een dramaturgie van het web

A. Proloog

      1. Setting

       Voor de historische en sociologische situering van ons verhaal over het web
en zijn verschillende narratieven, doe ik beroep op „The Rise of the Network Society‟
van Manuel Castells (1996). In de proloog tot deze lijvige studie van het informatie-
tijdperk en de sociale, politieke, economische en culturele ontwikkelingen van de
laat-20ste eeuw, legt Castells de kern van het probleem in het onevenwicht tussen het
Net en het Zelf.

      “In a world of global flows of wealth, power, and images, the search for identity,
      collective or individual, ascribed or constructed, becomes the fundamental source of
      social meaning. This is not a new trend, since identity, and particularly religious and
      ethnic identity, have been at the roots of meaning since the dawn of human society.
      Yet identity is becoming the main, and sometimes the only, source of meaning in a
      historical period characterized by widespread destructuring of organizations,
      delegitimation of institutions, fading away of major social movements, and ephemeral
      cultural expressions. People increasingly organize their meaning not around what
      they do but on the basis of what they are, or believe they are. Meanwhile, on the
      other hand, global networks of instrumental exchanges selectively switch on and off
      individuals, groups, regions, and even countries, according to their relevance in
      fulfilling the goals processed in the network, in a relentless flow of strategic decisions.
      It follows a fundamental split between abstract, universal instrumentalism, and
      historically rooted, particularistic identities. Our societies are increasingly
      structured around a bipolar opposition between the Net and the Self.” (p. 3)

Volgens de diagnose van Castells leven we in een tijd van structurele schizofrenie
tussen „functie‟ en „zin‟ (betekenis), die nefaste gevolgen heeft voor de sociale
communicatie en samenhang. Vervreemding, fragmentatie en fundamentalisme
(ideologisch, religieus, etnisch) gaan hand in hand met de globale uitbouw van de
informatie-maatschappij. Nog in de woorden van Castells :

      “a major hypothesis is put forward : dominant functions are organized in networks
      pertaining to a space of flows that links them up around the world, while fragmenting
      subordinate functions, and people in the multiple space of places, made of locales
      increasingly segregated and disconnected from each other. Timeless time appears to
      be the result of the negation of time, past and future, in the networks of the space of
      flows. Meanwhile clock time, measured and valued differentially for each process
      according to its position in the network, continues to characterize subordinate
      functions and specific locales. -...- The social construction of new dominant forms of
      space and time develops a meta-network that switches off nonessential functions,
      subordinate social groups, and devalued territories. By so doing, infinite social
      distance is created between this meta-network and most individuals, activities, and
      locales around the world. Not that people, locales or acitivities disappear. But their
      structural meaning does, subsumed in the unseen logic of the meta-network where
      value is produced, cultural codes are created, and power is decided. The new social
      order, the network society, increasingly appears to most people as a meta-social
      disorder. Namely, as an automated, random sequence of events, derived from the
      uncontrollable logic of markets, technology, geopolitical order, or biological
      determination” (p. 476-477)

                                                               (Andreas Gursky, Montparnasse Paris 1993)

Het is tegen de achtergrond van de spanning tussen functie en betekenis, handelen
en zijn, en de daaruit voortvloeiende identiteitsproblematiek en socio-politieke
fragmentatie, dat we een dramaturgie van het web willen ontwikkelen.
Hoe presenteert het netwerk, i.c. het internet, zichzelf ? Welk discours, welke kritiek,
welke ideologie treedt naar voren bij de mensen die het internet ontwikkelen,
vormgeven en bevolken ? Wat zijn de semantische en filosofische omlijstingen
waarbinnen de internet-gebruiker (producent/consument) zich beweegt ?

