In times of crisis, the solutions are created out of the ideas and intellectual infrastructure that has already been developed. This is clear from analysis of the neoliberal school, which began with the first generation of think tanks to develop and pursue political objectives under the guise of objective economic analysis. Of course, in hindsight this turned out to be anything but objective, as it was generally wrong for obvious reasons and it systematically benefited rich donors and corporate interests alike. This is clear from looking at the growth in wealth disparity over the last decades, which has grown to the point of seriously threatening the political climate over the following decades. The politics of the dispossessed are not kind to the current order, they are strengthened by chaos and also produce great upheavals. This stands as a rational concern for the disinterested analyst.
What I wish to parse out is this very contentious fault line between eras past and our own. Some people refer to it as the proximity crisis but this is just one aspect of a simultaneous and worldwide collapse of distance. Physical distance was cut down by cars and boats and airplanes, while information distance was cut down by the printing press, the telegraph, and the Internet. Today, the front line in this conflict is found in the world of finance, which resists valiantly against pure submission into abstraction. Money sent by internet is not merely a data packet, it must satisfy complicated and jumbled procedures if it is to be accepted by a reputable financial institution. And only reputable financial institutions are allowed to trade internationally, that’s the rule. International efforts to cut back on money laundering and terrorist funding have slowed the movement of money through digital means for decades now. It is therein that I find the fiercest struggle of state interests against the connective forces of the Internet, the effort to maintain the boundedness and special territorial rules associated with money.
The difference between geographic territory and Internet territory from the perspective of the state is problematic in the sense that it is cost-prohibitive to secure and thus to satisfy traditional notions of sovereignty, which depend on boundedness. Yet in the Internet, which has properties of a scaleless network, fundamental notion of boundary and distinction between two territories is complicated by simultaneous proximity with every other territory, nullifying the notion of distance. A problem that is trivially solved by the dawn of the first city-states: borders, patrolling armed forces, and walls, resists the world’s most powerful and their persistent efforts to secure cyberspace. The reason is that one deals with fundamentally different topological spaces, and these necessarily determine the actions available to the bodies acting on these spaces.
The internet as territory is more similar to multidimensional foam than it is to the plane. This has profound implications for those institutions that transfer or that originate wholly within the space of the Internet. Many studies such as Barabasi’s choose to model the Internet as a network, where notions of centrality and degree of connectivity are more consistent than boundedness and adjacency in traditional 2-dimensional territory.
A corollary of this principle determines the behavior of actors within the system, and particularly that of the state, which is intrinsically tied to the notions of expansiveness and boundedness that I propose to be meaningless in the Internet as territory. With this in mind I set out to outline the topological space of the Internet, and contrast it the understanding that countries have of their territories, as Cartesian coordinates on a plane.
It satisfies to show that in hyperdimensional territories as the Internet carves out, the fundamental problem is not that of demarcation as it is in planar, horizontal, nation-state territory. Indeed the notion of demarcation loses meaning. The fundamental problem is that of search, of finding in what is otherwise radically homogenous and nondifferentiable substance, devoid of intuitively accessible parallels to measurements of distance, scale, color or flag. And while obvious now that Google and a few others (but Google mostly) cashed in on the reward of solving it, the problem is in reality far from solved. The real problem of search is not just determining the path to the many diverse nodes that exist on cyberspace, as we could call websites, multimedia, group chats, servers, etc, but rather that of searching through the flows that transit through cyberspace so that these can be allowed or denied access. And it is in this regard that even basic encryption stymies all but very motivated actors, and even then only in specific instances. Passive enforcement of flows is impossible in this scenario, and this is what is meant by Nick Szabo when he describes the leveling of power that encryption plus internet gives the individual, which is now capable of subverting very powerful actors, such as states, in access and transmission of information, a historical outlier.
Internet topology renders the exercise of traditional sovereignty impossible, which is control of bodies within some defined territory, because territory as such does not translate into this space, and because the space is itself supported by these very flows. To resist against the flows coming towards and away from some arbitrary territory is akin to razing down one’s own territories, for you destroy what was by removing yourself from it. The idea then is not to set conditions for inclusion, but rather for exclusion. That is the difference between a whitelist and a blacklist. One defines a whitelist for a country as the list of people that can get a visa and enter the country legally. A blacklist consists of a ruleset that declares conditions for exclusion, which allows flows to take place without the bureaucratic process that updating a whitelist (or getting a visa) usually amount to. Whitelists are the natural choice in planar space because territories in these spaces exclude by default. In horizontal spaces like the Internet, the blacklist makes more sense. And even then, the problem of search and differentiating between flows one wants to keep out and benign flows remains unsolved in the face of public encryption standards. What was done was instead to regulate that which was most abstract and thus readily absorbed by digital symbolic systems: money. And we see this most clearly at the level where the internet is most subject to our territorial limits today, in its interface with money the power of the state projects as much as possible, and remains a vestigial link to territorial space in the Internet.
