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Thesis on Cyberjaya, Malaysia: The Mantra of Information Technology and its Sources

Success! O you, all the powerful divinities who are assembled, and who protect [this] province [kadatuan] of Sriwijaya; you too, . . . and all the divinities with whom all curse formula begins!”

       — From The Kota Kapur Inscription [of Sriwijaya], (Coedès & Damais, 1992, p. 55).

This is to be a series of essays concerning the ideology of cybernetics, the Age of Information, and later, The Internet of Things as an ever-evolving ideology of post-Informational Capitalism. They are a revised version of my doctoral dissertation submitted to Columbia University (2003), entitled Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast State in which using the Grounded Theory Method, I analyzed the origin of Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor and the twin cities of Cyberjaya and Putrajaya, build during the administration of Mahathir Mohamad.

In Sanskrit, the word “mantra” (mentera in Malay[1]) means formula.  In the context of this study, the mantra is correlated to the idea of a grand strategy or a belief system in the form of political ideology that permeates the consciousness of the leader and the led or the author and the authored.  Inscribed onto the consciousness of the people, via print, broadcast, and electronic media is the mantra of economic success rapidized by information technologies.  The formula for success many developing nations, such as Malaysia, is undertaking is one characterized by the dependency on Informational Communications Technologies (ICT) particularly on the technology of the Internet/broadband to fuel the engine of capitalist development, relegating the state as a haven for cheap pool of labor in the microchips industry (McMichael, 1996).  The mantra of success is one driven by the belief in the formula of “cybernetics.”  I will discuss how the cybernetic chant, one orchestrated and broadcast by the government, permeates through the social environment.

Below I discuss the idea and genealogy of cybernetics to the idea of what is currently known as “Information Age” or its varying and more fanciful terms such as “The Age of Cybernetics,” or “The Networked Economy,” or “The Digital Age.”  I will then relate the idea of this “formula” of cybernetics to the notion of “inscription” of the ideology onto the landscape of human consciousness since the beginning of the second half of the twenty-first century.

On Cybernetics

The idea of “Information Society” or “The Network Society” stems out of the revolution in computing and has transformed our psychological, ideological, and material landscape of humanity.  Social relations of production are altered and transformed as a result of new patterns of division of labor in what Gleick (1988) would call patterns that arise out of randomness and chaos.

There are different levels of meaning of cultural change as it is impacted historically by “technologies of the body,” such as the Internet.  In the case of cybernetics as technologies of the mind, this seems to be a “natural progression of late stage of capital formation” and in fact, as Marcuse (1941) and many a Frankfurt School analyst (e.g., Horkheimer, 1973) would call an age wherein technologies are at its final stage of development which will actually liberate humanity out of mundanity as a consequence of automation.  Hence cybernetics, as a foundation of artificial intelligence and a philosophy close to the Cartesian philosophy[2] of the mind and appealing to the “philosophy of human liberation via technological feats,” is at the present, the highest stage in the development of techno-capitalism. This proposition is reminiscent of Lenin’s conclusion on the analysis of capitalism made almost a century ago (Lenin, 1916).

Writings on social structures and political theory have primarily centered on the relationship between Capital, Humanity, and Nature.  Many have written on how capitalism appropriates natural resources through the creation of labor and surplus value, which will then establish classes (See Frank, 1966; Wallerstein 1981, 1990; Wignaraja, 1993;) and habitus (Bourdieu, 1994).  The debates that rage between the proponents of free market enterprise and command or controlled economies revolve around the issue of human nature, and who gets to control the production and dissemination and the monopoly of capital.  At times, on a different plane there is also the reflection on the need for capital to be interpreted not only as physical or material, but also as cultural, and metaphysical.  The central issue of these writings and debate and reflections is of equality and equity; an issue that continues to plague humanity in this age of rapidized technological developments, as echoed by many a contemporary social theorist (Bell, 1976; Ellul, 1964).

