I'm currently dedicating my attention to completing my PhD - alt.cyberkids: contingencies of childhood in the information age - an analysis of children's own online activism.
I will refocus on this blog in the new year.
'til then, peace =)
I'm currently dedicating my attention to completing my PhD - alt.cyberkids: contingencies of childhood in the information age - an analysis of children's own online activism.
I will refocus on this blog in the new year.
'til then, peace =)
Networked media have been central to The Stop the War Coalition, since its formation in 2001. Amongst other things, the network has ensured a significant degree of success in mobilising the anti-war demonstrations I referred to in my earlier post 'QUIT STARING AT MY NAVEL' v3.0. Networked communication is again likely to bring millions of protestors together offline in their next organised national demonstration on 24 February, to, in its words, 'oppose Tony Blair's plans for new weapons of mass destruction in Britain and to call for the immediate withdrawal of the British army from Iraq'. But this latest demonstration testifies that networks of collaborative knowledge and information exchange online and offline have been unsuccessful thus far in swaying the leaders of The Start the War Coalition away from, as some would have it, their 'illegal war'...Though how one, and who, would define a 'legal war' escapes me. But as Jack Shafer concludes, 'we owe it to this prodigious new communications form not to demand too much too soon' [Slate, 26 January 2005].
A free and peaceful world continues far from our reach. A redundant statement perhaps. I'd prefer to call it a reiteration. Warning: Free speech may constitute serious organised crime in Britain these days. The arrest of Walter Wolfgang under the Terrorism Act made me fear this back in September 2005. Now, according to The Guardian, on 20 December 2006, the British high court ruled against the appeal made by Mark Barrett, Steve Bloom, Chris Coverdale, Maya Anne Evans, Maria Gallastegui, Brian Haw, Milan Rai, Emma Sangster, Aqil Shaer, Alwyn Simpson, Caroline Simpson and Prasanth Visweswaran against criminalisation under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which 'limits freedom of expression and assembly'. It was for demonstrating against this act in the vicinity of Parliament that this group was arrested. Maya Anne Evans, for instance, was 'arrested opposite Downing Street for reading, without police authorisation, the names of Iraqis and British solders killed in Iraq' [The Guardian Unlimited, 21 December 2006]. Still the US topped the prize for the 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006. And Amnesty's latest 'Call to Bloggers' to stand up for freedom of speech reminds us that there is no remission for online activism. Yes, we're no China. But no buts. We're in the EU after all.
Back in October 2006, David Brown of The Washington Post reported that 'a team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimate[d] that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred'. That's not a total of 655,000 people that have died in Iraq since 2003. That's a surplus of 655,00 more deaths than these epidemiologists estimate would have occurred under the old regime. Of course this figure does not include the supposedly 'pre-war years' in Iraq - UNICEF attributes 500,000 deaths from poor nutrition and health care to U.N. economic sanctions on Iraq alone during the 1990s [Gerard Alexander, 'A Lifesaving War', The Weekly Standard, 29 March 2004]. And let's not mention Guantánamo.
With all this in mind, Reuters' New Year's Eve headlines about the www.icasualties.org latest count of 3,000 US military fatalities since 2003 pale by comparison. Even if, as of today, 3,254 coalition troops have died. Back in 2004, 'estimating how many lives have been saved by a tyrant's overthrow [may have been] as messy and hypothetical as projecting how many will be lost in a [continuing] war', on balance and with some bipartisan amnesia, we may have still been able to considered it to be 'A Lifesaving War' [Gerard Alexander, 'A Lifesaving War', The Weekly Standard, 29 March 2004]. Today, if we go by estimates made by the Human Rights Watch alone about the number of deaths attributed to, as Keth Roth called it, 'Saddam's Heinous Reign' [The Globe and Mail, 18 July 2003], the Coalition's heniousness is clearly greater.
