Archive for April, 2009

Marblecake, Also the Game

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on April 29, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

The Message

That was the message encoded in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009 by none other than Anonymous. These 4chan netizens jumped into action and hacked the poll, not only making sure that moot, the founder of 4chan, tops the list, but also being careful to arrange the order of winners up to the 21st so that the list would read, “mARBLECAKE ALSO THE GAME”. TIME already made the list official — epic win for moot and Anonymous — but completely denied the hack. You can read the details of the hack here.

Here is an excerpt from Mashable regarding this piece of news:

The Internet has different rules. The folks at Time just learned about it in a very amusing way, as their third annual poll for the world’s most influential person was topped by moot A.K.A. Christopher Poole, founder of the legendary memebreeding forum 4chan. And, though the results of the poll are obviously skewed, the list is now official nonetheless.

Remember, it’s not Barack Obama, not Oprah Winfrey, not Pope Benedict XVI, but moot. He received 16,794,368 votes and an average influence rating of 90 (out of a possible 100).

The Internet does play by a very different set of rules indeed. Who is moot? I am not asking about who he really is in real life, his personal history, and so on, but what can the existence of this 21-year-old founder of 4chan who became this year’s most influential person on Earth tell us about the culture we are living in?

moot has been quoted to say, “My personal private life is very separate from my internet life. There’s a firewall in between.” It is very interesting to note that moot did not use the phrase “real life” to denote his “personal private life”. That alone I think is really telling — clearly, moot, like many of us, has an online life more real than his private life.

4chan has been described as the “Wild West” of the Internet. The rawest of lands and coarsest of media, the home to Internet vigilantes as well as the most homophobic, misogynist, and racist users, often with amazing hacking skills, 4chan represents the face of posthuman subculture today. And I am not even trying to romanticize it as we often romanticize a Wild West — go to 4chan today to /b/, the random bulletin board, and you will see what I mean, if you haven’t. There is nothing romantic about it, save perhaps the total assault they do on culture on a daily basis.

The growth of a subculture, a raw resistance of any kind at all, always presents us with the Real of antagonisms of the culture we are living in. 4chan is the antithesis of Facebook, and moot is the antithesis of Mark Zuckerberg. When we discuss the Internet, we often forget today about 4chan, about the nameless, faceless commons that is Anonymous, about the glorified Master signifier that is moot. When we discuss cultures, we often forget about their breeding place, the Wild West, the grafitti brick walls of the anonymous crowd.

The TIME 100 hack tells a lot about the times we are living in. In a way, we can even say that TIME ultimately got what they wanted — they decided to do an online poll, and online, moot is indeed the most influential person. Invisible he may be, but one only needs to see the number of memes penetrating our Internet lives today, from Rickrolls to LOLcats but also “epic” phrases — indeed, 4chan can take any meaningless thing and imbue it with the object-cause of desire because they themselves embody the faceless gaze of the commons — to see how true this is. Because our times are heading towards that critical direction again: where culture can no longer be dictated, when minds can no longer be censored, and when a handful of people can turn a historical media cultural event upside down.

Slavoj Žižek says that in order for our times to grow, “maybe we just need a different chicken [fetish object]”. The problem so far regarding democracy is that “we know the system is corrupt, but does the system know it is corrupt?” — in other words, we continue to do it because we know it works even if we don’t believe that it works. I think the recent message-encoded TIME 100 hack proves otherwise — the system itself knows that it is corrupt, and it is only the big media companies that are losing and continue to pretend everything is OK. And fortunately, the technological apparatuses that be no longer serves them but the faceless crowd.

I’m going to have a marblecake and celebrate.


mARBLECAKE (not mine)

This is Just a Theater for the Media

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan
The only winning move is not to play

The only winning move is not to play

Stay calm – Nothing will happen to TPB, us personally or file sharing what so ever. This is just a theater for the media.

That was Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi (a.k.a. Brokep)’s response to the conviction of The Pirate Bay. But of course, we won’t stay that calm, even if it is just a theater. Yes, hopefully it will be an epic win anyhow, but not only that — I hope it will also be an epic lost to such judgements in the future.

A quick recap of the news for those who haven’t heard. Five days ago The Pirate Bay was sentenced to a year in prison for its four defendants and some 3.5 billion USD in fines.

The sheer confidence of TPB guys upon that verdict astound me. It reminds me of the conviction of the communists of the olden days that they will finally win. Which has to do with a lot of things that I have been having in mind.

When I say communists, with the thought traditions I come from, I meant that fully as a compliment. It has been said often that the revolutionaries of today’s copyright laws are “modern-day communists”. Many defenders of copyright reformation — the supporters of Creative Commons, etc — would reject this idea. My guess is that they only know communism from its common abuses they have heard, the image of the gulag looming over them. But does not the very fact of them defending a right of a “common” whatsoever points to communist thinking?