In the age of cybernetics, Rousseau’s (1755/1992) notion of the discourse on the inequality amongst men[3] can be used to explain the evolution of contemporary social problematique such as digital divide, architecture of power, and the erosion of the Self into fragmented and miniscule selves (Turkle, 1997).  Other themes also include the furtherance of protectionist democracy via the use of tools of cybernetics, the control over the coding, encoding, and decoding of information by those who monopolize information, and a range of other tools of imperialism and domination and hegemony deployed and employed to the fullest advantage of those who owns the means of social reproduction.  And those who own the means to control these processes can also own the means to engineer cultural reconfigurations (see Adorno, 1991; Chomsky, 1989; Horkheimer, 1973; Said, 1993). The nature of thought formation and consciousness production in the world of broadcast media (Bagdikian, 1983) can be exemplified in the media capitalism of Rupert Murdoch whose empire span Britain and the United States (Fallows, 2003) made possible by the modern oligopolic system of capital accumulation (see for examples, Barnet & Muller, 1974; California Newsreels, 1978 for an early analysis of oligopoly).

The scientific paradigm of cybernetics, by virtue of its origin in the mathematical and exact sciences, out of the Copernican Revolution, of Newtonian physics and of Principia Mathematica, onwards to its march of Classical Physics, and next, Quantum Physics and Informational and Decisional Sciences and so on— is a science which has appropriated the “Natural-ness” of the art of being human.  Being a paradigm subjected to the development of propositions, verification by the testing of hypotheses, falsification by the rejecting and accepting of the null, and replicating these processes and so on and so forth (Rosenblueth, Wiener, & Bigelow, 1968), cybernetics creates a “space” between what is Natural and what is Artificial. In-between these spaces, Technology as the motivator of civilizations to progress and to dominate, to extent the limits of what otherwise is impossible (for example the navigational technology of Christopher Columbus which made it possible to open up European colonization of the Native Indians of Amerigo Vespucci’s America)[4] is also psychologically, a way to create the  Technocratic and Authoritarian self.[5]  In between these spaces of Nature versus the Artificial lie Media as technology of the mediated self.  Technology, as it is developed not by the hands of the “Author” has thence become a powerful tool of the surreal—of inequality amongst men (Rousseau, 1755/1992).  Popular culture presents technology as a colonizer of humanity, as exemplified by the theme of the movie, The Matrix (Mason & Silver (Producers), & Wachowski & Wachowski (Directors), 1999). 

Cybernetics as a paradigm of thinking about the technology of action and feedback and the loops they produce (see Bertalanffy, 1968; Simon, 1996; Wiener, 1954) is an interesting synthesis of three theoretical orientations: logical positivism, critical theory, and phenomenology (see Bredo & Feinberg, 1982).  The paradox is that on the one hand, it is derived from the Classical and Quantum Physics, on the one hand, it is a good foundational philosophy of technologism which combines many fields to form a unified theory of living things (like Critical Theory’s attempt to universalize and integrate the disciplines, albeit in a dialectical fashion), and on the other hand, Cybernetics too is phenomenological.

 Precisely because we can derive three clusters of theories out of the paradigms above makes Cybernetics appealing and hegemonizing.  The Internet as a manifestation of the ideology of cybernetics is a good example of how it is both a technology of advanced logical-positivism, and at the same time, one that is employed to make the concept of democracy more “accessible” when one goes into the study of free speech on the Internet. 

REFERENCES

Adorno, T. (1991). Freudian theory and the pattern of fascist propaganda. In J.M. Bernstein (Ed.), The culture industry: Selected essays on mass culture. London:  Routledge.

Bell, D. (1973). The coming of the post-industrial society. New York: Basic Books.

Bell, D. (1976). The cultural contradictions of capitalism (20th Anniversary ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Bertalanffy, L. V. (1968).  General Systems Theory—A critical review. In W. Buckley (Ed.), Modern systems research: Overview. Chicago, IL: Aldine.

