Friday, September 03, 2004

Turnips For The Turkey

Speaking of Hakim Bey—and I was, in a kind of sidewise fashion—there’s a bit of a shitstorm-in-a-shotglass over on the ‘lith (from which I’m recycling some of these comments: caveat lector) about his, erm, uncharitable comments in re: the Internet.

At this I can only shrug. What more would one expect? Though Bey is a gifted and expressive writer, his contribution to the discourse seems to be primarily taxonomical—in finding useful names for things that most of us already intuitively understand, like Immediatism and the Temporary Autonomous Zone itself. (We used to have T.A.Z.s when I was a kid, but back then we called them “crime scenes.”) Even there, though, his track record is hit-and-miss: his attempt to rebrand sewing circles and book clubs as “Tongs,” for instance, was just kind of silly.

My major problem with Bey, though is that, however gorgeous his prose, he’s really not a particularly deep or systemic thinker as regards the consequences of unlimited freedom. His tongue-in-cheek-but-still-troubling advocacy of incest and pederasty points towards a larger failure to understand that his God-given rights end where my God-given rights begin. His is not a political philosophy—it’s hedonism, filtered through a narcissism bordering on solipsism.

And it’s starkly unegalitarian—buying into the Nietzsche-by-way-of-DeSade notion that absolute freedom is the province only of those supermen (like Bey, of course) with the guts to seize it, and that it’s a meat too strong for the sheep-like masses. As a design for changing the world, it’s utter shit, but you can see how it plays to alienated teenagers and the Burning Man set.

His “anarchism” is deeply reactionary—as anti-modern as any radical Islamist’s theocratic medievalism. Bey is not just a Luddite, but an Adamite—there’s a palpable yearning for a return to a mythic, less-mediated past, an extended infantilism; what is “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” but nostalgia for a pre-Fallen world?

It’s an impression only bolstered by the tone of this interview, with the cranky-old-man rantings about These Kids Today With Their Internet And Their Loud Music and their Ethical Consumerism:

The idea was that alternative media would allow us the space in which to organize other things. Even in the ’80s I said I’m waiting for my turkey and my turnips. I want some material benefits from the Internet. I want to see somebody set up a barter network where I could trade poetry for turnips. Or not even poetry—lawn cutting, whatever. I want to see the Internet used to spread the Ithaca dollar system around America so that every community could start using alternative labor dollars. It is not happening. And so I wonder, why isn’t it happening? And finally the Luddite philosophy becomes clear. We create the machines and therefore we think we control them, but then the machines create us, so we can create new machines, which then can create us. It’s a feedback situation between humanity and technology. There is some truth to the idea of technological determination, especially when you’re unconscious, drifting around like a sleepwalker. Especially when you’ve given up believing in anti-capitalism because they’ve convinced you that the free market is a natural law, and we just have to accept that and hope for a free market with a friendly smiling face. Smiley-faced fascism. I see so many people working for that as if it were a real cause. "If we have to have capitalism, let’s make it green capitalism." There’s no such thing. It’s a hallucination of the worst sort, because it isn’t even a pleasurable one. It’s a nightmare.
That’s Bey in a nutshell: the fuzzy utopianism, the denial of economies of scale, the paranoia, the contempt for those with whom he disagrees, the characterization of his ideological opponents as unconscious, sleepwalking, hallucinating. The prophet scorned, furious because his paradigm didn’t pan out, instead of being open to the possibility that, y’know, maybe he backed the wrong horse. Thus guaranteeing his own irrelevance.

I, for one, would gladly exchange turnips for Bey’s poetry, if I could but hurl my turnips with the necessary force and accuracy.

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