CYBERSPACE AND THE TERRITORIAL IMPERATIVE:
COLONIZATION, IDENTITY, AND
THE EVOLUTION OF PEACE CULTURES
Scott L. Bills
We are familiar by now with the notion of a “changeable, inchoate, contested past,” just as we are aware of how disconcerting that concept has been for historians and many other social scientists who were weaned on facticity, empiricism, and the reassuring embrace of universalist narratives. I have undertaken this effort with a commitment to pursue what Edward Said (1993: xxv) has called “nomadic” and “contrapuntal” histories. I have also launched into this exploratory venture with a rather keen, even visceral awareness of Patricia Limerick’s (1997: 35) caution about intruding onto specialized academic turf (Kaplan, 1995-96:19). It cannot be otherwise in trying to pan across the latter twentieth century and peer into the dynamics of territorial and virtual colonization. Cyberspace is an entity that is daily evolving, a new “elsewhere” with well-documented origins but an uncertain future. My goal here is to examine briefly the trajectory of Western territorial colonization and its concomitant cultural impact, initially focusing on the Cold War era when the frenetic cultivation of emergent technologies fostered a new level of control and management of knowledge production, media representations, advanced weaponry, and public mobilization. I want to compare this process with the current colonization of cyberspace, an imagined place, an artificially created zone of constant traffic in communication and exchange without specific limits, location, grounding—what Patrick Wolfe (1997: 403) has called a “radically deterritorialized” dimension. Yet, the internet assumes ever greater importance to global societies as it becomes an essential route for financial exchange, multinational expression, rapid commodification, and the devolution of dueling knowledges, myths, and cultural engagements. That is, there is much to learn about virtual imperialism by returning to the awkward, struggling behemoths of the Cold War, their expansive hegemonic presence, and their deep discursive legacy of technostrategic planning (Cohn, 1987; Cohn 1989; Edwards, 1996). There is also something to gain, a historical moment to explore, by examining the evolution of the internet, as elusive as it remains in terms of both analysis and description. By doing so, we can extrapolate backward to revise what we know to be very complex processes of imperial mastery, identity distortion, decolonization, and indigenous assertion in the latter twentieth century. It was an era that Michael Harrington once prematurely called the “Twilight of Capitalism,” one which Frederic Jameson more accurately refers to (borrowing from Ernest Mandel) as “late capitalism,” with its slide toward the postmodern turn (Harrington, 1976; Jameson, 1984). Or we can turn to David Harvey, Stephen Toulmin, and James M. Scott to experience the vertigo of High Modernity, replete with overarching hegemonic projects as well as the “hidden transcripts” of local knowledge and polyvocal guerrilla resistance (Harvey, 1990; Toulmin, 1990; Scott, 1990).
Cold War Techno-Empires
The Cold War era was characterized by (1) atavistic remnants of classic Western imperial possessions and traditions, whether considered as bothersome debris or worthy arenas of renewed contention; (2) an aberrational but openly bipolar drive for dominance that decisively edged into new media and information technologies, unfolding increasingly discursive means of command and disciplinary authority; and (3) an accelerated process of decolonization, a determined politico-military campaign to reclaim territory and indigenous identity, effectively analyzed and defined by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1970) and Martiniquen psychiatrist Frantz Fanon (1952, 1961). Later came more nuanced notions of multilayered identity and the study of internal hegemonic forms preserved in the new nation-states of the Third World (Guha and Spivak, 1988; Ngugi, 1986, 1993). Each phase of the Cold War was heavily endowed with mythic power—ideological crusades, high-tech prowess, national security fetishism, and patriarchal mission. They were, to borrow from Roland Barthes (1957: 61), “very engaging myths which are however not innocent.”
