49 – #FORCE

Someone jumps the turnstiles at the train station. It’s upsetting: no one likes to see such a flagrant violation of the law performed to so publicly. A moment of dissonance and powerlessness: You really ought to do something. Something ought to be done. Then the gate-jumper disappears, lost in the crowd.

The act has been witnessed, of course. Scores of closed-circuit TV cameras cover every area and every angle, but with so much to see, is anyone watching? Every Panopticon requires its Argus, studded with eyes, eternally vigilant. The concentration of observation in surveillance requires a center greater than the sum of its inputs. Crumbling under the Burden of Omniscience, power gives out that it sees all while actually observing very little.

This gap between the recorded and the observed exists only in the hierarchies of top-down power. I see the queue-jumper, for he makes his leap right in front of me. Yet except on the very rare occasion when I might be called upon as an eyewitness in a criminal investigation, my observations mean nothing to power. That does not make them meaningless.

Power is not the arbiter of salience. Had I my camera to hand (instead of in my pocket) and snapped a photo of the offender, then shared it, the image would have achieved a momentary ‘caught in the act’ notoriety, seen by everyone connected to everyone who cared enough to send it along. If that snap had been of something more provocative – such as an assault – the image would have traveled far and wide, likely getting picked up by the broadcast media, instantly amplifying its reach a hundred fold. If it bleeds, it leads.

Hyperconnected, we now each confront a succession of hyperdistributed images: some funny, others sad, a few nonsensical, a small number clawing at the heart. When a 68 year-old grandmother gets bullied to tears by a squadron of 13 year-old boys, that’s a tragedy. When one of those boys posts the video to YouTube, the tragedy (via hyperstupidity) becomes an instant sensation. Empathy is a flavour of salience; we feel its importance to us. When someone gets hurt, we understand the pain in our souls.

A few people joined in pain would be unremarkable, but a planet, hyperconnected, sharing and feeling, foment hyperochlocracy, the new mob rule. The mob has no center. Things just happen, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively. The boys received thousands of death threats; the grandmother, over half a million dollars in donations. The separate actions of the mob constitute the death of a thousand cuts, while its collective actions have a force beyond any expectation.

Hyperochlocracy is not personal, nor can it be called up and put down like a legion of loyal troops. It can not be invoked or appealed to, because there is no there there. It has no it. It is substantial without substance. Yet it possesses an undeniable reality that becomes visible only just as it rises into being.

A nine-year old girl in Scotland, tracking her school dinners for a class project – which she photographed, rated, and posted to her blog – catapulted to fame when a local newspaper discovered her blog, and wrote it up. After many thousands of visits, the local government council banned the child from taking any photos of her meals, claiming the cafeteria staff feared for their jobs (some of the less appetizing meals had been shared around widely).

Given the attention already focused on the child’s blog, the ban produced a ‘Streisand Effect’ (named after the singer, who tried to have aerial shots of her beachfront home removed from a public survey, which only directed millions more to the imagery, an early example of hyperdistribution and hyperochlocracy working hand-in-hand), the blog’s visitor count jumped by another few million, and – under the full glare of the national press – the head of the local council rescinded the ban.

Where mob rule tips over into organized public action, hyperochlocracy becomes hyperpolitics, the precise and enduring application of hyperconnectivity and its sequelae to achieve a goal in the public sphere. Over the next billion seconds, hyperpolitics will become the dominant form of collective action, replacing democratic processes that provide the ‘reassurance ritual’ (as Alvin Toffler aptly named it in The Third Wave) of voting, but leave the voter disconnected from the actual mechanism of power.

Hyperconnectivity leads to hyperpolitics: connecting, sharing, learning and doing inevitably culminate in a specific coherence, salience extending beyond a specific moment or current outrage, something that outlasts a media firestorm or a meme du jour. When the mob stops to think, and does not simply decompose into its constituent relations, but remains, receptive and ready, hyperempowerment has become hyperpolitics.

The moments of hyperempowerment grow more frequent. The emergence of hyperpolitical forces – persisting for hours or weeks – no longer delivers the same thrilling shock of the new that it did a hundred million seconds ago, but we still know next to nothing of this newest human organizational form.

We do know that the more it happens, the more it tends to happen. Every experience of hyperempowerment teaches us more about hyperempowerment: techniques and tools, learned, tried and shared, which become part of the next moment of hyperpowerment. Each experience of hyperpolitics teaches us more about what leads to permanence and coherence, the specifics of salience.

As the longest-running experiment in hyperpolitics, ANONYMOUS has thousands of constituent members constantly engaging in a search for the salient, looking for something to ‘rally the troops’ around a specific action, campaign, prank or attitude. If ANONYMOUS decided that turnstile-jumpers represented a grave threat to freedom (or, perhaps, simply for the lulz), the organization could quickly deploy individuals to monitor barriers in stations throughout the world, and gate-jumpers would be caught in the act.

