[iDC] Activism

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Mon Dec 5 15:46:11 EST 2005

Activism comes in waves. There are those wild moments when 
you think you can somehow win. San Cristobal 1994. Paris 
1995. Seattle 1999. Porto Alegre 2001. Buenos Aires 
2001-2002. Venezuela for the past 7 years. Bolivia next 
December 18 (think of them and hope for the better).
In those moments the movement is everything. Don't worry 
that the others have a hard time understanding. Because so 
many people get it right. And more are streaming in. The 
main thing is to keep the momentum, feed the energy. All you 
can do is try to be the wave you're riding. Until it crashes 
on the shore.
Then what? Fall back, take a reality check, put away the gas 
masks and start creating culture.
Resistance is cultural. It's about ideas, it's about 
feelings. Texts and objects and gestures are a way to keep 
them alive, suspended animation, secret free. Nothing can be 
presupposed: it has to be anonymous, impersonal, available. 
What happens when the other looks you in the eye? Resistance 
takes place in that space between two gazes.
Our societies are pathological. Thanaturgic. Death-dealing. 
It's not easy to survive amid organized blindness. 
Consensual cynicism. Orchestrated degradation. Resistance is 
counted in time spans. How long you hold out is the measure. 
But also the quality - the usefulness - of what you emit. 
Who could have predicted what Peter Lamborn Wilson's crazy 
rants would inspire?
The last wave needed technology. Computers. A way to 
communicate, to welcome all those people streaming into the 
circles. Digital activism. Interactive arts. No copyright. 
Then the wave crashed onto the shore. And the people holding 
onto their computers found themselves with less 
communication, less interaction, more career.
So what? Is it really any different? Let your resistance 
flow through the keyboard. Create culture, create tools, 
create latency. It's measured in time spans. It has to be 
impersonal, freely available. It only works when it's 
useful. Those who want to watch, watch; those want to 
listen, listen. Meanwhile, go to secret meetings. Change 
countries, keep a line into wilder places. Produce  culture, 
create latency, pay attention to process, keep the free 
spaces free. The next wave is gathering. Que ondas? Life 
comes in oscillations. Culture holds the rising curve.

Trebor Scholz wrote:

 > What does it mean to live a radical vision in this 
network society? There
 > are a great number of different visions. For one, there 
is the Che Guevara
 > mutiny rhetoric of radicality. Today, that has really 
nothing to do with the
 > radical politics of the Argentinean medical doctor who 
took off into the
 > Congo and later the Bolivian jungle. Come on. We need 
 > contributions that force social change and contribute to 
crisis. But the
 > raised fist, closed, is empty. Your fingers bent in 
toward the palm and held
 > there tightly don't signal a blow anymore. At worse they 
may even stand for
 > a type of self-contained, liberal "feelgoodiness" of the 
 > artworld. Stencil aesthetics is instantly sucked into the 
event-culture of
 > the spectacle. Culture jammers become special-interest 
communities. Often
 > hand and hand with the rhetoric of radicality goes 
conceit. Revolution?
 > Where, in the US, do you see the millions who are 
desperate enough to put
 > their lives in jeopardy. Show me. You can't just cook up 
a revolution
 > without the necessary ingredients. Vast numbers of people 
here are muted by
 > consumption and disinformation. They still have glimpses 
of hope lulled by
 > lies about class mobility and the "American Dream." The 
millions here work
 > boundless hours and they are poor. But they are not 
impoverished enough. And
 > they are not even loosely joined.
 > How do we affect the fundamental nature of what surrounds 
us? How do we
 > reflect meaningfully on the technologies that saturate 
our lives? Foucault's
 > notion of biopower describes our bodies as being guided 
by political
 > technologies. Therefore one form of resistance is about 
the insertion of the
 > blip, like a high-pitched interruption, into the 
algorithm of societal
 > software. I am writing this in New York on a snowy day. 
The situation here
 > is different than in Munich or Chiang Mai, for instance, 
where the tentacles
 > of the network have not sunk in their teeth as deeply. 
But in the US the
 > always-on-lifestyle permeates our daily lives in full. 
