What is information? What is thought? Is emotion separate from thought? To what extent is an information war also physical?
What is an information war, and how would we even begin to fight it?
These are questions I don’t have an answer to. But they are questions which I think we should be asking ourselves, and in this brief essay, I would like to try to outline some basic concepts, which might get us started thinking in this direction.
Data is the new capital
Let’s keep it simple. Information is data. And data is the new capital. Capital was in the most basic sense the primary means of controlling populations throughout our modern centuries. Now data has become more valuable than that previous form of control, and as such, we must understand that data in the context of an information war, is really the means by which populations are exploited and controlled.
So data is and will be the primary means of domination of us oppressed classes; therefore fighting an information war is no less than a liberation struggle to free ourselves out from underneath the boot of oppression.
In a recent speech in Cuba calling for the beginning of a new Non-Aligned movement, Yanis Varoufakis elaborated on his concept of this new economics of data, by what he calls “cloud capital.” This “is a produced means of behavior modification.”
The accumulation of data, perhaps as it has always been with the accumulation of say wealth, is about an accumulation of power, through the means by which to manipulate and control populations.
Cloud capital is data employed as a means of control, and it defines the economics of a neofeudalism.
Let’s pause for a minute and assume we already live under a New Feudalism. What exactly does this mean. It means something initially paradoxical, but which makes sense when you actually consider it. On the one hand it means that we are now living through a historical regression. It is as if what was progressive in capitalism became so resistant to the concept of what might proceed it, that it actually ended up becoming atavistic. Then if we can accept this idea of a deep regression out of capitalism backwards in a sense, but forwards into a neofeudalism; we may also be able to understand that we are still living in a kind of capitalist modernity. This is a particular kind of modernity that is only one potential form of it and that has paradoxically led to a neofeudalism. It could also be understood as a modernity which wasn’t willing to give up its new traditions. It was a new society that got there through revolutions but then undermined all other potential for a following revolution, and thus became a reactionary institution built on a prior revolution, that has now after all these centuries, finally betrayed itself.
The order of New Feudalism would appear to be a regression within capitalism but is still within the confines of capitalist modernity. In this way it is also deceptively, a technological leap forward. It is only that this technological leap has been used to consolidate a greater degree of social control.
There is no reason to fret however, because if we are ultimately able to wield this technological leap better, and in directions which are emancipatory, then we should have no problem in the end winning out over this tremendous societal regression into a kind of new dark age of the future.
First step in the fight
While the new feudal order is historical, capitalist modernity is cultural. It is still a historical production, although as a culture, it exists more deeply ingrained in the social organism. That we have entered a new feudalism, may speak largely to the ultimate limitations of this cultural mode. Because it would appear that it is a cultural mode that will eventually spell the end of humankind as a species, if it is not brought to an end, and a new cultural, economic and political order, brought into being.
It is thus crucial to understand capitalist modernity, which is a form of authoritarian civilization. The baseline culture of it could be seen as the creation of an indoctrinated mindset. This indoctrinated mindset is basically analogous to the conditions of not being free, or perhaps more accurately, to living under severe material conditions of social coercion. It is this general condition that requires no less than an information struggle to counter. It also requires it goes without saying a correlated material struggle.
The information struggle is like a liberation of mind and body, in which this is not grasped as a dichotomy, and indeed the way our general condition may be split like this, I would contend, is a general fact of being submitted to conditions of social coercion. The indoctrinated mindset or a correlating subject of oppression, is created and reproduced, through a process of psychological warfare. But all other forms of warfare apply here as well. However it is psychological warfare in particular that is struggled against when one fights an information war.
This “information war,” this mental and psychological, but also materially social struggle, takes place in the context of an indoctrinated social environment. An indoctrinated social environment is at its core one conditioned on a process of behavior modification.
It is crucially not only about ideas, but in a way also emotions. It is about no less than motivation; about the narratives which drive us.
This is where one of the first steps in fighting an information war might be in understanding that a primary ideological effect of capitalist modernity, is the creation of a system which is one of slavery but perceived as the opposite of that. It is perceived as “freedom.”
This fundamental inversion of basic values, reveals the real violence it is based on, because only an act of violence can so compellingly alter such a basic distinction, as say that between truth and lies. And so indeed, perhaps the first step in such a fight, is in identifying the connection between the truth in freedom.
Perhaps we may come to realize that in a certain sense, authoritarian civilization itself can only operate through the total dissemination of a lie. And we contend that such a lie, is basically the representation, of social coercion in practice.
