Special Guest Post from the UK: Cat Vincent brings us “Rate Of Return: Woolwich, 4GW and Kayfabe.”

Posted by on May 27th, 2013

In this special guest post, Cat Vincent reports from the UK on the aftermath of the Woolwich attack, and 4GW (Fourth Generation Warfare).

Rate Of Return: Woolwich, 4GW and Kayfabe.

The recent murder of a soldier by two men on the streets of London has produced a wave of shock and horror around the world.

It has also produced a vicious backlash, both officially and otherwise: the British government has responded with increasing pressure for near-total internet surveillance to be put into law and also restricting the availability of certain ‘radical’ Muslim websites, while the thuggish forces of the neo-Nazi English Defence League have staged several highly-publicised (but poorly-attended – tens or hundreds at most) marches and riots.

At the same time, a heavily organized and well-planned series of non-violent actions (protests in dozens of cities across the world, with literally millions in attendance) against the Monsanto corporation were all but ignored in the popular press. Why is this?

I don’t think it’s as simple or as cynical as the old saying “if it bleeds, it leads”… though certainly, that’s a factor. What it makes me think about specifically is the theoretical work of writer John Robb on the subject of 4th Generation Warfare (4GW).

Robb, a former USAF special ops pilot and security consultant, discussed the concept of 4GW – effectively, the warfare conducted by small non-state actors against heavily militarized governments – at length in his blog Global Guerillas. One of his key concepts in why 4GW is so effective is that of the “return on investment” (RoI). From Robb’s book, Brave New War:

In the summer of 2004, Iraq’s global guerrillas attacked a southern section of the Iraqi oil pipeline infrastructure (Iraq has over 4,300 miles of pipelines). This attack cost the attackers an estimated $2,000 to produce. None of the attackers was caught. The effects of this attack were over $50 million in lost oil exports. The rate of return: 250,000 times the cost of the attack.

It’s clear that the return on investment for the Woolwich attack is considerable, probably on a level of millions to one – committing the UK government to millions, even billions of pounds in police, military and counter-intelligence spending for no more than a couple of hundred quid on some knives and axes and a rusty old revolver. (In fact the cost is so low, the action having been performed by just two people, it makes the attack close to being what the writer Brainsturbator described in his Skilluminati blog as 5GW – warfare committed by “super-empowered individuals” – though in this case, the empowerment comes from their media use more than their actual tool set. Skilluminati in general, and the 5GW Project in particular, are I think vital mind-tools for the aware Grinder.)

Yesterday, I put a mention of the RoI of the Woolwich murder on Twitter (which is what prompted the Grinding editorship to ask for this article). The main thing I didn’t get the space to expand upon there was the question of cui bono? – if there’s a return on investment for such a violent action, who actually profits from it?

A clue about this appeared on my Twitter stream not long after, in a conversation between Brainsturbator and Damien Williams (@wolven) of this parish: the subject of conversation was not terrorism, but a term from professional wrestling: Kayfabe.

To quote from the brilliant Edge essay by Eric Weinstein (who is best known this month for possibly reconciling all modern physics)

Because professional wrestling is a simulated sport, all competitors who face each other in the ring are actually close collaborators who must form a closed system (called “a promotion”) sealed against outsiders. With external competitors generally excluded, antagonists are chosen from within the promotion and their ritualized battles are largely negotiated, choreographed, and rehearsed at a significantly decreased risk of injury or death. With outcomes predetermined under Kayfabe, betrayal in wrestling comes not from engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct, but by the surprise appearance of actual sporting behavior. Such unwelcome sportsmanship which “breaks Kayfabe” is called “shooting” to distinguish it from the expected scripted deception called “working”.
Were Kayfabe to become part of our toolkit for the twenty-first century, we would undoubtedly have an easier time understanding a world in which investigative journalism seems to have vanished and bitter corporate rivals cooperate on everything from joint ventures to lobbying efforts. …What makes Kayfabe remarkable is that it gives us potentially the most complete example of the general process by which a wide class of important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery.

