This post is a kind of postmortem on cloister4.com, and not really of note otherwise.
Where to begin? I have a hard time truly defining what this project is supposed to be, to me. I can definitely tell you what it’s supposed to be about, though: the “hyperwar”, cities, and simulation. What any of those mean in this context are up for debate. The product of the three is a fully armed sort of urban horror.
Loosely (and personally) defined, the hyperwar is a transduction—the grim specter of a future conflict, the hideous exhumed Yaldabaoth of the Baudrillardian “apotheosis of simulation”, a title which he gave to the infinitely inhibited, politically contingent promise of nuclear exchange. It is alternately defined as a war of uncertainty (see: Gerasimov doctrine), a multi-domain war in both real and cyberspace, asymmetric war in the megacity, or a war of such explosive ferocity that it startles even the forces engaged in fighting it. The hyperwar is all of these at once, because it’s not here yet. It withdraws, is occulted, is uncertain.
That uncertainty informs this project. And in speaking of ambiguity, it has become ambiguous itself, piling on layers of simulation and hyperstition until the final product has looped back around on itself (or so I hope).
The hyperwar is inextricable from the form of the megacity: the patchworked, diffuse, endogenic unknown, the charnel house of “encirclement and suppression campaigns”. Felix and Wong write about the megacity in relation to urban operations within it by defining it as a symbol of complexity: “to win in a complex world, Army forces must…integrate the efforts of multiple partners, operate across multiple domains, and present enemies and adversaries with multiple dilemmas.” Simply put, the Army must become more complex than their environment—an evolutionary imperative that abounds in complexity theory.
When attempting to think as a “military intelligence” (human or otherwise), I consistently encountered limits in the prevailing doctrinal approach. Attempting to solve this informed the core of this project, as far as I’m concerned, with the rest of the work—THEIA, the leak format, even the war itself—becoming auxiliary to the attempt to rewrite the way the military works. In military-hyperbolic jargon, I referred to this as the “Fourth Offset Strategy” or “Chaos doctrine”.
The megacity, along with the hyperwar, fundamentally violates military thinking as they are both entirely defined by cybernetic complexification and mutation. This is something the military knows but at present cannot fight. Instead, it avoids the city altogether: its warrens, its close combat, its hidden snipers, its door to door fighting. Ashworth in War and the City remarks vividly that the “urban environment creates a highly physically structured but fragmented series of compartmentalised battlefields that can absorb large quantities of personnel – which, once committed, will be difficult to extricate, regroup or reinforce”. The city eats armies. Urban metabolism goes carnivorous. Look at Stalingrad, look at Berlin.
The historical touchtone is important—most currently extent urban warfighting doctrine (or Military Operations in Urban Terrain: MOUT) is about avoiding cities altogether, or hoping to choke up their brutal capacity for digestion with a torrent of bodies in a war of attrition against space itself, as well as opposing forces. Following Mumford, we can see the city as a megamachine of megamachines, and applying Bar-Yam’s work on complexity, further interlocking subroutines are revealed, a mandelbrotian engine of recursive escalation.
In imagining a ‘new urban warfighter’ I attempted to visualize what a fully “cooperative” army would look like, with human and autonomous systems completely integrated. This in turn informed by a doctrinal approach: reformatting military operations so they became agents of chaotic breakdown in the urban environment, depriving local combatants of their privileged local knowledge, and sluicing the deterritorialized panic by virtue of superior firepower and coordination.
This theoretical-strategic futurism is present scattered throughout the Cloister IV leak files, but predominantly appears in the form of ‘UMBRAA’, or the fully playable Game of Metropolitical War.
The general form of the project is a simulation of a future hyperwar, the fabulation of a “generative myth”. Lagos in the dead of night on 16 June 2036. So we’re back at Baudrillard, but this time approaching him through Sorel in some way. But the simulation is a bit ambiguous and cybernetic as well, involving a few different layers.
At the first level, the bottom rung, is the constructed hyperwar scenario: the “8 Hours’ War” in Lagos in 2036. It’s hell. A hypertrophied, ambiguously autonomous NATO squares off against an insurgent “China-Africa Mutuality”—a counterinsurgent terrestrial hyperpower, composed of a hegemonic China and several African nations. An attempt to invoke Ligotti’s aphorism: “…the fascination, the potent mystery, of the second-rate, half-baked, run-down, dirty little back-room world” writ large.
At the next level up is Cloister IV. Cloister IV is constructed as a ‘leak’, a data format popularized by the Wikileaks format. In analyzing the leak, I arrived at several tenets to inform my design:
- Data eugenics goes out the window. The amount of noise vs. the availability of a bright throughline of signal is heavily weighed in favor of ‘noise’.
- This ‘noise’ can and should be used to construct the zone of neighborhood of the scenario “ordinal”. Basically, it should be used for worldbuilding, through the production of seemingly-disconnected ephemera. A universe of crap.
- The leak itself is, metacritically, not a design project as much as possible. Outside a modicum of attention paid to capturing generic feelings of a future design, attempting to design in the future will always collapse into historicist weirdness and look immediately dated. The digital future is owned by cyberpunk and high California Ideology-Silicon Valleyism. Keep it that way.
The ramifications of this loose thesis pushed me towards a less is more approach: the bulk of the leak is text, white on black. The leakers are anonymous with a generic political orientation. The world, hopefully, is allowed to breathe. “To write a story that did not depend on the reader for its existence.”