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Electronic Civil Disobedience

So I must admit to reading the full essay on Electronic Civil Disobedience (ECD) and not just the assigned pages. Despite a certain glib revolutionary rhetoric that sometimes seems to verge on satire, I thought it was great! The argument goes something like this: capital is no longer attached to physical space, yet the traditional left is committed to revolutionary action and organizing that is deeply tied to the physical; especially a conception of civil disobedience based on the 1960s. The innovation here is to suggest that within the hacker community there is a group of people who are also committed to anti-authoritarianism, yet they are not yet politically conscious. In contrast, on the political left, there are many people who are politically conscious, yet they are engaged in a type of activism that is deeply anachronistic. As the article states, taking over symbolic spaces doesn’t have an impact on the space of flows through which real power moves.

I thought this was a particularly interesting and timely piece given the primacy of space in recent social protests. I think the notion of space as irrelevant was perhaps overblown in the essay, but I do think there is something interesting here. It takes a certain stretching of the imagination to consider how one could “occupy” the internet. And while counter-cultural forces like hackers may have an anti-authoritarian bent, is the internet not in fact more easily manipulated by those in power than physical space (e.g. in physical space, the forces of law and order must repress, whereas in a space of flows, problematic sites or actions can perhaps simply be shut down)? The question raised here, however, is whether those committed to revolutionary politics should be engaging with those engaged in anti-hierarchy/authority movements online. The authors’ answer speaks to the possibility of digital collaboration. The idea is that these two groups could come together in a sort of affinity-based organization. The authors thus call for “cellular constructions aimed at information disruption in cyberspace” (28).

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4 Responses

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  1. ria banerjee says

    I’ve been wondering about one early aspect of what the CAE claims, which is something Jacob touched on a little. In general, I liked this reading and understood its call for resistance to shift into the digital arena, a kind of “rhizomatic” resistance as opposed to trying to focus on the static physical symbols of power (govt. buildings in cities, for instance). So far, cool beans, I say! If there was a “Like” button on this reading, I’d press it (yep, I said it). But, I was thinking specifically of something like the London riots last year combined with our in-class jokes about “meat space.” How far can we really dismiss the city as having “no value”? In the instance of the riots, and other less-extreme instances, doesn’t the physical fact of the city still play a crucial role? Are physical coups not necessary anymore? (I feel they have a tremendous impact, still, and especially outside the narrow context of the urban centres in the US.) Otherwise, what a fun read!

  2. Hadassah Damien says

    Also, this piece made me think about theorists Hardt & Negri, whose book Multitude CAE seem to presuppose. One quote from this book which I like a lot and that relates to CAE’s cellular suggestions in both theory and rhetorical tone is: “Since a network has no center that dictates order, those who can only think in terms of traditional models may think it has no organization whatsoever–they see mere spontaneity and anarchy. If one looks inside a network, however, one can see that it is indeed organized, rational and creative. It has swarm intelligence–collective and distributed techniques of problem-solving without centralized control.”

  3. Kiran says

    Great post Jacob. I was just about to post on this after I finished annotating it on the train. Since most of my reading is usually neuro-molecular primary literature, it’s refreshing to read these posts by the rest of the class, whose literary physique always impresses.

    I tried to keep in mind the idea of collaboration while reading about ECD and think.. “how on Earth is this relevant to anything we’re doing or attempting in this class?”, since afterall this is a dated piece and seemed somewhat abstract at first. The focused pages, (23-25) dive right into how can a small group have any political effect?- the answer lies in the construction of the cell. Immediately, I thought, why not think of the cell as our group of collaborators editing wikipedia (for our assignments, the greater good.. yadda yadda) The essay continues

    “it [the cell] must be organic, consisting of interrelated parts working together to form a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts”
    – Turning this in the face of the reading and my post on Collaborative futures, it’s not too much of a stretch that we see this as setting the goals in a collaborative effort while reassessing who make up the effort and how it is set about.

    “A shared political perspective should be the glue that binds the parts, rather than interdependence through need… Different skills must be represented.. Financial resources can be pooled [as a collective asset]”
    – ECD implies collaborative work doesn’t it? In many senses this is a manifesto for online collaborations. The remainder of the focus pages talk about the role of centralized organizations in resistance as facilitative for training, collateral, awareness-raising etc but never directly involved in the goal. But what would be the analogous entity for our purposes? Is this referring to Wikipedia itself or the mediawiki system? That’s my best guess..

  4. Hadassah Damien says

    These folks staged an occupation of the internet in Oct or Nov of 2011 with some javascript — — which placed a bottom-aligned moving .gif banner of people and creatures holding signs on your page. One way it was done, anyway.

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