During the Cold War era, the shards of fading European empires were grafted onto a new praxis within a framework in which overt control was increasingly supplemented by a more subtle management grid composed of alliances, protectorates, junior partners and clients, asymmetrical economic relationships, and ever-expanding discursive regimes of prestige, credibility, enframing, and definition. The Cold War was most easily visualized as Soviet-American ideological and strategic grappling across every region of the world, the “heavy dancers” (Thompson, 1985) of reciprocal containment. Strategic thinking and societal priorities designed for public consumption were conveniently reduced to “bumper-sticker simplicity” (Sanger, 2000). For U.S. historians, the term “containment” has become equally important in describing the conformist politics and culture of domestic society with subsequent application to the homogenizing influence of Western-dominated media and information services (May, 1999; Nadel 1995; Batstone, 1998). Clearly, the Cold War marked another imperial era, porous certainly, often negotiated, but sustained nonetheless by well-honed methods of armed intervention, economic intrusion, and indirect political monitoring. Yet, rising to the surface (since direct territorial control by military force became steadily less cost-effective) were discursive characteristics that did not overwhelm or replace material factors but by the late 1970s steadily encroached upon and enveloped the raw physical vitality of traditional nation-state activity. Thus did Antonio Gramsci’s (1971: 286) “culture industries” blossom in a post-Fordist environment, one in which “psycho-physical adaptation” increasingly gave way to Michel Foucault’s (1975, 1980)“disciplinary grid” and similar analyses rooted in nomadic, contingent, and discourse-driven readings of the past. While James Scott (1990, 1994) has pointed to problems with the too-facile application of Gramsci’s ideas, others have argued that an appropriately nuanced and contextualized use of hegemony theory remains a rich source of analysis of late capitalist or High Modernist society (Lears, 1985; Roseberry, 1994).
The sturdiness and wide reach of Cold War imperialism lay partly in the nature of the world system prevailing after the Second World War, one which gave the United States and the Soviet Union tremendous, unprecedented authority to advance the Western project of “legibility” (Scott, 1998). Advantage rested not simply on dynamic economies and the creation of an impressive military infrastructure—including the deployment of ever-more-sophisticated nuclear weapons—but also on the ability to shape and limit access to the expanding power/knowledge nexus personified by digital computing and the creation of virtual worlds. And this came amidst the unparalleled commodification of political and cultural life in the West, mirrored by the truncated social compromise of Soviet-controlled regimes in Eastern Europe (Havel 1978). In short, the stage was set for a different kind of hegemony, more pervasive in identity distortion and thus more difficult to resist in established, formulaic ways. Describing the disciplinary mechanisms of his own society, Czech playwright Václav Havel (1978:134) poignantly wrote of “that complex machinery of units, hierarchies, transmission belts, and indirect instruments of manipulation which ensure in countless ways the integrity of the regime.” His turn toward the “pre-political hinterland” (157) was not at all unlike Paulo Freire’s “existential necessity” for rehumanization in the face of the colonization of identity. As with classic empire-building, the Cold War resulted in the cognitive mapping and remapping of the world, a process which Edward Said (1978: 16-17) has characterized as “imaginative geography”: a routine process of “othering,” solidifying blocs, camps, and spheres. The high-level manipulation of colonized space and the displacement of local cultures spoke to the growing incorporative capacity of both Soviet and American narratives. As Arturo Escobar (1995) has noted, the Cold War featured a common Western developmentalist discourse imposed on the irregular terrain of the Third World (1995), recalling Homi Babha’s (1994: 114) evocation of “the jagged testimony of colonial dislocation.” (See also Sachs 1992.)
For Said (1993: 109), the essence of empire was the occupation and control of land, from which proceeded the tedious, long-term “quotidian processes of hegemony. This on-site physical dominance created the means for an expanding arc of suppression and the power to rewrite human history:
The main battle in imperialism is over land, of course; but when it came to who owned the land, who had the right to settle and work on it, who kept it going, who won it back, and who now plans its future-these issues were reflected, contested, and even for a time decided in narrative...The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them.
