Silent Symphony Of Soaring Steel: The Photography Of Margaret Bourke-White

“… industrial forms were all the more beautiful because they were never designed to be beautiful. They had a simplicity of line that came from their direct application of purpose.” —Margaret Bourke-White, 1963

Few photographers, to my knowledge, captured the imposing majesty of 20th century industrialism with as much deftness and clarity as American journalist, Margaret Bourke-White (1904–1971).

White was a war-correspondant during WWII and came to be known to the staff of Life magazine as ‘Maggie the Indestructible’ for surviving a number of extraordinary circumstances, including abandonment in the artic, strafing by the Luftwaffe, a chopper crash in Chesapeake Bay, and the German bombardment of Moscow.

Presented below is a small selection of White’s prints of industrial scenes, ordered by date (20s to 30s), with historical commentary.

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Tower and Smokestacks of Otis Steel Co., Cleveland, 1928. The company is notable for being the first to build a open-hearth steel furnace, in 1875, and which massively contributed to Ohio’s transformation into the second-largest producer of steel in the United States by the end of the 19th Century. Otis merged with the Jones & Laughlin Steel Co., 1942, which itself merged with  Youngstown Sheet & Tube, 1977.
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Untitled (Industrial Scene, Otis Steel Co., Cleveland)
1928.
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Blast Furnace Operator with “Mud Gun,” Otis Steel Co., Cleveland
1928. Film of the era was sensitive to blue, but insensitive to orange and red (colors typical of steel mills like Otis Steel Co.) and so, to achieve shots such as the one above, White utilized a magnesium flare, that the image would be picked up with clarity, prevented from coming out all black.
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Untitled (Train with Oil Cars, Otis Steel Co., Cleveland)
1928.
Hot Pigs (1928) MB White.png
Hot Pigs, Otis Steel Company, Cleveland
1928.
Heaped ore outside steel plant, brought by shipping along Great Lakes (1930) MB White.png
Heaped ore outside steel plant, brought by shipping along Great Lakes
1930.
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Ludlum Steel Company of Watervliet, New York, 1928 – 1931, a specialty steel manufacturer. The company merged with Allegheny Steel Company of Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, 1938.
Steel support struts inside several newl
Steel support struts inside newly constructed pipes to be installed in the diversion tunnel to carry the Missouri River around Fort Peck Dam construction, 1936.
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Margaret Bourke-White takes a photo from the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building, New York City, 1934.

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Devik (Synth Leitmotif)

Composed by Kaiter Enless.

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The Canadian Snowstorm Mask (1939)

The Canadian snowstorm mask was a plastic (not glass) cone purposed for face protection during snowstorms. The hounskull-like design is peculiar and eye-catching but was doubtless effective for short trips in girding against nature’s savage increase (though, it strikes me as doubtful how useful it would be for extended low-temperature excursions, both because of the presumed discomfort it would engender and the increasing frigidity of the plastic).

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Two women wearing snowstorm masks. Canada, Montreal, 1939. Nationaal Archief.

There is little information pertaining to the invention and given this scarcity one can only speculate as to the type of plastic used. Those unfamiliar with the period may be surprised to learn that plastic existed in the 30s; one commenter online I spied while researching the device remarked on the photo above, declaring that, “Plastic of this type had not yet been invented in 1939 – i’m thinking this picture is a fake. Glass would have been quite heavy/fragile.” He’s right that glass masks of such a density would have been both heavy and fragile (as well as horrible insulators) but he is quite wrong about the question of plastics. Synthetic polymer was created in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt (designed as a substitute for ivory). The first fully synthetic plastic—Bakelite—was created not long thereafter in 1907 as a replacement for shellac by Leo Baekeland. By the 30s, the plastic age was well underway and pervaded everything from rope to body armour. One of the most fascinating and complex plastic constructs of the time was the 1939 Plastic Pontiac, a showcar manufactured by General Motors, Fisher Body and Rohm & Haas. As the name suggests it was composed almost entirely of plastic (plexiglas had just come into use) and was see-through.

