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Entries tagged "politics".


The dire need [and current] lack of a critique of "system", i.e. not a critique of one system (operating system, financial system, political system), but of the very notion of system itself that obscures more than it clarifies. System as a speculative, un-empirical [scholastic] proposition that is a signifier without an empirical signified; a claim that certain entities or phenomena can be summarized under the same concept without any objective backing.

What we are experiencing now is not the collapse of systems or ideologies, but the collapse of the ideology of systems. [Bertalanffy, General Systems Theory, cybernetics, structuralism, media theory, Heidegger's philosophy of technology.] "System" as the empty signifier having replaced the older empty signifier of "God". A vehicle of suspending/postponing individual agency and responsibility, with "the system" as a general excuse. If there is something to unite "systems", it is this very fiction (permeating structuralism, anthropology, sociology, economy, science and computing, media studies).

What would a culture - a politics, economy, humanities and science, engineering and technology - be that would radically do without a fiction of "system"?

28th January 2009

Rereading "The Cathedral and the Bazaar"

Replying to a question on Nettime on "open source and implementing this metaphor to a curatorial practice":

"Curatorship" remains a problematic term not only in this context, self-organization may be more appropriate, but extrapolates the systems beliefs within Internet culture. ESR's text needs, on the one hand, to be read its historical context of optimistic 1990s Internet cultural visions of "crowd wisdom", "collective intelligence", "smart mobs" etc.; cybernetic memes as much as variations of the liberal tropes of the "invisible hand" (A. Smith) and "open society (Popper). In Raymond's text - which has been overrated, but is nevertheless a historical document -, the "bazaar" is first of all a systemic free market metaphor.

Linux, more recently, Wikipedia and other phenomena show that "critical mass" theories are not completely off. The issues are, in essence, the same as with all consensus-based projects - such as architectural vision: Linux reimplemented Unix instead the Plan9 or Lisp Machine kernel architectures simply because Unix kernel architecture is c.s. textbook knowledge. Correspondingly, Wikipedia implements the most clearly consensus-based form of writing, the general encyclopedia. (Still, its value lies in the frequent eccentricity and obscurity of phenomena it tracks, unless this is been stifled by angst-ridden editorial self-control.)

That "open collaboration" is not a magic bullet, and "open curatorship" is older than "Open Source", may best be studied in the Mail Art network, beginning with Ray Johnson's New York Correspondance School in the 1960s, and with the festivals and non-juried exhibitions of previous avant-garde art movements as yet an older pretext. Bob Black said everything that needs to be said about Mail Art when comparing them to the Paralympics, i.e. a seemingly alternative but really just parallel system to the established system [hard to avoid the term here] based on its own - quantitative instead of qualitative - logic of reward and punishment.

Obsessed with egalitarianism, the Mail Art network required to never reject any contribution to an open-call project, despite the known and often enough deplored "junk mail" phenomenon. It ultimately renders "Mail Art" yet another cybernetic systems-obsessed art paralleling the decline [or rather: continually present, but ultimately dominant aspect) of Fluxus into the "intermedia" laboratory art described in S. Youngblood's "Expanded Cinema" (1970) [H. Flynt's criticism of Fluxus].

"Self-organizing systems" up your's.

Back to "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", it is, like Barthes' "The Death of Author", a text that nobody has read yet everybody has an opinion about. Contrary to popular belief and urban myths, it does not truly pitch an Open Source "bazaar" model against a proprietary Microsoft-ish "cathedral" model of software development, but analyzes the decentralized development of one specific piece of software, the Linux kernel supervised by L. Torvalds. The urban myth probably originates in the fact that non-technical readers are unlikely to understand that it is not about [what is commonly called] the "Linux operating system" as a whole. In fact, the classical "cathedral" model of software development in small, closed committees had been characteristic among others for GNU software, the free BSDs and the X Window System, i.e. all the base components of a typical "Linux distribution" except for the kernel itself.

Ten years later, a clear-cut division of "bazaar"- and "cathedral no longer exists in Free Software development: The development of the Linux kernel has become more hierarchical while the development of GNU and BSD software has become more distributed and adapted to the Internet. (Viz. the now-standard use of networked version control systems.)

While not using the term "Open Source" in its initial version, the essay preempts the later Open Source-vs.-Free Software debate by discussing open, distributed development processes as technically superior to closed processes. This is its main point [with, as pointed out, striking similarities to Bertalanffy's theory of open systems and Popper's theory of the open society as the counter-model to societies founded on philosophical idealism.] Again: While the distributed model has its advantages - most obvious in the fact that, thanks to BSD, GNU and Linux, Unix hasn't died, but improved and blessed us with tools that don't offend the human intellect such as zsh and vim never mind the complete lack of proprietary commercial interest in developing such software -, it is not the answer to all questions. Raymond's conclusion that "given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow", is a bit loudmouthed considering - for example - the issue of MD5 hash collisions.

