Friday, April 26, 2013

What Do You Know? (an argument for an internet free of violence)




Someone says, “I think the FBI is doing a sweep in West Oakland.” I am in a kitchen in LA; I don’t know what they mean. Frantic messages go out and come back from Northern California: 300 cops. Helicopters. Think some kid got shot in the face. What do you know? I know only as much as the next friend will tell me. What I don’t know about what the cops do could fill an ocean. We tell lots and lots of stories and hope none of them stick, but it almost always all do.

A couple people tell me they get their news from Facebook now. I do not know where to buy a newspaper in my neighborhood, and I rarely care. I bought an LA Times yesterday for any mention of Dhaka and found none, but I guess I should have known better. I have been liberated from the tyranny of news to the freedom of an algorithmic awareness of things-of-scrolling-interest. Sometimes I miss Indymedia, but mostly I forget to think about it. 

Now I do not go outside to know the weather, and that both is and is not a metaphor. 

The internet -- the height of neoliberal creation -- is the human invention that no human understands. Pixelated and hypertextual, everything seems to virtually progress without ever really moving. We travel through cyberspace but our bodies are still our bodies in chairs, the vessels for so many troubled memories and desires. We still have to get up to eat, to shit. We still have to pay our taxes.

Just two weeks ago I willingly filed my taxes and paid for any number of things... the tin used on a drone in Pakistan, or for one week’s hardship compensation for a mercenary in Afghanistan, or for several dinners and a lunch for a Congress person that will stifle any gun control bill, or for the new holsters on the belts of four LA police officers who will draw their weapons from those holsters when they raid my house, or for the gasoline in the vehicles of the 150 FBI and 120 Oakland PD and 30 San Leandro PD that have spent the last 24 hours terrorizing a neighborhood to make four arrests (one of a minor), or for two days’ salary to the FBI public investigator who used one of those two days to ask the internet for support in identifying the Boston Marathon bombers.

Because we have bodies and because these bodies hold memories we don’t even remember and desires too secret to mention even to our own hearts, a federal institution has no right to ask anyone with a modem to identify a bomber. Not when Trayvon’s or Oscar’s or Sakia’s murders spark debate. Not when Sunil Tripathi was still missing. 

If things were different -- if we really were on the other side of a revolution and the internet really did function as a window pane through which we truly see each other, and come to know and know of each other through that seeing -- then the FBI call would land on different and more critical ears (or eyes, as it were). In fact, there would be no FBI call for citizens’ arrest because there would be no FBI; the internet would’ve taken care of that, along with the CIA, DHS, ICE, and etc. 

But the FBI knows that the internet does not work that way -- they know this, they helped to invent it. They know that we do not see through the internet at all; it is a tool for reactionary feedback loops and gossip. Gossip can indeed move bodies to action, and in this way it can be a radical force for justice. (I am thinking of gossip circles that support survivors of sexual violence by de-prioritizing police and giving primacy to the survivors’ needs as expressed by the survivor.) But when gossip happens in a vacuum without awareness -- without hyperlinks to this or this or this -- it is not a radical kind of gossip. It is just plain ol’ gossip, Salem Witch Trial style. 

The other thing about bodies is that bodies die. Bodies sleep and are woken up in their sleep by cops with AK’s and bodies shake with trauma and bodies watch their mothers get led out of the house with their hands cuffed and bodies run and bodies get shot. The internet simply cannot do away with our bodies. What it does do away with is our ability to see each others’ bodies, and to know we exist physically. 

The FBI had no right to make that call in the Boston case because they more than anyone know that 300-person SWAT team sweeps happen in West Oakland precisely because West Oakland bodies are unseen bodies -- as unseen by Facebook algorithms as by the LA Times. The FBI (the US Government, the police, etc) uses the blanket of unseeingness provided by our most popular news source to erase and disappear real bodies without accountability. 

They understand that brown and black bodies exist phantasmagorically in the collective imaginary almost entirely as specters onto which fear and desire can be projected, in much the same way that the FBI projects their own desire and fear of black bodies onto the bodies of the 4 people they arrested in Oakland. And when, in Boston, they asked for help finding a body... oh, any body, but which body will you choose when there are so many...  their feedback loop is in full swing. (You see, even our ability to re-imagine the Tsarnaev brothers as non-white subjects was a kind of unseeing, a true cop-in-the-head in which the public watched and re-watched the boys in that footage and found itself unable to see them as white.) 

The FBI should not expect critical visuality to emerge Phoenix-like from the unseeing internet it has propagated in the name of legal terrorism. They have no right to ask people to see that way when all they have ever wanted of us is to never see at all. 

4 comments:

Nina Haft & Company said...

I love that image of the internet as a window pane through which we might see. For real. This practice of seeing - it is slipping away, and I love how you break it down to its violent origins, tendencies, conclusions...

minakshi verma said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Keith Hennessy said...

thank you!

a m w said...

Thanks, ya'll!