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Allen Caldeira Poetry TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOCRATS - December 2018

New Cities

Written by Allen Caldeira

Failing that, the cows mated in pastures
and the saints all dropped acid,
screens shattered around them,
falling plastic and glass darted through the square,
twinkled around the edges
and the martyrs fell in with the prostitutes
at cyber cafes where internet trolls
and media warriors lived vagabond
at all times. The streets began to warp
into the rice paddies they once were,
the teenagers with igirlfriends
and sloppy, sexless lives, dragged themselves
into the fields and made new love
to new dirt. The monks chanted
sutras from the temples before Tokyo
rose up from the swamp of its past,
recapitulated itself into the drying eyes
of the martyrs awaiting their executions
for their telling of a future
unstrained by the past. Tokyo, born
again from the ashes of itself.
Tokyo, born again from the ideas
hefted onto it by Carthusians
and Andalusians. Tokyo, born again
from how some thought it should be.
And now the internet cafes cool
down, whores roll in from opium dens,
fat half-chefs spin takoyaki in the streets,
and the saints sit with their
backs to the city, slopping up
ramen in a business cafe.

Poetry Sybrand Veeger TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOCRATS - December 2018

To Whistleblowing

Written by Sybrand Veeger

“Living comfortably yet unfreely –
That is something many are willing to accept.”

“Not me,” he says.

He spotted abuse and recognized its accumulation –
He could observe, from within,
The architecture,
Intricate and infinitely pervasive,
Of the Orwellian Leviathan:
Big brother’s eyes and ears multiplying,
And multiplying,
To see and hear all things communicated.
The most intimate of conversations – recorded,
A sensual exchange of images – surveilled and documented,
A google drive of private poetry – filed and stored.

The panopticon turned almighty,
Turned God?

“Don’t you realize you’ve helped create this monster?
Blow the whistle or I will end you!
You filthy animal!
I will eat through you like a worm and you will die a slow, painful death.”

His conscience made him an offer he couldn’t refuse…

The whistleblower, the bureaucrat,
The coggest cog in the omnipotent machine,
Turned martyr of some sorts,
Sacrificing his freedom for democracy? For the people?

I’m not sure.

His conscience simply played Don Corleone on him,
Threatened him with capital punishment.
Did he act out of heroism? Out of courage? Noble valiance?

Did he transcend his individuality to reach out for something greater?

I’m not sure.

One blows the whistle to self-preserve,
To survive;
Like a meerkat, in panic, calling out for the predators that nobody else can see.

The predators are dangerous, surely,
They’ll invade, sack, kill and eat up till stuffed.

What if the meerkat remained silent?
Wouldn’t conscience, then, become the most threatening,
The most dangerous of predators?

The whistleblower’s cry is the sound not of courage,
But of necessity:
Instinctiveness,
Biology.

I unsurely conclude:
Conscience defies the line drawn
Between nobility of heart and primitivity of gut;
Between what is deemed exclusive to a few higher spirits,
And what is common to all creatures,
Base or brave,
Courageous or cowardly.
Article Max Muller TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOCRATS - December 2018

The Unabomber: A Story and A Theory

Written by Max Muller

Over the years, technology has become an increasingly pervasive aspect of our lives. Some regard these developments as largely positive, they are enamoured with the possibilities it has brought us: flying from Amsterdam to New York in under nine hours, for instance. Others, however, are more cautious and point out the dangers of greenhouse gasses being flung into the air by the machines we so heavily rely on.

In this article, I will write about a man who was so furious with the rise of technology that he wanted to destroy it all. Both his curious life story and his theories on technological development (or lack thereof) will be described. The latter will be subjected to a thorough analysis. I aim to show that his theory has substantial flaws. Some aspects of it however ring true, especially nowadays with the advent of artificial intelligence of ever-increasing sophistication. In that regard, his theory will hopefully serve as a warning to us all.