Chinua Achebe (2000: 24) has made the same point: “There is such a thing as absolute power over narrative. Those who secure this privilege for themselves can arrange stories about others pretty much where, and as, they like.” (See also Ngugi, 1986; Girshick, 1999: 9.) In this way, empire-building rested on solid ground, dirt and rock, gained through conquest, with control justified by an “orientalism” that represented a Eurocentric construct of colonial societies. Orientalism writ large produced knowledge about alien cultures that created for the West a series of decipherable elsewheres requiring reconfiguration (Jara and Magana, 1982). After the end of the Second World War, a more benign imperial rhetoric began to articulate a regimen of “development” regarding dependencies and protectorates: programs for Third World deconstruction and reconstruction based on competing strategies of Westernization. Cold War contention was not without options, certainly. Allies and clients could choose market versus state-controlled economies, heavy versus light industry, cheery American social engineers versus dour Soviet planners. In 1944, Italian social democrat Luigi Sturzo (1944:112, 190-91) could good-naturedly rail against “the sociologists of American democracy” and their “immense confidence ? in schools, books, and statistics for the education of the world.” He recognized clearly the U.S. penchant for “pumping in lessons of social sciences, scientific psychology, positivist pedagogy and technology.” But modernization theory was as readily deployed by communist policymakers as market economists (Pletsch, 1981; Escobar, 1995; Scott, 1998; Nashel, 2000). Evangelical developmentalism remained rooted in the eventual eradication of indigenous history beyond meaningless, “museumized” rituals.
Thus do we have empire as landed, open-ended zones of exploitation, the local cultures acting as passive recipients of “copyable” methodologies of societal organization (Anderson, 1991: 159). Yet, colonization as process can be equally applicable to a deterritorialized space orientalized by such common tropes as frontiers, markets, kiosks, shopping carts, and chat rooms. Fictive narratives carry this edgy familiarity even further, via novel and film, generating a digital matrix that is indeed inhabitable, generally chaotic, with easily recognizable heroes and villains struggling over personal identity, access to datascapes, and material supremacy (Gibson, 1984). As writer William Gibson once remarked, “Everyone who works with computers seems to develop an intuitive faith that there’s some kind of actual space behind the screen ?” (McCaffrey, 1988: 226). The notion that virtuality comprises real terrain is in part a result of metaphor and the mobilization of convenient icons. It is also the product of the fact that cyberspace, akin to past colonial “scrambles,” can be parcelized and bought and sold, this time in terms of bandwidth (privileged location), market share, and strategic entry and exit.
Both Michael Doyle (1986) and Edward Said (1993), in their respective studies of patterns of empire, address the reciprocal nature of the metrocentric-pericentric, colonizer-colonized relationship. That is, the metropole is itself defined and redefined by its interaction with the colonial periphery, even as the imperial center seeks to impose its master narrative upon subject peoples assumed to be “docile bodies,” pliant and compliant, willing collaborators in their own transformation (Foucault, 1975). The colonized were denied any agency in standard imperial histories; they remained supine victims of European exteriority. Doyle (1986: 12, 38, 52, 179) postulated instead a more dynamic relationship between the center and periphery. In Said’s (1993: 210) discussion of styles of resistance mounted by colonial subjects, there arose a steady “infiltration” of local movements by imperial values and ideas. The intertwining of mutuality, reciprocity, and infiltration—seconded by poststructuralists, postmodernists, and the advocates of subaltern studies—offers us a means to conceptualize late-twentieth-century global culture as a composite (or hybrid) in which identity, the past/present, and all modes/styles of resistance are social constructs. Patrick Wolfe (1997: 388) has remarked that our definition of imperialism has tended to become increasingly imprecise, often denoting little more than “a vague, consensual gestalt.” Even so, we can look to the era of the Cold War, so rich in its militarized technoscientific discourse, and the historical processes of mutuality and hybridization set in motion by the impulse of empire as an apt means to approach the evolution and impact of the internet. Cyberspace has become something far more than initially intended; still, it remains in important ways a creature of the ethos surrounding its digital birth.
The Territory of Virtuality
The internet was created on well-honed ground. It was a product of a specific historical epoch and the immediate systemic demands for complex, centralized systems of command and control to enable global surveillance, massive resource management, and the configuration and targeting of a growing cache of nuclear weapons. The internet’s design was molded by technostrategic priorities, the structure of programming code, government subsidization of digital computing, prescribed gender roles, and other cultural dominants (Stone, 1995; Hafner and Lyon, 1996). As Paul Edwards (1996: ix, 1, 8, 41) has suggested, in a lengthy study, the internet is perhaps the most cutting-edge legacy of the technocratic drive so central to Cold War policymaking. His major focus was the “closed-world discourse” within the American scientific community of the late 1940s into the 1950s. Building on wartime advances in human-machine (cybernetic) interaction, combined with expanding interest in digital computing, a largely self-selected community of male specialists and enthusiasts stepped eagerly into the Cold War project. And yet it was a closed world in which they lived and worked, a “radically bounded ? and inescapably self-referential space where every thought, world, and action is ultimately directed back toward a central struggle” (Edwards 1996: 12). Amidst the haunting imagery of nuclear annihilation, the closed-world rationality of programmers and policymakers created scenarios that made “war itself as much an imaginary field as a practical reality” (See also Waring, 1995; Engelhardt, 1995; and Gray and Driscoll, 1992).
