Intelligence & Armament

In this talk, I’d like to ask a simple question: in what ways does the smart city differ from the city as it is has appeared throughout history? By using the work of Lefebvre, Halpern, Lukacs, and others, I will offer a provisional answer. Following this, I will then seek to sketch out a loose future history of the smart city, in which the utopian dream gives way to the nightmare of weaponized intelligence, endocolonization, and inter-urban war.

The smart city breaks down into several threads that are militated towards the construction of a cohesive grand narrative, or an ideology of intelligence. This ideology constructs itself along three axioms: the economic, the political, and the spatial.

Let’s begin with the economic character of the smart city. Cities, free market proponents love to point out, are massive economic engines. The city as we’ve known it in Europe and the United States has historically been presented as an industrial center, and therefore the home of industrial labor. An individual laborer is not an artisan, but rather occupies a discrete point in the overall continuum of production. The laborer’s contribution to production is not measured in material produced but in time given, or quite literally, labor-time expended in the production of commodities. The technological innovation of the clock allows for a revolutionary control of production at the point the human enters the process. These commodities are then sold and used in a process we will refer to as consumption.

The arrival of the ‘smart city’ may prove to be similarly inversionary. The ‘first wave’ of the smart city in which we currently find ourselves appears in the form of sensors and highly specialized instrumentation—water and air quality analyzers, smart lightbulbs, fitness trackers, digital assistants, and so on. These devices are important in their ability to track personal consumption—how much energy, how many calories, how many opportunities. The tracking of consumption is now possible down to the merest quanta. It is in this basic premise that the smart city begins to take shape.

Jennifer Gabrys and Shannon Mattern open up a possible line of thought with their identification that increasingly tighter control of consumption is not something that happens to citizens, but a predicate to being considered a citizen in general. “Computational materializations distribute power through urban spaces and processes”, Gabrys writes.

Citizenship as a question of identification—who belongs and who does not. In this formulation, those who belong are those who are computational. Friends are interlinked, that is, they offer up their data. Enemies are those outside the network. The mediation of consumption appears to those in power as the ability to more acutely monitor behavior. There is not so much a question of “who is the smart city for?”—we know the answer to that already. The real question is, “what is the smart city doing for power?” What does it mean, as in the case of Zaha Hadid Architects’ newly announced project outside Moscow, that the designers claim to have investigated “happiness” as a design principle?

The person-citizen, happy or not, dissolves away in the smart city, replaced by quanta—an assemblage of sensors and data inputs that circumscribe the sum total of actions and effects that person has. Consider Sidewalk Labs’ ad copy: “By combining people-centered urban design with cutting-edge technology, we can achieve new standards of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity.” The “people” are the ostensible “center” of this statement, but they are not the subject—they are a vehicle to “people-centered design”. The person is only an emptyness around which the objects and data of smart city are set in motion. This is a crucial turn: subjecthood devolves from people to prostheses. Smartness begins by locating the citizens’ inputs and outputs and then amputating them. As a result, the citizen is alienated from themselves. As Lukacs notes: “rational mechanization extends right into the worker’s ‘soul’: even [their] psychological attributes are separated…into specialized rational systems and their reduction to statistically viable concepts”. The age of the smart city is, to use Walter Benjamin’s phrase, “life in the time of hell”, wherein the human is surrounded with and luxuriates in the instruments of their own tortured dispossession.

Don’t count on hearing this anywhere, of course. The great mystification of the smart city is not politics, but ecology as achieved through technological efficiency. Orit Halpern succinctly states that “…sensor-based ubiquitous computing across urban infrastructures and mobile devices [will be used] to achieve greater sustainability”. If economics, as discussed previously, is the means of the smart city, ecopolitics is its end. The time of hell arrives neatly packaged, wearing the mask of radical environmentalism. It is in the name of planetary survival that the smart city is truly born.

This can take the form of urban-park integration or, more commonly, as an insistence that a scientific viewpoint can and should be applied to everyday life. The rendering here is of Jeffrey Burns’ Innovation Park, a “blockchain city” in the Nevada desert, which shows distinctly what I mean—deciduous trees in the desert garden, and the blockchain approach that underpins it.