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1939 Plastic Pontiac (alternatively, the ‘See-through Pontiac’) being assembled.

My interest in the snowstorm mask lies not just purely in retro-aesthetic appreciation, but also in practical applications of prospective modulations of the design. One aspect of the mask which struck me after some rumination was its similarity to a bascinet visor.

The bascinet (alternatively, basnet) was a coned full-helm, composed of a conical or globular steel cap and pointed visor that first rose to prominence in the 13th Century and was widely used throughout Europe during the 14th and 15th Century. The helm was typically paired with a padded arming cap and mail coif. The bascinet’s pointed face-guard and conical cap offered a unique advantage over the great helm (pot helm) in terms of defense, as strikes would be more readily deflected by the design of the former, than the latter. Further, where the great helm came close about the face, the bascinet extended away from the face, meaning that, for a wearer of the latter, a crushing blow (such as from a mace, plançon or goedendag) was less likely to be be fatal.

KHM_Wien_A_24_-_Bascinet_of_Ernst_of_Austria,_c._1400.jpg
Bascinet of Ernst of Austria, c. 1400.

A rigorous synthesis of both designs may prove fruitful in the formation of future weather and weapon resistant headwear. For example: A see-through bascinet composed of photochromic synthetics would provide considerable benefit for trekkers making angled ingress across high altitudes where light is blinding, snow is thick, ice-and-rock-fall is plentiful, and oxygen is sparse.


Sources¹

  1. Alex Goranov. (—) The 14th Century Bascinet. My Armoury.
  2. Geoffrey Hacker. (2011) 1939/1940 Plastic Pontiac – First Plastic Car In The World. Undiscovered Classics.
  3. Kelly DeVries. (1996) Infantry Warfare in the Early Fourteenth Century : Discipline, Tactics, and Technology. Boydell & Brewer.
  4. Nationaal Archief (2009) Plastic sneeuwstormbeschermer / Face protection from snowstorms. Nationaal Archief.
  5. Phil Morris. (2013) Snow cone masks, Snowstorm Wear. Phil Morris.
  6. SHI. (—) The History & Future of Plastics. SHI.

Footnotes

¹ ‘(—)’ denotes sources whose date of publication was not available.

Anti-Natalism As Environmentalism: Todd May & The Question Of Extinction

On Dec. 17, 2018, The New York Times published a article in their opinion column entitled, Would Human Extinction Be A Tragedy?: Our Species Possesses Inherent Worth But We Are Devastating The Earth & Causing Unimaginable Animal Suffering. The article (which sounds like a sociology piece off Academia.edu) was written by a one Todd May, who has precisely the kind of background one would expect from the title of his piece (French, existential, poststructural, anarchist—one knows the type; all scarfs, swank cafes, continental apoplexy and fake math).

In traversing the acrid crags of his article, a greater understanding can be gained of the burgeoning movement of earth worshippers so common to environmentalist and poststructuralist thought.

To the article itself (which is set with a forlorn picture of a abandoned lot along the highways of Haleyville, Alabama), May begins, “There are stirrings of discussion these days in philosophical circles about the prospect of human extinction. This should not be surprising, given the increasingly threatening predations of climate change. In reflecting on this question, I want to suggest an answer to a single question, one that hardly covers the whole philosophical territory but is an important aspect of it. Would human extinction be a tragedy?”

The term climate change — obligatory in this type of piece — is dreadfully nebulous; of course, everyone knows what is really meant by the term (especially when paired with the propagandistic picture of the ruined highway-side lot) — catastrophic and impending human-driven climate change — but taken literally it amounts to a nothing. One should be more specific.

Climate change itself is too massive an issue to treat properly here, but it may be remarked that there is a strange diffidence to the effects of the sun upon our climate and what often seems like a desire for man to be found, somehow, at fault for every storm, every drought and every bleached reef as if a certain contingent are looking and hoping for some perceived misstep among the rank-and-file of their fellows.

