The Synhaptic Connexions of 8.8.8 (and ∞)
(Thank you, Ying Cui, for the gift of the knot given so many years ago. The Eights are finally here!)
(Thank you, Ying Cui, for the gift of the knot given so many years ago. The Eights are finally here!)
Note: this essay was cross-posted to the nettime-l mailing list
"All of us are already civilian soldiers, without knowing it. And some of us know it. The great stroke of luck for the military class's terrorism is that no one recognizes it. People don't recognize the militarized part of their identity, of their consciousness" (Paul Virilio, Pure War, p.26).
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Two articles recently retrieved from the data networks, each located somewhere in the nexus between war and interactive entertainment, have given me pause to consider Virilio's question of the civilian soldier anew. The first comes from Wired's Danger Room blog, in which David Hambling details the use of console videogame controllers as the interface for piloting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). He quotes an executive from defense contractor Raytheon, who points out that "the video-game industry always will outspend the military on improving human-computer interaction," and hence the logic of such an interface choice.
For many would-be soldiers this synergy is years in the making. The blend of muscle memory and proprioception required to operate a console videogame controller, honed throughout childhood, readily transfers to military-level applications much more smoothly (and cheaply) than developing new motor skills for proprietary military interfaces. While various sporting pursuits (boxing, archery, football, etc.) were perceived in eras past to translate in a more abstract biomechanical sense to the battlefield, today the translation is far more concrete: no longer will kids play make-believe with toy guns before a subset someday handles the genuine article; instead, everyone that plays console videogames will always already be handling the real thing and training their bodies for "combat."
The second news item concerning the civilian soldier comes from the 2008 E3 conference, where Sony announced the future launch of its new massively multiplayer online game (MMO), tentatively titled M.A.G. - Massive Action Game. An online war simulation game, M.A.G. promises a substantial innovation in that it will allow 256 players to play simultaneously on the same server without experiencing performance lags (generally speaking, the average online console game might support 20-30 players simultaneously on the same server). Players will compete in squads of eight soldiers, and progress through a "character development" arc that adds certain skills to the soldier's portfolio, from commando, to medic, to demolitions, and so on (embedded journalist didn't appear to be on the list). Though the announcement seems to be as much promotional blitz as substance at this time, it speaks to a concerted effort by Sony to vastly develop its capabilities in online gaming and move the console genre from traditional fantasy world to war simulation.
Online multiplayer gaming is not new. And the war simulation genre is as old as videogames themselves. But Sony's desire and capital investment to shift war videogames to bigger and better online gaming experiences should be of interest as it heralds a significant change in the relationship between war and interactive entertainment, for once the game moves off the console proper and into a server farm or data cloud we create the potential for a radical shift in the notion of the archive as it relates to play and violence, war and peace.
In distilled form, the logistics of war are about tracking a variety of objects — soldiers, vehicles, munitions — as they move spatiotemporally to, from, and within theatres of conflict. Advances in tracking technology have allowed such logistical endeavours to become more granular and synchronized, allowing, for example, real-time remote control of assets on a cartographic grid. But as Jordan Crandall notes in his recent Nettime post, we are making a mistake if we view this primarily as a problem in space. "While it is possible to map … tracked objects in space, such spatialization is not primary. The map is secondary; the numbers are what speak."
This becomes even more apparent when the "space of conflict" in question is the mathematically-generated non-space of the MMO game: when the numbers of polygonal geometric structure beget the numbers of discrete object tracking, which beget the numbers of individual player and team scoring, and so forth. When videogames are played locally on consoles or personal computers, this data stays on the local hard drive or else isn't captured at all. Massive numbers of players in an MMO game, on the other hand, create massive amounts of data, all captured by the owner of the servers. And increasingly, as Ian Ayres points out in Super Crunchers, this data may be mined with sophisticated statistical methods to create actionable information of considerable value to its owner.