As Arturo Escobar (1996: 112) has written, cyberspace originated “in a well-known social and cultural matrix, that of modernity, even if it orients itself towards the constitution of a new order ? through the transformation of the space of possibilities for communicating, working and being.” However, virtuality has moved far beyond its politico-strategic beginnings. For this reason, as well as for its rich fictive imaginaries, cyberspace lends itself well to postmodern analyses that target boundary crossings, identity formation, nomadic narratives, and highly developed market cultures characterized by unprecedented commodification and closely woven consumerist mentalities. To put it differently, those theories that examine the body and society as discursive constructs find ample material in cybernarratives that reflect an engaging venue of myth, artifact, metaphor, and historical residue. Frederic Jameson’s (1984: 68)“waning of historicity” refers to the seamless, ensemble present that envelops Western society in filmic pastiche and challenges each day our ability to visualize moments and movements of authenticity beyond commodified gestures. In effect, we have a room with a view that looks out on “sheer heterogeneity, random difference, a coexistence of a host of distinct forces whose effectivity is undecidable” (Jameson 1984: 57).
Postmodernism posits a contingent and often ornamental identity based (in the West) on a consumerist model, i.e., the selective and even random absorption of the past without reference to context. Consumers pick and choose images and values that tend to reinforce nostalgic visions, gender and racial stereotypes, and an idealized (even sanitized) portrait of lost and superseded identity (Faludi, 1999). Often, an openly, overtly politicized reconstruction of the past is preferred over a more vigorous pursuit of competing voices—though this would hardly be a monopoly of the late twentieth century. It has simply become much easier to generate appealing iconographic representations that resonate with mythic and essentialist imaginaries. Analysts may differ as to the moment and primary thrust of the “postmodern turn” (Jameson, 1984; Harvey, 1990; Gray, 1997; Dunn, 1998; Sardar, 1996, 1998), but the global confusion, contention, and struggle of the 1960s offers a useful reference point in terms of political battles that assumed powerful symbolic force and thus slid firmly and indelibly into the cultural arena. The terrain of the sixties and afterward has been so spectacularly commodified that we now see the very conscious, across-the-board co-optation of the surface appearance and style of dissident artifacts. The culture industries learned quickly how to market effectively the concept of “revolution” as lifestyle and consumption patterns rather than as a substantive challenge to the socio-economic status quo. By the early 1970s, despite inertia-driven superpower rivalry and continued successful efforts to coerce local regimes and manage allies and dependencies, there was an ongoing erosion of the material basis for bipolar hegemony. Hence, the Cold War in effect floated on a discursive surface of militarized images, battered but not yet broken narratives, tired but reliable rhetoric, and sterile but comfortable assumptions. Internal crises of political legitimacy and cultural fragmentation undercut hegemony, allowing for growing (but hardly untrammeled) initiative among Third World nations seeking stability and economic growth beyond the constraints of Cold War-era dependency.
However, self-determination was undermined by the persistence of neocolonial regimes dominated by local elites modeling variations of Western developmentalist projects. “Nationalism” and “revolution” remained, for the most part, imported strategies for liberation infiltrated by identifiable strands of such lingering colonized matrices as nation-states, artificial boundaries, militarized bureaucracies, market-conscious elites, and Socialist Man. The decolonization drive of the 1940s-60s was the last gasp of indigenous reclamation of territory, governance, and identity on modernist terms, relying on formulaic ideologies of guerrilla resistance and nationalist discourses. Afterward, indigenous self-assertion would itself come to reflect (and refract) the widespread societal malaise within the Cold War metropoles. Václav Havel wrote in 1978 a brilliant analysis of identity distortion in “post-totalitarian” Czechoslovakia, thus making clear that colonization was no longer restricted to the province of the periphery. In this way, he echoed Frantz Fanon (1952, 1961), Albert Memmi (1965), Paulo Freire (1970), and other leading theorists of decolonization and yet fully inscribed the same dualism and dehumanization upon a global body politic. A “profane trivialization” of the human spirit had become an integral part of the buoyant -inflated caricature of modern life in general” (Havel 1978: 145).