To May’s question; one should reply, “A tragedy to what?” The question, as May poses it, makes no sense. Tragedies are not things-unto-themselves. There is no substrate called tragedy, no essential fabric of existence separate from the sensorial and conceptual experiencer which fashions itself as tragedy. Tragedy is a experiential development, a response and designation of a memory of that response. A human response. Elephants may fashion graves for their dead and dogs may howl when their masters are absent, so perhaps, such creatures have a similar sense of the tragic, emerging in divergent ways from our own conceptions and response to bereavement. Yet, it would not be tragedy-per-se as the linguistic designator and the referent outside the observer are inseparable; that is to say, tragedy is unique to humans.

Dogs and elephants have little knowledge of human language; some people say they “understand us” and they do, but they don’t understand us as we understand ourselves, they do not interpret our language as we do, our experience of meaning is hostage to ourselves and finds no purchase in the world beyond our own minds.merlin_130960304_dafc0c1b-804e-49f8-9973-cd8cd6ffe26b-superJumbo.jpg

Abandoned highway lot cover image from May’s Would Human Extinction Be A Tragedy? — Very True Detective.

The dog comes a running because it has familiarized itself with, or been familiarized to, a particular set of sounds, movements and other sensory associations. “I’m home” may, to the dog, translate as something more akin to “Will be fed soon,” but of course, even attempting to craft a translation is misbegotten given that dogs do not think in English. Something like tragedy certainly manifests itself in the animal-world beyond humankind, but it is not enough to be like to be.

May continues, clarifying his position, ” I’m not asking whether the experience of humans coming to an end would be a bad thing… I am also not asking whether human beings as a species deserve to die out. That is an important question, but would involve different considerations. Those questions, and others like them, need to be addressed if we are to come to a full moral assessment of the prospect of our demise. Yet what I am asking here is simply whether it would be a tragedy if the planet no longer contained human beings. And the answer I am going to give might seem puzzling at first. I want to suggest, at least tentatively, both that it would be a tragedy and that it might just be a good thing.”

Yes, that is puzzling. That is top-notch puzzling.

May then goes on to expound upon various theatrical characters such as Sophocles’s Oedipus and Shakespeare’s Lear as examples of human tragedy, which he defines as “a wrong”… “whose elimination would likely require the elimination of the species-,” This is not the crux of his argument so I shall not belabor a response; it is nothing short of psychotic.

He continues, “Human beings are destroying large parts of the inhabitable earth and causing unimaginable suffering to many of the animals that inhabit it. This is happening through at least three means. First, human contribution to climate change is devastating ecosystems, as the recent article on Yellowstone Park in The Times exemplifies. Second, increasing human population is encroaching on ecosystems that would otherwise be intact. Third, factory farming fosters the creation of millions upon millions of animals for whom it offers nothing but suffering and misery before slaughtering them in often barbaric ways. There is no reason to think that those practices are going to diminish any time soon. Quite the opposite.”

Firstly, as pertains to factory farming, certainly there are forms of it wherein judicious care is not taken to mitigate the suffering of the animals and that should be remedied, further, for our purposes, factory farming can prove disastrous given that it allows diseases to spread more easily between the animals, due their close proximity to one another and the potential for profit and thus efficiency to intervene on responsibility which can impact things like the cleanliness of the facilities or checking on the health of the animals. This, however, does not hold true of all forms of factory farming, but nevertheless, we should take into consideration, to the best of our abilities, the cognitive ambit of the organism upon which we so intensely rely for our sustenance.