Eco-smartness is something that can be achieved, says the ad copy. Our lifeboat in the Anthropocene will be a synthesis of city cybernetic and city beautiful. This is the city as commodity. If smartness begins with the commodity, it soon graduates to commoditizing space, and urbanity itself. The argument is simple: smartness defines itself in relation to a pre-existing stupidity.

Amalgamated and executed on the scale of a street, a neighborhood, a district, or a city, the smart city operates on the principles of what Orit Halperin calls “test bed urbanism”. Though she coined the phrase in particular reference to Songdo City in South Korea, it can be generalized to nearly all smart projects. The urban test bed pulls urban space away from the state and into the supposedly neutral sphere of the laboratory where all decisions are not made by fiat, it is claimed, but by a reasoned attempt to solve problems. However, to achieve the “laboratory” effect, requires several theoretical leaps in the representation of space.

Lefebvre identified what he called abstract space as a dominant spatial representation in 20th century Europe. Building off of the concept of reification, abstract space is the foundational myth of the urban as test bed: space is hollowed out and becomes delimited, quantified, and altogether empty. This can most easily be seen in a building that changes owners or falls suddenly under a different type of zoning: the spatial character of the building is a void that can be overwritten. It is not specialized. It is, in a word, abstract.

Abstraction in spatial terms is a vital component of the smart city because of its faculty to essentially be anything—a tabula rasa upon which only power can write. This is the advantage of the laboratory—by standing in for the world, the laboratory model produces the notion that reality is malleable, and exists in its most ‘pure’ form when completely quantified. Scientific, or rational, purity requires the judicious elimination of all aberrant irrationalities as a prerequisite for thought and action in a technocratic, rational process in the pursuit of the construction of instrumental reason. The continuum of instrumental reason can be imagined as a straight line from the enlightenment to the smart city. Smartness’ promise of ‘innovation’ is in fact dependent on ‘laboratorization’, or instrumental, rational method, which is centuries old. Adorno and Horkheimer point out this tendency as arriving with the Enlightenment—in producing natural law, all that does not fit the law must be removed.

It is essential to keep in mind that technocratic rationalism is first historically applied to the natural world in order to reformat nature from an environment to a constellation of resources. Abstraction is a prerequisite for exploitation. When, as in the case of Saudi Arabia’s NEOM, the project claims to be negatively identified with the world itself —”a place on earth like nothing on earth”—we should take pause. The entire earth is grist for the (intelligent) mill. The earth and the city are naturalized and thus enframed, appearing as a Heideggerian “standing reserve” of raw material which only needs to be shaped by a magisterial rational hand. In other words, the city as we see it is reinterpreted by smartness to be a material that is then modified by labor, in the same way nature is. The regime of science, or technocratic rationalism, has aggressively expanded its model from the natural world to the lived one.

This transvaluation of urban space is due to the appearance of abstract space as a Cartesian void—”a neutral thing into which disjointed things, people, and habitats might be introduced, or “social space as an exploitable resource”, according to Japhy Wilson. Adding to this, computation itself is now something that can be poured into abstract space. The addition of computation, or the materialization of the consumption-rationalization regime in urban space, repositions absolute space not as the telos of spatial power, but merely a step to a greater reformatting of space itself. This narrative is enchanting; who hasn’t wished, for at least a moment, that the city wasn’t a bit more responsive, more sensuous, or yes, more rational? The dream of rationalization has been a staple of urban thought throughout the 20th century; we can find an acute summation of this spirit in Eugene Henard’s City of Tomorrow, which takes off from a consideration of “defects” to propose a streamlined, authorial efficiency. “The adoption of the new industrial devices, previously described, would make it possible to ameliorate the conditions of modern life and to add to the health and comfort of the inhabitants. I shall not dwell upon the improvements already effected and applied in some modern houses…”. To “not dwell” upon the existing city, to proclaim it a substrate of the new tomorrow, is the precondition of making smartness a reality.

