When the Europeans landed on the shores of far-off lands, traversing the geographies of the Other, they brought with them what the perceived to be the light of civilization. This was the light of the Enlightenment – creative, mutable forces to be sure, but a light that simultaneously aimed to organize, regiment, recreate things in its own image, each object in its proper and fixed space. Autonomous circuits of localized knowledge – metis, as James C. Scott calls it – were something to be broken up, wayward systems that they seemed to be, requiring a rapid replacement by calculation and measure. Polycropping, for instance, took on the aesthetic appearance of the nature from which it emerged, a chaotic and disorderly system bound by no rigid segments, Cartesian angles, and thus was phased out by the colonialists and replaced with a system of “pure stand planting,” devoid of the ecological complexities that lay beneath the indigenous methodology.1 The new means of agriculture was now a cartography of lines; it followed the same managerial logic that was reshaping the cities of the European homelands into epic hymns to the gaze of the planners and managerial stratas of the social hierarchy. If disciplinary institutions aimed to make bodies docile and productive, then this was precisely what the imperialists aimed to do with the colonized land: the whole of the social and its utilization of space, ranging from the ecosystem to the layout of the village had to become a full-time security apparatus.
Foucault argues that colonialization produces a boomerang effect, where the technology and tactics that the occupying forces develop to ease their ‘burden’ becomes transferred back to the homeland, reworking in the way that the domestic society is ordered. The greatest impact of the boomerang effect is to be found in the urban cityscape, a place that, while a byproduct of top-down planning and bottom-up social production, takes on the feel of nature itself with the flows of the masses, swarming above, beneath, and through the architectural construct. This was illustrated clearly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans – private military corporations like Blackwater, fresh from the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, conducted the same methodology of urban warfare that they had honed abroad. Beyond the use of tactical maneuvers, however, the boomerang effect is also present on a psychological level: Naomi Klein recounts how when a reporter asked an arm guard if there had been much action in his area of New Orleans, the guard replied “Nope, it’s pretty Green Zone here.”2
More so than New Orleans, the full extent of the boomerang effect can be found in the security and anti-terrorism marketplace specialized in by Israeli firms; an outgrowth of the ongoing (and largely urban based) conflict with the Palestinian territories, this has become the country’s key industry, making up some 60% of their exports.3 Through these exports, the majority of the global cities become private spheres bound by the same pervasive technology that perpetuates the seemingly-endless state of war: airports rely on body scanners and behavior monitoring techniques developed a the border crossings between Israel and Palestine, private corporations buy Israel surveillance technology to monitor employees and customers alike, former IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers provide military training to border guards and police officers, and telephone monitoring technologies find their way from the offices of counterterrorism experts to law enforcement agencies around the world. In another episode that reveals just how symmetrical the boomerang effect is, Israeli private security firms joined in the post-Katrina fray alongside Blackwater and DynCorp, hired specifically by members of upper-crust neighborhoods.
Through the boomerang effect we’re witnessing a literal militarization of urban space, the establishment of a mentality of permanent war directed not at some kind of “Other,” but one that makes its target the populations of the so-called ‘homeland.’ The boomerang effect, of course, isn’t the only factor: there multiple lines and strands that move through the city, the migratory flows of individuals through the urban, the centralization of capital in major metropolitan areas, and the specter of terrorism with its own complex rationale for existence. These are also joined by an underlying anti-urban sentiment in much of the Western world. What I’d like to do now is drift through some issues facing the securization of the urban space, and through these fragmented lens briefly touch on the disturbing implications of these trends. First off: the fear of the city.