One of the consistent myths of pro wrestling is the concept of the “face” and the “heel” – the good guy and the bad guy. Within the consensus reality of the Kayfabe, these are mortal foes… right up to the point where one or the other makes a “heel-face turn”, the good guy becoming the bad or vice versa. (Like, say, the ‘heroic rebels’ of the CIA-sponsored Mujahideen becoming the post-9/11 enemy…) But in reality, they’re still just performers in a symbolic, mythical struggle. Whether they consciously co-operate or not, both sides need the struggle in order to continue their identity, to define their reality.

So, again – who profits? Those invested – emotionally, financially – in the game, on both supposed sides. The extremists; the governments who seek any excuse to cow the populous, to keep every single person scared and surveilled; the radicals who want to tear down anything that doesn’t look exactly like their fantasy world (be it Dar-al-Islam or Rule Britannia); the corporations that sell the weapons to them all or, like Monsanto, rely on the distraction to conceal their agenda. And, by pure coincidence, those who want to tame the internet, to stop those who don’t want to suffer for their gain from finding out more about the truth behind the spectacle. Anyone who wants to play another game, wants a future of co-operation not competition, strength for all instead of profit-and-loss… are just collateral damage for the drones and the thugs.

John Robb doesn’t write about 4GW directly that much, these days. In his consideration of precisely how one should defend against it, he came to understand the necessity of working towards the living conditions which are most effective in resisting terrorism in general and such cheap RoI attacks in particular – decentralized infrastructure, local and networked co-operation unlocked from hierarchy. People acting in groups sharing common goals, working towards long-term building of resilient communities rather than zero-sum enemies to be obliterated. A long-term solution that strives to bypass the reflexive tit-for-tat of this conflict, to benefit all.

As I wrote this, the EDL marched on Whitehall. Again, only a couple of hundred of them, faced with a similar number of anti-fascist protesters. Supposed patriots are giving Nazi salutes and fighting police in the very heart of British governance, claiming to be protecting England against the infidel. Another front in The Forever War opened these past few days… and for those who aren’t part of the kayfabe, who strive to break past the fourth wall of us-and-them, resilience is becoming that much harder. We have to keep looking for the tools to grind our bodies, minds and tribes to be strong and flexible enough to endure the crushing pressures of these wrestling behemoths, to always remember that whoever appears to be the face or the heel… this should not, cannot be just war.

It must always be a rescue mission.

Ian ‘Cat’ Vincent is a writer and journalist on the Fortean beat, a contributing editor to The Daily Grail and a former professional combat magician. He lives in Yorkshire, England.


Guest Post: Damien Williams on The Confrontation-of-Ontological-Terror Squad

Posted by on March 14th, 2013

The next in our occasional series of guest posts, Damien Wolven Williams on the maladaptive forces at work in the TranshumanFuturePresent:

The Confrontation-of-Ontological-Terror Squad

The distribution of the future is still uneven, but more shocking than that is the fact that some people are actively working to keep it that way. More than large corporations with billions of dollars in vested interests, grass-roots movements have sprung up which claim to peak for “the people.” Indeed, there are currently groups at work which see themselves as seeking to make this world safe for “normal” humans and “natural” systems, and to keep those people and systems free from the interference of those forces which would augment, mechanise, or otherwise alter them.

Recently a group calling themselves “Individuals Tending Toward Savagery” has claimed responsibility for the 2011 high-profile assassination of a biotechnologist, and the explosion at the Pemex Executive Tower in Mexico, earlier this year. Leaving aside the fact that this latter event was reported to be due to a gas leak, the fact that a group would even lay claim to such activities and events should be the focus of our discussion, and that’s mainly because they’re not alone in their efforts. More and more people are taking to the streets, and the internets and the airwaves to protest the idea of biotechnology, nanotechnology, cybernetics, and other so-called transhumanist ideas. There is even a new group which calls itself (for fuck’s sake) Stop The Cyborgs. That is their actual name.

