Patrice Riemens on Fri, 30 Jan 1998 16:54:06 +0100 (MET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Tim is back in Afrikah! Praise the Lord!! Hallelujah!!!

(You had all thought that the snipping season was over with Geert's grand
finale on the Push Media , but then flies past this big bright fluo orange
balloon!  I agree with Jordan Crandall - even though it's probably the
only thing on which I can agree with him - you can't let go such a chance!
So there we go again, kids!...)
Barlow Does It Again And Why He Is Bloody Right For Once!)

Let me be frank.  If I had only half the chance to choose whom to send to
my learned and distinguished friends in the South, and this for their
uplift-cum-entertainment (a very succesful Dutch Reformed formula), John
Perry Barlow would win hands down against Jordan Crandall.  JPB's sooo
much more fun!  And make no mistake: my learned and distinguished friends
would perfectly know how to handle him, and need no advice or protection
from Mr Crandall, whose righteousness they might find ...errr...(several
heavy-duty street-level hard-core expletives deleted). OK, then:... a
little boring.

Right.  So WIRED does it again!  It congratulates itself on its fifth
birthday with an issue so dense in ideology (Californian, of course), that
it is pure, unalloyed joy to read it.  And Mr Barlow's contribution to the
festivities might be - not even necessarily so - the most spectacular, it
is by far not the only one.  In fact Jordan Crandall's implicit criticism
of a (neo) colonialist position applies just as well to the mag's
description of what goes on in Silicon Valley, stuff of which I have
experienced nothing even while I am now sitting right in the middle of it
(with very lousy connectivity to boot). So let's admit Wired has taken a
leaf from the editorial policies at the Bombay 'Times of India' and choses
to dispatch about life in another planet.  So what?

Meself, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Barlow's adventures.  Worse
still, I can agree with many things he says, and I find the sincerity with
which he expresses his views quite admirable.  And then I have been, nay,
I have even lived in Africa.  Of course, JPB does absolutely nothing to
pare of the suspicion of behaving like the proverbial uggly American (and
I suspect he does so on the explicit purpose of annoying the likes of Mr
Crandall), and one has to endure near-lethal doses of Barlow-babble in the
process  (which is especially insuferable to us, hi-educated North West
European hereditary brainlords...), but then yes, he's right...almost all
the time.  (And when he's not right, he is so solonemly wrong, that it is
very edifying all the same.)

There is a very simple reason to this sate of affair: there is no One
Truth, and anybody who has experienced a certain situation in depth and
writes honestly about the experience speaks the truth: a truth (or as Joan
Robinson wrote about the Indian economy: 'anything you care to say about
it is true, and so is its opposite').  But since this would be a rather
abrupt and unsatisfactory end to a purported commentary on Barlow's
argument, let me also offer the slightly more complex reasons why our
gentleman farmer from Wyoming is right. (IMMO, of course).

And yes, that Wyoming ranching background, debased by Barlowian iteration
as it may be, is the first part of it (any part will fit).  JPB is a
farmer and speaks as a farmer. There is no reason (except bad faith) to
fault him on that.  And it does cut a lot of distance between him and most
Africans (of for that, Brazilian, Chinese, Indian, name it) he will meet.
If you're not convinced, please tell me when you last spoke to a farmer in
your _own_ country.  And did it make sense to you?  (In Holland, we
usually cannot even understand what they say, let alone what they
mean...).  Another _very_ good thing about Barlow, is that barges along as
a person, or in his judicious formula, as a 'NGI', a
Non-Governmental-Individual.  Let me tell you from my own experience that
the so-called Third World, and especially Sub-Saharan Africa,  has been
reeling for years under an invasion army of Northern 'experts' of various
hue, almost to a man (they're usually that) belonging or affiliated to
some Agency, Organisation, Church, Bank (when not THE Bank), Quango,
Consultancy, Mission, Representation, Committee, GRO, NGO, GONGO
(Government Organised Non Government Organisation, sic) from which, and
from which alone, they derive identity and purpose.  The people in the
so-called Third World, let me also tell you, are thoroughly fed up with
them (OK, since there's no business like the development business, they
are suffered, or abused, or petnapped, or generally taken for a ride).
And there is simply no end to the harm most, if not all, of these
expatriate would-be-experts have wrecked on what they mistakenly believe
as their charges in the so-called 'Development Process', along with the
almost uniformly misguided, and high-handed, policies pursued by their
principals in the name of the above.  Which comes as no surprise since the
whole edifice itself is either a get rich quick avenue of business for
domestic enterpreneurs of the donor countries, or a barely fig-leafed
employement scheme for graduates in various exotic social sciences,
usually scions of the materially and/or intellectually propertied classes.
The inherently suspect legitimacy of the whole enterprise being then
shored up by the presence in its midst of a growing cohort of co-opted
natives (yes), whose influence is an exact - though usually somewhat
discounted - reflection of their conformism in embracing the ruling
ideology of the place and the moment, and whose apex members we can
encounter in the confort of our very own homes or conference centres in
the never ending defile of endimically jet-lagged 'representatives' of the
'Third World'.    RTFLOTS! (Read the f******* literature on the subject.
You could, for instance, start with Richard Hanckock's - of Holy Grail
repute - 'The Lords of Poverty'...)