Nor do I want to imply that pirates will become like the old communists — lost, defeated, only able to bathe in fantasmatic nostalgias of the past, the very term under which all its fights were conducted now terribly corrupted. If anything, the term “piracy” has gone through an entirely different set of fate: it began as a negative word for selfish bands of criminals, but today speak to adress heroes defending the rights of the common good, to tear down the walls of market oppression. If trajectory of terms mean anything, and we have known since structuralism that it means quite a lot, we should see something even bigger emerge from the pirates.

Between this and communism

Between this and communism?

So, does the idea of piracy mean anything for the idea of communism? Would we see, emerging from it in its totality, a global Event? They say that we are much closer to the end of the 19th century in terms of the unhealthy cynicism presented by most of the society today. One realm, however, stays incredibly strong, positive, even militant in its conviction, and there is no cynicism at all about its longevity, although (or perhaps especially because) it acts outside the state. This is the realm of the defense for the digital crowd, the commons of the posthuman era. Movements such as the very recent Blackout Europe, in fact, rings so much more bell of truth, of chance, and of undying faith in the strength of the commons than, say, the recent G 20 protest.

Indeed, in every place of today’s defense of physical political struggle, we always see an element of cynicism — we already know that the struggle will just be another lost, at best another media sensation. The Pirate Bay, on the other hand, claims that their struggle will be another win, that it is just the media masturbating themselves with a theater. In fact, I personally have never seen a struggle for a digital/Internet rights movement imbued with any dose of cynicism whatsoever.

Does this attitude, and more specifically does Brokep’s amazing confidence not point to a faithfulness of an Event, one that all Leftists today are supposed to need?

Some people I know suggest that communist conferences and otherwise Leftist ones should be taken to the streets and factories instead of being kept inside lavish college buildings. While I applaud the anti-bourgeois spirit of this kind of criticism, it also presents us with a false trap — the political spaces and topologies today is such that I remain a pessimist that doing conferences in factories would only confuse the problem further while making it look like enough of a sensation to do much more. My suggestion would be otherwise — why not do a communist conference in an exclusive cruise liner instead, so that when the conference achieves nothing, we are confronted right with that fact instead of an “academic” or even a “worker” sensation that we have done something significantly meaningful?

Perhaps we are just looking for political movements in the wrong places with the wrong issues. What Marxists need to remember today is that we are already posthumans. All that is solid has melt into air. What had been Marx’s future is our present. Boycott all media products — we have nothing to lose but our chains.

Hey, lets do a communist conference here!

Even doing a communist conference here won't matter

G 20: A Romance of the Politics of Failure?

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , on April 14, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan
Protestors photograph riot police outside a Lloyds Bank in London, on April 1, 2009. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

I should have jumped right into the foray and gave my thoughts on the G 20 protest in the beginning of this month. I take the blame and full responsibility for not doing so. Rest assured I have been following the news, including the tragic case of Ian Tomlison. I am going to comment on both.

First of all I would like to credit K-Punk (via The Kubrickian Gaze) for my title, a phrase he mentioned to conclude his excellent response on the G 20 protest. Indeed, in every protest, it is always a question of whether it is another impotent protest, a mere acting out only to “get owned by the police,” as Lenin put it, or whether it has the capability of merging into a larger protest, a new Left.

That in itself of course has no inherent answer — as a good Badiouvian I maintain that the nature of truth is always militant and never given. However, I have a question: how, exactly, can any protest merge into a larger, combustible one in this day and age? This is not skeptic cynicism but actual curiosity from my part. While we may be similar to the end of the 19th century in terms of cynicism and thinking that the world is over, we do have one major difference, which may either be a drawback or a potential: all protests today are always-already directly aimed at Empire.

In the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century we surely do not lack bloody protests everywhere. In those times, they resonate from one to the next — the commons in each new place witness the struggle in another place and appropriate the dreams as their own, then organize their own struggle, and off the chain went: Paris, Shanghai, New Delhi, Jakarta, Hanoi…

Today, we skip the appropriating part. Every struggle is always-already a struggle in the name of the global citizen. K-Punk mentioned how the environmentalist protests are meaningless, since it is a protest everyone can agree on. But is not every protest today like this? One only needs to see the placards in the G 20 protests:  Besides “Climate Emergency,” they have “Gaza: End the Blockade,” “Planet Before Profit,” “We Won’t Pay for Their Crisis,” “Jobs not Bombs”… When you get right down to it, who does not agree with those? Certain parties would come to mind, but really, are these not obvious demands already?

I think this is our real problem — that we know exactly what we want, we know exactly what is going on, but at the same time we know nothing about what we want — “of course that would be the ideal world, but we all know it’s impossible,” and so on — and we know nothing about what is going on — if we are asked why we are living in a world so far away from what we dream of, we either take it as given or blame a Bad Father. I often call today’s society “the society of perversion” not for nothing — it acknowledges and disavows castration at the same time.