A Brilliant Bomber

Anarcho-primitivists, a subset of all anarchists, believe that technology is inherently evil. The prime example of an individual who adhered to this separate strain of anarchism is Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber.

Ted Kaczynski was a precocious student who skipped two grades in high school and afterwards obtained several university degrees in mathematics. By 1967, he became the youngest assistant professor in the history of the University of California, Berkeley. He could have gone on to become a successful academic, but after a few years he suddenly resigned from his position.

Later, he would embark on a mission to live completely self-sufficiently in a remote cabin he had built in Montana. Over there, Kaczynski at a certain moment had an intense experience. He saw that a road had been built right through a plateau that had a view of a waterfall. The experience led him to formulate an irredeemably negative view of the whole industrial-technological system.  From then on realized the system had to be taken down violently.

He sought to do so by constructing letter bombs and sending them to people who were, one way or the other, connected to the development, manufacture, or sale of technological products and knowledge. He initially targeted those affiliated with universities and airlines. Hence the FBI used the acronym UNABOM (UNiversity and Airline BOMber) to refer to his case while his identity was still unknown. The media popularized his name under the phrase “the Unabomber”.

Writing A Letter

Constructing and sending bombs were not the only thing Ted Kaczynski did in his cabin. He also wrote. By 1993, the FBI had been looking for him for 17 years. Despite 500 agents being on the case and a $1 million reward being offered for his capture, they had no tangible leads whatsoever.

Then, all of a sudden, the Unabomber anonymously contacted the FBI to offer a deal. If they found him a major newspaper or journal that would publish a lengthy essay he had written, he would agree to stop the bombings. Although the FBI did not want to yield to blackmail, they had few other options. They therefore decided to agree to the terms of the deal by publishing his essay “Industrial Society and Its Future” (ISAIF) in both the New York Times and the Washington Post in 1995.

In his 35,000 word essay, Kaczyinski argues that technology is a totalitarian force, which consumes and degrades all aspects of society while simultaneously destroying the environment. David Skrbina, author of The Metaphysics of Technology, summarizes Kaczyinski’s argument as follows:

  • Humans evolved under primitive, low-tech conditions. Our bodies and minds are designed to live and thrive under precisely these conditions.
  • Present technological society is radically different from our natural state, and imposes unprecedented stress upon us.  
  • Technologically-induced stress will only continue to worsen. Humanity will either be utterly debilitated, or reconstructed and transformed to meet the demands of the system.  
  • Such an outcome is undignified, abhorrent, and profoundly dehumanizing.
  • It is impossible to reform the system so as to avoid this nightmare.

Although Kaczynski gained a wide readership with the publication of his tract, it also led to his imprisonment. His brother recognized his writing style and informed the police, leading to his incarceration in 1997. The UNABOM was finally dismantled.

Photo by David Neubert

Analyzing The Theory

We should also delve deeper into Kaczyinski’s version of anarcho-primitivism. Ignoring his despicable actions for the moment, we can scrutinize the arguments that underlie his philosophy. Some have their merits. A key component is his line of reasoning in ISAIF is his contempt of stress-inducing technology. We certainly see examples of technologies that are increasingly putting stress on people nowadays. Many are so pressured by their employers to be available for communication almost all the time, especially via e-mail, that the French government has given workers the right to disconnect. Moreover, the excessive use of mobile smartphones has been linked to sleep difficulties, and social media is associated with (exacerbating) a wide array of mental health problems.

Not all is sound with his theory, though. For instance, Kaczyinski assumes that humans evolved under primitive, low-tech conditions. While this may have been true initially, it ignores the hypothesis that humans have co-evolved with technological and cultural changes. For instance, the development of livestock farming in Europe was paired with an increasing tolerance for lactose. Although scientists are not entirely sure yet, it seems that the use of tools and fire may have profoundly affected human cognition and language abilities. Technology did not develop in a vacuum, but was part of a complex interplay between human evolutionary development, cultural changes, and inventiveness. Therefore, our “natural state” is not as static as Kaczyinski had assumed.

