COMMENT: (Internet) Tubes, or Strands Braided into a Rope That Binds?

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

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A few days ago I finished reading a work entitled Pax Technica: How the Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up (2015).

According to the entry on Wikipedia, the author Philip N. Howard is a sociologist and communication researcher who studies the impact of information technologies on democracy and social inequality. Howard assumed a professorship in Internet Studies at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute on 1 July 2016.

In a brief description given on the website for the project, pax technica refers to what Howard sees as:

a future of global stability built upon device networks with immense potential for empowering citizens, making government transparent, and broadening information access.

I plan to write a detailed decolonial / counter-racist analysis and critique of this work in due course, drawing attention to what I perceive as

  1. the author’s framing of his argument against a tacit backdrop of ostensibly colour-blind (un-raced, race-less, de-raced etc.) liberal political commitments – what critical race philosopher Charles W. Mills refers to as the ‘ideal (social) contract’ masking the ‘racial contract’ associated with Racial Liberalism, and
  2. the mobilization of Orientalist logics in constructing a binary of ‘open and democratic’ vs. ‘closed and authoritarian’ societies, the latter of which is exemplified continuously by China (but also Iran, Turkey, Russia etc). (In this connection, I should like to refer interested readers to the following essay: Sayyid, S. (2005) Mirror, mirror: Western democrats, oriental despots? Ethnicities 5(1): 30-50.)

Howard contrasts the internet of the pax technica with China’s attempt to create its own rival, alternative internet and extend it to other parts of the world, rhetorically suggesting that the internet of the pax technica is somehow a poly-centric / non-centric / de-centred global technological force for good insofar as it is open and democratic (sic) in contrast to the provincial, closed and authoritarian internet being created by the Chinese. Yet what is completely missing – or rather, elided (obscured, concealed etc.) – from his argument is the fact that the internet of the pax technica is, in fact, highly centric, i.e. it is structured in terms of a core and periphery; moreover, this centrism is specific, viz. Eurocentric / West-centric.

What is further elided is that the internet historically-emerged in the US in the context of the Cold War as a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. While conceding that the historical origin of a thing does not necessarily determine what that thing might become, I want to suggest that we should not fall into the trap of ‘liquidating the historical’, and that at least in the case of the internet, its origins in Western military concerns is embedded through historically-sedimentation. One only needs to ask Who Controls The Internet? to gain some clarity on this point. For this reason, and notwithstanding decolonial (as contrasted with white / Western liberal) concerns about freedom, autonomy, censorship, surveillance, equality etc., I think it is interesting to consider China’s attempt to create a rival internet as a resistant intervention against US / Euro-American hegemony in the terrain of network technologies; in short a veritable ‘clash of (internet) civilizations’.

However, more on this in due course, God-Willing (insha’Allah).

For now, I want to turn attention to another work that I have just started reading:

Tubes - Andrew Blum I was particularly struck by the following extracts which appear on pages 6-9 in the Prologue which I reproduce here (with emphases added):

Thinking of the Internet as a physical thing has fallen so far out of fashion that we’re more likely to view it as an extension of our own minds than a machine. (p.6)

We seem to have exchanged thousands of years of mental cartography, a collective ordering of the earth going back to Homer, for a smooth, placeless world. The network’s physical reality is less than real—it’s irrelevant … [T]he Internet is a landscape of the mind. (p.7)

The Internet may seem to be everywhere—and in many ways it is—but it is also very clearly in some places more than others. The single whole is an illusion. The Internet has crossroads and superhighways, large monuments and quiet chapels. Our everyday experience of the Internet obscures that geography, flattening it and speeding it up beyond any recognition.  (p.8)

The Internet has a seemingly infinite number of edges, but a shockingly small number of centers. (p.9)

For all the breathless talk of the supreme placelessness of our new digital age, when you pull back the curtain, the networks of the Internet are as fixed in real, physical places as any railroad or telephone system ever was. (p.9)

I’m extremely interested to explore the physicality (materiality, corporeality, embodiment etc.) of the internet – and the internet of things (IoT) – from a decolonial perspective in terms of geo-politics (where) and body-politics (who) of knowing and being. I then want to explore such materiality of internet connections – or ‘tubes’ – in terms of how such connections might be used to maintain, expand and refine global systemic White Supremacy (Racism) under late colonial modernity, thereby binding ‘the Other’ (the non-West, the Rest etc.) into a technological dependency complex.

