Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Whatever Blogging

It struck me as serendipitous that Jodi should start examining "whatever-being" and Dominic would pontificate about Facebook at roughly the same time. Though totally unrelated conversationally, the two seemed to struggle with similar issues: identification, assimilation, emancipation.

Unless I'm mistaken, Dominic was responding to Tom Hodgkinson's online tirade against the pernicious politics & invasive motives behind Facebook. But rather than debate whether Facebook is a corporatist surveillance tool, Dominic took this as a given and argued that we'd do better to:
"Forget Facebook. Facebook is not what the internet should be. It is the internet redesigned by people who want information to be owned, and specifically owned by them. It is the internet enclosed, territorialized, packaged up and sold off. The internet for dummies... Facebook is to the real internet as those Vtech 'laptop' toys for children are to real laptops. It’s a cheat, a con, a distraction. It gives you nothing you don’t already have..."
Evidently, Dominic regards Facebook much in the same way that I, as a musician, regard Guitar Hero: a cheap substitute for those gumptionless nitwits & corporate prey who want everything cheap, wrapped in plastic, and now. To use Facebook is to be shortchanged on the emancipatory power of being online.

Meanwhile, Jodi was sharing some reactions to Dominic Pettman's Love and Other Technologies, specifically engaging his idea of "whatever-being": to co-exist with other individuals based on an "inessential commonality," a kind of universal dissimilarity. As Jodi explains it:
"Whatever beings don't consist in anything in particular, anything essential. Their associations don't presuppose bases in anything typically associated with essential human being. The coming community, then, is not an association of citizens. Nor is it a tribe or religion. I would guess that common history is also out as a basis, insofar as the problem is with the need to establish a basis for commonality. So, what then, is whatever being?"
(Emphasis mine) I'm far from qualified to answer this question, not having read Pettman (nor Agamben, nor Deleuze, upon whom Pettman draws heavily), but what is the internet good for if not wild speculation & epistemological overreach? I imagine that Whatever-Being isn't too far off from Dominic's online utopia: an aether through which people float frictionless, shaved of superficially-defining characteristics, and where communication flows in an unmediated, omnidirectional fashion. In other words, imagine the Acropolis with scramble suits.

I have myself experienced a kind of Whatever-Being living abroad. Racist (or at least racialist) attitudes around the world tend to be most discriminating when cleaving Us from Those Almost But Not Quite Us (e.g. Chinese VS. Japanese); meanwhile, every other alien demographic is patched together into a large, indistinct Other. Believe it or not, American-style racism is relatively sophisticated & worldly, with its myriad of epithets and polyethnic artillery of stereotypes. Most other countries where I've lived have simply lumped all foreigners into a single group, which can only be defined by a single negative characteristic: "We are all not Ghanaian" or "We are all not Japanese." This produced an odd fellowship amongst us Auslanders, given that the only thing we have in common is that we have nothing in common. If that ain't "inessential commonality," I don't know what is.

But then I start to question if this "coming community" of Whatever-Beings that Pettman foretells is a good thing or not. Though I personally enjoyed the arm's length at which I was kept living in Japan*, I didn't enjoy the fact that the objective distance was the result of dehumanizing foreigners. Whatever-Being seems like a label to slap on anyone who exhibits no characteristics that are considered important - a dangerous, post-ideological Othering to ghettoize anyone found to be unamenable. Defining "whatever-being" is scarcely less difficult than defining what it means to be human, since (as Jodi said) Whatever-Being isn't based "in anything typically associated with essential human being." So is a Whatever-Being, by definition, not human? I can far too easily hear the term being used in some mass-murderous thug's self-defense.

Going back to Dominic's enthusiasm for the internet's emancipatory potential, the truth is that everything online is mediated. The internet does not exist of its own accord, nor out of our collective will; it is 100% man-made and procured from other people. From the machine on which I'm typing, through the cable & modem to which it's connected, to the wires that run from my phone jack to who-knows-where, every step of this journey has been purchased. For the time being, we can revel in our online anonymity, adjusting the resolution on our scramble suits as we see fit; we can mock the poor fools on Facebook, who have to narrowly define themselves according to multiple-choice questions selected & designed by some online overseer. But every day, there are calls for more control of internet activity from people in high places. It could be that the only "whatever" we'll find ourselves being is a shrug of indifference personified, as a citizen of a corporate surveillance state.

*Here in Germany, people are superficially more tolerant & inclusive than in Japan (given its larger immigrant population), but don't expect to be treated like anything less than a lobotomite if you don't speak the language.


dionysusstoned said...

this is a very interesting post. I did read jodi's blog on whatever, but not the pettman book...

anyway, this might just be a difference of idiom, but a don't really recognize the figure of whatever in either Jodi or your post. The problem is that whatever tends here towards indifference...whereas, the way i tend to read the old man is as saying it is the "being thus" of a thing; not 'it does not matter which', but rather 'such that it always matters'. If you interested i blogged about it few weeks ago.


i'd be interested to here what you think., since i'm struggling with these ideas as well.

dionysusstoned said...

sorry, the old man is agamben (rereading i remembered that you said pettman draws more on deleuze. since i don't know deleuze on whatever, maybe thats why the difference)