Swarm Intermezzo: Meditations on the Ether





     When we perceive the movement of the swarm, what is being witnessed is a certain diagram of action derived from the organizational properties of the distributed network. At this level, we take the shifts and fluctuations of masses found within nature – bees, birds, schools of fish, insects, bats, myxobacteria, so on and so forth – and transpose their logic into that of our informatic paradigm, a polymorphous, interdisciplinary and transitory state with its concrete genesis (though it has a great many filiations and genealogies preceding it) in the mathematical theory of communication as laid out by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver in the 1940s.


     The distributed network is the extension of the Shannon-Weaver model to encompass innumerable points, relays and nodes across space, time and the scales these operate through. In the original theory, communication – rendered here as the message – proceeds from point A (the sender) to point B (the receiver); the process entails the coding of the message at the beginning of the transmission and the decoding at the end, with a fight against the entropic forces of noise during its passage through the channel. By the 1960s, researchers at the RAND Corporation would reconfigure the Shannon-Weaver model in a system marked by multiple networks of point-to-point communication. The most notable and influential of the papers which emerged from this effort was Paul Baran’s 1964 memorandum, “On Distributed Communications.” This document series would go on to form the basis of the ARPAnet, the military-based forerunner to the internet as we know it today.




     In the “Introduction to Distributed Communication Networks,”i, Baran illustrates the tactical advantages of the distributed network model over the two previous network models, the centralized the decentralized network forms. The problems associated with these two modes, for Baran, derives from their reliance on hierarchical structures dictating the passage of information, thus generating the possibility of eliminating communication outright through some cataclysmic event (such as a Soviet nuclear strike). “Since destruction of a small number of modes in a decentralized network,” he writes, “can destroy information, the properties, problems, and hopes of building ‘distributed’ communications networks are of paramount interest.”ii This precise discourse would be picked up decades later by two of RAND’s top theorists of the Revolution in Military Affairs, John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, who define the distributed network (or what they call the “all-channel network”) against the “star or hub network” and the “chain network.” The all-channel network has “no single, central leadership, command, or headquarters – no heart or head that can be targeted… the design may sometimes appear acephalous (headless), and at other times polycephalous (hydra-headed).”iii Importantly, for Arquilla and Ronfeldt, this is precisely what opens up the possibility for the swarm to strike: “Swarming occurs when the dispersed units of a network of small (and perhaps large) forces converge on a target from multiple directions.”iv In other words, it is the sudden focus of the potentialities present within the distributed network as it also allows the means (such as through interconnected and instantaneous communication) for it to operate.


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     What this tells us is that in the informatic paradigm, the distributed network precedes the becoming of the swarm; while the swarm constitutes its own microenvironment, it is contingent upon the pre-existence of an electronically-mediated environment from which it derives its capabilities. In the context of globalization, this is the technological (and more properly, cybernetic) angle of neoliberal capitalism; as the last fifty years of shown, it is the deterritorialization of capital, production, and labor and the shift of the locus of accumulation from material processes (the factory economy) to immaterial processes (the economies of finance, service industries, and entertainment coupled with the rise of automatization). The bedrock of this late capitalism is information, and more importantly the breaking down of barriers in communicating information. For Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the capacity for global information sharing forms one of the key regulatory apparatuses of the present worldsystem, that which they dub Empire. They call it “Ether”, which they add together with two other mediums, that of the Bomb and Money. “Ether is the third and final fundamental medium of imperial control. The management of communication, the structuring of education, and the regulation of cultural appear today more than ever as sovereign prerogatives.”v


     Yet they tell us that while it is subsumed under the regime of Empire, the Ether is free from the command of sovereign entities. Unlike the Bomb (which is directly correlated to the geopolitical might of a given nation through its center stage in the military and mutually-assured-destruction strategies) and Money (forever flowing upwardly into the financial metropolises like New York City and London while dictating the relations in the global markets below), the Ether is utterly deterritorialized and diffused across the transnational plane, and continuously circulates through the civil societies of the world. It is only through Empire’s harnessing of the Ether than it becomes subverted into a methodology of control. If the Bomb harkens back to monarchic forms of power (sovereign societies) and Money to aristocratic (disciplinary societies), then the Ether, for Hardt and Negri, is democratic.vi