Secondly, “destroying large parts of the inhabitable earth” is extremely vague. What parts is he talking about? Habitats for what or whom? Does he mean nuclear wasteland, scorched earth, or merely environmental transformation (such as forest clearing for habitation)? Shiva is a twin-faced god. All creation mandates destruction. Human-centered environmental transformation is no exception and will always require the displacement (regardless of duration) of other organisms and the modulation of the land itself, this is no different than the Mountain Pine Beetle destroying trees in the process of building their colonies, save in terms of scale. The better at environmental modulation we (humans) can be and the more we learn (and remember) about the earth and its ecosystems, the better we can modulate with the least amount of collateral damage to other species (should this be found to be desirable, and it will assuredly not always be desirable). I am perfectly willing to devastate as many ecosystems as necessary to acquire the space and resources for the polity of which I am a part. Here we witness from May a inversion of human-centered concern for concern of land-itself, devoid of an articulation of impact (with the sole exception of factory farming), that the only way to be truly moral, is to displace concern from ones fellows and to begin offshoring empathy and sympathy to moles, voles, chickens and bacteria. Speaking of bacteria — they’re living beings, with their own intricate little ecosystems upon and in our bodies, will May who looks quite shinny and well-scrubbed in his public photos, give up washing so as not to unduly disturb the microverse or shall he continue initiating a holocaust with every scrub?

How shall he answer for his cleanliness? Is it not microbial genocide?

He touches lightly upon this issue briskly before falling, once more, into maudlin whinging, “To be sure, nature itself is hardly a Valhalla of peace and harmony. Animals kill other animals regularly, often in ways that we (although not they) would consider cruel. But there is no other creature in nature whose predatory behavior is remotely as deep or as widespread as the behavior we display toward what the philosopher Christine Korsgaard aptly calls ‘our fellow creatures’-”

Why he should choose Valhalla of all places as a ideal of peace and harmony is beyond me; that being said, he is, of course, correct that animals, both rational and non-rational, often behave in exceptionally savage ways. For example, chimpanzees hunt red colobus monkeys, both young and old. When a chimp catches a colobus, they kill and eat it, often brain-first, rending open the skull and suckling at the protein-filled gray matter, with special attention later given to the liver and other internal organs, less well-shelled and thus, more easily removed and consumed.

The South American botfly, Dermatobia hominis, deposits its eggs, either directly or through the utilization of captured mosquitos, into the skin of mammals, including humans, where they find their way into the subcutaneous layer of the skin and develop into larvae and feed on skin tissue for approximately eight weeks before emerging from the skin to pupate. Dermatobia hominis is, however, only one of several species of flies that potentially target humans. When a human is parasitized by fly larvae, the condition is referred to as myiasis and if aural myiasis occurs, there is a possibility that the larvae may reach the brain. If the myiasis occurs in the naval cavity, fluid build up around the face and fever will often occur and can be, if not properly and promptly treated, fatal.

In regard to Korsgaard’s remark about fellow creatures, he and May can speak for themselves in this regard, the human-flesh devouring maggots of the African Botfly and brain sucking chimp are not my fellow creatures, there is little fellow there to be had, they are either externalities or obstacles to human habitation. Given the chance any one of them would devour Korsgaard and May as they would their other victims. It is precisely because we are possessed of far greater power, which can be applied far more savagely and intelligently than any other creature on earth that we are not in a situation where we must constantly be on guard from what slithers and stalks the undergrowth.

For the flourishing of our species, there has been few attributes more beneficial than, what May describes as our extraordinary “predatory behavior.” Indeed, I should declare that we should be more predatory. Not less.

May then says something quite extraordinary, “If this were all to the story there would be no tragedy. The elimination of the human species would be a good thing, full stop.” He then clarifies that this isn’t all to the story and that humans contribute unique things “to the planet” (whatever that means) such as literature and then comes to the real meat of his argument, preempting some of the criticisms which have been leveled against him in this very paper, writing,

“Now there might be those on the more jaded side who would argue that if we went extinct there would be no loss, because there would be no one for whom it would be a loss not to have access to those things. I think this objection misunderstands our relation to these practices. We appreciate and often participate in such practices because we believe they are good to be involved in, because we find them to be worthwhile. It is the goodness of the practices and the experiences that draw us. Therefore, it would be a loss to the world if those practices and experiences ceased to exist. One could press the objection here by saying that it would only be a loss from a human viewpoint, and that that viewpoint would no longer exist if we went extinct. This is true. But this entire set of reflections is taking place from a human viewpoint. We cannot ask the questions we are asking here without situating them within the human practice of philosophy. Even to ask the question of whether it would be a tragedy if humans were to disappear from the face of the planet requires a normative framework that is restricted to human beings.”