The City and its Discontents
Right-wing, conservative, and religious elements have displayed a tendency to view the (post)modern city with varying degrees of disdain – the attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11, for one, “evoked an ancient ‘myth’ about the destruction of the sinful city.” One of the co-conspirators in the attacks, Mohammed Atta, was himself trained in urban planning and espoused virulent anti-modernist views; the invention of the skyscraper, he had argued, was “wiping out the traditional vitality of the cities.”4 On a flip side, the American neonconservative and fundamentalist right holds a similar stance on the nature of urban space. Stephen Graham, in his excellent Cities Under Siege, cites an example of House Majority leader Tom Delay, who suggested that delegates to New York City’s 2005 Republican convention should stay in a luxury cruise liner moored in the water next to the convention center. This move, he believed, would provide the delegates with a space and that was safe and “secure,” away from the dangerous, writhing masses of the city. Three years later Sarah Palin’s vice presidential campaign would also offer polemics against the city. This time it wasn’t the architecture of the urban or the ‘dangerous’ masses that dwelt there, but the proliferation of liberal-style politics in these spaces. The ‘big city America’ was dissolving the America of yesteryear (New Deal America, Mrs. Palin?), crumbling away the traditionalist lives of “pro-American and exurban ‘hockey moms’ and Joe-Six-Packs.”5
The ‘dangerous city’ trope has been present in Western culture memory as a near-constant, with traces of it being found in widely read Old Testament stories of God’s wrath being poured out upon the urban; one can remember these verses being dredged up again and again during the situation in New Orleans after it was leveled in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The American film noirs frequently present the city as a character in itself, a borderline-anarchic state of crime and poverty, violence and vice. These films, of course, also show the city as being denigrated by ruthless capitalism and political corruption, and more modern manifestations of the genre (David Lynch’s Muholland Drive and Inland Empire, for example) display the Spectacled urban place as a profoundly schizophrenic space, where traditional identity itself is thrown into disarray under the glow of the neon lights and the gaze of the greasy executive. From the Book of Exodus to The Asphalt Jungle to Pastor Fred Phelp’s apocalyptic dirges to God’s vengeance, the city is a vexing place, a place of failure where the Hobbesian state-of-nature reigns supreme. Hence the drive of authoritarian modernists like Haussmann and Le Corbusier to assign symmetrical geometry and architectures of controls to central position in urban planning. Le Corbusier himself also felt the need to fall back on religious iconography to stress his point: Paris, as a place of social production, was “a vision of Dante’s inferno” to be tamed by his approach, which would reproduce the urban as an “organized, serene, forceful, airy, ordered entity.”6
Fast forward to 2002, when one Theodore Dalrymple published an article for City Journal titled “The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris.” Recreating the Manichean mentality that pervaded the colonialist outlook, Dalrymple proclaimed that “surrounding the cities of light are threatening Cities of Darkness” – the darkness being, of course, the skin color of the Arabs and Africans and other immigrants who disrupted the harmonious order of white, European civilization.
His solutions are startling: contemporary Paris should use not only apartheid South Africa as a model but also the urban lockdowns pursued by US forces in Baghdad and by Israeli forces in the occupied territories. Dalrymple recalls the words of an Akrikaner he once met in South Africa, a man who explained to him ‘the principle according to which only a single road connected black townships to the white cities: once it was sealed off by an armoured vehicle, the strategy leaves the “blacks [to] foul their own nest.” As a direct imitation of such colonial technique, Dalrymple writes, the French banlieues ‘could be cut off from the rest of the world by switching off the trains and by blockading with a tank one or two the highways that pass through them, (usually with a concrete wall on either side) from the rest of France,’ or what he calls ‘the better parts of Paris.’7
The fortified city is, of course, an icon of a bygone era; the panopticon (justified by Jeremy Bentham, unsurprisingly, on the Biblical image of God’s ‘All-Seeing Eye’) is an unnecessary physical construct: it does indeed exist today, but only in the decentralized units of civilian-military patrol and the ever-present circulation of electronic surveillance. No longer inmates in disciplinary institutions, we’re now viewed as aggregates of statistical data. Shipping orders, ATM withdraws, credit-card purchases, bar codes, etc., transform the so-called freedoms of commerce and trade into a soft un-freedom of perpetual corporate penetration into daily life, and these are matched by the data-mining, communication monitoring, and profiling conducted under the auspices of ‘homeland security.’ The boundaries between both of these spheres – the “private” sphere of business and transaction and the “public sphere” of defense and services provided to the general population – is collapsing; the data accumulated by the private sector is handed over to the public sector’s security apparatuses, and the technological developments conducted by the public sector for wartime implementation find their usefulness perfected by the corporation back home. The immanent logic of these technologies is ‘anticipatory seeing,’ the ability to identify threats before they even manifest themselves as such. Likewise, in the corporate sector, the quick-paced world of commodity circulation makes it necessary to understand and tap into evolving markets even before they gain cultural capital at large.
