Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation by Laboria Cuboniks

Feels necessary to share this intriguing Xenofeminist manifesto. Here’s the original link.

***

ZERO

0x00 Ours is a world in vertigo. It is a world that swarms with
technological mediation, interlacing our daily lives with abstraction,
virtuality, and complexity. XF constructs a feminism adapted to these
realities: a feminism of unprecedented cunning, scale, and vision; a future
in which the realization of gender justice and feminist emancipation
contribute to a universalist politics assembled from the needs of every
human, cutting across race, ability, economic standing, and geographical
position. No more futureless repetition on the treadmill of capital, no more
submission to the drudgery of labour, productive and reproductive alike, no
more reification of the given masked as critique. Our future requires
depetrification. XF is not a bid for revolution, but a wager on the long
game of history, demanding imagination, dexterity and persistence.

0x01 XF seizes alienation as an impetus to generate new worlds. We are all
alienated — but have we ever been otherwise? It is through, and not
despite, our alienated condition that we can free ourselves from the muck of
immediacy. Freedom is not a given — and it’s certainly not given by anything
‘natural’. The construction of freedom involves not less but more
alienation; alienation is the labour of freedom’s construction. Nothing
should be accepted as fixed, permanent, or ‘given’ — neither material
conditions nor social forms. XF mutates, navigates and probes every horizon.
Anyone who’s been deemed ‘unnatural’ in the face of reigning biological
norms, anyone who’s experienced injustices wrought in the name of natural
order, will realize that the glorification of ‘nature’ has nothing to offer
us — the queer and trans among us, the differently-abled, as well as those who
have suffered discrimination due to pregnancy or duties connected to
child-rearing. XF is vehemently anti-naturalist. Essentialist naturalism
reeks of theology — the sooner it is exorcised, the better.

0x02 Why is there so little explicit, organized effort to repurpose
technologies for progressive gender political ends? XF seeks to
strategically deploy existing technologies to re-engineer the world. Serious
risks are built into these tools; they are prone to imbalance, abuse, and
exploitation of the weak. Rather than pretending to risk nothing, XF
advocates the necessary assembly of techno-political interfaces responsive
to these risks. Technology isn’t inherently progressive. Its uses are fused
with culture in a positive feedback loop that makes linear sequencing,
prediction, and absolute caution impossible. Technoscientific innovation
must be linked to a collective theoretical and political thinking in which
women, queers, and the gender non-conforming play an unparalleled role.

0x03 The real emancipatory potential of technology remains unrealized. Fed
by the market, its rapid growth is offset by bloat, and elegant innovation
is surrendered to the buyer, whose stagnant world it decorates. Beyond the
noisy clutter of commodified cruft, the ultimate task lies in engineering
technologies to combat unequal access to reproductive and pharmacological
tools, environmental cataclysm, economic instability, as well as dangerous
forms of unpaid/underpaid labour. Gender inequality still characterizes the
fields in which our technologies are conceived, built, and legislated for,
while female workers in electronics (to name just one industry) perform some
of the worst paid, monotonous and debilitating labour. Such injustice
demands structural, machinic and ideological correction.

0x04 Xenofeminism is a rationalism. To claim that reason or rationality is
‘by nature’ a patriarchal enterprise is to concede defeat. It is true that
the canonical ‘history of thought’ is dominated by men, and it is male hands
we see throttling existing institutions of science and technology. But this
is precisely why feminism must be a rationalism — because of this miserable
imbalance, and not despite it. There is no ‘feminine’ rationality, nor is
there a ‘masculine’ one. Science is not an expression but a suspension of
gender. If today it is dominated by masculine egos, then it is at odds with
itself — and this contradiction can be leveraged. Reason, like information,
wants to be free, and patriarchy cannot give it freedom. Rationalism must
itself be a feminism. XF marks the point where these claims intersect in a
two-way dependency. It names reason as an engine of feminist emancipation,
and declares the right of everyone to speak as no one in particular.