It is in this dismal landscape that the arrival of an unofficial, if not
totally unpretentious, personnage named John Perry Barlow must have been,
and should be, greeted with great relief.  Comical relief to boot, judging
by the  bin-hoggish quantity (and quality) of tech he's moving around
together with his own physical bulk!  (And waoow, this is truly a
fairy-tale: most of the stuff gets even 'socialised' in the process!)  

This is the more so, since the spheres wherein or modern day Tim (or
Tintin) operates, the fledgling  - 'machette and loincloth'? ....mmm..:-(
private telcom and ISP business, are indeed quite delinked from the stodgy
environment of government (or what passes for it) and its infeodated (or
the other way round) aid/development etc. bureaucracies.  They are also,
and Barlow has not missed it, the natural habitat of those in the South
who have resolutely gone their own way in embracing, yes! 'our', i.e.
Northern, or worse still American, life-style and values, or at least are
aspiring to it.  Now the people from the South are extremely skillful
adaptors, blenders and carriers of our 'own' 'Western' culture, which they
also seem to enjoy much more than we do, because they damn well know how
to re-mix it in such a way as to retain their own culture in the process.
(They seem to enjoy life in general, despite its hardships, much more than
we do, and JPB has nice things to say on that also). This unfathomable (to
them) situation has a tendency , in Wired lingo, to annoy our P.C.
intellectuals to no end.  Well, let them burn! (ooops, sorry! Let them
RTFCLSA instead! - reread that f****** chap Levy-Strauss, who had it
already all together by 1955 or around), and let us praise Barlow to have
connected so succesfully, albeit sometimes farcically,  with what happens
on the African shop floor.  Let him also be praised for being so
unapologetic about his desire to get 'wired' ('Finding a port into
Cyberspace' ktl).  Ever since being on-line became part of our existence,
who of us has not experienced that thrill (or anguish)?  I have learned
telnet in Bombay, and put it practice to my delight and/or frustration
from Patagonia to the Nordmark.  But admit to so much and be branded as
retro-fascist technophile in dire need of desintoxication-cum-reeducation
camp!  (Not me worry, it's Cold Turkey here, in San Mateo, Sillicon
Valley, California).

Let's come clear folks, John Perry Barlow's greatest sin is, as the French
would say; 'de dire tout haut ce que les autres pensent tout bas' .  (no
French? sod you...)   So let us also praise the Lord to have given us John
Perry Barlow, even if we have to add, in the fashion of the Shipping
Corporation of India  management's appraisal of their legendary captain
Vikram Singh: 'we're glad we have him, yet we're also very glad we've got
only one of him'.  Let us also all make a run to the newsstands and snap
up those last copies of WIRED 6.01!  And while we are at it, let us indeed
praise the Lord to have given us WIRED, which provides us monthly with a
convenient benchmark against which we can bask in our hallowed mix of
no-budget righteousness and lo-tech intellectualism (while at the same
time keeping an eye on what moves up in the Land of Milk and Honey, aka
the real world (HEU?)). WIRED may think fit to print the most pathetic
libertarian nonsense (e.g. about the - truly virtual - plebiscite of
300.000 screens keeping an eye on how 'well' economies are run and
stateless money pampered), that at least saves you the bother to go
through reams of clear but over-extended Chomskyan prose (co-opted by
WIRED, *and* 2600 BTW), only to find the package wrapped as an argument,
when you can get it home-delivered as proof. 

Just sad that they've put up the price by one US Dollar, but since this
money's indeed surely going to be used to send Some Other Idiot to the
Third World, I'm mailing Bruce Sterling right away to suggest a field trip
to Calcutta so we can check out together on the local Heavy-Duty Street-
Level Hard-Core Bhadralok Autonomen scene....          

under copyleft (ahaha)
San Mateo, CA, Jan 29, 1998.

#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body
#  URL:  contact: