Nicolas Hausdorf ( of H+Corp) was invited to write a series of ‘slow responses’ to the COBRA Committee. Below are three letters to the COBRA Committee.
LETTER A 15th May 2013
Why a response to COBRA? The discrete acronym of the crypto emergency state as if outsourced from a cheap spy novel draws and directs our attention. Are we vulgarizing any attempt to art with the proximity of government, by being dragged into the tractor beam of the news-cycle and agenda setting capacity of power? Yet, perhaps we must embrace vulgarity, this etiquette-shattering boldness and anti-culture. There is a need for anti-reality. We are short-circuiting the dream-machinery of mass-hysteria (Terrorism ! Viral Threat ! Rogue State !) to focus in on a quiet signal. The shrouded secrecy of obscure newspaper articles copy-paste of government press releases. Perhaps we are merely reacting to what the state has emitted into us…There goes COBRA, the quiet sonar of the hyper-verticalized and centralized power-structure. Control rooms of democracy of all provinces blanket the homeland with iron peace and generate chaos at an imperial periphery always laced with enough military outposts to monitor and secure extractive operations. In a second we forgot all the noise and hype of doom and war around us and saw the emitting signal itself in the eye.I thought that perhaps COBRA response must be a dialogue with that thing which is the state. Granted certainly, that this thing never answers we must ourselves begin to write answers. Of course, this answering of one’s own questions has always been what the state is. More precisely the state is the inertia and similarity of these answers which constitute the subjects as mass- a process which is due to a violence ancient and mythical-that historical violence cum monopoly of legitimate violence cum supreme cognitive authority.I thought about such answers and the dialogue in general when I intended to write about COBRA. They seem to me like a common theme I want to explore. I want to give an example.Should there have been a COBRA meeting to Margaret Thatcher’s Death?Of course the question is misleading, yet it serves me to make a point. A COBRA meeting to Thatcher’s death would have been like a COBRA meeting to discuss a COBRA meeting: a doubling of cognitive operations of the state, since both COBRA and Thatcher’s death can be perceived as such. There difference is that the former can be described as the production of the state as res publica, the latter as the production of the state as res privata.Immediately, after the announcement of Thatcher’s death I could see the comments on the social networks proliferate. It was one of those moments were the networks had become politicized or rather filled with content which belongs to what is commonly being considered as the “political” sphere. Obituaries either applauded or destroyed the prime minister for her legacy with a series of interpretations regarding Thatcher’s role in relationship to the economy as well as society. Usually this is also the place where psychologizations create the state as a human interest topic (The vulnerability of the private person and her struggle etc., personal shortcomings and maleability). Interestingly, there seemed to be a discussion yet no possible exchange between both these positions of praise or rejection. Between images of Brixton protestants burning the Evening Standard and officially ordered sorrow no synthesis seemed possible1. Both positions had obviously been nurtured in completely different information-environments made possible by the bipartisan polarization of the news-media. In this type of conversation both sides of the political spectrum (left and right) may use the same words while associating notions with completely contrary meaning. The word social will induce a associations of warmth and family in the leftist while right wingers will receive it as a container for uniformity, repression and destruction of creativity. Both sides will recognize these symbols which will then trigger the standard responses primed through their respective mediatized discourses. Both sides are thus participants in the interpersonal network of ideology, ideology being a systematic hearsay about cause and effect patters. This hearsay could be either the nostalgia about the 60s and 70s welfare state of the left (a state perhaps based on an even greater extent of colonialism, inequality, and repression towards the non European space than today) or the glorification of a supposedly free market of the right (which in reality is a state- and political subsidy funded corporatist oligopoly). In searching for a model of freedom both sides continuously either chose the state or the ‘free market’ as a solution to defeat the other -oblivious to the tandem modus operandi of both inseparable sides. The state thus changes its face (“strong state-intervention” or “freedom to do business”) while at the same time being the origin as well as solution to any political project and struggle in endless tautology. I perceive that both political faces of the mainstream discourse are similarly misinformed basing their assumptions on a historiography which excludes the operations of the secretive executive arms of state power. Consequently, its the information-space itself which organizes them in a way as to neutralize each other. Both sides attack another while opting either for the state or the free market (corporate sector) to weigh more in relation to the other.Politics is the selective activation of indignation by means of information. I think that the state as res publica is this process of inducing fault lines by means of highly personalized and emotionalized information into the population. Government as always is divide et impera, the illusion of a populations as a assembly of potentially violent minorities. The difference between the empire and the imperial periphery is certainly the intensity of conflict. While inside the empire the fault lines are organized as politics, the periphery is increasingly organized as ethno-religious warfare according to the model of a disintegrating Yugoslavia (today disintegrating Iraq, Libya, Syria, various African states).The second face of the production of the state is the state as res privata. The state as private affair continuously repeats its only raison d’être: That it cannot disclose its true nature, that it cannot share its information in its noble pursuit to protect us from doom. Of course we cannot expect the two faces to operate independently. We know that Tony Blair will seek our good in the COBRA room. We may disagree with his day-to-day politics but we know that Tony will be on our side in protecting us from villainy. We have always dreamed of this (By default our brains replace what we cannot know with the Hollywood images of the noble authorities we have been exposed to ever since we were children. A common operation of propaganda is to mix the factual with fiction infinitely until both become indistinguishable). Thus we will always see the press releases on Cobra and the photo-ops of Barack Obama and his administration receiving the news of Bin Laden’s death. What is interesting about this is the public face given to secrecy. Here the res publica meets the unaccountable secret state. The latter is this invisible permanently working staff with its long term strategies and 20-year technological development plans. You can never identify its faces because it is the only part of government which has a right (as derived from its power) to remain private. It is this part of the state which assures the continuity of government that adjusts minor lifestyle politics according to public gusto (legalization of pot, gender equality, localized subsidies) yet remains on an unchangeable track (unchangeable by non-organized public opinion, not by fact) for all other issues (mainly related to the development of the techno-industrial core-state). Its also the reason for the disillusionment of politics in those who participate in their own electoral deception every four our five years (modern political marketing is not made to engage the voter to go to the ballots but rather to reaffirm the relevance of the elections and thereby the political system itself.) The enforcers of the state as res privata are the paramilitary structures which combine information gathering and surgically applied violence. They enforce a political mannerism of self-restriction by a trail of the suicided and ruined known only to those who have known political discourse from the inside. We have seen this branch of government increase its sophistication and power by means of current technology which allows the reification of entire populations as data sets, mineable with algorithms and locally centralizeable in the large data-centers currently being built around the globe. These structures are easily fortifiable and can localize the beginning of potentially relevant oppositional political discourses with increasing accuracy before they reach their “tipping point” (a concept increased into mainstream political discourse by Malcolm Gladwell).What lessons for a response to Cobra? A political project between art and politics should seek to communicate with the state as mass- communications products res private and res publica. Art must be that bunker buster -emitting from individuals that are stealth- penetrating into the control rooms of democracy and defacing, exploding the decade-old dream structure.The historical task of the artist, designer is to be the controlled-demolition expert coolly implanting the plastic explosives of subversive doubt and strategic dissonance into the coordinates of the everyday -until the reality he has lost touch with itself implodes, collapses, vanishes into oblivion before our very eyes.1Perhaps also due to an effect of the medium. Everything said on the social networks is definite and recorded, placed to one’s own avatar to deepen the effect of identification (Idem-facere- to make equal) of ‘person’ and position . 2 I haven’t touched on Thatcher’s legacy which is another point to discuss. I think her political project was to make England the militarized accountant of the world economy with all it would take.
LETTER B 28th May 2013
No.2 on Cobra.