INTERRUPT

0x05 The excess of modesty in feminist agendas of recent decades is not
proportionate to the monstrous complexity of our reality, a reality
crosshatched with fibre-optic cables, radio and microwaves, oil and gas
pipelines, aerial and shipping routes, and the unrelenting, simultaneous
execution of millions of communication protocols with every passing
millisecond. Systematic thinking and structural analysis have largely fallen
by the wayside in favour of admirable, but insufficient struggles, bound to
fixed localities and fragmented insurrections. Whilst capitalism is
understood as a complex and ever-expanding totality, many would-be emancipat-
tory anti-capitalist projects remain profoundly fearful of transitioning to
the universal, resisting big-picture speculative politics by condemning them
as necessarily oppressive vectors. Such a false guarantee treats universals
as absolute, generating a debilitating disjuncture between the thing we seek
to depose and the strategies we advance to depose it.

0x06 Global complexity opens us to urgent cognitive and ethical demands.
These are Promethean responsibilities that cannot pass unaddressed. Much of
twenty-first century feminism — from the remnants of postmodern identity
politics to large swathes of contemporary ecofeminism — struggles to
adequately address these challenges in a manner capable of producing
substantial and enduring change. Xenofeminism endeavours to face up to these
obligations as collective agents capable of transitioning between multiple
levels of political, material and conceptual organization.

0x07 We are adamantly synthetic, unsatisfied by analysis alone. XF urges
constructive oscillation between description and prescription to mobilize
the recursive potential of contemporary technologies upon gender, sexuality
and disparities of power. Given that there are a range of gendered
challenges specifically relating to life in a digital age — from sexual
harassment via social media, to doxxing, privacy, and the protection of
online images — the situation requires a feminism at ease with computation.
Today, it is imperative that we develop an ideological infrastructure that
both supports and facilitates feminist interventions within connective,
networked elements of the contemporary world. Xenofeminism is about more
than digital self-defence and freedom from patriarchal networks. We want to
cultivate the exercise of positive freedom — freedom-to rather than simply
freedom-from — and urge feminists to equip themselves with the skills to
redeploy existing technologies and invent novel cognitive and material tools
in the service of common ends.

0x08 The radical opportunities afforded by developing (and alienating) forms
of technological mediation should no longer be put to use in the exclusive
interests of capital, which, by design, only benefits the few. There are
incessantly proliferating tools to be annexed, and although no one can claim
their comprehensive accessibility, digital tools have never been more widely
available or more sensitive to appropriation than they are today. This is
not an elision of the fact that a large amount of the world’s poor is
adversely affected by the expanding technological industry (from factory
workers labouring under abominable conditions to the Ghanaian villages that
have become a repository for the e-waste of the global powers) but an
explicit acknowledgement of these conditions as a target for elimination.
Just as the invention of the stock market was also the invention of the
crash, Xenofeminism knows that technological innovation must equally
anticipate its systemic condition responsively.

TRAP

0x09 XF rejects illusion and melancholy as political inhibitors. Illusion,
as the blind presumption that the weak can prevail over the strong with no
strategic coordination, leads to unfulfilled promises and unmarshalled
drives. This is a politics that, in wanting so much, ends up building so
little. Without the labour of large-scale, collective social organisation,
declaring one’s desire for global change is nothing more than wishful
thinking. On the other hand, melancholy — so endemic to the left — teaches
us that emancipation is an extinct species to be wept over and that blips of
negation are the best we can hope for. At its worst, such an attitude
generates nothing but political lassitude, and at its best, installs an
atmosphere of pervasive despair which too often degenerates into factionalism
and petty moralizing. The malady of melancholia only compounds political
inertia, and — under the guise of being realistic — relinquishes all
hope of calibrating the world otherwise. It is against such maladies that
XF innoculates.