This dissolution of the boundaries has produced a state of affairs where mass media has made the zone of war and the zone of culture indivisible. In the wake of September 11th, the aggressive propaganda blitz that conditioned the population for the long war in the Middle East was matched by calls by President Bush to consume ‘for the sake of the economy.’ The renewed emphasis on stability and order helped, momentarily, to undercut the radicalism of the alter-globalization movement (the utilization of urban space for class warfare suddenly took on new, negative dimensions after the attacks on New York had also made the urban space one of war), but it also provided opportunities for the military complex to engage directly in the production of consumable items. For example, the US Department of Defense essentially ‘went Hollywood,’ providing production support to films and television shows that provided equitable images of the military and war – the hit franchise of Transformers is just one excellent example, having been “designed extensively for Pentagon recruitment”8 alongside the usual avalanche of (un)subtle product placement. Mainstream celebrities, the by-products and lifeblood of this industry, will often provide additional support for these developments, turning their stature into advertisements for political figures, militarized interventions in humanitarian crises, or, unwittingly or not, for the hyper-acceleration of neoliberal capitalism. The unspoken constant, however, in all of this is the fact that this is all producing bits of data in the population that is being monitored, tagged, accumulated, and modeled to better perfect the apparatuses of unseen control. The monetary spectacle of infotainmentized spaces in the urban, such as Times Square, take on a new brand of urgency from this perspective:
“‘Big Brother’ Meets Market Fundamentalism”
As capitalism has become the very fabric of everyday life, of the social, the primary convergence points of the city recreate this paradigm within its own networked architecture. The airport, the train, the port, the financial district, the telecommunications network and its hubs are both the production of daily life and the support structure for transnational capital flows. Terrorism, which seeks not a victory in the traditional military sense of the word but to aims to disrupt daily life and to generate a sense of unease in the spaces of the social, thus converges itself on these points. Contemporary activism also focuses on these spots – it was simultaneously a symbolic action and functional mechanism that drove the occupation of New York City’s financial district. As a result, these convergences also mark the spot of the highest degrees of securitization, a shift that will quickly classify any abnormal events inside these as a form of urban warfare. But warfare today is waged largely under the doctrine of prevention; these spaces are not securitized at this point in the wake of an event but in anticipation of one – a state of permanent war. Strikingly, Hardt and Negri argued in Multitude that warfare, with its required command hierarchy and the needed obedience towards it, cannot properly co-exist with popular democracy.9 The American militarized defense of “freedom, democracy, and prosperity” collapses in the gulf between rhetoric and action: for whom is this freedom intended, the people or the planners? And if democracy and prosperity, in the American political equation, means market fundamentalism and its logic of the ‘invisible hand,’ how does it reconcile itself with the needed presence of surveillance technology and police control? Decades before Hardt and Negri posed the question, Deleuze and Guattari warned of a war that “takes peace as its object directly” and a machinery of war that “reforms a smooth space that now claims to control, to surround the entire earth. Total war itself is surpassed, toward a form of peace more terrifying still.”10
In war zones, soldiers are trained to analyze the spaces before them, be they the open plane or a bustling crowd, and zero in on anything unusual or out of the ordinary. This sense of always being alert is replicated in the urban spaces: it can be in an apprehension of items that seem like they should not belong (how many times a day do we hear announcements coming from speakers asking us to report packages or backpacks that have been left unattended), or it can also take the form of a person whose behavior is perceived to be abnormal, operating in a manner that is different or opposed to the hegemonic perception of behavior that comes in our current societal model. “Zero-tolerance” in urban policing aims to curb deviations from what is deemed acceptable; Graham points out that this turn is in fact often linked directly into the classist polarization found in all urban centers: “Security regimes centre on achieving ‘controlled urbanity,’ which involves the removal, demonization, or incarceration of failed consumers; the installation of new means of controlling access to space; and the establishment of key facilities for entrepreneurial urban leisure, tourism, and sports mega-events.”11 Thus behavioral policing has found itself correlated with many of the so-called urban renewal projects in major cities, where capital-friendly solutions are presented as the band-aid to poverty and inequality. As sociologist Joan Roelofs has pointed out, urban renewal programs, especially those directed by the private sector’s community development corporations (CDCs), aim to provide socially-acceptable outlets for ‘potential troublemakers’ – a time-consuming job, especially one that pays a lower wage, means less time for confrontational radicalism to fester.12 Yet this was not an accidental by-product: she recounts how one of the earliest CDCs, New York City’s Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, was created by the liberal Ford Foundation as a counter-point to radical activists who were urging a “poor people’s democracy” and community direct action.
