This is the first time I’ve posted in a while, but I think we’re in significant times. Assange and the whole Wikileaks phenomenon is so important that it needs a little theory.
To recap for those who have been unaware of the news, Wikileaks is an online Wikipedia-like database that “whistle-blows” against governmental/corporate wrongdoing by releasing controlled/classified documents. As of December 2010 they have been releasing huge numbers of cables relating to US foreign policy, which has the First World, especially the US State Department in a panic. Why? Because the leaks show the US in any number of gaffes, like calling Russia a “mafia state”, disclosing precarious mentions of Middle Eastern leaders. In addition, other undisclosed information, such as revealing transfers of weapons technology from North Korea to Iran, US drug companies targeting African politicians, and so on. This disclosure has sent the First World into diplomatic chaos, with geopolitical politics reconfiguring itself like a planet-sized Rubik’s Cube.
First World power has been bitten by its own child, or its own emergent system as typified in popular science fiction franchises, like the Matrix and Terminator. Infopower has begun to become autonomous of its material (atomic) roots. Instead of the robots, it is merely the infosphere that is asserting itself. In The Porcelain Workshop, Antonio Negri asserts that one of the three major shift into the postmodern is the primacy of informatics/cognitive capital as central to the new order. As such, it is focusing of society on this flow of capital which has relocated the foundations of power in the new millennium.
The Internet was conceived by the US military (DARPA) as a decentralized network for the sharing and redundant storage of information in multiple locations in case of nuclear attack. In such a case, one node can be destroyed, and the network can still function despite their loss. It is for this reason that I believe that material/conventional power should be termed as “atomic”, as nuclear weapons are the ultimate extension of the nation-state, and as metaphor for material society, we can also double that this power situates in the world of atoms. However, this extension of conventional/”atomic” power has grown into a concurrent, distributed, heterogenous field of power that I will call the Infostate, that includes the Web, E-mail, and all functions of networked communications. Although the functionaries of conventional power have restructured themselves in terms of the informational milieu, the latter is not necessarily congruent with the former. The Internet spans most physical states, yet resides in no single one.
Despite this, there are zones which the nation state has tried to territorialize and limit the flow of cognitive capital, such as Turkey and China, but the firewalls remain porous and slippery. This deterritiorialization of the Infostate creates an asymmetrical power relation which, due to its amorphous nature, is problematic for the conventional nation-state to engage. Conventional power requires a face upon which to focus fear and hatred upon, such as Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. Infopower is mercuric and morphogenic, and when confronted by the centralized, hierarchical nature of conventional power, it merely splits, morphs or replicates, sidestepping the metaphorical “army & general”. This relationship signals the new balance of power between the nation-state and the Infostate as Krokerian Panic dialectic, in which the ability of the one to relate in terms of the other implodes.
With the bleeding of information from the material to the infomatic rhizome through Wikileaks (i.e. the US diplomatic cable leaks), the Infostate has created an asymmetrical insurgency against conventional power. Negri’s conception of cognitive capital as locus of power asymmetrically challenges that of material capital. This is analogous to previous mention of events as told in the movie, The Matrix, and the artificial (informatic) being overriding/supercedes embodied conventional power. As Deleuze, then Agamben assert that power is the separation of the subject from potentiality, and as such mitigates dissent, the nation-state is trying to exert power by separating the means of support and the figurehead from Wikileaks, but distributed, asymmetrical cyberwarfare by the net.community has already disrupted banks, credit, and networked sites. It has even awakened the amorphous hacker subculture of “Anonymous” which was last known for its mass protests against the Church of Scientology to rise against the opponents of Wikileaks. The Net, as child of the military (conventional power) has begun to turn on its masters, with expected reflexive responses.
This knee-jerk reaction of the nation-state to asymmetrical power versus conventional power became evident in the case of 2001, where decentralized “cellular” physical social networks circumvented centralized power. Although the previous statement says decentralized physical power, this is merely an intermediary step to the development of asymmetrical distributed infopower. The centralized, hierarchical nature of the material corporate nation-state has been unable to contain the decentralized flow of cellular power, which has become infopower, created by the emergency of distributed networks. This is seen as we look again at Matrix Reloaded, where in, as in The Matrix Trilogy, the informatic body/state (Agent Smith) reacts to the intervention of conventional human power (Neo, or “The One”) by asymmetry in massively replicating Wikileaks sites (“The Many”). Conventional power now has a cloud of moving, replicating targets rather than one to aim at.
