||IN THIS SECTION
Sabotage and the New World Order
June 1, 1998
Fighting the Terrorists
"Have you ever actually seen a terrorist?"
Wired, February 1998: activist cyber-terrorists bring it all
crashing down. Almost: a John-Wayne type in the Pentagon saves us.
The ultimate shock of the future, this, the whole
earth brought to its knees by a cold, faceless entity, destructive but
aimless: nothing human about it, its only manifestation a logo, a slogan,
momentum, and some vague propaganda.
In other words, corporate power.
In the techno-corporate cybercult1 for
which Wired is a sacred text, it is dogma that there are no centers,
no certainties, just ceaseless flux.
But the cult of course has some tenets, among them:
Power is no longer in government.
This "paradigm shift," as it is called by the self-proclaimed
"digerati," has two levels: the corporate/pragmatic, that shows up in Wired,
and the fully theoretical and abstract, decreed by the likes of Marvin
Minsky, Hans Moravec, et al.
The human body is no longer the ultimate creation.
The new power is corporate and virtual.
Computer technology will one day replace the
Opposition to the new power endangers us all.
It is foolish and short-sighted to deny this.
These mystical halves, which complement and depend
on each other, define an instant split-level religion. The more extreme
half, full of apocalyptic predictions, serves to contextualize and make
more exciting the worldly assertions of the other. This latter more accessible
but still privileged sanctum, constantly outlined in Wired and other
corporate literature, is the catechism in action; it allows the cult's
mostly managerial-class adherents to feel themselves part of something
millenial, and--perhaps the raison d'être of the whole edifice--it
casts their entrepreneurial amorality as exalted, and ordains it.
As in any religion--or millenial world view, such
as that other equally schizophrenic one, some of whose history we find
here in Linz2--opposition, implied or real, is both needed and
despised, essential and unthinkable.
For the cybercult, since scapegoating is so unfashionable
and no real opposition exists, an enemy is invented. "Cyber-terrorism,"
unlike the Jews, does not seem to have a real-world component (appropriately
enough for a virtual religion), but it serves well as the shadow and enemy
of corporate power, displacing any lingering unconscious unease with the
new order onto something that looks just like it but stands as its opposite,
and that never needs be confronted (except by Harrison Ford, the updated
John Wayne). And it taps in well to the "terrorism" that has replaced Communism
as the televized enemy for the culture at large.
Fighting the Terror
The popular glorification of corporate power, in whatever form it takes--techno-utopianism,
techno-paganism, etc.--is misguided and weak-minded at best, considering
what is known about how corporations behave. In fifty years it may look
like the boosterism of television, the automobile, or the atomic bomb looks
to us now--or it may look like certain impressive rallies burnt hard on
The sort of demonization inevitable at the end of
the hype, delirious as it may seem, may (conceivably) portend a real challenge
to the notion of constructive sabotage, especially if "we"--those who do
not buy into the techno-corporate cybercult, and who fight the system it
worships--are at all successful.
But what is really frightening about the cybercult's
fanciful enemy is that it points up the total lack of an actual one. Since
corporate power has indeed become globally ascendant, as the "digerati"
assert, the lack of a real opposition is frightening.
®TMark was created in 1991 to help remedy this situation.
Our first task was to examine the special conditions to which the lack
of resistance might be ascribed. The history of ®TMark can be seen as an
evolution in our thinking on this matter.
In approaching the problem of opposing corporate
power, we immediately had to acknowledge that corporate power is different,
essentially and perceptually, from the government power against which there
is such a long and varied tradition of resistance. Corporate power is alien
and faceless, a disembodied, unlocalized, inhuman force that constantly
thrusts itself upon us, but has only a multitude of seemingly dissociated
aims and no position we can count on, or against which we can fight. Its
horror can't even be named--"kafkaesque" may be close, but neither it nor
"orwellian" will really do, because in Kafka and Orwell the nightmare forces
ostensibly emanate from a malevolent or amoral government, not from countless
disembodied entities that, like wraiths in a video game, can never conceivably
be destroyed all at once by any weapon, ideological or physical.
Luckily for the activist, the flexibility of corporate
power, its lack of a center, comes at a price: it has no brain. It may
be as tenacious as a virus, but it also has the intelligence of one: mechanical,
soulless, miniscule. It is very easy to attack, and unlike government,
it usually reacts to attack by mutation--which makes for its durability,
but also gives protest unprecedented power to achieve immediate results.
