Monday, November 21, 2011

Pepper spray in a digital world - emotionalization again

A few weeks ago (October 19, 2011) I noted the way emotionalization had been informed and generated by  the internet. The new emotional intensity of social life is powerfully constructed around information. It comes to us with few filters: this is the renewed definition of proletarianization. (The images of police in New York City battering Occupy Wall Street protesters was profound because it revealed how emotion - in this case anger - can be captured in the internet era. It looks so utterly pointless).

To all intents and purposes the intensification of emotion is what has been seen again in the pepper spraying of protesters by police at University of California - Davis. Of more interest is that the New York Times reports that chief of police at UC- Davis has been placed on administrative leave. The call has also gone out for the Chancellor of UC-Davis to resign. This as the result of the pepper spraying video going "viral."

This is the media terrain that everyone will increasingly navigate. Watch any of  the Occupy Wall Street protests and what is always present? The video cameras. Almost everyone is recording everyone else. We could call this the video court of digital exposure (VCODE).

The extreme of this is that you will be tried and your execution at the hands of an angry mob will be videoed - as indeed happened to Muammar Gaddafi, the former president of Libya. I strongly suspect that officials of the International Criminal Court and the United Nations felt a little queasy at the sight of one of their number, who was on the podium only a matter of months before at the UN, being unceremoniously murdered. The question is who is next?

"The frenzy of the visual" which Linda Williams used in 1989 to described video pornography - has given way to a new frenzy. As usual, I am not optimistic - but it is nice to see those cops getting some early vacation time.

Will their emotion give way to something else? For the time being probably nothing but the intensification of emotion.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Going French with Eric Beecher - Civil Society Journalism

Eric Beecher is probably Melbourne’s most outstanding media entrepreneur. To all intents and purposes he is a self-made media mogul, albeit on a small global scale and thankfully perhaps, one who did not inherit his media products from a parent. In this way he epitomises the spirit of liberal capitalism, which welcomes hard work, innovation and determination to take and make money in the marketplace.

The take and make framework is a well established model for all manner of enterprises – with some exceptions, namely the media. In Australia there are well known models of state funding for industries that cannot survive without Federal and State Government support. The Australian Film Industry, Ballet, Opera, Orchestral Music, Literature, Children’s Television are obvious ones which are all variously supported and defended by keepers of whatever faith is being promulgated therein.

Film buffs will defend to the death Australian cinema and government support. Ask an opera buff to give up that boondoggle and all hell will break loose. This narrative is played out over and over again and with good reason. Civil society in Australia and around the world is enriched by public support for otherwise unsustainable artistic activity. It is a long and worthy list.

So it was both a surprise yet nothing new to read the submission from Eric Beecher to the Australian Government’s Media Inquiry. Mr Beecher is advocating for an Australia Council-like institution to fund what he considers ‘quality journalism’.  

He also refers in the document to ‘public trust journalism’ and ‘meaningful journalism enterprises,’ suggesting that the categorization of what he considers worthy of promoting is mercurial at best. Unfortunately, he complicates the matter and his argument by talking about ‘commercial journalism,’ when what he seems to really mean is a type of journalism that makes civil society in Australia worthy of the name.    
 ‘Australian governments should engage in serious discussion and analysis of the potential collateral damage that could be inflicted on our civic society if expensive commercial-sector quality journalism is no longer viable,’ Beecher said in his submission.

‘This could be done – as it is France, on a large scale – by the creation of independently administered government incentives that foster media start-ups and innovative commercial journalism ventures. This approach, possibly using an independent funding mechanism like the Australia Council, could allocate grants on a project basis (to independent publishers as well as ventures such as The Australian Literary Review), would expand the diversity of ownership of independent journalism.’
Mr Beecher makes it clear that he is not in favour of questions about government funding of quality journalism.

‘The relevant question is not: “Is government funding of public trust journalism a bad idea?” The relevant question is: “What kind of country would we have if the commercial funding of quality journalism was devalued to the point where it no longer fulfilled its historic watchdog role?”’

Do we need a new category of journalism? How about civil society journalism? This is journalism that meets the old standards of social responsibility journalism by meeting the obligation to inform and educate and entertain. It would go beyond the claims that social responsibility journalism does little more than reflect the limited imagination that drives ‘responsibility’: the kind of ‘to whom much is given much is expected’ kind of cant, which every dubious evangelist mouths with cherubic solicitude.
Civil society journalism will not be directed to the good and the great, the educated and the excellent – in other words, the elites of society. It will be a much more complicated beast, a multi-headed hydra that represents the diverse interests pulling and pushing at society.

Curiously, civil society journalism already exists and has a name: it is the internet.
The bottom line here is that what Mr Beecher wants is journalism that is not News Corporation. In making this case for diversity of ownership he is absolutely correct – various cities in Australia are dominated by News Corporation publications. Brisbane and Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin citizens have few print media options but a News Corporation perspective.

News Corporation journalists and editors wave their hands in protest at suggestions that there is a News Corporation line and rightly so. Every paper has a line. Why Australian news organizations persist with the myth that there is an objective style of journalism, or that there is no bias is a waste of time.

