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<nettime> The Holy Empire of AI & VR 1/2
sage on Mon, 1 Sep 1997 23:00:31 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> The Holy Empire of AI & VR 1/2

	'hack through to reality: by any means necessary'
The Anarchives 				Volume 4 Issue 7
	The Anarchives			Published By
		The Anarchives		TAO Communications
			The Anarchives	www.tao.ca

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               --/\--			The Holy Empire
             /  /  \  \			of
         ---|--/----\--|---		Artificial Intelligence
             \/      \/			and
             /\______/\			Virtual Reality

-=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~

(editor's notes: I like using the pronoun we or I&I rather than I , becuase
these ideas in this paper transcend any individual and implies the
interactive nature of this discourse. this paper is a draft as part of the
memorial lecture, this year to be given by irshad manji. this paper was
for irshad, but also for a canadian audience. in this sense it approaches the
technological maelstrom from a canadian perspective in the tradition of
and innis)

-=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~

The Holy Empire of AI and VR
Or: What is Canada For?

A cultural response to global political tyranny: agitating a democratic

As we slide closer and closer to our common cultural neuroses called the
millennium, we find democracy in the world besieged on all sides. Our
collective obsession with the year 2000 is successfully distracting us from
dramatic political change and upheaval. Powerful corporate groups are using
techno-utopian language to hide these changes within the context of a
techno-deterministic fatalism. This is not a new process, but the phenomena
is rapidly converging, accelerating into itself, with a focal point on the
religious construct of the millennium.

What is changing is the nature of god; which from a tribal perspective can
be viewed as the return of the goddess. The is characterized by the shift
from the printed word to the electric word. Monotheism displaced by a
self-creating polytheism. A return of mythology where divinity roams freely
through the human narrative.

However actions are reflected in reactions, and change can often reinforce
stasis. People have power, states try to harness and control that power.
Liberty rests in the individual, and renewed tribalism threatens to consume
the individual. Tribalism organizes itself as a corporation and overthrows
the nation state with it's digital technology: the digital revolution. The
corporation is the body of both political and religious power. The market is
both a system of administration and continuance, as a network of networks it
governs its own space and time.

The Canadian Identity

"The conditions of freedom of thought are in danger of being destroyed by
science, technology, and the mechanization of knowledge, and with them,
Western civilization." (Harold Innis, The Bias of Communication pp. 191)

Over half a century ago Harold Innis described these tendencies, within the
bias of our civilization, and explicitly within a plea for time, a request
for religious contextualization and understanding, but also a plea for time
to comprehend and understand what befalls us.

Two years ago John Ralston Saul discussed the return of ideology and last
year Rick Salutin discussed the centrality of technology within this
ideology. However neither of them were able to bring the work of Innis up to
date so as to enable a vibrant democratic response to the hegemony of
technological determinism. We still find ourselves as a society grappling
with accelerated technological and cultural change, while seemingly disabled
from responding, culturally handicapped, as the masters of empire wage the
new information war.

As our environments transform under the influence of the technological
maelstrom, we as Canadians seem perpetually involved in a series of identity
crises. Our inability to engage real political, economic, and social issues,
seems very much linked to our obsession with our own identities, whether
individual, tribal, or national. For as our worldview changes with the
introduction of new media, so does our sense of self. Constant technological
change is one of the defining characteristics of the networked society,
however a perpetual identity crisis also accompanies this change: as the be
all, and end all, of our national obsessions.

It is within this context that we address the question: What is Canada For?

Where do we as a nation fit in to the construction of an antidemocratic
world economic order, otherwise known as the global village? Do we
relinquish our sovereignty to determinists like Mike Harris and Jean
Chretien who as cyborgs follow the global technological rule, slashing
social programs while endorsing treaties such as the <a href=
http://www.policyalternatives.ca/mai/> Multilateral Agreement of
Invenstments</a>, which as a bill of rights for corporations will remove our
ability to act as an independent nation?

Or conversely do we position Canada within a global struggle for human
rights, dignity, respect, tolerance, diversity, and democracy. Do we take
advantage of our cultural and economic development to subvert and deter the
antidemocratic and deterministic forces driving global politics, trade, and
development. For it seems that along with the focal point of millennium we
also have the metaphor of apocalypse, in which right and left, rich and
poor, strong and weak, transfix on a cataclysmic and destructive end.

Perhaps its time we start thinking about new beginnings. Democratic revivals
and cultural revolutions. Local engagement and global empathy. Community
based participatory democracy within a larger framework of co-operative
federalism, leading in the international arena to a new multilaterialism.

In order to achieve this we need to make a synthesis of the Toronto School
of Communication (notably Harold Innis & Marshal McLuhan), with the reality
of political activism and democratic organizing. Embracing convergence we
are hard pressed to unite the theory and praxis involved in reclaiming and
reinvigorating our democratic society.

