3 August 2007
The Web has opened a veritable can of worms as far as the mainstream media are concerned, even so-called liberal journalists seem to feel threatened by the emergence of a global, independent media, the latest one to emerge being Robert Fisk (who I referred to in my last piece). Now whether, as fellow blogopopsicle Chris Cook, publisher of Pacific Free Press opined, it’s because he’s afraid of the technology or, as I offered, because he sees his privileged position challenged by what he obviously thinks of as a bunch of opinionated, jumped up ‘amateurs’ invading his patch, is debatable. I obviously lean toward the latter.
But such attitudes are not confined to so-called liberal journalists, indeed in the early days of computer-based communications, the Left as a whole viewed computers with great suspicion, seeing them as ‘tools of the devil’, used only by ‘hackers’ and gadflies and of no possible use to the ‘movement’, they were too expensive, too difficult to use; in a word, elitist.
For example, Alex Cockburn of Counterpunch fame, in his column in the Village Voice back in the 80s, swore he’d never use a computer to write with, choosing to stick with his trusty Underwood. Even more depressing, he asserted that good prose was impossible to produce in a word processor. Quite how he arrived at this conclusion was not explained except to imply that word processors made writing ‘too easy’.
I write quite a bit of my stuff longhand in my trusty notebook, you never know when an idea can grab you and pen and paper is the best way of getting it down quickly before the words go back to wherever they came from. And in transcribing it to my Mac, it obviously undergoes further transformations (but what’s the difference, whether you key it in on a typewriter or on a word processor?). Frankly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about, choose the writing method that suits you best. One thing it does reveal however, is that when elitists get left behind or confronted with something they don’t understand, they retreat into generalised attacks on the entire process.
Nobody likes change, change breeds uncertainty, even those fighting for change don’t like change, it’s the dialectics of life, so get used to it.
But then the entire trajectory of the Western Left has been plagued by all kinds of whacky ideas about ‘progress’, in fact all kinds of ideas about what socialism and the nature of the struggle actually is or should be about. By contrast back in the 80s, comrades in Africa and Central America were quick to realise the potential of the computer, perhaps because they weren’t encumbered with so many hang-ups about class and privilege, instead seeing the computer as a highly effective tool (and weapon) with which to help wage a very unequal struggle. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’
There is however, a much more important issue raised by the debate about ‘blogging’ and it’s one that goes to the core of the nature of the struggle, a struggle that is no longer just about getting rid of capitalism but of trying to save our planet and the plain fact that both are completely inter-connected and even if we succeed in getting rid of capitalism (sometime soon of course) it’s still touch and go regarding the planet’s viability to support human existence (at least as we know it).
One fascinating aspect of the world of the Web is how it is increasingly revealing the connections between events, something the traditional print media simply cannot do even if it wanted to. A global ‘collective we’ is emerging, composed of people coming from every conceivable culture and background and bringing with them their own unique experiences but which reveal what we truly hold in common. There has never been anything remotely like it before and its potential is only now being explored.
How relevant it is to bringing about real change is not yet known but judging by the reactions of the elites, it’s a development to be feared and when possible reviled. Do they know something that we apparently don’t? For sure, they are threatened by us firstly because they cannot control us and secondly because the struggle is taking on a global dimension and in the process breaking down some of the barriers that have been carefully erected by the ruling elites (which in part explains in the current phase the demonisation of Muslims and Arabs, divide and rule is the order of the day).
For the corporate world, this new digital world is seen as a license to print money (once they can get their grubby hands on the entire thing) and for the state a means whereby populations can be controlled in ways that make Mussolini or Stalin look like amateurs. More broadly, ‘globalisation’ is simply a buzzword for the central role computers and the global communications network play in capitalist production and distribution (supply chains and all that stuff, ironically effectively developed by a Lefty cybernetician, Stafford Beer (see ‘Fanfare for Effective Freedom’), back in the early 70s in Chile before the gringos overthrew Allende’s government).
Computers as a major vehicle for grabbing surplus value first made their appearance in the financial world starting with banking, currency speculation and now the increasingly bizarre world of speculative gambling devices like hedge funds, futures trading and all manner of convoluted and completely unintellible, except to a computer, offshoots (all of which have had the effect of making the global circuit of capital increasingly unstable largely because there are vast amounts of ‘funny money’, liquid capital that has produced nothing real, in circulation and with no place to go).
The problem we confront is how to connect the abilities of the ‘Blogopopsicles’ to explain our world and in turn, transform it, but given the current situation it’s not at all clear how this can be done. Lacking grassroots struggles and organisations that reflect our understanding of what needs to be done is obviously what is needed but the traditional structures no longer exist and anyway given the history of the Western Left in the 20th century, it’s debatable whether they could rise to the occasion even if it ran right over them.
The only comparable period in our past to the current situation is the 1930s and the fight against Fascism but then it was organically linked to the defence of the Soviet Union and the crisis of Capital and the growing popularity of Socialism as an alternative. No such comparable situation exists today.
Thus we have what appears to be a paradox, for on the one hand we can reach people globally with an alternative vision, and back it up with the facts (another reason why the elites fear and hate us) in ways that were impossible before. But on the other, we have no organised public expression of this new means of informing each other, not only of what’s really going on but of the necessity to act upon this knowledge.
I feel sure however, that whatever this new form of political action takes, there is no doubt that it will emerge, history proves this over and over again; proverbial ‘tipping points’ are reached when the right synthesis of forces are triggered and much bigger events are unleashed which force us to take a position one way or the other (or get carried along regardless).