Using M.A.G. and the nexus of war and interactive entertainment as an example, such database mining may operate along at least three dimensions to create actionable information of interest to the military: first, to analyze and understand in the aggregate potential outcomes of a mission gamed thousands of times with real human factors and decision making involved; second, to determine within the connected intelligence of this gaming community how learning takes place given objectives with more or less clearly defined goals; third, and perhaps most interesting, to extract statistical outliers at the long tail of the distribution curve that may provide strategies and tactics superior to those put forth by existing military doctrine.
In this last dimension science fiction aficionados will find echoes of the so-called Ender's Game scenario, after the award-winning science fiction novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card. In Ender's Game, children playing videogames are used, without their knowledge, as tools of war against an alien species:
Mazer reached out and touched his shoulder. Ender shrugged him off. Mazer then grew serious and said, "Ender, for the past few months you have been the battle commander of our fleets. This was the Third Invasion. There were no games, the battles were real, and the only enemy you fought was the buggers. You won every battle, and today you finally fought them at their home world, where the queen was, all the queens from all their colonies, they all were there and you destroyed them completely. They'll never attack us again. You did it. You."
Real. Not a game. Ender's mind was too tired to cope with it all. They weren't just points of light in the air, they were real ships that he had fought with and real ships he had destroyed. And a real world that he had blasted into oblivion. He walked through the crowd, dodging their congratulations, ignoring their hands, their words, their rejoicing. When he got to his own room he stripped off his clothes, climbed into bed, and slept (p.296).
In conjunction with the statistical analysis of the petabytes of data they produce, Sony's M.A.G. and its ilk potentially bring the Ender's Game scenario to full fruition, albeit with two major caveats: the role of Ender is no longer played by one person but has been abstracted from the databanked performance of thousands of gamers and aggregated together in a "wisdom of crowds" logic; and instead of Ender controlling a fleet of soldiers in real-time as in the book, our current scenario describes an asynchronous feedbackforward of generated information flowing to and from ludic and violent spaces, oscillating on different temporal registers between the cyborg soldier on the battlefield and the cyborg gamer jacked into the simulation.
In raising such a red flag I may be accused of potential paleo-futurism or paranoid conspiracy, so let me attempt to deflect both of those critiques in advance. With regard to paleo-futurism we must note that most of the exhibits Matt Novak identifies on his blog concern speculative technologies not in existence at the time of their historical prediction, and which would have required significant modifications in consumer behaviour in order to be realized. As the various tidal flows of capital investment in information technology over the past two decades demonstrates, predicting consumer acceptance of disruptive technologies is tricky business. But data mining the archives of play in MMOs does not require any new shift in consumer behaviour: the move from local console severality to non-local online multiplicity has already taken place. It simply becomes a marketing promotions exercise to channel users into the "right" war game or downloadable module at the "right" time.
Nor is it conspiratorial to point out that the traditional nation-state military force has ceded to a complex web of interdependent relationships between various branches of armed forces, intelligence agencies, university research institutions, private militias, and corporate defense contractors — a process that has been underway for the past century:
They could no longer simply say that on one side there was the arsenal which produced a few shells, and on the other civilian consumption and the budget. No, they noticed that they needed a special economy, a wartime economy. This wartime economy was a formidable discovery, which in reality announced and inaugurated the military-industrial complex (Paul Virilio, Pure War, p.16).
Likewise, it is not conspiratorial to note that the communications and entertainment industries are being woven into this web, as the first article about console videogame controllers being used to pilot UAVs illustrates. Rather, this weaving should be considered a logical outcome of the Revolution in Military Affairs and subsequent introduction of C4I technology and strategy, which Donna Haraway hinted at thirty years ago as leading to a "homework economy … controlled by high-tech repressive apparatuses ranging from entertainment to surveillance and disappearance."
The only question, paranoid or no, seems to be how fully the entertainment industries will become enmeshed in the society permanently at war, not simply at the level of human-machine interface — as with the use of console videogame controllers in military contexts — but at the level of intelligence generation and strategy formulation.