While Harold Innis extended his staples thesis to the field of
communications, McLuhan extended this work to the emerging environment of
electronic communications. However McLuhan, perhaps out of a sense of fear
or protected self-interest, discarded the political economic analysis that
formed the basis of Innis' insight. In so doing McLuhan popularized the
study of culture and communications, but also removed the potency of the
arguments, and the potential for real engagement of the political economic
juggernaut described by both.

Despite common belief, Marshal McLuhan was not a determinist nor a fatalist,
although these characteristics certainly surround both the interpretation
and continuation of his work. The main message that McLuhan tried to convey
was that by understanding our cultural environment we are able to engage it
as a means of progressive change.

It is now the responsibility of a new generation of Canadian thinkers to
reunite the communications and cultural theory embodied by McLuhan with the
political economy of Innis and in so doing form a radical analysis of empire
and communications. Unlike John Ralston Saul and Rick Salutin, we need to go
deeper than deconstructing hype and hysteria, and examine the underlying
structure of the modern state as defined by its employment of
communications, as manifest in its politics and religion: the administration
of space and time. Furthermore we must conduct this analysis with the
purpose of enabling, encouraging, and engaging in democratic organizing and
agitation. In this sense we embrace McLuhan's dream of environmental
consciousness, and Innis' dream of a balanced equilibrium between
communication and civilization biases.

This is an articulation of Canadian identity: open, dynamic, tolerant,
diverse, and self-perpetuating. This identity is a reflection of the global
networked society. McLuhan described Canada as a counter-environment, a
transitional frontier between the imperial powers of first Britain and then
the United States. Canada as a counter-environment suggests a position of
both detachment, separation, even marginality that allows Canadian culture
to simultaneously both belong and find distance from its neighbouring
'superpowers'. However as the empire itself becomes global, so too must the
concept of the counter-environment: Canada as a global counter-environment.
Canada as a safe haven for democratic development, Canada as the catalyst
for an international response against the new monopoly of knowledge, the
antidote against the corporate disease of political, economic, and
technological determinism.

At the center of our global networked society, is the combination of holism
and paradox. The global village is a metaphor that represents the connection
or convergence of all civilizations, nations, and tribes, into an
interdependent framework that is both unified and contradictory. The
Canadian identity lives in juxtaposition with a 'networked world order' that
is explicitly: closed, static, intolerant, homogenizing, and

The shift to the Electric Word

For centuries our societal consciousness lived primarily in the printed
word. Our collective identity was determined by what was written on the
outside, whether on the page or on the wall. Plato described this phenomena
of literacy with his metaphor of the cave: a nation of people chained
together by the neck, facing the wall and perceiving reality as the
reflections from a light behind them.

McLuhan wrote extensively on the impact of electricity upon the word, and
how the electric word would transform society. He used the characteristics
of the spoken word to describe the new orality embedded within electronic

Now, with the proliferation of the networks, the electric word is
self-organizing. The humans are able to take the chains off their necks,
turn around and face the light directly. In fact they do it for many hours
each day: watching television, using computers, even the telephone networks.

Metaphorically the light we now turn to is the tribal fire. Instead of
facing the wall we face each other. This a return to the oral, as we can
discuss things amongst ourselves. However we do not discard literacy. The
ability to project upon the wall and allow communication with many still
exists. In fact it can cause further problems as people project all over the
place, mistaking fires, light, and other people for the cave wall. Literacy
has been swallowed by electricity, but the influence of the alphabet is
still strong. Old authorities compete with new authorities for the reigns of
empire in the emerging global empire.

Holism and paradox return with our reclaimed oral abilities. The networks
allow us multiple perspectives and multiple realities, in combination with
self-determination and self-destruction of identity. This fluidity of
identity encourages us to see the world and our environments as whole. We
can feel our boundaries based upon our outermost limits. What was the margin
becomes the center as the only markers of where the circle turns. The
simultaneous location of margin and center enable the paradox of
perspective. We can see our own contradictions, we can see our societal
contradictions, and we can still keep going, our self-destruction is met
equally with our self-preservation and creation. We can accept paradox
outside of the context of mythology, or inversely our mythology has become
our reality.

"As modern developments in communication have made for greater realism they
have made for greater possibilities of delusion." (Harold Innis, The Bias of
Communication pp. 77)

Holism and paradox are two characteristics of orality, and they are to an
extent rebalancing our society and helping us achieve an equilibrium between
our communication biases. These two qualities have been alive and well in
our national identity. Canadian character has always been full of
contradictions and as an identity we've had an inclusive tendency that
generally accommodates the whole. It is along these lines that the identity
parallels that of the networks. A culture in which the frontier is a balance
between individual achievement and collective survival. A subtle mix of
American individualism and European collectivism. However we are also a
culture that has accommodated peoples from around the world. While resident
cultures have used tactics like racism and xenophobia as expressions of
their insecurity, the national identity has shifted and changed to
accommodate those who engage it, and those who emigrate to it.

Within the networked world Canada represents the hub of democracy and
freedom. We are the gateway to the world as people, culture, trade, and
information continuously travel through our cultural space. We are a global
counter-environment that permits the open generation of identity, as our own
sense of national self is flexible enough to allow change, or at least we
hope it is. 'Development' in our networked world is determined by the
fluidity of identity, and the flexibility of society. In an interdependent
economic world each nation must act and react within a global environment in
which wheat prices in Saskatchewan are determined by forces external to
Canada, and perhaps external to any nation. The nation in the networked
world has to be free to change and adapt, especially in terms of how it
relates to the rest of the world, whether nation or corporation.

When Innis expanded his work on colonial trade and the staples thesis to
communications he engaged in a study using information as the staple.
Marshall McLuhan popularized this research by rephrasing it as: the medium
is the message. Innis examined how the exchange of a commodity, in this case
information, shaped the economy and society it was involved in.

To bring Innis' work up to date, and in essence get to the root of
communications study, we have to look at identity as the staple: the
exchange of identity as the basis of the network economy and society. Within
the networks the resource of scarcity is time, and the resource that fuels
production is bandwidth. The more capacity you have to transfer bits and
information the quicker you're able to process and recreate identity. The
networks operate on a protocol in which identity becomes the first level of
information exchanged, and all others begin from the perception that arises
from the initiation of trade: the exchange of identity. The free exchange
and creation of identity form the basis for a stable and healthy system.
However understanding how the staple operates within the larger economy
highlights elements of power resident within the system, as well as those
applying pressure from without.

Monopolies of Knowledge

Through his work on the staples thesis, Innis became concerned with the
formation of monopolies of knowledge, and the related concentration and
maintenance of power. In examining information and communication as a staple
throughout the history of civilization and empire, Innis noted for every
medium there existed a tendency towards a monopoly of knowledge which then
manifested power in politics (as a system of administration) and religion
(as a system of continuance).

"Concentration on a medium of communication implies a bias in the cultural
development of the civilization concerned either towards an emphasis on
space and political organization or towards an emphasis on time and
religious organization. Introduction of a second medium tends to check the
bias of the first and to create conditions suited to the growth of empire."
H.A. Innis, Empire And Communications pp. 170

We are presently in a period of transition, in which societal biases are
balanced, and the growth of the new empire is accelerating, demonstrated by
the exponential rise of stock markets in the industrialized world. The
monopoly of knowledge that resulted from the printed word is being
superseded by the monopoly of knowledge arising with the electric word. This
process is manifesting at many different levels in many ways, among them
corporate mergers and divestments, multilateral agreements on investments
and liberalization of trade, telecom deregulation and corporate media

At the heart of this phenomena is the shift in governance from the nation to
the corporation and the shift in religion from monotheism to polytheism.
Paradoxically however this process is paralleled by its opposite: the shift
from tribal to national rule and the consolidation of tribal polytheistic
belief systems to fundamental monotheism, whether Christian, Islamic, or

Convergence is at the heart of this transition: explicitly as the
methodology of holism. Within the political, economic, social, and
technological arenas, convergence drives the agenda, and is the operating
metaphor enabling a holistic self-organization. Globalization is the
sweeping generalization describing this notion of convergence. The
westernization of the east; the easternization of the west; capital travels
south; poverty travels north; and global wealth goes into orbit.
Globalization as the process of eastern form and western content: Confucius
organizes while Mickey Mouse distracts.

It's difficult to describe a process that is both holistic and paradoxical.
Archetypes become the basis for character description, while specialization
gives way to generalization, and linear logic yields to non-linear analogy.
A multi-perspective reality translates into a world where contradictions
exist side by side. The United States can accuse other nations of terrorism
and human rights violations while themselves being the largest global

The monopoly of knowledge that existed with the printed word was exerted
politically through the nation state and religiously through monotheism. The
nation state was based upon a constitution and legislated through written
laws, wherein the oral culture was secondary: debating the implementation of
the written authority. Similarly religious organization was based upon a
written text, whether bible, torah, or qu'ran, and the oral culture was
secondary, in the form of mass, sabbath, or (islamic gathering?). The
politics were organized in parliaments, congresses, executives, and
judiciaries, the religion organized in churches, synagogues, and mosques. As
Innis described there was an uneven balance towards space, that was a result
of the dominance of the printed word. This dominance resulted in a distinct
and specialized approach to governance, in which separations and division
became the basis of power as a politics of exclusion. This manifest most
dramatically with the notion of the separation between church and state, or
religion and politics in the administration of the empire.

The monopoly of knowledge that is emerging with the electric word is exerted
politically through the corporation and religiously through polytheism.
However the most notable distinction between the printed and electric word
is the reunification of political and religious power within the single form
of the corporation. Convergence as the driving metaphor legitmizes the
concentration of power within one form of institution, while at the same
time its polytheism enables the illusion of religious separation from
political governance. In order to understand the existing reality of
imperial administration, or of the new nature of the state, it is necessary
to explore the emerging monopoly of knowledge within the construct of a
technological metaphor.

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