What I find perhaps most striking in the former mathematician’s theory is his purported solution. Even if we were to believe that all technology somehow corrupts or degrades all human beings (which I certainly don’t) and it is for some reason impossible to reform the system, should we then just destroy it?

This is how I picture the scenario that would result from the execution, a large proportion of humanity would just perish. Modern society has largely become dependant on technology (not only digital and electronic), so removing it somehow would plunge it into chaos. Only those close to natural resources who possess survival skills could outlast the catastrophe, though they would constantly need to fend off others vying for precious resources.

When the dust has settled and there are a couple of thousand hunter-gatherer societies left throughout the world, it is almost as if history would be set back 100,000 years or so, when modern humans started spreading out of Africa. I believe these hunter-gatherers would not remain just that, though. History would repeat itself, albeit probably in a modified form. The broader developments would, however, still ensue. They would develop stone tools, agriculture, steam-powered machines, and, eventually, smartphones. Many humans are just too curious, and ingenious not to produce technologies.

A Word Of Warning

For all his intelligence, Kaczyinski’s reasoning and method seem to be rather crude. He wants to eliminate all technology for everyone, even though some technological devices have, in certain respects, vastly improved lives. We live longer than we used to by means of medical advances, and extreme poverty is a phenomenon that is rapidly being eliminated.

I think we need to carefully evaluate each piece of modern technology and how it affects different individuals in our society. This seems to be in accordance with the way most of the modern world operates. Governments and NGOs assess the (possible) negative effects a certain piece of technology has of might have, and policies are implemented in accordance with those assessments. A reformist approach seems to be the way to go in most cases.

There is only one major exception, and that is artificial intelligence. This part of technology has the potential to become self-aware and, furthermore, a major threat to humanity. Once created, we will have opened Pandora’s Box. It differs from, say, biological weapons – they have existed for a while, but are rarely used nowadays due to the self-imposed restrictions governments have set (due to a widespread taboo on this type of warfare).

With regards to AI, developments do seem to be unstoppable and Kaczyinski’s alarmism has a point. Despite warnings of numerous luminaries, including Elon Musk, we seem to be heading towards a world in which a robot with superhuman intelligence could be roaming the earth.

But how do we destroy a type of technology that isn’t there yet? This might be the biggest challenge mankind has yet to face. To do so, we must restrain the very ingenuity and curiosity of which we are so proud. It requires a level of maturity and insight that humanity perhaps has not obtained yet, but this option seems vastly more attractive than the technological wasteland Kaczyinski has in mind. Let’s prove him wrong and show that we can develop the technologies that actually aid our world, instead of destroying it.

Phillip Morris Prose TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOCRATS - December 2018

Because You Know That They Know

Written By Phillip Morris

When they turned the chip off, her time and body were again her own. There were no locks on her room, no one tried to stop her from leaving the building. But after a few trips into the world, she learned she no longer had a place there.

When they turn off the chip, they take back the wigs and shiny form-fitting clothes. The alluring appeal is an illusion by design, flipped off and on as easily as the lights. They let her roam free because they know she’s smart enough to know that without them, she’s nothing.

Dark hollow eyes. Muscles too atrophied for any real work. Only tufts of once enviable hair clinging in the space between metal plugs.

When the chip was off, she spent a lot of time alone. She thought about her father often, whether she was in her room, or getting wasted at the girls’ bar. He didn’t stay out of her mind for long. She’d ended up exactly as he said she would.

Once she almost called. Connected to the network, got the other end ringing, then hung up before connecting. What was more unbearable than confessing to a parent that they were right?

She knew exactly what he would say and she wouldn’t say much at all. What is there to say when you know that they know everything?

It wasn’t pride that kept her from asking for help. As she caught glimpses of herself in the mirror, she saw nothing to take pride in. She told herself it wasn’t pride that put her on this slow path to an early death.