Yet, Jonathan Steele comments in The Guardian, that what the Iraqi Study Group Report published in December 2006 by The United States Institute for Peace 'proposes is essentially a continuation of what Bush is already doing - trying to reduce US deaths by moving troops out of the front line while avoiding any commitment to a full US withdrawal.'
TODAY'S MATHS HOMEWORK: THE LIFE OF 1 US SOLDIER = XXX IRAQI LIVES?
Those early predictions of the winding up of the post-9/11 neoconservative revolution, following the Democracts Congressional win in November 2006, now seem 'quite inflated'.
As much as John Prescott may deem Saddam Hussein's execution 'deplorable' [quoted in The Guardian, 3 January 2007], we HAVE 'helped to officiate a human sacrifice' [Christopher Hitchens, Slate, 2 January 2007]. Though I'm against capital punishment, this is not my protest against it. Thinking we have the right to tell other nations what to believe is what started this and many other US, UN and NATO as yet unprosecuted crimes. It's about a 'dictator created then destroyed by America', whose trial and execution had less to do with justice than 'trying to justify an illegal war after the event' and everything to do with the Coalition's plight to 'reshape Iraq as a neo-liberal's and corporate lobbyist's wet-dream', for similar ends to those of the British Empire's Mesopotamian Campaign. As the 'girl blogger from Iraq' rightly asks: 'So who's next? Who hangs for the hundreds of thousands who've died as a direct result of this war and occupation? Bush? Blair? Maliki? Jaffari? Allawi? Chalabi?' [Riverbend, 31 December 2006].
'Our complicity dies with [Saddam Hussein]' [Robert Fisk, The Independent, 31 December 2006].
Prominent Iraqi bloggers are so far divided on the execution. But to add insult to capital punishment, according to a report by The Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies (ICRSS), 90% of the now 'free people of Iraq' think the country was better under Saddam's dictatorship [United Press International, 29 December 2006]. For those amongst you with time, interest and perversity, the 'Department of Defense Quarterly Report on Stability and Security in Iraq: The Warning Indicators' and the report on 'Iraq’s Sectarian and Ethnic Violence and the Evolving Insurgency', both published in December 2006 by ICRSS' parent, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, make grim reading. Alternatively, for a few more quick, 'hard statistics' on the Iraq war, click here...
As part cultural student, I'm interested in the ways a culture's visual iconography bolsters our 'systems of opinions', as Ilan Shalif calls them. So let's muse briefly on some of Iraq's national iconography. Let's start with that neo-liberal Deo Optimo Maximo - money. That Saddam no longer appears on the 10000 dinars Iraqi bank note as he did back in 2002 is to be expected, but the replacement of this Sunni dictator on 10000 dinars Iraqi bank notes in 2003 by Abū ‘Alī al-Haṣan ibn al-Haṣan ibn al-Haytham (or as the Latin world knows him, Alhazen) is interesting. Born in Basra under the Buwayhids Shi'a Muslim dynasty, Alhazen is certainly a fitting icon for the new, 'democratically-elected', predominantly Shi'a-led, Iraqi Government. A curious outcome, the coordination of which by the Coalition smacks more of the caliphate system of leadership than the Shi'a doctrine of Imamah. Iraq's new government also reverts the long-term countering of the influence of the Shi'a majority in Iraq, by the placing of Sunni Muslims in positions of government, first by the Ottomans and subsequently by the British Empire, post its dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Moving beyond religious factions and symbolism, as an Islamic mathematician, astronomer, and physicist, who made significant contributions to our knowledge of optics and the use of scientific experiments generally, Alhazen is a fitting icon for the new interests in technological and economic advancement in Iraq. This was all nicely rounded off , when The Alhazen crater on the Moon was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), during the International Year of Physics in 2005. Though Iraq itself is not a national member of the IAU, as yet.