      2. Frame

        Met Richard Coyne‟s „TechnoRomanticism, digital narrative, holism, and the
romance of the real‟ (1999) krijgen we de bottomline meteen geserveerd : de auteur
identificeert de krachtlijnen van de IT (Informatie Technologie) retorieken als
romantisch en conservatief. Zij stipuleren de heroïsche overgang van een situatie
van fragmentatie en veelheid naar een hervonden éénheid, aldus Coyne :

      “... variants of the narrative of unity and multiplicity ... cluster around the four great
      artifices of the digital age : virtual communities, virtual reality, artificial intelligence,
      and artificial life. In narratives of virtual communities, people who have never met
      face-to-face are drawn together to participate in the global tribe through the media of
      electronic mail, on-line chat, computer role games, and video-conferencing in ways
      similar to how conventional communities form, but without depending on spatial
      proximity, and in ways that obscure the divisiveness of issues of appearance and
      status. Virtual reality (VR) invites us to experience immersion in cyberspace, to move
      about in an endless sea of data. VR supposes that we can be immersed in virtual
      landscapes and virtual architectures, meet one another there and carry out
      conversations, develop intimacies with one another and with data, assume virtual
      identities, and be who and what we want to be. The language of virtual reality
      involves the unitary concepts of immersion and engagement. Various forms of
      artificial intelligence (AI) present the case for a unity between human and machine.
      The mind is treated as a kind of mechanism, or software within the hardware of the
      brain, so we can replicate and simulate aspects of mind in a computer. Conversely,
       we can study the mind in computational terms. More lately, some AI has overtly
       adopted the language of unity, maintaining that intelligent behavior emerges from the
       complex interaction of many simple subsystems, taking to heart the adage of systems
       theory that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The study of artificial life
       (AL) develops from this axiom, renouncing “centralized thinking”. The way biological
       organisms organize themselves is apparently more akin to the way a colony of ants
       behaves. Each insect operates locally with no apparent plan for the whole, and yet
       the whole colony is able to construct complex, air-conditioned termite mounds. These
       emergent behaviors apparently challenge the need for centralized, hierarchical, and
       autocratic control structures, and AL researchers devise computer systems to
       manifest evolution, growth, and holistic behavior in artificial organisms.
       Clearly the unity theme presents in various forms....” (p. 2-3)

En, zo voegt hij er aan toe :

       “Digital narratives do not present on the theme of unity in isolation, but unity
       contrasted with multiplicity, particularly as understood pejoratively as fragmentation or
       disintegration. The fragmentation is either outside the world created by technology or
       within it. Virtual communities are posited against the fragmentation of current social
       forms, or the failure of conventional mass media to realize the goals of producing an
       informed and active citizenry, a truly civil society. Virtual reality presents a world
       where you can be yourself, against a duplicitous world in which you have to conform
       to the expectation of others : a fake and fragmented world of similarly disconnected
       individuals. In a virtual world, you have instant access to any coordinate in data
       space. You can be here, there, or everywhere, unlike the limited, spatially, and
       logically constrained world we usually experience with its discontinuities and
       fragmentations. The new AI and AL present a holistic order, against the fractured
       methods of formal systems and hierarchical control. But these technological
       narratives also acknowledge the potential for fragmentation within their worlds :
       uneven access to computer systems, alienation from normal interactions with people
       and things, an imbalance in priorities, a privileging of objects and issues that are
       amenable to computer representations, the reinforcement of the status quo, problems
       of surveillance, and delusion – all of which point to alienation among ourselves, from
       nature, and from our machines. The rhetoric of unity also embraces its own apparent
       contradictions, through the aphorism of “unity in diversity”. So virtual communities are
       said to allow differences to flourish, cyberspace is said to be fragmented and
       polyvalent as well as whole, and in the new AI and AL a global unity emerges from
       diversity, and vice versa.”(p3-4)

