Monday, April 18, 2005

14] Prisoners of Cyberjaya

Prisoners of Cyberjaya
Azly Rahman
Apr 18, 05 3:17pm

We are in a matrix. We can no longer escape this prison-house of language. The walls of the prison are made of the English Language – its imperialistic variant of it.

I argued before that our lives are conditioned by the ideology and the economic condition created by those who own the means of economic production. Our lives are also condition by the language that is globalising, colonising, technologising, and hegemonising. We are living in a ‘hegemonic’ world.

Hegemony comes from the Latin ‘egemon’ meaning ‘to lead’. When used in the context of this modern world in which digital media is dominant, it carries, borrowing Antonio Gramsci, the connotation of ‘common sense’.

We are imprisoned not only by the English Language but also by the economic condition that has transformed the language itself. We are shackled by the technicist version of the language, a version that is imprisoning the mind yet concealed in the language of ‘progress and development’.

Though this is a challenging concept to explain and a difficult proposition to discuss, I will give the example of the creation of the intelligent city of Cyberjaya.

We talk about ‘technology’ and ‘technological progress’ as if technology is neutral and does not have a life-force breathed into it.

Technologies are artifacts that have politics and are governed by rules of political-economy. Technologies have inert human labour fossilised in them; buried by the historical-materialism of the way we evolve as human beings.

The computer is technology that was developed by the Pentagon. The Internet technology was developed by the Pentagon, the same manner other communication technologies were developed by funding from the Department of Defense.

Advanced technologies have historically been developed through special projects to perfect the technologies of Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligences (C3 I). The Star Wars Programme of the current administration, to develop technologies of war in space, a continuation of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars Programme, is being developed by the Pentagon.

What human beings get on earth are technological spin-offs. Computers are spin-offs. The fastest ones are used to operate inter-continental ballistic missiles. They are used to drop cluster bombs and design better daisy cutter bombs.

Bought over

‘Developing nations’ have been bought over by the rhetoric of ‘progress’ because they have not been analysing enough the historical-material dimensions of technological artifacts and the dependency paradigm structured naturally into them.

The science of cybernetics originated from the communication science that describes the behavior of organisms. Sometime in the early 1980s a Malaysian professor of electrical engineering unknowingly picked the idea, suggested it to the then prime minister of Malaysia who then set up the National Information Technology Council in 1995, and next, in 1997 we have the transformation of the landscape into an ‘imagined world’ called the Multimedia Super Corridor.

An English Language phrase ‘the Multimedia Super Corridor’ is installed onto a Malay kingdom Selangor Darul Ehsan. Technology contradicts with mysticism. Obviously a name such as a ‘Mini Super Corridor’ will not resonate with say, Perlis Indera Kayangan.

An international advisory panel (The MSC-IAP) is set up consisting of CEOs of world’s major informational technology companies. They are helping speed up the ‘digitizing’ of the nation. They have been advising us on how to imitate the success of Silicon Valley and how to transplant the model of Stanford University onto the landscape of Cyberjaya.

We are cybernetic Malaysians now, with all menteris besar of the states wishing to have their own hugely profitable real estate projects aptly named ‘mini-MSCs’. Big business brings in big chunks of money used for big campaigns, casting bigger nets for bigger political influence. This is the spin-offs of the jampi mentera of cybernetics.

We live in a house that is governed by strict rules. In a nation-state, the rules are called ideology. Borrowing the words of Columbia University cultural anthropologist Herve Varenne, we are conditioned not only by the habits we acquire, in a house we grow up in, but also with the tools we use to work , play and worship.

The tools we use govern our lives. Tools are technologies that make our lives easier. Hence we have machines helping us work and play. They shape our consciousness and help us think like machines. We reproduce ourselves according to the sophistication of the machines.

As we progress, even human beings who think like machines get replaced by smarter machines. In corporate English Language, they call it ‘downsizing’ or ‘rightsizing’ to make the company ‘lean, mean, maximum-profit making’ machines. Human beings become cogs in the wheels of Capital.

Becoming ‘cybernated’

Beginning in the 1980s we have become ‘cybernated’ when Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced the creation of the Multimedia Super Corridor. ‘Fantasize with me’, he said - the words splashed on the headlines of the major newspapers.

It was best said in the English Language. “Beranganlah or ber-fantasi lah dengan saya...” would not have that of an impact when we talk about a grand design based on the implantation of a Silicon-Valley-inspired ideology of informational capitalism.

In Sanskrit, the word mantra (mentera in Malay) means ‘formula’. In the context of this essay, the mantra correlates to the idea of a grand strategy or a belief system in the form of political ideology that permeates the consciousness of the leader and the led or the author and the authored. Inscribed onto the consciousness of the people, via print, broadcast, and electronic media is the mantra of economic success rapidised by information technologies.

The formula for success many developing nations, such as Malaysia, is undertaking is one characterised by the dependency on Informational Communications Technologies (ICT) particularly on the technology of the Internet/broadband to fuel the engine of capitalist development, relegating the state to merely a haven for cheap pool of labor in the microchips industry. We build factories in our free trade zones and curb unionism in order to make this country cheapest for exploitation.

Our mantra of success is one inspired by the belief in the formula of ‘cybernetics’.

I shall relate the idea and genealogy of cybernetics to the idea of what is currently known as ‘Information Age’ or its varying and more fanciful terms such as ‘the Age of Cybernetics,’ or ‘the Networked Economy,’ or ‘the Digital Age’.

I will then relate the idea of this ‘formula’ of cybernetics to the notion of ‘inscription’ of the ideology onto the landscape of human consciousness since the beginning of the second half of the twenty-first century.