All of this theorizing has been my attempt to take stock of the forces at work which are encapsulated and obscured by the concept of “smartness” within the city. The smart city should not be confused for utopia because utopia takes far greater stock of the world around it; however they should also not be confused for dystopia at the current stage as they do not fundamentally offer a difference from the current status quo. However, there is value in investigating one chain of possibilities in a world sufficiently developed and entrained by the smart city. Alvin Gouldner writes in The Two Marxisms that “Every theoretical system has another system inside it struggling to get out. And every system has a nightmare: that the caged system will break out.” What is the nightmare of the smart city?

The First Age of Intelligent Cities

We are already in the first age of the smart city. This era has been characterized thus far by the piecemeal introduction of smartness and the gradual seepage of technocorporate terminology into the rhetoric of urban governance to the extent that, in 2015, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio could refer to “disruption” as positive (as he did in the September 2015 “BUILDING A SMART + EQUITABLE CITY” report), and no one batted an eye. In tech industry parlance, disruption describes an intentional destablization of norms in favor of the opening of new markets, usually with massive consequences for labor. Probably the best example of disruption would be the effect of Uber and other ridesharing services on taxis—in this case, the taxi industry was essentially torpedoed by Uber’s disruption. It’s hard to imagine that this procedure, at the level of urban governance, would be without its casualties.

At the current stage, though the groundwork is being laid piece by piece, there at the same time a general tendency towards monopolization. These countervailing, dialectical moves—both towards and away from centralization—compose a fundamental contradiction.

More devices and services can communicate with each other: your FitBit reports to your iPhone, your biometrics are used to pay for dinner or a car home from the bar, your purchases online are tracked. The process of reification, of the fetish of the dumb commodity which has existed since nearly the beginning of capitalism, is gradually replaced with an even more heightened fetish of the intelligent object—the one that knows you better than you know yourself. Within this age, it becomes easier and easier to identify the city itself as a service, a space of pure amenity, as a commodity in its own right. At the level of policy, governments find themselves unable to adequately respond to an oncoming wave of intelligence coherently. In this way, the advent of the smart city almost appears as a revolution, with change sweeping in from the ground up. I can’t help but think about Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History, in which he reports that, during the July Revolution in Paris, workers fired on the clocks. Does this act have an equivalent in the smart city?

The Second Age of Intelligent Cities

There will come a point in which disruption is no longer tolerated. As David Harvey points out, there is at the heart of capitalism a “state-finance” axis. The state retains the “monopoly of violence” as elaborated by Max Weber, and finance, or capital in general, is generally left (in neoliberal states) to its own devices. However, when capital threatens to swamp the state, the state is obligated to tamp it down and force it to cooperate. The frenetic proliferation of smart commodities is a perfect example of one such imbalance because the data that these commodities generate is, of course, itself a commodity. The city as a concretization of libidinal agency comes alive with ever more novel ways of entrapping data and turning it to uses as defined as beneficial by established governmental structures—in other words the disruptive, fitful network that is, at this stage, already in place becomes animated with new purpose and pushed towards a greater rationalization.

This stage is dominated by the introduction of cohesive software packages (many of which in a nascent stage already exist) that are peddled by several transnational corporations specializing in the field. Rationalization, when it first arrives, needs a leg up. Linked by a vernacular mental framework, a global city begins to come into focus—a “territorial machine”, to borrow the phrasing of Deleuze and Guattari, or a “megamachine” of interconnected intelligent urbanity. Cities can, at this stage, be thought of as more or less enantiomorphic, sharing the same base DNA.

It is at this same time that the smart city’s nightmare begins to come into being—the real identification of a coherent megamachine contains within it the elements of its own destruction. Whereas, in 2018, cities cannot be said to truly compete with each other (outside of tourism perhaps, incentives to attract businesses, or as smaller parts of rival nations), this will begin to change at the exact moment that a truly global urbanism becomes possible for the first time. If the city’s spaces and data are commoditized on a substrate of universal software, that software must before long be modified to attend to specific local cases which arise—for example, dealing with coastal flooding, an explosion in crime, decaying material infrastructure—that fall outside the operational abilities of the template. It follows that novel data collection and intelligent responses will be generated to deal with what, in the eyes of the megamachine, is too small to register across the board. Urban intelligence is forced to turn inward, to deviate from the baseline.

