Archive for May, 2009

The Internet Is Not a Solution!

May 14, 2009

My previous post resulted in an ongoing conversation with Luna.  Rather than getting “worked up” over political problems such as countless numbers of dead civilians in Afghanistan, he suggests the solution is simply to opt out of the realm of politics. His alternative? An internet community of truth-seekers:

I’m putting together a group of people through the internet– people who are to some degree awakened, and who are willing to engage each other on the battleground of truth without resentment and, most importantly, with an open mind.

The thing is– it is very possible to, in some sense, ‘opt-out’ of our social contract. I stopped getting too worked up about American politics some time ago. The future isn’t Nations and States, and it’s okay just to let the clock wind down on its own rather than expending a lot of energy trying to hit it with a hammer.

As to these [post-national, trans-national] communities, I believe that they are nascent. There are strange and wonderful movements, the first gropings in the dark, the birth pangs of something powerful. When the printing press came about, the Kingdom fell. Now, we have the internet, and Linux is making user-friendly robust products that can compete with all but the highest-end products on the market; Wikipedia has ridiculous power as a collaborative project that has very little to do with the concept of nationality; and the creative commons movement in inspiring.

This answer, while eloquent, I think is ultimately bourgeois. Practically speaking I see little difference between it and diving into any of the other pre-packaged “lifestyles” or “niche markets”. Maybe, as a lifestyle, it’s more creative than a pre-made consumerist identity. But it’s still asking me to live inside an abstraction. In the end an abstraction is an abstraction, whether it’s mass produced by a corporation or hand-crafted by a Dionysion poet. Creating virtual worlds is not a solution to the “real world of horrible jobs”, as Dolores LaPicho puts it. And while the comfortably upper-middle class have the luxary of insulating themselves from reality, for the rest of us proles, the reality of horrible jobs, lack of healthcare, and war constantly and inevitably obtrudes on any “virtual community” we might try to construct. Even in the atomized social world of the 21st century, private life and public life are mutually entailing. Satisfaction of my private desires (even the desire for truth) does not occur in a vacuum, it occurs in the context of a socio-political arrangement.  “Opting out” is not an option.

Conceptually speaking, I agree with Luna that the nation-state is obsolete. But actually speaking, I still have to live with the reality of the nation-state and with a world dominated by the Spectacle of global capital. Even if I define myself as a Psychic Nomad, a Citizen of the World who does not identify with his nation, I still have to live with it. It’s not going away in my lifetime. And any truth that doesn’t address the real world of horrible jobs, is impotent, and not worthy of the name “truth”. Knowledge of truth can’t be divorced from action in the real world. As Wang Yangming put it, “To know, and not to do, is not to know.”

This goes back to why the political opposition is dead in the US. Earlier I bemoaned how the street protest has become little more than ritual symbolic action. It’s the same thing with the Internet. In the early days of the ‘net, there was a lot of optimistic talk about how it would become a tool for organizing and raising consciousness. Instead, it has become another diversion. It’s as bad as TV. Instead of taking action, we sit online and blog or sign internet petitions or send emails to Congress. Nothing is accomplished in real terms. Hypereality is Imperialism’s best friend, since it lets people have the illusion of change and dissent without actually accomplishing anything in reality. If anything, it provides a safe outlet: let people vent their anger and frustration virtually, and they will not attempt to do anything in reality. This is why I don’t buy the argument that we will be “saved” by digital communications technology: it’s already been subsumed by Empire. And this is why the Internet is not a solution.

Old school Marxists would rail against the religious establishment as promoting “pie in the sky, by and by“; thus indefinitely prolonging the Revolution by relegating it to an afterlife. For the same reason, I rail against the internet and its simulated stimuli. The only difference between religious opiates and digital opiates is that the former operates vertically (transcendentally) while the latter operates horizontally (immanently). But both seek to substitute an abstraction for an actuality.

In the end I suppose I’m playing Marx to Luna’s Nietzsche. This is also, I suspect, why he is going on to pursue Philosophy as a profession and I have chosen otherwise.


Newspeak and the War on Terror

May 4, 2009

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.

– Confucius on the “Rectification of Names” (正名)

This is (somewhat) old news, but I don’t think this was given the amount of coverage it deserves:

The Obama administration appears to be backing away from the phrase “global war on terror,” a signature rhetorical legacy of its predecessor.

In a memo e-mailed this week to Pentagon staff members, the Defense Department’s office of security review noted thatthis administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT.] Please useOverseas Contingency Operation.’ ”

‘Global War on Terror’ Is Given New Name

The Orwellian distortion of language continues. It constantly amazes me how government officials, journalists, etc. are simply incapable of calling a spade a spade. Nobody ever talks about “wanton killing of civilians“. Instead, we talk about the “global war on terror” “overseas contingency operations”.

It must be understood that everybody running for public office in this country is a pathological liar, irregardless of their party affiliation.

Irregardless of the politically correct Newspeak, the war continues under Obama. It is absolutely vital that we do not confuse a change in terminology or even a change in leadership, for actual change in reality. George Orwell understood this very well when he wrote:

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Politics and the English Language

Confucius also understood this, even though he lived thousands of years ago:

Tsze-lu asked,
“If the Duke of Wei made you an advisor,
what would you address as the very first priority?”

Confucius replied,
“The most important thing
is to use the correct words.”
“What?” Tsze-lu replied.
“That’s your first priority? The right words?”

Confucius said,
“You really are simple, Yu.
The Sage keeps his mouth shut
when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about!

“If we don’t use the correct words,
we live public lies.
If we live public lies,
the political system is a sham.

“When the political system is a sham,
civil order and refinement deteriorate.
When civil order and refinement deteriorate,
injustice multiplies.
As injustice multiplies,
eventually the electorate is paralyzed
by public lawlessness.

“So the Sage takes for granted that he use the appropriate words,
and follow through on his promises with the appropriate deeds.

“The Sage must simply never speak lies.”

The Analects, Book 13 Verse 3

Language is power. If we do not understand this, than that power can (and will) be used to bind us and blind us.

May Day Malaise

May 2, 2009

I didn’t attend my local May Day protests this year. Not because I don’t support the worker’s struggle, or because my zeal for the cause has slackened (by the way, please do your part to support the employee free choice act). Rather it’s because I’ve become disillusioned and disenamored with the medium of the protest itself.

Street protests in the United States have become little more than a hollow ritual. You obtain a permit, show up at the designated time and place, shout your slogans, wave your signs, march around. Afterward, everyone goes home.

Usually the police show up and arrest somebody on trumped up charges (when they don’t simply give you a beat down for no good reason). Sometimes a bunch of reactionary counter-protesters show up. But in any case, the above formula applies to nearly every protest in the US. In other words, they accomplish nothing other than allowing the protesters a chance to let off some steam (and possibly, get themselves arrested). The government allows us to protest, but usually simply continues the very policies we come out to protest in the first place (I really can’t think of a better way a government could say “fuck you” to its own citizens, but in such a weak democracy as the United States I’m not surprised).

My point is that protests in the US have become no more than symbolic action. And symbolic action changes nothing, especially when it’s become as predictable and tame as most American protests are. If hundreds of thousands of people across the country couldn’t stop the Iraq War from moving forward, a few thousand demonstrators on May Day won’t push through the kind of labor reform this country needs.

As activists we need to focus on direct action rather than symbolic action. This may very well mean abandoning the protest as a useful way to achieve one’s goals. At the very least we should try taking a page from, say, the French.