     Elsewhere in their work, Hardt and Negri propose a different model of Empire’s structure that allows shows this tension between control and democracy. This model is one of an x-y axis, with a horizontal line that operates as a “democratic mechanism” and a vertical line that serves as an “oligopolistic mechanism.” Both are likened to communication mediums: the democratic mechanism is defined in the terms of a distributed network, where an “indeterminate and potentially unlimited number of interconnected nodes communicate with no central point or control; all nodes regardless of territorial location connect to all others through a myriad of paths and relays.”vii The example cited is the internet, while the oligopolistic line is consists of centralized and decentralized networks “characterized by broadcast systems… there is a unique and relatively fixed point of emission… defined by its centralized production, mass distributed, and one-way communication.viii This subsequent model of the two intersecting lines has been resurrected by Alexander Galloway in his analysis of the relationship between the internet’s Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and the DNS. He understands the DNS as operating as a hierarchically organized “decentralized database” that tethers digital communicative spaces to “physical spaces on the physical networks.”ix The TCP/IP, by contrast, is the anarchic distributed network where the two “work together to establish connections and move data packets effectively through those connections… any computer on the network can talk to any other computer, resulting in a nonhierarchical, peer-to-peer relationship.”x


     Galloway understands this simultaneous regulation and allowance of autonomous action as protocol – the underlying logic of the system and the ‘gateway’ into system’s ethereal aspects. On the level of Empire this could be best understood as protocological governance, where the capabilities of the distributed network are only found following the acquiescence to the stipulations of the system’s “administrators,” derived from the fusion of national and transnational interests and the imperatives of the global capital and labor markets. What this means is that protocological governance can be viewed as the regulation of technology and action by systems derived from a previous technological paradigm – to blend Hardt and Negri’s examples with that of Galloway, the internet’s compulsion to connect and communicate is modulated by a decentralized system based on the model of the radio or television broadcast. On the scale of governance – both national and transnational – it is the regulation of democracy (in the sense of the actions of autonomous actors) by vertical organizations of power. (ranging from the low-intensity democracy of representative and parliamentary systems to far more autocratic regimes).


     And yet Hardt and Negri’s depiction of global communicative capabilities as the Ether points to the instances were protocological governance is overran. This tension exists as far back as Shannon and Weaver’s initial theory, which sought a means of quantifying information by divorcing it from the content, or the actual ‘bulk’ or rationale, of the message. This cleavage establishes a gulf where information has become immaterial (or as Katherine Hayles puts it, information ‘loses its body’xi), requiring a critical intervention to reinstate the physical and material attributes. Today, the extension of Shannon and Weaver to the levels of distributed networking has seen an abundance of elements emanating from the network organizational form while existing in a state beyond it. Sociologist Karin Knorr Cetina has discussed “global microstructures,” the diffused proliferation of agile and flexible social organizations across the globe, typified by their complexity, capability for self-organization, and relationship with information technologies.xii While this points directly into the material and immaterial formations of networks in the Ether, Cetina is quick to acknowledge that these microstructures “are not simply networks” – while the passage of information through channels is constitutes a crucial aspect, “more is going on in crucial forms than transfers between actors.”xiii The example she cites is the role of Islamic spirituality in the Al-Qaeda network, a brilliant instance of the reassertion of the body back into the disembodied state of information. The Shannon-Weaver model is driven by notions of mathematical rationality deriving from the Taylorist methodologies of scientific management and the rise of tabulation and databasing typical of disciplinary societies; the global microstructures instead indicates the presence of the an irrationality, which by no means undercuts the efficiency of these systems.xiv