0x0A We take politics that exclusively valorize the local in the guise of
subverting currents of global abstraction, to be insufficient. To secede
from or disavow capitalist machinery will not make it disappear. Likewise,
suggestions to pull the lever on the emergency brake of embedded velocities,
the call to slow down and scale back, is a possibility available only to the
few — a violent particularity of exclusivity — ultimately entailing catas-
trophe for the many. Refusing to think beyond the microcommunity, to foster
connections between fractured insurgencies, to consider how emancipatory
tactics can be scaled up for universal implementation, is to remain
satisfied with temporary and defensive gestures. XF is an affirmative
creature on the offensive, fiercely insisting on the possibility of
large-scale social change for all of our alien kin.

0x0B A sense of the world’s volatility and artificiality seems to have faded
from contemporary queer and feminist politics, in favour of a plural but
static constellation of gender identities, in whose bleak light equations of
the good and the natural are stubbornly restored. While having (perhaps)
admirably expanded thresholds of ‘tolerance’, too often we are told to seek
solace in unfreedom, staking claims on being ‘born’ this way, as if offering
an excuse with nature’s blessing. All the while, the heteronormative centre
chugs on. XF challenges this centrifugal referent, knowing full well that
sex and gender are exemplary of the fulcrum between norm and fact, between
freedom and compulsion. To tilt the fulcrum in the direction of nature is a
defensive concession at best, and a retreat from what makes trans and queer
politics more than just a lobby: that it is an arduous assertion of freedom
against an order that seemed immutable. Like every myth of the given, a
stable foundation is fabulated for a real world of chaos, violence, and
doubt. The ‘given’ is sequestered into the private realm as a certainty,
whilst retreating on fronts of public consequences. When the possibility of
transition became real and known, the tomb under Nature’s shrine cracked,
and new histories — bristling with futures — escaped the old order of ‘sex’.
The disciplinary grid of gender is in no small part an attempt to mend that
shattered foundation, and tame the lives that escaped it. The time has now
come to tear down this shrine entirely, and not bow down before it in a
piteous apology for what little autonomy has been won.

0x0C If ‘cyberspace’ once offered the promise of escaping the strictures of
essentialist identity categories, the climate of contemporary social media
has swung forcefully in the other direction, and has become a theatre where
these prostrations to identity are performed. With these curatorial
practices come puritanical rituals of moral maintenance, and these stages
are too often overrun with the disavowed pleasures of accusation, shaming,
and denunciation. Valuable platforms for connection, organization, and
skill-sharing become clogged with obstacles to productive debate positioned
as if they are debate. These puritanical politics of shame — which fetishize
oppression as if it were a blessing, and cloud the waters in moralistic
frenzies — leave us cold. We want neither clean hands nor beautiful souls,
neither virtue nor terror. We want superior forms of corruption.

0x0D What this shows is that the task of engineering platforms for social
emancipation and organization cannot ignore the cultural and semiotic
mutations these platforms afford. What requires reengineering are the
memetic parasites arousing and coordinating behaviours in ways occluded by
their hosts’ self-image; failing this, memes like ‘anonymity’, ‘ethics’,
‘social justice’ and ‘privilege-checking’ host social dynamisms at odds with
the often-commendable intentions with which they’re taken up. The task of
collective self-mastery requires a hyperstitional manipulation of desire’s
puppet-strings, and deployment of semiotic operators over a terrain of
highly networked cultural systems. The will will always be corrupted by the
memes in which it traffics, but nothing prevents us from instrumentalizing
this fact, and calibrating it in view of the ends it desires.