Firstly, I fail to see what is “jaded” about arguing that if humans went extinct, there would be no loss, because there would be no one for whom it would be a loss. Secondly, I do not think this would be true; as previously stated, there would be some loss beyond the human species, namely, loss (or its less sapient variation) in those intellectually capable animals with whom we reside, such as those commonly kept as pets (dogs, cats, pigs and so forth). But then we come to one of the strangest points made by the author, for he says it is “the goodness of the practice” that “draw us” as if goodness exists separate from, not just humanity, but from anything but “the planet.” It is a curiously anthropomorphic remark from so clearly misanthropic a individual and one which, due its spectral imposition, is forthrightly irrational. He could simply have made the argument from non-human animal intelligence as the experiential nexus of the loss as I have but instead he shifts the nexus of experience to “the planet,” which is, of course, merely a exceptionally large space-rock.

May then turns his attention to “the other side” which he describes as those who think that human extinction would be a “tragedy” and “overall bad” (which I would regard as one and the same thing, as I don’t know of any tragedies which are overall good) and asks the question: How many lives would one be willing to sacrifice to preserve Shakespeare’s works? He says he’d not sacrifice a single human life and that is all fine and good as I’d not either, for the obvious reasons that Shakespeare’s works can be reforged but a human life cannot (yet). He then poses the question: “-how much suffering and death of nonhuman life would we be willing to countenance to save Shakespeare, our sciences and so forth?” The rest of the article is merely antinatalist tripe wherein May proclaims that preventing future humans from existing is probably the right thing to do given that we would be preventing an unnecessary flow of suffering from being unleashed upon the world. So what then is the answer to his challenge.

The answer is clear.

As much suffering shall be endured as the organism is capable of enduring to survive and to thrive. If a individual does not wish to survive than that individual is at liberty to remove themselves from the gene pool. It is as simple as that. It has always been as simple as that and it will always be as simple as that. People aren’t going to stop having children because May told them to, which he well knows, and even if he were to be successful in convincing everyone to cease reproducing in some kind of Benatarian revolt there would then be no organisms left capable of evaluating the benefits of our self wrought extinction.


Sources

  1. I.C. Gibly & D. Wawrzyiak. Meat Eating By Wild Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii): Effects of Prey Age On Carcass Consumption Sequence. Vivamus.
  2. Todd May. Would Human Extinction Be A Tragedy? The New York Times.

Synnefocracy_Abstract.2

“I want to tame the winds and keep them on a leash… I want a pack of winds, fleet-footed hounds, to hunt the puffed-up, whiskery clouds.” ‒ F.T. Marinetti.

♦ ♦ ♦

Cartography of the Cloud

 It would be pointless to discuss synnefocracy in any further depth without first defining what The Cloud actually is. Briskly, The Cloud is both a colorful placeholder for a particular modular information arrangement utilizing the internet and a design philosophy. Clouds always use the internet, but are not synonymous with it. The metaphor illustrates informational exchange and storage that is not principally mediated through locally based hardware systems, but rather ones wherein hardware is utilized locally, but accessed remotely. The Cloud is what allows one to begin watching a film on one’s laptop and seamlessly finish watching on one’s tablet. It is what allows one daily access to an email without ever having to consider the maintenance of the hardware upon which the data in the email account is stored. The more independent and modular one’s software becomes from its hardware, the more ‘cloud-like’ that software is. It is not that The Cloud is merely the software, but that the storage size, speed and modularity are all aspects of the system-genre’s seemingly ephemeral nature. Utilization of a computer system rather than a single computer increases efficiency (and thus demands modularity) creating a multi-cascading data slipstream, the full geopolitical effects of which have, up til now, been relatively poorly understood and even more poorly articulated, chronicled and speculated upon, both within popular and academic discourse (and I should add that it is not here my purpose to craft any definitive document upon the topic, but rather to invite a more robust investigation).