Achter een schijn van radicaliteit, rationaliteit en futurisme, ontwaart Coyne dus een
bedrieglijk conservatisme en een mythologie die teruggaat op de 18de eeuwse
romantiek. Het netwerk wil ons graag laten geloven dat iedereen die participeert, zich
tegelijk ook engageert voor een betere wereld, waar ervaringen echter zullen zijn
want totaler (virtual reality); de civitas democratischer want radicaal interactief en
horizontaal georganiseerd; en kennis eindeloos, want instant, electronisch
(multipliceerbaar) en encyclopedisch.
Zelfs een media-discours dat terugplooit op de oudere praxis van semiotische
destabilisatie : surrealisme, beat-esthetica, punk, situationisme, deconstructie... is in
het leven geroepen om te remediëren aan een initiële „leugen‟ of „ontsporing‟.
Disruptie en cesuur zijn erop gericht tendenzen om te buigen of te verleggen, in
functie van de uiteindelijke zelf-realisatie. De subjectivering van de informatie-
processen - wij als bewuste agenten in een proces van betekening, en populaire
retorische figuren in dat verband zijn de hacker, de cyborg, het virus, feedback –
plaatst elk particulier mens onverkort in de rol van de gehele mensHEID. Onze
particuliere handelingen op het IT-platform, nemen aldus tragische en heroïsche
proporties aan. En zijn uiteindelijk altijd schatplichtig aan de gedachte van finale
eenheid, en de „werkelijke‟ werkelijkheid.

Castells‟ bipolaire oppositie tussen het Zelf en het Netwerk vormt m.a.w. de socio-
politieke ondergrond voor een metafysische oscillatie tussen eenheid en veelheid,
verbondenheid en versplintering. In het zwarte gat tussen deze vier polen situeren
zich de diverse webretorieken.

                                                          (Andreas Gursky, Shangai Stock Exchange)
B. In Casu

       1. Intro

        Laat ons beginnen met een levendig intellectueel gevecht tussen twee
opponenten in de internet-arena :
Enerzijds de Utopist, of optimist, die gelooft/wenst dat informatie-technologie de
mens zal emanciperen en de wereld zal wakker schudden uit haar massale lethargie.
Cruciaal in zijn betoog is de notie van het subversieve spel, dat de mens moet
immuniseren tegen de kapitalistische reductie. Een holistisch denken, als antwoord
op het sollipsisme van het gefragmenteerde en vereenzaamde westerse individu.
Lijnrecht in de oppostie, de scepticus, of beter nog de Dystopist, met een betoog dat
stoelt op anti-globalisering en sociale paranoïa. Hij houdt vast aan de overtuiging dat
informatie-technologie een instrument is van controle, dualiteit en macht. Hij bepleit
een rationele en realistische omgang met technologie. Wij stellen aan u voor ....

R.U.Sirius : iconoclast, libertijn en stichter van het tijdschrift “Mondo2000”
       “The pagan innocence and idealism that were the „60s remains and continues to exert
       its fascination on today‟s kids. Look at old footage of Woodstock, and you wonder :
       where have all those wide-eyed, ecstatic, orgasm-slurping kids gone ? They‟re all
       across the land, dormant like deeply buried perennials. But their mutated nucleotides
       have given us a whole new generation of sharpies, mutants, and superbrights. “

Mark Dery : criticus, intellectueel, en auteur van o.a. “Escape Velocity, cyberculture
at the end of the century” (1996)
       “Cyberdelia {neologisme, samentrekking van cybernetica en psychedelica) replays
       the political dynamics of „60s counterculture. Unfortunately, Mondo‟s idea of a political
       alternative is an end-of-the-century cyberorgasm for „technoerotic voluptuaries‟ – a
       fantasy of escape from the constraints of time, space, and the human body rather
       than a reasoned, realistic response to the politics of culture and technology in
       people‟s everyday lives.”

       2. R.U.Sirius vs Mark Dery (uit Hotwired, BrainTennis, 1996)

       Beide heren delen de mening dat het wereldwijde kapitalistische
productiesysteem en de daarmee gepaard gaande verdeling van welvaart en rijkdom
enkele nefaste uitwasemingen heeft op sociaal en politiek vlak (cf. supra). Beiden
presenteren evenwel een andere remedie tegen het kwaad. Sirius zoekt het in een
Bakhtiniaanse subversie van de kapitalistische dominantie; volgens Dery is de
hedonistische wensdroom van Sirius evenwel niets meer dan zelfbevlekking. Hij
bepleit een rationale deconstructie van de structuren van politieke en economische

                  Utopia                                          Dystopia
Post No. 1 of 8                            Post No. 2 of 8
by R. U. Sirius                            by Mark Dery