Truth is agency
What is truth, and what is real freedom?
These are crucial questions for an information war, because the war is on the one hand, about what is true and what is a lie; as well as existing in a context in which, what those definitions ultimately spell, is why we do what we do, what is worth living for, fighting for, and so on. Coming up with answers of this sort should begin to help us start generating basic practices of resistance.
For our baseline is that these impetus will be manufactured unconsciously, such as through the medium of cloud capital.
The data of cloud capital, as a form of behavior modification, essentially moves to coerce populations, in ways not fully within their knowledge. It is a covert form of authority, acting on populations in ways that are in a certain sense transparent, like in the way advertising works, but which is also completely total in the society, and presents no real alternative from opting out from, such as in the full spectrum dominance of the state.
But there is an obvious weakness within this civilizational model.
Coercive society must be based on a fundamental illusion.
This is because it is premised on a contradiction. For instance take for example the coercive model working in the United States, what has been called a “propaganda-managed democracy.” The self-evidently contradicting aspect of such a formation should be clear. A democracy in which the people are controlled or manipulated, or coerced, from above, through techniques they aren’t fully aware of, but which to some degree they are cynically deeply familiar with, is no true democracy. Another way of thinking about this would be that there really can’t be a proper moral or virtuous, or at any rate, democratically functional, form of politics, without some mechanism for transparency, truth, and ultimately, real freedom or agency.
This is where we can see that, philosophical questions regarding agency aside, in a state of political economy in which the data of each subject, is at the full control of a technocratic class, or even worse, grasped through the automated machinery in their possession, such as through algorithmic production; access to data, means very simply, access to the bits of information which demonstrate what thoughts and emotions are relevant to a person, especially insofar as what motivates them. This is a “truth” in a certain sense. The data in its raw form, is simply a representation of raw “truth,” or simply information. However, the value to which this information is being put to use, is for no noble purpose beyond further increasing social coercive capacities. As well, this basic “truth,” or data, can then be manipulated, through a propagandistic process, brought to bear on people in ways that direct their emotions and thinking patterns, to conform towards predetermined ends—such as going to war, supporting disastrous class, and climate policies, and so on—in short, the information, the collected data, is used to coerce, to manage, to direct the subject towards certain ends one isn’t fully aware of, and hence is a basic hijacking of the autonomy of social individuals.
To be able to turn against this, is a simple matter of gaining awareness. However, since fighting an information war takes place within a general context of social indoctrination, individual awareness isn’t enough. The information must spread, and not only spread, but proliferate in ways which begin to form alternative networks of information. These networks too must then grow in size and scope and power, to the degree that they become capable of challenging the dominant sources of propaganda, indoctrination, and manipulation within the society.
This is a real challenge. This is because the propaganda process which begins at birth with a process of indoctrination, that is then reinforced over time through consistent messaging, is not only so deeply ingrained, but is being feed every new day. It is also not a simple matter of withdrawing from the messages of society, however, because this is to then become uninformed—which is not precisely the same as being disinformed—but nonetheless, isn’t capable of building enough counter-power to one day challenge the dominant, socially coercive, lying narrative.
Yet resistance can become a simple matter, of simply becoming aware of coercive forces, both within society, and within interpersonal relationships, and beginning to subvert them. On a very real level, coercion is analogous to a lie. For, if one is truly acting in accordance to one’s beliefs or desires, there is no need for manipulation. It is only when a person would ultimately act otherwise, that the big lie, the social coercion, becomes a necessary component in maintaining governance over that particular subject.
Ideology tells us ‘why’
Fighting and resisting are the same, in themselves they are like “truth” or information, neutral, until deployed towards some ends. Social coercive pressure hijacks the general ends of the organism, and deploys their capacity towards the ends of authoritarian civilization. In capitalist modernity, this is the redirection of general agency into a consumer society, in which that aspect obscures its form of domination. Indeed, the way the consumer society of capitalist modernity functions, is essentially as a way of obscuring the forms of domination and exploitation at work in the society. To understand this is also to understand the way that a propaganda-managed democracy ingenuously frames conditions of social coercion as conditions of freedom.
Capitalist modernity indoctrinates its society, and propagandizes it, into a form of consumer society, which obscures its coercive apparatus as one of liberty. But agency is a natural biological impulse. It is the condition of striving for life, for thriving in a mode of life, and this general truth can easily be apprehended, as that degree of pressure one can feel, and indeed later experimentally confirm, by becoming aware of the various degrees to which the natural capacities of the organism are hijacked, and deployed towards ends which are actually alien to the natural desires and agencies of a life-affirming social organism.
