Sex appeal

From Eurozine:

Having condemned hyper-sexualized culture, the American religious Right is now wildly pro-sex, as long as it is marital sex. By replacing the language of morality with the secular notion of self-esteem, repression has found its way back onto school curricula – to the detriment of girls and women in particular. “We are living through an assault on female sexual independence”, writes Dagmar Herzog.

“Waves of pleasure flow over me; it feels like sliding down a mountain waterfall,” rhapsodises one delighted woman. Another recalls: “It’s like having a million tiny pleasure balloons explode inside of me all at once.”

These descriptions come not from Cosmopolitan, not from an erotic website, not from a Black Lace novel and certainly not from a porn channel. They are, believe it or not, part of the new philosophy of the Religious Right in America. We’ve always known that sex sells. Well, now it’s being used to sell both God and the Republicans in one extremely suggestive package. And in dressing up the old repressive values in fishnet stockings and flouncy lingerie, the forces of conservatism have beaten the liberals at their own game.

Choose almost any sex-related issue. From pornography and sex education to reproductive rights and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, Americans have allowed a conservative religious movement not only to dictate the terms of conversation but also to change the nation’s laws and public health policies. And meanwhile American liberals have remained defensive and tongue-tied.

So how did the Religious Right – that avid and vocal movement of politicised conservative evangelical Protestants (joined together also with a growing number of conservative Catholics) – manage so effectively to harness what has traditionally been the province of the permissive left?

Quite simply, it has changed tactics and is now going out of its way to assert, loudly and enthusiastically, that, in contrast to what is generally believed, it is far from being sexually uptight. On the contrary, it is wildly pro-sex, provided it’s marital sex. Evangelical conservatives in particular have begun not only to rail against the evils of sexual misery within marriage (and the way far too many wives feel like not much more than sperm depots for insensitive, emotionally absent husbands), but also, in the most graphically detailed, explicit terms, to eulogise about the prospect of ecstasy.

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The society of the query and the Googlization of our lives

From Eurozine:

“There is only one way to turn signals into information, through interpretation”, wrote the computer critic Joseph Weizenbaum. As Google’s hegemony over online content increases, argues Geert Lovink, we should stop searching and start questioning.

A spectre haunts the world’s intellectual elites: information overload. Ordinary people have hijacked strategic resources and are clogging up once carefully policed media channels. Before the Internet, the mandarin classes rested on the idea that they could separate “idle talk” from “knowledge”. With the rise of Internet search engines it is no longer possible to distinguish between patrician insights and plebeian gossip. The distinction between high and low, and their co-mingling on occasions of carnival, belong to a bygone era and should no longer concern us. Nowadays an altogether new phenomenon is causing alarm: search engines rank according to popularity, not truth. Search is the way we now live. With the dramatic increase of accessed information, we have become hooked on retrieval tools. We look for telephone numbers, addresses, opening times, a person’s name, flight details, best deals and in a frantic mood declare the ever growing pile of grey matter “data trash”. Soon we will search and only get lost. Old hierarchies of communication have not only imploded, communication itself has assumed the status of cerebral assault. Not only has popular noise risen to unbearable levels, we can no longer stand yet another request from colleagues and even a benign greeting from friends and family has acquired the status of a chore with the expectation of reply. The educated class deplores that fact that chatter has entered the hitherto protected domain of science and philosophy, when instead they should be worrying about who is going to control the increasingly centralized computing grid.

What today’s administrators of noble simplicity and quiet grandeur cannot express, we should say for them: there is a growing discontent with Google and the way the Internet organizes information retrieval. The scientific establishment has lost control over one of its key research projects – the design and ownership of computer networks, now used by billions of people. How did so many people end up being that dependent on a single search engine? Why are we repeating the Microsoft saga once again? It seems boring to complain about a monopoly in the making when average Internet users have such a multitude of tools at their disposal to distribute power. One possible way to overcome this predicament would be to positively redefine Heidegger’s Gerede. Instead of a culture of complaint that dreams of an undisturbed offline life and radical measures to filter out the noise, it is time to openly confront the trivial forms of Dasein today found in blogs, text messages and computer games. Intellectuals should no longer portray Internet users as secondary amateurs, cut off from a primary and primordial relationship with the world. There is a greater issue at stake and it requires venturing into the politics of informatic life. It is time to address the emergence of a new type of corporation that is rapidly transcending the Internet: Google.

The World Wide Web, which should have realized the infinite library Borges described in his short story The Library of Babel (1941), is seen by many of its critics as nothing but a variation of Orwell’s Big Brother (1948). The ruler, in this case, has turned from an evil monster into a collection of cool youngsters whose corporate responsibility slogan is “Don’t be evil”. Guided by a much older and experienced generation of IT gurus (Eric Schmidt), Internet pioneers (Vint Cerf) and economists (Hal Varian), Google has expanded so fast, and in such a wide variety of fields, that there is virtually no critic, academic or business journalist who has been able to keep up with the scope and speed with which Google developed in recent years. New applications and services pile up like unwanted Christmas presents. Just add Google’s free email service Gmail, the video sharing platform YouTube, the social networking site Orkut, GoogleMaps and GoogleEarth, its main revenue service AdWords with the Pay-Per-Click advertisements, office applications such as Calendar, Talks and Docs. Google not only competes with Microsoft and Yahoo, but also with entertainment firms, public libraries (through its massive book scanning program) and even telecom firms. Believe it or not, the Google Phone is coming soon. I recently heard a less geeky family member saying that she had heard that Google was much better and easier to use than the Internet. It sounded cute, but she was right. Not only has Google become the better Internet, it is taking over software tasks from your own computer so that you can access these data from any terminal or handheld device. Apple’s MacBook Air is a further indication of the migration of data to privately controlled storage bunkers. Security and privacy of information are rapidly becoming the new economy and technology of control. And the majority of users, and indeed companies, are happily abandoning the power to self-govern their informational resources.

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Manufactured scarcity

From Eurozine:

“Manufacturing scarcity” is the new watchword in “Green capitalism”. James Heartfield explains how for the energy sector, it has become a license to print money. Increasing profits by cutting output was pioneered by Enron in the 1990s; now the model of restricted supply together with domestic energy generation is promoted worldwide.

The corporate raiders of the 1980s first worked out that you might be able to make more money downsizing, or even breaking up industry than building it up. It is a perverse result of the profit motive that private gain should grow out of public decay. But even the corporate raiders never dreamt of making deindustrialisation into an avowed policy goal which the rest of us would pay for.

What some of the cannier Green Capitalists realised is that scarcity increases price, and manufacturing scarcity can increase returns. What could be more old hat, they said, than trying to make money by making things cheaper? Entrepreneurs disdained the “fast moving consumer goods” market.

Of course there is a point to all this. If labour gets too efficient the chances of wringing more profits from industry get less. The more productive labour is, the lower, in the end, will be the rate of return on investments. That is because the source of new value is living labour; but greater investment in new technologies tends to replace living labour with machines, which produce no additional value of their own.[2] Over time the rate of return must fall. Business theory calls this the diminishing rate of return.[3] Businessmen know it as the “race for the bottom” – the competitive pressure to make goods cheaper and cheaper, making it that much harder to sell enough to make a profit. Super efficient labour would make the capitalistic organisation of industry redundant. Manufacturing scarcity, restricting output and so driving up prices is one short-term way to secure profits and maybe even the profit-system. Of course that would also mean abandoning the historic justification for capitalism, that it increased output and living standards. Environmentalism might turn out to be the way to save capitalism, just at the point when industrial development had shown it to be redundant.

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