The state, however, does not stay still, it continuously evolves and tries to secure ever greater security for its own powers. This is related to the notions of Foucaultian notions of sovereignty, which took a turn in the last century towards one of controlling the bioinformational environment of the citizens as opposed to mere political loyalty.
‘Modern’ governmentality marks a shift in discourses of rule away from the state’s sovereign power–its ability to make life and/or render it bare–and toward its fostering nad regularizing of life in biopolitics. To this end biopolitics requires that the conditions of life of the population be made visible and assayed, and practical knowledge be made available to improve them. As a result, with modern governmentality we see the emergence of both panoptic surveillance and numerous specialized discourses–of education, political economy, demography, health, morality, and others–the effect of which is to make populations knowable and subject to the regularization that will make for the ‘happy life’.
What the hand giveth it also taketh away. Even as the powers of individuals have been permanently augmented thanks to the rising access to incredible information networks, as well as asymmetric encryption tools which render access to this information accessible in practice to nearly everyone already connected. However, we also know that a very small fraction of the population ever takes advantage of this ability, and that most private companies are allied to the general tendency of the state to “make populations knowable,” through expansive and systematic measurement of political will, location, and association, as well as the overarching apparatus of biological control, which includes the healthcare system as well as the control apparatus, understood as education and prison systems. The state has already vastly expanded into the borderless sphere of influence, where the conflicts between states over propaganda serve as proof of the increasing relevance of this theater. I argue that it is primarily financial flows that serve as instrument of capture and control for both citizens and other states.
The flow of money from planar space to hyperdimensional foam is tightly regulated because the primary competitive advantage of those that control the flows is precisely the exclusion of those that they compete against. Control over the Bank of International Settlements, SWIFT, the Petrodollar market, Black Rock, etc etc is more than sufficient to intricate state interests into what otherwise should account to the settling of abstract flows. Usually these are states under sanctions, terrorists, criminals, and the like. And the infrastructure of money is tightly coupled with the state, to the extent that the state gets to write the blacklist as it pleases. There is no neutrality to the system. Bitcoin emerges as a notion of money that is coupled to the hyperdimensional space that it inhabits. By virtue of its residence, bitcoin reproduces through means that are available to individuals and small groups. The language of guerrilla takes over. Bitcoin is a line of flight from planar space into millionth-dimensional space. Money as a vector of individual interests disaggregates from localized bubbles and penetrates and synchronizes with the rest of the world. The key distinction is one of sheer speed, and with competitive edge the incentive to participate in abstract, digital transactions will become more more necessary and take up an ever greater portion of the economy. And for now it will satisfy the elusive dreams of cypherpunks and hippie anarchists: that there may be no borders, that information may travel freely, that people may associate freely and treat each other as equals. But as the state too grows more powerful and adept at countering the release valve of bitcoin and other examples of applied cryptography, perhaps it will only be sufficient to maintain some degree of control over one’s financial future. In a global climate of increasing financial instability that borders on the edge of collapse, there is now more than ever the means of exit and therefore keeping the state accountable. Let us hope that as development and adoption of the technology progresses, we may steal an ever greater sliver of freedom from this growing state apparatus.
The displacement of the political consequences of wage labor relations away from the metropolis is not an incidental feature of capital accumulation, as the economic purists aligned to both the bourgeoisie and the workerist left assert. It is rather the fundamental condition of capital as nothing other than an explicit aggression against the masses. […] Capital has always sought to distance itself in reality—i.e. geographically—from this brutal political infrastructure. After all, the ideal of bourgeois politics is the absence of politics, since capital is nothing other than the consistent displacement of social decision-making into the marketplace [thus depoliticizing it].Nick Land. Fangued Noumena. Kant, Capital and the Prohibition of Incest: A Polemical Introduction to the Configuration of Philosophy and Modernity.