Al-Qaeda-Network-Tree-600x504 alqaedamap


     This irrationality can be thought of as “an excess beyond surplus-value,”xv i.e. that which cannot be properly rationalized in the context of production and accumulation. It brings to mind the “heterogeneous elements of the social,” as discussed by Georges Bataille – “elements that are impossible to assimilate” that break “the laws of homogeneity” when “active as persons or mobs.”xvi The presence of heterogeneity in the network functions as a contagion – something that can be literal, such as the transmission of SARs or other viruses across the globe via the networked transportation and trade routes that rely on information technology (airlines and oceanic shipping), or metaphorically, such as the likening of Al Qaeda networks (and their own relationships to information technologies) to a virus-like contagion.xvii We could also cite the presence of the “computer virus,” in which information technology networks are likened to biological systems; beyond this, Robert Baer of the CIA went as far as to describe the internet itself as a “’deadly virus’ that spreads radicalization far and wide by way of a somewhat mysterious, ‘inspirational’ connection with the society it infects.”xviii This vantage point can certainly be seen in the cases of the aforementioned Al-Qaeda networks, but also with the series of insurrections running the gamut from Eastern Europe’s color revolutions to the more contemporary Arab Spring in the Middle East and America’s Occupy Movement. As Brian Holmes notes, the Ether of networks and information technologies and the capabilities for swarms and contagions has led contemporary resistance movements and alterglobalization activism to be “long plagued by the difficulty of distinguishing its own mobile formation from the vanguards of financial globalization” and the rise of fundamentalist militancy.xix




     For Cetina, the commonality linking these elements or microstructures is the “systematic and reflexive use of systems of amplification and augmentation” – in other words, their ability to be flexible and adaptive in reaction to larger, less-complex and more monolithic organizations.xx This generates a paradigm of asymmetry, where attacks (terrorism), hacks (cyberwarfare), swarming mobilization (political activism and confrontation), contagion (viruses), and informatic deterritorialization (communication in the Ether) gain a tactical advantage over entities that are sovereign or disciplinary. But it takes networks to fight networks, as Arquilla and Ronfeldt point out, and contemporary institutions of power clearly know this and are compelled in that direction through their own deployment of the informatic paradigm and the movement towards post-industrial societies. We cannot overstate the adaptive and reflexive nature in Hardt and Negri’s oligopolistic/democratic schema, or Galloway’s protocol. Historically, many of the color revolutions were capitalized upon and spun in the direction of neoliberal globalization, and others revolts have unfortunately generated reactionary modes of being.


     No clearer example of the tension between autonomous networks and networks of power can be found than in the pirate radio stations broadcasting from London’s tower blocks, inhabited largely by immigrant communities and the working poor. The result of a series of historical processes (the British state’s biopolitical welfare systems, the deterritorialization of populations through migration, the deterritorialization of capital under the financial regime, and the privatization of the state under Thatcher’s neoliberalism), Matthew Fuller has described these buildings as a figure “condemned as a vertical slum by a Control” that has become transformed into an “incubator.”xxi What is being incubated here are new cultural hybridities expressed in sonic form, and it poses a distinctive line of flight away from the state’s monopoly over the airwaves. As Steve Goodman has described, there is a perpetual ‘nomadic chase’ between the radio pirates and Offcom (formerly of the Department of Trade and Industry), “the branch of the British state responsible for policing the radio spectrum.”xxii He is quick to render this cultural guerrilla insurgency in a biological language, describing Offcom as “a centralized radio disease control agency monitoring outbreaks of ‘viracy’ in the frequency spectrum.” Thus Offcom forms the cultural counterpart of the World Health Organization and related transnational medical organizations in their response to networking contagions like SARs, or the intervening of military bodies in regions where the Al-Qaeda infection has started to spread. Indeed, “pirate replication” – running from the pirate radios in London to digital file-sharing via p2p platforms – has been denounced by governments around the world under the slogan “piracy funds terrorism,” linking these underground media economies to the networks that enable terrorist insurgencies.xxiii





      Police or military intervention, however, is only one of the responses of power to piracy, and one that is increasingly ineffectual in the face of cellphones, the inability to curb p2p platforms like the Pirate Bay, and the anonymity of the dark net. Goodman cites Matt Mason, author of The Pirate’s Dilemma and director of marketing for BitTorrent, who observed that the “estimated 150 pirate stations” in the United Kingdom “act as musical Petri dishes,” creating countless new musical genres, cultures and subscultures that counterbalance the hegemonic power of the ‘culture industry.’xxiv In turn, the creation of these new spaces, sounds, and movements becomes new zones for industry itself to tap into to extract surplus-value: “Entrepreneurs look for gaps in the market. Pirates look for gaps outside the market… pirates have proved that just because the market won’t do something, it doesn’t mean its a bad idea… Once pirates find a space the market has ignored, they park a new vehicle in it and begin transmitting.”xxv “Piracy isn’t just another business model, its one of the greatest business models we have.”xxvi


     What Goodman and Mason are describing is not the forceful eradication of the contagion, but the harnessing of autonomous action within the Ether by industry itself – the utilization of democratic forces made possible by contemporary information technology by oligopolistic structures. From this angle, we can see the validity of the Autonomist critique of late capitalism, where resistance from elements of civil society push the forms of domination and exploitation into new, flexible arrangements. This harkens back to Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of capitalism’s “creative destruction”:


 As a matter of fact, capitalist economy is not and cannot be stationary. Nor is it merely expanding in a steady manner. It is incessantly being revolutionized from within by new enterprise, i.e., by the intrusion of new commodities or new methods of production or new commercial opportunities into the industrial structure as it exists at any moment. Any existing structure and all the conditions of doing business are always in a process of change. Every situation is being upset before it has had time to work itself out. Economic progress, in capitalist society, means turmoil…xxvii


     For Schumpeter, monopolizing constructs like patents might entail the “suppression of new modes of production,”xxviii a point that is also reiterated by Matt Mason: “When push comes to shove, copyrights PREVENT a lot of new culture, and patents PREVENT a lot of innovation.”xxix Market-friendly libertarian anarchists like Kevin Carson have also reiterated this point,xxx while the idea reemerges in Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis that for as much as capitalism decodes flows, there is also a reciprocal recoding to ensure the continuation of power. Thus, capitalism itself becomes extremely flexible and adaptable, partly in tactical response to divergences from its supremacy (it takes networks to fight networks) and also because it is driven there by the demands and practices of its oppositional figures.



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     Empire, Hardt and Negri tells us, has no outside: “In its ideal form there is no outside to the world market: the entire globe is its domain… In this smooth space of Empire, there is no place of power – it is both everywhere and nowhere. Empire is an ou-topia, or really a non-place.”xxxi Let us recall their dialogue of the three regulators: Bomb, Money, and Ether. Each of these plays a role in constructing the environment that they call Empire, ranging from the geopolitical balances of power derived from weapon stockpiles to the class relations and production modes that money enables to the informationalism of the Ether (each category is also intricately bound to Mirowski’s “Cyborg Sciences,” though Hardt and Negri fail to acknowledge thisxxxii). The Bomb certainly does situate places of power, linked directly to the control over certain territories and influence over others. While more diffused, Money does the same, establishing centers of financial power and raising certain countries and populations over others. It is through the Ether, then, that Empire assumes this seemingly totalizing form, for it is only Ether than is most deterritorialized in the purest sense of the word. Even Hardt and Negri’s choice of this word points to this, as in early Greek philosophy, the Ether is the arche, “the source of all things.”xxxiii Joe Milutis, describing esoteric cosmology’s depictions of the Ether, paints it as “something so immaterial, so beyond local knowledge, not to mention so without disciplinary location. Ether is all over the place, and that place is nowhere to be found.”xxxiv


     In the arcane, too, we find the relationship between the Ether and the swarm, as it is within the “preternatual ether” that Catholic theologians and heretical thinkers often found the presence of demons that “occupy the air,” allowing them “to be formless and metamorphic, to be carried along on the wind and to become any form and any shape.”xxxv He goes as far as to find hints of centralized, decentralized, and distributed forms in Dante’s download (9)Inferno, noting the demonic hierarchy between the Dis (the sovereign, or more properly counter-sovereign), the Malebranche (decentralized, moving in gangs or packs) and the formless aura nera, or “black wind” – an “amorphous background of swarming spirits.”xxxvi Likewise, Alexander Galloway finds the swarm in the form of the Furies of Greek mythology (figures described by Jean-Pierre Vernant as “daemons”). He notes, importantly, that one of the common depictions of the Furies in Grecian plays was “a frenzy of agitation issuing forth from the social body (the chorus)”;xxxvii the Furies not only swarm about, indistinguishable from the environment – they strike and attack. Likewise, Hardt and Negri explain that communication in the Ether “is not satisfied by limiting or weakening modern territorial sovereignty; rather it attacks the very possibility of linking an order to space.”xxxviii