The CDC model grew from a war of a different kind than we are accustomed to today, the 1960s “War on Poverty.” But this war, a ‘humanitarian intervention’ of the highest order, is on certain levels directly related to the current global war on terror. Returning to Hardt and Negri’s analysis of postmodern warfare in Multitude, we can gleam certain insights in how the War on the Poverty established not only a war that existed without boundaries (where is the spatial coordinates of poverty? Nowhere, for it is everywhere), but a war that took aim at rather abstract ideas and the creation of symbolic enemies.13 And it is against this enemy, little more than a specter with catalyzing factors emerging from the dominant system itself, that the whole of the social is mobilized, activated in a participation whose agency is hard to grasp. It is entirely possible that both trajectories will eventually collide: will urban renewal create spaces that require higher and higher degrees of securitization, monitoring, and patrol, thanks to these two simultaneously operating promoters and defenders of “democracy”?
The Privatized Eye
Beyond data-mining (though disturbingly grafted to it) as the prevalent mechanism of control in urban spaces is the ever-present eye, the CCTV. While the model is being implemented in cities across the globe, the largest laboratory for its various uses is the United Kingdom, most specifically London, where CCTV technicians have the ability to track individuals from one zone of the city to the next, a perpetual fixed scan on those who appear as deviations from the usual movements of the masses through space. Thankfully, proper facial recognition software has yet to be properly developed – but it is only a certain amount of time that will pass before technology can grant this ability. China is well on its way to utilizing this approach; even as its market reforms recreate the previously socialist country into a neoliberal mecca, there is a long-term plan to catalog the face’s of the country’s 1.5 billion people and integrate them with extensive CCTV networks.14 Meanwhile, in America, lobbying groups representing corporate interests have been hard at work pushing the government to adopting their own facial recognition software under the promises of stemming future threats.
Political scientists have often spoken of the “iron triangle” present in the American political system – the three-way relationship between congress, the executive branch, and various industry’s pressure groups; the most famous example would be the “military-industrial complex” warned of by President Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address. The surveillance-industrial complex would constitute another, with the lobbying agencies of these firms exploiting the permanent war state to gain concessions and contracts. Most of the critics of America’s conflicts in the Middle East have noted that while military spending has had a major negative financial impact back home, it has also been a boom-time for contractors and other corporations offering their services to the armed forces. This has led to the development of a “military-Keyenesianism” where war becomes a financial driver, and just as traditional Keynesianism held within itself the potentials for the development of conflict-of-interest relationships and revolving-door politics, the new method has produced countless examples of crony-capitalism.
The various interests represented in angles of the surveillance-industrial complex are provided with ample opportunities for face-to-face meetings far from the corridors of government at large summits like the ISS conferences in Europe, which annual serves as the “largest gathering” of “law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security analysts” with “telecom operators” specializing in the developments of the tools for these trades. Wikileaks has provided documents presented at ISS, revealing the full extent of the technology discussed during the meets – one corporation, Amesys, unveiled a program that would allow for the “global search and surveillance of all internet traffic,” the defining of “current targets based on classical internet identifiers,” “behavioral analysis of data flow,” leading up to a proper methods for cultivating “a global synthesized view.”
