What are new dark ages

The Dark Age - New Media and the Crisis of Democracy

Why a conference devoted to current developments in the field of electronic media, culture and democratization should have the word "market" in the title is now obvious. Economic criteria are introduced gently or less subtly into all areas of social interaction and the value of money becomes the measure of all things.
October 11, 2002 / Theory / Konrad Becker

The conference "Dark Markets - Infopolitics, Electronic Media and Democracy in Times of Crisis", organized by Public Netbase in Vienna at the beginning of October, attempted to develop guidelines and strategies for an emancipatory practice of democratic information and communication politics from current analyzes and interpretations.

Why a conference devoted to current developments in the field of electronic media, culture and democratization should have the word "market" in the title is now obvious. Economic criteria are introduced gently or less subtly into all areas of social interaction and the monetary value becomes the measure of all things: from the horror of the so-called "creative economy", as the slash and burn of a culture that defies the logic of exploitation, to the takeover of the education sector by lemonade manufacturers or the release from research to the clutching of corporate interests. The global dominance of economic interests in the infosphere is contrasted by neither research oriented towards public interest nor models for an emancipatory digital space. In contrast to the establishment of entrepreneurial interests with the help of billion dollar think tanks and the opinion-forming industry, there are no "future institutes" that deal with the possibilities of human communication beyond the role of the consumer. Control of socio-technological development seems to be in the hands of technocratic elites, ill-informed bureaucrats and obscure but aggressive lobbyists.

The traditional forms of nation-state democracy are increasingly being called into question not only by overarching global systems of communication and regulation, but above all by economic influences. This is illustrated by the fact that of the 100 largest economic units worldwide, more than half are companies whose internal movement of goods makes up a third of world trade, or by the fact that the top three billionaires are the gross national product of the 50 economically outperform least developed countries in the world. Nevertheless, as a rhetorical figure in the formation of opinion, it remains largely unchallenged to reduce complex social processes to supposed economic "self-regulation processes". It is therefore obvious that the gloom that has been noted on all sides in connection with war, crisis and the deterioration of living conditions from the point of view of the market economy consider. "It's the economy, stupid!" was the watchword of several US presidential election campaigns and the mantra of business-liberal opinion-makers. But not just since World. Com and Enron is crystal clear that the markets of the "invisible hand" proclaimed by the high priests of the voodoo economy are so dark that your own hand can no longer be seen in front of your face.

The mixture of post-modernized perplexity and bourgeois disorientation creates a lasting atmosphere of lack of perspective in neoliberal market economies, which not only successfully hinders democratic development, but above all stifles any interest in political processes themselves. The confusion and resignation after 9-11 and the outbreak of the world war against "terror" are also related to the inability of left worldviews to deal with the polycentricity and hypercontextuality of the new world. Even if utopias are currently not booming and stagnation is inflationary, that is not the end of the story.

Independent of the social system of order, neither the model of cynical freedom in democratic capitalism nor that of powerless equality in real socialism seem to give a valid answer to questions of freedom, equality and human dignity; The assertion that society, if left to its spontaneous self-development, would be determined to develop equality and prosperity solely on the basis of technological innovations, has long been refuted as a lie. These automatisms are neither neutral nor natural, but historically based on the principle that private profit has priority over any social interest. This is the key in the entire set of rules of social relations, which is also evident in the infosphere and in the advancing colonization of the Internet by multinational economic interest groups. Although typically the most powerful innovations in the network world (such as the Internet itself or the most popular search engine Google) were originally developed outside of commercial competition, the democratic development of technology in a knowledge-based society is left to the "invisible hands" of gloomy markets.

After the departure of socialism, there is no fundamental discussion of democratic capitalism, and criticism of high-tech neoliberalism by the traditional left often falls short. Although Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, for example, demystify the so-called "Californian ideology" as a political construct in a well-known text, the counter-models offered seem very stale. It shows the helplessness to grasp the logic of intellectualized work in the network of pan-capitalism with the traditional instruments of left politics. It seems that the established structures of power are often better able to use the new paradigms and technologies of a knowledge society than their critics are able to do. The distrust of traditionalists towards new approaches is expressed, for example, in vicious polemics against the techno-nomadic thinking of Deleuze and Guattari as "neoliberalism for hippies". But this conservative gesture, the rejection of all attempts to develop a criticism that is up to date, also prevents the development of forms of resistance against the incapacitation of the subject in semiocapitalism. Franco Berardi Bifo, one of the pioneers and pioneers of new media in the social context, therefore pleads for a "critique of everyday life" that is not indifferent to the effects of IT networks and the conditions of intellectualized work.

The idea that democratically legitimized rule should not be viewed as rule has a tradition, but the use of majorities against basic rights and human dignity is unfortunately no exception in Western democracies. Abuse based on voting results creates little confidence in majority decisions. Emancipation in the democratic age therefore also means protection from democratization as the claim of others to impair or patronize the individual. And so there is a basic political stance that aims to limit and reduce power.

The more than interested reception that the book "Empire" found around the world can probably also be explained by the perceived lack of an emancipatory criticism of hegemonic dominance that takes account of the changed social conditions. Even if the inadequate departure from a classic Marxist approach has been lamented, the need for new approaches and concepts such as "multitude" becomes clear. It is increasingly necessary to carry out an analysis of contemporary capitalism as a semiotic flow, to locate the tasks of criticism anew and to perceive new possibilities of transformation and influence that can make use of the existing balance of power.