The modern system of globalized capitalism is the final step taken by the metropolitan bourgeoisie in distancing itself from the proletariat. To the comedic point where the notion of worker rights are exclusively third-world problems, the first-world seems increasingly distinguished by unemployment, distinctly non-worker issues, ironically arising from excess import of pliable third-world labor. An interesting consequence of this externalizations of politics is the rapid devolution of internal politics from the vigorous ambitions of past political projects to a conceited and pathetic politicizing of trivial injustices. One can see that this is by design, since by removing the conditions for oppression one also removes the motivating kernel of politics, real violence.
The search for violence is one that continues to motivate politics, but we seek it instead in everyday motions, empty words and trivial gestures. To wonder at the lost dynamism of politics nowadays is to wonder where violence went. Where you find violence you find real politics. The truly oppressed have no voice and no vote, just as they did in the Ancien Regime, and today slavery is perpetuated by dollar-denominated debt instead of iron chains, as capitalism exploits the loophole of outsourcing exploitation to avoid democratic accountability, in the peripheries the capitalist machine feasts on wage-slave and serf labor, and for close to a century great part of the conditions that led to the developed world’s success were extracted in sub-zero sum outcomes for the Third World.
By removing the source of global demand from the mechanisms of oppression that produce these goods, i.e. by externalizing the political cost of acquisition of material wealth, a stopgap between the elite Imperial states and cheap Third World labor is created. If they revolt, at most they isolate themselves and remove their surplus flows from the feedtube of Imperial consumers–which, depending on the severity, motivates the global powers to push for economic sanctions, “regime change” or war. Crucially, if this happens at the periphery this does not affect supply by much, and these revolutions do nothing to change the conditions that make peripheral country elites eager to extract as much as possible for nice cut. It’s no wonder that developing countries are such hotbeds for corruption, at least if you have the right resources to trade with. And if they have oil or any crucial commodity then you can count on military supremacy. But let’s face it, it’s hardly even necessary. It’s a helluva effective system.
The risk of politics is hedged by exporting it evenly throughout the Third World, from where the seat of capital is insulated from the oppressive conditions of peripheral countries. As examples, all the civil disobedience in Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador all seek to change the circumstances of local oppression, without realizing that by succeeding and redrafting the balance of privilege and justice in their system they will have done nothing to change their condition as competitors in a global labor marketplace, whereby easing economic inequality–the natural consequence of extractive, low value-added economies–all they manage is to become less competitive and thus less favoured by the corresponding feudal lord, mon seigneur. China’s CP and the United States’s FedGov may speak different languages, but they play equivalent games. The very language of democratic resistance used to express the goals of popular politics in Latin America does not satisfy the conditions needed to exit the globalized economy–because conflict is inscribed in dated notions of the nation-state, political processes cannot permeate upwards far enough for the root cause to be affected and thus neutralize through democratic mechanisms. The nation state is obsolescent in an era of enforced interdependence.
It is useful to begin with a simple syllogism. The Truth, conceived as a set of individual truths, is a vast space that contains every event of the universe, but also all the meaning that could be found in these moments, and the operative logic (or metaphysics) of whatever exists beyond what we call “the universe”.
It is clear that not everything that we know to be true is true, lest there be no further use of men that practice and advance the sciences. Yet clearly some proportion must be true (except under the Gnostic, and most pessimistic views!) and so it follows that not only must we go about understanding the world through apprehension of the Truth, but also by identifying the non-truth taught in our creeds and schools.
It is easy to see why we might regard the truth we rightfully see as True, for why otherwise regard it as such, if only by very fortuitous accident. And similarly it is easy to see that much (if not most) of the Truth is still left for us to find. What I argue herein is that truth misapprehended is fatal; for whatever Truth might hurt you will leave you no better off by knowing it (as in knowing one’s time of death), while in those circumstances where knowing is of any help, it is by contingent causes that one is spared, for the ultimate cause of evil is chance or intelligence itself. And evil intelligence benefits as much by Truth known as wholesome intelligence, and perhaps even more so. But by no means do I mean that Truth should not be sought, but rather that for every Truth sought and found we should purge and drown many (and, I argue, more dangerous) false truths.
Leaving syllogism aside, the reason false truth is such a pernicious problem is that there is much more untruth than truth, and ever more as we rely on truth (as we known to us) to make our judgement we make Reason bear the load of our lives, for it is thanks to reason that the most dangerous type of untruth comes to be, and that is through the misapplication (or suppression of) ulterior Truth by reason.
