "virtual" technologies' in 1999. If you
take all the chocolate chips out of the chocolate chip cookie it won't
be a chocolate chip cookie any more, and if all the left-wingers
boycotted cyberspace then it would indeed be captured by the right.
Permanently. So don't. 

It is also true that those of us within what is - to me at least - still
the most exciting cultural development in about 5000 years whether you
are on the left or not - and my growing suspicion is that there are
those of us on the left in this space who are beginning to become just a
teency bit disappointed with the cloth-eared wilful blindness of those
on the left outside - as it were - who still assume that - to return to
the quote with which you began this essay - the technological is
inherently totalitarian. Hogwash. Only if you leave it to the
totalitarians. Then it is. So come in. Please. 

>  Artefacts like VR, cyberspace, and the Internet thus
>  embody not "use value" but what Arthur Kroker and Michael Weinstein
>  term "abuse value":

Um. Maybe it's abuse value *and* use value. Maybe it isn't quite as
clear-cut and pat as all this, maybe it's not black and white, but
shades of grey. Hell, I'm just throwing suggestions out here. 

> The neoliberal analysis of production under the conditions of
> pan-capitalism and telemetry accordingly focuses not on the outmoded
> Marxian conception of the "labor process", but on the technological
> and scientific ~processing of labour~. [7] The result is that surplus
> labor is transformed by relentless technological activity, and the
> means of virtual production produce abuse value.

Really. There is a rather pathetically obvious contradiction between the
suggestion that 'the means of virtual production produce abuse value'
and the fact that everyone on this mailing list is reading that *very*
phrase on the self same abuse value producing means of virtual
production. Now, since I myself can see no value in this paragraph
except to abuse it this would actually seem to make sense to me, but
that won't work for you, since you obviously think that this paragraph
was actually worth writing and had *use* value (you did write it all in
longhand didn't you... didn't you?), but - of course - that proves it
wasn't worth writing. Because it was wrong. 

>  The technological fixations of the neoliberals are, of course,
>  presently extending themselves from virtual production to virtual
>  culture; to technoscience and to cyberculture, including the culture
>  of cyborgs, cyberfeminism, cyberspace, cyberwarfare, and
>  cyberart.

Wow. Ah. I see. How much easier to assume that anything that it in
anyway 'cyber' is wholly controlled by the neoliberals than to try and
analyse the Whole General Mish Mash of differing and conflicting
discourses and views of discourses that we get in the actual real world
which we inhabit. But how pointless. And how upsetting, for those of us
only now finding out that there are people who will assume we are
neoliberals purely on the basis of our technological acculturation. How
the fuck does that help us make the world a better place for everyone?
And if that's not the point of being left-wing, then writing long
detailed analyses of why it's all a load of pointless crap anyway and
all the battles are already inherently lost isn't it either. Sorry. I
know it's our tradition to write long pointless essays about crap on the
left, but we are actually beginning to run out of time... *sigh* .. and
it would be nice to at least be getting our facts straight in our long,
pointless essays about crap... And eventually someone will figure out a
way of improving things a bit. Maybe. Or, again, do we just leave all
that kind of stuff to the totalitarians? 

>  ... it has become clear that technology is not only
>  voraciously consuming what is left of "nature," but is also busily
>  constructing it anew. Nanotechnology, for example, brings together
>  the basic atomic building blocks of nature effortlessly, cheaply, and
>  in just about any molecular arrangement we ask.

Perhaps you know something about nanotechnology that I don't, but I
haven't seen the widespread day to day deployment of nanotechnologies on
the scale that this sentence would imply. I mean, yeah, I read all those
funky articles about it in Mondo 2000 and stuff, but I didn't think it
was happening yet. But don't let's have reality intrude on our train of
thought here... 

>  [10] Information and
>  communications technologies evoke the virtual architecture and
>  circuitry of fiber-optics, computer networks, cybernetic systems, and
>  so on.

Um - now I don't want to seem slow here, but you seem to be asserting
that x = x here, right? I'm sorry. This sentence teaches no-one anything
new - unless this is actually a proposal for a new dictionary. Like,
'Dictionaries evoke the book containing the words of a language
alphabetically arranged, with their meanings, etymology etc.' 