Let's muse on another piece of cultural iconography. The long-term Iraqi Coat of Arms, now logo of the new Iraqi Government website, and that quintessential emblem of US prowess, The Great Seal, share the same occult symbol of the Golden Eagle. On a symbolic level, it may testify to the interconnectedness of both cultures. Actually, the Iraqi Coat of Arms reputedly dates back to the time of Saladin in the Twelth Century, a Sunni Muslim general and warrior who led the Muslim invasions of Jerusalem during The Crusades, until defeated by Richard I of England at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191. The Treaty of Ramla in 1192 concretised the agreement between Saladin and Richard I for Jerusalem to remain under Muslim control but open to Christian worshippers, limiting the Christian Kingdom to a geopolitical coastal strip from Tyre to Jaffa. The Sunni Coat of Arms now seems out of place as that most patriotic of all cultural symbols of Iraq, whether its an emblem of a new, predominantly Shi'a Iraqi government or that of a 'free and democratic Iraq' - its symbolism strikes right at the core of religious warfare and Imperialism in the Middle East. Bad taste.
I have already insinuated at the complicity and hypocrisy of both US and Coalition nations. This is the hinge on which all the above hangs. Whether or not Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons is not beside the point. It is the point. As the image of the US detonation of the plutonium bomb over Nagasaki in 1945 (3 days after dropping the nuclear weapon "Little Boy" on Hiroshima) reminds starkly, the US are as yet the ONLY nation to have used nuclear weapons against another nation. Some 74,000 people were killed, and another 75,000 wounded. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), opened for signature in 1968, is generally characterised as ensuring non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology [Ambassador Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat, Third Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, United Nations, 26 April 2004]. The map below shows a world map of nuclear weapons development status as of 31 October 2006.
World map of nuclear weapons development status as of 31 October 2006, represented by color. Five "nuclear weapons states" from the NPT Other known nuclear powers States formerly possessing nuclear weapons States suspected of being in the process of developing nuclear weapons and/or nuclear programs States which at one point had nuclear weapons and/or nuclear weapons research programs States that claim to possess nuclear weapons
In the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2000, the 5 nuclear weapons states under the NPT promised an '"unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapons States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals...." [and] "early entry into force and full implementation of START II [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II]' [David Krieger, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, September 2000]. Nevertheless, at the end of the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons held at the UN in 2005, no progress was achieved. Concern about the continuing proliferation of weapons at the review conference centred primarily on United States-NATO nuclear weapons sharing, but by then the 2004 U.S. Congressional Report showing U.S. and U.K. Dominate Arms Deliveries to the Developing World had already emphasised that proliferation is much more insidious and widespread. In terms of nuclear disarmament, the British government's White Paper on Trident's replacement alone, published in December 2006, attests to wider disinterest in abiding by the terms of the NPT.
So let me rhetorically reiterate the question that I've already iterated and gone some way to answering: why did, how could, Coalition forces invade Iraq under the ruse of the danger of Saddam's uncorroborated nuclear development? But 'rogue states' and all that... Yet, the World Tribunal on Iraq concluded that, 'Blatant falsehoods about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a link between Al Qaeda terrorism and the Saddam Hussein régime were manufactured in order to create public support for a “preemptive” assault upon a sovereign independent nation' [Declaration Of Jury Of Conscience, World Tribunal On Iraq, Istanbul 23 -27 June 2005].
