Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Time and Politics 13: Je Suis Charlie: Blood and Silicon

#JeSuisCharlie became one of the most popular hashtags in Twitter's short history, according to The Telegraph.

In the past days, photographs were released of the murder scene at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.

Charlie Hebdo offices murder scene. Image Source: Mirror.
Also, a Saudi Arabian blogger was flogged with fifty lashes for criticizing Islam on his liberal blog. He will receive 20 weekly whipping sessions until his sentence of one thousand lashes is carried out. The Canadian Press via Yahoo:
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - A Saudi blogger convicted of insulting Islam was brought after Friday prayers to a public square in the port city of Jiddah and flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators, a witness to the lashing said. The witness said Raif Badawi's feet and hands were shackled during the flogging but his face was visible. He remained silent and did not cry out, said the witness, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity fearing government reprisal.

Badawi was sentenced last May to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He had criticized Saudi Arabia's powerful clerics on a liberal blog he founded. The blog has since been shut down. He was also ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals or about $266,600.

Rights activists say Saudi authorities are using Badawi's case as a warning to others who think to criticize the kingdom's powerful religious establishment from which the ruling family partly derives its authority. London-based Amnesty International said he would receive 50 lashes once a week for 20 weeks. Saudi Arabia's close ally, the United States, had called on authorities to cancel the punishment.

Despite international pleas for his release, Badawi, a father of three, was brought from prison by bus to the public square on Friday and flogged on the back in front of a crowd that had just finished midday prayers at a nearby mosque. His face was visible and, throughout the flogging, he clenched his eyes and remained silent, said the witness. The witness, who also has close knowledge of the case, said the lashing lasted about 15 minutes.

Badawi has been held since mid-2012 after he founded the Free Saudi Liberals blog. He used the blog to criticize the kingdom's influential clerics who follow a strict and ultraconservative interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism, which originated in Saudi Arabia. He was originally sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in relation to the charges, but after an appeal, the judge stiffened the punishment. Following his arrest, his wife and children left the kingdom for Canada.

Ensaf Haidar, Badawi's spouse, was devastated after learning the flogging had gone ahead, a person close to the family told The Canadian Press.

Haidar was so distraught she couldn't send her kids to school in Quebec, where she is currently living with them, the person said in an email exchange.

She fled to Egypt in April 2012 with their two daughters, Najwa and Miryam, and son, Tirad, according to Amnesty International Canada spokeswoman Anne Sainte-Marie. The family moved to Quebec in November 2013.

Rights groups argue that the case against Badawi is part of a wider crackdown on freedom of speech and dissent in Saudi Arabia since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Criticism of clerics is seen as a red line because of their prestige in the kingdom, as well as their influential role in supporting government policies.

According to Amnesty, the charges against Badawi mention his failure to remove articles by other people on his website. He was also accused in court of ridiculing Saudi Arabia's morality police.

In a statement after the flogging, Amnesty called the flogging a "vicious act of cruelty" and said Badawi's "only 'crime' was to exercise his right to freedom of expression by setting up a website for public discussion."

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has called the punishment an "inhumane" response to someone exercising his right to freedom of expression and religion.
The Charlie Hebdo murders and Badawi flogging reconfirmed a radical Islamic mandate to kill or destroy blasphemers. These are not just attacks on freedom of speech. This censorship is different from violent censorship in oppressive régimes, where state critics might disappear, be tortured, and be silenced in a prison work camp or mass grave.

These acts of censorship are broadly theatrical (as are others). They seek to enforce surreal new boundaries of a community using brute force and fear. These were town-style enforcement performances, projected on a global scale. Like the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the murder of Theo van Gogh, and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack particularly presented the world with a grim future plan for society. And, MI5 states, more attacks are to follow.

Before the murders, the last Charlie Hebdo cover featured French novelist Michel Houellebecq. Houellebecq's latest book predicts a future arch-Islamic France and was released on 7 January 2015.

The most recent Charlie Hebdo cartoon before terrorists murdered the newspaper's main staff - poked fun at a novel about a future radically Islamic France, written by novelist Michel Houellebecq: In 2015 I lose my teeth. In 2022, I celebrate Ramadan. Image Source: Gulf News.

Caption for the above image from Reason.com: "On the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the magazine's cover featured a caricature of controversial French author and provocateur Michel Houellebecq sporting a wizard's hat. 'Predictions of the seer Houellebecq,' reads the cover copy. The Houellebecq cartoon offers a pair of predictions: 'In 2015, I'll lose my teeth,' and, 'In 2022, I'll observe Ramadan.'

