Dark Markets

Dark Markets is a two day strategic conference that looked into the state of the art of media politics, information technologies, and theories of democracy. A variety of international speakers inquired into strategies of oppositional movements and discussed the role of new media.

These are some of the questions Dark Markets would like to address:

Has the Internet still its original potential to foster a 'network democracy from below'?
Aren't new media already too much compromised by the ever growing state and corporate influence?
Can the Internet be reclaimed as a 'digital commons' or has the current crisis already reached a meta media level, beyond propaganda and its mirror counter- campaigns?


Crisis, which crisis?

For a growing number of people the "1989" promise of democracy and market economy, guided by EU, NATO and IMF, is turning into a disaster recipe. Corporate globalization, unbeatable in the nineties, has reached an all time low. Despite US-military spending up due to the War on Terrorism, a unilateral foreign policy and protectionalism, the Bush Jr. administration is rapidly losing its global hegemonic position. The globally distributed power of empire is turning into an old school imperialist exercise. There is not much left of the credibility of the once mighty neo-liberals and their proclaimed 'end of history'. The list of 'scandals' and unresolved crises is growing by the day: the outbreak of AIDS in Africa, China and Russia; failed privatizations; endemic unemployment and poverty; the rise of Europe's populist and 'culturalist' right; the violent vicious circles of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; global warming and the Kyoto treaty drama; the economic-monetary crisis in Argentine and power struggles in Venezuela and last but not least the astonishing roller coaster ride from dotcom mania to plummeting stock markets.

Democracy: an empty signifier

The decline in public interest for party politics and elections stands in strong contrast to the promises of an 'electronic democracy'. While the Internet and its democratic potentials are spreading rapidly, the majority has never been as silent in the history of liberal democracies. With democratic culture on the rise, the gap between society and its representatives is so big that it seems hopeless. Today's social movements not only lack a political wing, there is not even a wish to move into such a direction. Unlike the 68 generation with the leftist splinter groups and Green parties, contemporary dissent doesn't even bother with local or national politicians and immediately address the agencies of real power: transnational corporations and their international bodies. However, this post-political condition leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Today's movements and their new media are anything but transparent. There a just a few decision-making tools available on the Internet. Nor can we say that the medium itself is managed in an open and accountable way (just think about the ICANN domain name policy disaster). The promises of an 'e- democracy' are in danger of fading away as one of the many nineties utopias that talked and talked but failed to deliver. It is therefore time that the radical democracy criticisms are also going to be applied the consensual premises of the new media story.

Intelligence of information politics

In the midst of economic slump intelligence agencies of all kinds remain untainted of the economic crisis and have grown into a major intelligence industry geared to economically exploit the data body but also to influence policy and public opinion.

Corporations, consumers of economic intelligence, routinely advance the merging of editorial information with corporate public relations in the media. The interest of private capital is further supported by manipulating policy through a multitude of think-tanks which publish ideologically biased research or hidden agendas masked as independent academic work. These intelligence products are not balanced by research that is driven by the public interest or models for a digital commons. Unlike the billion-dollar brain ware industry put into place by corporate interest, there are no "foresight institutes" exploring the potential of human communication beyond the role as consumers. It seems as if the control of socio-technological development is in the hands of technocratic elites, ill informed bureaucrats and a shadowy but aggressive lobbyism. The layout for the future of communication is decided behind closed doors. This logic of control over the information market is strongly opposed to the cultivation and formation of a public sphere, and the dysfunctionality of the communication markets generates crucial deficiencies in itself.

Therefore it seems necessary to draw up information policies suited to protect the digital commons, to establish Cultural Intelligence Agencies to raise awareness on conflictual issues and to strengthen the basis for a broad discussion of the political implications of ICT.

New media and democracy

With that much problems on the rise, the question concerning aim and organization of a global resistance movement has become pertinent. The 'new' movements and media are not yet mature enough to question the powers to be and lack sufficient leverage at the negotiating table. The claim to 'embody the future' in a conservative climate like is becoming a weak and empty gesture. On the other hand, the call of many activists to return to "real life" does not provide us with a solution to how alternative new media models can be lifted to the level of mass culture.

Therefore, rather then making up yet another concept it is time to ask the question of how software, interfaces and alternative standards can be installed in society. Ideas may take the shape of a virus, but society may hit back with even more successful immunization programs: appropriation, repression and neglect.

Most movements and initiatives find themselves in a trap. The strategy of becoming "minor" (Guattari) is no longer a positive choice but the default option. With access to the political process effectively blocked, further mediation seems the only available option. However, gaining more and more "brand value" in terms of global awareness may turn out to be like overvalued stocks. One day they might pay off, but meanwhile they are pretty worthless.
Instead of arguing for "reconciliation" between the real and virtual we call here for a rigorous involvement and implementation of social movements into technology.