PARITY

0x0E Xenofeminism is gender-abolitionist. ‘Gender abolitionism’ is not code
for the eradication of what are currently considered ‘gendered’ traits from
the human population. Under patriarchy, such a project could only spell
disaster — the notion of what is ‘gendered’ sticks disproportionately to the
feminine. But even if this balance were redressed, we have no interest in
seeing the sexuate diversity of the world reduced. Let a hundred sexes
bloom! ‘Gender abolitionism’ is shorthand for the ambition to construct a
society where traits currently assembled under the rubric of gender, no
longer furnish a grid for the asymmetric operation of power. ‘Race
abolitionism’ expands into a similar formula — that the struggle must continue
until currently racialized characteristics are no more a basis of
discrimination than than the color of one’s eyes. Ultimately, every
emancipatory abolitionism must incline towards the horizon of class
abolitionism, since it is in capitalism where we encounter oppression in its
transparent, denaturalized form: you’re not exploited or oppressed because
you are a wage labourer or poor; you are a labourer or poor because you are
exploited.

0x0F Xenofeminism understands that the viability of emancipatory
abolitionist projects — the abolition of class, gender, and race — hinges on a
profound reworking of the universal. The universal must be grasped as
generic, which is to say, intersectional. Intersectionality is not the
morcellation of collectives into a static fuzz of cross-referenced
identities, but a political orientation that slices through every
particular, refusing the crass pigeonholing of bodies. This is not a
universal that can be imposed from above, but built from the bottom up —
or, better, laterally, opening new lines of transit across an uneven
landscape. This non-absolute, generic universality must guard against the
facile tendency of conflation with bloated, unmarked particulars — namely
Eurocentric universalism — whereby the male is mistaken for the sexless, the
white for raceless, the cis for the real, and so on. Absent such a
universal, the abolition of class will remain a bourgeois fantasy, the
abolition of race will remain a tacit white-supremacism, and the abolition
of gender will remain a thinly veiled misogyny, even — especially — when
prosecuted by avowed feminists themselves. (The absurd and reckless
spectacle of so many self-proclaimed ‘gender abolitionists” campaign
against trans women is proof enough of this. )

0x10 From the postmoderns, we have learnt to burn the facades of the false
universal and dispel such confusions; from the moderns, we have learnt to
sift new universals from the ashes of the false. Xenofeminism seeks to
construct a coalitional politics, a politics without the infection of
purity. Wielding the universal requires thoughtful qualification and precise
self-reflection so as to become a ready-to-hand tool for multiple political
bodies and something that can be appropriated against the numerous
oppressions that transect with gender and sexuality. The universal is no
blueprint, and rather than dictate its uses in advance, we propose XF as a
platform. The very process of construction is therefore understood to be a
negentropic, iterative, and continual refashioning. Xenofeminism seeks to be
a mutable architecture that, like open source software, remains available
for perpetual modification and enhancement following the navigational
impulse of militant ethical reasoning. Open, however, does not mean
undirected. The most durable systems in the world owe their stability to the
way they train order to emerge as an ‘invisible hand’ from apparent
spontaneity; or exploit the inertia of investment and sedimentation. We
should not hesitate to learn from our adversaries or the successes and
failures of history. With this in mind, XF seeks ways to seed an order that
is equitable and just, injecting it into the geometry of freedoms these
platforms afford.

ADJUST

0x11 Our lot is cast with technoscience, where nothing is so sacred that it
cannot be reengineered and transformed so as to widen our aperture of
freedom, extending to gender and the human. To say that nothing is sacred,
that nothing is transcendent or protected from the will to know, to tinker
and to hack, is to say that nothing is supernatural. ‘Nature’ — understood
here, as the unbounded arena of science — is all there is. And so, in tearing
down melancholy and illusion; the unambitious and the non-scaleable; the
libidinized puritanism of certain online cultures, and Nature as an
un-remakeable given, we find that our normative anti-naturalism has pushed
us towards an unflinching ontological naturalism. There is nothing, we
claim, that cannot be studied scientifically and manipulated
technologically.

0x12 This does not mean that the distinction between the ontological and the
normative, between fact and value, is simply cut and dried. The vectors of
normative anti-naturalism and ontological naturalism span many ambivalent
battlefields. The project of untangling what ought to be from what is, of
dissociating freedom from fact, will from knowledge, is, indeed, an infinite
task. There are many lacunae where desire confronts us with the brutality of
fact, where beauty is indissociable from truth. Poetry, sex, technology and
pain are incandescent with this tension we have traced. But give up on the
task of revision, release the reins and slacken that tension, and these
filaments instantly dim.