She wished they would leave the chip on.

Article Jonas Guigonnat TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOCRATS - December 2018

Freedom: The Digital Leash of Neoliberalism

Written by Jonas Guigonnat

Believing the (online) news, the changes we are witnessing are unseen in history. The digital revolution created new ways to interact with each other and with society. Some say that this process will bring humanity to a higher level of civilization, while others insist on the dangers, and see the possibility of new dystopian futures arising (as some Pandemic writers did in this issue). Another fear concerns the way politicians are using those technological innovations and putting the world order at risk. Some of its guardians are ringing the alarm. Others have already transformed themselves, and thus the political system itself.

Old World vs New Political Claims

Even in the short period of the past 200 years, the political arena gave birth to many concepts that we nowadays take for granted. Liberalism, socialism, representative democracy, or the idea of national identity itself, for example, are born out of historical earthquakes that touched the old continent in the nineteenth century. At the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, the old European monarchic network tried to reestablish the sphere of influence they had before the French Revolution. Economic instability, famines and new revolutions in the 1840s ended their ambition. Technological developments, industrialization, neo-imperialism and population growth were forcing the hand of all political actors. They were adapting to the circumstances.

In the twentieth century, things changed as radically as a century earlier. At the end of WWII, only two types of political organization survived the ideological battle that began in the 1920s. On one side, the democratic world was represented by one of the real “winners” of the war, the United States. On the other winning side, looking toward the “east,” Russia created the Soviet Union, incorporating countries which it had claimed after the war in Eastern Europe and imposing the communist political regime.

Unstoppable Changes

But even in those two political and ideological entities, things continued to change, and the political realm saw many movements rise and fall since the 1960s. Marxist ideas have been ostracized since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, but in the 1960s and 70s, they were often used by feminists and civil rights movements. Representative democracies had to adapt to permanent migration movements from Asian and African countries since the beginning of the decolonization process in the late 1940s. New technological innovations also changed the way populations in the western world saw their life, with most Europeans and North-Americans beginning to experience a welfare unknown thus far in history. Out of those changes, neoliberalism developed itself using the ever-growing mass consumption culture to its advantage.

The technological revolution, which began in the 80s, turned bureaucrats into technocrats. For the last 40 years, this new kind of politics learned not only how to govern and keep its influence, but also how to use welfare and technology as a warranty for its own existence. Neoliberalism seems to be using the tools of the digital age to swallow the possibility of significant democratic changes.

The Technological Spring

At first, it is tempting to see the internet as an objective platform for expression. The only problem is that its algorithms are built by humans, who cannot really be seen as objective beings, to say the least. Google or Facebook, for example, are built with a purpose, and that is simply to keep making profits. It may seem irrelevant in the political realm, but some recent events show that such a simple purpose is able to instigate large-scale political crises.

The most discussed example in the debate about the influence of tech companies on international politics is the Arab Spring in 2010. We know now that Facebook’s algorithm used politically loaded publications from the student movement in Egypt to literally set things on fire. It was automatically sent to groups with radically opposite political opinions. But why? The algorithm didn’t try to create hate on purpose, it was just built with the scientific knowledge that negativity is a powerful vector of communication. In other words, it was the simplest way to reach the goal of the company: create more adhesion to the medium, whatever the cost, to optimize profit.

But we are free to choose. At least that is what we are told continuously, for neoliberalism is based on individual responsibility. Freedom itself needs to be taken into perspective, considering it never really exists on its own. The way we interact with the society in which we live defines the essence of our freedom, to the point that we are allowed to claim it.

Photo by Ali Tareq

Online Freedom, Political Serfdom

Neoliberalism is particularly effective because it changed the way values are communicated. The old top-down type of interaction has been abandoned to such an extent, that the exchange of ideas and claims between power structures and the population now happen from below. It doesn’t mean that politicians are listening directly to “the people” – we would be aware of it – but that they give different communities enough attention to understand their whereabouts. How that flow of information is transmitted, and what happens to it afterward, shows how the freedom we are granted is defined.

