The Use and Abuse of Models

In response to recent pushback on patchwork theory Xenogothic asks the following questions:
perhaps the problem here is the very thinking of patchwork as a model in the first place… Who says it is one? Is this assumption based on its reimagining of our present cartographies? Those cartographies are complex and not just territorial. State and self must be re-imagined in tandem and first that requires a new perspective — one at 1:1 scale, in order to let the real back in.
My initial response to these concerns is to suggest that it is imperative that we see patchwork as both model/diagram (heuristic, blueprint, strategy) and as something to be empirically enacted (as material configuration, infrastructure, economic apparatus, territory).
How many times have we read/heard the admonition that ‘the map is not the territory’? Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski remarked that “the map is not the territory” and that “the word is not the thing”, encapsulating his view that an abstraction derived from something, or a reaction to it, is not the thing itself. Korzybski held that many people do confuse maps with territories, that is, confuse models of reality with reality itself. This, of course, is a truism that seems obvious when stated, but can often be forgotten in our attempts to understand complex problems and then communicate about them when seeking solutions. Xenogothic rightly refers to    Jorge Luis Borges’s one-paragraph short story “On Exactitude in Science” (1946), as lesson on the tensions and challenges (and often absurdness) of modelling and exactitude.
That said, I do think we desperately need pragmatic models of patchwork to even start the process of re-imagining what massively complex ecosystemic social assemblages are, and can be, free (as possible) from existing ideologies of statecraft, community, etc. We also require technical models to go about the work of engineering and administering actually existing patches. Without both of these types of interacting modeling projects how could we possible track patch dynamics in ways required for operational efficacy, or cognitively navigate the patches of which we are enfolded within?
These technical and pragmatic dimensions of patchwork theorizing and modelling cannot be ignored. Models are how we hook rationality to action, how we diagram fields of problematization and possibly, and how we install functional algorithmic coherence in situ. If we don’t continually traverse the circuits/process of action, awareness and communication – via perceiving, modelling, working, revising, working, perceiving, modelling, working, revising – we run the risk of continuing the reactive and maladaptive ad hoc nature of social organizing practiced since the emergence of agriculture. We also risk failing to adequately entice and activate our agent-participant’s understanding of what they are a part of and how they can coherently engage with-in a patchwork.
Of course, full agent-citizen understanding is not possible in any definitive sense (ape cognition being what it is), nor is it necessary for operating actually existing patches, but relatively accurate modelling/diagramming is required for engineering, and for the kinds of social coherence (communicability unto coordinated action and “buy in”) that leads to minimally required group solidarity (e.g. what ethnocentricity has traditionally afforded, and what nationalism enacts).
Another important consideration here is that modelling is required if we are interested in assisting others to reproduce – with the necessary modifications to fit bioregional specificity – patches in a similar vein as ours. Reproducing like-oriented patches would help bolster our own patch viability via networking cross-patch alliances resulting in trade, mutual protection pacts, etc.
Complex socio-ecological situations call for adequately complex cognitive and technical models [plural] that navigate the twin-errors of reductionism (which would fail to track the flows and functions of everything from food-chains to human cognition to swarm dynamics) and the kinds of over-articulation that outstrips our capacity for comprehension, resulting in systemic psychological and social dissonance.
And as Edmund Berger comments on the same post:
“Maybe a way that clarifies things is by thinking patchwork not as operating system per se, but apprehending it as a temporal force – that is, we continue to think “patches” themselves in their spatial configurations (“blocks” of space-time, per D&G in A Thousand Plateaus, would be the most accurate presentation imo), while the “patchwork” is this ungroundedness through which these fluctuations unfold, and ultimately annihilates them (not necessarily in a “dark” manner, but as the kind of Dionysian shattering that the 3rd synthesis of time inflects). Maybe this gets us closer to bridging the gaps to the Deleuzian patchwork, tangled as it is to both active experimentation and positive affirmation…”
We know that any particular patch is much more than its abstract diagram and related models, just as we should (for the reasons outlined above) be aware that patchworking as personal-to-social endeavor seems to require such ontographies to navigate effectively.

13 responses to “The Use and Abuse of Models

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  2. I’ve mentioned him before, I think, but have you ever checked out Kevin Carson? His works – especially The Homebrew Industrial Revolution – has been on of my biggest influences. The follow-up, The Desktop Regulatory State, is a big exploration of different models and prototypes of systems made possible by repurposing existing technologies and taking advantage of emergent trends.