The reverse is true as well: If there are not enough eyes, bugs can bite you, for example in FLOSS multimedia authoring software from Cinelerra to PD with its minuscule communities of often non-professional programmers.

All critique of "open systems" ideology pales, however, in comparison to the issues of (contemporary visual) art. Art literally wears the emperor's new clothes, and suffers from a severely if not pathologically distorted self-perception of its actual contemporariness. It is the only of the modern arts that is still structurally feudalist, with an economy firmly based on the notion of one material fetish object, with reproduction - unlike in books, music records, films, software - being merely a second-rate, plebeian illustration of the aristocratic "original". It is financed by the modern successors to the old feudal authorities; back then, the church and the courts, today, the rich as the successors to the aristocracy and the state as the grant-giving successor to the church.

22nd February 2009

The 21st century: Stamokap Date: Wed Jun 29 00:50:40 CEST 2011

(On the question, brought up on Nettime, whether the current cultural politics of the Dutch government manifests "neoliberal fascism", the following reply to the mailing list:)

I would put it differently: It's a politics of conservative resentment mixed with politbureau capitalism.

The conservative resentment of the Dutch government is old-fashioned. It's new only in its outspokenness, breaking with a postwar consensus and political correctness of not attacking modern art for being modern art. For Zijlstra, the secretary of culture and education, the arts have been dominated by a small elite - read: art councils, critics, intellectuals - that superimposed its minority taste on society, making it a majority agenda. It is difficult to argue with this; unless one finds that those kind of places and projects should be funded that wouldn't be able to sustain themselves on the free market. Which is an elitist stance. One might consider it unfair that a ticket for an experimental music concert is subsidized while a musical isn't. However, the Dutch government's agenda is far from consistent in this respect. It wants to keep subsidies for operas and big museums untouched because they represent the "cultural heritage of the Netherlands". Zijlstra even mentions the flags of Dutch colonial ships in this context. (This strongly reminds of the outrage in Hamburg when the city subsidized the ship museum of a militaria collector with millions while heavily cutting subsidies for independent art projects).

Another problem for people working, in one way or the other, in or for the arts are the other people they are being forced into the same boat with: curators of contemporary art institutes, for example, who put the very same artists into their publicly subsidized shows whom they recommend, in their second jobs as private consultants, to art collectors. Or people paid a top salary for managing communal cinemas that run the same mainstream 'arthouse' kitsch as the other, non-subsidized movie theater in town. One is pressured to protest in the streets hand-in-hand with those people one would rather demonstrate against. The problem by itself is not that the arts are cut. The problem is how they are being cut, with almost everything being forced into shutdown or becoming "creative industries" that does not a highly illiterate, idiotic notion of "cultural heritage" and a completely deluded perception of "top art institutes".

Why is this not neoliberalism?

To take the railways as an example for political economics: In communism, the train system would be public property, there would be no 1st and 2nd class, and rides would be free. In socialism, the train system would be a state non-profit, and tickets would be cheap. In social democracy, the train system would be a state company, receive some public subsidy and have some contractual obligations to social discount tickets, but charge free market prices otherwise. In classical liberalism, the rails would be public infrastructure but competing private companies would run the trains. In neoliberalism, the rails, too, would be owned by by private companies.

If the current Dutch government would exercise classical neoliberal politics, it would cut the public funding of the arts, leave things to the free market and cut taxes in compensation. But this is not what is happening. Instead, taxpayer's art subsidies are repurposed into taxpayer's business subsidies. The advice of the "Top Team Creative Industries", lead by the business manager of Rem Koolhaas' bureau OMA, to the Dutch government boils down to subsidizing, instead of the art non-profits, economically promising Dutch creative industries businesses, service design companies for example, in order to strengthen their position on the global market.

This of course is just a small part of a bigger picture. Europe, and the Western World, is rapidly moving towards the model of Chinese politbureau capitalism. Governments now act as supreme CEO boards, public budgets are used as direct investment into businesses. But for the Western economies, this is not investment into macroeconomic growth, but a measure for preventing the ship from sinking. What started with bail-outs and nationalization of the financial sector has become a virus, or to be precise: a reverse Ponzi scheme, growing into the rest of the economy. Instead of mobilizing all production means for a military war, total mobilization for the global economic war.

The 21st century is turning into the perfect fulfillment of a prophecy written down one hundred years ago, state monopoly capitalism as described in Rudolf Hilferding's 1910 book "Das Finanzkapital" ("The Financial Capital").

Tags: art, economy, politics.
28th June 2011

social hygiene

social hygiene

Tags: politics.
17th July 2011

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Tags 16mm, analog, art, book, cultural theory, deutsch, div, economy, education, film, gnu/linux, internet, literature, music, nederlands, neoism, performance, photo, poetry, politics, super 8, systems, theology, video.