Now I could go into a very long rant about the nature and use of language and what that reflects about our present mental states as well as what those choices mean for our future stages of perception and our likelihood to accept new things. I could talk about how, if we continually tie the idea of “cyborgs” to the definition of “Non-Human Machine Hybrids Which Must Be Feared,” then the self-fulfilling prophecy of that definition will be harder and harder to escape. I could tell you that if you keep telling people that they should be afraid of something of which they’re already suspicious, then you’re not engaging in anything like critical, thoughtful discourse, or a meaningful engagement with our future-present. But you know all of that, already. If you’re here, reading this, you’re probably well aware of how all of this works. What you may not recognise–in fact what it may be extremely difficult for you to recognise–is that not everyone around you understands that there is a necessary engagement with the complexity of elements which make our world, if we are to do more than run and hide from the scary new technological aspects of our lives.

Groups like ITS and STC are not news. They’re people who feel as though the march of our technological progress is outstripping that of our ethical and moral progress, and that something must be done to prevent us from losing our “real selves,” and maybe they’re right. Perhaps we do need to take a long look at what is we create and become, and make sure that we are aware of the potential for effects we did not intend to cause. But this? Assassinations, bombings, and full-scale bans of technology which they themselves admit they do not yet fully understand in terms of either function or scope of application? That’s just loom-smashing for the 21st century. That Luddites exist isn’t earth-shattering news, by any stretch, but the real issue has never been that people “hate” new technology, for what it does to “humanity.” The problem with Luddism and Neo-Luddism is that it represents a perspective which takes the ever-widening aspects of our emerging future and reacts to them with blanket fear and distrust, rather than a wary hope.

Blind hope is a naive proposition. It is one in which we sit in optimism, absent any evidence that it might actually pay off in that direction. It is one which ignores the very real dangers and pitfalls of new situations, and the opportunities for unintended consequences to rear their heads. However, the fallacious notion of the “slippery slope” of technological progress– that it’ll cause us to descend into a dystopian future where everything we are and do is controlled by corporations, or disassembled into grey goo–is one based in blind fear. These have the same basic components, they’re just pointed in different directions. Blind fear takes something new, something unknown, and says that unknowns are terrifying and should be destroyed before they can destroy us. Blind fear says that there is nothing good which can come from the new. And while the groups in question may not see themselves as reactionary, on an even reading it’s hard to see them as anything but.

What is the nature of technology that we drive toward? Why do we drive toward it, at all? How do we apply that motivation, and what do we value in the mechanisms and effects of our creation? These are the questions that we can ask, if we don’t want to be blindly optimistic or pessimistic about our future. We can ask these questions and then seek to address them, recognising that whatever answers we find may not be–and most likely will not be–permanent solutions to our problems. There are groups working now, in academia, public policy, and practical solution-building to help people think of different things than the utopian promise and the dystopian terror of our current work at building a future for ourselves.

In a forthcoming paper, I write the following:

…the field of cybernetics relies heavily on the notion of an interconnected, reflexive system of interactions. Therefore, any conversations about what the world “actually looks like” when we technologically augment ourselves to remove the factors of mediation from between ourselves, our creations, and the act of their creation will be dependent on humanity’s ability to apprehend whatever perceptual and conceptual changes arise as a result of that reflexive interaction. As we deal with how other people approach our implants, modifications, and appropriations of technology, we have to deal with how that changes what they see of us. In a very real sense, the cyborg’s identity is directly connected to the continuing project of becoming and continuing to be a cyborg. In fact, being a cyborg in the contemporary sense can be said to be entirely about being at least one step “ahead” of the baseline for human technological interaction. What that means is, staying ahead of the curve of whatever it means to be “Human” today—which may, in fact, be what it meant to be a “Cyborg,” yesterday. But this is not new…

…as Donna Haraway noted in her seminal “Cyborg Manifesto,” the language of this cybernetic feedback loop is not one relegated only to humanity and its processes, but is also a framework which can be used to describe the state of nature, as a whole. Taking this tack, we can come to understand that all of nature is involved in an integrated process of adaptation, augmentation, and implementation which, far from being a simple Biological-Or-Technological division is, instead, a process or a system of becoming.