CARRY

0x13 The potential of early, text-based internet culture for countering
repressive gender regimes, generating solidarity among marginalised groups,
and creating new spaces for experimentation that ignited cyberfeminism in
the nineties has clearly waned in the twenty-first century. The dominance of
the visual in today’s online interfaces has reinstated familiar modes of
identity policing, power relations and gender norms in self-representation.
But this does not mean that cyberfeminist sensibilities belong to the past.
Sorting the subversive possibilities from the oppressive ones latent in
today’s web requires a feminism sensitive to the insidious return of old
power structures, yet savvy enough to know how to exploit the potential.
Digital technologies are not separable from the material realities that
underwrite them; they are connected so that each can be used to alter the
other towards different ends. Rather than arguing for the primacy of the
virtual over the material, or the material over the virtual, xenofeminism
grasps points of power and powerlessness in both, to unfold this knowledge
as effective interventions in our jointly composed reality.

0x14 Intervention in more obviously material hegemonies is just as crucial
as intervention in digital and cultural ones. Changes to the built
environment harbour some of the most significant possibilities in the
reconfiguration of the horizons of women and queers. As the embodiment of
ideological constellations, the production of space and the decisions we
make for its organization are ultimately articulations about ‘us’ and
reciprocally, how a ‘we’ can be articulated. With the potential to
foreclose, restrict, or open up future social conditions, xenofeminists must
become attuned to the language of architecture as a vocabulary for
collective choreo-graphy — the coordinated writing of space.

0x15 From the street to the home, domestic space too must not escape our
tentacles. So profoundly ingrained, domestic space has been deemed
impossible to disembed, where the home as norm has been conflated with home
as fact, as an un-remakeable given. Stultifying ‘domestic realism’ has no
home on our horizon. Let us set sights on augmented homes of shared
laboratories, of communal media and technical facilities. The home is ripe
for spatial transformation as an integral component in any process of
feminist futurity. But this cannot stop at the garden gates. We see too well
that reinventions of family structure and domestic life are currently only
possible at the cost of either withdrawing from the economic sphere — the way
of the commune — or bearing its burdens manyfold — the way of the single parent.
If we want to break the inertia that has kept the moribund figure of the
nuclear family unit in place, which has stubbornly worked to isolate women
from the public sphere, and men from the lives of their children, while
penalizing those who stray from it, we must overhaul the material
infrastructure and break the economic cycles that lock it in place. The task
before us is twofold, and our vision necessarily stereoscopic: we must
engineer an economy that liberates reproductive labour and family life,
while building models of familiality free from the deadening grind of wage
labour.

0x16 From the home to the body, the articulation of a proactive politics for
biotechnical intervention and hormones presses. Hormones hack into gender
systems possessing political scope extending beyond the aesthetic
calibration of individual bodies. Thought structurally, the distribution of
hormones — who or what this distribution prioritizes or pathologizes — is of
paramount import. The rise of the internet and the hydra of black market
pharmacies it let loose — together with a publicly accessible archive of
endocrinological knowhow — was instrumental in wresting control of the
hormonal economy away from ‘gatekeeping’ institutions seeking to mitigate
threats to established distributions of the sexual. To trade in the rule of
bureaucrats for the market is, however, not a victory in itself. These tides
need to rise higher. We ask whether the idiom of ‘gender hacking’ is
extensible into a long-range strategy, a strategy for wetware akin to what
hacker culture has already done for software — constructing an entire universe
of free and open source platforms that is the closest thing to a practicable
communism many of us have ever seen. Without the foolhardy endangerment of
lives, can we stitch together the embryonic promises held before us by
pharmaceutical 3D printing (‘Reactionware’), grassroots telemedical abortion
clinics, gender hacktivist and DIY-HRT forums, and so on, to assemble a
platform for free and open source medicine?