The Third Age of Intelligent Cities

The involutionary speciation of smart cities is matched by an “explosion” in the territorial claims of smartness. Prior to this stage, the “smart city” is a misnomer, as smartness appears most strongly in enclaves and test neighborhoods, with only residual benefits from the underpinning template delivered to excluded zones.

However, as smartness develops and specializes, these isolated areas will no longer be enough. Simply put, smartness can never achieve a “climax state”, or an equilibrium point at which enough data is taken in, rationality is imposed. When paired, the desire to expand and the desire for total control develops into a fitful endocolonization which is simultaneously obsessed with commanding the maximum amount of territory and at the same time exercising complete control over that territory, bringing it to absolute rationalization and complete abstraction.

It is no longer enough to command and control enclosed “test areas” or “quantified zones”—the entire city, the entire region, must be uplifted and brought into the system. This process can never be completed. There will always be a “digital frontier”, an uncoded periphery, an uneven distribution of intelligence. This impossibility of total encoding will haunt the smart city. The terror of the remaining unknown is its ghost story.

The Fourth Age of Intelligent Cities

At this point we are completely off the rails. The neoliberal collaboration of state and corporation in the service of a fully quantified, commoditized smartness will have been proven to be if not a means, than an illusory end. The increasingly feverish development and consolidation of smartness at the local level produces a globally distributed and sharply uneven landscape of cities that can be thought of as urban “minds”—highly specialized strategies, tactics, technology, and operational procedures that essentially govern the day to day life in their particular cities. Questions like: How does this city think about this issue? What is the way that city solves problems? Are not the absurdities they appear to be, but actual questions of governance and metagovernance.

At this last stage, smartness in an urban area begins to look like an empire in freefall—overextended and vulnerable. Increased issue with hacks and takedowns requires these minds develop and employ strategies of self-defense. The monopoly of the global city falls apart for good, devolving into a new regionalism as local smartness finds itself incompatible with its surroundings. Some strategies, and therefore minds, will be better than others. These strategies will function as the ultimate prize. Market principles select for intelligence—the smartest cities are the best for business, for living, for development. The question becomes less and less abstract, moving away from “How does this city think?” to How does this city think in that way? In this world, market decorum, the laws of circulation and trade, are no longer enough, because smartness has overwhelmed the logic of the commodity to become an operational advantage and thus an existential imperative. To be not smart enough is to die—by disaster, or by military activity. The possibility of attack can no longer be allowed to exist outside intelligence as it does outside of law and sociological study, and thus must be entered as a possible scenario. Self-preservation becomes a governing instinct at an urban and regional level, the state of siege constant. Walls become necessary, both in digital and physical formats. The form of the city-state reappears, arms itself, and waits.


Apocalypse (but the good kind)

(sorry this is so disjointed)

Gazurmah, Mafarka’s monstrous “parthenogenetic” child, “…the invincible lord of space, the giant with immense, orange-colored wings”, was to Marinetti an expression of a “scorn for women”—to use his own oft-derided line from the Manifesto. In Marinetti’s mind, Gazurmah represents the triumphant construction of the future by the warrior-poets that would seize it: a reproduction “without vulva”, the “spirit of man” itself likened to an “unused ovary” to be fertilized by Mafarka’s futurism.

However, Marinetti himself, blinded by his own Promethean ambitions to construct an art out of war, is entirely unable to grasp what Mafarka means. If, though Benjamin, we “politicize art” (Marinetti’s novel Mafarka the Futurist in this case), Marinetti’s own embedded meaning—the delirious, misogynist fever of Mafarka flips into an emancipatory reproductive politics.

I’m reminded of Greg Egan’s Diaspora here, in which the “orphan”, born a blank slate and (obviously) without parents, embarks on a process of self-discovery and autopoesis that molds the protean original self into a person. The obvious parallels between the orphan and Gazurmah are here. In fact, though one is digital and the other material, they are both essentially the same thing. Despite Gazurmah’s known provenance, he is an orphan too.