How can deviance not
 > be, at least partially, defined in relation to the 
cooperative technologies
 > of the Internet? If you want to take protest to the 
centers of power then
 > you will have to consider the geographically distributed 
network as much as
 > the town hall. The corporate headquarters that ActUp 
attacked in the 80s
 > dissolved like soap in the streams of the network. The 
centers of power are
 > now distributed. Deviance is about hot bodies and the 
dark fiber of cold
 > cables. Resistance is about the "streets," about 
 > door-to-door grassroots campaigns, in-flesh sit-ins, and 
other affective
 > manifestations of contestational presence.
 > Pressing our hands tight against our eyes does not help 
us. The network
 > still recognizes us even if our eyes are wide shut. 
People have good reason
 > to be skeptical about the networked lifestyle. But there 
is both, the gray
 > network clouds and the sun that sparkles through them. To 
reject network
 > technologies altogether is unreasonable. There are the 
 > roots of the Internet. But then there are also the 
cybercommunist uses of it
 > with all the alternative economies of gifting and sharing 
and commons-based
 > peer production that clearly make the original DARPA 
masterminds irk.
 > Equally, claims that digital communication devices take 
away from warm
 > face-to-face encounters are only partially correct. The 
stereotype of the
 > white, obese, socially alienated teenager in the basement 
needs to be
 > calibrated. The studies of University of Toronto 
cybersociologist Barry
 > Wellman show that in-flesh social connectedness increases 
for those who are
 > more frequent email users. Also in the realm of education 
horrible examples
 > of misguided, corporate long-distance learning indeed 
show the dark side of
 > the network force. And it does not stop there. Skeptics 
question the
 > efficacy of online resistance in the face of the anywhere 
and nowhere of the
 > Internet that supposedly does not speak to the class, 
race, or gender
 > disparities in a particular locale. They may even argue 
that people try to
 > hide behind the screen so that they don't have to smell 
the sweat of "real
 > people" at a demonstration. But in actuality deviant 
practices are
 > increasingly mixed. One foot is on the plaza and the 
other online. Activists
 > still go from door to door. They do powerfully 
demonstrate as we saw on
 > February 15, 2003. They use blogs and mailinglists and 
online artworks to
 > further their objectives, organize, and document their 
urban interventions.
 > Locative media projects and the notion of situated 
software (Shirkey) put
 > Virillio's argument of a lack of place to the test. A 
thousand flowers will
 > bloom for locative activism.
 > The often-debated effectiveness of activist art is hard 
to put a finger on.
 > There surely are countless artistic gestures online that 
have been
 > consequential. They can hardly be discounted. In the same 
breath I need to
 > address the perception of the online flaneur as "user" or 
"consumer" or
 > "customizer." This reduction is only part of the story. I 
don't argue with
 > the fact that the amazons and eBays of this world dream 
of calling their
 > online sirens to lure the swarms of online wanderers into 
 > commodifiable web of content production. The heads at IBM and
 > trendwatching.com surely steam thinking about ways in 
which to commodify the
 > word-of-mouse economy. They want to turn the enthusiastic 
 > "crowds" into corporate workhorses. Recent studies by the 
Pew Institute have
 > shown that 51 million Americans are involved in content 
production (e.g.
 > blog entries, Wikipedia entries, file swaps etc). Network 
talk is
 > frequently, and often exclusively, revolving around 
business and the future.
 > We are better off if we look at the clumsy heap of 
technology in front of us
 > instead of concerning ourselves with the future promises 
of technologies
 > (that always sell). Don't believe in the gibberish of 
network salvation.
 > However, there are refreshing reasons to use these 
technologies to improve
 > our lives. Wikipedia is a potent example of cooperative 
technologies that
 > benefit the public. We can form groups online that help 
us live more engaged
 > lives. Fibreculture, Nettime, Institute for Network 
Cultures and Sarai are
 > but a few examples. We can get inspired! We can have 
intellectual community!
 > We can create open, living cultural archives! We can 
warden ourselves from
 > collaboration burnout and bitterness (the worse of all). 
Such social
 > networks I call extreme sharing networks (derived from 
the concept of
 > extreme programming). They allow access to a distributed 
talent pool and
 > associated resources. Just in the spirit Peter Kropotkin 
people provide
 > mutual aid to each other. They can create visibility for 
discourses and
 > artworks that would otherwise be overlooked. They can 
inspire younger
 > generations of artists by exposing them to ideas and art 
projects. They have
 > the ability to respond to issues in a fast, and flexible 
way. They shape
 > expectations. But such extreme sharing networks are not 
alternatives or
 > heads on opposition to institutions. Such alternative 
social networks can't
 > claim snow-white innocence. They are fluid. They are 
inside and out of brick
 > and mortar institutions.
