While Edward Snowden awaited his fate at the Sheremetyevo airport, for a moment it seemed to me more like a well-written screenplay than a real story.
How long did he spend there? About two weeks, I guess. A plotline was developing like some sort of mixture of Air Terminal movie and Cold War spy novel. For sure, if you do decide to leak information concerning the use and abuse of total control technologies, you should be well prepared that big brother may dislike such signs of an autonomous self-will. However, why would anyone actually like an attack on his own business? But by leaking information to the press about PRISM and other programs, Snowden at the same time said nothing new, simply confirming what had been suspected for a long time. Do we actually care about this total control? When former NSA official received temporary refuge in Russia — as Moscow singed the documents with great enthusiasm — information noise surrounding the case gradually declined. Some time now after these events, as journalists continue to publish the materials leaked by Snowden, and governments continue to put pressure on them in turn, we are at the same time getting used to the fact that this control does have a place in our lives. It is no longer news, just a part of everyday affairs.
In the Self-control project, I would like to touch on the issue of social self-regulation and try to make sense of it from the viewpoint of the public and the private. These two levels reciprocally determine each other. On the one hand, no one is free from the social, the other – the social is impossible without correlating with the personal. Submission and protest go together and, generally speaking, are just a reaction to certain social situations. Relationships within a community are yet easy to compare with those relationships between larger social formations, nations or cultures. In any case, all these conflicts and agreements can easily affect the life of the subject, especially if they are usually based on the personal level. I would like to make a few notes on this case below. Though messy and not so well related in certain areas, and though I do not think they have a claim to perfection or to play some kind of programmatic role, somehow I do hope that my notes can give some contour and outline to the discourse of the project.
Today, the velocity at which information is spreading not only enables elites to monitor citizens, but also stimulates communication between citizens themselves, enabling them to self-organize for any kind of activity, including social and political ones. When the protesters at Tahrir Square demanded freedom and the resignation of Mubarak at the beginning of 2011, is it possible that many of them could have foreseen the events of last summer, a new wave of massacres in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, and the seizure of power by the army? Tired of the dictatorship and that eternal curfew time, it is unlikely that they – the liberals, islamists and others — took the thought seriously that they would have to stand up for their convictions pretty soon, to either kill each other in the name of Allah or for good old market values. They gained their freedom, but to date they couldn’t come to terms with it, to accomplish it with a compromising agreement to put in place those restrictions, which would enable peace-keeping between ideological opponents.
A conflict of interests within seven billion population is quite predictable and, of course, inevitable. We have to limit ourselves, otherwise the massacre will be an objective standard, the only normal way to resolve disputes. A public self-control is a thin line between egalitarianism and fascism. To imagine balancing on this line is usually to entertain a kind of utopian fantasy.
The second decade began with unrest. Naturally, there are real reasons for all these events that we have seen during the last few years. But sometimes it seems that the world is just on fire, that wars, riots, and other informational causes tearing the planet apart, explode in the Middle East, in Japan or Norway. Disasters, human and natural, break the familiar world, turning it into a battlefield, with crowds of enemies looking to win. Of course, this is not a feature of our time, but rather a normal historical situation. However, some try to compare 2011 with 1968, a very troubled year as well. The reason for this is clearly the poeticization of struggle. Revolutionary romanticism, which, like everything else, had been successfully appropriated by capitalism. It is enough to recall the image of a revolutionary on the cover of Times Magazine. Culture requires cultural heroes, stories and reference points, confrontations, hot speeches and inspirations.