This represents police force perfected beyond the wildest dreams of any dictator, because it comes from the people, connected. But antipathy to control is the price of hyperconnectivity. We can do anything we want, but only so long as no one tells us we must.

44 – #DISCRIMINATION

We do not wish to remain trapped within the dwell-state of our hyperstupidity, feeding back on our prejudices until nothing beside remains. Comfortable and comforted, cosseted in our common ignorance, we refuse to correlate our beliefs and their consequences. We know that if we drop an apple it falls to Earth, but when we flick the ignition on a car engine, do we see Greenland melt? Some loops are too big, too long, too small, or too short to fall neatly within our gaze. Our sense of connection between our actions and the world beyond our fingertips has always been tenuous, subject to the whimsy of our beliefs.

Can we choose what we know? Can we become aware of the shape of our understanding, its dents and features, and, as if addressing our features in a mirror, make the appropriate adjustments? Can we understand that as we leave the immediate behind for the hyperconnected, encompassing all experience, everywhere, we gain a capacity for self-observation?

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

Poet Robert Burns circles it perfectly; some Power, outside of us, must hold that mirror up, to reveal ourselves in the eyes of others.

Hyperconnected, we are that Power, and that mirror, now everywhere, offers us the first chance we have ever had to reflect upon our selves, our actions, and their consequences, unadorned by the prejudice of practice.

It is, of course, horrible. We are ugly creatures who always thought themselves beautiful, perfect in our mind’s eye, yet malformed monsters and hungry ghosts to everyone else. We do not want to see it: Our first instinct is to pull away, retreating into the familiar lie long enough to drown the shock of self-recognition.

That is the moment of opportunity. As someone pulls back, we all must follow. We must draw ourselves into the madness of individual delusion, presenting ourselves as the real amidst the unreal, truth in a forest of lies, shining light and dispelling darkness. We must not let anyone turn away. Instead, wherever they turn, we must place the mirror before them.

We must be gentle in this operation, and sensitive to its practice: this is not a rape, but an unveiling. Go too hard and risk turning a soul so far inward it loses all sense of direction, stumbling around in a hysterical blindness for the rest of its days. Too light a touch could be mistaken for a playful caress lacking substance or meaning. We must be insistent, even a bit impertinent, but not mocking; forthright but not blunt; clear but not overwhelmingly direct. A middle way seems best, one which neither takes succor from dreams nor demands unconditional surrender.

Conversely, as individuals we must steel ourselves for the unpleasant truths awaiting us as we disrobe, removing the jewels of our conceit and garment of our ignorance. Naked, and visible to all, we will be encouraged to look at ourselves through the eyes of another. We must be calm. We must trust all will be well. We must realize this is for the best. We will feel embarrassment and shame, vulnerability and fear. We will be revealed – warts and all. But we will not be judged, because any eyes which look upon us are also human eyes: equally limited, equally blind, equally guilty.

There is no better and no worse, no good and no evil, no right and no wrong, there is only what you see and how others see it. There is horror and terror and joy and wonder, but there is no judgement. This prelapsarian point-of-view springs from hyperconnectivity: now that we are all connected, and know each other truly, deeply and in the fullness of our madness, we can only sympathize. When we are in one another’s heads, forgiveness becomes the only possible path.

Bound together, we suddenly find ourselves with a new, collective responsibility: to care for one another, to prevent one another straying too far from the common path, the common purpose, the common will. No man is an island; nor, any more, can any man consider themselves singular. We were always more than ourselves. For most of our passage here as a species, we never considered ourselves alone, only in relation to others. Urbanization shattered us into a new collectivity far more powerful but less immediate, a disassociation and amputation into new capability at the cost of almost everything we had previously imagined significant.

Now we erase the traces, drawing a new circle around ourselves, with the center everywhere and circumference at infinity, encompassing all. There is no room for solitude. Even the solitude of the clique, drawing tight into itself, struggles against the constant lure of everything beyond its bounds. The center cannot hold, because everyone is everywhere.

The shape of the next billion seconds will seem angelic to some, demonic to others. It takes parts of ourselves long hidden and brings them into view, forcing us to share our madness, demanding that we look on it in all honesty. It will not let us escape into a fog of gentle forgetfulness. It is with us everywhere, always: constantly nagging, advising, referring, refining and improving. Implacable, impatient, and unimpressed, this hyperconnected hive mind moves us toward a goal greater than any of us could achieve – or even entertain – by ourselves.

It is not the end of neurosis, but the end of the quiet lie that lets neurosis flourish. It is not the end of ignorance, but generates the adamantine surface which ignorance encounters. It is not the end of the individual, but the advent of a greater form, which accepts the individual, as the body accepts cells: gratefully, but with great direction.

We have all become part of it, seduced with a gentle, steady power. It is inescapable, already here, and gives us gifts both awesome and terrible. We need both.