The difference with competing methods of apprehending truth is stark. One might regard Tradition as a body of knowledge produced by heuristic learning, in much the same way that evolution, or a convolutional neural network, might perform gradient descent, as judged by a given criteria of fitness, towards some optima. The problem with heuristic learning is that it is incredibly effective, but inescrutable. Reason does not benefit from heuristics because reason is concerned not with how things are but with why things are. The collection of data about how things are is of course a necessary first step, but unless one hazards a reason why, then you will discard the data as useless. And therein lies the problem. We have a lot more data than we have use for. And man is entranced by numbers. Numbers make man believe that he can unleash the power of capital S Science when he wishes, by ritualistically applying the necessary statistical formulations and reflecting on the “existing literature”. For these an other reasons, I hold that science is itself cause of its antithesis, and therefore a beast more dangerous than rational reductionists (materialists) take for granted.
Any type of Truth, true or untrue, becomes weighted down by the enterprises and reputations of those that uphold it, it grows with inertia that allows it to overcome stronger refutations. This in itself is not an error, but rather product of the assumption behind statistical sciences: that what we observe as confirming our truth further convinces us of the truthfulness of the explanation we give to some data. Through human enterprise we find ways to make Truth act as wedges, as rudimentary machines that extract utility, but often just profit, from underlying reality, seeking to split it open to look at the undiluted core. The problem, as we will find, is that humans have a way of manufacturing lowercase truth, which is simply by believing in any idea, because so long as enough people believe the same idea, this idea will sustain itself for surprisingly long, therein leading us to appraise it by proxy of historical record. But past results cannot be representative of future results, as every kid today learns when he tries his luck in the stock market.
It is for this reason that great enterprises and even nations collapse due to universal hysteria, because in the exhilarating ride towards collapse, untruth replaces truth in a self-reinforcing descent towards tragedy. And the reason we believe these truths is that when we came to replace Tradition with Science we created an engine that not only sought to dismantle and disprove all that we had come to know, for science is satisfied only by total saturation, but which also created a linguistics, a dialect that if spoken properly, if trained to mimic, could very well create the illusion of truth, not forever but long enough to bring us all ruin. For when the Devil lies it does so with a language we understand and worship even. It lies with statistics and graphics, with emotive but reasonable words, with the replacement of common sense with expert advice. But what do expert concern themselves other than for securing and multiplying their own jobs? And what else will we have left when scarcely a thing is left untouched by the intrusions and polite concern of experts, which are too often cited by far more dangerous types, like politicians?
The [expert -> policy] pipeline is what defines the danger that science poses, because science was never meant to inform politics, since science itself has recognized that it can only track truth by disinterested inquiry, and that very often it will be wrong, for it is by being wrong that it progresses. And this does not mix well with the elaboration and selection of policy choices. Just ask anyone what the LHC was supposed to bring about, nothing would have been better received than results that stymied scientists, for at least this would have amounted to a possibility of progress. But when our system of science, our compendium of useful heuristics, stop being challenged by reality, we know we have hit the hard limit of our ability to more closely approximate truth, for the moment this body of knowledge ceases to be challenged by reality, it becomes Tradition, and therefore we can rest assured that our philosophical and mathematical systems are all in agreement with our beliefs, for the only testament of Truth, as Plato recognized, is timelessness and perfection.
Is it then the case that the sciences, when taken to the limit, amount to tradition? How else would we come to regard the sciences if they had explained all Truth? But did we not define tradition as the culmination of heuristic learning through time? I hope I can convince you, dear reader, that science and tradition amount to essentially the same thing, taken to the limit, for reason is the method and not the result of science, and science taken to the limit is nothing if not just a statistical model of reality. But the question that we sought out to answer, the elusive why remains beyond our grasp. For the why is firmly beyond human understanding, recognition of why’s transcendence is what gives tradition, and by this I mean non-rational systems of knowledge, an edge over science. Because these systems, by recognizing mysteries all around, conceive of man in proper relation to his environs, whereby man is put in proper relation to the supra-human, which can only be called God, that is present in the world around him.
Why paranoia? Because one must practically apply antisocial standards of suspicion and irreverence towards authority in order to overcome the learned helplessness and narrative capture by the information-industrial complex (the Cathedral). It is not sufficient to apply learned skepticism, because a skeptical deconstruction of the narrative is still subservient to the narrative, insofar as it is concerned with proving or denying constituent aspects of the narrative with independently-sourced facts. But soon enough one is met with the problem that there are simply too many competing narratives. There is no single simple “true” narrative that can withstand scrutiny and is simple to triangulate other than the main, institutionalized narratives. This is not ordinarily a deep take, but this is generally because people just find a “niche” market for their beliefs, which rarely benefit from the transition. This is because all popular media, insofar as it is easy to consume, or capable of passive ingestion, is dishonest. This does not surprise anyone, only when they realize what they too consume lies. Any media that does not challenge you with its intake is likely a form of propaganda, because it is impossible to approach anything vaguely resembling the truth with standard media.
