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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.”[1]

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.”[2] 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. [3]

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[4] 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.[5]

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.

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Wild Ecologies:
Speculative Anarchism & Guattari's Three Ecologies 

In the first of what we hope to be a series of group readings, Wild Ecologies encourages participants to read Felix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies (1989) and share insights and commentary intended to stimulate discussion and debate on the possible resonances and potential disconnects between anarchist and post-anarchist positions and of one of Guattari’s seminal texts. Our goal is salvage and repurpose whatever valuable insights and practical considerations generated in the collision between psycho-ecological theory and anarchist interventions, as a means of enriching political and personal praxis, as well as the more general orientations of ecological thought.

A copy of Guattari’s The Three Ecologies can be read online: HERE

COMMENTS and related GUEST POSTS welcome

Guattari’s The Three Ecologies

“Environmental ecology, as it exists today, has barely begun to prefigure the generalised ecology that I advocate here, the aim of which will be to radically decentre social struggles and ways of coming into one’s own psyche… Ecology must stop being associated with the image of a small nature-loving minority. Ecology in my sense questions the whole of subjectivity and capitalistic power formations.” (p,2)three eco

Félix Guattari was a French psychotherapist and philosopher who founded both ‘schizoanalysis’ and ‘ecosophy’. In the early 1950’s Guattari helped create La Borde, an experimental psychiatric clinic in south Paris, France. He went on to train under (and was analysed by) the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, but is best known for his intellectual collaborations with philosopher Gilles Deleuze – most notably in Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980), and What is Philosophy? (1991). Guattari worked at La Borde from its inception until his death from a heart attack in 1992.

In The Three Ecologies (1989) Guattari’s develops ideas formulated by anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson in Steps to An Ecology of Mind, wherein he describes three interacting and interdependent ecologies: Social ecology, Mental ecology, Environmental ecology. These three ecologies not only present as sites of negotiation and reconstruction, but also as interchangeable theoretic lenses or perspective styles. They are not distinct territories but formed relationally and transversally. Guattari sought to elaborate and refine these concepts in detail, and along with his own psychoanalytic perspective adding a mutated form of poststructuralist Marxism into the mix. Guattari often presented these ideas as strategies or processes towards a reconstruction of social and individual practices, or what he called “ecosophy”. For Guattari, the “ecosophic problematic is that of the production of human existence itself in new historical contexts” (p.24).

Speculative Anarchism?

an·ar·chism (noun): belief in the abolition of all government and the organization of society on a voluntary, cooperative basis without recourse to force or compulsion.

The speculative turn is a phrase that has been used to talk about the way that recent continental philosophy has sought to explode beyond the constraints of endless talk about discourse, language, power-knowledge, textuality, and culture. At the same time the speculative turn also seeks to move passed the frozen obsession with the ‘death of man’ that has, by ceaselessly ensuring that the human, the subject, or Dasein remain the core around which philosophy circles, perpetually enacted a ‘resurrection of man’.

The speculative is about leaving the comfortable waters of human narcissism behind and venturing out once more into the “great outdoors” of objects, material processes, vibrant matter, geological and cosmological time, and thus simultaneously enacting a philosophy that rediscovers the more-than-human ecologies that we are embedded in. Much of this work offers means with which to think the materiality of power and to grasp the cartographies of capitalism.

Key to this is the common theme among the new speculative philosophers and their antecedents on leaving behind the tired distinction between nature and culture. Any anarchism today must be able to think about nature in ways that avoid reproducing the modernist trap of treating it as separate from humans- some raw material “out there” that we can ceaselessly take as exclusively our own inexhaustible means to freedom. We are embedded within ecologies and are ourselves units of alien ecologies.

Many anarchists have engaged with continental philosophy only begrudgingly or not at all. The epithets of idealism, self-importance, separation from everyday concerns, and theoretical self-indulgence, as well as a certain stale boredom, haven’t gone unanswered by certain circles of philosophers, anthropologists and sociologists.

The speculative turn towards materialism and realism offer an opportunity for anarchism to re-engage with a different kind of philosophy. The purpose of a reading group that explores the possibilities of speculative anarchisms will be to assess whether the speculative turn is able to help us make sense of the multiple crises that we find ourselves faced with and whether there is anything that anarchists and anarchist perspectives can make use of in these works. It remains an open question…

Related Posts:

Schizoanalysis as Anthro-Ecology, by Edmund Berger

Guattari’s Eco-Logic, by Bill Rose

Bewilded, by Stephen Duplantier

“In early 2002, following the fall of the Talban, Osama Bin Laden’s abandoned compound in the Afghan city of Kandahar was ransacked. Among the finds was a collection of more than 1500 audio cassettes featuring sermons, speeches, songs and candid recordings of Arab-Afghan fighters, recorded between the 1960s up until the 9/11 attacks. The collection served as an audio library for those who gathered under Bin Laden’s roof between 1997 and 2001 – a key era in Al Qaeda’s development and growth. BBC Security correspondent Gordon Corera speaks to Prof Flagg Miller from the University of California-Davis, who has spent more than a decade translating and analysing the tapes. Through pain-staking detective work Prof Miller has sought to understand what the tapes say about the evolution of Bin Laden, presenting his findings in the book ‘The Audacious Ascetic: What the Bin Laden Tapes Reveal about Al-Qaeda’. The collection features over 200 speakers, with around 20 tapes featuring Bin Laden himself – among them some rarely-heard speeches. While the cassette tape is undoubtedly an instrument for proselytising and propaganda, this collection reveals that the people making recordings seemed to find extraordinary pleasure in capturing the ordinary sounds of life – conversations over breakfast; sounds from the battlefield; wedding celebrations and militants singing Islamic anthems. As diverse as the recordings in the collection are, they offer exceptional insight into Bin Laden’s broad intellectual interests in the years leading up to the September 11 attacks in the United States.”

Originally posted on Installing (Social) Order:


Cajun culture on the bayou in southern Louisiana is being eroded as the bayou beneath them erodes, by some estimates, a football field of land lost per day (BBC reports).

Costal restoration projects are planned long-term, over the next 50 or so years, with some palpable success. The BBC link above links Gulf oil exploration to the quickening of erosion, especially based on land mistreatment without recovery efforts. This Huffington post piece, “Oil and Cultural Genocide,” is a little less equivocal.

According to the BBC piece, another culprit is to be identified in the erosion of Cajun culture and that is the Mississippi River, in particular, the way that the mouth of the mighty Mississippi has been channelled and controlled as it flows into the Gulf. Previously, the logic goes, the Mississippi used to act like a giant land-making mud-hose spraying silt across the Bayou thereby…

View original 48 more words

I was born and grew up in the Baltic marshland
by zinc-gray breakers that always marched on
in twos. Hence all rhymes, hence that wan flat voice
that ripples between them like hair still moist,
if it ripples at all. Propped on a pallid elbow,
the helix picks out of them no sea rumble
but a clap of canvas, of shutters, of hands, a kettle
on the burner, boiling—lastly, the seagull’s metal
cry. What keeps hearts from falseness in this flat region
is that there is nowhere to hide and plenty of room for vision.
Only sound needs echo and dreads its lack.
A glance is accustomed to no glance back

A list of some observations. In a corner, it’s warm.

A glance leaves an imprint on anything it’s dwelt on.
Water is glass’s most public form.
Man is more frightening than his skeleton.
A nowhere winter evening with wine. A black
porch resists an osier’s stiff assaults.
Fixed on an elbow, the body bulks
like a glacier’s debris, a moraine of sorts.
A millenium hence, they’ll no doubt expose
a fossil bivalve propped behind this gauze
cloth, with the print of lips under the print of fringe,
mumbling “Good night” to a window hinge.

I recognize this wind battering the limp grass

that submits to it as they did to the Tartar mass.
I recognize this leaf splayed in the roadside mud
like a prince empurpled in his own blood.
Fanning wet arrows that blow aslant
the cheek of a wooden hut in another land,
autumn tells, like geese by their flying call,
a tear by its face. And as I roll
my eyes to the ceiling, I chant herein
not the lay of that eager man’s campaign
but utter your Kazakh name which till now was stored
in my throat as a password into the Horde.

A navy-blue dawn in a frosted pane

recalls yellow streetlamps in the snow-piled lane,
icy pathways, crossroads, drifts on either hand,
a jostling cloakroom in Europe’s eastern end.
“Hannibal…” drones on there, a worn-out motor,
parallel bars in the gym reek with armpit odor;
as for that scary blackboard you failed to see through,
it has stayed just as black. And its reverse side, too.
Silvery hoarfrost has transformed the rattling bell
into crystal. As regards all that parallel-
line stuff, it’s turned out true and bone-clad, indeed.
Don’t want to get up now. And never did.