This mutating quality led ®TMark to settle on widespread,
individually-conceived product sabotage as a viable method of combating
corporate power. With a sustained barrage of attacks, it was reasoned,
substantial changes might be effected.
These changes might not be permanent, but the barrage
could be. In order to position itself as a permanent fixture rather than
as an interim solution, ®TMark decided to model itself after corporations,
i.e. not model itself at all, and define itself only by logos and slogans.
The pronouncements in this paper, earnest as they are, do not define ®TMark;
®TMark is defined by the way it is perceived and used, and our only face
is our graphics, sound bytes, and occasional products. ®TMark, like a corporation,
adapts and mutates as conditions necessitate, in service to its bottom
It is easy, given the discouraging mutability of
corporate power, the impossibility of determining a single characteristic
or creed that defines it, to fall into the trap of choosing to believe
that it is relatively benign. Since so little is really known about it,
almost all hypotheses seem equally valid, and it is easiest, after all,
to accept the most pleasant. In this case, the most pleasant is that the
shift of power from governmental to corporate represents an improvement.
Since governments are often quite bad--we know this, because of the Nazis
and because anti-government protest has told us this for at least hundreds
of years--it stands to (unexamined) reason that what remains after the
evaporation of government will be good.
The desire to see corporate power as benign, even
in the face of all evidence, is understandable. Since this desire renders
the fight against corporate power difficult, even with the machinery in
place, ®TMark decided, in 1997, to shed its veil of secrecy and attempt
to act as a nexus for perceptions and insecurities about corporate power
and the struggle to fight it. ®TMark was also spurred by the publicizing
of another group's large reward for the year's best act of "creative sabotage,"
which we perceived to indicate a need for a public anti-corporate presence.
We began by allowing previous ®TMark workers to
speak with the media, and by replacing the dial-in system with a web site
(http://rtmark.com/). While this change has not dramatically increased
the number of actions ®TMark has been able to sponsor, it has allowed ®TMark
to publicize them in a manner that would have been impossible before. In
at least two cases, this has resulted in widespread coverage that probably
would not have occurred otherwise.
By becoming more public, ®TMark has also come to
serve as a sort of public space where anti-corporate activists can meet
each other online. If we judge our success at this as a corporation might,
using typical benchmarks, we come away quite encouraged. In the eight or
so months since our move to the Web, our site has received nearly twenty
thousand visits, and several ongoing collaborations have resulted from
our matchmaking efforts. And we can only assume that some of those who
see the ®TMark site or read about ®TMark in The New York Times,
Spin, Entertainment Today, The Village Voice, The
Sydney Morning Herald, The International Herald Tribune, and
dozens of other media outlets the world over, will find their own ideas
sparked; the steady of stream of project proposals we receive would support
Considering ®TMark's long-term aim of establishing
a permanent and significant opposition to corporate power, however, we
are forced to acknowledge that our successes so far have been rather modest.
Given the timescale, we continue to believe in widespread individually-conceived
sabotage as a means of fighting the hydra that is the corporate, but must
admit that even our shift to a more public mechanism has at best barely
begun to effect the indomitable resistance that has always been our agenda.
To determine our next course of action, we have
turned our attention to a system that might be inhibiting the critique
of corporate power at a more mechanical (rather than illusory) level: the
stock market. By interesting nearly everyone in corporate welfare through
ownership of stocks or mutual funds, corporations have created a conservative
majority whose bottom line is the same as their own, consciously and unconsciously:
what's good for GM is good for me.3 The media's positioning
of economic news in the boldest headlines helps extend the effect beyond
those who are wealthy enough to own stock.
®TMark must be able to offer, perceptually if not
actually, an alternative to the endless flow of bounty provided by the
stock market. Much as the National Endowment for the Arts, even with its
slim offerings, provided the illusion of an alternative to corporate systems--an
illusion more important than the actual sums (and which has now vanished,
along with the NEA's influence)--we at ®TMark hope to provide a similar
illusory but conceptually powerful alternative to the "bottom line" of
To effect such a perceptual change, we must create
a steady stream of funding to replace the spotty financing our projects
now enjoy. ®TMark has recently examined a possible means of establishing
a more reliable funding stream, whose real effects, while not as important
as the perceptual ones, will perhaps not be negligible either.
