From Hacker Manifesto to Islamic Cartoons

Returning to McKenzie Wark’s Hacker Manifesto.

For my purposes, his book gets much more interesting in the middle “Information,” “Nature,” and “Production” sections and I think that it is in these sections that it is made apparent the use of class as an organising concept needs to be addressed.

Every hacker is at one and the same time producer and product of the hack, and emerges as a singularity that is the memory of the hack as process. (par. 158)

Later on, in the context of the logic of Wark’s argument, he hits the nail on the head in the section titled “Production”:

[T]he endless anxiety of the vectoral class: that the very virtuality they depend on, that uncanny capacity of the hacker class to mint new properties for commodification, threatens to hack into existence new forms of production beyond commodification, beyond class rule. (par. 163) 

A few points need to made here. Firstly, I think Wark is imagining a scenario in which a given market is full of hackers, something like an artist commune, but more inner-city sophisticated tech-bohemia. I think it is useful to retain the producer-consumer divide, particularly in their relation to given commodities and practices of production/consumption. That is, and first of all, there is a qualitative difference between the knowledge a producer has of a commodity and the knowledge a consumer has. I am not being ironic in my use of ‘knowledge’ here as I want to insinuate that it is mildly ‘biblical’, if you get my drift… The spectacle of the commodity is pure communication for the consumer (to use Wark’s terminology), but the producer still retains an excess of productive potential through an excess of information not yet commodified into communication (the spectacle).

This is the excess that produces anxiety in the vectoral class. Yet, what is important about the cultural economy that manifests around a given set of differences distributed through the commodification of information into communication is the relation — which Wark maintains is a class relation, but I am not sure ‘class’ is the best way to talk about it — that is external to its terms. What is essential to those who want to extract a surplus value from the exploitation of human’s natural territory and then second nature and then third nature (‘intellectual property’) all the way to nth nature is that these given permutations of territory are organised around a consistency. Indeed, as Wark writes:

What calls for explanation are the means by which successive ruling classes capture the surplus and turn it away from free production, and toward the reproduction and repetition of class rule. (par. 165) 

To begin thinking about problems around this explanation demands that one let go of concepts such as domination, ruling classes and so on. The rulers are as much enslaved by the machinic assemblage as the so-called slaves. The point is that people will their own enslavement. I have raised the problem here briefly in terms of self interest. One way to frame it would be to talk about the passage from affective interest to ideological mattering, that is, how do those who maintain some control over the collective assemblage of enunciation (for our purposes, the media) condense interest in a difference into an ideology that matters?

The primary pay off of machinic enslavement is security, or, at the very minimum, for those without security, is the possibility of freedom from (in)secure machinic enslavement. The security here is not just socio-economic, but ontological. The possibility of freedom is expressed in the lottery and urban myths of ‘making it’. On one hand is a kamikaze capitalism (ie at the very minimum, “at least my death will be meaningful”) and on the other is a casino capitalism (ie it is possible, it might happen).

I have been reading D&G’s Kafka recently and it has given me new ways to think about the machinic assemblage of enunciation. I think the best way to think about this is as a legislation or jurisprudence machine. Abstract machines, produced by the cultural industry and the media, are installed across a given field of intensities, such as that which constitutes an ‘underground’ subcultural practice. Difference itself is distributed across this field, condensing intensities together. Until the final act is a repetition of the condensations of difference to produce the differences that matter. By ‘matter’ I mean there is an affective bond between human participants in the assemblage and the symbolic-ideological meanings (which straddle difference) that circulate across the condensed intensive field.

Sometimes the acts of condensation are a result of necessity and sometimes it is to cultivate a given affective bond for the purposes of producing a sustainable market (or sustainable political bloc). The classic example in my research on contemporary modified-car culture in Australia is the Holden (GM) versus Ford rivalry. There is no ‘real’ difference between them, yet, for some, it is a difference that matters. This difference did not spring from every ewnthusiast’s head fully formed and ready for circulation in circuits meaning. The rivalry was produced through the exclusion of other brands of car (eg Chrysler, and then ‘import’ European and Asian manufacturers) in the cultural industries. The chief example of which in cultures of automobility is actually found in motorsport.

Anyway, sometimes this process of condensation is quite violent. Hence the recent furore over the cartoons depicting certain religious figures in certain ways. An abstract machine was erected over a given field of intensities by the cultural industries. Differences were produced through the condensation of intensities until what was left are the (explosive) differences that matter. Clearly, the intensive field here is not determined only by Islam or by the ‘West’ alone, but actually combines the two as being organised and distributed by these singular differences that matter. The differences matter in different ways in each ‘camp’ but it is the difference in itself around which the two camps are organised. The affective bond between the two camps is therefore being equally tended and cultivated by the fuckwit extremes on both sides (and they are total fuckwits). So that the cartoons do not produce the furore as much as the furore sustains the mattering maps in both camps and the consistency of the religous-political assemblages which govern them. However, unlike cultures of enthusiasm, where joy springs from interest, what we have is a singular interest from which manifests cultures of rage. Yep, kamikaze capitalism… I hope it means something to someone, because to me it hardly matters.