Full color, 60pp
Created December, 2008 for Anne Balsamo‘s Seminar in Media and Design Studies (CNTV-601).
Hard-copy available upon request.
Download the .pdf here.
UPDATE: Those interested in quick gloss of this document can now read the “Six Points” of the Manifesto below.
The Six Points
1. Everything is Triage
This is an emergency. How did we get here? Where are we going? None of us can pretend to know. Time and being are incomprehensible. No matter how fine-grained our imaging systems may become, the great mysteries of our existence will always elude us. This is the baseline of anxiety for all humans. Even in the absence of environmental, economic and social stressors, living this life requires an enormous amount of courage. And for most of us, contemplating these fundamental questions about our origins and fate are viewed as “luxuries.” Bills need to be paid, friends and family need to be cared for, complex social arrangements must be navigated, and so on–
Every car on the highway is occupied. Every building in the city is densely packed with fear, desire, grief and joy. If all of that was gone and there were only two or three of us left, trapped, say, on some alien planet, would we not huddle together and work for our mutual survival? How does the line get drawn, then? Is it merely numbers that turn families into clans and clans into factions and so on down the line, separating us not only from each other but also from the basic facts of our existence? Perhaps this division is only transitory, the effect of competing stories told to while away the time and wash away the terror in a flood of certainty. Let it be our task to do the work to identify and break down these divisions and increase the potential for collective action in the spirit of mutual aid.
2. Technology is a deal with the devil and we are already in Hell
Consider the orangutan, or the dolphin, or the rat. There is no humanity without technology. Our most basic of tools, symbolic communication, is an emergent property of our being. Even feral children draw and sing spontaneously. We did not make this deal with the devil, the one that says we will trade the innocence of the Animal for a shot at immortality and omnipotence via technic; that particular agreement predates us. We may not be Nature’s final impulse in this direction, but it cannot be forgotten that it is the aspiration of all life to survive, and survival means expansion, diversification, adaptation and transformation. Our instinctive tool-making and symbol-weaving practices are as much an expression of Life as Old Man’s Beard or the Yellow-Beaked Cuckoo.
And yet — and herein lies the challenge — while there is no humanity without technology, technology itself is not human. By building, we change our world and force new realities upon ourselves. We must not see ourselves as being in conflict with our creations; and yet conflict arises nonetheless. Technological systems take on energies of their own and seek their propogation. The earth does not care who it is that carries its flag into the Beyond; if robots work best, then robots it will be.
The paradox of our provenance is that, to survive and prosper as technological beings, to bring-into-existence an extrasolar destiny on behalf of Life itself, we have also needed to be distinctly communal in nature and generous in spirit. Despite all our wars and horrors, we could not have made it out of whatever Origin it is we emerged from without deeply caring for one another. The human conscience is no accident. Fealty is an ancient thing; love even older. No one stands up for the humans but the humans themselves.
Perhaps it is this very tension that drives us forward and motivates “innovation.” Having inherited a restrictive, potentially self-defeating contract from our genetic forebearers, we seek to find workarounds and loopholes. Generations pass as these loopholes open and close. The leaders among us seek technological answers to technological problems. We spiral through recursivity, for the devil with whom we have struck this deal lies within us.
3. The future is non-profit
Where will you be in five hundred years? Let us not get bogged down in an impossible-to-resolve discussion about the relative merits of cooperation and competition, welfare states and free markets, the tragedy of the commons, the invisible hand and the rest of it. That battle of inches is for another playing field. It’s an argument between rival ice-making factions at the dawn of refrigeration: you sad, sad, people — let go of it, your time has passed. Scoring points in a debate about how best to structure an economy or galvanize a populace might make you feel better about yourself and advance you in this or that econo-sexual realm, but how does the Old Push and Pull really play out in your community in the Long Run?
(And never mind the unfolding collapse of the global economy, the revelation that we have all been party to a gigantic, murderous Ponzi scheme. This should not be a surprise to anyone. The greatest evils are the ones that escape identification.)
No, the notion that the Future is non-profit is not a political one. Let’s call it scientific instead. Pragmatic. Honest. What outcomes can humanity really expect in the centuries to come? This author proposes two scenarios. In the first, we see an increasingly fuedal arrangement, with food and fuel gathering around centers of wealth protected by military power. On the periphery, mass starvation, murder and disease predominate. Geopolitics becomes defined by resource wars and factionalism. We already seem well on our way to this destination. But it is not my belief that this is where we will ultimately arrive.
Rather, I propose a second possibility. In this scenario, neofuedalism continues to emerge in the manner suggested above, but finds that it is incompatible with the fruits of its own endeavor. Militarism made the Internet, and the Prodigal disapproves of the Parent. The great instrument of power, namely the withholding and transfer of Capital, has always depended on its lieutenant, the Minister of Information. And loose lips sink ships. In this new age, lies are easier to tell, but secrets harder to keep. The mendacious will be exposed. Calumny will fold back upon itself. And as the crowds huddling around the castles dwindle in number — some slipping out and into the Wastes beyond, others losing life and limb to incursions from without — the blame will fall squarely on the Center.
This is the Long View, and we must recognize that it is not in our nature to act in the interests of descendents ten generations hence. Let it be said that, despite his own interests in Extreme Posterity and Vavilovian Seed Banks and Millenium Clocks, this author is not advocating a multi-century strategy-of-living. Indeed, quite the opposite. We are tactical beings. We work best when we work provisionally (see “Point the Fourth”). It will be a while yet before this cycle of Exploitation, Privation, Revelation and Revolution (EPRR) radiates through the totality of our experience. But right now, we can observe it playing out in the Inner Circles. And we can Act, and in our action, maybe, just maybe, lay the groundwork for generations to come.
4. Provisional living provides best
The larger the plan, the more replete it is with errors. Telescope through time. Imagine the weather in a week, a month. Consider the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns (for what discussion of strategy and tactics would be complete without a reference to D.R.?). It is our tendency to personalize things, and therefore unsurprising that we should ascribe the shifts in fortune of nations and corporations and crime syndicates to the careful planning of their overlords. But, as any historian will tell you, the story of warfare or capital or conspiracy is less about the grand plans that succeed than it is about those that fail. Whatever may be said about the victors of History and the way that it has been written, it is always the Opportunists that win the day.Hubris is one of our oldest themes. Words lose their meaning the more you try to use them to bend the world to your will. Envision the best future possible, but do not worship it or it will destroy you. This is the true meaning of the old admonishment against idolotry. As soon as an objective ceases to be provisional, it becomes dangerous. Have your aims and see them through, but keep your wits about you.
5. Story encompasses all
Story is the most potent technology in existence. Stories move fast and weigh nothing. But beware: they can shred rainforests. For a story is what an army tells itself as it sharpens its machetes.
“This is what we’re going to do. This is why. This is what will happen.”
Stories motivate. All kinds of darkness and light.
6. Art is a light
You know it’s true.
More: download the .pdf