North Korea and Iran now loom on our warmongering horizon. As part of my new efforts to re-politicise myself, I wangled a ticket to BBC's Question Time on 5 October 2006 at Bournemouth University, UK. David Dimbleby was joined by Hazel Blears MP, Oliver Letwin MP, Baroness Williams, editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop and the novelist and columnist Sandra Howard aka Mrs. Michael Howard. In light of the four-year build up to North Korea’s nuclear development and the (then) recent announcement by the foreign ministry in Pyongyang of the nation's imminent first nuclear weapon’s test (which North Korea later claimed it had successfully conducted on the 9 October), I wanted to ask the panel whether transparency over the UK’s and the US’ own responsibility for nuclear proliferation wasn’t long overdue. Following QT protocol - every audience member writes down 2 questions to ask the panel before the beginning of the show; only one audience question chosen on one single topic - my question was usurped. But the chosen audience question led to a more pertinent, impromptu question by another member of the audience: ‘How can we condemn other countries developing nuclear programmes (either weapons or civilian) when we’re about to embark on renewing our own nuclear weapons?' [BBC Question Time, 5 October 2006] . David Dimbleby curiously passed this question to Sandra Howard who, shyly, asked whether she could 'leave the question' [BBC Question Time, 5 October 2006]. And that was that. Several people raised their hands at this point - mine was as high as I could get it, whilst hanging loosely to decorum - but the topic was glided over. [A full podcast of the show is available on the Question Time website].
Browsing through QT's website, however, we get some semblance of the power of networked communication. In 'What you've said' - a section of the QT website where people can upload responses to audience questions during a particular show, in this case BBC Question Time in Bournemouth - people commented on the original audience question that spurred the question above. Then something occurred that emphasised the power of networked communication even more sharply for me. On the following week's BBC Question Time in Glasgow, hypocrisy around nuclear arms was this time raised by an audience question: 'Why do countries holding nuclear arms think they have the right to tell other nations they shouldn't have any?'. David Dimbleby followed this up by stating, '[we] had more of this question on emails – people wanting this question raised more than any other subject' [BBC Question Time, 12 October 2006]. There. The two-way power of networked communication.
The audience of Question Time is marginal; the programme's influence marginal. But for a few minutes I visualised how online activism may be worthwhile; in its slow, chipping away at the facade that few still believe, one that continues erect but may some day crash down; in its reiteration.
This post was power by networked communication.
Next time: Are there sustainable ways in which the world economy could survive without its reliance on oil?
How frequently active should an activist be? In a fast-paced Autumn term my newly regenerated activism has fallen by the waist side. Irony. I imagine that's the way of most good intentions online and offline. I continue to fall into the 9% of Jakob Nielsen participation inequality trajectory. But I expected lapses to happen. I don't do New Year's resolutions. But in the midst of that climate of naive hope that always marks the first days of a new year for me, and a little time on my side before the Spring term kicks off, I will not be deflated.
The unanswerable question is really how frequently should a blogger blog for it to matter? I'll settle for making contributions when the striking of the muse and time coincide.
"...there are so many times when you need to make a quick escape, but humans don't have their own wings, or not yet, anyway, so how about a birdseed shirt?"
- an Oskar thought, from the book I'm currently reading, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005)
My surrender to the blogosphere marks my escape from nihilism, apathism and general brain-fag, on board the 'postmodern' plane of immanence, in search of a generative activism in a nomo networked world.
Jon Meyer has IP on ‘nomo’ - an alternative to the clumsily tautological post-postmodern. As Meyer says, it's ‘a shortened version of Latour's “nonmodern”, it also reads like "no more" as in stop we've had enough…Its better to be paddling in the direction we want to go, rather than in the opposite direction’. Hung up on being ‘critical’ and ‘reflexive’ for far too long, I’ve (again) tired of staring at my navel. Nomo.
This is my v 3.0. ‘Quit staring at your navel’ self-affirmation v 1.0 came in 1994, when I turned my back on architecture and my art college background to become a socially-committed journalism student. Jaded along the way by the dogmas of media corporatism, I first (d)evolved into a manufactured media dissenter, then (what has been most popularly defined as) an ontological existentialist, or a poststructuralist. My v 2.0 was ridden on the mid-90s wave of the popularisation of cyberpunk hallucinations, of utopian cyber counter culture, indymedia, cyberfeminism, posthumanism and the popularisation of open source philosophies. I got high on the assumption that, 'we ha[d] it in our power to begin the world over again' (Thomas Paine, quoted in Wired, cover, 1.10, May 1995), on self-publishing and on enabling others to do the same. Generation X touting the rights of the Net Generation.
