In his fantastic book The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America, Paul N. Edwards forwards a quasi-literary reading of the way power and subjectivity operate in the age of the computer, focusing primarily on the lineage running from the Vannevar Bush’s Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) to the birth of cybernetics and their proliferation during the Macy Conferences to the electronic battlefields of Vietnam, and, finally, to the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative – the “Star Wars” program that propelled the growth of Silicon Valley and its corollary Californian Ideology, as well as the globalization of information technology across the 1990s. For Edwards the collision of massive government subsidies and steering of computer research and the geopolitical imperatives of the Cold War – dressed in the rhetoric of “containment” – produced the metaphoric construct for which the book is titled: the “closed world”. The architecture of this world is one of boundaries and walls, managed by a vertically integrated chain of command and control. Within the closed world knowledge is framed in a succession of cyborg discourses – the melding together of “both human mind and artificial intelligence as information machines”, with the distinct goal of “integrat[ing] people into complex technological systems.”
It was Jean Baudrillard who was perhaps the quintessential philosopher of the Cold War discourse. In hyperbolic manner he charted the disappearance of the reality into hyppereality, the world of advanced statistical control and the governing of society according to the dictates of computer simulation. By the 1980s and 90s, as simulation went global and unleashed a torrent of cheaply-made consumer goods across the world, people had but disappeared into his discourse: all that was left was informatic capital, gobbling itself in a frenzied rush towards an ecstatic collapse. It wasn’t until after September 11th that the people, or even the specter of a world beyond simulation, began to trickle in again. Baudrillard’s own closed world was not so totalizing after all.
Edwards gives his own interpretation of what exists beyond the closed world: the “green world”. The green world is the world of nature, teeming with life and organic anarchism. Like the Baudrillardian disappearance of the Real, the green world too has vanished from view, existing only as entities “trapped inside the boundaries of land-island national parks, the systems disciplines of ecology and genetic engineering, and the global-management aspirations of the Club of Rome and its successors.” If green world discourses persist anywhere, it may be found in “animist religions, feminist witchcraft, certain Green political parties, and the deep ecology movement…” One could add to his roster the influx of environmental awareness in leftist politics and the popularization of the Anthropocene in the humanities and social sciences. At the same time, one must wonder if such things could truly open up a green world horizon, given the predominance of computer simulation and climate science to enhance governmental priorities and rationale – not to mention that variety of “eco-modernists” stressing the possibilities of a ‘good Anthropocene’ through promethean feats of technology and the fostering of conscious capitalism. 
It is on this last note that I want to focus here. Edward’s analysis of the “closed world” is in some ways deceptive, particularly when one takes into account the application of military-derived technologies and paradigms in the private sector. As I’ve argued elsewhere the discourses of computational technology, in the context of neoliberal capitalism, has undergone a profound shift over the last fifty years. From the end of the Second World War until the 1980s epistemological closed world discourses did indeed reign, but from the early 90s on this closed world discourse shifted towards an open world ontology. The reasons for this are multifold. One was the limitations of instrumental rationality during wartime and market expansion. As technological-enhanced vision was able to render starkly the dynamics of the territory in question, information bottlenecks were created, generating a critical division between the applicability of simulation and the anticipation of action the users of this technology hoped it would grant. This issue was resolved through the introduction of more advanced simulation technology, in particular the growth of “agent-based modelling” systems used to chart out the self-organizing dynamics of complex adaptive systems. For capitalism this meant a proliferation of tools through which to accrue higher rates of profit: no longer did the system need to produce a supply, to which it conditioned the attitudes of population to partake in. The ability to quickly monitor, compile, analyze, and feedback consumer attitudes shifted us from the closed mass to the open individual, a cyborg being that would function as an entrepreneur of the self in labor and a connoisseur of culture in leisure. This subjectivity is what Brian Holmes has described as the “flexible personality”,
a new form of alienation, not alienation from the vital energy and roving desire that were exalted in the 1960s, but instead, alienation from political society, which in the democratic sense is not a profitable affair and cannot be endlessly recycled into the production of images and emotions. The configuration of the flexible personality is a new form of social control, in which culture has an important role to play. It is a distorted form of the artistic revolt against authoritarianism and standardization: a set of practices and techniques for “constituting, defining, organizing and instrumentalizing” the revolutionary energies which emerged in the Western societies in the 1960s, and which for a time seemed capable of transforming social relations.
One could easily argue that this open world has itself been superseded again by the closed world, with the resurgence of neoconservative unilateralism and its subsequent transformation into the ‘shadow wars’ waged throughout the world, the surveillance society revelations of Edward Snowden, the persistence of racism throughout the Western world, and the ongoing centralization of wealth in a small percentile of the global population. Indeed, the open world is deceptive, hiding the most closed of worlds within itself. It is better to think of a dialectic of open worlds and closed world, yet one that does follow the logic of contradiction and synthesis, but of mutual support. Affluence and the ghost of freedom circulates through society, even if we are all ground down under the machinery of capital’s gear. The promise of the ‘good life’ exists even in the face of extreme climate change and the return of the most reactionary social formations. The personality is still perceived as flexible, even if the system cuts down every change for a mobility of the self.
Thus, an empty (or even fulfilling!) imaginary of the green world will most likely serve as an upgrade or enhancement of governmenality, carried out to retain the core functioning of the system. What I want to do now is take a pre-existing green world discourse, one teeming with liberatory energies, and show how this exact transformation has already been carried out.