Windows on What?

Event Scenes

Windows on What?

It’s a hot day in July and I’m tuned into cyber-business, reading a feverish newspaper report of “Glee at Microsoft as the master version of Windows 95 is finally shipped.” The mood in Redmond, Washington is ecstatic, like a last day of cyber-school party, as the coder fraternity gets together for a victory bash: drinking Dom Perignon, diving into the fountain, spraying whipped cream, maybe a game or two of pin the tail on Bill Gates’ donkey, and, who knows, maybe even spin the bottle. Thinking I haven’t noticed it reading over my shoulder, my PC slinks away into the next room and suddenly starts to cough with the rasping sound of a summer algorithmic cold. I can already hear it whining for a Win 95 upgrade.

My micro-joy is abruptly terminated by TV scenes from Srebrenica. It seems that when the UN declared Srebrenica, Tuzla and Gorazde “safe areas,” it forgot to tell the Bosnian Muslims that it meant safe only for the UN. For the Muslims, the so-called safe areas are actually temporary holding depots, hospices where the UN collects refugees from ethnically cleansed areas in order to hand them over en masse to the Bosnian Serbs on demand. When the Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina does a bit of truth-telling, declaring the UN soldiers to be on a wilderness camping trip, diplomats and officers throw their hands in the air, deploring the lack of “political will” and calling for just one more meeting. Sunday afternoon barbeques in the West are spliced with TV images from the all too real theme park of suffering in Bosnia: hungry children, suicided women, raped girls, and lynched and stoned and knifed men and boys.

Harold Innis, a Canadian theorist, once said that the ultimate bitterness is to have consciousness of much and the ability to do nothing about it. Like the TV consciousness of the genocide of Bosnian Muslims that takes place this minute, and the world is silent. Clinton stalls for time as he checks his radar for signs of political damage. Pentagon Generals flank the American Secretary of Defense as he repeats the official (exaggerated) rhetoric: “The Bosnian ‘quagmire’ will involve at least 200 000 American ground troops. We’ll only fight in the air.” Of course, when the French ask for air support in the form of helicopter gunships, Clinton says he’ll get back to them later. With a survey for a conscience, Clinton is the perfect representative American politician at the end of the century: playing a waiting game while rolling the dice of moral appeasement. Kohl burps, Major smirks, Chretien golfs, and we stumble. Boutros Boutros Ghali plays the Maitre D’ of international panel discussions, and Chirac, with cynicism on his side, demands military intervention in Bosnia while planning to nuke the South Pacific.

It’s no use blaming the political leaders without shame or a UN without courage because we’re all complicit. It’s also our moral genocide that’s taking place in Bosnia. Knowledge met with indifference indicates an inner appeasement: a moral settlement of our own ethical conscience on the lower terms of the pragmatism of futility, if not disinterest. An earlier generation responded to the crisis of the Spanish Civil War by recognizing historical events for what they were – the first appearance in the 20th century of fascism on European soil. They formed the International Brigades which, if they weren’t ultimately victorious on the military field, marked the outer frontier, the irrevocable “No”, that first-generation fascism was never able to transgress.

It’s our turn now. Second-generation fascism lives again in the form of the Bosnian Serbs. What will be the response of our generation? A moral assent to evil by tuning out Bosnia and turning off TV? Or, following Camus, an earlier traveller on the road against fascism, might it be possible that we’ll remember his fateful words addressed to the survivors of the 20th century: “I rebel, therefore we exist.” Time now for the 2nd International.

Closing Down the Real World/Opening Up the Virtual World

It is no coincidence that the “shipping out” of Windows 95 and the fall of Srebrenica take place on the same weekend. These are deeply entwined events. What takes place in Redmond and Srebenica is the final settlement of human flesh in the last days of the 20th century: the bitter division of the world into virtual flesh and surplus flesh. Windows 95 opens out onto the dominant ideology and privileged life position of digital flesh. It installs the new codes of the master occupants of virtual worlds: frenzied devotion to cyber-business, life in a multi-media virtual context, digital tunnel vision, and, most of all, embedded deep in the cerebral cortex of the virtual elite an I-chip: I, that is, for complete indifference. Technological acceleration is accompanied by a big shutting-down of ethical perception.

Windows 95 might be very good for file management, multi-tasking, and games for your head with nothing on your mind, but it tells us nothing about Srebrenica. And why should it?

In technology as in life, every opening is also a closing, and what is closed down by the tech hype of Windows 95 is consciousness of surplus flesh. That’s Srebrenica: the surplus flesh of Bosnian Muslims who do not have anything to contribute to virtual worlds: fit subjects only to be ethnically, and physically, disappeared. They can be ethnically cleansed because they have first been technically cleansed. They are surplus to world domination in a cyber-box.