In the meantime, I invite interested viewers to watch the following short video which graphically illustrates the where of the internet:

I should also like to draw viewers’ attentions to the following talks by Blum:

Peace

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Is White Supremacy (Racism) Hegemonic?

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

I’m currently reading Frameworks of Power by white male Professor of Sociology Stewart R Clegg (London: SAGE) and come across the following critique of the notion of hegemony vis-a-vis issues of power:

Contemporary Western Marxism, with its search for sovereign expressions of capitalism in the cultural and ideological sphere, and its theoretical gravitation in the orbit of hegemony, produces a social order which is equally as fictive as Hobbes’ contractual view. In the latter each body was conceptualized potentially as a part of the sovereign order. In Western Marxism each mind was to be conceptualized potentially as a part of the hegemonic order. Hegemony becomes the metaphorical basis for constituting sovereign dominion even in the face of individuals who do not act: in fact, it is reserved precisely to translate inaction into non-action and non-action into prohibited action. Individuals do not act because, paradoxically, they know not to want to act; prohibition runs deep into the consciousness of the possible range of actions that individuals may have. Order, where it has been achieved, is secured by the sovereign power exerting dominion over the very ingredients of individual consciousness: the appetites, passions and especially the interests that these individuals have. Thus, the supreme prohibitory concept of power comes to hold sway precisely through constituting individuals in such a way that they are not being actors in particular scenes of power. Power is negative not simply because there are actors who negate but because there are actors who, through no action of their own, can live their lives only as an unauthentic negation of their individual agency. Free to choose they may be, but what they can choose from is already chosen: not specifically by anyone but by default and by virtue of what is discursively available for individuals to use to be or not to be actors in particular scenes.

Discursive unavailability, the ultimate prohibition, becomes in this radical view “the supreme and most invidious exercise of power” (one is tempted to say, the sovereign power). Lukes (1974)* asks rhetorically whether this functions “to prevent people, to whatever degree, from having grievances by shaping their perceptions, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things, either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural and unchangeable, or because they value it as divinely ordained and beneficial? To assume that the absence of grievance equals genuine consensus is simply to rule out the possibility of false or manipulated consensus by definitional fiat.” (Lukes 1974: 24)”

‘False or manipulated consensus’ thus functions as a means of explaining how and why actors behave as they choose and not as a given theoretical observer would expect them to choose, according to theoretical affinities. It is a way of not taking people seriously; of regarding them as having been culturally duped; of preserving, against contra-indications, a view of power as orchestrated by a single sovereign, ruling entity. What makes it seem so may be less the nature of empirical tendencies and more the mythical meta-narratives of a grand and systemic view of the world. (pp.28-29)

* Lukes, S. (1974) Power: A Radical View. London: Macmillan.

Irrespective of whether the notion of hegemony is useful for understanding WHAT Racism (White Supremacy) is and HOW it works, as a Counter-Racist analyst I am required to inquire as to whether Clegg’s assertion that “grand and systemic views of the world” are necessarily mythical (and thereby non-empirical) in nature is true / correct.

Given Clegg’s explicit commitment to a Lyotardian / postmodern “incredulity toward all grand meta-narratives” and the contention of Ziauddin Sardar, not to mention decolonial scholars from South America such as Walter Mignolo, that postmodernism is, in fact, “the New Imperialism of Western Culture”, I am inclined to wonder whether Clegg – who as a white person must be treated as a “Racial Suspect” – might be a White Supremacist (Racist) practicing DECEIT.

Peace