0x17 From the global to the local, from the cloud to our bodies,
xenofeminism avows the responsibility in constructing new institutions of
technomaterialist hegemonic proportions. Like engineers who must conceive of
a total structure as well as the molecular parts from which it is
constructed, XF emphasises the importance of the mesopolitical sphere
against the limited effectiveness of local gestures, creation of autonomous
zones, and sheer horizontalism, just as it stands against transcendent, or
top-down impositions of values and norms. The mesopolitical arena of
xenofeminism’s universalist ambitions comprehends itself as a mobile and
intricate network of transits between these polarities. As pragmatists, we
invite contamination as a mutational driver between such frontiers.

OVERFLOW

0x18 XF asserts that adapting our behaviour for an era of Promethean
complexity is a labour requiring patience, but a ferocious patience at odds
with ‘waiting’. Calibrating a political hegemony or insurgent memeplex not
only implies the creation of material infra-structures to make the values it
articulates explicit, but places demands on us as subjects. How are we to
become hosts of this new world? How do we build a better semiotic
parasite — one that arouses the desires we want to desire, that orchestrates
not an autophagic orgy of indignity or rage, but an emancipatory and
egalitarian community buttressed by new forms of unselfish solidarity and
collective self-mastery?

0x19 Is xenofeminism a programme? Not if this means anything so crude as a
recipe, or a single-purpose tool by which a determinate problem is solved.
We prefer to think like the schemer or lisper, who seeks to construct a new
language in which the problem at hand is immersed, so that solutions for it,
and for any number of related problems, might unfurl with ease. Xenofeminism
is a platform, an incipient ambition to construct a new language for sexual
politics — a language that seizes its own methods as materials to be reworked,
and incrementally bootstraps itself into existence. We understand that the
problems we face are systemic and interlocking, and that any chance of
global success depends on infecting myriad skills and contexts with the
logic of XF. Ours is a transformation of seeping, directed subsumption
rather than rapid overthrow; it is a transformation of deliberate
construction, seeking to submerge the white-supremacist capitalist
patriarchy in a sea of procedures that soften its shell and dismantle its
defenses, so as to build a new world from the scraps.

0x1A Xenofeminism indexes the desire to construct an alien future with a
triumphant X on a mobile map. This X does not mark a destination. It is the
insertion of a topological-keyframe for the formation of a new logic. In
affirming a future untethered to the repetition of the present, we militate
for ampliative capacities, for spaces of freedom with a richer geometry than
the aisle, the assembly line, and the feed. We need new affordances of
perception and action unblinkered by naturalised identities. In the name of
feminism, ‘Nature’ shall no longer be a refuge of injustice, or a basis for
any political justification whatsoever!

If nature is unjust, change nature!

“Bulletproof” –– Me Not You

and a new day is done
and then we know something lies ahead
we were battered & bruised
and we we’re never bulletproof

but the future is here
there’s a new feeling in the air
we’ve got nothing to lose
and we were never bulletproof

i see the truth in disguise
crying out for a chain
can’t keep going like this
we gotta find another way

we’ve been lost in a dream
once familiar now strange
we can never go back
and nothing stays the same

because a new day is done
and then we know something lies ahead
we were battered & bruised
no we were never bulletproof

but the future is here
there’s a new feeling in the air
we got nothing to lose
and we were never bulletproof

words can get you so far
but they’re not gunna heal
all the damage we’ve done
and battle scars are all we feel

we were chasing the dream
once familiar now strange
we can never go back
and nothing stays the same

because a new days is done
and we know something lies ahead
we were battered & bruised
no we were never bulletproof

but the future is here
and there’s a new feeling in the air
we got nothing to lose

and we were never bulletproof
no we were never bulletproof
no we were never bulletproof
no we were never bulletproof
no we were never bulletproof

Eleanor Roosevelt Hawking Margarine (Because That Woman Had Bread)

“Viewers have a way of remembering the celebrity while forgetting the product. I did not know this when I paid Eleanor Roosevelt $35,000 to make a commercial for margarine. She reported that her mail was equally divided. ‘One half was sad because I had damaged my reputation. The other half was happy because I had damaged my reputation.’ Not one of my proudest memories.”