It is noteworthy to point out that data mining the movements of players in war-based MMO games would not be the U.S. military's first foray into attempting to harness the collective intelligence of civilians. In 2001 the United States' Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — not uncoincidentally the same agency responsible for the internet's genesis — funded two projects under the label of "Electronic Market-Based Decision Support."
One of these projects was called Policy Analysis Market (PAM), which was a prediction market that offered traders the ability to financially speculate on the possible occurrence of future geopolitical outcomes. Though substantial development was completed on PAM, it was canceled before its scheduled launch in 2003 due to pressure from the U.S. Senate, which accused the system of basically allowing people to bet and profit on the potential of terrorist attacks and assassinations. Political considerations aside, Brian Holmes' more nuanced and formal analysis of PAM suggests that it "produces information, while turning human actors into functional relays, or indeed, into servomechanisms; and it 'consumes freedom' for a purpose."
Data mining massively multiplayer online war videogames accomplishes similar goals with potentially lucrative gains for entertainment companies like Sony. Indeed, there is a precise calculus of profit maximization to be located between the price elasticity of downloadable game content and the value of data-mined algorithms resulting from exponentially increasing network effects in the game environment. And the freedoms of human actors — the freedom of play, the freedom to choose — are consumed in the production of these algorithms as the civilian soldier lurking within every war gamer is extracted towards servomechanistic ends.
The geopolitical landscape has been changing inexorably since the Cold War, and the tactics and strategies of contemporary conflict have radically followed suit. For example, swarming — of bodies, DNS attacks, etc. — has become a common tactic in material and immaterial fourth-generation warfare. By contrast, then, we might conceive of our MMO data mining scenario as a swarm-in-being of minds and partial-bodies (cf. Virilio's "fleet-in-being"), that is actualized at a later date by soldiers in the battlefield. In other words, it is an "apparatus of capture" by the State — understood in the sense articulated above as a complex web of interrelationships linking public and private interest — that aggregates together diffuse molecular elements at the micropolitical scale.
As a corollary to the first two caveats regarding the Ender's Game scenario mentioned above, a third emerges: in the novel Ender is racked with guilt upon learning of his role in exterminating the enemy bugger species, despite his ignorance at the time of the reality of the situation. Since Ender becomes in our present context an abstraction from the databased activities of thousands, questions of morality and intentionality in war as they relate to the agency of one individual are shattered when considered in this emerging, diffused, servomechanistic form: who, exactly, is responsible? This swarm-in-being is frightening in that it may exert a significant controlling influence over wartime operations without ever engaging in an overt act of violence — or the moral deliberation that accompanies such an act.
Much has been made about the upcoming Olympics in Beijing and the question of Chinese image or face. And part of the exercise of manufacturing image has been the steady barrage of press releases from BOCOG and wire stories from Xinhua. Consider the following excerpts from the Xinhua story "Chinese college beauties leave boot camp to be Olympic hostesses" as a ironic look at the question of face as presented to the rest of the world, which has its own problematic relations with desire:
"I've always dreamed of being a guide hostess for the table tennis athletes at the Olympic venue," said Yang Xu, 19, one of the 300-odd young women selected from more than 5,000 candidates in Beijing and Shanghai colleges as part of the Olympic volunteers.
Just like others, the slim, 170 cm tall Yang has been trained for three short terms with five kinds of courses, including body-shaping exercises, dancing, manners, ceremony processes and basic Olympic-related knowledge.
The beauties had fought off furious competition to secure their chance to "enjoy the beautiful suffering" in the temporary "charm school", a vocational school in Beijing's northern Changping District.
All the girls were picked by experts from various professions, including models, body-shaping teachers, journalists, singers, dancers and athletes, based on specific standards of their body shapes and facial features, Wang said.