But what is more important is to introduce Marcuse’s analysis of the phylogenetic and ontogenetic in Eros and Civilization. The phylogenetic, following Freud, is the personal, the psychoanalytic: this is the space in which the orphan constructs themselves, the same any biologically produced child would. Claire’s critique of Marinetti (to me) hinges around the already terminal state of the orphan at birth. However, the identity of “the orphan” belies the process of autoproduction that comes as the orphan becomes an entity of their own. In Mafarka, the novel ends with apocalypse.

But by politicizing Marinetti’s writing, we can pin his ‘apocalypse’ to the destruction of biological order, of natural necessity, of the supposed distance of man from nature itself. This is the transition, in Marcuse, from the phylogenetic to the ontogenetic, from the individual to civilization as a whole. Gazurmah, a product of love but also of work for Mafarka, is a construct which by its existence points beyond not only biological necessity but capitalistic, bourgeois reproduction altogether: the injection of libido into toil, which to Marcuse spells a dramatic death for our current world, governed as it is by the “performance principle”.

Unwinding the performance principle is the “liberation [they] are compelled to reject”—it’s baked into the brain, composed and enforced in the process of being brought up in a repressive civilization under the aegis of the performance principle. Much less the creation of Gazurmah himself, Mafarka’s construction of his son is this libidinal work, a work “away from genitalia”, and more so, the reintroduction of the aesthetic as interlocutor between the sensual and the rational, two poles that the majority of queer theory has been historically obsessed with. Sexuality becomes sublimated, libido’s “trend towards cultural expression” blooms, and Eros comes to the fore, modifying civilization away from a slavish fixation on reproduction for reproduction’s sake.

Finally, in Marcuse’s view, the libidinization of toil transforms it into play, which then culminates in “display”. Is this not what Mafarka does with his son, showing him off to dominated, dying subjects? Does Mafarka’s “large son”, a totally insane undertaking, not upend reason, and pull sensuality out of the body and into civilizational space?


(Really quick thoughts on Marcuse in relation to Dugin, based on a conversation between me and esteemed Twitter personality Cocky Doody this morning.)

Alexandr Dugin’s essay Horizon of the Ideal Empire is a (somewhat insane) statement on what Fourth Political Theory offers as a concrete “positive image of the future”. The essay functions as a bizarre formulation of Platonic theopolitics, a delirious materialism that contains a philosopher-king (modeled on Stalin and Mao), glorifications of “sacred labor”, demonic warriors, and most importantly, the presence of angels. While Dugin’s use of the figure of the angel may seem odd, I have been reading Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization lately and believe Dugin has essentially arrived at a Freudian utopia (though curiously, Dugin makes no mention of sex).

In the first full paragraph of Horizon, Dugin makes a key statement: “The dogma should be accepted that people do not live, but rather an Angel lives through us…The Angel and ego are present in a person in inverse proportion: the greater the Angel, the lesser the ego.” For Dugin, the presence of an angel is identifiable in the move away from the “individual, egoistic, and material”—simply put, a spiritual, transcendentalized form of life that falls from above. These angels exist separately from the human in some way as well (he speaks later of the possibility of “a congress of angels”), but also are identified as a way to overcome the material, and specifically material labor: “The King is an Angel…a true person…In his nature, man is homo regius. He is just as much a king and an Angel as he is human.”

This is where Marcuse enters the picture through his reading of Freud. Marcuse identifies in Freud 4 distinct and interlocked dialectical pairs: the ontogenetic/phylogenetic, Eros/Thanatos, the pleasure/reality principles, and finally surplus repression/production principle. For Marcuse (and Freud), civilization is repression: the aegis of the reality principle, the deferral and extension of pleasure as something that is available over a longer term, a delibidinization of pleasure, which is immediate and ever seeking to expand itself. Within advanced civilization (the phylogenetic approach), the reality principle appears as the production principle, wherein pleasure is suspended and the worker disappears into Taylorist machinery necessary to further the development of civilization, and is coerced into doing so through applied surplus repression. Civilizational upkeep becomes imperative on a personal (ontogenetic) level, foreshadowing Reich’s (and later Deleuze and Guattari’s) question: “how can people be made to desire their own oppression?” It’s quite easy, for Marcuse—they couldn’t possibly think otherwise.