Rising alongside the surveillance-industrial-complex is the interrelated entity of the prison-industrial complex, itself a by-product of the tendency towards the establishment of privatized correctional institutions. Like the counterparts, this prison-for-profit network benefits handsomely through lucrative contracts provided by cozy relationships with the government; the Wackenhut Corporation, for example, not only maintains a near-controlling stake in the prison market but was also a joint business partner with Kellogg, Brown and Root (of Halliburton and Iraq War fame) in training police departments in transitional countries around the world – with State Department funding, of course. It’s a slick model, considering that this government subsidization could easily end up training police officers that may arrest individuals who would find themselves incarcerated in Wackenhut prison cells. Meanwhile, the Corrections Corporations of America allegedly provided behind-close doors support for the drafting of the now infamous Arizona SB 1070, which would have led the company to gain major profits in the event that mass incarcerations of illegal immigrants was to occur.15
The rapid pace of the revolving doors and perpetual need for newer products provided by private entities in service of the so-called public institution of the government requires a reworking of Foucault’s boomerang – it is now a matter of speed, and one that never slows. The interlocking iron triangles and the militarization of all spaces means that the daily accelerations in information technology must be harnessed – the logistics of unfettered prison markets, essentially reestablishing the classic North-South divide of the globe in the very geography of the developed world, is rapidly transforming the surveillance sphere into a testing-ground for cutting edge technology. Facial recognition, as touched on earlier, was one example; another is the utilization of complex algorithms in service of mass tracking techniques. Public money has flowed through DARPA for just such research – just as full monitoring of internet communication traffic is deemed a necessity, projects like “Combat Zones That See” attempt to capture the spaciotemporal fluctuations of the city as a whole, breaking down and analyzing the liquid and organic movements of everyday life through the utilization of ‘smart’ CCTV networks.16 Disturbingly, this particular project aims not only to utilize the algorithmic process but also the developments of facial recognition software; through this, digital technology transforms into an ever-present eye capable of discerning the briefest of movements. While the military, in the face of public outcry, claims the technology would never be deployed in domestic urban zones, Graham points out that aspects of the technology is finding its way back to the homeland in the navigation and communication technologies present in the modern vehicles. The primary automotive market for these technologies is the SUV market, so it is with little irony that we can note that the SUV itself descends from the vehicles developed by the military for use in combat zones.
Life in the Machine
The sociologist Lewis Mumford is best remembered for his complicated theory-fiction of the “megamachine.” For him, the megamachine was the totalizing technique of authoritarian, production-minded social order, an “invisible structure composed of living, but rigid, human parts, each assigned to his special office, role, and task, to make possible the immense output and grand designs of this great collective organization.”17 He situates the first megamachine as coalescing in the “pyramid age,” when civilization, under the theocratic directives of the pharaohs, managed to organize not simply the workers toward the construct of the monuments, but the whole of the social; every aspect of Egyptian daily life was reorganized and moved in a certain direction to serve whims of the age’s masters. Surveillance was critical, for the ability to concentrate and manage the whole of political and economic power required a “system of information storage capable of keeping track every event within the province of the Divine King: once these accessories were available, the central establishment would also have a monopoly of both energy and knowledge.”18
Yet this would be just the first of many megamachines to evolve, each one appearing at major shifts in the understanding of scientific technology, which in Mumford’s understanding allowed a greater mobility to these machinic parts. Writing in the early 1970s, he had witnessed the revolution in cybernetic research conducted by Norbert Weiner and others, and with striking similarity to Foucault, Deleuze, and Guattari, warned of a “quantum jump from macro- to micro-mechanics,” a coming-full-circle that brought the Egyptian Eye of the Divine King to the new Divine Computer. “So,” he says, “the final purpose of life in terms of the megamachine at last becomes clear: it is to furnish and process an endless quantity of data, in order to expand the role and ensure the domination of the power system.”19 But Mumford was writing almost a decade before the neoliberal revolution proper took off; while there were certainly anticipatory foreshadows to what was to come, the dispersal of capitalist monetary power into global cybernetic networks was still beyond grasp. As such it could be tempting to read Hardt and Negri’s work as an unspoken ‘sequel’ to Mumford’s: their descriptions of Empire – a new articulation of sovereignty built from “a series of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule”20 – fits neatly with the megamachine. Deleuze and Guattari’s work provides the key that links the two theoretical approaches together. In their wide-ranging analysis, the megamachine (or more properly, a “system of machinic enslavement,” the birth pangs of the ‘mechanosphere’) is not just a socioeconomic-political construct, but one of linguistic command. The model of the state, not the state just as the governing body, but as the entirety of the symbolic order, is a “regime of signs.”21
Empire, the newest megamachine, is a cybernetic model built upon communicative technologies. Interpersonal relationships, monetary flows, and surveillance technology all hold the same thing in common: they spend much of their time circulating in the digital realm, which at its base is the transfer of data reduced to symbols and codework, an algorithmic language for computers. Under Empire these three things not only move in the same channels, they become utterly intertwined with one another, often indistinguishable. Decentralized, they slip towards a new kind of precariousness; interpersonal dynamics, the fabric of the social, is the requisite for capital flow and vice-versa, and surveillance and data accumulation (and if needed, incarceration) presents itself as the invisible order that prevents any potential disruption in this cycle from occurring. Maybe Bifo is right, that the human body is disappearing, but it is being replaced by a new one: a fully linguistic body, one that is built not of cells and experience, but of raw information.