A hostess needs to be a college student with good education background. She needs to be between 168 to 175 cm and good looking, which was specified in statistics of the sizes of bust, waist, hip and even mouth, nose, and eye, Wang said, but she refused to reveal the numbers.
The training was hard work but there were lighter moments, said the elder sister Li Ziye.
She said they were trained to smile with eight teeth exposed and look at the camera flashes without blinking.
"We should not blink even if tears come out," Li Ziye said, with eyes opened wide.
The ceremonies had been designed with many traditional Chinese elements, the deputy division chief Wang Ning said.
The hostesses had been trained to be beauties both inside and outside, Wang said. The young women, with a classical Chinese temperament, would send messages of Chinese implicit beauty in each simple move as taught in the classes, she said.
Can resistance be actualized simply by appropriating and rechanneling the structural forms it seeks to subvert? Does this not just provide an alibi that sustains the original forms of biopower and control?
Consider two examples from the nexus of sport and politics. The first is the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO), an event launched in 1962 in Indonesia as a counter to the Olympic Games. As Wikipedia elaborates:
Established for the athletes of the so-called "emerging nations" (mainly newly independent socialist states), GANEFO made it clear in its constitution that politics and sport were intertwined; this ran against the doctrine of the International Olympic Committee, which strove to separate politics from sport. The IOC decreed that the athletes attending GANEFO would be ineligible to participate in the Olympic Games.
As Indonesia had established GANEFO in the aftermath of IOC censure for the politically charged 4th Jakarta Asian Games in 1962 which Indonesia hosted, for which Taiwan and Israel were refused visa, the IOC's reaction was understandably hard-line which led to an indefinite suspension of Indonesia from the IOC.
The first edition of GANEFO was held in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1963 where in total 51 nations participated such as Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burma, Cambodia, Ceylon, Cuba, Czechoslovakia Socialist Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Dominican Republic, Finland, France, German Democratic Republic, Guinea, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Laos, Lebanon, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Poland, Republic of Mali, Rumania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somali Republic, USSR, etc.
The USSR, in a show of solidarity, did send athletes to the first GANEFO, but in order not to jeopardize their position in the IOC, the Soviet athletes were not of Olympic caliber.
The second edition of GANEFO had been planned to be held in Cairo, Egypt in 1967, but this was canceled due to political considerations.
The second example is the Human Rights Torch Relay, currently underway in various locales around the world. This grassroots campaign seeks to raise awareness of the Chinese communist government's poor record of human rights violations including, but not limited to, the torture and oppression of Tibetans and followers of Falun Gong.
The torch relay began in Athens, Greece on August 9, 2007 where the first flame was lit. The relay now continues across five continents throughout the year preceding the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Events held by participating cities around the world will include the traditional Olympics run with the symbolic torch, welcoming events with speakers, concerts, petition campaigns, displays, press conferences, and interview opportunities. Athletes who have participated in past Olympics games will be among the torch relay ambassadors who will pass the torch from one country to another. Participating individuals and organizations will be responsible for holding a torch-receiving ceremony and organizing related activities. We encourage all participants to proceed with plans that best fit the customs and traditions in their host countries and regions.
Information and speakers will be provided to national, regional, and local governments, schools, libraries, civic and church groups, non governmental organizations (NGOs), etc., via printed material, talk shows, blogs, social networking and live presentations hosted by non profit groups, churches, and independent groups interested in human rights. Local contact persons will work with participants to determine the most appropriate events, outreach activities, and materials for their area.
Can such simple "rebrandings" of these traditional sporting structures work? According to Lotringer, Kraus and El Kholti, in the foreword to Baudrillard's In the Shadow of Silent Majorities, "Félix Guattari may have answered that it is no longer necessary to maintain a distinction between material and semiotic deterritorializations and that there is no more absolute primacy of one system over another."
