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<nettime> The beginning of the end?
Brian Holmes on Sat, 5 Feb 2011 10:17:02 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> The beginning of the end?


Felix's sense of an ending jibes with mine, but our reasons are so 
different that this cannot just be a comment. The Cold War military 
order ended along with the Keynesian-Fordist industrial paradigm way 
back in the 1970s. The crisis that is opening now (for the last three 
years) will spell the end of American-led, financially driven neoliberal 
globalization. Since that period can also be dubbed "Informationalism" I 
think does matter to nettime. The "immanent critique of the internet" is 
now talking place in the flesh on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria.

Beginning with the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the focus of global warfare 
and the principle justification for the gigantic national 
arms-manufacturing complexes shifted from Asia (which had occupied that 
role during the Cold War) to the Middle East. US defeat in Vietnam 
officialized the shift. Meanwhile, the stunning victory of Egypt in the 
1973 Israeli-Egyptian War, coupled with the first oil embargo, brought 
about a new reaction in the form of a strategic alliance between 
national militaries, arms manufacturers and oil extractors that is now 
visible to all as the ugly fist of Anglo-American imperialism. We are 
talking about a shift from the Cold War atomic-weapons conflict to the 
hot wars all aimed at maintaining control over the dwindling oil of the 
Middle East. Felix is right to say that Islamism replaced Communism as 
the threat required to maintain this military-industrial-extractive 
complex. That shift occured in the period from 1979 (Iranian Revolution) 
to 1981 (Anwar Sadat's assassination, commonly attributed to the Muslim 
Brotherhood, but in fact done by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad now led by 
Ayman al-Zawahiri). With the monetary turn in the economy and the 
ascendancy of Reagan and Thatcher, that same period marked the beginning 
of the financially driven political-economic formula of neoliberalism, 
which went global after the fall of the Soviet Union's hollow facade in 
1989.

We all lived through the globalization boom in the 1990s, but most did 
not realize it was already marking the "financial autumn" (in Braudel's 
famous phrase) of the American Century. Some of us did: we watched the 
Asian countries react to the 1997 financial crisis by refusing any new 
Western loans and ramping up their exports; we followed the deliberate 
engineering of the property/derivatives bubble after the industrial 
expansion of the 1990s collapsed in the year 2000; we were not surprised 
by the scope and severity of the 2008 krach, because we were well aware 
it had started in the summer of 2007. From this perspective it appears 
that the American system - or at the very least, the neoliberal version 
of it - is now on the way out. But the process is only beginning.

Throughout the era of US imperial dominance, the central issue has been 
opening the markets of subordinated countries to American (and more 
broadly, Western) trade, on American terms. This began at least as far 
back as the late 1920s, when the Ford Motor Co. was producing around two 
thirds of the cars sold in the world. However, the pattern of trade 
changed decisively in the 1970s, when the US started running very 
serious balance-of-trade deficits in manufactured goods including 
automobiles. Many people thought THAT was the beginning of the end. 
Instead the US continued to ramp up its exports of high-end engineering, 
of services and immaterial goods of all kinds, of legal frameworks, 
scientific paradigms and managerial brainpower, and finally, most 
decisively, of financial flows, which it did not so much supply itself 
as coordinate, with the help of Tokyo and the City of London, via the 
new electronic networks. The fiber-optic cable laid in the 1990s 
permitted the raising and allocation of speculative capital all over the 
world, giving rise to the tremendous burst of urbanization and indeed, 
of industrial development, that we have seen in and around the major 
global nodes since the late 1990s. This financially driven globalization 
culminated with the entry of China to the WTO in 2001. And indeed, in 
China it shows its true face: authoritarian state capitalism, 
information without democracy. The utopia whose promise so many of us 
felt in the 1990s has reversed into a nightmare. It is not over yet - 
but a major crisis began in 2007, and by 2008 it was already clear that 
the crisis would be geopolitical. The unipolar system of globalization 
has fallen apart. What I call "continental drift" has begun in earnest.

How will world development be coordinated in 10 or 15 years? No one yet 
knows. But it is known that the great promise of informationalism aka 
financialization was a lie and a failure. One the one hand it has 
maintained and even worsened the harshest domestic inequalities (witness 
Egypt); and on the other, with the deliberate cultivation of the 
Islamist enemy, it has produced a new form of super-empowered, 
laser-guided warfare and a process of intensive global policing whose 
hallmarks are satellite surveillance and assassination by unmanned 
drones (classic information technologies). Since 9/11 both these 
developments have made the new-look American imperium even more 
unpopular than the old one. First Latin America peeled away from what 
had been called the "Washington Consensus" (Thomas Friedman admiringly 
called it the "golden straightjacket" but no one wants to put it on 
anymore). Then, in the wake of the 2008 crisis, China began to assert 
itself as a fully autonomous and sovereign industrial power. And now, 
the people in the Middle East can no longer stand to be held in a state 
of arrested development (if not outright arrest for the slightest 
critique of their American-backed regimes). But I am sure this is only a 
beginning.

We are now going to face 10 or 15 years of economic and military chaos, 
while a new geopolitical order is worked out and a new industrial order 
emerges to face, for better or worse, the challenges of an ecologically 
transformed planet. Will this period of chaos entail a great war 
involving atomic weapons and centered on the Middle East? Will it see 
the militarization of China? Will it see the continued hardening of the 
class structure in the Western societies, with the spread of 
personal-security technologies and the proliferation of sealed borders? 
Will it see the generalization of GMO farming and the consequent 
destruction of arable land all over the earth? Or can all these negative 
trends be halted, in the face of their evident dead-end nature for most 
of the world population? Will a new ecologically conceived toolkit 
emerge out of the ruins of financial globalization? Will world 
development patterns be changed so as to allow everyone, everywhere, to 
find meaning in their lives by participating in the caretaking of human 
society?

These are the questions and let us be glad they are now at last coming 
explicitly on the table. Crisis is welcome, it interrupts the 
business-as-usual that inexorably makes things worse. My friend and 
collaborator Armin Medosch is right to insist on the mass intelligence 
of the Egyptians acting courageously in the street right now: it is 
impressive, it is beautiful, and even as it marks the beginning of the 
end of Informationalism it realizes part of the promise of the knowledge 
economy that neoliberal management killed and abandoned: because listen, 
remember, the people on the streets are in fact known to many in Egypt 
as "the digital generation." That kind of intelligence, unfolding in 
many different forms and at different scales, is in my humbly visionary 
opinion what will provide the joy of the upcoming difficult years. What 
the "digital generation" has to invent is not the stiffening of a 
repressive hyper-technological order. What we have to invent, beyond 
what we used to think of as "ourselves," is a way through chaos, a way 
beyond repression, a way out of planetary hegemonies: a chance to 
coexist in the twenty-first century.

warmly, Brian





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