In the urban, a strange new dynamic is forming under watchfulness of the machine’s eye. Post-Fordist emphasis on the fluidity and change of the individual’s subjectivity – or to render it into strictly Guattarian terms, on the cartography of the process of subjectivation – creates a high degree of allowance for spaces of flexibility. Subculture, individuality, unique, quirky, cool, different, these are all words that are not only accepted in the traditional sense of the word, but they are applauded. We’re urged to be ourselves, whatever that means exactly, providing the system(s) with the cosmetic appearance of plurality and multiculturalism, a heterogeneous state that differs greatly from the cultural stasis that marked the Fordist-Keyenesian era.
At the same time, however, things that appear “different” or “abnormal” become the targets of surveillance, and their existence urban sweep targeted for removal by the adjacent security apparatuses. Under the moniker of homeland security and the defense of everyday life, there is a strong current towards a homogenized urban space that allows for the smooth travel of capital through its well-worn corridors. As Deleuze and Guattari, and Baudrillard in his own idiosyncratic way, have pointed out, cybernetic control’s resultant modeling is producing an artificialization of space, and this sense of non-space is bitter contrast to the fluidity that capable demands for itself. On one hand, there is an explosion of the social, with new possibilities for freedom and perhaps even micropolitical remapping taking place inside the networks of control, while on the other hand there is an implosion of the social that seeks to either harness these forces or remove them from the equation entirely. Post-Fordist capitalism requires both hands – the true invisible hands, at any rate – but the question is whether or not this will tend towards an equilibrium, or if one current will move at a faster speed than the other. Under the perpetual war that we call peace, the lack of any serious structural change gives us the answer to who most likely will be the winner.
1James C. Scott Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed Yale University Press, 1998, pg. 273
2Naomi Klein The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism Picador, 2007, pg. 519
3Ibid., pg. 552
4Stephen Graham Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism Verso, 2011, pg. 41
5Ibid, pg. 47
6Scott Seeing Like a State pg. 107
7Graham Cities Under Siege, pgs. 49-50
8Rebecca Fisher Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Organization of Consent Corporate Watch, 2013, pg. 93
9Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire Penguin Books, 2005, pg. 17
10Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia University of Minnesota Press, 1987, pg. 421
11Graham Cities Under Siege pg. 102
12Joan Roelofs Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism State University of New York Press, 2003, pgs. 94-96
13Hardt and Negri Multitude pgs. 13-14
14Graham Cities Under Siege pg. 117
15Laura Sullivan “Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law” National Public Radio October 28th, 2010 http://www.npr.org/2010/10/28/130833741/prison-economics-help-drive-ariz-immigration-law
16Graham Cities Under Siege pgs. 164-166
17Lewis Mumford The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development Mariner Books, 1971, pg. 189
18Lewis Mumford The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power Harcour, 1974, pg. 274
19Ibid, pg. 275
20Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. xii
21Deleuze and Guattari A Thousand Plateaus pg. 428