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Re: <nettime> joxe's empire of disorder
Keith Hart on Wed, 4 Dec 2002 12:59:25 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> joxe's empire of disorder


Felix,

I am not suggesting that Manhattan in 2000 is the same as Constantinople
in 1000. Obviously two centuries of machine revolution have made a big
difference to the way we live. I was just trying to correct a myopic
tendency to think of change as whatever is considered new by a
self-selected minority of the world's population. I was trying to say the
world is a lot older than we often like to think. More specifically, I
argued that the fusion of capitalism with the state in the last 150 years
led to a highly dangerous synthesis of agrarian civilization and the
machine revolution, leading to a century of war, genocide and appalling
disaster. It was indeed the first world war that provided the crucible for
discovering the modern state's talent for mass murder, although the
American civil war was the first proof of that, the key event in the
launch of state capitalism.

Nor was I thinking of medieval Europe as the origin of the institutional
complex I described. It was in fact Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago that
inaugurated Childe's 'urban revolution'. Here cities, the state, money as
we still know it, writing, bureaucracy, the first stirrings of world
religion all emerged at once, so that a small urban elite could control an
unfree rural labour force. I have always considered it one of Marx's great
contributions that he realised capitalism was an extension of that system
of extraction (from surplus labour to surplus value). But the liberal
revolutions of which I wrote were against the state, as were most
progressive movements of the mid-19th century, and that is what
distinguishes them from a neo-liberalism that depends on state power.

Although I admit to some rhetorical excess, I was challenging a modernism
that claims we have somehow escaped all that. How can we explain that 4 in
5 Americans today think that God loves them? That the main opposition to
the way the world is run now comes from the adherents of the last world
religion to be invented? That the US government is actively contemplating
bombing Baghdad as a solution to its problems? Another name for Iraq is
Mesopotamia, of course. It is curious that the leading power of our
'modern' world should pick it as a target. Maybe as a way of sustaining
the mantra that agrarian civilization is dead and we are different.

We are differnt, but also profoundly the same. The scary part is what
happens when people pursue the old purposes with the new means at their
disposal.

Keith





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