50 – #FOCUS


The state reserves for itself the monopoly on force. Only the state has the right to restrain you, to strike you, to detain you, or kill you. When citizens restrain, strike, detain or kill one another, the state steps in, lest its monopoly become meaningless. The thin blue line separating us from mere anarchy, state power delimits the outer boundaries for personal behavior.

What happens, then, when the state can not be trusted to act in your best interest? When the monopoly on violence has been colonized by interests incongruous with the public, because of corruption (it is always, inevitably, corruption) what recourse do citizens possess? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Atomized individuals can not withstand the unified and focused efforts of state power. Divide and conquer. The Stasi, the quintessence of a modern security state, had a full third of the population spying on the other two-thirds, an infiltration so profound it left East German culture incapable of anything more organized than collapse.

Rarely do people willingly assent to their dehumanization and final atomization. Resistance, continuous and pervasive, accompanies any closure in the gaps which interrupt the smooth functioning of power. The state has an arsenal of its own technologies to smooth its way: fear first, then the gentle seductions of material comfort. You will obey, or else. Do as you’re told – and be richly rewarded.

Unable to reach out in solidarity to others similarly threatened by a powerful state, the individual nearly always succumbs, with the remainder – the zealots – easy to contain, control and sterilize. Every state has its prisoners of conscience, refusing both the admonishments and blandishments of power. The smartest states have marginalized this final few; the worst made martyrs of them, sowing the seeds of revolution.

The state has lost its power to atomize its citizens.

All state power, however constituted, has come under threat from hyperconnectivity. Individuals feeling the pressure of state power no longer think of themselves as alone, any more than anyone thinks of themselves as alone in any situation (provided sufficient connectivity). We instinctively turn to one another to connect and share, to learn and do. We do this in every situation, but when we do this in response to state power, the result inevitably takes on a hyperpolitical dimension.

The fine citizens of New York City, growing tired of the ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy of New York’s finest – which disproportionately targets minorities – use hyperconnectivity to reframe the relationship between police power and themselves. Using a smartphone app, citizens are invited to record every stop-and-frisk event they see on the city’s streets. The reported information is immediately hyperdistributed to everyone else running the smartphone app; people within a particular neighborhood instantly know when that noxious police activity is taking place, and precisely where it’s happening.

A stop-and-frisk action, which might once have been witnessed by just a few, can now quickly gather a crowd of hundreds, or thousands, a hyperochlocracy facilitated by hyperconnectivity. The state requires a degree of secrecy for its smooth operation. Exposed, the police lose much of their power, not simply because others can avoid these frisky cops, but because the attention they attract in the performance of their duty directly subtracts from their effectiveness.

This app takes the hyperconnected population of New York City – well over half of whom carry a smartphone – and creates a platform for sharing a very specific type of information, leading to a detailed situational awareness around a particular type of police activity. The app is the focusing agent, concentrating the attention of the mob, amplifying something mostly invisible into salience. A technology of hyperpolitics, the app supports the coherence necessary for a moment of hyperempowerment to extend indefinitely. In that extension, the momentary attention of hyperochlocracy becomes the pushback and renegotiation of power that typifies hyperpolitics.

Across the next billion seconds, all relations between the hyperconnected and state power will echo this form. The singular and atomized individual has been obsolesced by the hyperconnected and hyperpolitical, a process of natural selection that has seen the state finally breed a form of power entirely beyond its own ability to control, manage, or even understand.

State power serves to protect the corrupt, even where this conflicts directly with the interests of the state as the preserver of the lives of its citizens. The Chinese know from repeated scandals involving the tainting of the country’s food supply (infant formula contaminated with melamine, pork with beef flavouring sold as beef, etc.) that they need to have a healthy distrust of any official inspections or protections proffered by the state.

In the absence of state protection, the hyperconnected turn to themselves, connecting, sharing, learning and doing. One smartphone app, the China Survival Guide, tracks all of the ongoing food scandals, while a website, “Throw It Out The Window”, recently succumbed in the face of overwhelming traffic. Chinese find or create these tools, put them to work, and if they succeed, share them around, hyperdistributing their expertise, converting that into hyperintelligence – individuals pooling their experiences to amplify the experience of everyone everywhere – putting that knowledge to work to save themselves from poisoning.

Hyperpolitics neatly fills all gaps where state power has proven itself fundamentally ineffective. The Chinese can not trust the government on food safety, but eating clean food is very important to the Chinese, so this salience becomes an organizing principle that drives people to connect, share, learn and do persistently. Connecting is the necessary and wholly sufficient first act; all else follows naturally from it, driven at first by self-preservation, quickly amplified into hyperempowerment through the efforts of a billion hyperconnected Chinese.

The fertile ground for the emergence of hyperpolitics can be found anywhere the state meets its citizens. Where the state fails or oversteps, that emergence, amplified by salience, happens nearly instantly. The state has been contained, constrained as never before, hemmed in at every point, measured, observed, recorded, reported, analyzed and assessed.

No state is smart enough, strong enough, or fast enough to counter this force. Every time we focus, the state becomes a little less potent.

3 thoughts on “50 – #FOCUS

  1. The “thin blue line” separates us not from anarchy, but from anomie. Being without leaders (archons) is different to being without social order / values. The ‘monopoly on force’ is actually the monopoly on legitimised use of force, and it’s not reserved by the state, but vested in the state by the people by assent. When that assent is put under the focus, we see change – why do we give the state the power to do X? Not in my name!

    But the wheels of the old democratic system do not turn fast enough – and so the standing government gets a “free hit” in their final term to really mess things up – so long as they don’t go past the comfort or fear threshold in their actions.

    Conformity keeps us in place too, and anonymity has become the catalyst for to circumvent the first-voice anxiety.

    So, we’re pressuring governments to open up (have you seen fyi.org.nz?) and we’re watching the henchmens progress carefully – what we’re missing is a direct feedback mechanism – a way to speak directly, democratically on specific issues…

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