2016: The accession of the Internet

gerome_sphinx

Europeans used to perish of diseases in the tropics, swathing their camps in mosquito nets as a defence against malaria. Now cyberpositive diseases are spreading strange tropics to the metropolis, and the screening systems are exploding out of control. The netting no longer filters out the invaders, they have learnt to infiltrate the networks. Now even the test programs are unreliable, the net itself is infected. (Sadie Plant and Nick Land)

2016 was a turning point. It marked the high tide of the most recent wave of globalisation as a material force. Geopolitically, it saw the conclusive failure of the attempt to reassert American hegemony on a liberal basis. But the lasting and historic significance of 2016 is that it saw, at last, the long-heralded emergence of the Internet as a social and political force. And everything began to fall apart.

The moment of hubristic and profoundly delusional technopolitical optimism that flourished at the opening of this decade has, in most places, given way to embarrassment and anger. The cyberpolitics that Obama supposedly deployed so effectively has proven itself to be only a throwback to an earlier age. Only the least timely and the most disingenuous commentators still maintain the fiction that the Internet is a force for the universal unfolding of liberalism—perhaps because the reality is too disturbing for them to contemplate.

Experience has now shown that cybertechnology insists on its autonomy, defying attempts to impose political control to one end or another from above, while itself decomposing and reaggregating the characteristics of human existence from below. But this experience is provoking contradictory reactions: denial, petulance, blissful ignorance, only very rarely acceptance.

Nevertheless it persists, and things continue to fall apart. The mechanical reproduction of ideology through the domineering apparatus of the culture industry, where each deviation could be checked and pathologised by the consensus of a uniform media and the birthing of new sociopolitical movements required significant material investment, is giving way to an age of cybernetic reproduction in which ideology regenerates and mutates endlessly, refracting through limitless multiplicities on platforms of free and instantaneous communication, through which new movements are daily, hourly, conjured and dismissed glitteringly from existence.

Politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.

The liberals are turning up the pressure, displacing all political argument to the level of the individual. As old political distinctions descend into irrelevance, forced to rearrange themselves around the abomination of Internet-populism which itself struggles against its own perpetual disintegration, the liberal political imaginary transitions into the paranoiac administration of guilt.

Dimly, there is a dawning recognition that something has gone badly wrong. The circuit of virtue connecting the generation of value and ideology in academia, the healthy competition of the democratic political arena, and the maintenance of liberal policy has fallen apart. ‘The people have had enough of experts’: experts have had enough of the people.

All the while, the ground is falling away. In cyberpolitics, the process of Kantian individualisation is carried to its logical, self-annihilating Nietzschean conclusion as the rational individual itself is destroyed, disintegrating inevitably into online refractions and permanent irrationality. Authenticity is being swept away, replaced by all-consuming technicity. Without its object of concern, the politics of the individual becomes pathetic and impotent, even as it grows fiercer and fiercer in its rhetoric.

Unaccustomed to anything else, the intellectual ancien régime adheres ever more closely to its outdated analysis, misinterpreting the phenomena of the new age through the lens of the old. ‘Trump became president because he manipulated the media’ (as if the 2010s were the 1910s and media manipulation were a novel phenomenon). But the ‘mass media’ are dying, ceding way to mass intercommunication.

Monsters are emerging as the material circuit of capital grinds to a halt and cyberpolitics runs away ahead of it.

The lesson of this year was that cyberpolitics is not a force of globalisation. It is the end of the human world itself.

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3 thoughts on “2016: The accession of the Internet

  1. Petr Reshetnikov

    -“But the lasting and historic significance of 2016 is that it saw, at last, the long-heralded emergence of the Internet as a social and political force. And everything began to fall apart.”

    Haven’t people been calling every year since about 2010 the year when the internet became a social and political force, starting with the Arab Spring? Maybe even before that with the election of Obama. Really the moment the internet became a significant social force is the creation of the smartphone with internet access and the contemporaneous development of social media. Before smartphones and social media, the internet was relatively foreign and alien to the majority of the population, and was regarded as a sort of domain of nerds and geeks. Smartphones marked the critical level of the permeation of internet media throughout the public consciousness and thus this can be considered the turning point of the internet as a social and political force. 2016 is about 8 years too late to call this.