    The Homebrew Industrial Revolution –

    The Desktop Regulatory State –

    • This seems exactly what I need right now. I’m all over this! Thank you Ed!

      Also, know that I would like you to feel free to use SZ to blog any time. Cross-post or come up with something specifically for this platform, whatever. Just saying…

  3. my question to all the patch-workers is where have all the militias/weapons gone to in the models (we know all too well where they are in the actual)?

    • I’m wondering if you are prefiguring what security must be (militias, armies) before asking what it could be. Security is certainly an important aspect to tinkering/salvaging together alternative communities. But what it looks like on the ground will depend on if a given patch is a municipality hooked to a large regional network (province or state), or a national system, or seeks to be a completely independent city-state. I hope to have some posts directly addressing the issue of security sooner rather than later.

      • I was asking about what already exists, nobody on the patchwork side that I’ve seen seems to address how the people with military/arms power/force are brought down to the level of patchworkers, but yes a I noted on the other comment thread safety, and risk management are also serious concerns that seem mostly unaddressed so would be interested to hear what novel/workable solutions we might come to try. I think patchworks are assumed to be independent otherwise they are really just a municipality, it’s a sort of post-state fantasy.

        • Agreed re: the crucial issue of security. The core issue being, for me, who will have the guns/power after the state military fails? How is security ensured within neofeudal chaos? What “sustainable” defense tech, tools, and techniques will be on hand to maintain patch functioning? Let’s talk about that.

          I’m unconvinced that sub-patches (towns, cities) need to be, or even can be completely independent from larger patchworks (regional networks), especially considering the bioregional character of sustainable food production. That’s exactly the issue: working out what kinds of systems are manageable during and in promotion of the happening uneven collapse. Do we have time to start patchworking for resilience in ways that anticipate the challenges you and others have already outlined? How can we gather the right components and begin to enact patchwork in ways that start to PROACTIVELY draw people away from (exit) those systems that are collapsing and causing collapse before we are REACTIVELY forced to?

          Perhaps we can ask: how do we retro-fit the future? How do we act now so that we can BOTH intelligently survive what is already going to be the case, and work towards making what’s going to be the case a little more survivable?

          My approach is to convert or create municipalities into sovereign patchworks capable of adapting to ruination, and then link them together slowly alter on to enact positive rhizomatic flows and governmentality. For me, the kind of sovereign city-states I would ideally seek would take an enormous, maybe even fascist, break from existing governance – and cultivated via unprecedented technocratic change. Alternatives to that include Walking Dead type enclaves in towns, or even and neighborhoods for so many. All this is an open question depending upon how we undertake social design going forward, and I for one would like to start building patches now that might be able to response to some of challenges we will be facing.

          • I can’t think of a good example of a military walking away from power (and their weapons) and those sorts of relations are way outside of my studies but I think as we watch governments fall/fail it’s a theme/reality that comes up every time.
            I don’t think cities can escape their states (see London and NYC for example) but they will likely outlast them in some form or another so yeah the question is how to separate as much as possible in the meantime. Not sure what “unprecedented technocratic change” could consist of (what are the actual means?) or how that would gain public buy in that is somehow better (more democratic or more sustainable, are those in tension? and so on).
            Am reminded of this that I just came across:
            “A great deal of the theoretical macroeconomics done by those professing to strive for rigor and generality, neither starts from empirical observation nor concludes with empirically verifiable prediction …

            The typical approach is to write down a set of assumptions that seem in some sense reasonable, but are not subject to empirical test … and then derive their implications and report them as a conclusion …

            What then do these exercises teach us about the world? … If empirical testing is ruled out, and persuasion is not attempted, in the end I am not sure these theoretical exercises teach us anything at all about the world we live in …

            Serious economists who respond to questions about how today’s policies will affect tomorrow’s economy by taking refuge in technobabble about how the question is meaningless in a dynamic games context abdicate the field to those who are less timid. No small part of our current economic difficulties can be traced to ignorant zealots who gained influence by providing answers to questions that others labeled as meaningless or difficult. Sound theory based on evidence is surely our best protection against such quackery.”

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