The Decolonization of Decolonization
Initially, after the breath-taking, horrible, and cataclysmic end of World War II, the process of decolonization had seemed rather straightforward. In the colonies, observed Jean-Paul Sartre, “the truth stood naked,” masked by nothing more powerful than pretense (Fanon, 1961: 7, 27). The empires had no clothes. Imperialism was “springing leaks everywhere.” Fanon spoke eloquently of new languages and new humanity moving onto the historical stage “after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists [oppressor and oppressed].” The “crouching village,” deformed and disfigured by imperial rule, ringed by settler communities, was to be transformed by peasant revolution, “the terrible stone crusher, the fierce mixing machine.” The Third World would no longer remain a silent outpost of rumpled hegemons; rather, its peoples would insert themselves “at the middle of the whirlpool” (1961: 37, 39, 41, 50, 76).
A second voice, working from the same colonial binary of oppressed and oppressor (an “existential duality”), was Paulo Freire. Analyzing the “domesticated present” in Latin America and attacking both left and right sectarianism, Freire bemoaned the “prescribed behavior” assigned the peasant masses. The colonized had become mere vestiges of their living history, serving as “hosts” for Westernized values, dispirited by an internalized sense of inferiority, dehumanized by regimes of dismissive exteriority. “Freedom,” he wrote, “is acquired by conquest, not by gift. ? Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.” Freire’s strategy was to formulate a “pedagogy” that would reawaken the spirit of colonial subjects: a process of self-education, unveiling oppression, developing a new “praxis” of reflection, self-affirmation, and rebellion. Colonial reality “is not a closed world from which there is no exit, but ? a limiting situation which they [the aroused peasantry] can transform” (1970:19-20, 29, 31, 33, 43, 60, 69, 96-97). Hence, violence might be necessary for the eventual destruction of oppressive rule, but liberation was essentially a matter of existential reinscription—decoding the story of imperial domination and restoring the power of indigenous narrative voices.
Fanon, Freire, and other Third World critics created a persuasive chorus in favor of destabilizing crippling internalized identities produced by colonial rule. They defined the character of anticolonial struggle in an era when modernity began to crumble and reveal more than a few leaks in the imperial mission and more than a few hidden discourses in the structure of global power. Too soon did it become apparent that the metanarratives of decolonization were themselves discursive bundles of complex, contradictory doctrines. As Benedict Anderson has pointed out, the museum was deployed first by Western elites to defend and disguise the distortion of colonial rule. Local history was decontextualized via the display of cultural remnants divorced from a living present. Thus was “the museumizing imagination ? profoundly political.” Yet, anticolonial movements frequently inherited and exploited the same distorted, even fictionalized account of antiquity in the name of restoring historicity. More recent studies have, for this reason, focused on the multilayered impact of the colonial experience as well as the hybrid character of an anticolonial resistance that imbibed a fractured past consisting of competing imaginaries, many of which replicated systems of dominance and control, museumized facticity, and developmentalist aspirations (Anderson, 1991: xiv, 163-64, 178, 183; Cooper, 1994: 1523, 1527, 1533-34; Prakash, 1994; O’Callaghan, 1995).