Cloud computing architecture offers a number of benefits over traditional computing arrangements, namely in terms of scalability, given that anytime computing power is lacking (for instance, if one had a website that was getting overloaded with traffic), one can simply dip into a accessible cloud and increase one’s server size. Since one never has to actually mess about with any of the physical hardware being utilized to increase computing power, significant time (which would otherwise be spent modulating and setting up servers manually) and money (that would be spent maintaining extra hardware or paying others to maintain it for you) is saved. The fact that one (generally speaking) pays only for the amount of cloud-time one needs for their project also saves money and manpower (in contradistinction to traditional on-premise architecture which would require one to pay for all the hardware necessary, upfront) is another clear benefit.

This combination of speed, durability, flexibility and affordability makes cloud computing a favorite for big businesses and ambitious, tech-savvy startups and, as a consequence, have turned cloud computing itself into a major industry. There are two distinctive types of cloud computing: the deployment model and the service model. In the deployment model there are three sub-categories: public, private and hybrid. The best way of thinking about each model is by conceptualizing vehicular modes of transportation. A bus is accessible to anyone who can pay for the ride; this is analogous to the public cloud wherein you pay only for the resources used and the time spent using them and when one is finished one simply stops paying or, to extend our metaphor, one gets off the bus. Contrarily, a private cloud is akin to a personally owned car, where one pays a large amount of money up-front and must continue paying for the use of the car, however, it is the sole property of the owner who can do with it what he or she will (within the bounds of the law). Lastly, there is the hybrid cloud, which most resembles a taxi, where one wants the private comfort of a personal car, but the low-cost accessibility of a bus.

Some prominent public cloud providers on the market as of this writing include: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM’s Blue Cloud as well as Sun Cloud. Prominent private cloud providers include AWS and VMware.

Cloud service models, when categorized most broadly, break down into three sub-categories: On-premises (Op1), Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Platform as a service (PaaS), and, Software as a service (SaaS).

The impact of cloud computing upon sovereignty, particularly, but not exclusively, of states, is scantly remarked upon, but it is significant and is bound up within the paradigm shift towards globalization, however, it is not synonymous with globalization which is frankly, a rather clumsy term, as it does not specify what, precisely, is being globalized (certainly — within certain timescales, to be defined per polity — some things should not be globalized and others should, this requires considerable unpacking and, as a consequence shall not be expounded upon here).

Given that the internet is crucial for national defense (cyber security, diplomatic back-channels, internal coordination, etc) and that the favored computing architecture (presently – due the previously mentioned benefits) is cloud computing, it is only natural that states would begin gravitating towards public and private cloud-based systems and integrating them into their operations. The problem presented by this operational integration is that, due the technical specificity involved in setting up and maintaining such systems, it is cheaper, more convenient and efficient for a given state to hire-out the job to big tech corporations rather than create the architecture themselves and, in many cases, state actors simply do not know how (because most emerging technologies are created through the private sector).

The more cloud-centric a polity, the greater the power of the cloud architects and managers therein. This is due to several factors, the first and most obvious of which is simply that any sovereign governance structure (SGS) of sufficient size requires a parameterization of data flows for coordination. It is not enough for the central component of an SGS to know and sense, but to ensure that all its subcomponents know what it senses as well (to varying degrees) and to have reliable ways to ensure that what is sensed and processed is delivered thereto; pathways which the SGS itself cannot, by and large, provide nor maintain.

Here enters the burgeoning proto-synnefocratic powers; not seizing power from, but giving more power to, proximal SGSs, and in so-doing, become increasingly indispensable thereto. Important to consider, given that those factions which are best able to control, not just the major data-flows, but the topological substrates upon and through which those flows travel, will be those who ultimately control the largest shares of the system.


1Op is not a common annotation. Utilized for brevity. However, IaaS, PaaS and SaaS are all commonly utilized by those in the IT industry and other attendant fields.

