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<nettime> Geopolitics of Chaos (Book Review)
Felix Stalder on Thu, 22 Apr 1999 07:59:04 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Geopolitics of Chaos (Book Review)


Geopolitics of Chaos (Book Review)

Geopolitics of Chaos is a collection of nine essays. In these essays
Ramonet diagnoses four interrelated crises: intellectual, economic,
political and cultural.

The intellectual crisis is manifest in the hegemony of what Ramonet calls
"la pensée unique", a phrase inadequately translated as "politically
correct thinking". What it is really means is "homogenized thinking", or as
Patrice Riemens has translated it, One Idea System [1]. The one idea system
is characterized by the belief in the Market as the solution to all
problems. Alain Minc, who introduced the term information society to the
western discourse in the late 1970s, formulates the one idea as:
"Capitalism cannot break down, it is the natural state of society.
Democracy is not the natural state of society. The market is" (quoted p.
81). Endlessly repeated through the mass media, from the Wall Street
Journal to the CNNfn, the One Idea System brushes away social concerns as
sentimental or even counter productive. Naturalized as "realism" or
"pragmatism" the system has efffectivly insulated itself against any
critique and has achieved a hegemonic status, accepted by politicians of
all couleur.

Under the impact of a forced globalization, under guidance of organizations
like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (the former GATT), the
economic crisis deepens for all but the few winners. For larger and larger
segments of the population, even within the industrial world, this means
long-term unemployment or labour without insurance or benefits at minimum
wages which are constantly sinking under the pressure of the global
division of labour. The result are what Manuel Castells calls "black holes
of informational capitalism", regions from where there is, statistically
speaking, no escape from suffering and deprivation [2]. The Maastricht
Treaty, for example, which set the timetable for the launch of the Euro,
the new European single currency, imposed an austerity program on all
signatory governments with devastating social consequences: 20 million
people unemployed, 50 million reduced to poverty of which 10 million live
below the poverty line of 60FF per day (~ US$ 10), localized in the
"banlieu", the social ghettos at the outskirts of all major European cities.

The political crisis effects from the encroachment of the nation-state by
global financial markets, whose power can no longer be controlled through
the institutions of the liberal democracy, and free trade agreements which
efffectivly limited the state's power to conduct an independent economic
and social policy. More and more vital decisions are made entirely outside
the influence of democratic institutions. In effect, decision-making has
been privatized. The economic and political crisis are deeply related,
"because misery is an insult to human rights, such large scale shredding of
the social fabric destroys a certain conception of the republic itself" (p.
84).

The inclusion of culture into the globalizing economy leads to the creation
of a global culture of commodified consumerism, dominated by American media
conglomerates. The result is an homogenization and Americanization
previously distinct (European) cultures.

The essays present a European perspective with a distinct French twist: the
view of the nation-state as the embodiment of rationality, the concern for
the welfare state as the essential framework of an inclusive democracy, the
anxiety of losing one's sense of history and culture under the onslaught of
global capitalism, which is viewed as something, by and large, foreign.

Some of the essays are excellent, particularly The Rise of the Irrational
(pp.87-100) highlights brilliantly the connections between global
capitalism and the rebirth of occult thinking. However, over the length of
a book Ramonet's essayistic style reveals some limitations. The statements
are too sweeping and each essays addresses all four crisis at once, thus
there is a certain repetitiveness in the book as a whole. But the most
problematic aspects is that Ramonet seem entrenched in a backwards
nostalgia of strong but rational and benevolent state institutions
upholding purified national cultures, moral values and the utopia of
prosperity for everyone. All this is waning and is being replaced,
according to Ramonet, by chaos and desperation. In form of a single essay,
such a dire view can serve as a wake-up call, repeated in 9 essays, it
leave one wanting for at least one ray of hope. But Ramonet doesn't offer
much, because his view, particularly on culture, is too simplistic. The
Internet, for example, is simply deepening the homogenization of culture
brought by TV. Mass culture, which destroyed the Republic of Letters, is
nothing but "an enormous quantity of messages that are constantly
destroying each other, scrambling and garbling, transforming themselves
into 'noise'" (p.145). This is particularly wanting for a book that carries
Cyberculture in its subtitle.

Ramonet, Ignacio (1998). Geopolitics of Chaos: Internationalization,
Cyberculture & Political Chaos (translated from French by Andrea Lyn
Sacara). New York: Algora Publishing pp.176 ISBN: 0-9646073-9-5 $21.75

[1] Ramonet, Igancio. (1995). One Idea System (translated by Patrice
Riemens). CTheory. http://www.ctheory.com/e-one_idea_system.html
[2] Castells, Manuel (1998). The End of the Millennium, The Information
Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol. III. Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK:
Blackwell

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http://www.fis.utoronto.ca/~stalder 

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