What I mean, here, is that those perceptions of self that are tied to that of which we are “naturally” composed–our biological and “base” components– has been under revision since we have been able to look at it and recognise it as a thing we possess. The questions of “what makes us human,” and “what makes us natural” have been mooted in hundreds of cultures for thousands of years, and we are no closer to a single answer, now, than when we started. Why? Because we keep changing. Everything that we are shifts and alters in reaction to our questions about what we are. Does this mean that we should thus stop seeking answers, and thus stop progressing? Obviously not.

We have a responsibility to approach hard questions while recognising that we may not always like the answers we get, and we have a duty to honestly assess the negative, positive, and unknown consequences of our actions. The philosophical and political aspects of these debates are not merely academic questions, to be tossed about from armchair to armchair; they have repercussions in the everyday lives of individuals and societies, repercussions of an existential and immediate nature. If we don’t do everything we can to engage these concerns and honestly grapple with them, we run the risk of falling headlong into a future where self-styled anarchist terrorists kill scientists who are literally trying to make the world a better place; a future where “Bio-Humans Only” signs adorn establishments to keep out people with any kinds of implanted technology; a future where corporations do use seemingly innocuous people and technology to monitor and record everyone’s every move, and use algorithms to patent and trademark words and phrases in combination, in real time. Because that will be the only future we were able to see for ourselves; the one we talked about and feared and reacted to the strongest.

The self-fulfilling prophecy of the dystopian future isn’t our only option, but first we we have to recognise and address the fact that some don’t even understand that the class “Options for the Future” is a thing which exists.

Damien Patrick Williams is a writer, essayist, autonomous-created-intelligence- and cyborg-rights-advocate, and instructor of philosophy. He has written and presented on the intersections of popular media, politics, philosophy, and future technology, and is currently raising funds to get to his presentation at the 15th International Meeting and Conferences on Virtual Reality and Converging Technologies in Laval France, next week.


Guest Post: Joshua Ellis revisits the Grim Meathook Future

Posted by on June 1st, 2012

This is the first in a series of guest posts I’ve solicited, that will appear over the coming weeks and months. Kicking things off, our friend Joshua Ellis updates his notion of The Grim Meathook Future to give us:

The Grim Meathook Future, Revisited

Several years ago, I wrote this thing on a private message board run by the writer Warren “No Relation” Ellis. One of the other board members, Jamie Zawinski, liked it so much he posted it on his LiveJournal, and it took on a bit of life of its own, and a phrase from it, “the grim meathook future”, has kind of entered the futurist parlance. Bruce Sterling used it in a SxSW keynote, and most recently it showed up as a bit of a demented character’s inner monologue in Charlie Stross’s Rule 34. (There is nothing quite as odd, by the way, as reading a novel and coming across a phrase you coined.)

Part of what I wrote was this:

The upshot of all of this is that the Future gets divided; the cute, insulated future that Joi Ito and Cory Doctorow and you and I inhabit, and the grim meathook future that most of the world is facing, in which they watch their squats and under-developed fields get turned into a giant game of Counterstrike between crazy faith-ridden jihadist motherfuckers and crazy faith-ridden American redneck motherfuckers, each doing their best to turn the entire world into one type of fascist nightmare or another.

Of course, nobody really wants to talk about that future, because it’s depressing and not fun and doesn’t have Fischerspooner doing the soundtrack. So everybody pretends they don’t know what the future holds, when the unfortunate fact is that — unless we start paying very serious attention — it holds what the past holds: a great deal of extreme boredom punctuated by occasional horror and the odd moment of grace.

What a lot of people seemed to miss, when they read this and ran with it, was that the Grim Meathook Future emphatically isn’t the Mad Max postapocalypse where everybody runs around shooting at each other in body armor made of tractor tires and Wilson’s Leather remaindered items. That future — envisioned by many as a sort of antidote to the gee-whiz chrome-plated futures of Star Trek and 1950s rock-ribbed science fiction — is, in point of fact, entirely as ridiculous and unlikely as any of the technofetishistic Rapture-of-the-nerds bullshit that the transhumanists come up with. It’s a macho fantasy invented by the sort of libertarians who secretly pray for the Poor People to rise up and start a civil war so their friends will stop laughing at them for keeping a cache of automatic weapons next to their Lexus in the garage of their suburban enclave.