You’ve forgotten that village lost in the rows and rows

of swamp in a pine-wooded territory where no scarecrows
ever stand in orchards: the crops aren’t worth it,
and the roads are also just ditches and brushwood surface.
Old Nastasia is dead, I take it, and Pesterev, too, for sure,
and if not, he’s sitting drunk in the cellar or
is making something out of the headboard of our bed:
a wicket gate, say, or some kind of shed.
And in winter they’re chopping wood, and turnips is all they live on,
and a star blinks from all the smoke in the frosty heaven,
and no bride in chintz at the window, but dust’s gray craft,
plus the emptiness where once we loved.

In the little town out of which death sprawled over the classroom map

the cobblestones shine like scales that coat a carp,
on the secular chestnut tree melting candles hang,
and a cast-iron lion pines for a good harangue.
Through the much laundered, pale window gauze
woundlike carnations and kirchen needles ooze;
a tram rattles far off, as in days of yore,
but no one gets off at the stadium anymore.
The real end of the war is a sweet blonde’s frock
across a Viennese armchair’s fragile back
while the humming winged silver bullets fly,
taking lives southward, in mid-July.
As for the stars, they are always on.
That is, one appears, then others adorn the inklike
sphere. That’s the best way from there to look upon
here: well after hours, blinking.
The sky looks better when they are off.
Though, with them, the conquest of space is quicker.
Provided you haven’t got to move
from the bare veranda and squeaking rocker.
As one spacecraft pilot has said, his face
half sunk in the shadow, it seems there is
no life anywhere, and a thoughtful gaze
can be rested on none of these.

Near the ocean, by candlelight. Scattered farms,

fields overrun with sorrel, lucerne, and clover.
Toward nightfall, the body, like Shiva, grows extra arms
reaching out yearningly to a lover.
A mouse rustles through grass. An owl drops down.
Suddenly creaking rafters expand a second.
One sleeps more soundly in a wooden town,
since you dream these days only of things that happened.
There’s a smell of fresh fish. An armchair’s profile
is glued to the wall. The gauze is too limp to bulk at
the slightest breeze.. And a ray of the moon, meanwhile,
draws up the tide like a slipping blanket.

The Laocoön of a tree, casting the mountain weight

off his shoulders, wraps them in an immense
cloud. From a promontory, wind gushes in. A voice
pitches high, keeping words on a string of sense.
Rain surges down; its ropes twisted into lumps,
lash, like the bather’s shoulders, the naked backs of these
hills. The Medhibernian Sea stirs round colonnaded stumps
like a salt tongue behind broken teeth.
The heart, however grown savage, still beats for two.
Every good boy deserves fingers to indicate
that beyond today there is always a static to-
morrow, like a subject’s shadowy predicate.

If anything’s to be praised, it’s most likely how

the west wind becomes the east wind, when a frozen bough
sways leftward, voicing its creaking protests,
and your cough flies across the Great Plains to Dakota’s forests.
At noon, shouldering a shotgun, fire at what may well
be a rabbit in snowfields, so that a shell
widens the breach between the pen that puts up these limping
awkward lines and the creature leaving
real tracks in the white. On occasion the head combines
its existence with that of a hand, not to fetch more lines
but to cup an ear under the pouring slur
of their common voice. Like a new centaur.

There is always a possibility left—to let

yourself out to the street whose brown length
will soothe the eye with doorways, the slender forking
of willows, the patchwork puddles, with simply walking.
The hair on my gourd is stirred by a breeze
and the street, in distance, tapering to a V, is
like a face to a chin; and a barking puppy
flies out of a gateway like crumpled paper.
A street. Some houses, let’s say,
are better than others. To take one item,
some have richer windows. What’s more, if you go insane,
it won’t happen, at least, inside them.

… and when “the future” is uttered, swarms of mice

rush out of the Russian language and gnaw a piece
of ripened memory which is twice
as hole-ridden as real cheese.
After all these years it hardly matters who
or what stands in the corner, hidden by heavy drapes,
and your mind resounds not with a seraphic “do,”
only their rustle. Life, that no one dares
to appraise, like that gift horse’s mouth,
bares its teeth in a grin at each
encounter. What gets left of a man amounts
to a part. To his spoken part. To a part of speech.

Not that I am losing my grip; I am just tired of summer.

You reach for a shirt in a drawer and the day is wasted.

If only winter were here for snow to smother
all these streets, these humans; but first, the blasted
green. I would sleep in my clothes or just pluck a borrowed
book, while what’s left of the year’s slack rhythm,
like a dog abandoning its blind owner,
crosses the road at the usual zebra. Freedom
is when you forget the spelling of the tyrant’s name
and your mouth’s saliva is sweeter than Persian pie,
and though your brain is wrung tight as the horn of a ram
nothing drops from your pale-blue eye.
A Part of Speech by Joseph Brodsky

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