I would posit that there are only two ways of transmitting actual information, which by necessity is complex and nuanced: symbolically, through highly encoded means (hermeticism), or through overpowering (and soul-crushing) detail. Either way, you will not be consuming this casually, which means that unless you are struggling and indeed suffering during your ingestion of information, you are not advancing but receding! Question yourself: why would it be in anyone’s interest not merely to inform you, but to do so for free? Further consider that in today’s media landscape most people don’t even choose to be informed, but are rather shown what their peer group believes, which will only more profoundly enforce in-group mentality. This is only one of many reasons why political factions have polarized than ever before. Hence my paranoid solution: don’t trust anything easy. Don’t trust anything on cable TV, don’t read the news, don’t even try to browse a book published in the last 50 years for God’s sake. Only lay eye on what your network recommends to you. Exercise rigorous informational hygiene. Scrutinize and sanitize all your info stimuli the way you scrub your veggies during the quarantine. Above all, trust only those people that are crazy enough to built their own operating system from scratch, using only the oldest and most esoteric knowledge.
I’ve been caught up reading some extreme right wing forum posts, and I have developed some thoughts on the matters that he speaks about. Where I find the most value in these sort of extremist circles is in adequately appraising the level of paranoia that is required in information-toxic environments to find anything reliable. But then again, by most definitions I decidedly inhabit these circles, but I feel the need to explain myself for any reader with piety towards my humble self. So let us go on into this forum poaster’s mind, in particular about a topic that I find extremely relevant to some other pursuits, that of understanding the nature of geopolitical spacetime.
I recall reading Buchanan’s ”Right From the Beginning” several years ago and being struck by the fact that he basically echoed the pre-War, America First platform and exhibited a strong affinity for Rothbard’s fiscal policies. He’s basically a Hamiltonian federalist that has an axe to grind with the welfare state and cosmopolitan ethics. That tells me that he doesn’t have many qualms with 1865… other than the way its historical legacy is interpreted and presented by the Establishment. Buchanan’s waxing and waning with respect to mainstream Republicanism isn’t (IMO) merely cynical politicking on his part… I think he is just that: A Republican. Pat wants to time warp back to 1935 and hit the freeze button on Dr. Who’s pocketwatch… he is not an opponent of the Modern state, and hence, is not a Traditionalist. Ask yourself why the Paleos so zealously defend the Westphalian paradigm… most of them seem very enamored with the State. Its begs the question as to whether or not the lot of them can be considered to be genuine Traditionalists.
What is the reason that the “traditionalist”, which means in this context the real rightist, not that heel conservative that is only meant to act as antagonist to rile up the crowd, not at all because the outcome of the confrontation is preordained. Related to the notion that Eric Weinstein introduced to me with his keyfabe. It is therefore clear that in this context, what I could call Nomos is the conjunction of the generator function of evolutionary process yielding an effective form of government. Insofar as Westphalian notions of the state are conjured, they exist only as mere instances of a greater fundamental building block, which is clearly not nationalism. Nationalism is product of a recent transformation of the human mind, one that reduced the cultural and social ties from man to his family and neighbors, while tethering him to his nation. Patriotism is thus not the original instinct of protecting one’s kin, but that of satisfying some abstract ideal.
There is therefore some notion that the state is fit for some peoples and for some time periods, that is under certain conditions the state is the most effective political unit. The political unit qua units is of course the army, and today we can certify that any well organized (that is, bureaucratic) army that exists defacto constitutes a state. But of course nowadays there is an ever growing number of political units that decompress out of 2D space and onto more exotic forms. The first real threat to the Westphalian notions of sovereignty had to be the multinational corporation. Even during the Second World War, multinational chemical agents bought and sold from either side with impunity, above the political wartime interests of their respective countries, and insulated from retaliation. Nowadays, most people can launch an insurrectionist legal and monetary system from their laptop thanks to the immense power of cryptography.
What ultimately to get from this? That there is no necessary link between conservative political thought and the notion of the Westphalian sovereign nation-state. We may soon enter a period where the environmental conditions foster adaptive mutations in the bodies that we recognize as political entities. And perhaps it is over this possibility, one which threatens the logic that has built the current order, that opens a portal to a new system of politics that adequately represents reality.