Ends in society are generally set by the ideology, as well as the means, although the means are more generally a structure set in place, while the ends are narratives that justify how those got there, why they must stay there, and so on. In short, the ideology is what is established through the process of indoctrination, in capitalist modernity or our propaganda-managed democracy, and what gets reinforced through a constant propaganda messaging, and what sort of keeps the organism from becoming more aware, that while the means set before us are solid and seemingly permanent, they aren’t that way naturally, or unalterably, and over time could be impacted, through processes of resistance, and fighting.
The point is to reclaim agency over what we resist, what we fight for, and why.
If one remains unconscious to the social coercive forces operating in authoritarian society, then one very well may find themselves fighting for something horrible, or resisting something good. One may find themselves enslaved to a consumer society that they believe actually represents the highest form of human freedom. They may come to view fascism as patriotic, or antifascism as fascism. Any number of inversions of values are possible under conditions of constant psychological warfare, that degrades the general power of truth, comes to make truth seem irrelevant, and indeed to actually make conditions under which the truth is grasped, come to seem deeply uncomfortable, and undesirable, and even hated.
Resisting psychological warfare
The good side in the information fight is to contribute to the overall emancipation of all, oppressed under the general conditions of authoritarian civilization, capitalist modernity, imperial domination, and propaganda-managed societal coercion.
This must be a liberation from the indoctrinated mindset, as well as the material reinforcement of life-affirming, truer forms of freedom and democracy, equality of relationships, economic liberty, that is, the right of all to well-being, and, ultimately a social revolution, and the total transformation of society, for the better.
The constant force attacking the very notion of this, is psychological warfare, which is a kind of prefigured terrorism. When used in war, it is the technique of attempting to get a population to surrender before it has even begun to fight. When used domestically, it is in effect, a way of preventing revolution. Probably its most dominant message would be that action is hopeless.
It is also a longstanding image implanted from early on in life, that seems to set up a certain imaginary of the current social order as fixed, and unchangeable. The idea is one of pure ideology, and doesn’t represent a material fact about what is possible, and hence its general “truth” is in effect a delusion. But the power of such a delusion is immensely strong, and when backed up with terroristic examples of what happens to those who do stand up and dare to resist the current social order, it has tremendous prefigurative effect in killing resistance in its cradle. Ultimately, I would contend that implanting such delusions into the general narrative consumed by the subjects of capitalist modernity, is an essential part of the current operations of psychological warfare, that is a temporal process which occurs within a long view, so again begins with a process of indoctrination then in need of conditional reinforcement by propaganda.
To resist this condition, we need very simply a social revolution. This means we need to demand the right to well-being for all. Why this is tantamount to fighting an information war, to me, is because on the one hand; if there was the right to well-being, social coercion could not exist. For, to me, a society based on social coercion, is in effect, a society made up of indoctrinated subjects, whose worldview must be reinforced through propaganda, and who are effectively controlled in this way, in how they use the forces of their organism, and thus are subjects lacking fundamental agency. On the other hand, this lack of agency, under the current social conditions, is construed as natural, or seen as only being possibly sublimated through the consumer society, which presents itself as a form of freedom, but which is really an obfuscation of the total domination at work in such a social formation.
It leads to an important question in this context of thinking about “information war.” What is it that indoctrinates us into the idea, that society is impossible without social coercion, and that a society based on voluntarism could not exist?
Another way of life is possible.
It takes organizing, it takes fighting, it takes resistance, in short, it requires force. As such, the current social order requires restraint on force, that takes the form of the coercive social pressure it exerts on its subjects, to obey, and even more crucially, not even to think about not obeying. The very premise of resistance must be systematically destroyed through a long form process of psychological warfare, that begins with a baseline indoctrination, but which must be constantly reinforced if not to eventually break down, and be replaced with updated information.
That updated information, is the knowledge that another way of life is possible, and the material practices which demonstrate this, and keep demonstrating it, eventually institutionalizing it as a new society, along the lines of what in my view, starts from a very basic ideological commitment, to institutionalizing the right of well-being for all.
For it strikes me that if the right to well-being was institutionalized for all, that not only could social coercion no longer exist, but that it would mean the society we had was one in which voluntarism was a fundamental premise.
And that is nothing less than the actual conditions for freedom. So, it is such a peculiar fact of our time, that the actual factual conditions of freedom, would be construed as a myth, and a purely mythological form of freedom, that was actually slavery, would be seen as all that there is.