David S. Bennahum on Thu, 9 Oct 1997 11:03:17 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Re: Remaking Social Practices

What's remarkable about essays like this is the persistent use of made-up
oppositions to set off a supposed "problem."  In Mr. Guattari's essay, we
are given a diagnosis of our present times, which, in a nutshell, is so
familiar as to be banal: the times they are 'a changing so damn fast, that
we have no context, no frame... and **it wasn't like that in the old
days.** Or as Mr. Guattari puts it: 

>We cover our eyes; we forbid ourselves
>to think about the turbulent passage of our times, which swiftly thrusts
>far behind us our familiar past, which effaces ways of being and living
>that are still fresh in our minds, and which slaps our future onto an
>opaque horizon, heavy with thick clouds and miasmas. We depend all the
>more on the reassurance that nothing is assured.

This is such a tiresome trope, and so totally absurd when placed in the
context of history.  I am curious-- on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being
the most disorienting, which was a worse time for intellectuals claiming a
void of comprehension: 

--Those caught up in the events of 1789-1815 (aka French Revolution,
  Napoleonic Wars, etc.) 
--1914-1920 (The "Great War", Communism, Russian Revolution)
--1945-55 (The creation of nuclear weapons capable of
  destroying the human race, the cold war) 

Are you seriously saying that the period from 1991-present (post-cold war)
"swiftly thrusts far behind us our familiar past,"  "slaps our future onto
an opaque horizon," and that "we depend all the more on the reassurance
that nothing is assured"-- and th at this is a remarkable, new,
unsettling, worrisome state of affairs?  So compared to the peasants
burning down the manors of the French aristocracy, or the Bolsheviks, with
a tiny cadre, remaking an entire continent along ideological lines, or the
mass-p roduction of nuclear bombs, this present-day period ranks a what--
a "10" for disorienting?  So that would put other "disorienting" periods
in history where-- at a 2?... maybe a 7 for the "Great War" and
Revolutions of 1918-20? 

Pardon me for being faceitious here, but really, how can we go around,
generation after generation always claiming that our time is the most
confusing, most disorienting, most _unlike_ the past? 

Once you make this diagnosis, you go on to describe these "conditions"
that are so completely metaphoric and allegorical, that I cannot really
make sense of them.  What does this, for instance, actually mean? 

>It is thus of primordial importance that, alongside
>the capitalist market, there appear territorialized markets that rely on
>the support of substantial formations, that affirm their modes of
>valorization. Out of the capitalist chaos must come what I call
>"attractors" of values: values that are diverse, heterogeneous, dissensual

So for the "layman," you know, the person who is actually working, what
lesson is to be gained from this diagnosis?  What is a "territorialized
market"? Do you mean a market based on geography, like the phrase, "the
French market," or do you mean somethin g else?  What is an "attractor" of
values?  And why do you say "capitalist chaos"?  Do you mean that
capitalist markets are chaotic, or do you mean that they are just so
complex, that their "order" is incomprehensible to us? Isn't "chaos"
consistent with the nouns you use: "diverse, heterogeneous, dissensual."? 

>        An essential condition for succeeding in the promotion of a new
>planetary consciousness would thus reside i n our collective capacity for
>the recreation of value systems that would escape the moral, psychological
>and social lamination of capitalist valorization, which is only centered
>on economic profit. The joy of living, solidarity, and compassion with
>regard to others, are sentiments that are about to disappear and that must
>be protected, enlivened, and propelled in new directions.

Is this really a new argument?  I mean, didn't, for instance, the French
clergy vehmently oppose the social consequences of industrialization in
the 19th century, for similar reasons-- namely that capitalism's only
value is "economic profit," and that this tends to destroy traditional
social order?  Why, after say 150 years of various permutations of
capitalism, should we believe that its value of "economic profit" is any
more corrosive than it was, say, in 1830? If anything, I would argue that,
seven or more generations later, we've learned to adapt to the corrosive
influences of capitalism.  What then has changed since the 19th century to
make us even weaker and succeptible to an existence where "the joy of
living, solidarity, and compassion with regard to others, are sentiments
that are about to disappear." Isn't this one of the oldest, persistent,
lamentations that always seems to come along with "change"? 
>The suggestive power of the theory of information has contributed
>to masking the importance of the enunciative dimensions of communication.
>It leads us to forget that a message must be received, and not just
>transmitted, in order to have meaning. Information cannot be reduced to
>its objective manifestations; it is, essentially, the production of
>subjectivity, the becoming- consistent [prise de consistence] of
>incorporeal universes.

Again-- loads of metaphor, but where's the point?  What are the "objective
manifestations" of information?  And how is this related to the
"production of subjectivity"? What are you talking about here?  Again,
let's try some real examples. When I send an e-mail message, are you
saying that the people getting it "forget that a message must be
received"? I guess this is supposed to mean that people hear each other,
but don't actually listen to what's said. They get so into the seduction
of fiddling with the tools of transmission and reception that the content
becomes irrelevant.  Okay?  But isn't that stunningly condescending?  I
mean, perhaps then this nettime list is just an orgy of de-massified
virtual tweaking, hundreds of people clacking at nifty computers and
jabbing on their send buttons? Stop reading this now, and immediately go
change your desktop pattern. 

>       Humanity must undertake a marriage of reason and sentiment with
>the multiple off-shoots of machinism, or else it risks sinking into chaos.

<sigh> Now, I remember something about a nasty tiff with Italian Futurists
at the begining of this century, and a great big debate about the
dehumanization of machines, and the chaos they bring (the Futurists
claiming machinism brought us order).  What ex actly is so horrible about
"machines"?  Why do you claim that "reason and sentiment" are not
_already_ married to machinsim? Let's take on "machine" of sorts--
computer networks.  The origins of the Internet are rooted in explicit
Utopian ambitions to pro duce a more "reasonable," progressive world. You
may download the essays from http://www.memex.org/licklider.html or by
directly linking to http://www.memex.org/licklider.pdf Written in 1968, by
JCR Licklider and Robert Taylor, these two people were resp onsible for
funding the creation of Internet, and setting its ideological agenda.
Their goal was to use the technology of computers as a communications
device (at a time when almost no one had thought of this), to break down
barriers of misunderstanding between people, and increase access to
education and knowledge.  The point is: people have been trying to
"undertake a marriage of reason and sentiment with the multiple off-shoots
of machinism" for a long, long time. We are st ill doing it now-- it is
amazing to ignore how many scientists and engineers are actually *aware*
of the impact of their work, and seeking to resolve the ethical issues.
Why do you presume that we need this marriage, when it's happened already,
and well before our time? 

> In this way, the judiciary and the legislature
>will be brought to forge new ties with the world of technology and of
>research (this is already the case with commissions on ethics
>investigating problems in biology and contemporary medicine; but we must
>also rapidly create commissions for the ethics of the media, of urbanism,
>of education). 

Commissions?  What, like groups adults being paid to sit around conference
tables and tell us how to solve the world's problems? Gosh, I imagine that
at the UN alone there must be dozens of such committees in full session
right now. Is this really a genui ne "solution" or just a tossed-off line
in parentheses? 

>Without the promotion of such a subjectivity of difference, of the
>atypical, of utopia, our epoch could topple into atrocious conflicts of
>identity, like those the people of the former Yugoslavia are suffering. It
>would be vain to appeal to morality and respect for rights.

Oh man, talk about packing an argument down so tight that it vanishes. Are
you saying the conflict in Yugoslavia is based on a lack of "subjectivity
of difference, of the atypical, of utopia"-- that the whole thing is a
conflict of "identity"?  Again, what does this exactly mean? I thought
the war in Yugoslavia was about what wars are usually about: getting it
because you think you can-- "it" being power, territory, economic
hegemony. Are you saying the war in Yugoslavia is a kind of violent
"idenity" crisis? 

It seems that when you get down to the end of this essay, the bottom line
is this: 

>a shaft of meaning must be
>discovered, that cuts through my impatience for the other to adopt my
>point of view, and through the lack of good will in the attempt to bend
>the other to my desired.

It's a fine ambition, but hard to take seriously when the whole premise of
this essay is so flawed-- that our time is desperately poised on the edge
of chaos, about to tip over at any moment.  What's funny about this hubris
is how much more wacky things a re about to get: genetic engineering is
moving out of theory into reality, space exploration by humans is
returning, nanotechnology has received a major boost from the latest
inventions in semi-conductor minaturization, and medicine is about to
experience a series of major shocks from new techniques using automated
drug-delivery systems (implanted under the skin) and portable diagnositc
machines...  But that's for another time.  Meanwhile, our current
high-speed media frenzy is hailed as super-unsettling. 

We'll see, I guess.

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