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Draft Article

Page history last edited by roy williams 1 year, 5 months ago



Draft Resonances Article

This is an attempt to draw together some of the key aspects of our emergent, and quite disruptive, digital, connected world.



Contents page ...



Resonances ... (WIP)


installations, avatars, (counter)inscriptions, persistent memory, structure and agency ...






María Martín sits by the road in Spain which covers the mass grave

in which Franco's forces disposed of her mother’s remains.


Photograph: Almudena Carracedo, who, with Robert Bahar, made the documentary The Silence of Others.



The so-called Revenge against Post-Modernism




Aside: This article explores writing as a deliberately curated text, in which links are not just warrants/evidence to back up the argument or the line of thinking, they are also genuine invitations to veer off track - to take time off, to leave the straightjacket of a one-track-sequenced text, branch out from the underlying vector/s of the text; perhaps to return to it later, perhaps not.


As a wiki, it is also an invitation to add to and edit the text, but that might be a step too far, for now - more's the pity - contact roytwilliams@gmail.com if you would like to add/edit the text.



So ... this article is an attempt to create an (ongoing) ontology of the present, as well as a way to explore changes in how the ecologies of communication and interaction are organised - the ebbs and flows, the changing balances between structure and agency that happen when new affordances open up our options, and new resonances (and dissonances) are created, and power (&/or community) is re-articulated.  Make no mistake, the way power intrudes into the capillaries of everyday life continues to shock (see for example the Saudi use of the Absher App for 'wife tracking', and the latest ethnic/cultural scrubbing/cleansing of the Uighurs in Western China). Or to put it another way, every new 'open' system sooner or later leads to new attempts to close off all aspects of these open systems that do not suit existing power elites. Plus ça change! and long live the Communist Party! (not).   


Many of these changes are not new. Communication and knowledge have always been based on resonance - the changing consensus &/or collusion between people (as well as other actors). What is changing, rapidly, is the technology and the speed of change that is provided by the infrastructure (the modes and means of production, in old fashioned terms, or in current terms, the memes and temes) which radically alter access, ownership, and the articulation, dispersal and concentration of agency, power, and deception - i.e., the next (grinding) chapter in the power of 'civilisation' / the civilisation of power. China, Russia, Iran, and many others are manipulating their firewalls to control and constrain the global connectivity of the Internet.


But this is not just a contest about the Internet. It's rather about the fundamentally new connectivity that threatens the very definition of what is inside and outside nation states, as well as what is private versus what is transparent - to the State, as well as the elephant in the room debate about what the State has become (i.e. hyper-national capital, see 9/1/20, here ...).  It is a real issue, but it is often presented quite absurdly, e.g. in the Brexit/nationalist rhetoric about the need for nation States to "take back control" of their borders and everything else - as if this was realistic or even possible. We live in a globalised world, and that's a big challenge.


The question is whether the current incarnation of globalisation (the playground of international power and finance for millennia) extends interaction and collaboration, or fascism, or just the powers of an anonymous and untouchable elite. It can go one of several ways, but the current ones are not pretty.   


These changes - these new affordances - could provide the opportunity to move beyond the benefits - and pretensions - of the command and control regimes of modernism, into the sustainable management of complex-adaptive, open systems. Or as a Scandinavian commentator said recently, a move from mass production (and mass consumption) into maths-production: learning to regulate algorithms and ecologies of algorithms, rather than (just) machines.


This requires different people with different skills, and different ways of building consensus and resolving disputes - not only new rules, but new approaches to management. The bloom of the geeks has long overshot its welcome, and we could already be sleep-walking into the autonomous surveillance State (the autonomous SS / ASS, if you like uncomfortable/bad, puns). 




The Revenge against Post-Modernism

Many things have changed. Some of the changes that stand out, and affect everything around them are: disruption, denial/revenge, the end of our delusional comfort-blankets of 'externalities', and the introduction and growth of even more extensive, 'open' systems. These changes will take many years to percolate through our new micro/global societies. Already new changes, like machine learning, are starting the next cycle of disruption, revenge, redefinition of our 'externalities', and the exploitation of our latest open systems.  Being alive in the Anthropocene is being alive in 'interesting times' - we could just be shedding one set of corporate/state externalities to end up trapped in the new internal/externalities of automation, so there is lots of work to be done. 


And it is the redefinition of the borders of our 'externalities' that is, as always, the core issue (which is why Jacinda Ardern and Greta Thunberg are so strikingly relevant). The agenda of public debate (and its evidence base - or lack of it) is, by and large, dissipating into noise, innuendo and trolling. What you can see - and what you can potentially influence - all depends on where you are sited, how you are sighted (what degree of transparency is available to you/denied to others), and how you are cited - who and what 'like' and 'retweet', rebroadcast, republish, or troll what you say and do (i.e. how this resonates through social and political space - or not).     