Caveat: Please note that "utopianism" is   The political usefulness of cyberdelic
in quotes. We're dealing with an           utopianism - "what-me-worry?" futurism
approximation here. Having said that....   confected from '60s romanticism, '90s
                                           cyberculture, the gift-shop mysticism of
Any movement away from dwindling           the millenarian New Age, and the
hopes, freedom rendered moot by fear,      apolitical self-absorption of the human
and the slow murder of the underclass      potential movement - is dubious at best.
will be energized by a psychedelic
"utopian" presence. Further, we could     R. U., your rehabilitation of the
end scarcity while vastly increasing      Dionysian wing of the counterculture
personal autonomy during the coming       consists of retrofitting Yippie visions of a
decade. In that sense, psychedelic        post-scarcity Paradise Now of endless
"utopianism" is even realistic.           leisure, all watched over by machines of
                                          loving grace, for the 21st century.
Sade said, "What's the point of a         Wet(ware) dreams of having a "kickass
revolution without general copulation?"   fucking party while the machines do the
That goes double for a Digital            work" aren't new, of course: Arthur C.
Revolution®. Are we here to build a vast Clarke imagined an "uninhibited,
cosmic accounting system or to have a     hedonistic society" of cradle-to-grave
kick-ass fucking party while the          leisure, made possible by "ultra-
machines do the work? Soberly, you'll say intelligent" machines, in a 1968 Playboy.
neither. But I'll let the world's most
powerful Clinton ... George ... set the   Few would deny the unhappy fact of
terms of my discourse. He said, "Free     artificial scarcity, cynically
your mind, and your ass will follow." I   manufactured by political opportunists,
agree. Oops. Looks like I've exceeded the or the feasibility of ending, say, world
age of reason here.                       hunger, if multinational agribusiness
                                          were to link arms with Sally Struthers.
Let's fuck with the mind first, since the Nor would many dispute the no-brainer
cultural superego (involved in boundary that work sucks.
maintenance) is the first line of defense
for the ancient regime. Passive           But your post begs the obvious: What's in
acquiescence to mainstream politics       it for Archer Daniels Midland? How can
(consensus reality) functions by the      the transnational corporate monoliths
maintenance of constricting illusions,    and the lap-dog nation-states whose
false boundaries. For instance, an        legislation is increasingly written by
obsolete and capricious definition of     their lobbyists be cajoled or compelled
value (money) sentences us all to         into granting what you've elsewhere
original debt. Taboos render public       called "an unconditional, livable,
discourse dishonest.                      guaranteed, annual income to all human
                                          beings"? And how is "general copulation"
Surrealism, drugs, paganism, sexual       going to bring the Great Moloch to its
libertinism, the Dionysian impulse in     knees and usher in your ludic, libertarian
rock culture, subcultural anarchism - all     paradise?
are attempts to storm the bastille of the
cultural superego (the controlling         You can't build a revolution on the
forebrain), liberate aspects of the libido,pleasure principle. Cyberdelic
id, and ego, and experience agape or       utopianism's most pernicious dynamic is
ecstasis. (Incidentally, these are matters that it skins countercultural style and
of experience, not belief.)                leaves the '60s political guts - the civil-
                                           rights movement, emergent feminism,
Mirroring this process across the 20th     the very notion of activist politics -
century, the dispersion of                 behind. The hippie article of faith that
media/communications technology - sold "drugs, paganism," and the like will cure
to us by the corporate oligarchy - has     society's ills by unchaining the id and
provided former yokels access to deviant dethroning the repressive "cultural
minds, and digital media has               superego," thereby returning us to the
decentralized attention. This has          Garden of Earthly Delights, is beer-bong
accelerated and amplified the assault on mysticism of the most dangerously naive
cultural boundaries, dissipating           sort.
consensus reality and overwhelming
fixed identity.                            It is essentially psychological, rather
                                           than political, in nature, and springs
And now, your ass will follow. Because     from the brow of the Freudian
work (i.e., employment or wage slavery) psychologist Norman O. Brown, a '60s
is obsolete. The solid, secure,            prophet of "polymorphous perversity"
agricultural/industrial era - production- you're fond of invoking.
oriented forms of labor - has been
displaced by automation and dissipated The obvious problem with a psycho-
by the global work force. There has        politics based on "ecstasis" is that it
never before been a time in history        circles its wagons around the individual
where a majority of people have been       psyche while ceding the real world (a
forced to hustle so pointlessly: toiling   particularly worrying tendency given the
the fields of hype, poisoning the real and secession from the social sphere
conceptual environment with bogus          epitomized by the private, gated
product, desperately servicing invented enclaves that are the fastest-growing
needs, building massive unnecessary        residential communities in the United
arsenals, and clearcutting the forests.    States). At a time when democracy is
                                           profoundly imperiled by corporate
This is, of course, all problematized by a influence-peddling, public disaffection
well-armed, multinational corporate        with the political process, and the ever-
oligarchy that won't share the wealth, a widening chasm between the economic
still-solid core of fear and reaction      elite and the downsized masses, taking
among the mass, and your own trendy        refuge in retro-hippie fantasies of what
cynicism. But the first completely digital you've called a "new society governed by
generation - our nation's teens - are      eros" is the political equivalent of a
online, on drugs, and ready to riot. My    fractal screensaver.
work here is nearly done.
Post No. 3 of 8                                Post No. 4 of 8
by R. U. Sirius                                by Mark Dery