Back to Dugin: the Angel, as the enemy of the ego (and thus which produces the desire for repression), represents the pleasure principle in all its unbridled glory. Thus, Dugin’s Ideal Empire is akin to Marcuse’s “civilization without repression”—the world ruled by pleasure, by Eros. Dugin’s statement that “Everyone will smile and laugh at funerals, for since this world is so beautiful…” clearly states that in the Ideal Empire, Thanatos has been subjugated. The original sin of the Primal Father and subsequent ingestion by the sons (the original chiral cycle of revolution and revanchism, that is). The time machine of psychoanalysis is beaten into plowshares.

In doing so, the Ideal Empire is revealed as a cold place to be: it is a place not just without progress, but against progress: a cold society, so to speak. Manuel de Landa uses a materialist metaphor: hot societies expand, and are constituted by freefloating constitutive particles, and end through dissipation and exhaustion. A cold ‘solid state society’ delays progress for the sake of stability. The cybernetic interlock, the constantly shifting mask of Eros/Thanatos that defines life in capitalism, is done away with in favor of a pastoral Empire of learning, peace, and sustainability over long historical cycles. A world of the Angels. Doxiadis here is important too, measuring civilization as energetic output: a cold society outputs what it takes in. Progress is arrested, Thanatos is buried, only left to survive as the grotesque warriors that embody the Ideal Empire’s warmachine and protect its poet-philosopher-priests. The Ideal Empire is not feudalism, as it may initially appear to be, it is castration.

Invoking the Hyperwar

This post is a kind of postmortem on, 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:

  1. 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’.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

Black on black: Belated notes on 90 degree revolution

“I scorn your eloquence, the poetry of a living oblivion, and now seek a simpler style of annihilation.”


Out in the desert, building God, or maybe deep in the Everglades before the storms come. Futurist wild-eyed death march, stepping razor to the Milky Way, guided by blue serpents of lightning. “…it is electricity that rapidly takes care of the germination.” Fydorov, Bogdanov agree, preparing for the Great Work by proletarianizing matter for transplanetary corporations. Tsiolkovsky habitats and huge cities stalked by CEOs and their attaches require the complete disintegration of the human to enter. City of flows. Baudrillard’s nuclear sword points straight up (or is it out?). Marinetti remarked a hundred years ago how brazenly we master the atom. Select your preference.

War god capital. We have to remember how it started: riding on the back of the spiteful, hateful coitus of war and state. Held back by only the thinness of amniotic fluid—bureaucracy, the clockwork brigade. But the poisonous soft machine wormed through the cracks. War is still here, but in some cases it’s just called revolution.

None of this seems to make sense. “Everything about capitalism is rational, except capital or capitalism…you can understand it, learn how it works; capitalists know how to use it; and yet what a delirium, it’s nuts.” Deleuze in Desert Islands. He goes on, joining strangely with Marx in libidinal prophecy: “…history is the history of desire”. In particular, that is not just anyone’s desire—there is, of course, the “problem of a deep connection between libidinal desire and the social field”, but the capitalist is the one that oversees that desire.

Of course, the 90 degree revolution is itself altogether coded. Again, with Deleuze, who states in “On Capitalism and Desire” that “…nothing is secret, at least in principle and according to the code…and yet noting is admissable”. Everything is available. The ‘green’ arrow in the new political wings is not concerned with the organization of power, of containing the libidinality of the system, or even in Greer’s catabolic collapse, but posits that these are all questions that don’t need to be answered. The greens have far more in common with their neoliberal mainstream counterparts than they’d probably care to recognize: a belief that, in some way or another, the question of techonomania can be altogether sidestepped. This puts them on the side of today’s milquetoast leftists who claim that there can be a re-establishment of the commons—a place where capital cannot reach. This is patently untrue, and in fact has been since capital first arrived “covered in dirt and dripping blood”. Primitive accumulation as the germ-seed of capital instantly cancels difference (or differance) and sets up and expansionary model that, at one end, strip mines Mars and at the other, makes you pay to see the Unabomber’s cabin in a museum exhibit.