>  These technologies, these assemblages, though, need to be appreciated
>  for what they are: synthetic materials transformed into instruments
>  of "the will to virtuality," or of human incorporation - even
>  "disappearance" - into cybernetic machinery. Cybercultural
>  technologies are agents of physical colonization, imperialists of the
>  human sensorium, created, like Frankenstein, by our own raw desire.
>  They represent what Virilio calls "the third revolution", the
>  impending bodily internalization of science and technology.

You surely can't be suggesting that the most important thing that we on
the left should be concerning ourselves vis-a-vis the current cultural
revolution is "disappearance" into cybernetic machinery? Because I would
strongly suggest that the most important thing that we on the left
should be concerning ourselves with is a) access to the technology
should be universal and b) substantial chunks of that technology should
not be allowed to fall under control of the neoliberals, and, if they
do, they should be taken back, by simple colonisation. And that anything
else was probably not relevant yet. 

>As Virilio recently defined the third revolution:

>       By this term I mean that technology is becoming something
>       physically assimilable, it is a kind of nourishment for the
>       human race, through dynamic inserts, implants and so on. Here,
>       I am not talking about implants such as silicon breasts, but
>       dynamic implants like additional memory storage. What we see
>       here is that science and technology aim for miniaturisation in
>       order to invade the human body. [11]

Shite. A very small proportion of extremely wealthy people in the West
get to play with this kind of stuff, but the rest of us are still
struggling with the same human body as the one we had in the days of
Spartacus. Some of us are stuggling with the neoliberals, and others are
struggling - in a very Life of Brian way, I am sad to say - with

>  ... cybercultural technologies, like all
>  technologies, are ~innately political~. Technologies like VR do not
>  appear - like rainfall - as heavenly gifts. They have to be willed
>  into existence, they have to be produced by real human beings.

Ok. So you're not so *completely* stupid. That's right. These
technologies have to produced by real human beings. Good morning. 

>  Information and communications technologies, for instance, both
>  contain and signify the cultural and political values of particular
>  human societies. Accordingly, these technologies are always
>  expressions of socioeconomic, geographical, and political interests,
>  partialities, alignments and commitments. In brief, the will to
>  technical knowledge is the will to technical power.

Yes. Exactly. So. Go and learn C. Go and learn Perl. Go and learn HTML.
Not necessarily in that order. Get that power and write some stuff and
build a bit of intrinsically progressive technology according to the
intrinsically progressive freeware / open source models - or build
better models. At the very least do a *bit* of research.

>  It is crucial, then, to redefine, and to develop a fully conscious
>  and wholly ~critical~ account of the neoliberal discourse of
>  technology at work in the realm of cyberculture; one that exposes not
>  only the economic and social interests embodied within cultural
>  technologies, but also their underlying authoritarianism.

No no no and another three thousand times no. It is not crucial then to
develop a conscious and critical account of the neoliberal discourse of
technology at work in the realm of cyberculture. Fuck the neoliberal
discourse of technology at work within the realm of cyberculture. Rather
it is *crucial* to develop a conscious and critical account of the
*progressive* discourse of technology - and even more than that it is
*extremely crucial* to strengthen and enhance that *progressive*
discourse of technology in order to actually *challenge* and *defeat*
any alleged hegemony of the neoliberal discourse that may crop up. You
may have noticed there are one or two that have cropped up already. You
want to call them names. I want to beat the bastards off the playing
field. Help me. Your arguments help them.

>  Maybe
>  Marshall McLuhan was right? The medium ~is~ the message. The question
>  is, what does it say?

So close to the answer yet so far. So who's doing the saying? Are you
doing the saying? Or are you leaving that to some neoliberal before
jumping up and yelling "Look! Look! The Neoliberal said a bad thing!" Or
course he did - that's what the neoliberals do. But you could have been
there yourself. In fact you were. And you said this. Which was bollocks.
Which is what I said.

We can say something else now if we like.

>  Moreover, how does it manage to say it so
>  eloquently, so perfectly, that some among us are more than "willing"
>  to trade corporeality for virtuality? And all for what? A chance to
>  dance to the (pre-programmed) rhythms of technologized bodies?

Meet me online and I'll tell you.