Modern mythology shares a lot of common with the mythology of primitive communities — the rate of plot changes being slightly different. New myths flash before us like tv-show intros and pop-up ads, the degree of adept engagement is about the same. More than a century after the death of the European God (just as belated, and so premature), we still cannot kick the habit of obeying the abstract authority. Regional features are important and cannot exist unambiguously in the perception of the traditionalist values of various cultures. Despite globalization, and the incredible speed of communication, in spite of all our achievements in the social sphere, people still have something that divides them. When girls with facemasks jump on the pulpit showing nothing but their civic position it still incites a fascist reaction in the supporters of easy understandibilty and high rationality. Enemies and methods of dealing with them are due to approximately the same mechanisms that regulated tribal relationships thousands of years ago. However, what are those «thousands of years»? Is this really a serious period of time if we can still today observe manifestations of the decay of the primitive community form? It looks as if even now this decay is as gradual and as traumatic as, for example, the Golden Age of monotheistic authority. Is there really such a big difference between animistic cult rituals and the rites of the free market?
Comical confrontation between multiculturalism and traditionalism in Europe, and clearly not only in Europe, can lead to nothing else but the final victory of information technology over reason. Whatever the beliefs happen to be, which lead people to either fight for change or for «ancestral values,» their base is an opportunity to separate right from wrong, which will quickly be reduced to a binary code. And it makes no difference whether you announce «Like» for the next radical fundamentalist strapped with TNT or for a highly emancipated preacher of overwhelming transgendered love. To like it is always just a Liking, it is only consent, reaction, and does not involve any reflection. Maybe now is the time to look around and remember this blazing contradictory world, because in comparison with those techniques of other public authorities, informational control really refers to a cyberpunk Matrix by the Wachowski brothers, and promises to be a novelty and a “bestseller”.
There is no principal difference: either we raise the issue of women’s rights in Muslim societies, pray for Leitkultur, or call for an end of ethnocide in Tibet — in preference for the restoration of the theistic model of governance — in any case, do not fail to keep in mind that our statements are not only the result of our personal philosophies and beliefs, but also caused by the cultural and social circumstances in which we are engaged. Sometimes excessive confidence in one’s own ideals can easily lead to the ethnic cleansing. When the colonists were carrying European values and technologies to the remote «backward» regions, spreading the word of God with love and best intentions, leaving the fires of the Inquisition behind them, and were destroying other cultures, were they sincere, and did they control their actions and aspirations? Naturally, their society required certain standards of behavior, which gave them the values that could not be interpreted in any other way, as the only right ones. Do such well-known historical references share any parallels with today, like exporting liberal democracy and free market values, along with those identical-looking guys from Wall Street sowing it all over the world. Are they controlling themselves when they send mercenaries to defend their national interests in Iraq or Libya? It is unlikely that the citizens they represent, can boast control of them, the control of the elites. The social contract was revised long ago and nobody cares about it.
The issue of public control over authorities seems increasingly like a joke, when the last attempt to hide there, playing the role of a strict but wise father, who at the critical moment, of course, can punish the kid, but while still attempting to keep out of escalations according to the ancient teachings of Lao Tzu. As an anecdote on this subject we can recall the Third World Theory of Muammar Gaddafi, in which he criticizes representative democracy, as divorced from the people, and in fact, very distant from the real interests of the citizens. Indeed, is there any among us who can unreservedly trust politicians and expect them to implement the election program? To some extent, Gaddafi was right, even if he was a kind of dictator. Though his hands were drenched in blood, one must admit that this real hero of modernity, controversial and resolute, did have a style and repeatedly demonstrated to the world his alternative rules for political game. Today, when the Jamahiriya has fallen and no one knows what’s going on in Libya, it is interesting to compare the colonel’s tent on the White House lawn at the end of 00`s and videos of the torture and humiliation of the defeated old man somewhere in the outskirts of Sirte, just a few years later.