To be an upwinger, an anti-green, is to not just recognize the gyre of capital swings out, but realize there is no capacity to extract oneself from the machine, no return to life or to first nature, no anything at all outside of universal colonization or total annihilation.


It is important to note that despite right-left being recomposed as up-down, a ‘marxist’, in any ‘orthodox’ sense (whatever that may mean) should take note that these remain bourgeois political categories. The true intention of a marxist politics will be to altogether detonate such qualifiers in favor of a proletarian recoding and the total collapse of such manichean political wings, so to speak. However, as noted in conversations on twitter, reformatting to up/downwing, ACC/DEC, whatever—may be a useful heuristic insofar as it finally sinks the belle epoque Great Politics into the mud for good.

Notes from someone who is very guilty

“Heat. This is what cities mean to me,” wrote Nick Land, in the late 20th century. Around the same time, the little-known science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her essay “A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be”, borrowing M. Levi-Strauss’ distinction of “hot” and “cold” societies: “Bright, dry, clear, strong, firm, active, aggressive, lineal, progressive, creative, expanding, advancing, and hot.” Hot societies are those that expand, dominate, territorialize, explode with total libidinality: engines of violence, of teeth-bared bloody-grinning jouissance, of revolution or of war.

Megacities are burning suns. Pure heat, brilliant light. Dozens of millions of people, Berardian particle-wave flows: Kaika and Swyngedouw warning that flows must be deterritorialized to be channeled: utter atomization: Braudel’s town-runner with its neck on the state, pulling back the hammer barrel pressed to its medula: nodal fever of the Hanseatic megamachine: utter fury fossilized into hylotic Gageianism, the Saturnalian howl of the k-hole and the dopa ablation and other comedowns.

When we talk about complexity we talk about the megacity, because we don’t know how to talk about complexity. Semiotics and simulation. Society and its environmental context in macabre coitus: complexifying and complexifying in ragged shocks. Individual ripped out of joint, along for the ride, an observer of the quotidian. The megacity embodies the total collapse of the West. Shanghai prefigured it. What Shanghai wanted was a brood of feral children, worming their way out of hell and oozing backward through time. It got what it wanted (it always does). The gyre of geopolitics is a mechanized thresher in the depopulated American South. No one around for miles. Everyone’s here.

When THEIA (Tactical-Heuristic Expansion Infrastructure Assistant) arrives on the scene, everything happens at once. Absolute war and ambient computation birth a horrible child of blistering intelligence, silicon and ichor. The viable system was never pruning for efficiency but was modeling the pathways of the New Brain.

I can’t do this anymore.


Simulating Like a State

“Sufficiently advanced simulation is indistinguishable from the real thing”, to twist Clarke’s aphorism. Simulations can take place at levels anywhere from modeling markets, to predicting sea level rise, to the staging of wargames. It is at the level of the wargame that simulation truly becomes artful in the pursuit of the temporal “God-eye”, the unified site of utter anticipation.

But the notion of “utter anticipation” is fraught in the first instance, haunted by a single question: can we actually think like the enemy? Manuel De Landa sums this problem up nicely in War in the Age of Intelligent Machines: “In most cases Red [the enemy] becomes simply a mirror image of Blue [the allied group]”.

But what happens if Blue can think Red? Instead of what may be commonly assumed—that losses would promote in Blue a greater understanding, the simulated loss opens up onto an existential nightmare, a confrontation with Blue’s own fragility. The problem then is that, of course, the wargame will always be weighted in favor of Blue.

Part of this bias is institutional, but there is also the fundamental problem of information: the true nature of Red’s tactics and materiel will forever be draped in a “ludigital” fog of war, no matter how complete Blue’s intel may be. The wargame, constructed with faulty information and to provide a satisfactory outcome, is revealed to not be a strategy tool at all, but rather, a machine to produce in Blue assurance in its own supremacy.

