Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Unintelligent Intelligence at the NSA and Kafka's Funhouse Mirror-Stage

Kafka, "Give It Up!"
It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted, I was on my way to the railroad station. As I compared the tower clock with my watch I realized it was already much later than I had thought, I had to hurry, the shock of this discovery made me feel uncertain of the way, I was not very well acquainted with the town yet, fortunately there was a policeman nearby, I ran to him and breathlessly asked him the way. He smiled and said: 'from me you want to learn the way?' 'Yes,' I said, 'since I cannot find it myself.' 'Give it up, give it up,' said he, and turned away with a great sweep, like someone who wants to be alone with his laughter.
This has always been my favorite variation on the scene of interpellation, and the one that prefigures most perfectly and painfully in its apparent inversion the actual scene that would play out for Althusser the murderer in the streets of Paris rather differently than it did in his imagination for Althusser the theorist. When hails ring out from the crowd in all directions, echoing off the walls and in our imaginations, we turn and turn and turn and find ourselves more dizzy than docile... As in the more famous parable "Before the Law" we co-construct the state that subordinates us in pining for its recognition, a phony democratization that yields indifference to our difference, but also exposes a fatal imposture always opening onto possibilities for a more substantial democratization of state responsiveness to responsible peers. Kafka keeps giving us Althusserian ideological apparatuses in stately drag playing out a funhouse mirror stage. And, yes, it is much later than you think.

I am far from meaning to diminish the crimes or the dangers of our burgeoning bludgeoning blundering corporate-militarity surveillance state, forever framing neoliberal subjects as targets of potential prosecution, advertizing, drone strikes. In both its assumptions and its aspirations total information awareness is literally totalitarian (and whatever it happens to be naming or un-naming itself from moment to moment, total information awareness is always the program, always the fever dream), and totalitarianism is never something to sneeze at. But it is crucial to refuse the futurological mystification of the agency of technocratic seeing, listening, penetrating. If the future is unevenly distributed, it is wrong and reactionary and demoralizing to assume The Future accretes in particular in the hard chrome dildo of an omnicompetent cyborg state. Secretive spy spaces in which conventional stupidity, greed, corruption, and threat flourish are quite dangerous enough, thank you very much, but they aren't exactly unprecedented and they aren't exactly the sorts of things for which ready remedies might not be applied. There are, after all, no self-evident observations or narratives, the amplification of observation doesn't converge on the real so much as it ramifies narratives, the objectives overdetermine the objects, the stratification of the scene of observation promises openings even as it threatens closures. And so on. No power without resistance, right? There is far too much dread and dreaming of destinies and demons and divas in our discourse over the disclosures of our unintelligent intelligence operations right about now.


Dale Carrico said...

It's high time for another Tower Commission, to say the least. Surveillance profiteering must be radically curtailed, congressional oversight and legal accountability over surveillance must be radically expanded, and lots of bad actors need to face actual criminal penalties. So long as Republican crazytown is around I see zero hope of getting useful things done, but education, agitation, organization awaiting a more propitious occasion can happen after the collective freakout is over I guess.

jimf said...

> So long as Republican crazytown is around. . .

Not to mention Dianne Feinstein. :-/

Dale Carrico said...

That's Fine-STEEN!

jimf said...

> That's Fine-STEEN!

Or maybe Frau Blücher?