Saturday, January 23, 2010

Virtual History

Wriing history is made more difficult if we do not accept the axiom which opens Wittgenstein's Tractatus: "The world is all that is the case", or the recommendation he gives at the end, to throw away the ladder climbed in order to reach his conclusions. If the world is not given (the case) but a restless terrain of becoming and conflict, it is no longer possible to write its history as a map of certainties. And if on the other hand we cannot abstract certainty from flux, then we are condemned to climb repeatedly back down the ladder to sample once more both the contingency of the world and the emotional and perceptual turmoil "where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart" (Yeats). Theory differs from philosophy because it is premised on this repetitive return to a materiality which is never fully ascertainable. Materialism is an incomplete project because it cannot extrapolate an idea from the world without going once more back into the world to confirm the materiality of the idea. This does not mean that it fails; merely that it cannot claim the purity of philosophy's logic, or for that matter the apparent certainties of scientific data. Nor does it imply that no knowledge is possible. It means rather that theoretical knowledge is processual, tentative, falsifiable and dialectical, forged in the contradiction between formal rationality and the constantly reforming world.

Wittgenstein's 'world' is wholly actual; Bergson's fundamentally virtual. Materialist historiography understands that the actuality of the world at any moment is the result of previous virtual potentialities, and contains within it as many more. Kant recognised the contingency of this situation, the vast ocean of interacting elements producing humanly unforeseeable new states in and of the world. For Kant, reason is what separates us from that contingency and so permits us to be free. Materialist theory recognises that we who are subjects of knowledge are contingent; that the reason through which we know is contingent: and that our separation from the world, while perfectly actual, is also the result of previous contingencies. With that knowledge, we know both that we exist actually, but virtually too, in that we are constantly becoming other, and our ideas of reason and our relation with the world likewise. This makes writing history, especially the history of the media through which we know, represent and communicate with the world, significant not for what it tells us about the past, but for what we learn about our possible futures.

What we can speak about we must not pass over in silence.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Google in China

The gmail hack on dissidents is a sideshow. So is the censorhsip row.

The major story is the Aurora hack. Using a hole in Internet explorer (and possibly a similar one in Adobe Reader), the hackers, almost certainly guns for hire (maybe volunteers, probably operating out of China via taiwanese servers, and perhaps but still unproven working for an agency not a million miles from government), got into
Symantec (online security)
Juniper (routers and hardware security)
Rackspace (cloud computing -- tho seems to have been only used as a staging post, perhaps)
Adobe (who blogged that they'd been raided, admitted comprommised files, but may possibly have been of concern as a vehicle for the attack rather than a victim)
Dow Chemical
Northrop Grumman

And up to a total of 34, most of whom are staying quiet, very probably because a lot of them are defense contractors and security specialists.

US appointed a new 'cyber czar' recently: no sign of action - but in the House, Rep C Smith (Rep) is trying to reinvigorate the Global Online Freedom Act - look out for a new definition of 'axis of evil', this time based on property rights to information -- there's going to be big fallout in governance, esp now ICANN is no longer a US agency - the hack also used a DNS exploit which is ICANN's domain. China has been pushing for an end to the Internet Governance Forum and a move back to the national representation offered by the ITU. Now the US may well add its voice - in an ironic alliance.

Meanwhile, Google, entirely vulnerable as a corporation heading into the cloud big time, has managed a) to get the great press about standing up to censorship and defending human rights b) made Microsoft carry the can for the Aurora hack just when they are about to launch a rival cloud Docs application and c) divert attention from the fact that they just got stiffed in the biggest industrial espionage exploit of recent times.