Diana McCarty on Wed, 6 Nov 96 12:24 MET

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nettime: Beyond Netiquette

Beyond Netiquette - interreligious dialogue and the making of a global
ethic through the Net -

The first-but-still-the-best Hungarian Musical, "Egy szerelem három
éjszakája" (Three Nights of a Love),  contains  a  "Song about
Etiquette". According to this unique song (sung amidst the ugliest
period of the dirtiest war in Budapest's history),  etiquette teaches us
that we should kiss the hand of a lady and which pair of shoes to wear
for which occasions, but the very same etiquette fails to tell us how to
behave with ladies, people whose shops have gone under , and also fails
to tell us which pair of shoes you should choose when both your feet are
lost. The conclusion of the song is the following: only the dead know
proper behavior.

Our Latin-based Western tradition of thinking: "Inter arma silent musae"
(Among weapons muses are silent), is especially true for what we call
etiquette, a codex of rules which works fairly well "within" a
community, the validity of which, however, ends in a conflict between
two, or more, different communities. Briefly speaking: it doesn't work
with war.

Cyberworld's netiquette (with an 'n') is different, however. Its
validity is based on the fact that the community of cyberspace is one
and indivisible. We can find Christians, and Jews, and  Muslims, and
Hindus in cyberspace as well as Serbs, and Croats, and Bosnians with
on-line keyboards at hand. But we could hardly find such a thing as a
Hindu, Muslim, Bosnian or  Pakistani cyberspace. Et cetera.  Cyberspace
has a much greater challenge: to represent not a smaller community than
the whole of humankind. This - in its entirety, not physical, but
virtual - community, is the worldwide network of peace - compared with
the worldwide network of arms-trade, logistics,ideologies and  the like.
Briefly the network of war in the so-called "real" world.

Etiquette, as we see,  is something which makes things work smoothly- in
peace. In war, however, there is a need for something "beyond"
etiquette. This something is ethic, which tells us how to behave in
conflict situations. (How to behave in crises - the Greek word Krisis
means decision.) So, the moral of the story of mankind is that there is
a need for morals. But the point is that the rules of moral conduct,
even if they are basically similar to each other, are usually based on
religious beliefs, which in themselves differ quite a bit. This is why
people can wage wars against each other in the name(s) of their
religious authorities. The commandment  "thou shalt not kill" could well
be common among Muslims and Christians and Jews in how they live their
lives, but the question "Why shall I not kill?" remains unanswered and
divides communities. Even such a categorically, ethical imperative is
not universal, because the answers to this question run like this: "thou
shalt not kill, because it is God's command." But (and here comes a
strong but): even the absolute, unconditional foundations of ethical
behavior seem to differ, because there is no such being as God. God is
not a name, but a profession. The being who, by profession, is God, has
several names: El, Elohim, Jahve, Isten, Bog, Dieu, Dios, Theos, Allah,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Rama, Vishnu and Shiva, and so forth. So
even if there might be a common religious foundation of a practically
common ethic, it does not work, since the partakers or enemies of a war
all fight in the name of (that is to say: in the different names of )

To tell the truth many, many wars are taking place in the so-called real
world, and they are basically religious - conducted in the names of
religious authorities. This is a paradox, since religions tend to be
much more about peace, union, and the submission of our tribal or
individual egos to a transcendent power in which we believe.

How could the Internet community, this one and indivisible
wired-community, help the non-wired to live in peace? It is trivial,
that in cyberspace a real war cannot exist with kalasnyikovs, plastic
and/or atomic bombs, bayonettes, swords, knives, and so on - since every
action in cyberspace takes place in the world-wide communication, as a
"res cogitans" and not as a "res extensa" -  to borrow Descartes'
distinction.  Soldiers on the front, or tanks on the battlefield have a
physical definition, so if they collide, they may destroy each other.
But through the Internet, even enemies cannot destroy each other, they
can only battle one another's thoughts.

I don't mean to say that there are no religious wars on the net.There
are. The religious activity is surprising, gigantic even, and the
proselytizing is very active. But who cares? "Flaming" in a newsgroup or
on a mailing list is not like flaming cities. Netiqeuette, as far as it
seems, is enough to keep the partakers peaceful in their dialogues. I
have no reason, however, to deny that there are huge cultural
differences, even in cyberspace, which divide netizens. It may be known
to some of you, that Umberto Eco, the semiotics professor and bestseller
writer of the university of Bologna wrote...

------------------ INSERT STARTS HERE:

Umberto Eco on PCs & Macs

The following excerpts are from an English translation of Umberto Eco's
back-page column, "La Bustina di Minerva," in the Italian news weekly
"Espresso," September 30, 1994.