Synnefocracy_Abstract.1

“Geography is the stage and history the play.” — Tim Ball.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Third Sovereign Form

At the level of polity-organization-and-development there have only ever been two prominent and durable civilizational models: tellurocracies (land powers), qua Karl E. Haushofer, and thalassocracies (sea powers), qua Sir Halford J. Mackinder. Traditional conceptions of geopolitics fails to account, however, for the new and as-yet untempered form of polity formation and sovereign governance, which I term synnefocracy (cloud power), wherein the principal organizing, culture-making and governance occurs and develops (though not exclusively) at the level of the cloud. Like lampreys, they exploit apertures in political geographies, both concrete and digital, metallic and pixelated, machinic and vegetal to stack, scalar, over existing sovereign sums in spectral machinic linkage. Vines, silent creeping between the mortar of some aged manse.

This parsing of forms is important as even though all of the technologically sophisticated governments of the world utilize web-infrastructure for communication, storage, surveillance and a variety of other ancillary factors, none of them develop and govern through the cloud, which is to say, none of them (ostensibly) see digital geographies or cloud polities as real in the same way as the polities of physical geography. The distinction between the two, however, grows increasingly thin with every step towards ubiquitous computing, what Adam Greenfield describes in Everyware as, “Information processing dissolving in behavior.”

The private sector and numerous online communities operate, however, in a markedly different fashion, as not just the cultural and commercial, but the political ‘fibers’ of polity life are drawn together through the amalgamation of thriving communal-nodes which act as the principal mediator for the polity (which in the biospace include markets, cafes, libraries, sites of worship, homes, landmarks, roads, etc—and in cyberspace include websites and subsite venues, such as forums, comment sections and private, secured chat rooms—all of which are increasingly interwoven and thus, formally interdependent to the mediating subject).

Land-based powers, especially those culturally enmeshed within a manichean historiographic framework, are simply not culturally attuned to the maintained fluidity of such an enterprise; they guard against the incorporation of the technical into the cultural in so far as it is felt or, less commonly, explicitly determined, to be in disalignment with the geo-historical “arc” (movement along the path of the ideal) of the civilization, and, as such, ancillary, unless circumstance forces it to the fore.

In contradistinction, thalassocracies are far more inclined towards the protean and it may well be this very inclination which allowed the first proto-synnefocracies to arise from thalassocracies (namely, but not exclusively, the USA). The existence of these new forms are not simply speculative but objectively observable. ICBC, HSBC Holdings, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole Group, New Corporation (FOX, Times of London, Barrons), ViaCom (Comedy Central, VH1, Spike, Nickelodeon, BET, Paramount Pictures) are all extremely powerful organizations, yet they are not polity containers but cultural and economic mediators. In contradistinction, Alphabet Inc (Google), Facebook, Amazon, The Club of Davos, Open Society Foundations, the Omidyar Network, and other similar organizations are all, effectively, fiefdoms or semi-sovereign platforms which maintain their autonomy both through indispensability (or the guise thereof) to a pre-existing government and the appearance of relative harmlessness (Inc./NGOism, “we are just company”/”we’re just a charity” yet so rarely only just]).

Burgeoning ventures like the blockchain-based, decentralized Skycoin Platform, which seeks to create “internet 3.0” is another good example of a proto-synnefocratic organization. When one considers the pace of automation, the 70% of people, globally, who work remotely at least one day per week, centralizing potential of big data through AI and the potential applications of VR and AR (especially when paired with tangible holograms), a certain pattern of interconnective fluidity begins to form.

Distance from distance itself.

It may occur to some readers to conflate synnefocracy with a vague sort of cosmopolitan diaspora or vacationism, however, this would be a grave confusion. Diasporic populations, no matter how well organized, are, by-and-large, reliant upon the generosity and productivity of their host population(s) and as a consequence, diasporic populations are (generally) not sovereign (with certain exceptions, such as the Naxalites of India, who, in a understanding of the massive costs required to oust them from the jungles in the heart of the country, are allowed free reign therein) nor can they even entertain the possibility of sole (earthly) territorial authority (without revolution or integration into the corridors of power which risks assimilation into the host polity). Further differentiation can be found in the grounded dimension of a cloud power, as it wouldn’t be in any meanful sense “rootless” (a term which is often deployed in describing transitory peoples) but rather more rooted then potentially any other kind of civilization, as the infrastructure (and thus the land) necessary to accomadate it, would be extensive (allotments must be made for industrial infrastructure, servers, grids, power sources, homes, etc), yet they would be rooted in a different way than a traditional nation-state, which digs one hole very deeply and cordones off that space exclusively for its own purposes, whereas a cloud civilization would be able to modulate itself around and between exclusion zones, whether on, or in, land, sea or sky, that is to say, it would have numerous roots in numerous areas; more mycelial-sprawl than carrot-concentration.