    -“Experience has now shown that cybertechnology insists on its autonomy, defying attempts to impose political control to one end or another from above, while itself decomposing and reaggregating the characteristics of human existence from below. ”

    Yeah, isn’t autonomy and independence from political control one of the cornerstones of liberal thought? How can you simultaneously talk about the deleterious effects of manipulative cyberpolitics and the fact that cybertechnology is independent of political control?

    -“cybernetic reproduction in which ideology regenerates and mutates endlessly..”.

    Well, the point is that it’s not one single ideology undergoing some sort of horrific and grotesque Frankenstein-esque transmutation on the internet; that’s a gross misrepresentation. The internet is a free platform for a multitude of competing ideas and “ideologies” ( if you insist on using that term) which come into contact and affect each other in various ways, challenging and developing upon each other constantly. Some ideas stay relatively unchanged for long periods of time, other are quickly done away with or changed into something totally different: there is no one set course for every idea or movement that emerges here. Based on the language you’re using here it seems you’re conflating every single movement that appears online into one single amorphous blob of condensed internet “ideology” which follows some generic path of monstrous disfigurement.
    Using the phrase “cybernetic reproduction” of ideas is misguided or at least an incomplete appraisal, because the internet is not just an echo chamber for mass distribution and reposting of ideas, it’s also a place of unbridled creativity and initiative, precisely due to its unregulated and (as of yet) uncontrollable nature. The lack of need for vast “material investment” allows for spontaneity otherwise unachievable. The main distinction between the “domineering apparatus of the culture industry” and “cybernetic reproduction”, is that the former is shaped by a select, closed group of media elites, whereas the latter can be partaken of by anyone from the confines of their living room.
    -“through which new movements are daily, hourly, conjured and dismissed glitteringly from existence.”
    Again, based on the language here I get the impression that the idea is that new movements on the internet are unable to leave any long-lasting or significant legacy and are rendered inconsequential by the constant introduction of new ones. Which is demonstrably false: does the Arab Spring not count now? The massive feminist and progressivist campaigns all over the web which began in relative obscurity and now regularly reach the forums of the UN? The fact that the internet is open to anyone to broadcast their ideas does not imply inconsequentiality.

    -“As old political distinctions descend into irrelevance, forced to rearrange themselves around the abomination of Internet-populism which itself struggles against its own perpetual disintegration”

    So populism is an abomination? Google tells me populism is “a political style of action that mobilizes a large alienated element of population against a government seen as controlled by an out-of-touch closed elite that acts on behalf of its own interests.” And the US election hasn’t shown us that the US government establishment was out-of-touch and acting on behalf of its own corrupt interests? Populism seems to be a very apt reaction in this case. And in what precise way is it struggling against its “perpetual disintegration”? Perhaps the point being missed here is that the internet populism observed recently was never intended as a cohesive and solidified political initiative, but rather was the accretion and circumstantial convergence of various groups of the discontented who, through the broadcasting of their ideas over the internet, managed to find some common ground in their otherwise often conflicting positions, and act in the same general direction for long enough to produce material results. This was only possible due the speed and convenience with which such ideas could be shared and discussed online.
    “Itself struggles against its own perpetual disintegration” – That’s just demagoguery. Doesn’t everything, according to the laws of thermodynamics? You seem to have an interest in philosophy; I believe Herakleitos and Hegel both argued something to this effect. Internal tension and opposing principles within all things.

    -“circuit of virtue connecting… value and ideology” – Ideology is connected to value and virtue? How so? Do you view ideology as a positive force?

    -“healthy competition of the democractic political arena” – (i.e. “the healthy hegemony of so-called democratic values in the political arena”)

    -“maintenance of liberal policy” – So healthy competition is only such when liberal policies remain in force? In other words, you’re for healthy competition of ideas as long as all the ideas agree with you.

