New Media and Dark Ages

Post-modernized helplessness with bourgeois disorientation in neo-liberal markets achieves a lasting atmosphere of lack of perspectives that not only successfully hinders democratic development but above all suffocates interest in the political itself. The wide-ranging confusion and resignation after the 9-11 outbreak of the world war against "terror" is related to the inability of left world views to deal with the polycentricism and hypercontextuality of the new world. Even if utopias are not highly traded items these days and stagnation is inflationary, this is not yet the end of history....

Independent of the systems of social order, neither the model of the cynical liberty in democratic capitalism nor the agony of powerless equality in "real" socialism seems a valid answer to questions of liberty, equality and human dignity; also the statement, that society would, if only left to its spontaneous self run, due to technological innovations result in a development of equality and prosperity, is long disproved as a lie. These automatisms neither neutral nor natural, but historically caused follow the principle that private profit has priority above any social interest. This is the key in the entire set of rules of social relations, which also shows up in the info sphere and in aggressive colonizing of the Internet by multinational economic groups of interests. Although typically the strongest innovations of the net world were originally developed outside of competitive commercial market,(like the Internet itself, or also the most common search machine Google), the democratic development of the technology of a knowledge-based society is surrendered to the "invisible hands" of dark markets.

However after the parting of socialism a fundamental dispute on democratic capitalism has been missing and the critique of high-tech neo-liberalisms of the traditional Left is insufficient. Although, for example Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, in a well-known text, unveil the "California ideology" as political construct, their models appear hopelessly old-fashioned. It serves to show the helplessness of the traditional instruments of left politics to grasp the logic of intellectualized work in the network of pancapitalism. It seems that the established power structures know to use the new paradigms and technologies of knowledge based society often better than their critics. The distrust of traditionalists against new starting points of thought expresses itself in biting polemics against techno-nomadic thinking and of Deleuze and Guattari as "Neo-liberalisms for Hippies". But this conservative gesture of refusal towards all attempts to develop a critic at the height of time also prevents the emergence of new forms of resistance against incapacitating the subject in semio-capitalism. Therefore Franco Berardi Bifo, one the early theorists and pioneers of new media in the social context, pleads for a "critic of the everyday life", in which the effects of information networks and conditions of the intellectualized work are sufficiently considered.

The conception that democratic rule is not to be regarded and does not count as rule has tradition, but unfortunately the use of majorities against fundamental human rights is no exception, also in western democracies. Abuse based on majority votes undermines confidence in majority decisions. Emancipation in the democratic age therefore also means protection from democratization as the power of others to impair or patronize the individual. And this is why a political position always existed, that aims to limit and to cut back power. The world-wide attention that the book "Empire" received can be explained with a general lack of an emancipatory critic of hegemonic dominance that takes into account changed social conditions. Even if it has been criticized for staying close to classic Marxist tradition, the necessity of new viewpoints and conceptualizations like "Multitude" nevertheless becomes clear. It is increasingly necessary to analyze contemporary capitalism as semiotic stream, to relocate the tasks of critic and to identify new possibilities of transformation and influence that put to use existing forces.

"For a generation of young technologists that have been indoctrinated into the religion of markets and the stockholder theory of value - and now it's all gone kablooey, they don't know what to do or what to believe." Paulina Borsook, author of the book "Cyberselfish" on the rise and fall of Silicon Valley, compares our times with the Dark Ages: Societal development has broken down completely. Technology was lost, invention mattered less and less, and alien kleptocrats creamed off societal wealth of generations in the making. Old knowledge was forgotten and there wasn't much space for the creation of the new. The very rich became very much richer, everyone else became poorer while various barbarian tribes and warlords ransacked and impoverished what remained of civilization. Borsook identifies the marauding hordes of those times with the transnational business of today. She compares Microsoft to what Christianity became in Byzantine time, the brutally state-imposed religion that tied people to their occupations and their land so their work and lives could never change. "Technology has gone out of fashion altogether, rather like the passing of the vogue for sensible philosophies such as Stoicism or Epicureanism."