No. 2 because I want to talk about that thing which is the state. Last night I read about the suicide of Guantanamo attorney Andy P. Hart, federal public defender. He’s leaving behind an eleven year old daughter.Trail of (the) suicide(d)Dr. David Kelly (UK Government whistleblower) – SUICIDESean Hoare (News of the World whistleblower) – SUICIDEGarry Webb („Iran Contra“ investigat. journalist) – SUICIDEAaron Schwartz (cyberactivist) – SUICIDEPhillip Marshall (9.11 investigative author) – SUICIDEMark Lombardi (artist investigating money flows) – SUICIDEWhat you see here is a list of deaths which have officially been deemed suicides. What they all have in common is that the persons, in one way or another, were involved with the most intimate pursuits of the state. This selection is small yet delicious, comprising only a small number of those who rushed through my mind whilst contemplating the issue. It appears to me as if those who occupy themselves with the strategic kernels of the power structure loose their nerve and kill themselvesleaving behind sons, daughters, families as well as their unsanswered questions into the structures they were investigating. Could we construct a phenomenology of the state by contriving a map of those suicides happening at its fringes- A pluridimensional cartography of metadata connecting art, science, politics, technology and journalism: how would it look like ?Let me return to my list: Is the information on their suicides plausible? Resolute voices and dignified posture cluster as op-ed pieces around the news-items which are burrying the death in surrogate certainty. They discount all speculation deviating from the officially accredited explanation as the product of paranoid delusion. The mannerly media-consumer concords with such forbidding voice (a voice he is intimately familiar with because it is his own forbidding voice) – because the government he knows holds no possible motive in perpetrating disdainful acts. Films, documentaries, tailored suits, and spectacular office complexes have taught him and his elders to admire this entity decades ago. Meanwhile the suicides will confirm to him what he had already fathomed: that the very act of opposition to this thing itself is most intimately amalgamated to an ailing and sickly spirit; that opposition is compulsive and of the domain of pathology. He will consequently guard the appropriate distance from it – unconsciously yet all the more resolutely. Why investigate? Why diverge? Could we conclude any advocacy from these mechanisms and formulate a presumption about the nature of the state?Perhaps that what we’re calling the state is a type of polarizing energy setting examples and creating zones of fragmentation and ambiguity which organize, attract or repulse information and allegiances; perhaps that state-action (if we were to advice an organizational principle for the PR of government agents)need always be construed according to the principle of plausible deniability- that non-space where information is neither affirmed nor denied: Because this ambiguity serves well its function in confirming to all who know that they know what they know. The state is that information which ensures the daily conduct of affairs and need not be proven because it is self-evident for a part of society sufficiently numerous to stabilize reality. Its strongest foundation is the collective will to narcosis of the masses. Opposition to that information therefore is what needs to clarify itself, be eloquent, explicit and in detail. The detainer of myth and commonplace need not be specific.What lesson for an artistic response to Cobra? What lessons for a political project of art and design? Art as a political project naturally confers its ambigousness and thereby plausible deniability onto the information space of oppositional politics. Art as the ultimate domain of freedom must help politics to think closer to the fringes of reality and acceptable discourse again- it energizes political opposition where the latter has previously become toothless in a modus operandi of cautious critique; it lends its flamboyance where opposition has been rendered limp and confidenceless by the penetrating gaze of the inquisitional tribunal of power.That’s why from today on my speech is pure fiction…Art is the last remaining space of freedom and its future is grand because its social function is the commodification and reinsertion as capital of broken hearts and shattered spirits and today the viral exuberant sprawl of urban creative expression renders evident the therapeutic necessity of artistic practice and everyone who came into our white cubes could feel that there was air to breath much more than in skies soiled with black helicopters, tracking signals, and aluminum dust and that we managed to corrupt all the sons and daughters of those sitting in the control rooms of democracy until they found nothing short of ridicule in their fathers’ bent backs and petty projects of global reach and that when finally and in the end they were raiding the premises they found only black splattered walls with cryptic narratives and unreadable signifiers undefinable yet so dense they broke the spell with which reality was taken hostage and that’s a response to Cobra and that’s my response to Cobra.