The idea of ‘Information Society’ or ‘The Network Society’ stems out of the revolution in computing and has transformed our psychological, ideological, and material landscape of humanity.

Social relations of production are altered and transformed as a result of new patterns of division of labor in what many a philosopher of technology would call patterns that arise out of randomness and chaos.

Different levels

There are different levels of meaning of cultural change as it is impacted historically by “technologies of the body,” such as the Internet. In the case of cybernetics as technologies of the mind, this seems to be a “natural progression of late stage of capital formation” in many a Frankfurt School thinkers would call an age wherein technologies are at its final stage of development which will actually liberate humanity out of mundanity as a consequence of automation.

Hence cybernetics, as a foundation of artificial intelligence and a philosophy close to the Cartesian philosophy of the mind and appealing to the ‘philosophy of human liberation via technological feats’, is at the present, the highest stage in the development of techno-capitalism.

This proposition is reminiscent of Lenin’s conclusion on the analysis of capitalism made almost a century ago, that capitalism, when it can no longer carry its own weight will expand and colonise territories, transforming into imperialism.

Writings on social structures and political theory have primarily centered on the relationship between capital, humanity, and nature. Many have written on how capitalism appropriates natural resources through the creation of labor and surplus value, which will then establish classes and habitus.

The debates that rage between the proponents of free market enterprise and command or controlled economies revolve around the issue of human nature, and who gets to control the production and dissemination and the monopoly of capital.

The scientific paradigm of cybernetics, by virtue of its origin in the mathematical and exact sciences, out of the Copernican Revolution, of Newtonian physics and of Principia Mathematica, onwards to its march of Classical Physics, and next, Quantum Physics and Informational and Decisional Sciences and so on - is a science which has appropriated the ‘natural-ness’ of the art of being human.

Being a paradigm subjected to the development of propositions, verification by the testing of hypotheses, falsification by the rejecting and accepting of the null, and replicating these processes and so on and so forth cybernetics creates a ‘space’ between what is natural and what is artificial.

In-between these spaces, technology becomes the motivator of civilisations to progress and to dominate, to extent the limits of what otherwise is impossible. Technology becomes an autocratic tool. Autocratic tools create the Authoritarian self. The navigational technology of Christopher Columbus, for example, made it possible to open up European colonisation of the Native Indians of America.

In between these spaces of nature versus the artificial lies media as technology of the mediated self. Technology, as it is developed not by the hands of the ‘author’ has thence become a powerful tool of the surreal - of inequality amongst men.

Popular culture presents technology as a coloniser of humanity, as exemplified by the theme of the movie, The Matrix. In the movie, humanity attempts to regain its existential self, having been made slaves to technology of control that creates the authoritarian self. Like Mary Shelley’s character Frankenstein, we have created monsters in the technologies we develop.

The roots of our creation of such technologies of cybernetic control lie in the concept of cybernetics itself.

From Cybernetics to Cyberjaya

What is the link between the mantra of Cybernetics and the creation of Malaysia’s Cyberjaya?

Below is a visual representation of a possible link between Cybernetics and Cyberjaya; on how the idea of cybernetics, as Systems Theory (employed to explain the nature of how living systems operate in a loop-feedback fashion undergoes transcultural evolution.

The idea is now interpreted and transmutated by the government of Malaysia to mean the base and superstructure of hypermodern digital cities such as Cyberjaya, a city that embodies a new spirit of national development.

Hence, the term evolved from the description of the physics of living things to the politics of domination and control in what I argue, is commonly known in the world of militarism, as the science of Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C3I).

Malaysia’ s economic development follows the path of Western-styled developmentalism and can be characterized as attempting to liberate itself from the shackle of dependency of the post-colonial system.

The creation of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) is a testimony of the political leadership’s subscription to the Rostowian and many a laissez-faire theorists’ model of economic growth.

The developmental feature of states undergoing economic transformations as a result of the informational revolution is termed as the development of ‘technopoles’ or new economic growth centers as a consequence of the computer revolution. The MSC is in fact, inspired by the success of the California’s Silicon Valley and Boston’s Highway 128.

Like the hip hopper and the rappers who borrow blindly, the creators of the Multimedia Super Corridor may have been blind borrowers of the rap and hip hop of Silicon Valley.

In the preceding paragraphs, I illustrate the notion of ‘inscriptions’, how the idea of ‘cybernetics’ drawn from Quantum Physics, gets enculturalised onto the landscape of the Malaysian advanced developmentalist project called ‘Cyberjaya’- all these under the ‘logical-positivist’ notion of human and national development.

We are therefore, prisoners of and idea called ‘cybernetics’ and inmates of the matrix called Cyberjaya. We are controlled by the domineering corporate English language and a man’s call to ‘fantasize with [him]’ and to engage in an act of ‘creative destruction’.

When I was in secondary school, the Sciences and Mathematics were taught in English. Must we then continue to teach Mathematics and Science in the English language, when we know that they will become foundations of more Cyberjayas – more prison-houses of language, in the matrix of international corporate dominance that is digitally dividing humanity?

I have written this piece in the English Language. I am therefore part of its hegemony. This is the irony of language and reality!

No comments:

Lecture: Edward Said


Lecture: Noam Chomsky


Lecture: Jacques Derrida


Lecture: Jean Paul Sartre


Movie: 1984


Movie: Animal Farm


Movie: Chicken Run


Poems: Rumi


Dialogue on Religion: Karen Armstrong


Dailogue on Religion: Huston Smith


















The Bhagavad Gita


Jesus of Nazareth


Siddharta Gautama


Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh)