I’ve often said that I can’t be an optimist, because it’s somehow too fatuous, and I can’t be a pessimist because it’s somehow too stupid, so I come out being an anti-pessimist. In terms of the optimism/ pessimism dialectic that seems to be at work here today that’s the best I can position myself.
But I’d like to start by talking about the dark side. It seems to me that the global accident has already happened. The one that Virilio has been threatening us with,when he says: When you have a global system, then you are going to have a global accident. I think it’s already happened; I think it is the internet. The result has been the loss, destruction and disappearance of privacy, which I find extremely disturbing. The internet is now acting as a “rhizomatic panopticon,” to combine two terms from French theory. In other words, everyone’s spying on everyone. Of course it isn’t really like that because the government can spy on you much more efficiently that you can spy on them, but theoretically anyway it’s everybody violating each other’s privacy and peace and quiet all the time, 24/7.
Ivan Illich used to talk about the “paradoxical counterproductivity of monopolistic institutions.” A bit of a mouthful that made it hard to understand what he was talking about really. What he means is that when an institution takes over an entire field, when it monopolizes an entire field of human existence then mysteriously it begins to counterproduce what it ostensibly set out to produce. He devoted his whole life to exploring how this happens; how education suddenly flips and makes you stupid, how medicine suddenly flips and makes you sick, how transportation suddenly flips 180 degrees and doesn’t get you there. He tried to analyze this one basic idea in all these different institutions and I think if he were with us today he would be able to analyze the internet as a kind of shorthand for the modern technopathocracy in the broad sense of the word. More as a symbol than as the thing itself, but nevertheless it will do, it will suffice for what I have to say: That the internet which is supposed to be a prostethic brain of humanity that contains all knowledge, all the time completely accessible somehow mysteriously — what a coincidence — flips180 degrees and produces ignorance. And the way it does this I believe, it is first of all planned that way becauseit is in the control of capitalism and capitalism wants you to be stupid. It wants you to be ignorant, it wants you not to know that there are possibilities like the ones we have been hearing about from our friends. It wants everyone to have to buy every single object that it produces because if two people get together and share an object then capitalism has lost that $19.95 that it could have gotten by selling it to you, personally. So basically capitalism always strives to break everything down into the most atomistic, separated, alienated state where nobody will share, nobody will really communicate. They will think they are communicating: That’s what they call interactivity.
Interactivity is what I call a “satanic parody of communication.” In other words, it appears to be communication, but in fact it is the opposite of communication, it is discommunication. It’s falling apart from each other. It’s getting more and more into the atomized, “bowling alone” world of Baudrillard’s image of the human in the bubble — completely isolated, but with all the modern conveniences at a button’s fingertip. No more society, but you can have everything that society wants provided in the form of cheap gadgets or, well, cheap shit, is the way I would put it actually. The result is that it happens so quickly that most of us are unaware or unconscious of it, it’s too monstrous to think about, that within the past 10 or 15 years human society itself has virtually disappeared. Francis Fukuyama actually— horribly enough — was sort of right: History did come to an end in the sense that the historical movement of the social collapsed.
In 1989 anarchists and other free-flowing leftists had a few moments of euphoria in which we thought that: well, now that that frigging albatross — the USSR — is no longer hanging around our necks anymore, now is the time for libertarian ideas, you know.. and it turned out not be that way at all. First of all the Soviet Union — like a huge, sinking concrete ship — just pulledeverything else down with it. And so anarchism is now in even a worse position than it was in 1989 because it’s been totally forgotten. It’s just ignored, except on television where we have ’the sons of anarchy’ as I just saw on a billboard here, not more than two or three blocks away; it turns out it is a TV show about a biker group called “The Sons of Anarchy.” That’s what anarchism has become. It’s become something for cable television. It’s worse than that. It isn’t just the movement of the social that’s collapsed, it’s the social itself, I would argue.
Alienation has never been more profound. As I walk around the streets I see everyone plugged into multiple forms of prostheses, not relating to each other as human beings, but relating first of all to the machines that mediate their experience of being human and prevent them from direct experience — of what it means to be human and alive. And this seems to happen so quickly that very few people think of it as something negative, most people think of it as a kind of apotheosis, perhaps even a kind of utopia, a techno-utopia.