LETTER C 19th August 2013
I’m afraid I have been finding you rather unresponsive to my letters but I will not bear a grudge. Perhaps all creation requires some degree of autism and so I will continue to address you. I am writing you because I had been quite in awe these last weeks , witnessing reality slowly and gracefully disintegrate to the soft-spoken yet determined words of Ed Snowden spread over international headlines and news-casters alike. I’m assuming that all of a sudden it has become quite acceptable to speak about in public what was subject to an implicit ban and taboo in the public sphere for years. I admit that I am rather surprised by this given that (perhaps incidentally) most of my casual conversation partners as well as the press equally would have considered allegations about the existence of an elaborate infrastructure as revealed by the documents to be no-less than delusional(1).Perhaps, we are yet to fully comprehend the traumas inflicted upon politics through the documents leaked by those soft-featured men Private Bradley Manning and NSA operative Edward J. Snowden. Of course, it is not news they fed into the info-circuits .(2) News is merely the mass audience exposed to the operations of the secret state. There seems to be some, yet maybe remarkably little shock at the becoming social form of that unspeakable suspicion which slowly diffused intoxicating the fairytales of the Flat World, anonymous and equal, that we had grown up to believe in: Nourished by data-scandal after data-scandal citizens come face to face with the knowledge that they have intimate digital shadows reified and locked up in heavily guarded dessert mega-complexes: that everything they did online under the illusion of anonymity has been recorded. All of a sudden through the misty dawn of disinformation thus surfaces the amalgamate corporatist entity of security- and high-tech industry longtime subliminally programmed by science fiction to be the government of the future. To add to the grotesque of the situation, the PR machine of the undead liberal democratic process continues to inject the cocktail of relativizations, denials, and staccato admissions in hope of catering to the atrophied attention spans of the television-and gluten clouded masses. They’re offering the bribes of indifference and the temporary feeling of security in return for allegiance, a somatized perspective certainly more pleasing than facing the corpse of democracy, which had been quietly decomposing infested with state of emergency legislation and some precise marketing slogans of urgency and necessity. Concurrently, the cool flame of imperial warfare had for too long molded a mass of souls with sinister depth who upon return from the war-torn periphery found no match or place in an increasingly surreal and directionless peace. Snowden draws the curtains: If the services monitor and store the totality of communication, the logical conclusion is to assume the existence of a transnational(3) government which operates through the permanent possibility and actual use of blackmail. The ridiculous tabloid pictures of Petraeus’ extramarital shenanigans(4) become the anecdotal illustration of a system where with the help of social puritanism non-events are hypertrophied to eliminate political adversaries. Scandal, which may also take the form of a selective exposure of the reality of politics, becomes the means to induce (self-) censorship of the political class.But, despite the publicity, will there be a reaction to the revelations? Or will the leaks and their subsequent mediatization become the immune reaction of the system to its own modification and radicalization rather than generating the critical mass of discontent fracturing the empire of indifference. After all, the information had been available for quite a while. In a near absence of political protest, is the state revealing itself to a public, reinforcing its corporate communications organs which had long lost credibility with the masses due to their detached and eclectic regurgitations of state press releases?Unprecedented modification of the liberal order: to sustain the system of free flow (capital, labour, goods, social mobility) democracies needed to block the free dispersion of information. The internet as a system of informational entropy and collective memory (ultimately approaching a free flow of information) meanwhile modifies the nature of the system of free flows: by exposing them as nothing less than invalid propaganda it shakes the liberal democratic imaginary at its core. Of course, the Anglo-Saxon model had rather been a system of guarded openness and controlled flux: forcing open waters, borders and brains when favorable, impeaching when detrimental.With informational liberalism the game changes. A meritocracy of dark intelligence