43 – #MUNTED

Dicit ei Pilatus: “Quid est veritas?”

Vaccines cause autism.

Man never landed on the Moon.

Obama is a Muslim.

Everything is true. Even false things. We know this, because whatever we believe, we can find confirmation. Provide any assertion (however outrageous) to a search engine, and find the others: Flat Earthers and Birthers, Lizard Rulers and Orgone Believers. Where we once confronted the Horrible Truth alone, we now band together. We act as balm for each other’s wounds, soothing the pains of a World That Will Not Listen, blind to the truth.

What is truth? Is it simply what we believe, or is there something outside ourselves which must serve as reference point? Can something become true simply because enough people believe it? We frequently act as though belief magically transmutes into truth. But if this were true, there would be no truth, consistency, nor logic. The world would be a patchwork of assertions inside each of our own heads, with each of us the creators of our own peculiar universes, each running according to their own rules. More than mere solipsism, this amounts to a psychotic separation from the real.

What is real? Reality is that which will kill you if ignored long enough. It takes the form of a polio virus, transmitted in the wake of a collapse in herd immunity, because too many children went unvaccinated; or a lethal bacteria, which evolved resistance to all antibiotics because people have a poor understanding of natural selection, and reject evolutionary theory; or an asteroid impact, unavoidable because the crystal sphere of heavens is fixed and unchanging. Reasonable to ridiculous, flimsy to fatal, one truth remains unchanging and undiluted: “It’s not what you don’t know, it’s what you know that just ain’t so!”

We have constructed the perfect amplifier of knowledge. Only now do we see its shadow, ignorance at the speed of light: hyperstupidity. We can feed at the tree of knowledge, but this is both good and evil. We come not in innocence, but in ignorance, and that ignorance shapes our taste in fruit. Blinded by what we do not know, clinging to what we believe, we seek reassurance, not anxiety, a self-reinforcing loop of choices which leave us increasingly imprisoned by our own prejudices.

How delightful, then, when someone else comes along to reify us, praising us for holding to our peculiar truths. We return the favor, sharing around our shared interest in this truth, and that moment of connection becomes a bond. One bond, replicated in other moments of connection, becomes a community, defined not by what it believes, but rather, by what it rejects. Heresy is the boundary of all community: to be free one must be shunned.

Sharing does not create truth. There is no generative epistemology within hyperintelligence. Connection, sharing and learning can lead to wisdom, but may also produce a greater darkness. Until the moment when an entire structure collapses – a bridge of fantasy undone by the real – we can continue believing. If that moment never comes, if our beliefs never engender life-or-death emergencies, we can carry them throughout the course of our lives, acting on them as if they were true, even though they are not. This produces a wake of small errors, decisions which flow from a larger but unrevealed flaw.

We have always believed more than we know, and acted from those beliefs. Though we should know everything now, perversely we believe more than before, a rejection of the Age of Omniscience for a false sense of security. More than false, dangerous: since ‘all knowing is doing, and all doing knowing’, we act from the lies we tell ourselves, and these lies have consequence.

We find ourselves moving with inertia into the substance of our lies. As we move deeper into the lie, it becomes harder to repent, and change direction. Assumptions become beliefs become prejudices, fixed psychic objects which we defend as if identical to ourselves. (That lie is the mother to many others.)

Lies accumulate. We make a decision based on our own misapprehension of the truth; this becomes the basis for someone else’s decision, the foundation of fact they must draw upon, and the whole thing becomes more error-ridden as time passes, patched repeatedly until a moment of catastrophic failure. The real asserts its prerogative, bringing everything down.

At this moment, we could ‘endure the unendurable’, changing our beliefs to more closely model reality, or we could turn away more completely, shutting ourselves off from any connection to the real, until that moment when it can no longer be ignored, forestalled, or thwarted.

As the flow of information accelerates in the age of hyperconnectivity, the pressure on all beliefs correspondingly increases. It is harder to assert anything unchallenged, but it is also more difficult to be shouted down. We search through all the noise for any signal that confirms what we believe, seizing upon it, sharing it with all who share our belief, and strengthening that belief for the entire community. We do this with increasing speed and ever-improving effectiveness.

Trapped as never before, creatures of our peculiar truths, even if we could look beyond ourselves, we would only see other menageries of other creatures, mirrors of ourselves and our condition. We consider knowledge liberation, but it is also a straightjacket, enabling and disabling in equal proportion. This is the paradox of hyperintelligence: all of our knowing constrains us, even as it gives us wings to fly.

We can not simply keep our heads empty. They will inevitably fill up with something. We need not be ignorant about our ignorance. But in this moment, in our ignorance, we are munted.

Munted – adj. refers to the property of an object (or person) as broken, ruined, significantly damaged, disfigured or deformed, often to the extent that it is not reversible or repairable.