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

It is as if the G 20 is expected to either deny the whole thing — we know they already know it but we know that they know that we know how our sufferings are inevitable — or to produce some sort of magical cure, that suddenly they prescribe a magical plan to cure all ailness. Curiously, this is exactly the same mental state a traditional patient has when visiting a psychotherapist of any kind — for them to either say that s/he is not sick or to shove them a magical pill that would cure the illness instantly.

Being a good Lacanian, K-Punk’s take comes off as excellent (except for the “grand philosophical system” part):

Time to withdraw from the feelgood simulation of politics. Time to give up the gratification of displaying wounds inflicted by the police as signs of grace, evidence that we are on the side of the Good. Time to relinquish the easy jouissance of impotent acting-out. Time to face the fact that organising marches isn’t the same as political organisation. […] It’s time to think, not in order to finesse some grand philosophical system, but with the goal of identifying what new forms of organisation can succeed in these conditions. Time to give up on the romance of a politics of failure and plan to win.

I mentioned I would comment on the case of Ian Tomlison. I feel really bad for Tomlison, not really because of the tragic case itself, but because his death has been turned into a spectacle to reassure the existence of the Bad Father — it is as if today we need more and more futile tragedies like this to reassure ourselves, often in vain, that those deaths mean something.

It is time to stand up and realize that the Big Other does not exist. For so long as it is taken for granted that it does, quoting Deleuze, “the people are missing“. More than anything today, we need a new figure of the analyst to, first of all, make the people appear for itself.

On The Idea of Communism

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

Hello hello, TPM readers! Thank you for being faithful even in these times where I am blogging much less than usual — two weeks of unexplained absence, without a drop in the reader count! Thank you for standing by! Well, I have been doing several projects, and am also writing my thesis, but here I am :-)

To start the month, why don’t we review a bit of what happened on March, an event that started on the appropriately dangerous Friday the 13th and ended on the following Sunday. I am talking, of course, about On The Idea of Communism conference, hosted by Slavoj Žižek at Birkbeck College, which included names like Alain Badiou, Terry Eagleton, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Jacques Ranciere, Judith Balso, Bruno Bosteels, Alessandro Russo, Alberto Toscano and Gianni Vattimo. Jean-Luc Nancy I think was supposed to be there but could not attend due to Visa problems (which reminds me of my own case last year).

I would have loved it if I had actually attended and this were an actual report, but I didn’t, so for conference notes I would refer you to Andrew Osborne’s post here. I watched several videos on YouTube as well, one of which I linked above.

I want to just comment on this conference. First of all, it is a really exciting conference and perhaps could not have had better timing. We are living in times in which people have less and less faith in both world politics and economy. It is true that people in many places, including my own country, still irrationaly fear communism (the most popular response in my country being that communism is forbidden by religion — LOL?), but it nonetheless should be conceived as the perfect time to think. Žižek suggested us to take Lenin as an example: in the harsh times of 1915, he retreated to Switzerland to read Hegel.

About the times we are facing today, Alain Badiou puts it very nicely. I quote from Osborne’s blog:

Today we are nearer the 19th century than the 20th century  with the arrival of utterly cynical capitalism. We are witnessing the return of all sorts of 19th century phenomena such as pirate nationalisations, nihilistic despair and the servility of intellectuals.

Badiou then of course goes on in his usual manner mentions of the need for a strong subjectivity to change the coordinates of possibilities in order to create the Event, the rupture in existence to which we can militantly assert a new truth. This is important and stressed again by Žižek in the conclusion, that a change is not a change in actuality but a change in possibilities. Thus, our task is to think of the possibility of possibilities, to do the impossible — not the usual Kantian “we must, because we can,” but the Badiouvian “we must, because it is impossible.”

I also love what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have to say, although the ideas they mention are nothing new if you have read their work, Empire. How can I not love it when the entire notion is similar to the original theme of this blog (I say original, because lately it has become more and more Lacanian than Marxist, I know), that is, one that interrogates the notion of cognitive capital, digital property, and the commons in this day and age of biocybernetic reproduction. Copyright conflicts are the new terrain of the struggle of the commons — now you know why I love calling myself a pirate.

Antonio Negri stressed another importance of communism, one I tweeted in three tweets. It is an importance already mentioned by Tronti and Lenin, as @semioticmonkey corrected me. Indeed, communism is opposed to socialism, and in the same way that psychoanalysis is opposed to ego psychology. There is no equal State, as there is no healthy ego. Communists must organize the decline of State, as psychoanalysts must sustain the efficacy of the ego. Both communism and psychoanalysis must act with an ethics of the Real and acknowledge the redundancy of the agent.

But all in all, in the end, we still do have a question. Is communism a program, a movement to bring back politics and its efficiency that is faithful to a continuous revolution — do we need to organize a continuous decline of the State in order to change our possibilities, as Žižek would argue? Or is it merely a philosophical idea, and what we need now are militant communists, not communism per se, acting to the fullest extent the ethics of the tragic hero, the ethics of the Real, in order to produce an Event, as Badiou maintained?