Look: in the event of an actual global thermonuclear war, the likelihood is that pretty much all life on Earth would be wiped away, either in the firestorms or during the onset of the resulting nuclear winter, which would kill off the plants and the animals that ate the plants and the people who ate the animals and the plants. Nobody would have time to forget the old ways and revert to pre-civilizational Lord Of The Flies behavior; they’d be too busy dying of radiation poisoning or starvation. Poisoned and starving people don’t spend a lot of time waging tribal war on each other, because they’re too busy shitting out their own intestines or falling down unconscious every time they try to stand up too quickly.

But let’s assume, for a moment, some notional apocalypse that destroys civilization and maybe reduces the human population by 90%. There’s only one really possible scenario that could cause that, which is a fast-moving airborne pathogen with a high mortality rate. Not even global warming could kill that many of us off, because it doesn’t happen fast enough; humans are fast-moving adaptable primates. So imagine, if you like, that Ebola Zaire mutates and becomes airborne and most of the people on Earth die out very quicly, leaving the lion’s share of the remnants of civilization just lying around, a sort of mass version of the Roanoke Island colony, who left their food on their tables and their kitchen fires still burning.

Unless the survivors happened to be absolute drooling idiots, they’d have the power back on and at least the basic necessities of survival up and running in a matter of weeks or months. Why? Because every technological artifact on Earth, from toasters to plutonium power plants, comes with a fucking instruction manual.

Always wanted to learn basic engineering, or how to read a schematic, but never had the time? Well, guess what, homey? You now have absolutely nothing to do but find any one of the thousands of thousands of libraries dotting the Earth’s surface, load the entire 600 section into a wheelbarrow, and retire to some place with a shady spot for reading and a large supply of beer. Hell, armed only with a Boy’s Big Book Of Electrical Projects from the 1960s and the contents of a run-down mini-mall, you could probably build a two-way radio and a dynamo hooked up to an exercise bike to run it off of. Sure, if you weren’t a nerd or a maker, it might take you a while to figure it out…but if the world ends, it’s gonna take your inbox and your Getting Things Done list with it. You’ll have nothing but time.

So no, that’s not my Grim Meathook Future. (It actually sounds kind of lovely; now where did I leave those access codes for the biowarfare lab, again….) My Grim Meathook Future is the one that looks like the present.

Living in America — indeed, in any of the economically top-tier countries in the First World — is like living in a big room. It’s huge, this room, so big that you can’t see the walls, and it’s nice and cozy. To paraphrase Depeche Mode: all you ever wanted, all you ever needed is here in your arms. And you’ve never been outside the room. Intellectually, you know that there’s a world outside, maybe one that’s not quite as nice and cozy; you’ve seen it on TV, after all. But it doesn’t really affect you. When you think of the world, you think of the room; your idea of normality is based on what’s normal in the room.

There are nearly a billion Facebook users in the world, and half a billion Twitter users (though of course there’s probably nearly a 90% overlap between those two). Those are indeed astonishing numbers, but the problem is that sometime around March 12, 2012, we passed seven billion people living on Earth. That means that the vast majority of humans aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. The majority of people have mobile phones, but there are more people still who don’t have mobile phones than use Facebook.

Most of us never see these people, of course, except as faces briefly glimpsed in the background of news footage. They are outside our Big Room. Not because we’re intentionally keeping them out, you understand; at least, not really on any overt institutional level. Basically. We don’t do that any more, and we feel good about it.

It’s just that living in the Big Room is expensive, you see…and, well, these people can’t afford it. They don’t have Facebook because they can’t afford the technological artifacts that would allow them to be on Facebook. They don’t tweet about how much the new version of iOS sucks, because they don’t have any way to tweet and they damn sure don’t have a device that will run iOS, because these devices cost more than these people often make in a year.

But, hey, look, things are tough all over. I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty for having the basic economic and cultural capital to be able to read this essay. You probably had no more control over your circumstances than a boy-child growing up in the streets of Kibera did, and no reason to feel guilty. We are where we are.