The irony is that many of the cheerleaders of today's populist movements seem to want revenge not only against post-modernism, but also against some of the core tenets of modernism (e.g. the one-size-fits-all-model). But what they really seem to want is something else entirely - a new global caste system, separating the de-contextualised (global) elite from the 're-enclosed', 24/7-surveillance commons/commoners. (An even more perverse version of 1984, iced with a top layer of anarchist/billionaire players using the planet as their own private playground.) 


In practical terms, this means unlimited freedom of movement for finance and financiers (Vince Cable's spivs and gamblers, or Keynes's rentiers, whose euthanasia he said he "looked forward to"), alongside greatly restricted agency and freedom of movement for anyone else - the 99% who are, apparently, willing and happy to be confined, surveilled, destabilised and exploited within the borders of 'their' nation states, which the financiers both ignore and exploit. 



We have all been globalised. We have all experienced disruptions to the way identities are formed, and disruption of the old certainties, such as a single and stable career, a single life partner, a local/geographical community, a single nationality, a single gender, and the musical-chairs of two-party politics - to be followed by the loss of national currencies, if Facebook's Libra succeeds (update: it has not, but bitcoin and other virtual currencies are still around ...). 


This is accompanied by the homogenisation of global culture, and the cultural marginalisation - or extinction - of local cultural practices and languages - which has been going on for decades if not centuries.  


As one Trump supporter complained (on Twitter in 2016), "If you want a country with 63 genders vote Clinton; if you want a country where men are men and women are women, vote Trump", This resonates with Theodore Roosevelt's insistence, way back in 1919, that America was a monolingual (i.e. White, English) society, not a place to accommodate "dwellers in a polyglot boarding-house”. Not everyone has taken Roosevelt's ideas on board, and over the years since 1919 many, if not most American subcultures persistently identify themselves as Italian-Americans, African-Americans, etc etc. 


Our current cycle of globalisation is clearly not everybody's choice, nor does it meet everyone's expectations. McLuhan was right when he wrote, in 1969, that the global village is paradoxically more open, seamless and connected, but also more fractured, tribal, xenophobic and insular. It is both exciting and unnerving. We have opportunities to live our lives in more resonant and/or more dissonant ways. But to paraphrase W.B. Yeats/Chuana Achebe, things fall apart; there is no 'centre' to hold us together anymore. (Which is precisely the point about living in a complex-adaptive world: there is life - lots of it - but much of it is on the 'edge of chaos' - see below). 


There are those who can and do take advantage of the unprecedented affordances of global trade, commerce and private accumulation of wealth, and then there are those who do the work (often insecure and low-paid) that produces the goods that are traded.


There are very real efficiencies and advantages to globalisation and free trade, but also very real costs - job insecurity, increasing automation, etc - at the same time as increases in flexibility and remote working. The increase of relative wealth - and poverty - is unprecedented.  It's a real concern for those who want to remain rich, as well as for those who don't want to remain poor - and, in many cases, don't want to become poorer than the generation before them. Populism has rhetorical roots (it always will have), but it also has real ones. 



People like Jordan Petersen, Donald Trump - and many others - still, 40 or 50 years on, resent post-modernism (subconsciously or consciously), and are out to get their revenge, and reinstate modernism. But modernism is long since dead, and post-modernism is not even an issue anymore - it's part of the furniture. So their only possible response is to set up a straw-man  - a version of post-modernism which is a perverted and reductionist version of connectivism, in which everything (and anything) goes but which, paradoxically, they exploit to the full even while decrying it. 


Trump's revenge is also petty and personal: Manigault Newman says that Trump "vowed that (all) those who had criticised (him) would bend the knee to him" (an ironic choice of words if ever there was one). “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump ... It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge, to become the most powerful man in the universe.”  Trump's master-of-the-universe/ Wolf of Wall Street rhetoric captures, unknowingly, all that is st/w/rong with modernism, which is why it resonates so deeply with substantial parts of his electorate - men and women - who have yet to see the hubris coming across the melting arctic ice floes. 


But Trump is probably an exception to most rules (see the NYT Anon op-ed 5.8.18: "The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making". It might be better to just see him as an opportunist (or, as a black Republican Congressional candidate, in 2018, said approvingly: "he's just a gangster - in our community we all recognise gangsters"), who is determined to stay in the limelight and in power, just for the hell of it.


He exploits the revenge against post-modernism, but then he would probably be just as happy exploiting the converse, although that might be too difficult for him to understand. He is the paradigmatic celebrity (President), for whom 'all publicity is good publicity'. His daughter Ivanka, on the other hand, might be having second thoughts about riding on the coat-tails of the Trump brand, as she has already had to close down her own fashion brand - as early as mid 2018 - due to the bad PR it attracted. 


The people driving the rear-guard revenge against post-modernism are desperate, and even, clinically, hysterical, in their attempts to displace and undermine the emergence of a constructive, complex-adaptive, networked, and fluid society - with its own kinds of limits (see later). Steve Bannon (and the fundamentalist Rapturists who follow him) take this to absurd extremes. Bannon's explicit goal was "to create as much chaos as possible" - because of his misguided belief in his ability to manage and control the creative potential of destructive capitalism (he is an ex Wall Street banker). His fellow-traveller Rapturists just want to get to the end of the world as soon as possible (sic), convinced that 'they' alone (ironically just like the jihadists) will get to Paradise. Trump is aiding and abetting their fantasies (and more importantly their support for him) by pushing for the resurrection of the glory of Jerusalem - he's the ultimate arrogant Crusader. 