True, but do these two examples really deterritorialize human subjects from the power structures theretofore oppressing them? In my opinion, both of these events are limited by the fact that they simply reproduce the original structural forms they seek to undermine, albeit with an appropriately modified semiotic gloss. With GANEFO, the problem was that the event sought to counter IOC hegemony with opposition at the nation-state level; in other words, by creating just another (potentially exclusionary?) form of nationalist competition. Similarly, the Human Rights Torch Relay seeks to destabilize the hegemony of the Chinese state by duplicating one of the most important symbols of a purportedly universal humanism, the Olympic Torch Relay, during its Beijing 2008 iteration; in this case, a lack of media exposure inhibits the potential for such a method to subvert with any high degree of success.
If the rules of the game create a particular power differential, then the object for those oppressed by this imbalance is to change the rules of the game! In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari elaborate:
What interests us in operations of striation and smoothing are precisely the passages or combinations: how the forces at work within space continually striate it, and how in the course of its striation it develops other forces and emits new smooth spaces. … Movements, speed and slowness, are sometimes enough to reconstruct a smooth space. Of course, smooth spaces are not in themselves liberatory. But the struggle is changed or displaced in them, and life reconstitutes its stakes, confronts new obstacles, invents new paces, switches adversaries (ATP, p. 500).
Perhaps instead we need to recognize that both material and semiotic deterritorializations are required in concert for the struggle to be truly displaced?
I would like to offer two examples that stand in contrast to GANEFO and the Human Rights Torch Relay, not in terms of being "better" than these (my two examples don't even exist yet!), but rather as potential structural challenges to the hegemonic status quo. The first is the Global Village Basketball game that constitutes a portion of my doctoral dissertation project. Briefly, GVB uses networked media technologies to link together geographically-dispersed pickup games of basketball into one meta-game that is simultaneously located in real and synthetic spaces. The second example is the Peace Relay, which multiplies a singular signifier (as with a torch) into the thousands so that many running subjects may disperse as a contagion to spread a meme along multiple vectors.
Both examples potentially displace current understandings of the structures that sustain these sporting and political forms. Global Village Basketball and the Peace Relay — in contrast with GANEFO and the Human Rights Torch Relay, respectively — take traditional structures of linearity, hierarchy, bounded space and fixed identity as the starting point from which new rhizomatic counter-strategies of multiplicity may be launched. Even with these deterritorializations-in-potential, however, we must not fail to heed the coda to the Deleuze and Guattari quote above: "Never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us."
Tactile burden of severality. A suggestive phrase, perhaps already located a little too gratuitously in the various crevices that constitute my verbal and written discourse. But isn't this how new concepts find their potential? Something felt is given a tentative genesis in thought and language; this voice swirls around in the mouth like a vintage syrah, opening up new sensations with each passing, and slowly emerges into form. With that in mind, consider the following as preliminary tasting notes for an emerging concept.
The motif of tactile burden may be traced back to the earliest voices posted at sportsBabel. I was concerned from the very beginning about the question of virtual (read: synthetic) sport and how that impacted the embodied aspect of performance. Certainly the best haptic technologies would never be able to replace the proprioceptions and external sensations of moving in concert with other bodies in sporting competition?
Over time I began to develop a more general understanding of the numbing that occurs with electric media technologies and their interfaces, from which the political dimension of such mediation became apparent. In contrast to the remote optics of surveillance, a close sensuous form of haptic control was being employed by the State that challenged prior understandings of bounded spatiotemporality — what Deleuze referred to as the "crisis of enclosure."
It seemed imperative to me that thinking political subjects needed to regain a sense of their own embodiment if they were to engage and resist the networked touching and imaging of their bodies by meshworks of government and corporate interest that occurs every day. Wholly yielding ourselves to the data networks was something that needed to be resisted, and thus my call to embrace a tactile burden.