>  Indeed, it is hard to disagree with Hakim Bey when he writes:
>       Physical separateness can never be overcome by electronics,
>       but only by "conviviality", by "living together" in the most
>       literal physical sense. The physically divided are also the
>       conquered and the Controlled. "True desires" - erotic,
>       gustatory, olfactory, musical, aesthetic, psychic, & spiritual
>       - are best attained in a context of freedom of self and other
>       in physical proximity & mutual aid. Everything else is at best
>       a sort of representation. [14]

Oh no it bloody isn't. It's a fucking doddle to disagree with Hakim Bey
when he writes this. I do it every day, and it goes like this. Physical
seperateness can be overcome by whatever you have to hand. If you are
fortunate enough to have "conviviality" and "living together" in the
most literal physical sense, then I can only agree, that is indeed the
best way to live. However, to partially overcome physical separateness
by electronics - whether by talking long-distance on the telephone or by
meeting a distant loved one in an online text-only chat room is very
much more than merely a sort of representation as I can attest from
personal experience.

We are not all so fortunate as to the ways in which we get to overcome
our physical separateness, and quite frankly, the more different ways
there are, the happier I am likely to be. You can't have cream and
caviar every day of the week. 

The wood is being missed for the trees here. By focussing solely on the
cybernetic within the human, you miss the human within the cybernetic.
By missing the human within the cybernetic, you put the human within the
cybernetic at serious risk. When you do that, people like me, who are
very attached to the human within the cybernetic for a wide range of
reasons mainly to do with the agreed awesome power of that cybernetic
and the obvious importance of ensuring a continued and powerful human
element within the cybernetic precisely to avoid the totalitarian
disaster you seem to want to prove has already occurred - are going to
argue against you until they are blue in the face. Or just ignore you.

>  Resisting the unconstrained development of the neoliberal discourse
>  of technology is vital because such resistance impedes the
>  contemporary development of the  virtual class.

If every member of the 'virtual class' was neoliberal this would make
sense. But it doesn't, because not every member of the 'virtual class'
is neoliberal. Otherwise nettime wouldn't exist, and nor would CTHEORY
for that matter. And if you want to tell me that no no only the
neoliberals online are the virtual class, the rest of us are ok really,
then you are not merely contradicting your earlier assertion to the
contrary, but moreover what you are saying is that restraining the
neoliberal discourse of technology is vital to impede the development
of neoliberals online, and again you have it arse-about-face and wrong,
and I would suggest to yout that it is not possible to restrain the
neoliberal discourse of technology without being a neoliberal. One can
however, restrain the progressive discourse of technology by leading it
up blind alleys, and I wish you wouldn't.

>  Certainly, it is possible to characterise the present period of
>  self-consciously "spectacular" technological innovation as being
>  driven primarily by pan-capitalism's need to arm itself against the
>  onset of virtual class warfare.

On the contrary. It is highly dubious to make such a characterisation,
especially without supporting argument, and particularly in the light of
the fairly self-evident property of the current period of self-
consciously spectacular technological innovation of being self-
supporting and recursively self-driven in a way entirely unlike any
other cultural development at any time in the history of humanity.

You have obviously no idea what a supporting argument is, so here's a
demonstration. I have just made an assertion - viz - it is a fairly
self-evident property .. yada yada. You can read it in the paragraph
above. Now - look - I am going to support it. With an example.

Take the Web.

The World Wide Web. An unbelivably large and ever-growing
collection of documents, all linked to one another in all manner of
ways, depending on the nature of the content involved. These documents
may be classified in an infinite number of different ways - including by
those that are and are not likely to help you - that's you - to learn to
build a web page yourself. It so happens that it is very easy to find
pages that fall into the latter category - and that many of those are
very well written. Yes. You too *could* learn HTML. Shh. You heard it
first. By virtue of the fact that the Web contains such a proportion of
documents, it contributes to its own development and perpetuation in a
recursive manner analagous to the very manner in which I asserted that
the whole of the current period of self-consciously spectacular
technological innovation does.

Now, you might disagree with my example, but at least I tried. Anyway.
In future essays, you will find that people will have more time for your
assertions if you take the trouble to back them up with arguments.
such as the example of an example given above, are frequently useful
in constructing arguments, though they do, I admit, require a certain
of research. But you knew that. Right?