Central to these attempts is, as ever, the desire to reinstate, or resurrect the dominance of monolithic, mono-racial, mono-lingual, big-centre, master-of-the-universe, identities - whether these are Aryan, White Christian Nationalist, Zionist, Islamist Jihadist, or any other). This often has quasi-scientific, &/or quasi-religious overtones, based on values of "racial purity", holding out - heroically - in defiance against alleged social and genetic "pollution" and "racial degradation" (see Marie Stopes - et seq ...).  In the early to mid 20th Century in particular, this debate shamelessly mobilised eugenics for 'scientific' support for "a society in which only the best and the beautiful should survive" - which they saw as the best way to achieve ideals of 'social Darwinism', and which is echoed, eerily, on the covers of our (male and female) fashion magazines every day - a 'terrible' beauty, if ever there was one. 


This is the key meme that needs to be described, called out, monitored, and contested - Fukiyama's dream of a homogenised neocon end of history, in which everyone would share the same aspirations, and all speak 'free'-market 'liberal-ish'. 


If not, we face a new 'normal' in which every failed actor (even POTUS) can become a ham performance 'artist', in a perverted corner of Twitter, where they can hide their private illiteracy behind public bluster, and ruthlessly exploit a sense of victimhood and grievance, based on the real uncertainty and crises of confidence, not to mention panic, that many people are experiencing as society becomes, paradoxically, more connected, fluid, and responsive, but also more automated, fractured, revealing and exploitative.


The next big horror movie might just be called The Thing (the internet of things) - which is coming into your home to eat you up - while talking to you in the dulcet tones of an Alexa. See Gary Younge's analysis, which distinguishes between the fear and the facts (quoting Diana Mutz's research) which showed that "there was little relation between voting for Trump in 2016 and having lost a job or income, or the density of unemployment or manufacturing jobs in places where Trump voters lived.  There was, however, a propensity to vote for Trump among those who felt that "their dominance as a group was under threat" (emphasis added). This resonates completely with the vague and unsubstantiated promise of the 2016 Brexit campaign to take back control - of the universe, perhaps? Fear is the (retro) 'new' currency - eat your heart out Joseph Goebbels. 


No more externalities

You know you have arrived in a new geological Era, our very own Anthropocene, when you realise that there are no more externalities, period.  No ifs and buts, no maybes, no turning back. The 'economic' conceit of externalities - an all-purpose dumping ground for somebody else's 'collateral damage' - is finally dead. We have to own up to our own dark sides, from global warming to our insatiable desire to exclude and blame the 'other' (see Jacqueline Rose). And this also means no more kicking the can of 'exit strategies' (e.g. for nuclear waste) down the road and over the horizon - the horizon has arrived, here. 


What is at stake is making practical sense of where we are - long past post-modernism - in our fractured, tribalist, micro/global, emergent, Anthropocene Era: highly connected and interdependent, still trying to find our own emergent niches in the socio-economic ecology. There will always be boundaries, and politicians will always try to rally the troops/voters behind particular versions of boundaries, in order to motivate/manipulate society, so that they can exert power to suit themselves and their followers. However, with the end of externalities, and the planetary crisis of global warming, national boundaries have less and less inherent meaning or relevance: they need to be taken into account, but the implications of the Anthropocene end-game needs to take precedence - somehow. it's already overdue. As President Macron said (November 2018), "nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism".


Open Systems 

Many of the systems that confront us now are open systems - often radically open / emergent systems - systems that are inherently 'unstable', and subject to change. That has major implications for the affordances that are available to us, and the challenges that face us in the transition to managing more ubiquitous, open systems - and, paradoxically, the challenges of keeping them open, and not just descending into a Chinese 'Communist' Party styled digital security state. The 'apocalypse' did not stay in the sweaty jungles of Vietnam, it's now moved to the pristine software houses of Beijing/Silicon Valley. 


Truly open systems, at their most innovative and creative, thrive 'on the edge of chaos'.  But we need to keep in mind that if any system is allowed to go over the edge of chaos, life - in all its forms - tends to respond explosively and opportunistically, to exploit unchecked, viral affordances, and it inevitably takes a long time to re-establish a dynamic, emergent balance again (see also here ... add link, and graphic of footprints of emergence, and to more extensive discussion on micro-global emergent systems). 


Parkrun is one of the most positive examples of open systems (as are traffic roundabouts in the UK). The incendiary parts of Twitter are some of are the most negative examples, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses - see CCK08 and onwards) have diverged to yield both positive (e.g. ModPo) and negative examples.  Some of the negative ones are hardly 'open' at all.  add....


cont. on page 2, here ...


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