Do you have the feeling that politicians really do listen to what you have to say? Considering the underlying assumption of this question (that answers it already), is it possible to believe that politicians are even interested in what interests us? For insofar they need us to legitimate them, they obviously need to know what we want to hear, if they want to be elected at least. Let’s imagine a system, like neoliberalism, within which politicians choose to stimulate the use of new technologies that give them access to a considerable amount of the information they require. Without regulation, for example, private companies would be able to create virtual databanks about the personal life of anyone using one of their products. Let’s imagine again what politicians will be able to accomplish with such insights.

To Consume Or To Be Consumed?

There again a wise mind would say that we are free to be a part of this new reality or not. But there again one may underestimate how well prepared the digital tsunami is. The boys of Palo Alto weren’t only successful because their products eased the way we interact with the world on itself. The advertising industry had, since the 1920s and the beginning of the mass consumption society, developed an expertise in the art of subliminality. Influenced by the entertainment industry, every effect of advertising on the public has been analyzed. From colors, shapes and shadows, to sounds, silences and musical breaks. One of their greatest achievements is to have created desires that seem instinctive and recognizable for most, although it is the results of a century of innovation in advertising techniques. When tech companies made their entrance, this knowledge was just ready to be grasped.

The scale on which the #humanity is expanding shows how successful mass consumption techniques are, particularly when they are used in the digital realm. Without a political leash to control it, we are exposed permanently, every day less able to escape. Our time becomes occupied to such an extent that it seems difficult to take a look at the world around us from a distance. Technology is used again and again to that end, always stimulating the active participation of the consumer. Given a free pass, tech companies were even able to reinforce the traditional way of consuming – using our time and energy to purchase a projection of what we really desire – with a new activity: ourselves being the product and the buyer at the same time. Long live the digital realm!

Photo by Jerin J

The Ghosts Of Our Time

And then what? Shouldn’t we just accept that things worked out that way? Aren’t we “lucky” to live in such an insouciance? We are, after all, living in a time where freedom has been expanded more than ever before. The #humanity is seeking peace, so why would we put it into question? Considering that things around us are not naturally themselves, but the result of a human construction, we should be cautious to believe those statements. Yes, life is a lot more livable for most peoples in Europe or in the US than it was even 60 years ago. But at what costs? We are to believe, then, that our society is the result of progress. It is however obvious that, without the period of colonization and both world wars, this civilization of progress would never have existed. Blood and oppression were the price still being paid.

Without entering the debate about the political and economic independence of African and Asiatic states, it is obvious that the oil coming from the Middle-East and minerals from the whole African continents are a crucial piece of the welfare puzzle. Without low-cost workers of many ages, making shoes, clothes or computers in Asia for American and European companies, our material world would be quite different. In their discourse, developed countries affirmed that their aim is a worldwide prosperity. The facts are telling another story and show how the richness of a few is built on the misery of many others. But still, we are free to choose. At least that’s what we are told, still.

Alternative Scenarios?

Out of this quite pessimistic scenario, the fact that individuals and small groups are still thinking about how to use these new technologies remains, too. Yes, it seems that Big Brother is watching us, and has been for quite a while already, still, not everyone is following the leader blindly. The digital realm is now a fact. Let us take advantage of it then, little by little, influencing the choices that are made. Patiently, with distance, almost stoically, but actively at the same time. If we refuse the world vision as it is presented to us and dare to think out of the screen, neoliberalism might be beaten at its own game and be forced to change and adapt to survive.

Then again, the question of what to believe will be asked and some claims will have more impact than others. Our freedom would be defined quite differently and would open up possibilities that are not understandable for the #humanity. The time of the ?humanity will finally have come.