Hakim Bey (was: RE: virtual nation building)

From: Amara Graps (amara@amara.com)
Date: Tue Feb 26 2002 - 04:43:29 MST

More from: Hakim Bey (http://www.t0.or.at/hakimbey/hakimbey.htm)

Permanent Temporary Autonomous Zones:

This is interesting:

Primitives and Extropians

a partial extraction follows:
(should read the full text)

                            PRIMITIVES & EXTROPIANS
                                  HAKIM BEY

          "ANARCHY #42" Anti-copyright 1995 by B.A.L. Press, New York

By contrast, the anarcho-Extropian or futurians are also forced to
reify the eschaton -since the present is obviously not the utopia of
techné they envision- by placing perfection in a future where symbolic
mediation has abolished hierarchy, rather than in a past where such
mediation has not yet appeared (the ideal Paleolithic of the
primitivists). Obviously for the Extropians, mediation per se cannot be
defined as "impurity" or as the invariable source of separation,
alienation, and hierarchy. Nevertheless, it remains obvious that such
separation does in fact occur, that it amounts to immiseration, that it
is bound up in some way with techné and mediation, that not all
technology is "liberating" according to any anarchist definition of the
term, and that some of it is downright oppressive. The Extropian
therefore lacks and needs a critique of technology, and of the
incredibly complex relation between the social and the technical. No
one with any intelligence can any longer accept the notion of
technology as "morally neutral," with control of the means of
production the only criteria for valuation. The social and the
technological are somehow bound in a complex relation of co-creation
(or "co-evolution"), such that techné shapes cognition even as
cognition shapes techné. If the extropian vision of the future is
viable it cannot depend on "machine evolution" alone to achieve
realization. But unless anarcho-futurism can develop a critique of
technology, it is relegated precisely to this passive role. Invariably
a dialectic of "good" machines and "evil" machines is developed, or
rather of good and evil modes of social-technological relations. This
rather manichaean worldview however fails to efiminate or even plaster
over the contradictions which arise from such premises, and which
revolve around the "bad-fit" between human values and machine "logic,"
human autonomy and machine autonomy.
Now, when I talk about "the return of the Paleolithic" I find myself
leaning toward the primitivist position -and have consequently been
criticized by extropians for luddoid reaction, nostalgism, and
technophobia. However, when I talk about (say) the potential use of the
Internet in organizing a TAZ, I begin to tilt a little toward my old
SciFi enthusiasms and sound a bit like an extropian-and have
consequently been criticized by primitivists for being "soft on
technology" (like some sort of melting watch by Dali), seduced by
techno-optimism, by the illusion that separation can overcome

Both these criticisms are correct to some degree, inasmuch as my
inconsistency results from an attempt to think about techné and society
without any recourse to an inviolate system of absolute categories. On
the one hand, most of my thinking about technology was shaped by the
radical ad-hoc-ism and bricolage theory of the '60s and '70s, the
"appropriate tech" movement, which accepts the de facto link between
techné and human society, but looks for appropriate ways to shape
situations toward low-cost/maximal-pleasure tendencies. In fiction a
model is attempted by B. Sterling in his short-story "Green Days in
Brunei," a brilliant imagining of low-tech non-authoritarian solutions
to "3rd world" over-population and poverty. In "real" life a smaller
but most exquisite model is provided by the New Alchemy Institute,
which turns polluted sinkholes into arcadian springs with low green
technologies in cheap installations which are aesthetically beautiful.
On the other hand, I prefer the burden of inconsistency (even "foolish"
inconsistency) to the burden of the Absolute. Only an impure theory can
do justice to the impurity of the present -which, as everyone knows, is
only a psychological impossibility caught between a lost past and a
nonexistent future.

"Everyday life" is not a category -even "the body" is not a category.
Life -and the body- are "full of holes," permeable, grotesque -ad hoc
constructions already compromised with an impure empiricism, fated to
"drift," to "relativism," and to the sheer messiness of the organic.
And yet it is "precisely" here, in this imprecise area of contradiction
and "vulgar existentialism," that the creative act of autonomy and
self-actualization must be accomplished. Critiques can be directed at
the past or future, but praxis can only occur in the impure and
ontologically unstable here-and-now. I don't want to abandon the
critique of past-and-future-in fact I need it, in the form of a utopian
poetics, in order to situate praxis in the context of a tradition (of
festivity and of resistance) and of an anti-tradition (of utopian
"hope"). But I cannot allow this critique to harden into an
eschatology. I ask of theory that it remain flexible in, regard to
situations, and able to define values in terms of "the struggle for
empirical freedoms" (as one modern-day Zapatista put it). "Revolution"
no less than Religion has been guilty of promising "pie in the sky" (as
Joe Hill put it) -but the real problem of theory is (as Alice put it)
"jam today." The concept of the TAZ was never intended as an
abandonment of past or future -the TAZ- existed, and will exist -but
rather as a means to maximize autonomy and pleasure for as many
individuals and groups as possible as soon as possible -even here and
now. The TAZ exists -the purpose of the theory has been simply to
notice it, help it to define itself, become "politically conscious."
The past and future help us to know our "true" (revolutionary) desires
but only the present can realize them -only the living body, for all
its grotesque imperfection.