— from Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy, the “father of advertising” and allegedly the basis for Don Draper in Mad Men

Found via the delightfully titled blog, Gay Eleanor Roosevelt. Long before #FitTea Instagram hotties and QVC celebrity capsules, a very different breed of influencer roamed the hallowed halls of paid endorsements. Here former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt extolls the virtues of Good Luck Margarine on her toast. The patronizing V.O. then intones that margarine”Leaves no oily aftertaste.” Imagine, butter without consequence!

According the refreshingly researched article, “Why a First Lady Cashed In” (2012) by Carl Anthony, ol’ Auntie Eleanor, champion of the poor and marginalized, resigned from civic service  in 1953 under the conservative Eisenhower Administration and need cash, like any average person. In addition to margarine, she hawked watches, mattresses, and hearing aids. Eleanor was the ideal spokeswoman for margarine, which carried a stigma for being ghetto; only respectable people ate butter! But Mrs. Roosevelt, in her refined Mid-Atlantic accent, elevated margarine (owned by Jergens, the lotion company, oddly enough) to a posh foodstuff. She made $35k off the shout out and the public was outraged, however, she had a classy reply: “With the amount of money I am to be paid I can save over six thousand lives. I don’t value my dignity that highly.” Not to mention, it was quite a significant chunk of change for a woman who annually earned only $2k for endorsements. I highly recommend you read the aforementioned article in full as it’s chockfull of fascinating tidbits at the intersection of the media and politics during the mid-century. Plus not to mention, the author throws some shade at her haters:

And somehow, Mrs. Roosevelt pontificating about the virtues of a mattress company on the radio or in print advertisement shocked people – whereas those running for political office and soliciting funds for their campaigns from thousand of corporate entities did not.

And this was in the 1950s!

We need an inspiring picture of the future: Adam Scott and HyperNormalisation, pt I

Today I’d like to share and comment on this review by of Adam Scott’s documentary HyperNormalisation by Phil Harrison in The Quietus, a British publication I’ve never heard of before and am delighted to find in it signs of intelligent life. I plan on watching the movie itself later tonight and writing about it soon. Why?

Authority figures, it posits, have run out of credible stories to tell their sceptical subjects. Fake folk devils and implausible solutions abound but have lost their potency. Every innovation – from pseudo-subversive pop culture to apparently emancipatory technological developments – feeds back to nothing. Worse still, the innovations are co-opted and become part of the problem. The suspicion of sinister hidden hands on the tiller has been replaced by an even more disconcerting sense that no one is steering anymore because no one can now imagine a worthwhile possible destination.

In the 1950s and ’60s, people loved envisioning the future. There was Star Trek and Kubrick’s 2001. Check out how the Ford corporation pictured the year 1999. Today, however, our idea of the future looks excruciatingly dystopic, with Black Mirror exemplifying our grim technological expectations.

As the world become more inexplicable, could we be about to enter an age of algorithmic inbreeding, where the emergent Netflix model throws up more and more variations on familiar minor themes for a captive audience and less and less that might startle or discomfort?

Twitter and Facebook long abandoned chronological timelines, opting to display information that their algorithm believes to be important to me––based on marketing and demographic research engineered to get you to buy (which occasionally gets insidiously branded as “get involved” or “take action” re: political involvement).

Not even Adam Curtis’s sternest critics could fairly accuse him of a reluctance to engage with the big ideas. Which is why he often feels like a throwback to a more adventurous TV age. And yet in a wider sense, is he really swimming against the tide? Maybe not. In our post-truth times, it could be argued that Curtis himself is just another master manipulator. His array of jump cuts and abrupt narrative jack-knifes arouse the suspicion that perhaps he’s simply the ultimate post-modernist; piecing together a diverting collage out of various picaresque shards of recent history and presenting it as the truth.

