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Empires: Individuals in Search of Society

by Prasad Krishna last modified May 24, 2012 08:35 AM
In their 2000 bestseller Empire, Michael Hardt and Toni Negri announced a new international condition no longer built on the imperialist model of the superpowers of old but on the new condition of globalization. This new and emerging networked world held with it the opportunity for politics to bring forward a 21st century of interconnectedness, openness and a shared sense of planetary responsibility.

This article by Marc Lafia was published in Huffington Post on May 18, 2012

What we've discovered since is that the new empire still plays by the games of the old empires: of nation states, of divisiveness, of scarcity, of might, control and fear, even while we have never had such enormous abundance and innovation.

It is this paradox that Empires -- our documentary film and online project, currently raising funds through Kickstarter -- sets out to unravel. The title works on multiple levels. It says that the nationalist empires are back. It also suggests that the empires of law, money, science, speed, nation states, and food are, in fact, complex networks that are inter-related and interdependent.

It is said that you know there is a network when you're excluded from it.

To be included is to have a voice, to participate, to have agency. These things drive the histories of political and philosophical thought. They are not abstract concepts but the very real struggles of networked relations, of powers, peoples, flows of energies and technologies.

How these networks work and how they interact is what Empires sets out to explicate.

We've sat down with an extraordinary group of historians, scientists, network technologists, sociologists, political organizers and artists to construct a conversation that describes the forces that shape our contemporary world. The list includes Manuel Delanda, Saskia Sassen, Florian Cramer, Natalie Jeremijenko, Kazys Varnelis, Geert Lovink, Alex Galloway, Michael Hardt, Anthony Pagden, Cathy Davidson, Greg Lindsay, Nishant Shah, James Delbourgo, Jon Protevi, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, and soon Paul D. Miller and Douglas Rushkoff.

What we've heard is that our managerial and government elites are dysfunctional and that the new order of things is every man for himself, that things find their own order, from the ground up. Our desires are expressed in our purchasing power. Money is how we vote and the market will continually adjust to accommodate the desires we express. We can all be winners using the network effects to scale up to success, a success each of us has agency to produce. There are no larger structures to trump agency. If you can make it you will make it.

In this ethos of the elevation of our uniqueness to the exclusion of our commonalities, we have become blind to any possible collective power. We now, in the West, are a society of individuals in search of society.

With reluctance today to accept such universalisms as global citizenship, rights to a living wage, to mobility, to social ownership of information channels and planetary resources, we are left with a notion that society, like nature, will be chaotic and disruptive, and that through this new 'natural law' of volatility, of self organization, a new politics will emerge and find its shape.

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