h+corp were invited to write a series of ‘slow responses’ to COBRA. Below is the third response.
I’m afraid I have been finding you rather unresponsive to my letters but I will not bear a grudge. Perhaps all creation requires some degree of autism and so I will continue to address you. I am writing you because I had been quite in awe these last weeks , witnessing reality slowly and gracefully disintegrate to the soft-spoken yet determined words of Ed Snowden spread over international headlines and news-casters alike. I’m assuming that all of a sudden it has become quite acceptable to speak about in public what was subject to an implicit ban and taboo in the public sphere for years. I admit that I am rather surprised by this given that (perhaps incidentally) most of my casual conversation partners as well as the press equally would have considered allegations about the existence of an elaborate infrastructure as revealed by the documents to be no-less than delusional(1).
Perhaps, we are yet to fully comprehend the traumas inflicted upon politics through the documents leaked by those soft-featured men Private Bradley Manning and NSA operative Edward J. Snowden. Of course, it is not news they fed into the info-circuits .(2) News is merely the mass audience exposed to the operations of the secret state. There seems to be some, yet maybe remarkably little shock at the becoming social form of that unspeakable suspicion which slowly diffused intoxicating the fairytales of the Flat World, anonymous and equal, that we had grown up to believe in: Nourished by data-scandal after data-scandal citizens come face to face with the knowledge that they have intimate digital shadows reified and locked up in heavily guarded dessert mega-complexes: that everything they did online under the illusion of anonymity has been recorded. All of a sudden through the misty dawn of disinformation thus surfaces the amalgamate corporatist entity of security- and high-tech industry longtime subliminally programmed by science fiction to be the government of the future. To add to the grotesque of the situation, the PR machine of the undead liberal democratic process continues to inject the cocktail of relativizations, denials, and staccato admissions in hope of catering to the atrophied attention spans of the television-and gluten clouded masses. They’re offering the bribes of indifference and the temporary feeling of security in return for allegiance, a somatized perspective certainly more pleasing than facing the corpse of democracy, which had been quietly decomposing infested with state of emergency legislation and some precise marketing slogans of urgency and necessity. Concurrently, the cool flame of imperial warfare had for too long molded a mass of souls with sinister depth who upon return from the war-torn periphery found no match or place in an increasingly surreal and directionless peace. Snowden draws the curtains: If the services monitor and store the totality of communication, the logical conclusion is to assume the existence of a transnational(3) government which operates through the permanent possibility and actual use of blackmail. The ridiculous tabloid pictures of Petraeus’ extramarital shenanigans(4) become the anecdotal illustration of a system where with the help of social puritanism non-events are hypertrophied to eliminate political adversaries. Scandal, which may also take the form of a selective exposure of the reality of politics, becomes the means to induce (self-) censorship of the political class.
But, despite the publicity, will there be a reaction to the revelations? Or will the leaks and their subsequent mediatization become the immune reaction of the system to its own modification and radicalization rather than generating the critical mass of discontent fracturing the empire of indifference. After all, the information had been available for quite a while. In a near absence of political protest, is the state revealing itself to a public, reinforcing its corporate communications organs which had long lost credibility with the masses due to their detached and eclectic regurgitations of state press releases?
Unprecedented modification of the liberal order: to sustain the system of free flow (capital, labour, goods, social mobility) democracies needed to block the free dispersion of information. The internet as a system of informational entropy and collective memory (ultimately approaching a free flow of information) meanwhile modifies the nature of the system of free flows: by exposing them as nothing less than invalid propaganda it shakes the liberal democratic imaginary at its core. Of course, the Anglo-Saxon model had rather been a system of guarded openness and controlled flux: forcing open waters, borders and brains when favorable, impeaching when detrimental.
With informational liberalism the game changes. A meritocracy of dark intelligence emerges as users crowdsource the task of historiography. Every day agents vaccinate themselves with newly emerging revisionist history subverting the normative and symbolic order of the empire. The state loses grip upon what had been the effective emotional monopoly on trust, nobility, and pleasant feelings through propaganda in its various forms (from architectural emanations, to people magazines and uniforms); its secure and quiet strength challenged through crowd-sourced discovery and accumulation of the collateral in the imperial organization of space.
If the Gulf War had initiated the buzz of a hyphenation of reality with the tropical fever of the military dream-machine, the informational renegades of the internet are certain to serve the nasty hangover of counter-narratives composed of carelessly discarded information toxins. Perhaps, neither the Libyan nor the Syrian War are Taking Place but no Mediterranean Sea separates us in the long run from Misrata’s and Aleppo’s numeric corpses; even if presidents employ their best fiction writers(5) and conduct their concert of medical(6) , psychological and technical research(7) against the algorithmically calculated and data-mined popular brain.
The gentry observes and fears this very development of a resurfacing of information within a class which is structurally disidentified from the imperial ambitions of the shareholders. Quoi faire alors? Some agents advocate the closing of Pandora’s Box of information in an alliance of IP-industry and an emerging social puritanist hysteria initiated by the status fears of a drowning middle class. Porn filters for the UK and abandoning net-neutrality would be a convenient first step in disadvantaging “extremist” websites and system-hostile memes.
The sheer impotence of such a ban could cast some hope. The horrific version of the future would rather be the integration of the open and unstoppable flux of information into the very fabric of government. Propaganda 101 has always put the lesson of orthopraxy over orthodoxy(8) . The control of thoughts is only a secondary luxury for the prince. Primary importance resides in the destruction of all forms of independent collective organization. Perhaps this objective finds its most economic emanation in the fragmentation of the individual itself increasingly self-obsessively glued to the smart-screen: Facebook is substance D disconnecting the brain through attention span atrophy neuroplasticism. A panoply of addictive tech fills the void of proximity with surrogate sociality where paranoia reigns supreme.
The social networks provide the illusion of a cozy global village in which the tokens of design are the canvasses obstructing the cameras from view which would otherwise expose it as global laboratory. Today it has thus become less and less tenable to sustain Saatchi & Saatchi’s millionaire candy tokens and the self-indulging psychologist misery of state-funded expressionism; even for a moment: Art is dead and today reincarnates as social-, economic, political technology.
And it has too under suchlike conditions of imminent and charmless dystopia: Divine opportunity arises when the rumbling death-machine of the techno-industrial state radicalizes society into subdued info-cyborgs and the last agents of history.
(1) Allegations were of course up to this point considered to be belonging to the domain of „conspiracy theory“ and thereby considered inacceptable for official discourse. See my 2011 article min(e)d control discussing NSA data collection.
(2) Technically Wikileaks can merely be credited with providing a very plastic example of the intoxication and dehumanisation of US soldiers along with the everyday reality of the war in the „Collateral Murder“ video, the low-level classified documents released with the „cablegate“ affair have provided no genuine news to the public. The gist of Edward Snowden’s revelations meanwhile had been brought forth years before through NSA whistleblowers Russel Tice, Wayne Madsen, or James Bamford.
(3)Transnational because of the links and multilateral cooperations of secret services dating back to World War II through occupation networks such as Gladio.
(4)Of course Petraeus was to punished for his role in the 9.11 Benghazi attacks.
(5) Ben Rhodes earned an MA Fiction Writing at NYU. Hence intense discussions at what point Green Square had really been taken during the destruction of Cathargo.
(6)Today of course, the epitome of psychological research is a combination of Harvard and Guantanamo.
(7)Similarly today, university disciplines of psychology, political science, anthropology, and sociology are blending into neuroscience.
(8)No need to believe in that which you are currently doing. See for example Jacques Ellul’s classic- Propaganda-The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (1973, p.27)