Bourdieu, P. (1994). Structures, habitus, power: Basis for a theory of symbolic power. In N. B. Dirks, G. Eley, & S. B. Ortner (Eds.), Culture/Power/History.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bredo, E., & Feinberg, W. (1982). Knowledge and values in social and educational research.  Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

California Newsreels (1978). Controlling interest: The World of the Multinational Corporations, sound filmstrip. 

Chomsky, N. (1989). Necessary illusions. Thought control in democratic societies. Boston, MA: South End Press.

Chomsky, N. (2001).  9-11. New York: Seven Stories Press.

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Ellul, J. (2003). Extracts from ‘autonomy’ (J. Neugroschel, Trans.).  The ‘autonomy’ of the technological phenomena. In R. C. Scharff & V. Dusek, (Eds.). Philosophy of technology. The technological condition. An anthology (pp. 386-397). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.  (Reprinted from The technological system, pp. 125-150, 335-338, 1980, New York: Continuum Publishing)

Fallows, J. (2003). The Age of Murdoch. The Atlantic Online (2003, September). Retrieved November 6, 2003, from http://www.theatlantic.com/ issues/2003/09/fallows.htm

Frank, A. G. (1966). The development of underdevelopment.  Monthly Review, 18 (4), 17-31.

Frank, A.G. & Gills, B.K. (Eds.) (1993). The world system. Five hundred years or five thousand?  New York, NY: Routledge.

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Lenin, V.I. (1916). Imperialism the highest stage of capitalism, a popular outline. Retrieved November 6, 2003, from http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/

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Marcuse, H.  (1941). Some social implications of modern technology. Studies in Philosophy and Social Sciences, (Vol. IX).

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Marcuse, H. (1985) Some social implications of modern technology. In A. Arato & E. Gebhart (Eds.), The essential Frankfurt School reader.  New York: Continuum.

McMichael, P. (1996).  Development and social change.  A global perspective.Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Richard J., Barnet R. J., & Muller, R. E. (1974) Global reach: The power of the multinational corporations. New York: Touchstone.

Rosenblueth, A., Wiener, N., & Bigelow, J. (1968). Behavior, purpose, and teleology. In W. Buckley (Ed.), Modern systems research.  Chicago, IL: Aldine.

Rousseau, J. J. (1992). Discourse on the origin of inequality (D. A. Cress, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company. (Original work published 1755)

Said, E. (1993). Culture and imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.

Said, E. W. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.

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Turkle, S. (1997). Life on the screen. Identity in the age of the internet. New York, NY: Touchstone.

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Wallerstein, I. (1981). Dependence in an interdependent world: The limited possibilities of transformation within the capitalist world economy. In H. Munoz (Ed.) From dependency to development: Strategies to overcome underdevelopment and inequality.  Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Wiener, N. (1954).  Human use of human beings: Cybernatics and society.  New York: Da Capo Press.

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[1]   Malay or Bahasa Malaysia is the national language of Malaysia.

[2]   The philosophical foundation of logical-positivism as well as cybernetics can arguably be traced to Descartes (1641/1996) idea of the separation of the mind and body or the doctrine of the duality of the self.

 

[3]   See Rousseau’s discussion on the roots of inequality in Rousseau, J. J. (1992).  Discourse on the origin of inequality (D. A. Cress, Trans.). (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.) (Original work published 1755).

[4]    For a discussion on the social history of the United States, see for example, Zinn, H. (1980). A  people’s history of the United States.  (NY: Harper and Row Publishers.)

[5]   For a philosophical discussion on the relationship between existentialism and technology, see for example, writings on Martin Heidegger for example, Neske, G., &  Kettering, E. (1990). Martin Heidegger and national socialism: Questions and answers (L.  Harries Trans.).  (New York: Paragon House.)

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DR. AZLY RAHMAN
DR. AZLY RAHMAN
DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in six fields of study: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, Creative Non-Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 30 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly online forums in Malaysia, the USA, Greece, and Montenegro.
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