®TMark's new "mutual fund" system will most likely
be fully implemented by the time this article is published. Much as timid
consumers can be convinced to wager their savings on corporate stocks by
means of mutual funds, in which direct contact with the stocks is relegated
to "experts," so we believe that by classifying projects according to theme,
risk, and so on, and taking care of the specific details of allotment,
we can assuage some of the fear that might interfere with investment in
specific projects. Also, it will allow all projects in a category to be
fully funded, so long as the maximum project reward is available within
Moreover, we are currently recruiting "celebrity
fund managers" who, having demonstrated their staying power as reliable
producers of cultural dividends, are eminently suited to decide on distribution
to the cultural enterprises our projects represent. By lending the power
of their name to groups of projects, they might interest investors who
otherwise would be afraid of the cultural risk of supporting ®TMark projects.
The high profile lent by these managers will also help increase the perceived
profile of the ®TMark alternative.
We have received positive responses from several
of our choices for "celebrity fund managers," and will most likely have
implemented this system as well by the time of publication of this article.
Luckily for the activist, the primary reason the new ascendancy of corporate
power has been so meekly accepted is probably not its facelessness, nor
the stock market, but rather simply its age. It has only been a short time
since the model of the corporation has replaced that of government as a
personal guiding metaphor, since we've stopped thinking of "fair government"
in favor of "productive investment" (and since Harrison Ford replaced John
Wayne). The old power regime, with all its metaphors, existed for hundreds
of years, and protest had just as long to develop; the new techno-corporate
mythology is still being formulated and implanted, and there has just not
been time to learn how to fight it.
It may be that our current steady efforts will at
some point reach a sort of "critical mass," at which time the idea of sabotage
will lodge in the popular consciousness with the force necessary to effect
widespread change, but we cannot count on this. Whether by the means we
are currently considering, or by means we have yet to consider (and which
may reach us from the public at large), we will continue to strive to expand
®TMark's ability to combat corporate power and the ludicrous but dangerous
mythologies that support it.
Until sabotage seems more natural and obvious than
going to the coffee machine, ®TMark will not be able to claim real success.
Until conscientious resistance is so common that corporations anticipate
it everywhere, and are constantly attempting to pre-empt it with conscientious
behavior, ®TMark will need to examine its methods and consider whether
new ones might be more effective.
1"Something is hovering over our heads which
looks like a 'cybercult.' We have to acknowledge that the new communication
technologies will only further democracy if, and only if, we oppose from
the beginning the caricature of global society being hatched for us by
big multinational corporations throwing themselves at a breakneck pace
on the information superhighways." Paul Virilio, "Speed and Information:
Cyberspace Alarm!", CTHEORY, 1995
2We would not be the first to compare the techno-cult
"paradigm" with that of the Nazis; see for example the discussion between
Paul Virilio and Adrien Sina at http://aleph.afuu.fr/web/aleph/COMM/ lists/archi-www.96/msg00011.html.
3After WWII, of course, the U.S. government
used a similar technique for similar ends by practically giving away suburban
houses to returning G.I.s, thus creating a land-owning, conservative generation,
and in the process emptying the once powerful and liberal inner cities.
4We are in the initial stages of investigating another
option, which we will only implement if the "mutual fund" system does not yield
substantial results. This option would represent ®TMark's first-ever departure
from subsisting on individual, non-organizational donations, as it would mainly
depend on funding channeled through a group of cultural activists who call themselves
the Cultural Terrorism Agency. The CTA taps into the resonance between cultural
activist aims and those of Islamic fundamentalist groups: they both desire to
oppose property (i.e. excessive, gratuitous, obscene ownership of it) and representation
(in one case, of humans; in the other, of products). The CTA simply funnels
the funds to individuals in North America who are engaged in these pursuits;
®TMark is discussing the ethics of accepting CTA funds, which the CTA has in
principle offered. The greater availability of funds might in turn speed up
the project-generation and -accomplishment process considerably, and it would
substantially ground the perception of ®TMark as a solid alternative to corporate
funding sources in the wake of the NEA. At this time, however, because of internal
®TMark disagreements, we will only consider this alternative as a last resort.