     But as Eugene Thacker states, “we no longer believe in demons. Our global, networked cultures are at once too religiously fanatical and too hyper-rational to allow for the kind of cosmologies thought up by early modern demonologists.”xxxix But this march into a mechanosphere hasn’t slowed the discourse of the Ether. Milutis finds a direct lineage between Sir Arthur Eddington’s depiction of the Ether as “mind-stuff,” a concept similar to Bergson’s elan vital, and the assertion of David Blythe Foster in 1975 that cybernetic theories had revealed the entirety of the universe to be a gigantic computer.


The speed of information transfer in our time, imperceptible and mercurial, is for Foster (who was writing well before the Pentium chip) a metaphor for the existence of an intelligent force in the universe. According to Foster, just as we cannot perceive the tempo of cybernetic control—a process that must be so fast as to be invisible if it is to guess our every move and effectively route around system failure—we cannot perceive the god of an intelligent universe that is constantly regulating our systems by an even higher cybernetic control. The tendency of the present period is to collapse Foster’s metaphor (cybernetic control is structured like a spiritual intelligence) into technocratic actuality (computers are ethereal machines). Savvy marketing has situated even the most quotidian computer power—this preternatural extension of human energies—as central to the spiritual growth of humanity.xl


     While the claim that the universe is hyperbolic, we can see the way in which the computer operates as an extension of the human. A new computer is, aside from the hardware and default software programming, a blank slate; over time and through the interactions with the user, the computer comes to resemble the mind of its owner – the desktop arranged to taste, individual interests that pepper the files, folders, bookmarks, and browsing history. It appears as the external memory of its user, especially as the exchange of information accelerates into a flood unable to be handled by the individual’s cognitive capacities alone. This is the personal computer. Meanwhile, fragmented doubles of each individual exist in computerized databases of all sorts, ranging from those disciplinary organization like the police to biopolitical institutions such as the hospital to the memory mainframes of corporations looking to optimize their performance in the modulating marketplace. Each is slowly becoming interlinked to the databases of state government: Hardt and Negri’s claim that the Ether evades territorial striation surely needs correcting, especially as revelations of the NSA’s spying program has revealed deterritorialized communication to be a glass house. From this perspective, the Ether resembles less and less the distributed network and more of a paradigm of interdependent sovereignty, where organizations of power in multiple countries cooperatively assert their dominance over collective territorial concerns, utilizing not only a hegemony of Bomb and Money but information culled directly – and acted upon – from the Ether.




     Neither the distributed network and the decentralized networks models of the Ether are correct or incorrect. Both coexist together in an uneasy tension that is rapidly siding to an asymmetrical state on the part of power – this again returns us to the notion of protocological governance, but we cannot say that protocol itself acts as a gatekeeper and regulator. With notions of civil society and creative destruction, the x-y democratic/oligopolistic axis of Empire becomes more of a cybernetic feedback loop in and of itself: resistance and deterritorialization, establishing lines of flight from power, shift power into more flexible and complex dimensions (not to mention new spaces to capitalize upon and new innovations to feedback into the marketplace), while these new formation urge further modes of resistance and deterritorialization. Democratic aspirations and oligopoly launch into a movement of co-evolution, but even this has its limits. The heavy hand of hard power, emerging from the repression of social movements – particularly those revolving around digital rights – show that the humanitarian face of Empire will fold under circumstances where its central nerves are revealed and hit. The problematic arises then, when considering the optimal strategies for outmaneuvering both flanks of global neoliberal governance.