A BA and a not-quite-but-almost-finished PhD later, I shookout of cyberutopia and rerouted my criticism towards it. As Bardini suggests, I experienced the ‘slow death of cybernetic utopia as it [was] put into place, as it [was] spatialized’. Amidst the rise and fall of the dot.com bubble, into the vertigous depths of information overload, immateriality seemed incompatible with old-world metanarratives of liberation. What Manovich and Bolter & Grusin had cast in my mind, Ted Nelson re-concretised in his Keynote to the AoIR conference IR 5.0: SUSSEX: 2004: UBIQUITY?, September 2004: the net is not an immediate, neutral technology but hypermediated by various ideologies that realize its existence – primarily Microsoft. We may now be able to cast our selves to millions online via a domestic computer, but we cannot circumvent institutionalised tools, technologies and interfaces in order to do so, regardless of how attuned to open source we are. I critically romped through the terribly cyberselfish culture of high tech and rose towards the void, reverting to Voltairean language games.
When the Web 2.0 meme ascended, I was spent. I’d grown cynical of revolutionary rhetoric. As Dan Gillmor herald the blogsphere of citizen (or participatory) journalism, where ‘[f]or the first time, people at the edges of the network ha[d] the ability to create their own news entities,’ I recalled the Drudge Report and thought this really was a ‘call to action’, the next ‘shakeout’ for disaffected netizens (as Tim O’Rielly puts it) rather than the next level in Information Revolutionary. Reverting back to Bardini, this was ‘the dream's resistance... For if cyberspace is the creation of a cybernetic utopia, the paradoxical spatialization of the original prohibition, the fact remains that the initial dream can make utopia endure’. Yet for me, We Media was very much They Media.
Still, the scrutiny of Wikipedia’s factuality amused me, since I’d long valued subjectivity over objectivity. My interpretation of Bakhtin had left me with a sense that all language is internally (re)generated by a given community at the macrolevel, and the individual at the microlevel, based on both accepted and contested myths. That in 2005 Nature then suggested that ‘multiple, unpaid editors match paid [Encyclopedia Brittanica] professionals for accuracy’ was even more amusing to me. Yet, I did not contribute to this growing repository of contested popular thought. As far as music is concerned, however, I ignore the substandard quality of mp3 and peer-to-peer to my little heart’s content, joining the multitudes in what we may have thought some time back was our own secret, irreverent obliteration of industry music predators. I del.icio.usly flickr in a limited, time-restricted capacity; a little-charted node in social software networks. I’m up-to-date on the latest trends, I both critique and re-defend utopianism online, urge students to blog as a tool for individual and group conceptual development, community building and remote collaboration . Yet, having published my teaching, research and practice online since 1997, its latest variation being www.futurepresent.org, I saw no personal or public benefit to having my own blog.
Indeed, the dissolution of Gillmor’s Bayosphere epitomises the apathy that lingers in this techno-shakeout. The counter-side to grassroots blogs’ transformation of White House politics, the re-distribution of power between the music industry moguls and, ahem, Microsoft, via DRM, Murdoch’s purchase of MySpace, ‘King’ Chad and ‘King’ Steve’s inability to hide their glee at having just earned $1.65 billion from Google’s snap up of YouTube, all epitomise the re-institutionalisation of the periphery.
Recently, Jakob Nielsen re-emphasised the participation inequality inherent in collaborative networked culture. I’m in the 9 of his 90-9-1 rule: 90% of users are lurkers; 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time; 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions. If we are to listen to Pew Internet, this trend will only be exarcebated by the fact that that 90-9-1 ratio will soon be drawn from a far smaller pool of netizens. According to Pew Internet, ‘tech “refuseniks” will emerge as a cultural group characterized by their choice to live off the network. Some will do this as a benign way to limit information overload, while others will commit acts of violence and terror against technology-inspired change’. Living my 10-year-old daughter’s and my 3-year-old son’s love of the net everyday, I can’t see theirs being the counter-Net Generation yet. The future will tell.