[17] Without doubt, the virtual class
>  must, at some stage - and probably with the acquiescence, if not the
>  full participation of global technocratic, political and military
>  elites - confront living labour, actual communities, tangible spaces,
>  material environments, and physical, breathing, bodies.


Again, let's not let reality stand in the way of a good left-wing essay,
here, but sheesh. Without doubt, the year 1963 will follow the year
1962. And?

>  The
>  neoliberal discourse of technology therefore represents an attempt by
>  the virtual class to open up a new period in the cybernetic carnival
>  that is pan-capitalism. The unfolding of the neoliberal discourse of
>  technology is thus the unfolding of virtual class relations. This is
>  the true nature of social communications in the contemporary era.

But by admitting defeat to the neoliberal elements of the virtual class
in advance and calling that the true nature of social communications the
contemporary era you do nothing - I mean nothing - to increase the
proportion of the world's population that have basic access to the
information and virtual superstructure of information that is not yet
even an officially accredited basic human right. And that's why you've
made me so angry.

>  For these reasons it is essential to advance unorthodox, bottom-up,
>  explanations of the evolution of the neoliberal discourse of
>  technology. The chief aim ought to be the equipping of the digitally
>  dispossessed with counter arguments...

Bollocks. The cheif aim ought to be the equipping of the digitally
dispossed with computers. Then they wouldn't be the digitally dispossed
any more, and wouldn't need...  "active political strategies
>  that will work against what the late Christopher Lasch might have
>  called "the revolt of the (virtual) elites and the betrayal of
>  (electronic) democracy."

>  Make no mistake,

Heaven forfend.

>  VR and cyberspace have not simply opened up new
>  wealth generating possibilities for the virtual elites.

Well there's a relief. But I thought you said that anyone participating
in anything online was a neoliberal? So - um ... what does that make

>  Virtual politics, therefore, should be founded on defying the
>  neoliberal discourse of technology currently being fashioned by the
>  virtual class. It is crucial to ensure that the political genealogy
>  of technology, of virtual reality, of the reality of virtuality, is
>  uncovered by numerous individuals, groups, classes, and new social
>  movements.

Again. Yes. Obviously. So, if you go around saying that anyone found
hanging out online is a neoliberal, you actually play right into the
neoliberal hands by encouraging neoluddism on the left, a strategy of
despair for us all. And no fun.

>  Indeed, without such excavations, the increasingly
>  institutionalised neoliberal discourse of  technology currently being
>  promoted by the virtual class will rapidly become a source of immense
>  social power. This is why concrete, corporeal, and ideological
>  struggles over the nature and meaning of technology are so important
>  in the realm of virtual politics. It is also  why the specifically
>  neoliberal  discourse of the virtual class needs to be countered.

I notice you don't say *where* the specifically neoliberal discourse of
the virtual class needs to be countered. Or by whom. Or indeed how.

>  The pan-capitalist revolution and the development from industrial to
>  virtual production have generated the neoliberal discourse of
>  technology. It provides the virtual class with an ideological
>  rationale for the ever increasing manufacture of virtual distractions
>  (e.g., movies, VR, and interactive video games). Consequently, many
>  human activities are no longer simply mediated through technology.
>  Indeed, they are so utterly "possessed" by technology that the
>  distinction between virtual activities and actual activities borders
>  on the incomprehensible. [20] The ambitions of the neoliberal
>  discourse of technology are not only unremitting but also potentially
>  infinite.

Well, hell yeah. I like my video games and my movies. And my text based
VRs. Thankyou very much. I'm sorry you don't, but I do. And I think
there are more sinister things going on in the pan-capitalist neoliberal
world than these so called 'virtual distractions' which are far more
important to act against. You know - injustice, oppression, lack of
access to the means of information technology, to the globular, planet
sized ball of ideas constituted by the virtual framework which you are
suggesting - in 1999 - that the left colonise - without taking into
account that some of us may have been here for a while before you, and
forgetting all the wisdom of listening to what the advance scouts tell
you about what things are like out there before you go pronouncing about
grand strategies in case you end up advocating something completely
self-destructive to all progressive ideals and wholly beneficial to the
pan-capitalist conspiracy we are both supposed to be against by saying
such abject nonsense as:

>  Totalitarianism is latent in technology.