See also:

Deterritorial Investigations: “‘The SAGE Speaks of What He Sees’: War Games and the New Spirit of Capitalism”

Deterritorial Investigations: “The Swarmachine: A Historical Puzzle, Part I”

Noir Realism: “After Reading Exits to the Posthuman Future by Arthur Kroker”

iPaul Baran “On Distributed Communications: I. Introduction to Distributed Communications Networks” RAND Corporation, August, 1965 http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_memoranda/2006/RM3420.pdf

iiIbid, pg. 3

iiiJohn Arquilla and David Ronfeldt “The Advent of Netwar (Revisted)” Networks and Netwar: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy RAND Corporation, 2001, pg. 9

ivIbid, pg. 12

vMichael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 346

viIbid, pg. 347

viiIbid, pg. 299

viii Ibid.

ixAlexander Galloway Protocol: Or How Control Exists After Decentralization MIT Press, 2004, pg. 9

xIbid, pg. 10

xiSee N. Katherine Hayles How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics University of Chicago Press, 1999

xiiKarin Knorr Cetina “Complex Global Microstructures: The New Terrorist Societies” Theory, Culture, Society Vol. 22, Issue 5, 2005, pgs. 213-234

xiii Ibid, pg. 216

xivIbid, pg. 215. Cetina writes “While global microstructures do not correspond to Weberian ideals of highly rationalized systems they appear nonetheless effective.”

xvDescription borrowed from Justin L. Lorentzen “Reich Dreams: Ritual Horror and Armoured Bodies”; in ed. Chris Jenks Visual Culture Routledge, 1995, pg. 164

xvi Georges Bataille “The Psychological Structure of Fascism” reprinted in New German Critique No. 16, Winter, 1979, pgs. 64-87 http://www.systemdns.us:9722/loc.svr.b/books/NEWER%20ADDITIONS/Political-Frameworks/bataille-the-psychological-structure-of-fascism1.pdf

xvii General David Petraeus’ senior counter-insurgency adviser David Kilcullen describes a four-step process through which the Al-Qaeda networks interacted with local communities: 1) Infection, in which Al-Qaeda establishes their presence, 2) Contagion, where the Al-Qaeda ideology spreads, 3) Intervention, where response from outside forces against Al-Qaeda takes place, and 4) Rejection, where intervention maneuvers local populations to reject Al-Qaeda. See David Kilcullen The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One Oxford University Press, 2009, pgs. 35-38

xviii Quoted in Tony D. Sampson “Contagion Theory Beyond the Microbe” Ctheory, January 1st, 2011 http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=675

xix Brian Holmes “Swarmachine: Activist Media Tomorrow” Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society July 21st, http://brianholmes.wordpress.com/2007/07/21/swarmachine/

xxCetina “Complex Global Microstructures” pgs. 215-216

xxi Matthew Fuller Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture MIT Press, 2007, pg. 16. Fuller here uses “Control” in three senses: 1) The cybernetic command and control, as described by Norbert Wiener for military application; 2) Nietzsche’s will to power; and 3) The logic of control imbedded in linguistic exchange, as described by William S. Burroughs (and later blended with cybernetic control by Gilles Deleuze). Pg. 182, note 13

xxii Steve Goodman Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear MIT Press, 2012, pg. 178

xxiii Ibid, pg. 179

xxiv Ibid, pg. 181, citing Matt Mason The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism Free Press, 2008, pgs .43-44

xxv Ibid, pgs. 247-248, note 14, citing Mason pg. 66

xxvi Ibid, citing Mason, pg. 240

xxvii Joseph Schumpeter Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy Harper Perennial, 1950, pgs. 31-32

xxviii Ibid, pg. 80

xxix Mason The Pirate’s Dilemma pg. 56, cited in Goodman Sonic Warfare pg. 247, note 14

xxx“….patents are not necessary as an incentive to innovate. According to Rothbard, invention is rewarded by the competitive advantage accruing to the first developer of an idea. This is borne out by F. M. Scherer’s testimony before the FTC in 1995 [Hearings on Global and Innovation-Based Competition]. Scherer spoke of a survey of 91 companies in which only seven “accorded high significance to patent protection as a factor in their R & D investments.” Most of them described patents as “the least important of considerations.” Most companies considered their chief motivation in R & D decisions to be “the necessity of remaining competitive, the desire for efficient production, and the desire to expand and diversify their sales.” In another study, Scherer found no negative effect on R & D spending as a result of compulsory licensing of patents. A survey of U.S. firms found that 86% of inventions would have been developed without patents. In the case of automobiles, office equipment, rubber products, and textiles, the figure was 100%.” See Kevin Carson “The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand: Corporate Capitalism As a State-Guaranteed System of Privilege” http://www.mutualist.org/id4.html