It’s true that we didn’t get that future that we were promised, the one with the personal velocipedes that fly around skyscrapers. We didn’t get the future that Walt Disney promised us, but by god we got a future. This is the future, welcome to it, hope you like it so far. Cheap shit. That’s the future. More gadgets than you could possibly ever use and they all become obsolete in ten minutes so you need to buy a whole new set of gadgets to do the same thing. And believe me, I’m not sneering at you, I’m not telling you that you are stupid. There is nothing you could do about this. If you didn’t play this game, you could die of inanition, you could starve to death because they’ve got it figured out, you need all this crap in order to make a living. You must have a cell phone. Can you see someone applying for a job in New York and “Okay, what’s your cell phone number?” — “I don’t have a cell phone…” — “Oh really.” You think you’re going to get that job? You have to have a computer, because if you say what I always say: “I ain’t on the email” — am I going to get that job?
Luckily I’m independently poor. I inherited a few scraps from my family, so I actually — as long as I don’t mind being poor — I don’t have to work, and therefore as an incredible luxury I don’t have to own a computer. I don’t have to have a TV, I don’t have to have a cell phone, I don’t have to have all these other things that are so new that I don’t even know what they are called, like Twitters and Facebooks and things. I opted out ten years ago, I moved to the country and I got rid of all my gadgets, I don’t even use radios or record players. I can’t get rid of the telephone — I seem to be stuck with that. I can’t get rid of electricity. That’s it: Electricity and infernal combustion. Those are the things that keep us enslaved. I like to say: thanks to Dr. Franklinstein: electricity, a very mixed blessing to be sure.
All the dreams of magic of ancient times are stolen and turned into scienceand then they have this honeymoon period. Take aviation for example. It starts with the hot air balloon which was invented by magicians, the Montgolfier brothers who were hermeticists. It lasts for several decades at least, this dream of magic — humans can fly at last, how wonderful, how marvelous, how magical. A little while after them Santos Dumont, that Brazilian homosexual dandy, actually invented manned flight, not the Wright brothers — you’ve been lied to all your lives about that. It was a Brazilian faggot named Santos Dumont who actually invented manned flight and he thought that flight would bring an end to war because if people could fly in the sky with bombs, then they would never dare to start have a war with each other again. That would be the end of war. You can look back and think that this guy was a little bit naïve, but he is not the only scientist who had those thoughts. Monturiol, the man, who invented the submarine — a guy from Catalonia— he also thought, the submarine would put an end to war. Well, Santos Dumont went back to visit Brazil. He saw bombs being thrown out of airplanes. He went back to his hotel, he told the elevator man: “I’ve made a big mistake.” He went up to his room and hanged himself. That’s technology. That’s the future of technology: suicide. And what happened to aviation? Little by little it became sicker and sicker until you got Hiroshima and 9/11. And now aviation is a nightmare. It’s torture. To go on airplanes is like torture. It’s low level torture, but it is torture. It’s not waterboarding yet, but it’s on the way.
Alright, this is what I came here to do today: To be the voice of negativity. Because I was afraid if we are going to hear more about very wonderful and charming artistic projects using new media and modern technology that would seem to be and in fact potentially are liberatory, and I would not argue against my comrades on this point. What I would say is however, going back to the original Debord quote that we began with: the essence of that quote is not just that art is dead, but that art is dangerously dead. The corpse stinks. What happens is that we go often to the world of art — I do it myself — thank god, at least it exists as a kind of reservation. I call the Hudson Valley the Art Reservation — where I live now. You can be like an Art Indian up there and everything’s cool. Believe me, I’m very glad of it. But I don’t pretend for a minute that it’s real life. These wonderful artistic projects that we have been hearing about: what relevance do they have in the struggle against capital? Maybe this is a question they’ll answer when they attack me in the afternoon as I suppose they will. Probably you guys too. Nobody seems to want to hear this.
And of course everyone always says: “Well if that’s the way you feel then what do you suggest we do, what should we do? What is to be done?” The good old Leninist question always crops up. And I cannot just say that “I don’t care” anymore. That wouldn’t be a proper answer. The fact is: I do have an answer. I have many suggestions about what should be done. One could refuse technology, one could gather together in groups and drop out of the technopathocracy as much as possible without trying to be some kind of crackpot puritan about it. Just do it as best you can. Use money as little as possible. Work as little as possible for anything other than your own projects or to grow your own food. Try to expand the group. It can’t be done alone. It has to be done in a group. And by this time people are saying: “Oh yeah, he is a hippie. He is talking about dropping out.” Right. I am a hippie. And I am talking about dropping out. This is the same old shit you’ve been hearing for forty years and I’m telling it to you again because frankly I think it’s still relevant. I think that the only way you can escape technology is to escape technology. There is no way of escaping technology through technology. You can’t escape technologyby buying more crappy gadgets and hooking them up, no matter what creative acts you can perform with them. At least that would be my thesis for today, I’ll defend it. It’s not that I believe in it 100 percent, but somebody had to say this, so I decided that I’d be the one. Thank you.