Suppose we were to ask -as anarchists- what should be done about the
problem of technology "after the revolution." This exercise in utopian
poetics may help us to clarify the question of desire, and of praxis in
the "present." The primitivist might argue that there can be no
revolution without the abolition of symbolic mediation, or at least of
the technological imperative; extropians might say that no revolution
can occur without technological transcendence. But both parties must
perforce admit a transitional stage, when de facto power has been
seized by the "Revolution," but the full unfolding of revolutionary
society has yet to occur. Let's imagine that the one rough principle
agreed upon by "everyone" is the freedom of the individual from
coercion by the group, and the freedom of the (self-organized) group
from coercion by all other groups. The only "price" of this freedom is
that it damage no other free and autonomous interests. This would seem
to be a minimalistic but adequate definition of basic anarchism. At
this point the primitivist may hold that the dialectic of freedom moves
irrevocably toward the re-appearance of the Paleolithic, albeit at a
"higher" and more conscious level than the first time around, since
this re-appearance will have been announced by revolution, by
consciousness. Similarly at this point the extropian may argue that the
further unfolding of freedom can only be envisioned as self-directed
evolution through the co-creation of humanity and its technology. Fine
and dandy. But now what? Are these two anarchist tendencies going to
become armies and fight it out to the last recalcitrant computer jock
or neo-wild-man? Are they going to force their visions of the future on
each other? Would such action be consistent with the basic anarchist
premise of -mutual non-coercion? Or would it reveal each of these
tendencies to be flawed by destructive and tragic contradictions?
Of course, everyone is free to play this game of utopian poetics with
different "rules," and different results. After all, the future does
not exist. However, I would like to push the implications of my
thought-experiment a bit further. I suspect that this "utopia" would
prove disappointing to both the primitives and the extropians. I
suspect that a workable utopia would adhere more closely to the "messy"
model than to either of the "pure" models of the pro-tech/anti-tech
theorists. Like bolo'bolo, I imagine a complex multiplicity of social
models co-existing under the voluntary aegis of the social "price" of
mutual non-coercion. In effect the primitivists will get less
wilderness than they demand, and the extropians will get less tech.
Nevertheless, all but the most fanatical extremists on either side will
be reconciled to the messy utopia of desire or so I predict -because it
will be organized around pleasure and surplus, rather than the denial
and scarcity expressed by the totality. The desire for wilderness will
be gratified at a level undreamed since the early Neolithic, and the
desire for creativity and even co-creation will be gratified at a level
undreamed by the wildest science fiction. In both cases the means for
this enjoyment can only be called appropriate techné -green, low
energy, high information. I don't believe in the abolition of symbolic
mediation, and I don't believe that separation can overcome separation.
But I do hypothesize the possibility of a much more immediate and
satisfactory experience of creation and conviviality through the human
(animal/animate) scaling of economy and technology -and this, however
untidy, I would call utopia.

If I have disagreed with both primitives and extropians here, it was
not to reject them as allies. The only useful purpose served by our
"after the Revolution" game is to shed light on our present situation,
and our possible options for concrete action here and now (more or
less). It seems to me that both the P's and E's are quite capable of
grasping the theory of "messiness" and the "impure" model of the TAZ. A
night, a week, a month of relative autonomy, relative satisfaction,
relative realization, would be worth far more to most anarchists than a
whole lifetime of absolute bitterness, resentment, and nostalgia for
the past or future. The most enthusiastic cyberpunk can still embrace
the "festal body," and the most savage primitives have been known to
succumb to civilized impurities such as beer, or art. I fear that a few
diehards in both camps will still sneer at our enjoyment -of the impure
TAZ or the impure uprising- because it falls short of the perfect
revolution. But realization arises only from direct experience, from
participation. They themselves admit this. And yet action is always
impure, always incomplete. Are they too fastidious? Will nothing suit
them both besides the void-wither of wilderness, or of cyberspace? Are
they dandies of the Absolute?
But at this present moment the TAZ (in its broadest possible sense)
seems to be the only manifestation of the possibility of radical
conviviality. Every non-authoritarian tendency should support the TAZ
because only there (aside from the imagination) can an authentic taste
of life without oppression be experienced. The vital question now
concerns the "technology" of the TAZ, i.e., the means for potentiating
and manifesting it most clearly and strongly. Compared to this
question, the problems of technology (or of zero-technology) take on an
air of theological debate -a ghostly and querulous other- worldliness.
My critics have a point -but it's aimed somewhere about 10,000 years in
the past, or "five minutes into the future," and misses the mark.

I must admit that my own taste inclines neither toward Wilderness World
nor spaceship Earth as exclusive categories. I actually spend far more
time defending wildness than "civilization," because it is far more
threatened. I yearn for the re-appearance of Nature out of Culture-but
not for the eradication of all symbolic mediation. The word "choice"
has been so devalued lately. Let's say I'd prefer a world of
indeterminacy, of rich ambiguity, of complex impurities. My critics,
apparently, do not. I find much to admire and desire in both their
models, but can't for even a moment believe in either of them as
totalities. Their futurity or eschatology bores me, unless I can mix it
into the stew of the TAZ -or use it to magic the TAZ into active
existence- to tease the TAZ into action. The TAZ is "broad-minded"
enough to entertain more than two, or even six, impossible ideas
"before breakfast." The TAZ is always "bigger" than the mere ideas
which inspire it. Even at its smallest and most intimate the TAZ
englobes all "totalities," and packs them into the same kaleidoscope
conceptual space, the "imaginal world" which is always so closely
related to the TAZ, and which burns with the same fire. My brain may
not be able to reconcile the wilderness and cyberspace, but the TAZ can
do so - in fact, has already done so. And yet the TAZ is no totality,
but merely a leaky sieve-which, in the fairy tale, can carry milk or
even become a boat. For the TAZ, technology is like that paper fan in
the Zen story, which first becomes a "fan," then a device for scooping
cake, and finally a silent breeze.

Amara Graps, PhD          email: amara@amara.com
Computational Physics     vita:  ftp://ftp.amara.com/pub/resume.txt
Multiplex Answers         URL:   http://www.amara.com/
      "There are strange things done in the midnight sun..."
          --  Robert W. Service

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Nov 01 2002 - 13:37:41 MST