Every movement distancing us from a point also brings us closer to that same point. This is true with respect to time as well. Every noticeable movement of history brings us imperceptibly closer to its antipode, indeed to its point of departure. This is the end of linearity. Viewed from this perspective, the future no longer exists. And if there is no future, neither is there an end anymore….What we have to deal with is a paradoxical process of reversion, a reversal of effect with respect to modernity which, having reached its speculative limit and extrapolated all its virtual developments, disintegrates into its rudimentary components through a catastrophic process of recurrence and turbulence'.
‘[T]he eternity of suspended thought...But thought suspended, what remains for us to know, poor Cartesian animals that we are, poor thinking machines?'
I wasn’t entirely inactive throughout the last decade, but each minor form of activism seemed impotent. I became marginally involved in Schnews in 2002-2003, breaking from general apathy to take part in the anti-Iraq-war protests in London and Brighton prior to the invasion of Iraq in October and November 2002. I took part again in the post invasion protest in London in February 2003. After the biggest series of demonstrations, on 15 February 2003, New York Times writer Patrick Tyler claimed that they showed that there were two superpowers on the planet, the United States and worldwide public opinion. Dominique Reynié ascertains that between the 3 January and 12 April 2003, 36 million people took part in almost 3,000 protests against the Iraq war around the world (cited in Callinicos, Socialist Worker Online, 19 March 2005). That constitutes a relatively short time-span in a series of protests that have lasted until April 2006. The Socialist Worker is wrong: anti-war protests don’t make a difference.I consoled myself in the anti-humanist position that humanity is one diddly event in spacetime. That our technologies have pushed the species way beyond its use-by date. Nomo. No big whoop.
But ‘as well as to weakness and exhaustion’, does the postmodern ‘appeal to too much strength, to superabundant vitality, to the ennui of idleness’ (Jack London). This ennui culminated recently when I took my cinema seat to watch ‘Children of Men’ The narrative envisages an infertile world one generation from now. Britain, the last ‘civilised’ stronghold, is falling into the hands of anarchic proto-activists and a fascistic state intolerant of the refugees sprawling inside its borders. To stay and watch the film in its entirety was to very consciously choose not to avoid the reality I’ve long avoided in my travels through hyperreality. I was the worst kind of cinema buddy: I cried for the entirety of the film; I cried afterwards; and the next day. This may be an intermix of P D James, Sexton and Cuarón’s vision of 2027, but for me it’s the future present; the evolving materialisation of an Orwellian dystopia. To loosen the mood, I opted for amnesia once more. A temporary one. I brought my son and daughter into this world in full-consciousness of all the above, but under the pretext that life is for living. I say pretext, because I then forgot to live it. My anti-humanism, indeed any theoretical perspective to which I’ve ever given credence, self-destructs when I share life with my children. I want for them a life of happiness and longevity.
So in my v 3.0 I’ve come out of the other side and chosen the protean. Like Haraway, I can no longer be simply oppositional, '[r]ather I am...implicated, knowing, ignorant, worried and hopeful’. I’m reseeking a generative vision.
I want to begin a metadiscussion of the actuality of activism in networked media as well as generate my own activism online. I’ll seek to brush off the potential irrelevance of my intermediation; I do so in the knowledge of my own hypocrisy and my contempt for the more sanctimonious factions of activism. Though I’m not precluding that the way forward is not the ‘refusenik's’.
I've also submitted this post to the CEMP Interactive Media Community, where it's received a series of comments and influenced Mike Molesworth to expand the discussion about Online Activism to the CEMP Interactive Media Community Forum, where it has curiously evolved into a discussion about p2p.