First ... the next culture critic that calls   I'd say the adjective "new age" was
me new age, I tear out its nose ring with      adequately earned by a subcultural
my teeth. Slapping labels and                  phenomenon (cyberdelic utopianism)
presumptive ideologies on everybody            whose house organ (Mondo 2000)
may impress the theory rubes, but it           showcased John Lilly holding forth on
only diminishes insight. We burned down        being "zapped" by a "blast of telepathic
banks in the '60s, OK?!! I didn't see          information" from one of his cetacean
Shirley MacLaine around. I hate insipid        psychic friends.
new-age philosophy. I quoted Sade, not
Rajneesh. Talk to me!                          Let's return to the ideas at hand, shall
                                               we? I need no convincing on the point
Unfortunately most people do not agree         that "work is on its way out," although
that scarcity is false or that the work        you neglect to mention that the world of
ethic "sucks." If they perceived a             post-industrial sweetness and light is
substantial distinction between what is        made possible not only by automation
and what could be, they would be more          but by the relocation of manufacturing
inclined towards revolution.                   (thanks to NAFTA and GATT) to what is
                                               quaintly called "the developing world."
Techno-yippieism is about spreading
post-scarcity consciousness. This was    But my question about how transnational
                                         corporate power and their toady nation-
premature in the '60s. In the digital age,
it's necessary. Automation and           states could be coaxed or compelled into
globalization are rendering most people  creating your Jetsonian welfare state on
economically superfluous. Already, over  DMT hangs in the air, unanswered.
50 percent of Americans are              Apparently, we're supposed to commend
unemployable, unemployed, working        our hopes to a "revolution of slackers," a
temp, or without benefits or job         spontaneous uprising of the
security. Work is on its way out. The    BarcaLounger brigade. This word
only alternative to a world of serfs and "revolution," which fellow '60s traveler
slaves abandoned by a self-sufficient    Louis Rossetto is equally fond of, is
                                         nervous-making; it exudes the hubris of
corporate oligarchy is a rabble revolution
of slackers, rising up to demand the     the true believer confident that history
fruits of the technology that has        has a telos, and it's going his way. How's
displaced them. "Free your mind, and     the Left these days, R. U.? Alive and
your ass will follow," guided my initial well, judging by the delicious irony that
discourse. The reverse is also true.     libertarian digerati and cyberdelic
                                         utopians alike seem to embrace Marx's
How's the Left doing these days, Mark?   technology worship and his born-again
When was the last time it was on the     conviction that the revolution will usher
rise, when it captured the energy of     in a worker's paradise made possible by
rebellious youth? What else was going on automation.
at the time? Maybe a psychedelic,
cultural, and sexual revolution?         By the way, your jaw-dropping assertion
                                           that "the hip Left" of the '60s "resolved
Listen, we get all buttoned-down, hyper- the tension" between "desire and
rational, and righteous when we talk       altruism" shreds historical fact. "There
political solutions. Deep down, we know were tensions galore" between the New
it's horseshit. Libidinally speaking, we   Left and the bohemian "freaks," writes
don't even want to make nice. The          Todd Gitlin, in The Sixties. "Radicalism's
genius of the hip-Left '60s was that it    tradition [was] Marx: change the world!
resolved that tension by enclosing the     The counterculture - Leary, the
erotic, the atavistic, and the visionary   Pranksters - were descended from
within a philosophy of humanism,           Emerson, Thoreau, Rimbaud: change
unifying the personal and political        consciousness, change life!"
(desire and altruism) under an ideal of
liberation. Embracing pleasure - resisting We'll ring down the curtain of mercy on
puritanism and mental rigidity -           the rest of your argument, which
energizes any revolt against political     descends into apoplectic ad hominem
oppression, particularly in a postlabor    about my "brain cells requiring a carnival
world. That should be a no-brainer.        blast" - a Furry Freak Brother's last
                                           recourse, in a losing battle. Of course I'm
But let me turn this around. You accuse not denying the value of "the
me of dwelling on the psychological. Do unconscious and the ecstatic" (although
you deny us an interior life? You dismiss "polymorphous perversity" has always
freeing the unconscious and the ecstatic. struck me as a figment of the
Do you prefer bourgeois propriety? You     overheated Freudian imagination), R. U.;
dis polymorphous perversity. Do you        I'm debating the notion that those ideas
prefer monomorphic single-mindedness? can be the cornerstones of a pragmatic
                                           politics, a concept that would make a
Probably, we're both losers. The changes cow laugh. And as for the anti-
either of us want won't happen. At least intellectual bilge that we all know,
I'm encouraging people to have a good      "deep down," that "political solutions"
time. What about you? I think your brain are "horseshit," this is precisely the sort
cells could use a carnival blast. You      of wisdom one would expect from a
know, when you come to the end of your disciple of Norman O. Brown, who held
quest for highbrow intellectual            that "the loins are the place of
credibility, you'll discover only one      judgement" - a not entirely untrue
thing: Rigor is a condition of death.      assertion, at least in this instance.
Post No. 5 of 8                             Post No. 6 of 8
by R. U. Sirius                             by Mark Dery