xxxi Hardt and Negri Empire pg. 190

xxxii For example, the Bomb was the product of the fusion of military research and development with large sectors of the academy and the private sector, fueling an interdisciplinary drive whose offshoots range from cybernetics to game theory to computer science (and all the lines in between). Money, rendered free-floating the 1972 Nixon Shock that ended the Bretton Woods arrangement, is electronically mediated – it too requires computer science, while also adopting pricing regimes drawn from cybernetic sciences (such as the Scholes-Black Formula for pricing derivatives, drawn from Norbert Wiener’s work on Brownian motion). The Ether, of course, marks the ascendancy of information technology, acting as the new driver for the logic of Money, while also holding its historical origins in the Bomb, which prompted the creation of the ARPAnet’s distributed network.

xxxiii Joe Milutis Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything University of Minnesota Press, 2006, pg. xiv

xxxiv Ibid, pgs. iv-x

xxxv Eugene Thacker “Occultural Studies 3.0: Devil’s Switchboard” Mute May 26th, 2011 http://www.metamute.org/editorial/occultural-studies-column/occultural-studies-3.0-devils-switchboard

xxxvi Eugene Thacker In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy, Volume 1 Zero Books, 2011, pgs. 31-35

xxxvii Alexander Galloway The Interface Effect pg. 45

xxxviii Hardt and Negri Empire pgs. 346-347

xxxix Thacker “Occultual Studies 3.0”

xlMilutis Ether pgs. 145-146


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8 Responses to Swarm Intermezzo: Meditations on the Ether

  1. dmf says:

    democratic surround

  2. dmfant says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic_zero.

  3. noir-realism says:

    Quote: “What this means is that protocological governance can be viewed as the regulation of technology and action by systems derived from a previous technological paradigm – to blend Hardt and Negri’s examples with that of Galloway, the internet’s compulsion to connect and communicate is modulated by a decentralized system based on the model of the radio or television broadcast.”

    McLuhan’s notion of the “dark tetrad” seems to fit nicely with your quote above: it’s the notion that at a certain threshold technology surpasses the laws of media and enjoins its technological injunction that every new technical innovation simultaneously create, obsolesce, retrieve, and reverse-field when pushed to its limits. Keeping in mind that every ontology has a hidden hauntology, every condition of possibility has an equal series of exclusions and prohibitions, McLuhan’s lasting contribution may have been to provide an early warning that every technology contains a hauntological dimension whereby technological innovations always depend on the language of prohibition, that for every technological creation there is an equivalent disappearance, for every obsolescence, a balancing substitution, for every retrieval, an indefinite prolongation of the same , and, for every field-reversal, a growing sense of paralysis, if not generalized inertia.

    So combining McLuhan’s dark tetrad with protological governance we see how the regulatory mechanisms of control and domination migrate between differing technics of media, and that the newer media hides within its system certain functions and mechanisms of previous medias through the power of obsolescence, substitution, repetition, and a deafening of the older medias forms in reverse (i.e., internet as participatory and two-way communicative devices, while television and radio were passive one way devices). Yet, voice and image persist within the new media. And, certain gates open or close based on economic privilege, status, etc. I’m thinking that if you are part of some institution: academic, corporate, think-tank, etc. you gain access to information that others are excluded from… same goes for levels of privacy and legal pressure of encrypted messaging. Corporate or government allowed encrypted transactions, while the hoi polloi for the most part are excluded by law from global privacy of information, etc.

  4. noir-realism says:

    Reblogged this on noir realism and commented:
    Edmund has a nice essay on Hardt and Negri concerning their concept of Ether: “the Ether is free from the command of sovereign entities. Unlike the Bomb (which is directly correlated to the geopolitical might of a given nation through its center stage in the military and mutually-assured-destruction strategies) and Money (forever flowing upwardly into the financial metropolises like New York City and London while dictating the relations in the global markets below), the Ether is utterly deterritorialized and diffused across the transnational plane, and continuously circulates through the civil societies of the world. It is only through Empire’s harnessing of the Ether than it becomes subverted into a methodology of control.”

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