The First World then reacts to being challenged by expediting material/physical diplomacy that would take months, days, or weeks by arresting Assange and possibly for extraditing him to the United States, his locus of challenge. But although the “head”, (the object of leverage of conventional power) is in custody, the “body” of Wikileaks and the rest of its “computational cloud of dissent” stated on December 7th (incidentally, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), that it will continue to release information through the WikiLeaks network. Like the anthropomorphization of centralizing identity/placing a single “face” on challenges to hegemony (as in the Queens of the movies Aliens and The Borg in Star Trek), the true face of asymmetry is that of facelessness and morphogenic dissent. It is like trying to hold mercury, because as the Critical Art Ensemble states, decentralized dissent can only be addressed through decentralized means, and this is not the structure of conventional power.
In Electronic Civil Disobedience, The Critical Art Ensemble also states that in the age of informatic power, physical resistance is severely limited in its potential for effect, if not useless, as the physical protester is corralled or elided entirely by authority. The real interventionists, CAE states, are the 20-something year-old hackers who punch through the firewalls and reroute flows of information, creating irruptions of redirection, disruption, and detournement of infocapital at will. The case of Ricardo Dominguez and the Electronic Disturbance Theatre’s virtual sit-in against the University of California was a relatively benign case of the disruption of data as political act. But the intervention in infocapital is explicated on a larger scale by Chinese governbmental hackers’ compromise of Google (as revealed by Wikileaks), as well as the infiltration of an Iranian reactor by hakers. All of these illustrate Negri’s idea that postmodern power/capital has shifted to that of the informatics and cognitive fields, and signal a primary shift of the balance power in the First World, if not globally.
In light of this redistribution of power, what would the solution for converntional/”atomic” power’s reassertion of hegemony? This would be to contain the rise of informatic power by containing its means of distribution. This would be by the means of national firewalling, and trunk-line disconnection or limited Internet disabling, disrupting infopower, but also crippling the flow of digitized material capital as well. This is problematic at best, as conventional power and informatic power are in symbiotic, the latter being more nimble and a step ahead of the former, and to attack a symbiote always means to cripple its partner as well. The logical result of such actions would be the elimination of net neutrality (the free and open flow of data across the Internet) or even the severance of typologies and flows of information across the networks. The symbiotic effect is that conventional power/capital is also hobbled, as the physical is dependent on the same flows of information across the distributed nets, disabling itself in the process. It is for this reason that it cannot engage in this means of retaliation, as it would be the digital suicide of the First World nation-state.
This is the brilliance of Wikileaks – its use of infrastructure upon which conventional power relies as site of anarchic resistance proves the potentiality of infomatic power rendering conventional power impotent. In this case, bits trump atoms in the milieu of the Net. As nuclear détente created an “aesthetics of uselessness” in the ridiculously high numbers of times the world’s nuclear stockpiles could destroy the Earth, this potential reduction of the “atomic/atomic” to aesthetic nullity arises as the Infostate merely shuts down the control systems of the bunker. I nation of nuclear gophers, lifeless in their burrows.
Power is reconfiguring in light of informational vs. conventional power, and this is why the rise of Wikileaks is significant, and why the geopolitical panic-site it creates is a singular event. It suggests that decentralized power renders hierarchical conventional power impotent, signaling the beginning of the 21st Century paradigm. In The Coming Insurrection, the French anarchist group, The Invisible Committee, posits a Communo-Anarchic insurgency to overthrow the conventional nation-state. What would replace it is the creation of a cybernetic proto-industrial model of networked communes with high tech microproduction that would be established during and after a mass armed insurrection. But there is another view on this. The insurrection, as CAE states, will not be with guns, but with bytes. This is in line with Negri’s assertion that capital in the postmodern has shifted to information/cognitive capital, and that conventional power merely marginalizes material (atomic) dissent. The real theatre of engagement is the infosphere, and Wikileaks has realized info-insurgency as real power first world/digital society has become informatic. Anarchy in its most powerful form is now in the disruption and release of data withheld by the nation-state.