But it’s important to understand that the capital-F Future where we become cyborgs permanently mind-melded with our technology is open only to people who can afford that technology in the first place…especially when technological innovation is driven by Silicon Valley-style venture capitalism.

I’ve been a coder for most of my life — not a very good one, necessarily, by the standards of any given hackathon, but I’ve made my living doing it for a long time, at least when I wasn’t making a living by writing. Consequently, I’ve worked with and been around Valley-style entrepreneurs and investors quite a bit. And it’s taken me fifteen years of hanging out in the tech industry and around tech industry people to fully realize that I can’t stand being in the same room with most of them.

“It’s no trick to make a lot of money,” says Everett Sloane in Citizen Kane, “if all you want to do is make a lot of money.” And it’s true. All you have to do is find a lot of people with disposable income, figure out what they’ll spend that income on, and sell it to them. At the heart of it, that’s what Steve Jobs did, to some extent with the personal computer and to a greater extent with the iPhone. Later, Mark Zuckerberg figured out a neat, if creepy, angle on this trick: find the people with the income, find out what they spend it on…and then sell that information to the people who sell the people the things they want to buy.

That’s what Silicon Valley is for: making shit for people with disposable incomes to buy. (And making shit for companies to buy so their workflow is more efficient, so the people who own the company and work for the company can buy more of the other shit.) If it was ever about trying to make the world a better place, that train left the station a long time ago.

It’s my experience that most venture capitalists and serial entrepreneur types are almost identical, personality-wise, to the street hustlers and drug dealers whose acquaintance I’ve made over the years. They may wear polo shirts instead of Fubu and spend their money on organic produce instead of custom hubcap rims, but they operate on the same principle: waking up every day figuring out new ways to get paid. Whether these ways are good for society as a whole, or even for the person who’s doing the paying, is a minor consideration next to the paycheck itself. And if you’re not a means to that end, well, fuck you. More than once, I’ve seen the exact same behavior in a Stanford-educated dot.com startup founder at a tech meetup and a smacked-out panhandler on the Las Vegas Strip: they’re all smiles and handshakes when they approach you, but as soon as they realize you’re not a potential mark with an open wallet you can watch their eyes go dead and look right through you, on to the next target.

I hate these people and wouldn’t piss on most of them if they were on fire, but that’s fine; I hate bankers and lawyers too, like every other blowhard bohemian iconoclast does, and I doubt any of them are losing any sleep over it. What bothers me is that we’ve effectively put these walking hardons in charge of building that capital-F Future, in every sector of the innovation industry, from genetically grown food to biotechnology to communications to spaceship-building.

And none of them, not a single one, is interested in any Future if they can’t sell it for a serious profit. Nor do they care if the process of selling and profiting leaves a swath of collateral damage the size of a Gulf Coast oil spill in its wake.

Which leaves those six billion other people, the people who don’t live in the Big Room with you and me and Peter Thiel and Mark Zuckerberg, pretty well fucked.

The real Grim Meathook Future, the one I talked about back when I wrote that thing and the one I see now, is the future where a relatively small slice of our species lives in a sort of Edenic Eloi reality where the only problems are what we laughingly refer to as White People Problems, like being able to get four bars’ worth of 4G signal at that incredible pho joint that @ironicguy69 recommended on Twitter, or finding new ways to lifehack all the shit we own into our massive closets…while the rest of the world is reduced to maintaining our lifestyles via a complex process of economically-positioned indentured servitude and clinging with the very tips of their fingernails onto the ragged edge of our consumer leavings, like the dorky dude who shows up the first day of school with the cheap K-Mart knockoffs of the pumped-up kicks the cool kids are wearing this year. In other words, the Grim Meathook Future is the one that looks like the present, the one where nothing changes.

But don’t you know, people are talkin’ about a revolution, son? In the streets of Cairo and Tripoli, where they Twittered entire governments to their knees; in Zucotti Park and in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, where they’re Occupying anything and everything they can. Information wants to be free, didn’t you get the Facebook notification?