Reality is catching up on us and our map is being revealed to be a false and deceptive representation of a reality that we’re increasingly unable to understand. The territory revolts and the map loses meaning. The map goes out of date, but the territory never goes out of fashion. Don’t go walking out the side of a cliff, face buried in a map. Want to start a revolution? Look outside.
A quote that I found interesting:
“Nuclear weaponry cuts a convergent path into purity of conception. No hydrogen bomb has yet been used against an enemy (or “in anger” as the singularly inappropriate expression goes). Thermonuclear warheads remain among a select category of virtual weapons, alongside a variety of chemical and biological agents, whose usage has been exclusively diplomatic, or even philosophical. The value of this military machinery is strictly counter-factual. Those ‘possible worlds’ in which they have been operationalized support little, if any, value of any kind. Weaponry supporting their potentiality floats the ontological option of extreme negative utility. They are – in the most rigorous sense – nightmare generators.”
Another one, and quite evocative. Whatever warfare might turn towards in the 21st century, it will no doubt disgust even our most bloodthirsty ancestors:
“Much criticism of the Cold War nuclear arms race already configured it as an existential risk, before the term had been coined. Between an X-risk and an extreme deterrent there no definite boundary. The difference is technical. Deterrence is a mode of employment. It uses negative utility. In this respect anything bad could be useful, were it not that a deterrent requires a trigger, under the control of the negotiating agent (at the point of negotiation). To threaten a potential aggressor with an asteroid strike makes no sense, unless an asteroid strike can be delivered. The same holds for geological disasters in general. All of which means that the acquisition of engineering capabilities on the largest scales, such as geo-engineering, weather control, climate regulation, and asteroid defenses – perhaps developed explicitly to avert potential existential risks – will inevitably expand the domain of deterrence options. In other words, techno-economic progress and the escalation of deterrence infrastructure are only formally differentiated. There is no materially persuasive way to improve the world that does not – on its occult side – widen the horizons of geopolitical horror.”
Whatever technology we might devise to save ourselves from natural catastrophe, we will also use on our enemies. What stops us from deterring ourselves to death?
In this general tone of collapse, I wanted to reference that incredibly moving essay that Eric Weinstein read in today’s podcast. What is the most incredible thing that we could be witnessing, and that no one is even reacting to? Why is it that I have always identified with the screamer? Is this not what I am trying to do with this blog? I state clearly the following fact: I have witnessed horrors beyond belief. Black Mirror is basically the best-case scenario, one where the authoritarian germ of consumer electronics shackle us in an iron-bound social contract, the compromise between freedom and surviving whatever we have in store. But we are realizing the fragility of the system, all of our models are broken, they have time and again proven their uselessness.
I think that in general there is enough evidence to posit that there is a serious crisis brewing. It is crazy not to realize this. Many people have, in fact, realized it, but as Eric so poignantly put, there is a big difference between believing and merely knowing something is true. When I speak with some people that I find reasonable about the challenges that we are likely to phase, they have always found a way to believe it temporarily, to be moved and scared even, and yet to return to an indifference, sink back into a dream-like state, separated from you by a transparent screen. We have not found an easy way to make someone change their mind. I believe Kantbot makes an allusion to Habermas’ book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere where he draws an important distinction between ideology and world view. World view is all-encompassing, and ideology is often a more superficial compromise with polite society. World view, on the other hand, determines your perception of reality, and decidedly social and political reality. These realities are often impossible to fully unravel. It is an unfortunate quality of the problems we face, existential problems, that they threaten our entire wold view. And this is why we need a radical new system that is capable of adapting to changes that threaten the very structure of the system we design to take care of them.
I don’t know what to do about any of this. I know that I am developing a generating function of awareness that is only going to reduce my fitness for polite society. My only real options are to exit it or to partition myself into multiple homonyms that pursue disjoint goals. The schizoid solution, we might say, to the problem of the Universal Conspiracy. That conspiracy so traumatic that it becomes revolting to our very core. We either let it fly, bored to death, or collapse crying only to forget about it in a week. I have only one solution, for now to containerize these feelings of despair, and plan my exit.
We live in the age of the perpetual emergency. We will never cease to be reminded to wash our hands, wear our PPE, and serve our employers from our homes when possible! Thank you darling for the right to work from home! And lecherous I must watch as essential workers bring me my food, not trusting their cleanliness and question the efficacy of their hygienic protocol. I resort to submerging my fresh fruit, my precious greens into poisonous liquids, chlorine and I stare back, the trembling backs which prevented civil society from collapsing, as they hurry away into some other home.