So what is it that I mean by severality, on the other hand? Here, I am borrowing from the feminist psychoanalyst Bracha Ettinger, who develops within her theory the idea of subjectivity as encounter between two or more individual subjects. These part-subjects affectively and mentally trans-inscribe and cross-inscribe one another to create the conditions of co-emergence within difference. We are part-subjects in several of these severalities, some of which mirror the old institutions of modernity — school, work, family — but many of which are either or both more granular in scale and more spatially diffuse. The crisis of enclosure begins with this fragmentation of the subject.
Interestingly, and departing somewhat from the influence of Deleuze and Guattari, Ettinger insists on the uniqueness of the few and focuses on severality rather than multiplicity. How do we differentiate between the two? It would appear to be simply a semantic distinction in terms of number (at what point does severality become multiplicity?), but it is more than that. Ettinger forces us to acknowledge at the level of lived, embodied, affective experience the many intimate foldings of severalness within a multiplicity. This is not to say that copoiesis with other partial-subjects never met before in the flesh cannot occur via networked forms of communication — after all, text (and increasingly audio, video and haptic technologies) may provide vectors of resonance between erstwhile strangers — but that such a resonance can only be the byproduct of a feedbackforward emanating from the prior lived everyday.
Virno, Hardt and Negri recognize the dimension of hybridity within their respective formulations of the multitude and they take great care not to dissolve and homogenize it, but they perhaps fail to resolve the particulars of affective experience and the myriad foldings of the few that exist in the passages between the real and virtual, between embodied and network-mediated. Ettinger, put simply, retrieves from the multitude the scale of the possible.
So, returning to the original question, what exactly am I saying when I refer to the tactile burden of severality? I'd like to leave that answer open-ended for now, but instead suggest an embodied experience that might offer a clue.
This is a simple exercise that I did in Sandy Stone's class last year at the European Graduate School, which is apparently common among physical educators, but was new to me and I think quite powerful in its simplicity. Sandy is singular among EGS faculty in that she teaches in both the Media and Communications and the Expressive Arts divisions of the university; given her own history of embodied politics as a post-op transsexual, feminist scholar, and erstwhile performance artist, she brings unique insights about the body to the philosophy of technology.
The exercise: take a group of people within a broad open space such as a gym, dance studio or large classroom. Each person must choose one other person in the room (without notifying that person) and watch them out of the corner of their left eye. Everyone begins moving around the room, continually modifying position so as to keep that person in the corner of their left eye. Then, stop the exercise, choose a different person, and this time follow them out of the corner of the right eye.
The third iteration combines the first two: set everyone into motion while maintaining sight of the first person out of the corner of the left eye and the second out of the right eye. The resultant action will look something like this:
I draw three main conclusions from this exercise:
1. Bodies must move rhythmically within the space by continually renegotiating the triangulation between the observer and the two observed (signals), as well as the other bodies in the room (noise).
2. This occurs not by optically focusing on either of the other individuals within the triangle, but rather by perceiving both through peripheral vision in a haptic sense. I understand this as correlative with the tactile burden.
3. Although each observer's severality only numbers three, the exercise demonstrates what Massumi refers to as every body's "immediate, unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary," albeit in a mutually interconnected fashion that encompasses the few as well as the entire group. This is what I understand as the foldings of severality within multiplicity.
Or: you, too, can be a turntablist-philosopher!
"Take William Burrough's cut-up method: the folding of one text onto another, which constitutes multiple and even adventitious roots (like a cutting), implies a supplementary dimension to that of the texts under consideration. In this supplementary dimension of folding, unity continues its spiritual labor" (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, p.6).
Concept: Jean-Christophe Plantin
Performance: Jean-Christophe Plantin, Sean Smith
Camera: Dara Zadikow
The reference is from George Lucas' epic 1971 movie, THX 1138, in which a state-controlled intensification of communication processes manages every facet of daily life in a futuristic society, regulating the flux of all human subjects in work, leisure and love.
Though the Department exists in homage to Lucas’ vision, our consideration of biological flow seeks to reinvigorate the agency of the human subject in its negotiations with economic and political structures both material and immaterial.