Mark, I was closer to the new lefties       Since cyberdelic utopianism turns on a
than the dropouts in the '60s.              selective memory of the '60s, I'm going
Psychedelic drugs, sexual freedom,          to worry my point - namely, that you
artistic experimentation, philosophic       elide the profound disjuncture between
openness, a sense of pranksterish fun:      switched-on bohemianism and political
All these things were ubiquitous. They      radicalism - with pit-bull doggedness.
were part of the Zeitgeist.
                                            By "new lefties," I presume you mean the
You ask "how transnational corporate        Diggers, whose vision of a post-scarcity
power and their toady nation-states         anarchist arcadia made possible by
could be coaxed or compelled into           automation seems to be keystone of your
creating" (or allowing) a post-scarcity     erotic politics. But the Diggers were
economy that sets the wage slaves free.     Marxists in the Duck Soup sense only, as
I offer no blueprint.                       Gitlin argues in his hilarious account of
                                            their logic-bombing of the SDS's 1967
I only know that it will not happen if      conference, which he calls a "comic
nobody advocates it. And I know that        collision" between the SDS's "sobersided"
exponential technological growth -          political radicals and the Diggers'
probably culminating with self-             electric Kool-Aid brigades.
replicating production technologies -
replaces workers. And I know that if you    Following Norman O. Brown, you suture
don't reorient society towards allowing     the philosophical rupture between the
"employment" to end, we'll see ugly,        political and personal - change-the-
desperate suffering amidst astounding       world! versus change consciousness! - by
wealth. And I know that cutting-edge        means of a Brownian motion (forgive
capitalism is now in a pure transacting     pun) that diagnoses societal ills in
economy of derivatives, currency            Freudian terms, reducing the social
exchanges, options, etcetera, with little   sphere to a mass psyche whose "cultural
reference to usable human wealth. And       superego" needs a megadose of Turbo-
so, I know that the society can survive a   Lax. Hence, the prescription of the
relatively small number of people           loosened sphincter and the sexual Jiffy
conjuring vast fortunes by the              Lube as cultural cure-alls, updated with
manipulation of money as information.       a Leary-esque faith in high-tech deus ex
And I know that since money is now an       machinas. (Leary bequeathed to pop
amorphous, redefinable process - the        culture the uniquely American notion
debt and deficit are bogus. So I suspect    that the key to cosmic consciousness and
that we're already in a post-scarcity       sweeping social change could be packed
situation.                                  into a capsule).

