[iDC] Re: In response to Tiziana

tt tterra at fastwebnet.it
Fri Jul 7 03:48:32 EDT 2006

about some of the answers to benkler and trebor's points on the 
networked public sphere.

Is the best question to ask the Internet and new technologies whether 
they can constitute a valuable means of opposition to current modes of 
economic organization and government (in their neoliberal synthesis now 
dangerously veering off towards a neocon mutation?)

I am not saying that this is not a question worth asking (and in fact it 
is asked again and again). I only think that the question as such comes 
with a set of ready-made answers attached, it defines a field of 
possible answers that has been pretty much extensively mapped out. This 
is not meant as a critique of what people have said, it is just an 
observation about what the question does, almost autonomously, once it 
is posed in this way.

The answers can only be: yes (it has been demonstrated, it is constantly 
been demonstrated in thousands of ways as trebor has remarked); no (it 
cannot constitute a pure opposition because its implication in 
oppressive modes of governmental and economic domination is also clearly 
observable, whether it is about surveillance or marketing); and yes and 
no at the same time (it is both, so the question is how to amplify the 
liberating potential in ways that sidestep its oppressive one).

The problem for me is that these new technologies are not tools which 
can be used by autonomous agents in one way or another depending on 
context and will. They constitute an environment, a milieu, a field of 
effects, an assemblage a zone of indistinction between natural, social 
and technological components and effects. Can you say an environment is 
liberating or oppressing depending on how you use it? Is it a legitimate 
question to ask of an enviroment? (just asking)

A completely different matter, however, is how the question of the 
liberating/oppressive potential effect of the Internet forces us to 
confront the way we think about political change, and the categories we 
have inherited from twentieth century political thinking. Categories and 
concepts such as

a. the public sphere (a space separated from government and private 
interests, a space of general interests constituted by an ongoing 
dialogue between rational subjects which gradually and through debate 
achieve a consensus). Are we sure that the notion of a subject in all 
its variations (kantian, hegelian, husserlian)  has withstood the test 
of time?

b. contradiction and opposition. The question for me is not: is the 
Internet something that stands in a negative relation of opposition to 
power (and hence always prey to danger of incorporation). The question 
for me is: does the hegelian/marxist model of the dialectics, and its 
reliance on the power of the negative, with the spectre of the reverse 
power of appropriaton, really allow us to think through in productive 
ways about the nature of political change?

c. democracy. What is the value of such word today, beyond some kind of 
oppositional value to authoritarian drifts in government? I just think 
that we should be careful about posing something that we call democracy 
as some kind of goal to achieve. Not because a fuller participation to 
government is not valuable or desirable, but because we do not yet know 
what democracy can mean. We know that it cannot be about voting once in 
a while. We know that it cannot simply be about more communication (if 
the spiritual event of communication is not actualized in living 
relations between bodies, as Johm Hopkins' example of his accident 
shows, it remains half dead). We do not know how many possible 
democracies can exist,  and how they could actualize themselves. 
Personally, I think that democracy is something that still needs to be 
invented - and it will be a reinvention that will displace the 
Eurocentric (yes including US) nature of democracy as we know it.

d. the MASSES. As somebody who teaches MASSES of students and who tends 
to hang out with committed leftist types, I am fascinated by how the 
twentieth century category of the mass is well and alive among, how can 
I put it, the masses?  :-D As Raymond Williams used to say, everybody 
believes in the existence of the mass, but nobody wants to be part of 
it.  I could talk about this for ages. I think that the persistence of 
the word mass, after postmodernism and cultural studies had more or less 
decreed that it was a word with no real use, is a challenge. Ulisses has 
well summarised what I think is the ways in which most people perceive 
the mass today: a field of dispersion. Yes, ok, one can produce all this 
information about the war which is not there in the mainstream media 
(not my argument or Ulisses', just repeating by hearsay), but this has 
no impact overall because the mass disperses the potential active 
effect. The masses are manipulated and cannot really see things clearly. 
The mass is the word for that which can not be roused, and even if it 
is, as for a moment as with the Gulf War, it does not really manage to 
change anything - it does not persist as an active agent of change. It 
can oppose some resistance, but it has no real power. Personally, I do 
not think that the problem is with the mass (are we sure that nothing 
really happens at the level of the mass? How do we know in advance what 
kind of effects all these distributed communications are having?), but 
with the way one think about the question of the many. And by many I 
mean an abstract, almost indefinite quality, a dispersion of the 
conscious, rational subject from the inside and outside (are we sure 
that those masses/multitudes/crowds of neurons within our brain do not 
share something with the masses outside? Aren't they dispersing as well 
our will to change?).

just some thoughts from the midst of the mass hysteria of football crazy 


More information about the iDC mailing list