Phil Graham on Thu, 22 Jun 2000 17:26:49 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The role of model citizenz or the role of the Netizen

At 02:40 PM 21/06/00 -0400, Ronda Hauben wrote:
> in
>That is a strange and serious distortion of both the history
>of fascism and of the emergence and the nature of the netizen

Perhaps; perhaps not.
I think not.
Please read on.

>The netizen is a concept that grew up and spread around the
>world in opposition to the commercialization and privatization
>of the Internet.

Is that true? I think that the concept of the 'netizen' existed prior to 
the full-scale commercialisation push. In fact the netizen is a "key 
concept" in the commercialisation process, a romanticised nomadic being who 
has no "roots", filling the framework of technology with meaningful 
content, the spirit of freedom, flexible working conditions, and so on. The 
"netizen" is the abstract embodiment of some idealised ethic with no actual 
content which represents the free spirit of the net.


In any case, fascism also positioned itself in revolutionary opposition to 
bourgeois liberal attitudes, free trade, crass commercialisation, 
"globalisation" (a term that dates back to the 1930s), privatisation of 
public assets, etc etc - in favour of the arts, "culture", international 
expression thereof, etc.

So, being qualitatively the same in rhetorical terms, why should we believe 
that "the netizen" is a necessarily good and pure being, morally superior 
to the fascist, just because you say so (more on that abstraction below)?

>The fascists were in support of commercial entities and supported
>by them.

So? They positioned themselves in opposition to them as far as propaganda 
was concerned. Perhaps you think "the net" emerged from nowehere funded by 
nobody, built upon entirely outside corporate and corporatist structures or 
outside Capital proper. You are of course mistaken if you do. Enthusiasm 
for and use of the internet is support for (and by) a network of commercial 
entities (who pays and gets payed for your connection?), and which is 
firstly the initiative of the military industrial complex. Techno-fetishism 
was a key factor of 30s fascism, as was an enthusiasm for appearing 
"revolutionary" and fashionably up-to-date, despite being intrinsically 
enamoured of the most exploitative "actually existing" realities:

"We live in an age that is both romantic and steel-like. While bourgeois 
reaction was alien and hostile to technology and modern sceptics believed 
the deepest roots of the collapse of European culture lay in it, National 
Socialism has understood how to take the soul-less framework of technology 
and fill it with the rhythm and hot impulses of our time." (Goebbels, 1939, 
in Bullock, 1991, p. 440)

The fascist line also positioned itself against the strictures of 
bureaucracy and too much organisation, while producing precisely the opposite:

"Excessive organization can only get in the way of productivity. The more 
bureaucrats there, the more obscure the internal structures, the easier it 
is for someone to hide his inability or incompetence behind some committee 
or board. And not only that. Excessive organization is always the beginning 
of corruption. It confuses responsibility and thus enables those of weak 
character to enrich themselves at public expense" (Goebbels, 1933).

They were also avid defenders of art and culture, taking it upon themselves 
to define art and the qualities thereof from a morally superior position ...

"We want a radio that reaches the people, a radio that works for the 
people, a radio that is an intermediary between the government and the 
nation, a radio that also reaches across our borders to give the world a 
picture of our life and our work. … The purpose of radio is to teach, 
entertain and support people, not to gradually harm the intellectual and 
cultural life of the nation. (Goebbels, 1933)

These are all current and familiar discourses.

Now, if all this is true -  and it is -  then your claim must be that, 
since netizen propaganda is qualitatively no different from fascist 
propaganda, at least in rhetorical and surface terms, "the netizen" must be 
somehow superior to all the "old ways" of fascism ... Are you morally 
superior to all the "old ways"? Are we to believe that "the netizen" is 
morally superior to all other beings, that they are the defenders of 
freedom, the unmitigated opponents of crass commercialism, the inheritors 
of the revolutionary garb?

Excuse me if I remain skeptical.

>The citizen of the french revolution was a force challenging the

Which French Revolution? Which citizen? Louis Napoleon is often recognised 
as being the first "post-enlightenment" fascist, or at least an incipient 
version thereof. In that context, corporatism (fascism) was being theorised 
at the same time it was being played out in high farce (cf 18th Brumaire). 
The 1789 revolution was beaten back in double time by the very forces it 
still romantically claims to have overcome, leaving behind it the seeds and 
trellises of the later corporatist movements (including 20-30s fascism), in 
particular, the counter-revolutionary forces of 1848 that backed the second 
Napoleon. The "ideologists",  (eg Destutt DeTracy) were intensely 
conservative corporatists, representatives of the same class again. You can 
see their remnants even in Durkheim. "The citizen" of revolutionary France 
is an abstraction of the same order as "the netizen" of late fascism. You 
are construing a whole "netizen" movement in ideal terms that are 
incommensurable with any sort of reality, just like "the citizen" of the 


In the first revolution, "the citizen" was busy sentencing the other 
citizens to death by beheading. In the second, "great revolutionaries" like 
de Tocqueville were acting as the Stasi of the status quo, they were "the 
citizen", a conservative and privileged organism dedicated to conserving 
Order. It might help de-clarify the neat and streamlined version of hitory 
you are relying on to read a few words from someone who was there at the 
time, and who was in fact arrested and processed by Tocqueville (it gives 
me the shits when people point him out as an exemplary liberal, but perhaps 
it is a correct characterisation after all):

"On the evening of the 24th of June [1848] coming back from the place 
Maubert, I went into a café on the Quai D’Orsay. A few minutes later I 
heard discordant shouting, which came nearer and nearer. I went to the 
window: a grotesque comic banlieue was coming in from the surrounding 
districts to the support of order; clumsy, rascally fellows, half peasants, 
half shopkeepers, somewhat drunk, in wretched uniforms and old fashioned 
shakos, they moved rapidly but in disorder, with shouts of ‘Vive 
Louis-Napoleon!’ .