Call me Pollyana, but for some crazy        But if getting in touch with our anal-
reason, I think getting some young,         expulsive inner children were the key,
presocialized (unbrainwashed) people to     wouldn't Howard Stern have freed us
comprehend that the world of poverty        already? And shouldn't we be wary of
and debt they're inheriting is a scam      political appeals to the id and the libido,
might just motivate them towards           given the inauspicious example of the
activism. From my experience, most         Third Reich, whose disastrously effective
people are well-defended against these     stagecraft relied on Wagnerian mysticism
types of ideas. I can't imagine why, but   and an ersatz Teutonic "paganism" to
the ability to grasp an end to scarcity    bypass critical resistance in its
and most forms of alienated labor in a     manipulations of the public mind?
flexible, generous, pluralistic economic
and political system seems inversely       I see you've dodged my point that not all
related to the tightness of a person's     limits are artificially imposed from
asshole. That's one reason why I           above, which I suppose the ace-in-the-
advocate mental, cultural, and sexual      hole of "self-replicating production
lubrication.                               technologies" (code word:
                                           nanotechnology) allows you to do. But
I don't know exactly how the corporate     visions of endless leisure and infinite
oligarchy can be changed or overturned. abundance driven by Drexler's engines of
I don't know exactly how we would          change are a long shot at best, and the
transition into a post-scarcity society if ticking time bomb of middle- and lower-
the general political will was to do it. I class unrest and immiseration can't wait.
offer no cornerstones. I am the least      While (arguably) theoretically possible,
fanatical advocate of extreme ideas        nanotech has yet to produce a single
you'll ever meet. It took us months to     product, and thus remains pure
agree on this topic because I wanted to vaporware - a sci-fi upgrade of alchemy's
qualify everything with almosts,           universal solvent. If its promise isn't
possibilities, and maybes. I never said    realized, someone in your anarchist
that liberation of the unconscious, or     technotopia is still going to have to work
raving till dawn, would magically          in the old-fashioned, rust-belt sense of
transform the world, hundredth monkey- the word; software requires hardware.
like. I offer a reasonably self-consistent Alternatively, if nanotech arrives on
argument that psychedelic "utopianism" schedule, it will be brought to you by
conflates rather nicely with the situation corporate capitalism, whose record of
wrought by technology, that change is      environmental responsibility and social
motivated by hope, and that flexible       consciousness inspires Ballard-ian visions
minds make change happen. The              of the Bhopal disaster in one's
blueprint will have to wait until more     bloodstream. Who's going to
people grasp the basic possibilities.      manufacture these alchemical engines,
                                           anyway? Dow-Corning?
Post No. 7 of 8                             Post No. 8 of 8
by R. U. Sirius                             by Mark Dery

