Friday, November 22, 2002

Theory - Part 2

Relatedly, I've been corresponding with Erik Peeters in South Africa about ethics and Hakim Bey's TAZ - and yesterday he took me to task:

"Anarchy sounds a lot better when you aren't starving to death. [Bey's take on art] appears to me to be uniquely applicable to western, and rich society. The challenge to art in South Africa is a lot more existential. Poets make no money, no-one, not even the most successful writers, gets to live off art alone. Thus I find the anarchy called for a little spurious - it is an anarchy you can afford because your continued survival is guaranteed by the well-fare state. Your personal course of study would be entirely impossible in South Africa - no-one would pay for your internet connection. Also, I find your concept of contexually contingent ethics highly dangerous. South Africa currently is gripped by an ethics of violence. If you go over there as a tourist, chances are almost even that you'll get raped, or killed. These are contextually contingent ethics - their origin can be studied and possibly analised. However, these ethics also threaten the life of my parents and parents-is-law. Under the circumstances, ethics suddenly become a lot less negotiable. The anarchy suggested by the internet is a rich man's anarchy - and it depends for its life on the very capitalist forces it pretends to abhor. Statements made about morals need to count in the place where people actually live, in the place where real choices have to be made. For instance, I can't afford much moral ambiguity in relation to the past of my country - either apartheid was wrong, or it was right. It leaves no space for grey areas."

Hmm. Theory meets practicality, and for Erik, theory loses the battle. I'll be the first to admit that he makes some really valid points about the digital divide, and ones that should never be ignored when discussing new technologies. And while I respectfully disagree about there being "no space for grey areas," I completely agree that ethics need to be local rather than global, and in that sense I am only ever writing from my position in the world. If you find yourself in a different situation, it's entirely possible that you will have no use for my ramblings.

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