Saturday, July 9, 2011

Proletarianization and News of the World

Proletarianization as it currently operates in the digital domain - the unregulated circulation of everything that can be digitized - can be observed in the phone hacking controversy at News International's News of the World, which closes Sunday 10 July.

The English have been particularly enthusiastic about the benefits of minimal regulation in the media space, believing that the best way to advance economic growth is via Chicago School market economic orthodoxy. (Tony Blair's New Labour was all about this, as is the totalizing agreement by social democrats pretty well everywhere. That subject is not the topic of this post.) Since Margaret Thatcher from the late 1980s on, English political ideals have been about removing as much of the welfare-statist system from the polity as possible and this includes any regulations at all. This is the ideology that allows the individual to maximize all their benefits, regardless of the previously existing standards of human interaction.

This latter characteristic when linked to demands for reducing regulation must be included in any full description of proletarianization.

News Of the World's efforts at breaking big stories by using leads and rumors created by hacking into mobile phone data bases and altering them was a masterstroke. It met the basic demand of News International as the epitome of market rationality - and it sold newspapers. If every human action is determined by economic concerns, then phone hacking was merely the means to the end. And so what? There were no laws, no regulations, nothing that suggested that this should not be done.

Of course, altering the phone records to make it possible for journalists to create falsehoods about news stories is in a class of moral turpitude all its own. But only after the fact. Or should that be facts? Once the full context about the so-called stories was revealed, then the stories were shown up for what they really were - fantasms of market manipulation.

Proletarianization offers a  magnifying glass through which to examine these events.

No regulation of the digital space, the internet means that any action can be attempted in this new "zone." From the perspective of proletarianization, News's action was understandable because it was operating  in the unregulated zone which "everyone" knew was the exciting new digital space where information was "free." For News Corporation that meant freedom from the tired ideas of modernist moral organization, liberty from the standards of decency and  emancipation from responsibility towards others. (When the market is everything and you are only responsible to yourself andf your family, then the tired ideas of the past, such as regulation aimed at managing the excesses of human nature, are always considered a constraint on business, improvement, growth...).But how quickly people caught operating against the modernist (or Enlightenment) standards return to them.

 Look at some of James Murdoch's claims from his July 7 statement:
In addition, I have decided that all of the News of the World’s revenue this weekend will go to good causes.
While we may never be able to make up for distress that has been caused, the right thing to do is for every penny of the circulation revenue we receive this weekend to go to organisations – many of whom are long-term friends and partners – that improve life in Britain and are devoted to treating others with dignity."
Claims to high minded liberal modernism. He could have been quoting John Wesley, the founder of Methodism in England.

The hacking events appear to have taken place in 2005. Given that and in retrospect, it is feasible to see the events in the light of the great big new vista of digital entrepreneurship. For News Corporations this is the gold standard - using whatever is available to make the market work in its favor. Dignity?

Jettisoning established standards and utilizing the digital to claim space in the zone is the new standard.

What happened in the News of the World case is that the News International executive Rebecca Brooks and James Murdoch forgot the phrase John Pilger made famous - "Truth is the first casualty." Curiously, no one else cared - including the readers - until the elaboration of the hacking emerged. Suddenly, faceless technical guys were altering phone records and pretending that the "truth" was what they had constructed. Everything is OK until you're caught.


I started this post writing about proletarianization. I have ended up in a curious place.What is the relationship between truth and proletarianization? Can the truth can be revealed in the unregulated zone? Would this truth be truth as it is classically defined, or the truth according to News Corporation and News of the World. I'd suggest that "the truth" is what we know outside of the determining logic of the marketplace. And yet it is a massively grey field of discourse that needs to be carefully defined in each situation in which it appears because we may never be outside the logic of the market.