When this supremacy is violated, the effects are internally destabilizing, forcing Blue to come to terms with the specter of its own death, touching down on the plane of abstract horror. De Landa relates for us an anecdote: “…in the early 1960s…Richard Bissell from the CIA, father of the U-2 spy plane and co-engineer of the Bay of Pigs invasion, played Red in a counterinsurgency war game and was able to exploit all the vulnerable points in the American position.” This sent shivers down the US’s spine: Bissell’s win was enough to get the files of the game’s proceedings classified, never to be released.

San Clemente Island MOUT complex, Vasquez Marshall Architects’ website

In roughly the same mid-century milieu, the ‘Hot 60s’ forces the hand of the war makers to break out from abstraction, and the wargame graduates into physical space and human players as a response to civil unrest in NATO countries. With the ‘peacetime’ arrival of full-size “war cities” such as Hammelburg, (West) Germany and later, San Clemente Island off the coast of California, the wargame begins to draw ever nearer to realism. These Potemkin complexes were (and indeed, are) created entirely for training in the minutae of urban operations and neutralization of enemy combatants, appearing as a heterotopic everywhere, crammed into nowhere, a consolidation of the whole world in a top-secret blacksite.

But the spatial revolution of the wargame still was not complete. As detente collapsed, and with an ever-increasing fetish for realism and complexity, the war simulation exploded out of the city and went runaway to continental scales, with millions of machine parts. Perhaps the best kept secret of this variety was US/NATO operation Able Archer 83, a simulation that achieved such a high degree of realism that it threatened to erupt into actual nuclear conflagration.

Able Archer 83 took place from 7-11 November 1983, the culmination of nearly a year of “naval muscle-flexing” and PSYOPs designed to rattle the USSR, such as sporadic “air and naval probes near Soviet borders”, undertaken specifically to “rattle the Soviets”. These actions led to the creation of Operation RYaN by the Warsaw Pact to “prevent the possible sudden outbreak of war by the enemy”. In this already-heightened climate, US/NATO held their annual Able Archer event, designed to “practice new nuclear weapons release procedures”, specifically the “[transition] from conventional to nuclear operations”. From the official SHAPE description:

“The exercise scenario began with Orange (the hypotheticalopponent/[Red]) opening hostilities in all regions of ACE [Allied Command Europe] on 4 November (three days before the start of the exercise) and Blue (NATO) declaring a general alert. Orange initiated the use of chemical weapons on 6 November…All of these events had taken place prior to the start of the exercise and were thus simply part of the written scenario… As a result of Orange advances, its persistent use of chemical weapons, and its clear intentions to rapidly commit second echelon forces, SACEUR [Supreme Command Allied Powers Europe] requested political guidance on the use of nuclear weapons early on Day 1 of the exercise (7 November 1983)…the weapons were fired/delivered on the morning of 9 November.”

Able Archer 83 was unique with respect to past simulations, which one commentator referred to as “special wrinkles”. These include a new battle language and encryption, which made the maneuvers of NATO completely opaque to the USSR, forced to rely on observations and extrapolation as units and materiel were moved across the ACE theater and routines were executed within SACEUR/SHAPE. These terrifying machinations forced the USSR to ask a new epistemological question: if armies and nuclear weapons are being moved into position by the enemy, does it matter what reason its for? At what point does war, occurring in a liminal, ludic space, breach the gap into reality altogether? Is there functionally any difference between war and its simulation? Or, even more to the point, is simulation itself an escalation of hostilities?

Max Ernst’s Europe After the Rain

Jean Baudrillard’s famous definition from Simulacra and Simulation states that “the simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.” “The virtually is fully real insofar as it is virtual.” In Able Archer 83 the “apotheosis of simulation” is itself simulated, a nesting torus of that-which-never-quite-comes-true. The ragged era of the early 80s’ “Cold War II” takes the apocalyptic promise of atomic apocalypse and plugs it in to the motor of banal politics (and indeed, routine wargames), in which “the unknown is precisely that variable of simulation which makes of the atomic arsenal itself a hyperreal form, a simulacrum that dominates everything”. Able Archer 83, in which SHAPE takes part in producing a simulation of nuclear hyperreality, contained within it the possibility of finally crashing Baudrillard’s hyperreality of infinite deterrence (warding off Europe After the Rain), and inaugurating the climax, the real event of nuclear war.