The sheer indignity beckons the end.
This book is about the creation of a particular form of dialogue between “the North and South”. In the postwar environment the ideas for decolonization gained traction as newly-minted international institutions found their purpose; the UN for international dialogue and conflict resolution, and the IMF and World Bank to fund and manage investment in foreign, developing countries. These relationships were instrumentalized during the Cold War to counteract Soviet influence around the Third World, but its consequences went far beyond. A tightly coupled mechanism was formed uniting the global North and South, by which raw materials flowed towards central countries from the periphery was developed, one where diplomatic concessions and military interventions were used to maintain the regular resource flow. The unfortunate consequence was that development and aid fell short of their objective of creating self-sustaining economic growth. Often, what it caused was spurious and inadequate funding of disparate projects, and it encouraged corruption across the world. What it did achieve was sustaining US hegemony throughout the period, promoting and instituting a super system of integrated economic exchange, ultimately going against the very interests that the system was supposed to maintain: the growth and best interest of the Third World.
“On 20 January 1949, when Harry Truman came onstage at the Capitol and took his oath for the second term as the thirty-third president of the United States of America, he probably did not anticipate that his words would be included on the list of the history’s most influential speeches. As the fourth point in his program, he launched a policy of making US scientific advances and industrial progress available to underdeveloped areas in order to fight misery, malnutrition, and illness. Truman’s Point Four, as it soon became known…”
In this speech, Truman posited a radical new role for the United States vis-a-vis the rest of the world, and conceived as the great resistance of the West against the Soviet Union on the eve of the Cold War, of democracy against communism. Already for decades experiments had been conducted on southern Italy. “The Mezzogiorno was a laboratory of the kind envisaged by economist Eugene Staley in the 1930s.” Here the wisdom of economists, engineers, technicians and other experts was put into practice. The World Bank was put into action in order to kickstart Italy’s largely traditional economy into self-propelling industrial development. Albert O. Hirschmann, Manlio Rossi-Doria are some of the prominent actors in this area, and were related with the creation of the Associazione per lo Sviluppo dell’Industria nel Mezzogiorno think tank, which designed the direction of development across “Backward Areas” of Italy. The language of Willard L. Thorp (economist, assistant secretary of state for economic affairs, writer of Formulating a Four Point Program, on a 1950 special edition of Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science), was clear in the preeminence of “technology, international cooperation, and promotion of democracy,” this was more of an excuse to foster conditions for foreign direct investment, the taming of “nationalist and leftist tendencies among peasants and workers” that were so characteristic of their time. Along with the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, a vast enterprise was undertaken by the United States to single-handedly kickstart development across the globe.
To accommodate the interests of the aid-giving nations around the issues surrounding development, a circle of elites began to coalesce and develop methods and ideas suited for this purpose. This included educators, engineers, health practitioners, anthropologists, activists and internationalists of various sorts. The project intended to “educate” more than just dialogue, and instill attitudes that favored US interests such as openness to free trade, suspicion of Soviet and communist relations, and respect of foreign investments. Aurelio Peccei, founder of the Club of Rome think tank that funded the controversial Limits to Growth, and Beyond the Limits, which stressed the importance of managing the adverse consequences of exponential growth. Other economists created the frameworks still in use today to measure hunger, poverty, and development, most prominent among stands Colin Clark, the creator of the modern methods for calculating GDP. The World Bank defined poverty as under $100 annual GDP per capita. The failure to satisfy the goals of creating self-sustained growth was presented as evidence that infrastructure was not enough. Although the use of uniform standards of poverty highlighted the structural possibility of a transition from underdeveloped to highly developed and even a donor country, it did not offer any clues to help the transition. So if the measures employed were not shown to promote the self-sustained growth that was the goal, why was this policy pursued? We will have to consult Eisenhower.
“While Harry Truman saw development assistance as a way to increase security in the changing decolonizing world and as a tool in the Cold War, his successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, did not share his enthusiasm. It was during Eisenhower’s administration, though, between 1953 and 1961, that the soviet challenge in the Third World became palpable and a discussion about foreign aid moved to center stage. Unable to reconcile anticolonialism with its overriding determination to contain communism, preserve ties with the European allies, and promote a liberal capitalist international economy, the Eisenhower administration endorsed conservative elites in the Third World, backed repressive regimes, and resorted to covert operations to prevent a communist seizure of power. As a result, it nourished the kind of revolutionary violence that Americans most feared.”