No it *isn't*.

Make an empty assertion and I'll make one back. It isn't. It isn't. It
isn't. Totalitarianism isn't latent in technology.

>  It is not simply the virtual
>  class that is totalitarian. Totalitarianism is always present in
>  technology itself.

Repeating it huh? Two can play at that game, you know. It isn't it isn't
it isn't it isn't it isn't isn't isn't fucking well is not. There exists
technology in which totalitarianism is not present. Oh. And I'll give
you an example. My computer. Right now. No totalitarianism. And that's
final. (Though you can email me to say otherwise if you disagree :)

>  Virilio's acute observations on technology are therefore essentially
>  correct:

On what basis? That what I tell you twice is true?

>  his theoretical analysis indicates that while we are indeed
>  in the midst of some kind of technological transition, it is
>  improbable that such a transition will usher in a new era of digital
>  democracy. [21] On this view, then, humanity is not on the verge of
>  the kind of technological and democratic revolution envisaged by the
>  neoliberals.

You know, you're not much of an advert for this Virilio guy's stuff.

>  What separates a ~critical~ interpretation of technology from that of
>  global technological entrepreneurs and leading politicians is a
>  determination to forge a radical understanding of technology's
>  consequences. The advantage of this kind of analysis is that it
>  focuses on key aspects of technology that are rarely, if ever, voiced
>  by computer manufacturers and political pundits. Indeed, the general
>  absence of a critical understanding of technology is one of the chief
>  reasons why so many people seem to be so baffled by the "mysteries"
>  of technology.

Rubbish. People who are baffled by the mysteries of technology are
suffering from a general absence of experience of that technology. Like
you, for example. I justify my accusation on the basis that your long
essay on the politics of cyberspace contained over twenty references -
all of which were books - and no - that's zero, none, nada, not even one
reference to any actual entity in cyberspace itself at all. Not Nettime.
Not irational.org and the 7-11 group. Not the hackers or the
hacktivists, or the Open Source advocates and the Linux lobby, or any of
the hundreds of other groups I really can't be arsed to list here (but
ask someone else nicely and they might point you in the right direction)
that flatly make a nonsense of your implicit assertions of the
neoliberal hegemony of the discourse around the virtual space and the
current wave of revolutionary technology. None of them. Not one. No
concrete examples at all. So. Yeah. Uhuh. What did you want to tell us
all about the politics of cyberspace?

>  Thus, it is vital to resist both the neoliberal discourse of
>  technology and the contemporary development of pan-capitalism.

Obviously. Why do you think your misguided analysis is annoying me so

>  In the
>  specific context of the political debates over the discourse of
>  cyberculture, then, it is important to question the uncritical and
>  antidemocratic conception of technology presently being elaborated
>  and disseminated by the virtual class in its quest for actual wealth
>  and power.

No it isn't. It is important to join the virtual class and tip the
balance of power in a progressive direction from within.

>  While technology is obviously an extremely important and determining
>  force, it is crucial to remember that it is not the only force or
>  agent of change. The virtual class is not simply an assortment of
>  technological and visual representations. In fact, it is all too
>  real. It is the class that at this moment is rewriting the history of
>  virtual and other technologies while simultaneously controlling their
>  organized production, distribution and consumption.

*deep breath*

Someone please tell this guy about Open Source and quick before I blow a
fuse here.

>  As a result of it's monopolistic control of technology, the virtual
>  class is presently being courted by the newly ascendant virtual
>  political class (of which Newt Gingrich in the US and Tony Blair in
>  the UK are examples). This class opposes all those who resist the
>  neoliberal discourse of technology in whatever form it takes (e.g.,
>  anti-road building and animal rights protests by young people). It is
>  time, then, to radically rethink, redefine and reinterpret the very
>  meaning of technology, politics, and cyberculture in the age of the
>  virtual class.

It's time you took a virtual class, mate. Before pontificating about
something, it is usually beneficial to do a wee bit of research.
Apparently. Can't say you've made me hurry along to read more CTHEORY,
though, which is a shame, since, as I say, I'd heard good things.

This, however, looks to me like a neoliberal trojan horse in a poor
pseudo intellectual clothing.

Please feel free to tell me exactly why I'm wrong.

Cheers etc.,

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