Identity is multiple, authenticity is socially constructed, and empire is a way of life that transcends modernity and its clearly discernible faultlines. We see this realization full blown on the internet, whether celebrated or denigrated—which further challenges us to re-examine what seemed previously to be acceptable models of authentic resistance based on a resurgence of indigenous culture that may well have been a reflection of ideological marketing, historical plundering, and political pandering. This grab-bag of past, present, and possible futures is well captured by the novelists of cyberspace (and globalization) who adapt corporatist hierarchies, social engineering projects, and rough-hewn ideologies to a random, seamless, existential lifestyle molded by popular culture narratives of outlaw imagery and protopolitical postures (Gibson, 1984; Palahniuk 1996). The end product is often a vaguely neofascist/leftist conjunction that commodifies organized dissent by fragmenting and enframing it as entertainment, a tactic that effectively robs people/characters of any genuine political/ideological stance. Rebellion is reduced to style, resistance to anarchic filibustering, and identity recovery to predictable masculinist outbursts carried forward via exaggerated angst, ambiguous despair, and ruthless alienation.
Cultures of Peace in the 21st Century
As Roland Barthes (1957: 77) has reminded us, “History is not a good bourgeois.” It is not orderly, tidy, self-referential, or reliable. It lends itself to endless taxonomies without capitulating to any. As Edward Said (1993: xxi) has remarked, the imperial experience is now a common one, affecting both the West and the non-West (even the anti-West), shaping both the citizen and the refugee, shadowing both the possessed and the dispossessed. Viewing the Cold War as the last major conflagration of High Modernity, we are now “backing into a new millennium” (Toulmin, 1990: 1) without any signposts that redirect mass culture toward other than the systematic commodification of all areas of human existence. We recognize and even confront the “the exhilic, the marginal, subjective, migrating energies” (Said 1993: 334) of the contemporary world but only with great difficulty envision alternatives to the searing scenes of brutal cleansing, real and virtual, that fill our imagistic landscape.
We share a vista of marvelous heterogeneity, the random accumulation of information and disinformation. We scan the remains of centuries of imperialist sway and monocultural duress. We analyze the widespread impulse for surveillance, management, and control. Colonization is the default position of Western culture. The emergence of cyberspace as a semi-privileged sphere of exchange, entertainment, and sociopolitical transaction floats dreamlike above the harsh material suffering of much of the world’s population. The postmodern turn, abetted by narratives of virtuality, has been revealing, puzzling, provocative, and yet strangely quiescent as an analytical tool for speaking truth to power. Globalization, as well as new trends in indigenization, reflects a radically decentered project. The unearthing of hidden transcripts is made no easier by the increasingly opaque character of truncated, fractured experience. As it becomes simpler to fabricate pleasing pasts that both reinforce and reify existing structures of dominance and resistance, our challenge is to reinvent authentic communities. The malleability of identity, so apparent in cyberspace and so much a product historically of interior and exterior panoptic gazes, does indeed offer us a useful wedge for analyzing past and present imperial regimes that have relied on strategies of economic manipulation, societal militarization, co-optation of home-front dissent, and eradication of indigenous legitimacy.
What constitutes cultures of peace at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century? Paulo Freire (1970: 56) wrote forcefully about the “ontological and historical vocation” of people to be more fully human. He advised that the most effective means to conceptualize the liberation of the oppressed (and rehumanization of the oppressor) was to understand that “reality is really a process, undergoing constant transformation.” Dick Hebdige (1988: 188, 196) has advised that utopias typically come “wrapped in barbed wire,” that discourse and the material world must coexist in any useful reanalysis that avoids false determinism. Derek Sayer (1994: 367), in a similar way, expressed “a deep and inbuilt horror of abstraction”—a horror that found ample expression in James Scott’s (1998: 231) analysis of the “powerful aesthetic of modernization.” Who speaks for and names the future? Carol Cohn (1987: 706), tells us that we must adopt a “linguistic stance as users” rather than accept the status of knowledgeable supplicants. Carolyn Nordstrom (1996: 404) reminds us that the production of knowledge is a powerful engine for societal change, and in that context, silence is political. As Freire (1970: 87) commented, human liberation requires abandoning the “structure of mutism.”
New cultures of peace will be fashioned from the past that lives in the present. We know that. But this postmodern present is remarkably incorporative while resisting new universalizing (or totalizing) social engineering projects. This postmodern present thus appears inordinately unwieldy, beyond a firm grasp, closed to any of the metanarratives of High Modernity, including grand schemes of peace and peacemaking. Donna Haraway (1985: 65-66, 71, 82, 100-101), in her influential analysis of the emergence of cyborg identity (human-machine interaction and partnership), argued that the confusion of boundaries, the rejection of old dualisms (binaries), and the emergence of multiple identities—especially as revealed in our ever closer encounter with cyberspace—comprised a markedly different roadmap for creative change, for re-envisioning the human condition. Allucquère Rosanne Stone (1995: 36-37, 42, 86-87), an avowed enthusiast for virtual elsewheres, has likewise viewed cyberspace as an essential component in assembling personal and collective identities that will resist exteriority and exist more comfortably within the postmodern ensemble of historical materialism, existentialism, and discursivism.
And yet, we seem to prefer grand narratives of peacemaking. Pacifism, nonviolent direct action, socialism, world federalism—such ideas and more spoke to the human passion for large-scale solutions that would reorient militarized cultures and curb recurrent nationalist and imperialist appetites for destruction. This was not only a project of modernity. Conor Cruise O’Brien (1994: 85) referred to “rituals that are older than history: rituals of conflict-avoidance, mediation, and conciliation, for example, that may well have played a significant part, over many ages, in the survival of our species. Traces of some of these have lingered into our own time.” Cross-cultural studies have demonstrated that all societies contain the seeds of conflict resolution as well as the capacity for war and carnage. However, as Robert Benford (1996: 192) has noted,“Rarely do societies legitimize competing perspectives on the past simultaneously. Whose remembrances will be culturally accepted depends on initial historical constructions and contemporary power relations.”
We prefer to evoke attractive images of mass action and shared remembrance. We prefer to dwell on the stories so central to the contradictions within modernity, the ones that celebrate the triumph of justice, righteous accords, and heroic nonviolence. But we cannot ignore the reality of a fragmented, media-saturated, highly commodified, market-dominated present that threatens to override any and all collective ventures in the name of trendy, anarchic individualism defined via consumption patterns (Greider, 1997; Väyrynen, 1999; Frank, 2000). As long-time civil rights activist James Farmer said, not long before his death, “You cannot harness history” (Hadnot, 1998). We must reconcile utopian visions and pacifist dreams with the gritty world we now face. We must reconcile our growing immersion in high-tech militarization (spurred by computer gaming) with the “low-tech and highly imprecise means of waging peace” (Mertens, 2000).
We cannot harness history, either modern or postmodern. However, we can work within the postmodern moment and reassemble strategies that strengthen identity, undercut playful militarization, restore structural solutions amidst discursive critiques, and dismantle the ethnocentric and racist bricolage of empire. Nordstrom (1997), in her fieldwork in Zimbabwe, walking the frontlines of brutal internecine warfare (a sturdy leftover from the Cold War), found a population developing its own hybrid solutions to the material and spiritual wounds of sustained violence. Reports from Chiapas, Mexico, and the postings of the internet-savvy zapatista guerrillas have stressed the centrality of local knowledge deployed amidst an international audience of both spectators and participants (Marcos, 2001). Poet Juan Bañuelos (1995: 196) has termed the Chiapas struggle a “confrontation between two designs for living: the indigenous way of being and fulfillment, and the neoliberal way of possession and power?.” As with Fanon, Freire, and Havel, the task is reconstruction of identity in the face of transformative disciplinary power. As with Achebe and Ngugi, the task is transgressive naming. As suggested by Nordstrom, there is already underway the capillary reconfiguration of peace cultures (see also Nagler, 1999). Francis Hutchinson (1996: 43-44), outlining the contours of 21st-century peace education, advised rejection of “colonizing assumptions about the future” in favor of a “reflexive cartography” embracing contingency and possibility (see also Harris, 1996). In the same vein, Arturo Escobar and Ho-Won Jeong (1999: 225) have premised their discussion of “postdevelopment” theory on “de-familiarising,” making “self-evident knowledge problematic.” This capillary, reflexive, transgressive learning and doing will take place within the framework of a virtuality increasingly viewed as inhabitable and colonizable space—a new zone for the assertion of Western hegemony. The impact of cyberspace, its use and abuse, its alternately open and closed entrepôts, its swirling imagistic digital cities, its evocation of enduring myths of human strength and frailty, and its surging challenge to the personal and collective self—these are all important aspects of analyzing the present, rethinking the past, and reclaiming a romance with the future.
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