It is clear that war, violence, and domination of one over the other is a norm today, which is the one indisputable norm, which many of us refuse to accept. The world is heterogeneous, it is full of different attitudes and opinions. Trade-offs are not always easy. Living within the major social formations, connected with their community through very formal ties is the man doomed to alienation. Embodied in politicians, bureaucrats, and clerks, guarding the society of law and order cannot be interpreted otherwise than something external, other than self, sometimes even hostile, something that one would have to accept. Elites always support such alienation, and in this case the public self-control is largely based on the adoption of the law, but not on challenging it. Practices of submission calling to maintain the order cannot find its reflection at a personal level. A good citizen must first be appeasable. As soon as his or her passive agreement turns to active opposition — at the same time balance is disturbed. Disagreeing, the thirst for change, rebellion — there is always evil. This evil, once enshrined in many mythological systems, is still evil today. The trickster always meets with what he deserves, though his demonization now refers more to the aesthetics of the festival, giving him an appearance of being merely an innocent hero of customs and traditions.
Along with such unserious festivity, our efforts to objectify the Big Other acquire new connotations, primarily due to the growing influence of large transnational corporations, whose management is rarely personalized, and the anonymous nature of the information networks regulators. On the other hand, the involvement of everyone in the global digital field and free access to large amounts of data (so large that the perception of them now depends largely not on external factors, but the possibilities of the human nervous system) leads to the destruction of any authority of knowledge. It is those authorities that on whom all religious systems are based. They can continue to exist only by making sacred certain information and providing access to it for initiated adepts. In the past, the sharing of any information created a society united around its source, personalized or abstract. Now, when there is the Internet, where all are initiated, we have no choice but to observe the fall of the sacred authority, its gradual decomposition, or perhaps the replacing of it by an invisible anonymous authority (that is a separate issue). So, there are no boundaries now, there are no “good” and “bad”, but only “different”.
Despite the current rate of development of social processes, nothing happens, and has never happened in one day. These days, we are still just trying on the freedom that we gained after the «death of God.» Depending on various factors, cultural or social, people will be in no hurry to believe that they are capable of contributing to the common cause or to their responsibility for what is happening within their community. Public self-control begins at the personal level, so I think it’s important to really feel ones direct connection with it.
In February 2013, Chris Dorner, a former police officer from Los Angeles, decided to play the hero and rise against the system, which had severely offended him, and not only once. He declared war on the LA police department and made a list of forty persons who he was going to kill to stop the practice of abuse of power among the personnel. In his manifesto Dorner illustrates the circumstances that pushed him into the war against police terror, but at the same time he emphasizes his loyalty to the U.S. leaders and their foreign policy. No challenge of higher authority. This is a very interesting point, because he does not make any parallels between the illegal actions of his former colleagues, and that machine of humiliation, submission and violence with those he can easily see symbolized by himself, like an exemplary Marine, a patriot and a veteran of several military campaigns. Such an error it is to be an angel who rebels against the angelic system and turns into a demon. By loosing control of himself Dorner thereby tried to control the system. Less than two weeks later he was tracked down and shot. He almost immediately disappeared from the information field.
One can endlessly give similar examples and discuss the topic of relationships, both between communities and between their individual members. Engaged in the project, reflecting on the self-control and submission practices, I frequently lost my primary line, lost into the mess. However, I am fully convinced that there can be no uniqueness in the estimates of the social processes in which we are involved, there can be nothing clearly true or false. Carriers of ideas and beliefs, as well as carriers of culture can be the only people directly involved in the situation, and only they can make laws and maintain control. Today man is enough experienced in communications to afford himself a knowledge, instead of a blind acceptance and faith in high ideals. This gives us an opportunity to participate in the improvement of social self-control systems, but at the same time calls for division of responsibility. I deliberately raised the issue of information, for there is no need to be an expert to notice the changes that the combination of human intelligence and digital code brings to our life. We may think that the delegation of managerial functions in the parliamentary form of government is partly a transparent mechanism, but when it comes to the information society and giving the right of direct programming of citizens to elites, we would do well to ask again: who are these elites and who creates their elitism? Today it is important to realize that in addition to being adequately controlled, we should care about how not to lose the opportunity to influence these control mechanisms, as no one has the right to be the master of the other’s life. Neither God nor the king, nor father, nor any anonymous authority.