 > It's hard to keep up with evolving technologies. Network 
luddites and the
 > tech-fatigued can't bear the work that it takes to stay 
on track with
 > technological developments. Fair enough. It's Ok to 
unplug. Unlink. Throw
 > out technology that comes between you and the other. Data 
speed through
 > network cables like cockroaches. New hardware and 
software radically change
 > the information landscape constantly. For some people, 
online communication
 > just brings out the worse of their character. For them 
there is no need to
 > keep on rolling in the virtual world. But they should not 
label social
 > technologies as inherently inadequate on their way out of 
the door. We are
 > shaped by technologies while at the same time our uses 
defines them. We can
 > reverse-imagineer technologies. (Ani DiFranco: "every 
tool can be a weapon
 > if you hold it right"). We can use the throw-away video 
camera as tactical
 > media device.
 > We dance to the iTunes beats that are remotely fed into 
our living room. How
 > can we bring the (issues of the) network clash home? I 
first think of
 > self-direction. How can I really govern my own life? How 
can I be in charge?
 > So much of the day-to-day is merely uploaded just like an 
rss feed into our
 > brain. Living like a hermit, out-of-touch, sounds 
appealing at times.
 > Leaving the cellphone at home is tempting. Who does not 
know such moments?
 > The "always-on" condition is demanding. Filtering takes 
up too much time.
 > What does a politically radical life style mean for me? 
We live in
 > challenging times that demand engagement. The last that 
is needed are people
 > who are soft on the edges. Radical leftist positions are 
needed now. But
 > where do we start? What does it mean to be an activist?
 > There is the politics of time. An 8-hour work day sounds 
radical. To
 > introduce the habit of getting rest sounds pretty 
far-reaching in a society
 > that blends casualized work and play. In 1978 Mladen 
Stilinovic, for
 > example, created a photo series that shows him sleeping 
in his Lubljana
 > apartment. Title: "The Artist at Work." Don't let labor 
drool over your
 > leisure time! Time for reflection and thinking is 
rarified. Instead of
 > thinking we remix the content of others. Maybe the "Power 
of Now"-slogan
 > that Vodaphone advocates is best interpreted by going for 
a swim. Perhaps
 > T-Mobile's "Upgrading Downtime" should be understood as 
an invitation to
 > read a book. "Downtime-Download" could mean that I close 
my eyes and recall
 > a meaningful, moving encounter. Having actual friends 
(not business
 > associates, or people who fit into a career plan) sounds 
pretty unusual
 > today as well.
 > There is the moment when we close down on the possibility 
to meet, and get
 > inspired by, the stranger because we went off into "Treo 
land." It's that
 > obsessive email syndrome. It has little to do with a need 
for communication
 > and lots to do with a cry for attention. Radicality could 
mean to not
 > (immediately) respond. It could mean not to react. We can 
disappoint the
 > competition and efficiency-enhancing aspects of these 
social technologies!
 > It was historically the job of artists to disappoint 
social expectations.
 > Having a meaningful, concentrated long-term life vision 
is highly
 > unconventional and radical. How can we live our life in 
an engaged and
 > fulfilled way? Not arbitrarily drifting from one 
opportunity to the next is
 > profound. Getting less efficient is rebellious. Taking 
care of your body is
 > uncommon.
 > In addition, I teach at a research university. Here I 
have personal
 > encounters with students. This surely is an arena that 
makes personal
 > transformation and productive conflict possible. In that 
context the
 > question of rhetoric becomes important. What gets heard? 
Which argument
 > allows the young other to remain open, listen, and 
consider? From my
 > experience, a "radical" language does not get through to 
students. Maoist
 > frontier language may make you feel all so radical but in 
most young
 > American minds such references just call up associations 
of baby-eating
 > Soviets. This may be hard to understand for Europeans who 
perhaps assume a
 > leftist in every person. A Leninist rethoric effectively 
shuts down the
 > doors of thinking almost right away. Each context 
requires a different
 > language. The question of activism is obviously not new. 
 > enhancing technologies have somewhat shifted the debate 
recently. Camps now
 > also divide in pro-or-con technology, which is unuseful. 
We should support
 > extreme sharing networks wherever we come to encounter them.
 > -Trebor
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