    -“All the while, the ground is falling away. In cyberpolitics, the process of Kantian individualisation is carried to its logical, self-annihilating Nietzschean conclusion as the rational individual itself is destroyed, disintegrating inevitably into online refractions and permanent irrationality.”

    Unfortunately I’m not familiar with Nietzsche or Kant to be able to comment on this reading, but the underlying thread is : “In cyberpolitics the rational individual self is destroyed, disintegrating inevitably into permanent irrationality”.

    Well, what do you understand under “cyberpolitics”? Is the subject of cyberpolitics the “individual”? If you’re talking about cyberpolitics as the process of waging ideological and information warfare in a methodical premeditated manner by some interest group, then yeah, there’s not much rationality there, but the subject isn’t really the “rational individual” in this case, it’s an entity with an agenda. But the individual is not a passive object in “cyberpolitics”, that’s kind of the point of it being “cyber”: any rational individual can respond, react, comment, criticise, modify, use and discuss any instance of ideology that appears online with other rational individuals. This “feedback” in the cybernetic sense is the distinguishing feature of online discourse – Active vs passive consumption of information. “Cyberpolitics” is also the process of rational individuals expressing and championing their political ideas by means of the online platform. Like what you’re doing now. Do you not consider yourself a part of the cyberpolitical discourse? Do you see yourself as a contributor to “disintegrating” permanent irrationality?

    -“”Authenticity is being swept away, replaced by all-consuming technicity.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by authenticity being replaced by technicity. I’ve found about 3 definitions of “technicity” that could potentially fit.
    I’m going to assume you mean the increasing performativity of political discourse (what people like to call “post-truth” nowadays.) I.e. a shift from the focus on the content of a claim (constative), towards what a claim implies in terms of its context, form and underlying implications (performative). The technical aspects of a claim, such as phraseology and lexis germane to a certain ideology or group, communicate the self-identification of the author with said group and with a certain agenda.
    if this is what you mean, then that’s nothing new and has existed in the most ancient human societies in the form of social and religious ritual.

    -“Trump became president because he manipulated the media’ (as if the 2010s were the 1910s and media manipulation were a novel phenomenon). But the ‘mass media’ are dying, ceding way to mass intercommunication.”

    I thought it was well accepted by now that Trump won because Hillary alienated everyone through the mass media she was supposed to be controlling. I mean, everyone except the most hardcore of both Trump and Hillary supporters conceded this.

    -“Monsters are emerging as the material circuit of capital grinds to a halt and cyberpolitics runs away ahead of it.”

    Yeah, there were no monsters in the material circuit of capital at all. We lived in the age of benevolent angels before the internet came along and started conjuring monsters. The internet is truly a herald of the Fall of Eden.

    “The lesson of this year was that cyberpolitics is not a force of globalisation. It is the end of the human world itself.”

    There you have it folks, discussing politics on the internet will literally kill us all. Ban political discussion on the net and let the ever reliable, honest and authentic MSM tell you what to believe. Amen.

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    1. Interesting comment, but you’re barking up entirely the wrong tree. I don’t consider rationality, humanism, liberalism, to be good things. Cyberpolitics is simply what it is: there is no good or bad about it, and trying to halt it is like attempting to halt the wind or the tides. Indeed, the progress of cyberpolitics should be accelerated as far as possible. Refer to my previous two posts. I am also happy to call myself a populist.

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      1. Petr Reshetnikov

        Oh, I see your position now; that’s totally fine then. As I mentioned, I can only surmise that the language of the piece was a little misguiding in terms of bringing out your actual position. Perhaps this is due to your opting to describe the phenomena you present in the “voice” of the observing establishment for literary effect. It was confusing for me at least, without prior context.
        I have taken a look at your article “crisis and decadence”, and it doesn’t cause this issue for me. Clears everything up, really.
        I’ll be looking forward to future posts then.

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