emerges as users crowdsource the task of historiography. Every day agents vaccinate themselves with newly emerging revisionist history subverting the normative and symbolic order of the empire. The state loses grip upon what had been the effective emotional monopoly on trust, nobility, and pleasant feelings through propaganda in its various forms (from architectural emanations, to people magazines and uniforms); its secure and quiet strength challenged through crowd-sourced discovery and accumulation of the collateral in the imperial organization of space.If the Gulf War had initiated the buzz of a hyphenation of reality with the tropical fever of the military dream-machine, the informational renegades of the internet are certain to serve the nasty hangover of counter-narratives composed of carelessly discarded information toxins. Perhaps, neither the Libyan nor the Syrian War are Taking Place but no Mediterranean Sea separates us in the long run from Misrata’s and Aleppo’s numeric corpses; even if presidents employ their best fiction writers(5) and conduct their concert of medical(6) , psychological and technical research(7) against the algorithmically calculated and data-mined popular brain.The gentry observes and fears this very development of a resurfacing of information within a class which is structurally disidentified from the imperial ambitions of the shareholders. Quoi faire alors? Some agents advocate the closing of Pandora’s Box of information in an alliance of IP-industry and an emerging social puritanist hysteria initiated by the status fears of a drowning middle class. Porn filters for the UK and abandoning net-neutrality would be a convenient first step in disadvantaging “extremist” websites and system-hostile memes.The sheer impotence of such a ban could cast some hope. The horrific version of the future would rather be the integration of the open and unstoppable flux of information into the very fabric of government. Propaganda 101 has always put the lesson of orthopraxy over orthodoxy(8) . The control of thoughts is only a secondary luxury for the prince. Primary importance resides in the destruction of all forms of independent collective organization. Perhaps this objective finds its most economic emanation in the fragmentation of the individual itself increasingly self-obsessively glued to the smart-screen: Facebook is substance D disconnecting the brain through attention span atrophy neuroplasticism. A panoply of addictive tech fills the void of proximity with surrogate sociality where paranoia reigns supreme.The social networks provide the illusion of a cozy global village in which the tokens of design are the canvasses obstructing the cameras from view which would otherwise expose it as global laboratory. Today it has thus become less and less tenable to sustain Saatchi & Saatchi’s millionaire candy tokens and the self-indulging psychologist misery of state-funded expressionism; even for a moment: Art is dead and today reincarnates as social-, economic, political technology.And it has too under suchlike conditions of imminent and charmless dystopia: Divine opportunity arises when the rumbling death-machine of the techno-industrial state radicalizes society into subdued info-cyborgs and the last agents of history.
(1) Allegations were of course up to this point considered to be belonging to the domain of „conspiracy theory“ and thereby considered inacceptable for official discourse. See my 2011 article min(e)d control discussing NSA data collection.
(2) Technically Wikileaks can merely be credited with providing a very plastic example of the intoxication and dehumanisation of US soldiers along with the everyday reality of the war in the „Collateral Murder“ video, the low-level classified documents released with the „cablegate“ affair have provided no genuine news to the public. The gist of Edward Snowden’s revelations meanwhile had been brought forth years before through NSA whistleblowers Russel Tice, Wayne Madsen, or James Bamford.
(3)Transnational because of the links and multilateral cooperations of secret services dating back to World War II through occupation networks such as Gladio.
(4)Of course Petraeus was to punished for his role in the 9.11 Benghazi attacks.
(5) Ben Rhodes earned an MA Fiction Writing at NYU. Hence intense discussions at what point Green Square had really been taken during the destruction of Cathargo.
(6)Today of course, the epitome of psychological research is a combination of Harvard and Guantanamo.
(7)Similarly today, university disciplines of psychology, political science, anthropology, and sociology are blending into neuroscience.
(8)No need to believe in that which you are currently doing. See for example Jacques Ellul’s classic- Propaganda-The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (1973, p.27)