The purpose was not necessarily providing a measure of aid or development to the recipient country, but to crowd out Soviet “solidarity” from corrupting the country elites towards communist sympathies. It was mostly thanks to the charisma of John F. Kennedy that the American approach to development is not recognized as simple imperialist or colonialist policy. He proclaimed to the UN General Assembly in 1961 that this would be the “Decade of Development.” He increased funding for aid agencies by $800 million, and consolidated all agencies under USAID, the Agency for International Development. There was a special committee for Latin America called Alliance for Progress: A Program of Inter-American Partnership, a “ten-year, $20 billion foreign aid program” that was orchestrated by Albert O. Hirschman, Paul N. Rosenstein-Rodan, Federico G. Gil, Walt W. Rostow, and included input from Felipe Herrera, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, and Raul Prebisch the principal intellectual force of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America.
“Chile, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia received almost 60 percent of all US funding. The Alliance failed, and weaknesses in its administrative structure are usually blamed. At the core, however, stood the flawed assumption (held for the whole developing world, not just Latin America) that foreign aid would convince leaders to change their policies and accept US ideas about development.”
It was not just about the failed attempt to indoctrinate the Third World with US ideas about development, and particularly about the choice of capitalism over socialism as a source for progress and well-being. It was also about the creation and satisfaction of a vast machinery aligned to produce “scientific” solutions to the problems of development. “Economist and US ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith was an eyewitness to this transition. He explains how in 1949 development economics hardly existed, but within fifteen years, with contributions from private foundations such as Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie, attention to poverty and its conundrums had increased exponentially.” This problem was not just one of a technical nature, it often entailed the restructuring of social relations in various countries, particularly when they were underdeveloped. But the language of economics that was used to justify these interventions clouded the fact that the relationships that were raised were often not in the interest of these developing nations. “The World Bank promoted an idea of efficiency based on the theory of comparative advantage. It encouraged solutions in which poor countries exported raw materials while advanced countries produced and exported technology.” It also excluded any projects that were not compatible with the ideas that were associated with capitalism during the era.
The consequences of these biases often spelled disastrous consequences for the recipient countries. The technocratic body that was responsible for these policies came to terms with their radical inefficacy when Hans W. Singer produced a 1949 report titled UN Report on Relative Prices of Exports and Imports of Underdeveloped Countries. His findings were shocking, because he found that the theory of comparative advantage was in fact creating a systematically worsening situation for developed countries that primarily exported raw materials. “The terms of trade for goods exported by poor countries tended to worsen, while the terms of trade for manufactured goods tended to improve.” The political consequences of this study are evaluated by Raul Prebisch in his The Economic Development of Latin America and Its Principal Problems. He develops the language that evoked a rise in consciousness among the developing country elite on the importance of economic as well as political sovereignty.
The retreat of colonial rule represented the recognition of the political sovereignty of these developed nations, well then the recognition of the systematic unfairness observed in the worsening terms of trade from Singer’s study. Many Third World countries found their voice when Prebisch spoke of a “long-standing pattern of trade” that was “systematically disadvantageous” for Third World countries. It would be thanks to these books that the discourse around development would focus now on the possibility of a renegotiation between the First World and the Third World, the creation of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) to right the scales in favor of the Third World.
Countries were demanding their sovereignty in the economic domain, which included “sovereignty over natural resources, controls on foreign investments, better trade terms, access to the markets of developed countries, reduction in technology costs, more aid, a moratorium on debt and its eventual reduction, and the redistribution of power within the World Bank and the IMF.” They would however, unfortunately, receive exactly the opposite deal, although this is better explained in another book, Oil Revolutionaries, by Christopher Dietrich. By some account they are successful, for oil producing countries established OPEC and took control over price and production of many of the world’s most important oil fields, particularly in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
The nationalist rhetoric encouraged plenty of politicians to take advantage of the opportunity: “seventy-nine U.S. firms were expropriated in 1967-1971; fifty-seven were expropriated in 1972-1973.” However, it was not enough, because the plans for the NIEO would fall through and non-oil producing developing nations would face one of the hardest decades that they would see during the 20th century. But this is better left for my review of Oil Revolutionaries, which will follow soon.
For now, I really liked this book, I think it’s worth most people’s time if they’re perversely interested in development economics, and particularly how development is instrumentalized by rich and powerful countries. This book will be very useful in my upcoming essay, Malign Logic, which will decompose the thought behind Nick Land’s language when describing the relations between developed and developing countries.