Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) on Sun, 22 Jun 1997 20:17:19 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Nettime Criticism

Hey, (Johnnie) Rot(t)er(n):

Thanks so much for your coments on my essay "Three Faces of Studied
Irrationality."  I hope that you enjoyed writing it as much as I enjoyed
reading it. It was so accurate (in a clinical sense) and so long overdue
that I'm sure many readers breathed a sigh of relief as it was posted.

Let's try to summarize the current state of Nettime:

As many of us realized in Ljubljana, we are moving past the time of "net
criticism" and are now entering the era of "nettime criticism."  What
exactly are we up to around here -- critically speaking?

For some time, nettime apparently thrived on setting up cardboard versions
of its opponents (WIRED, WIRED's landlord the GBN, GBN's sub-tenant John
Perry Barlow, Soros, Soros' "class" -- the NGO's, etc.) and merrily
shredding these cardboard creations.  Great sport.

At some point in this process, a reply from Louis Rosetto was posted which
challenged us to come up with some better, more up-to-date ideas than his
ideas.  I replied that this was a very serious challenge and that we should
take Louis up on his offer.

What we have gotten has been all to predictable.  Some suggestions that we
take more dope (by way of studying people who took dope), some suggestions
that we block traffic (usually while naked and/or riding a bicycle) and
some suggestions that we throw more parties (preferably while naked and
taking dope -- although, apparently, not while riding a bicycle).  Yes,
there was more.

It is true that the more clever types have been, well, more clever.  Since
the easiest thing to do with humans has been to treat them like prisoners
in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, some have suggested that we confuse people
by playing with the images thrown on the wall.  Whether this is more likely
to help to break people free of their self-imposed chains and bring them to
the Light or just confuse them more hasn't been discussed much.  Peter
Lamborn Wilson seems to imply that understanding the manipulation of images
through "hermetic analysis" is salutory.  But, then, he had an odd
gastronomic encounter at the Slovenian border, so his version of all this
might be open to some question.

And, as might be expected, our own Richard (John Perry) Barbrook, has come
up with the "digital workers of the world unite" answer to Rossetto. 
Accepting the hoax that we are actually in a "digital economy", he maps his
version of Marx-Hegel onto the situation and does a modern version of
if-you-can't beat-them-then-join-them right here on nettime.  I guess this
is called social democracy.  Brilliant.

We have also been treated to various cyborg enthusiasms and various
defenses of post-structuralist doggerel, gnostic musings and, of course,
that remarkable visitation of (post-)feminist allegiances.  Oh yeah, many
of these "proposals" have been accompanied with "art projects" in order to
enhance their public presentation (and presumably, fundability).  And, I'm
sure that I've left something important out, for which I apologize for to

Then there's me.  I've been told that I have a "unique perspective."  As
far as I can tell, I was invited into this fold as a kind of anti-Barlow,
according to the logic of the Metaforum events.  But, I have been
encouraged to remain in this fold because I apparently have something
different to say.  Hopefully it has a positive component, which may be the
cause of the screaming it has begun to elicit from the image-addicted.  

Hopefully, it rises above the level of "opinion" in the eyes of some
participants who are themselves capable of rising above the level of
"opinion."  As those who are capable of judgement know, the last thing I'm
interested in is people who "agree" with me.  How do you learn that way? 
Opinions seek axiomatic agreement -- particularly the axiomatic agreement
that everyone is entitled to their opinions -- as we all know.

My judgement is that the only way to fight a Dark Age of knowledge is with
a Renaissance of learning.  If our enemies rely on treating people like
slaves in the Cave, then we must bring as many of these people out into the
light as is possible.  And, you don't fight "images" with "images",
obviously.  What I propose is probably best referred to as "moral humanism"
to distinguish it from all the other humanisms floating around.  It has
ample historical precedent.  It is proven to lead to explosions of
creativity and prosperity.  In short, it has worked and has a good chance
of working again.

As far as I can tell, I am just about the only one on nettime openly making
this proposal.  If private emails and conversations are any indication, the
idea has its supporters but, so far, no one else seems ready to speak up
for humans and morality very loudly in public. Under the circumstances of
Darkness in which we live, no one should be surprised by this outcome.

The "problem" isn't Western Civilization (or, if you prefer, substitute
Christianity, humanity, capitalism, pan-capitalism or if you are really
clever "Capital").  The problem is a an oligarchist elite who are taking
avantage of new technologies and old weaknesses to create a 1000-year
Reich.  This Reich depends upon the acceptability of "studied
irrationality."  Heid-Hork-Adorno literally worked for this elite and all
their versions of rationality-is-dead (whether from the "left" or "right")
have only helped to fuel the fires of the Darkness we are now experiencing.

How do I know?  The poverty of intelligent answers to our dilemma -- right
here on nettime -- is largely the legacy of these instructors. We may be
"studied" but, man oh man, are we irrational.  Liberation does not lie down
that road, however, as many of us have discovered through a lifetime of

So, now, we have reached the "moderation" crossroads.  This was inevitable,
also.  It is a tactic being proposed to calm the restless natives.  It is
also a  tactic designed to quell nettime criticism.  And, as such it will
destroy nettime if it is adopted.

I couldn't agree more that people should be strenuously encouraged to keep
their opinions to themselves.  As we say, "Opinions are like assholes, we
all have them but it's best not to show them off in public."  But, what
seems to be happening is that in the absense of judgement, opinion is all
that we can voice.  If rationality is dead, then what else is possible but
naked opinion?  Even Horkheimer/Adorno knew that.

How about some discussion (or even recognition) of the Light?  Or, the
Good?  How about rising above the level of images and the manipulation of
images and the defense of the imagination ("representation", anyone?) and
moving to the upper half of Plato's Simile of the Divided Line?  How about
some discussion of "first principles"?  At least then we'd know where we
stand.  We might even be able to distinquish the Platonists from the
Aristotleans in the crowd.

Let's kick out the jams.  Let's push nettime to the level of the
intelligible.  Let's make this all worth the effort.  Or, else, let's shut
the sucker down. Which is the most likely result of what will happen unless
rationality is reborn.  Any midwives in the crowd?

P.S. I'm about to go off-line for two weeks so have a really nice day.

Mark Stahlman
New Media Associates
New York City

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