Yeah, I know that song, and I know who did the original version: Stewart Brand, at the first Hacker’s Conference. But what Stewart also said, that most of the cyberlibertarians forget to mention (or never knew in the first place) is that information wants to be expensive. Information — and the economy around it — wants to be sold to teenagers at the highest possible price point that their parents will tolerate. It wants to be unlimited, if by unlimited you mean two gigabytes per month, after which you get charged a dollar a megabyte. Information wants to be marketed to you, and if it could put a microphone in your bedroom to hear what you muttered about in the deepest darkest depths of your dreams, it would do it, and it would convince you to let it do it by allowing you to share your dreams with that dude you made out with one night at a party in college who, by virtue of the social networks, is still a part of your circle of interaction for no apparent goddamn reason at all. And then it would sell your dreams back to you, with free shipping if your order is over $25.

At least, that’s what all the evidence these days suggests. If Western companies are helping developing nations throw off the various yolks of tyranny, it’s only because they’ve identified potential future markets. A free society, after all, usually means a free market. The Occupy Movement is very good at identifying the problems with the world – shit’s fucked up real bad – but not so good at coming up with viable solutions that anybody with actual power pays much attention to. The social networks have been coopted by the activist movements, but only to the extent that you can now watch Iranian soldiers or NYPD thugs beat the shit out of teenage girls in real-time. The beatings haven’t stopped; no one has truly been held accountable; same as it ever was, same as it ever was. Knowing may be half the battle, as they used to tell us on the old G.I. Joe cartoon when I was a kid, but that’s just it: it’s only half the battle.

If I sound dismissive and cynical, it’s because I am. I’m deeply, irreconcilably cynical about the technology industry, especially when anybody in it starts mouthing off about human rights, as if they gave a shit. Of course tech lobbyists frame things like the file-sharing issue as a human rights issue, and tell you that it’s all about your right to have as many Dave Matthews MP3s as your hard drive can hold; they work for the people who make the software that shares the files and run the websites that link to the torrents, almost none of whom are doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. They don’t talk to you about musicians who can’t make money from album sales anymore or newspapers that lock their doors after decades or centuries of publication, simply because the people who run them can’t figure out how to instantiate an instant technological pivot — because, you know, they’re just stupid journalists, not social media gurus.

Is it good for humanity when these things happen? Is it good for individual communities, or the creative arts? It doesn’t matter. It’s good for the technology industry, for those hustling pricks in the polo shirts, whose job is to find new ways to sell shit to people. And that’s all that matters.

That’s the Grim Meathook Future I see lying before us, a long game of technological determinism where the only people who get their jetpacks or their self-driving cars or their anti-aging nanotech are the ones who can afford it, and everyone else can simply go fuck themselves and rot in whatever Third World toilet they were unlucky enough to be born into.

Is there a way around it? Man, I don’t know. I really don’t. And I actually think about this shit a lot, not just on my daily commute from my bedroom to the coffeeshop patio. I read Bruce Sterling’s blog and I watch TED talks and I sit around in the dark heat of the Las Vegas night and spend hours thinking about it…and I just don’t have an answer.

I’m afraid that avoiding the Grim Meathook Future might require the dismantling of American-style corporate capitalism. I’m not a Communist or anything, but it seems to me that corporate capitalism as it’s played in my country is a lot like throwing a hundred sharks and a hundred minnows into a small tank. Sharks are machines that eat minnows: they’re incapable of doing anything else, even of keeping a few minnows around to make more minnows to eat later. So they’ll eat and eat until there’s nothing to do except eat each other, and the last one left alive in the tank isn’t the winner: he’s just the shark who gets to die slowly and horribly of starvation. People can only buy so much shit until they run out of money or space to put it in, and then what?

I hope that we’ll wise up and take the sharks out of the pool, or at least muzzle them for a while. If we do — if we stop thinking entirely about the Benjamins and start thinking about the survival of our species as a whole — I think things will change, and some other future will open up, an even more radical future than any Singularity of social networks that might occur.

I hope so. I’d love to see a future I couldn’t predict.

 

Joshua Ellis is lead developer and podcast co-host at NSFW Corp., as well as a writer, columnist, speaker and musician. He lives in Las Vegas with his wife Rosalie and his two cats, Erwin Schrodinger and Pablo Honey.