"Insufficient consideration has been given to the new underground
religious war which is modifying the modern world.It's an old idea of
mine, but I find that whenever I tell people about it they immediately
agree with me.

"The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh
computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the
opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant.
Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by
the 'ratio studiorum' of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly,
conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step
to reach--if not the Kingdom of Heaven--the moment in which their
document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is
dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right
to salvation.

"DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation
of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle
hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all
can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the
program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the
user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

"You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has
come to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the
Macintosh. It's true: Windows represents an  Anglican-style schism, big
ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a
return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions;
when it comes down to it, you can decide to allow women and gays to be
ministers if you want to.

"And machine code, which lies beneath both systems (or environments, if
you prefer)? Ah, that is to do with the Old Testament, and is talmudic
and cabalistic..."


I quoted Eco to avoid accusations of ignoring what's going on. Yes,
Isee, how many spiritual wars are going on,  that even the Matrix itself
is not devoid of "religious wars" . Just type "religious war" in a
search engine, and you will find several servers netwide with Eco's
above quoted text, as well as other traces of "software wars". One of
the main battlefields now (1996) is the one between 3.0s of Netscape
Navigator and Internet Explorer respectively.  Yes: even the Matrix is a
religious battlefield. (No: to oppose another web browser is still not
killing people on the killing fields.)

Internet doesn't mean peace automatically. It is just not war. In this
non-war position the net built a special kind of etiquette: protocol.
The "handshakes" of different programs and environments work exactly
like the etiquette and protocol of diplomacy. But netiquette and
protocols only provide formats for communication. Without something to
say, i.e.without important content, communicating, even through the best
protocols, is for nothing. Who says what? It is not less important than
how they do it.

The spiritual developments on the Internet seem to tend to three + one
different directions.

1.) Proselytizing, or simply presence, or "being there". There are Hindu
and Muslim, Jewish and Christian, Feminist and Satanist, Mormon and
Watchtower, Wicca, and Orthodox, Hare Krishna and Shamanist and many
other communities on the net. Not to exclude those in the Elvis Church,
who believe that the rock star will descend from the Heavens in a pink
Cadillac,  the anti-pope reform-Catholics, and say, the so called,
not-at-all religionless, "pagans". They all use the net as a tool to
spread their teachings. Small and large communities do the same:  more
and more, they are present on the net,  like the artists, scientists,
librarians, and others who also use this tool.

2.)Trying out the ways of building a common spiritual community, in
other words, making on-line cyberreligions.    "Cyberchurches" exist,
which one can enter with a simple click of the mouse (and the rite of
passage, one can say, may be realized with a double click, and, perhaps,
providing a password). Many netizens believe in a world which transcends
the so-called  "real" world. Some even think that a Being is being
created in front of our eyes, or rather: our brains. This is neither a
god, nor a human being, nor just the multitude of cyborgs, but THE WHOLE
INTERNET as a being, with such an enormous knowledge that we cannot
wholly percieve it. And, facing this Golem, we can only say something
like "credo quia absurdum est" I believe in it because I don't
understand it. Or, to be more optimistic,   we can say "credo ut
intelligam" :I believe in it in order to understand it. Many of those
who think religions and cyberspace have much in common, believe in
cyberspace as not just a virtual, but also, in a sense, as an ultimate

3.)  The third characteristic sort of religious activity on the net is
the smallest but most important one: the interreligious dialogue. This
"ecumenismus ad extra", the dialogue of  - virtually - all the religions
and confessions of the world (a much wider dialogue, than the basically
Inter-Christian diplomacy called "ecumenism") was represented by the
signers of the Parliament of the Religions of the World in Chicago, 1993
(which has continued on the net), as well as it is represented by the
Californian Episcopal Bishop William E. Swing's United Religions
Initiative. These attempts are based on what Hans Kueng, the German
ecumenical theologian described as the "golden rule" of a global ethic,
the trace of which one may find in several religious traditions from the
teachings of the Buddha through the Jewish thinker Hillel to Confucius
and Jesus: "don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you."

4.)   Last, there is a fourth kind of religious activity on the net, or,
at least the demand for it. It may be more radical in dialogue than
Kueng's ecumenismus ad extra, more dialogic than any "golden rule". Not
having a better word for it, I call it "interreligiology."  The common
commandment for the participants of this possible future forum should go
beyond the common global ethic inherent in the different religions, well
beyond the ten and other numbers of commandments acceptable by anyone,
and has to express, analogously to what Socrates said concerning
philosophy  (I only know that I know nothing) , something like this: "I
only believe one thing: that I don't have faith; so I submit myself to
Thy Faith."

Gerloczy Ferenc (gerlo@hvg.hu)

Tranlstion of lecture given at MetaForum II/NO BORDERS/Budapest
Networking Conference October 1995

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