The fact remains that all information is determined by its source and the forces that impinge of that source. This fact is well known from the history of The New Journalism which emerged in the 1960s, as a means of placing the messenger in first person form in the story. And yet we persist with the idea that journalists are capable of reporting some objective truth.

What we need are clear rules about enhancing the flow of information to citizens so that there is some confidence that as much as possible is available for scrutiny.

Mr. Beecher’s proposal for a funding organization to support quality journalism has value. However, it is not in the self-serving call for a public organization to offset News Corporation’s hegemony. It is revealing that Mr. Beecher believes that the refined tastes of traditional values and history should be embodied in quality journalism. In the era of the internet, such an appeal is conservative, and Mr Beecher is what I would consider a good Melbourne liberal.

These days, journalism is open to all sorts of abuses, mostly through the internet. Furthermore, most citizens under 35 gather their news from social media cites, not from newspapers.

Certainly the French have a grand idea for publicly funding full coverage of French society. That should go with their interest in the values of equality liberty and fraternity. The question for Mr Beecher and for anyone who cares about civil society, is how Australia can create an institution that promotes those values within the take and make framework.

Please see the link below for Eric Beecher's submission

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Euphoric Crisis – From the internet to the New Emancipation

"...other things being equal, we can say that the philosophy which certain biologists, geneticists and linguists today are busy manufacturing around ‘information theory’ is a little philosophical ‘crisis’ … in this case a euphoric one."*

What would a euphoric crisis look like today? How would information theory look if it produced euphoria, then articulated the euphoria to a crisis? Which of these two conditions, euphoria and crisis would it be correct to emphasize? 

These questions beg the ultimate question: Could information theory really determine a euphoric crisis? The empirical answers, of course, abound in the positive. They are rooted in our virtual and material lives. Surely the relationship between information theory and euphoria is becoming clearer by the day.

At every juncture of our lives the smart phone connection offers access to advanced telecommunications in a seamless network of experiential bliss. It is ubiquitous, ushering in the horizon. Never before in human history has it been possible to experience on a daily basis the euphoria that exists because of the internet. This is not a little philosophical crisis, as called out by Professor Althusser in 1971, it is a big one! It is the crisis of all established forms of philosophy.

This is the crisis that results from the impending unrestricted circulation of knowledge. In this moment, it may in fact be possible to achieve a nearly continuing state of machine induced euphoria. These days, 40 years after Professor Althusser’s comment it could be called wonderment. Such is the stimulation the digital always already makes possible.

This is not to be confused with the simulation the digital also makes possible.

The crisis is the stuff of a new kind of emancipation in which the conditions for the sensuous life are achieved. Every emotion is concentrated like a laser beam of perfect energy. It is a practicum of participation, in which the public dances on the horizon. The individual feels fully realized, liberated, unconstrained, momentarily transcendent.

I make a phone call, from anywhere, and successfully connect – euphoria. 
I wish to speak to my daughter in Boston and I hear her immediately – euphoria.
I speak to my son on the line in the same city – euphoria.
I look for a song, long forgotten and find it – euphoria.
I discover the song, its title and a moving picture of the artist – euphoria.
I stop the video to examine the pock marks on the singer’s face – euphoria.
I start then stop again as I look at the base player’s overlong fingernails – euphoria.
I whistle along to a happy tune, within a cocoon of the present – euphoria.
I look at the photo of Ken Wark and think about a conversation we had in 1992 with Meaghan Morris– euphoria.
I listen to “Dolphins” by Tim Buckley on You Tube– euphoria.
I reminisce about a friend whose image appears on line – euphoria.
I cannot be constrained - …

The infinity of possibility is terrifying. The foundation of the crisis is this terror. Old disciplines like philosophy cannot describe this terror, therefore it cannot claim it. For his part, Professor Althusser could never imagine this, especially the interconnection of geneticists with information theorists.

Who could predict that DNA would be the basis for the crisis? Now it is because it describes information theory, connected as it is to the internet.  Even the subject, “I” is removed from the DNA project, a field described by nanotechnology. The “stuff of life” is a series of structures, where “I” do not exist.

The experience of euphoria gives way to another set of possibilities – to call it reality would be misplaced. It is post-human sensibility.  

And in the post-human the crisis for philosophy is with us. Euphoric is a word – probably not the right one. So it is necessary to move into the transdisciplinary domain, where the usual conditions for analysis fade away. Under these conditions philosophy is terminated as an otherwise dead weight on the analysis. The transdisciplinary project makes it possible to get to the end point more speedily.

Emancipation is what human beings desire. The burden of life is finally realized in death. It is why death is the solution for those people who kill themselves, because it is the perfect realization of freedom.  All the prophets say this, suggesting that to become a prophet one must work out how to convey the hopelessness of life and replace it with emancipation in death. To be able to tell that story is to make a claim to prophetic insight.

Should the digital life be prophetic? This may be the end point of information theory euphoria. Certainly it marks the end point of life as it has been known. It is the beginning of the end of the crisis.  

*Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, 1971.