“What does subversion look like anymore?” is the bemoaning attitude I get from this critique, which says more about an artistic crisis than a political one. Does it matter? Different media entities constructs their own truth, which get validated by people in government. I can understand, however, that even without yet seeing this documentary, I know it’s going to be a cynical, hyperliterate, and therefore susceptible to accusations of pretensions and inaccessibility. But that reality, a reality I wish to live in, is far more preferable than a President-elect who won’t listen to intelligence briefings.

Does Adam Curtis deal in the truth? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the whole point is that increasingly, there’s no such thing. Instead, he deals in a truth. It’s a more reliable but harder to swallow truth than The Bank or The Met or Britain’s Hardest Workers or anything else that the BBC is currently offering can bring itself to acknowledge. It’s that no one knows anything.  

Eggheads and poindexters are in for a wilder ride in 2017. You could see cracks in the foundation when postmodern academics and artists started arguing that nothing is true, which I’ve always angrily replied in my head, “Then how do planes stay in the sky?”But truth be told, I don’t know much about philosophy, so I’m going to educate myself this week!

A note on Antartica conspiracies & fake news

After recently watching Werner Herzog’s Close Encounters at the End of the World (2007) on Netflix, I’ve been on an Antarctica kick––inhaling Nat Geo’s polar content on YouTube and reading up on McMurdo Station.What I find most fascinating, however, is that the grim majority of search results for “antarctica” involve moronic conspiracy theories, mainly involving Hitler, UFOs, and Flat Earth weirdos. Coupled with American students piss poor results in science (LINK) and a climate change denying President-elect (LINK), we see that science literacy leaves a lot to be desired in the digital age. Factual science programming doesn’t quite circulate like garbage content that appeals to the lowest common denominator. 

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 13.00.29.pngTrash content

While there’s a lot to be said about the propagation of Internet conspiracies in the past two decades (with “Pizzagate” now a hot topic on the TV circuit), I argue what we’re currently seeing is symptomatic of shifting access to knowledge. In the past someone interested in, for example, Antartica would’ve checked out a peer-reviewed and factually grounded book on the subject. Now a casual YouTube or Google search yields wild unverifiable claims and are usually part of a larger conspiratorial narrative. Thanks to the History channel, theories involving alien Hitler gain a lot of traction. Blogs, entertainment, and fake news orgs are how most people get their news. Information gets sifted through these click hungry, viewer driven channels and disseminated via confirmation bias algorithms. This is why the creation of quality content in this day and age feels urgent to me. I feel a moral responsibility to push relevant content out there (and a hungrier urge to just share memes). 

But what defines “quality”? What are “facts”? Who defines “truth” Questions like these reflect our current epistemological war, no doubt aggravated by 

Given that global warming is “beyond the point of no return,” I feel obligated to at least try to overcome the lack of trust I have with the world before the ice caps inevitably melt. How? By creating a “brand” (for lack of a better word)––active on YouTube and Instagram––that promotes science and philosophy. Now I don’t have any illusions that I can magically reverse climate change or carbon emissions by blogging, but dedicating my energies to the subject feels more meaningful than pushing products (and consuming consumerist content, which is harder than it sounds).  Amongst all the conspiratorial and reactionary content floating around, only critical thinking on a mass scale (unimaginable) could reverse the trend.

I’m drawn to Antarctica as a subject because in the barren, hostile landscape I see a new beginning. Its bleak terrestrial landscape soothes me. How can lies grow there?

 

A Quick Note on Conspiracy

Do you know what’s more responsible for fake news than the Facebook algorithm? All of the moronic ancient alien and conspiracy programming that started on the History Channel and Discovery and is currently parked on Netflix. If you can get gullible people to believe that Hitler has an zombie alien army in Antarctica, then why not a host of other ludicrous stories?