"A generation of young technologists have been indoctrinated into the religion of markets and the theory of stock ownership - now that this has all blown up, they don't know what to believe or do." Paulina Borsook, author of the book "Cyberselfish" about the luck and fall of Silicon Valley, compares our present with the Dark Age: "Every social development had collapsed." Technologies were lost, discoveries became less and less important and kleptocrats operating nationwide enriched themselves with the wealth of entire generations. While old knowledge was lost, hardly any new was created. The rich got much richer, everyone else got poorer, while the barbaric hordes, vandals and warlords plundered and exploited the remnants of civilization. Borsook identifies the predatory clans of yesteryear with the transnational business of today and compares Microsoft with the introduction of Christianity as a brutally enforced state religion to bind people and prevent change. "Technology is completely out of fashion now, as is interest in sensitive philosophies like Stoicism or Epicureanism." Welcome to Byzantium 550 AD.

In search of a further development of an emancipatory policy, the historian and political scientist Christoph Spehr asks questions about the conditions and the promotion of free cooperation in self-determined spaces and contexts. According to Spehr, the author of the book "The Aliens Are Among Us", we are "in reality" the victims of a genetic colonization of aliens that was programmed to take over the democratic structures after the age of personalized rule. "It is the experience that at first sight people look like normal people, like you and me, following a strange program, a hostile program that identifies them as belonging to a foreign species; that their solidarity does not belong to you, but to someone else Mission. They just look like humans. In reality, they're aliens. " Its only goal is to maintain the power of disposal as the ruling group, its program is the appropriation of alien nature and work. According to Spehr, the alien colonization model is the same for all modern social systems of order between capitalism and socialism, and he describes them as a new international class that drives a project of rule and establishes this rule in democratic systems by so-called civilians. Civilians are essentially controlled by convenience and defined as "someone who has no idea, is not interested in context, has no problem with decisions being made by others, and who does not have the necessary skills to intervene". In contrast to the rule of the aliens are the "rebels" and the "maquis". The rebels, globally informed postmodern collectives, fight against the empire, but are not necessarily emancipatory and do not look for an alternative logic of social relationships.

The zone of the Maquis, on the other hand, does not follow the principle of profit and convenience, but rather its social cooperation is based on an ever-increasing liberation from domination and external control. The media practice of the Maquis thwarts the alienistic control over the public, its spaces and media and refers to forms of networking and awareness-raising and the promotion of direct, complex structures, which reduce the existential dependence on foreign interpretation and appreciation and thus one's own ability to blackmail. The book's closing sentence puts it this way: "It is up to the Maquis to give postmodern collectives the ability to believe in what Fox Mulder calls 'extreme possibilities'. For example, a world without aliens."

In the thesis paper "A Virtual World is Possible", Geert Lovink and Florian Schneider outline phases of the global movement "From Tactical Media to Digital Multitudes". You first describe the 90s as a heyday of tactical media: emancipatory currents and cheaply available do-it-yourself equipment made their own digital forms of expression possible, and an era of diverse and self-confident experiments and alliances between art, activism and popular culture developed. In the period from 1999 to 01, the period of the "great mobilizations", the worldwide convergence of organized dissatisfaction against neoliberalism and exploitation opposed a hierarchical globalization "from above" with a new form of globalization "from below". Although these new movements mainly expressed themselves in the somewhat outdated medium of street protest, the establishment and integration into a network of tactical media were the prerequisites for this. This sovereign use of media has meanwhile become a prerequisite for self-determined organization in networked milieus. These new forms of cooperation without hierarchical-monolithic structures with a variety of topics and identities represent a significant development. In the academic world of left-wing theory formation, the immediacy of the everyday and the forms of new subjectivity have been lost dramatically, but the state-supported privatization of the world in the The hands of unassailable corporate networks affect everyone, and resistance does not have to be justified ideologically or altruistically. The structural violence in democratic high-tech capitalism is directed not only against those who are excluded from this high-tech production cycle, i.e. against a large part of humanity, but also against those who are included in the computerized competition cycle and a growing psychological one Are exposed to pressure and increasing impoverishment of their living environment.

For the present, Lovink and Schneider see the danger of moralizing self-marginalization as one of the most important challenges. Both the "real" and the "virtual" protests are in danger of getting stuck on the level of global "demo design" and moving away from real circumstances. But that would mean that the development never goes beyond "beta". Street demonstrations increase the sense of community, but the question must be, what comes after ... for both the new media and the new social movements. Instead of a "reconciliation" between the real and the virtual, Lovink and Schneider call for the rigorous integration of social movements into technology and the need to implement strategies, interfaces and standards.

It therefore seems necessary to fight for framework conditions to secure digital public space, to use cultural intelligence to increase awareness of points of conflict and to broaden the basis of understanding for a broad discussion of the political and cultural relationships between information and communication technology. The concepts of openness and freedom, as expressed in the dialectics of open source software, "open knowledge", peer-2-peer and digital commons, are developing as essential characteristics. However, this concept of freedom is not a concession to neoliberal ideology, but relates to the democratization of access rules, decision-making and the distribution of knowledge and wealth. Despite the compromise of the electronic media by professional sharks and control freaks, the outcome of some battles is still open. Napster was rightly called the Vietnam of the music industry ... Electronic information networks are therefore still the bearers of hope of an emancipatory knowledge society and a cultural intelligence for the multitudes.

Konrad Becker is head of the Viennese network culture institution Public Netbase t0.

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