In search for an advancement of emancipatory politics the historian and political scientist Christoph Spehr in particular asks questions about the conditions and the promotion of free co-operation in self determined spaces and relations. According to Spehr, author of the book "Die Aliens sind unter uns"(The Aliens are Among Us), we are in reality the victims of a genetic colonization of an Alien species, programmed to take over the democratic structures after the age of personalized rule. "It is the experience that people look at first sight like normal humans, as you and me, but follow a hostile program, which proves them as a member of an alien species; their solidarity does not belong to you, but another order. They only look like humans. In reality they are Aliens". Their only goal is the continuation of control as dominant group, their program the appropriation of other nature and work. According to Spehr, the model of colonization of the Aliens for all modern social order systems between capitalism and socialism is the same. He describes them as new international class that advances a domination project and establishes this rule in democratic systems through civilians. The civilians are essentially steered by comfort and defined as "someone, who does not have a clue, is not interested in how things work, has no problem that decisions are made by others, and which does not even possess the necessary abilities to intervene". The Rebels and the "Maquis" stand in conflict to the rule of the Aliens. The Rebels, globalinformed postmodern collectives, fight against the Empire, but are not necessarily dedicated to emancipaton and do not look not for an alternative logic of social relations.

The zone of the Maquis however does not follow the principle of profit and comfort and its social co-operation is based on continuously advanced release from rule and alien regulation. The media practice of the Maquis counters alienistic control of the public, its spaces and media. It refers to forms of networking and consciousness-raising and the promotion of direct, complex structures with which the vital dependence on alien interpretation and appreciation can be reduced and thus the potential for blackmail. The finishing sentence of the book expresses it as follows: "it is the work of the Maquis to give to the post-modern collectives the ability to, as Fox Mulder calls it, believe in "extreme possibilities". A world without Aliens, for example."

In the paper "A Virtual World is Possible" Geert Lovink and Florian Schneider sketch the phases of global movements "From Tactical Media to Digital Multitudes". They describe first the 90s as a bloom time for tactical media: emancipatory currents and cheaply available do-it-yourself equipment allowed creating original digital styles and an era of various and self-confident experiments that made possible alliances between art, activism and popular culture. In the time of 1999 to 01, the period of the large mobilizations, the convergence of world-wide organized discontent against neo-liberalisms and against exploitation, added a new layer of a globalizing "from below" to the hierarchical globalization "from above ". Although these new movements were primarily expressed in the somewhat traditional medium of the street protest nevertheless the buildup and the integration into a network of tactical media was a necessary precondition. These new co-operation forms without hierarchical monolithic structures and a variety of topics and identities represent an important development. In the academification of leftist theory the brilliance of the everyday experience and the forms of new subjectivity was lost dramatically, but state-sponsored privatization of the world in the hands of untouchable firm networks concerns everyone and resistance need not be ideologically or altruistically justified. The structural violence in democratic high-tech capitalism is not only directed against those, who are excluded from this high-tech production cycle, the majority of mankind, but also against those, who are enclosed in the informational market cycle and exposed to increasing psychological pressure and an increasing depletion of their work and life-environment.

For the present Lovink and Schneider see the danger of moral self-marginalizing as one of the most substantial challenges. Both the real and the virtual protests are in danger to be stuck on the level of global "demo design" and no longer grounded in actual situations. That would mean that development never goes beyond "beta". Street demonstrations raise solidarity levels and spirits, but the question must be, what comes next... both for the new media and the new social movements. Instead of "reconciliation" between the material and virtual they demand the rigorous integration and implementation of social movements in technology and the necessity of implementing strategies, interfaces and standards.

As a substantial characteristic concepts of openness and freedom develop that are expressed in the dialectics of open source software, "open knowledge", Peer-2-Peer and the Digital Commons. However, this concept of liberty is no concession to neo-liberal ideology but refers to the democratization of access, decision-making and the distribution of knowledge and prosperity. Despite the compromising of electronic media by profit sharks and control freaks the outcome of some battles is still open. For good reasons Napster has been labeled the Viet Nam of the music industry... Electronic information networks are therefore still carriers of hope for an emancipatory information society and of a Cultural Intelligence for the Multitudes....