[One or two days later] The streets were empty, but the National Guards 
stood on either side of them. On the Place de Concorde there was a 
detachment of the Garde Mobile; near them were standing several poor women 
with brooms and some ragpickers and concierges from the houses near by. All 
their faces were gloomy and shocked. A lad of seventeen was leaning on a 
rifle and telling them something; we went up to them. He and all his 
comrades, boys like himself, were half drunk, their faces blackened with 
gunpowder and their eyes bloodshot from sleepless nights and drink …

[the boy tells proudly of bayoneting their fellow "citizens" and fighting 
the good fight against "the socialist scum"]

… but this savage comment evoked not the slightest response. They were all 
of too ignorant a class to sympathise with the massacre and with the 
unfortunate boy who had been made into a murderer . Alexander Herzen - Memoirs

So much for "the citizen".

But what of "the netizen"?

Fascism no longer needs direct aggression as it previously has. The 
"unfortunate classes" these days are whole nations, and nations within 
nations. They need merely be armed and set against each other, or drugged 
and sold into prostitution or domestic slavery. They merely need to be 
"switched off". There are more slaves now than ever in the history of US 
industrialised slavery. More people have been murdered in the last 35 years 
than in the two world wars. And all you seem to be pinning your hopes on is 
a non-commercialised medium and the people promoting that "cause". Excuse 
me if I think it a triviality, citizen.

>The netizen of the Internet revolution is a force challenging
>the old.

It's the same old force split in two, apparently facing itself in a 
challenge to its own standards. It's middle class, elitist farce. NN and M 
Stahlman are, I believe, correct, and you are merely falling prey to a 
scholastic "sic et non", all the while having decided the answers in 
advance. I also think you are depending on a selective and idealised 
version of history. The enlightenment was an institutional shakeup, not a 
qualitative transcendence of any sort at all. Here the French Revolutions 
are special exemplars. The present is the same in many respects. In my 
view, you are expressing an extreme conservatism.

>The fascists have been trying to maintain the old.

Wrong. Fascists are traditionally "revolutionaries". That has not changed 
(no, I am not charging you with fascism). Perhaps you think the whole of 
Germany, Italy, and so on suddenly became fascists. Wrong again. It was 
syncretic "revolution". The current crop of fascists don't even know they 
are fascists, it's just a mindset that accompanies particular social 
relations, namely corporatism, which has been on the march (this time) most 
obviously since 1961 by my reckoning, that's if it ever stopped at all 
(which it hasn't).

>There were citizens even during fascism in Germany, they
>were those who were part of the resistance, who hid those
>who were trying to stay out of concentration camps, and who
>did many other brave activities.

Of course, but were they fascists? Or are you saying that all fascists were 
not "citizens", and that fascism is not revolutionary (at least in 
appearance) or resistant (to what)? Fascism is a set of social and 
political relationships, and not conditional upon party membership. You are 
as much a part of the current order as I am, as we all are.

>Basically their role is ignored by the media and their story
>isn't told in general.

No, of course not - history is written by the victors. But as the lens 
slides wider on the first half of the last century, it becomes increasingly 
difficult to tell the difference between the systems which seemed so 
clearly delineated just a few decades ago thanks to the effects of 
mass-mediated propaganda and social amnesia. Our own corporatist past has 
been politically "cleansed".

>There are citizens during the corporate attack on the Internet.
>These citizens are netizens because they are fighting for something
>not limited by geography as a city is, and often against corporate
>entities and their effort to convert the Internet into their
>private commercenet.

There are citizens launching attacks on personal freedoms, any semblance of 
equality, freedom, public good, etc.

These citizens position themselves as experts of all types, morally 
superior and above the fray an muck of human weakness. They are fighting 
for a better world, a "globalised" world, not limited by geography or the 
"arbitrary powers" of government, a more moral world governed by an 
abstraction called "the rule of law" (whose?). They are the rulers of 
multinational corporations, the modern heroic fascist manager, the modern 
corporatist party politician, the international and national technocrat, 
innumerable academics, etc. They are fighting for the same things as you 
are apparently, at least that's what they say. They want a borderless 
world. They want less government. They want everyone to have access to the 
internet (why?). They want free information (why?). They want a cleaner 
environment. They want to feed the world. This is all the hyperbole that 
the OECD, WTO, IMF, Monsanto's PR company, etc etc put about.

Why and how is your borderless utopia better than theirs?

>To equate netizens with their opposite is again not to argue
>a point, but to call names.

Not at all. The fundamental element in the fascist society is the group. As 
NN and Mark Stahlman rightly point out, fascism is a relationship between 

The individual does not and cannot exist in corporate society. In such, you 
are merely a function of your own interest.

If "the netizen" is a person, then who is that? You? If it is a group, who 
are they? Or is the netizen an idealised abstraction without defined 
content? If they are an interest group, engaged in the fascist process of 
"interest group mediation", then they are an active part of late fascism.

You are making an argument based on the interests of a group which is 
defined precisely by that interest. I think you are also making a 
fundamental mistake, which is almost universal in fascism (no, I'm not 
calling you a fascist): attributing particular ethical, moral, and social 
attributes to an abstract group, "the netizen", "the citizen", and so on. 
You are saying that one group is better than another.

You are positioning your netizen group as a morally superior being amongst 
these groups, as "Ubermenschen".

Sound familiar?

Syncretism is dangerous because we don't even know how far such a movement 
internally colonises us, how quickly it erodes rights and sensibilities. 
It's an invisible social cancer.


Opinions expressed in this email are my own unless otherwise stated.
Phil Graham
Lecturer (Communication)
Graduate School of Management
University of Queensland
617 3381 1083

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