CYBERDAWG BARKING (c) 1996, by Jon Lebkowsky Redistribution of unaltered text is quite okay.


Notes for a Cyberdawg Manifesto
Put this in your RAM and stoke it!

My criticism last month of the anti-collective anti-government spew from the outer limits of libertarianism drew some snarls and led to a freewheeling debate on the WELL. While that debate still rages, pragmatic libertarians tell me they ignore the giddy roar from the fringes of the (non) movement, and so should I. The energy required to get those stubborn political nihilists to look past their noses and see today's realpolitik is better applied to organizing and consciousness raising among the great unwired. But hey, I can't resist a good drunken brawl..

Having explored the social, cultural, and political fringes of the postmodern (science-fiction-made-real) world over the last few years, I can make a few wildly informed observations. "To cure big problems you have to endure big confusion," and nobody's head has spun faster than mine over the last half decade.

In 1991 I would have told you that we could change society for the better, expand global consciousness if you will, by lobbing memes from the fringes to the core of society and watching `em spread. That was incredibly naive.

Social reality or consensus reality or whatever the fuck you wanna call it has a validating process and the functionality of that process may vary with the complexity and size of the mainstream, and according to the controlling metaphor(s), the drivers for the shared internalization of perception, the fundamental principles hidden at a preconscious level where survival is the preeminent concern. Joseph Campbell once noted that this consensus preconscious (operating-system?) psychic core finds expression in the construction of the tallest edifice in the community: an era ago, that was the church; today, it's the bank building. Our instincts are molded by profit-seeking, by ingrained capitalism, because that's where we see our survival.

This implies a change from preeminence of the spiritual to preeminence of the material, and nobody person or group forced that change, it evolved from complex sources. Lacking much historical perspective, we don't know what it means or where it's going; you can follow the postmodern understanding of material and meat, and you can jazz around with the new digital context for both, without any sense you're going anywhere except to market. We now talk the language of product reviews, and we have products that are reviews of or pointers to other products, and this consumption fetish and avid materialism made right at home in the worldwideweb's multimagical environment.

Our politics and what's left of our spiritual is just another set of products, but somewhere in there are vestiges of the fundamental humanity from which we're evolving, and this is the source for our search, our longing for community in cyberspace.

Forget the question whether we've changed for the better, whether it's healthy or not to live a wired we are, the world changes despite our complaints. Now what?

This is what: the new world computer-mediated communications could evolve along any of multiple paths, and we have the occasion to support the causes of freedom, humanity, diversity, creativity over the fearful embrace of the reactionary, repressive, monocultural, tyrannical.

When I talk about politics, when I encourage folks to get involved, there is sometimes confusion. It's a mistake to think that I'm encouraging involvement in partisan politics.I have no truck with political parties...Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Socialists, Libertarians, Dittoheads, etc. The partisan element in decisions about governance is not inherent in the Constitution or the political process. Partisan politics developed as a method for sustaining power blocs to facilitate a tradition of relatively peaceful, somewhat democratic elections in this country and in other countries with similar forms of government.

However in a computer-mediated, networked communications environment, there's a question whether we need political parties at all. Rather, we can and will, ineluctably, have what Mike Godwin calls `radical pluralism,' a multiplicity of voices and perspectives that are not tied to monolithic partisan groups. In radical-pluralist mode society will evolve away from dominance by two or three parties as larger numbers of autonomous groups evolve, unite around sets of issues, and build dynamic coalitions, elect representatives, etc. This will mean a politics that is more representative, more involving, more debate-intensive, and probably somewhat messier than the current political process, which is controlled by handlers, media filers, and driven by two (almost three) political entities in which there are not significant differences, and through which (IMO) there is insufficient representation.

Having thought through some of these issues, I've jotted down these notes for a `manifesto' that sets forth my current political howl, though like any dawg I reserve the right to dig up the bone and bury it somewhere else....

1. "Politics" and government are contradictory.

Politics is oppositional but government requires cooperation. Politics is about power, but government is about administration. Government is not bad nor good, but politics makes it so.

Politics involves power, and power corrupts. So what do we do? Figure that several folks combine efforts to create a business, and they hire (elect) a manager to run the business. They turn it over to him and pay little attention to his management. In the beginning he's a good guy but given substantial power and no scrutiny, he makes mistakes, Big Mistakes: embezzlement, favoritism, sexual harassment, that sort of thing. This sort of thing happens, we've all seen it.

In our hypothetical, the founders went wrong when they turned the business over to a manager and ceased their direct involvement. They were apathetic, and they paid the price.

Their scrutiny and involvement might have kept the guy honest; same is true of politicians in general: we can keep them honest by trading apathy for empowerment, be becoming active as we never could before computer-mediated communications existed to allow extensive debate and political organizing on a broad scale. In a more or less free society, a vote may be important, but public debate, which informs the vote, is even more so.

2. Politicization is devastation.

The wars between `liberal' and `conservative' elements of our society are creating an oppositional environment in which gridlock is ever worse. It's hard enough to make decisions on a national scale; it's so much harder when polarizing extremes bring the forces of cooperation and compromise to a halt.

3. Don't assume you know what's going on `til you know what's going on, and even then.....

I'm barraged with information, and I've made some mistakes in comprehension that resulted from half-reading or scanning material as it scrolled by on my terminal. I've come to see this as a hazard of computer- mediated communications: we skim, but seldom go deep. We think we understand when we don't.

Read deeply, and don't assume too readily.

4. After the media filter's applied, that news story might just be wrong.

Learn to read between the lines. Don't draw conclusions based on inputs from a single source (especially if it's a political entertainer). Understand limitations of perspective and bias. Establish credible sources. I.e., become media savvy. Understand that "the news" should not be confused with "the truth." That's true, and I hope it's not news.

5. Where to go from here...?

I can tell you what I'm doing.I'm trying to facilitate interactivity wherever I can, and build community however I can. Get people talking, arguing, online and in-person. Get a group of your friends together in a room occasionally, hide the television set in the closet, and TALK. Get to know your enemy, he might just be your friend. Imagine a world where your only belief is the here and now, the person or persons you're with, the karass you've fallen into, the infinite street corner bar and grill.

I've been hanging around digital culture for years now, and offline I've explored diverse works of literature, music, and film. I've read social and >political philosophy and I've strained the brain through various religious and political belief systems. I've got a way overdeveloped postmodern hangover that won't quit, and I've figured one thing out that puts all the rest into perspective:

I'd sooner be right here talking to you, as anywhere else, anytime.



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