Sources

  1. Meredith Whittaker. (2018) AI Now Report 2018. AI Now Institute.
  2. Radu P. Iovita et al. (2004) Reconstructing The Origins & Migrations Of Diasporic Populations: The Case Of The European Gypsies. American Anthropologist.
  3. Ryan Browne. (2018) 70% Of People Globally Work Remotely At Least Once A Week. CNBC: Make It.
  4. Stephen Johnson. (2018) The Employees At This $610 Million Company Work On A Virtual Reality Island. WEF.

Dawn: Tokyo’s Innovative Avatar Cafe

Though the standard line in terms of machine-job integration has been “the robots are taking your jobs!” this is not true in relation to Dawn (Diverse Avatar Working Network) ver.β, a peculiar cafe (open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.) located in Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan, which is staffed by humanoid robots. Unlike the automatons at contemporary factories, the robots of Dawn are ‘avatars’ which are controlled by disabled workers who, shorn of their mechanical incarnations, would find it difficult to work and interface with broader society.

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OriHime-D delivering pastries to a patron.

The four-foot tall robot-avatars, developed by the start-up Ory, are referred to as OriHime-D and are operated by individuals with severe mobility impairments (such as ALS) who control them from the comfort of their homes. As the beta in the name suggests, the current iteration of the cafe is a trial run that ends Dec. 7 with a full opening in 2020.

Triadic Neurolink: 3 Patient Brain-to-Brain Thought-Sharing Study A Success

Researchers from Cornell University have created a “non-invasive, direct brain-to-brain interface for collaborative problem solving.” The technology is presently dubbed BrainNet and has been utilized to allow two participants (senders) of a tetris-type game to transmit information pertinent to the game to a third, linked-participant (the receiver) in collectively maneuvering within the parameters of the game (rotation of the blocks, qua tetris).

Research abstract

We present BrainNet which, to our knowledge, is the first multi-person non-invasive direct brain-to-brain interface for collaborative problem solving. The interface combines electroencephalography (EEG) to record brain signals and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to deliver information noninvasively to the brain. The interface allows three human subjects to collaborate and solve a task using direct brain-to-brain communication. Two of the three subjects are “Senders” whose brain signals are decoded using real-time EEG data analysis to extract decisions about whether to rotate a block in a Tetris-like game before it is dropped to fill a line. The Senders’ decisions are transmitted via the Internet to the brain of a third subject, the “Receiver,” who cannot see the game screen. The decisions are delivered to the Receiver’s brain via magnetic stimulation of the occipital cortex. The Receiver integrates the information received and makes a decision using an EEG interface about either turning the block or keeping it in the same position. A second round of the game gives the Senders one more chance to validate and provide feedback to the Receiver’s action. We evaluated the performance of BrainNet in terms of (1) Group-level performance during the game; (2) True/False positive rates of subjects’ decisions; (3) Mutual information between subjects. Five groups of three subjects successfully used BrainNet to perform the Tetris task, with an average accuracy of 0.813. Furthermore, by varying the information reliability of the Senders by artificially injecting noise into one Sender’s signal, we found that Receivers are able to learn which Sender is more reliable based solely on the information transmitted to their brains. Our results raise the possibility of future brain-to-brain interfaces that enable cooperative problem solving by humans using a “social network” of connected brains.

Full paper

Linxing Jiang et al. (2018) BrainNet: A Multi-Person Brain-to-Brain Interface for Direct Collaboration Between Brains.