What's going on? Houellebecq's new novel, Soumission (Submission) is set in a near-future France ruled by a Muslim political party. Scheduled to be published in France on Wednesday [7 January 2015], it had already inspired some highly charged controversy over whether its message—and its author—was Islamophobic. According to Laurent Joffrin, the editor in chief of the leftist paper Liberation, the book's publication 'will mark the date in history when the ideas of the far-right made a grand return to serious French literature.' (Joffrin refers to Houellebecq as 'serious' because he is the winner of several French literary awards.)" [See the Guardian's review of Soumission here. It is available on Amazon here.]

When it comes to tyranny, you don't need to fear jihadists to fear the future. Globalization, combined with communications innovations, created vast new potentials for authoritarian power and profit. The Internet could become the skeleton of a totalitarian superstate or superstates. It is not a question of fearing only jihadists. It is a question of fearing the potential for tyranny everywhere, whether it comes from extreme traditionalists, from radical progressives, or from the middle of the road.

The Web could still remain a seat of freedom. But from the point of view of future authoritarians, initial freedoms on the Internet gave anyone online enough rope with which to hang themselves. Everything you write on the Internet, reacting in the now, can be dredged up and used to judge you later.

An online collision of private and public, present and future, means that current freedoms could set the stage for future tyrannies. Posting opinions and personal details on the Web begins as a private experience, a reaction to present circumstances. The minute you give permission to any organization or institution to access your personal details, or the instant you press 'enter' to publish any statement online, that private experience becomes a public artefact which belongs to the future.

What future awaits? Will we be punished and censored in the future for things we wrote in the past? The future exploitation of personal data and online statements or publications, such as (cough) blogs is likely. That future exploitation depends on raising enough wealth now to research and develop sufficient mega-computing capacity to handle the data. Imagine how tempting this must be to any state, organization or group daring enough to exploit that potential and seize power.

Along with computing capacity, there has to be a political system to handle the immense strains that a global superstate (á la Thomas Piketty), or superstates, would endure. What we witness now is a Darwinian survival of the fittest, a jockeying for position between different political and cultural ideologies to test their capacity for handling these issues. In any given crisis, which ideology gets the highest hashtag hits on Twitter? Which subgroup dominates comments on Facebook?

When social media dominate expressions of value, what is being discussed is less important than how much it is being discussed. You don't have to be right, or even make sense, to get a lot of hits. Thus, the ideals and values which may prove most successful in a techno-empire of the future will be the ones which flow most efficiently on social networks, get the most traction and hits, and command global attention fastest. Whether the critieria for future values ostensibly remain secular and democratic or faith-based, the real criteria may be the purely mechanistic ones of the techno-élites in the new communications establishment. Of course, we retain a naïve hope that there will still be people who will have the courage of their convictions and will try to build a polity not reducible to the most efficient algorithms.

Thus, the anguished hand-wringing and strident bullying on network television over which set of political values will emerge triumphant is a surreal pantomime, because the real terms of engagement have changed. Once, Bismarck spoke of Blood and Iron. Our new order will be written in Blood and Silicon. Does it matter whether the future will be superficially progressive, democratic and liberal? Or Islamic jihadist? A merger of the two? A neo-conservative militarist world? A grassroots populist libertarian hacktivist campground? A mega-corporate capitalist endeavour? Some brand of socialist? Or technocratic anarchist? Violent crises see these ideologies conflict and merge to spawn new ideological legacies. Even worse, in an Orwellian nightmare, a permanent conflict between 2 to 4 ideologies may suffice to underwrite any future totalitarian grand project. Therefore, we don't know against what value systems we will be judged in the future. But our past selves will be out there, online, ready to be judged and potentially condemned.

After one considers data-crunching and politics, every authoritarian society is populated by pliant citizens. This is not a conspiracy theory, some fabled fear of the Illuminati's New World Order, a myth which is all over the Web. The challenges are more immediate than a bogeyman superclass with plans for a global state. The future is not made by shadowy evil cabals pulling our puppet strings. The future is a grassroots eventuality, made by us. Je Suis Charlie: we are all Charlie Hebdo. We make those present decisions; we create those current packets of personal information which we release onto the Internet.

Freedom of expression isn't a question of just having freedom on the Web to do whatever we want. It is a question of being responsible for those current freedoms. When opinion is taken as truth; when ideology is taken as an answer; when simple political and cultural formulas promise to solve personal problems; when authorities and powerful people are blamed rather than one's own day-to-day actions, one relinquishes responsibility and loses freedom. We build the future now, and different power groups compete to seize control of that future. The jihadists and extremist Muslims are only the most honest about what they plan to do if they win.

See all my posts on Time and Politics.

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