Mark Dery's been arguing against an         I find your kvetchings and cavilings about
absolutist utopian follower of an obscure   my supposed refusal to "debate you"
post-Freudian psychologist who believes     passing strange, given my point-by-point
that combining fabulous orgasms with        responses to your posts. And your petit
strong drugs and great technology will      mal seizure about "culture critics" is
lead to endless leisure and infinite        unintentionally hilarious. Perhaps these
abundance. Perhaps some day he'll           outbursts are the "liberation of the id,"
debate me.                                  red in tooth and claw, called for in your
                                            first post.
Forgetting Dery, I'll review the memes
I've attempted to ejaculate into the body In any event, it bears pointing out, since
politic.                                   you seem to think I've reduced you to a
                                           straw man, that my arguments are
1) Technology is replacing workers. The solidly sandbagged with quotes from
alternative to killing off the superfluous your posts or recent essays. If you bristle
mass of humanity lies in increased         at being typed a "utopian follower of an
leisure. Here's an exercise. Think of all  obscure post-Freudian psychologist"
the things that people do to make a        (your words), then it would behoove you
living: wrapping Hostess Twinkies, selling to distance yourself from Norman O.
crack, doing PR for Hulk Hogan, building Brown-ian visions of a society "governed
obsolete nukes, debating Mark Dery.        by eros," whatever that means
How many people do you know who are (Artforum, February 1996). Hand your
engaged in making a bigger contribution opponent a monogrammed petard, and
than the average welfare mom?              he'll happily hoist you by it.   Join Mark
                                           Dery and R. U. Sirius for a live audio
2) The worldwide process by which the      debate Friday, 18 October at 11 a.m.
international financial community is       PDT (18:00 GMT) in Wired Arena.
tightening its belt around the throat of
the indebted poor while fattening
themselves masks a continuous increase As for your memetic ejaculate (which I'll
in actual wealth. Actual wealth            observe biohazard bunny-suit protocol in
corresponds to humanity's knowledge        handling), I take your repeated point -
and technological abilities to make use    familiar from Robert Reich's Work of
of resources.                              Nations - that automation is displacing
                                           workers and that it lies within the high-
3) Vision and pleasure are good.           tech West's power to provide at least the
Progressive movements flower when          bare necessities of existence to its
people are motivated by self-interest to downsized masses. I still don't
resolve collective problems - because      understand how we're going to get from
their lives could be better. Conversely,   here to there, given the monolithic
the deep puritanical assumption that the roadblocks of transnational capitalism
good is accomplished by saintly self-      and the nation-state, or who's going to
denial is a lie.                           operate the machinery while the rest of
                                            us loaf contentedly. Nor do I place much
What I'm not saying:                        stock in a post-scarcity technotopia
                                            brought to us by a "rabble revolution of
1) All activities will suddenly cease. The slackers" and "self-replicating production
world will be a psychedelic butterscotch technologies." But I have no quibble, in
sunshine daydream full of beautiful         principle, with your proposition that the
people.                                     post-industrial state would be wiser to
                                            subsidize the leisure of the dislocated
2) It's easy. Making change is easy. Since and the de-skilled than to consign them
there's a technological, macroeconomic to the minimum-wage dustbin of history,
shift towards post-scarcity and leisure,    to grow restless and rebellious.
there'll be no difficulties, no             (Although I can't help wondering how
complexities, no inequities, no             long it would be before all that endless
challenges, no assholes.                    leisure began to weigh heavily on them,
                                            becoming a more unbearable servitude,
3) There's only pleasure. There's no pain. in time, than the service-sector
You can consume as much dope as you         purgatory of yore.)
can fit in your veins and fuck monkeys
while you dance naked amidst the            But we began with the question of
deregulated biotech organisms.              whether "cyberdelic 'utopian' culture"
                                            had anything to offer the information
I don't expect to close the sale on a       age, and I'd like to end by reasserting
series of probably unfamiliar               that its political usefulness is next to nil.
propositions in 1,800 words. The            The only "cyberdelic" element here has
evidence every day in the real world is     been the mothballed theory of mass
that we're about as close to a              psychology, exhumed from the '60s, that
"psychedelic utopia" as I am to winning     underwrites your romantic vision of
the presidential election. I only hope      human nature as raw, throbbing libido
that I've opened the discourse and          repressed by "button-down hyper-
piqued your curiosity.                      rationality" - a roach-clip Freudianism
                                            now thoroughly discredited. Though it
Now, Mr. Dery ... I think I've figured out may come to you by way of the Diggers,
what a culture critic does. (S)he           your vision of a worker's paradise
rummages through your work, isolating       enabled by automation is textbook Marx
words, ideas, and phrases. (S)he removes in all the essentials - a sweet irony that
all contexts, complexifying resonances, would gladden the heart of the old
qualifiers, and indications of intentional, German devil.
playful extravagance. She ignores all
other materials that might contradict
the isolated content around which (s)he
builds analyses. (S)he unilaterally slaps
her own meaning on the quarantined
content, pins it to the operating table,
and pronounces on it, being careful not
to absorb any new data. Case closed.

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