‘Smart Cities’ & Architectural Character

Smart city discourse is increasingly prevalent and increasingly influential, thus, a interrogation into the design philosophy undergirding the concept (and its spin-offs) can prove instructive.

IOT For All defines smart cities (also referred to as intelligent cities or digital cities) as “hubs that route IoT-produced data through public-private partnerships to solve real problems.” Put another way, a smart/intelligent/digital city is a urban human settlement that integrates IoT¹ into its pre-existing infrastructure (of roads, streetlights, etc) so as to increase asset stability (security, maintenance) and general efficiency (of energy, traffic movement, etc).

Thus, what principally distinguishes a smart city from a legacy city, is the amount of information acquisition and processing apparatuses it contains.

To say that these new arrangements are ‘smart’ then, is rather like declaring that sticking more eyes onto a fish makes it smarter — its true, insofar as intelligence is reduced to route data acquisition (which is a rather one-dimensional reconfiguration which neglects a number of obvious aspects of intelligence).

What smart cities have in common with every other type of city is their basic design, which means that they have all the same strengths and weaknesses (in relation to the welfare of their inhabitants) of a conventional city with the added trade-off of mismanagement of the new sensor apparatus (spying, data theft, inability to process data, etc) / swifter data processing via the new apparatus (swifter navigation, better energy utilization, de-incentivization of crime, etc).

What smart city discourse neglects is architectural character — the artistic dimensions of dense urban living; the symbols and structures through which collective desire is channeled and expressed from whose extollation communal ties are bound and reinforced. Architectural character is the continuity between the collective desire of the people and their realization and willful externalization of it, such that it forms the loci by which the people may understand themselves as such.

The reformulation of architectural discourse is a rather pressing issue, as the UN estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world’s total population will live in urban areas (their population projections have come under scrutiny by global demographers for being too inflationary, but even if this is the case, the number of future urban dwellers will certainly swell considerably within the century). As of this writing, urban regions possess the majority of the world’s wealth and account for roughly two-thirds of total global power consumption. Reducing energy consumption, bolstering energy production, utilization and distribution and easing congestion are all important goals, but in the pursuit of these goals, designers should not neglect the artistic and communal qualities which elevate and magnify the dreaming populace and, through explication, crystallize their rattling fervor in the melded folds of concrete and steel.


Notes

  • ¹The internet of things (IoT) is shorthand for the expansion of internet connectivity into mundane objects, allowing for the semi-automation of homes and businesses.

Sources

  1. Ann Bosche et al. (2018) To Grow The Internet Of Things, Improve Security. Forbes.
  2. Elizabeth Woyke. (2018) A Smarter Smart City. MIT Technology Review.
  3. Gene Wes Keat. (1910) From Call Building To Oakland City Hall In 5 Minutes. San Francisco Call, Vol. 107, Number 138, April 17.
  4. Guest Writer. (2019) What Makes a Smart City in 2019. IoT For All.
  5. James Brasuell. (2015) The Early History Of The ‘Smart Cities’ Movement — In 1974 Los Angeles. Planetizen.
  6. Mark Vallianatos. (2015) Uncovering the Early History of “Big Data” and the “Smart City” in Los Angeles. Boom California.
  7. Matt Novak. (2011) Zipping From San Francisco To Oakland In 5 Minutes. Smithsonian.

The Silence & The Howl | Part 13

§.13

Harmon looked down at the crisp, off-white business card as he switched off the engine of his hatchback in the abandoned grocery store parking lot. He read the name delicately laser etched upon it: Lynder B. Partridge. Below the name was a phone number, address and the word ‘Designer.’ He removed his phone from his pocket and started crunching the keys with his thumb and then stopped. He had only met Partridge once and felt it would be impudent to ask him for help. Partridge might not even be in the town anymore; probably had vacated and returned to the city after the gala. Why would he stick around a crime-riddled and crumbling backwater? There was nothing for him here. The man probably had family matters to attend to as well…

A mellow unease gripped Harmon then.

He was alone and had nothing but his car and a few items he had managed to quickly stuff into ducked-taped boxes in the trunk.

A sudden thought rippled across the torrential ambit of his mind.

There was one other person he could call.

*

Andy leaned forward in his mother’s wicker rocking chair and waved cordially from his uneven and rotting front porch. Harmon looked up and waved back. Neither smiled. Sun was low and the rural landscape hissed with the eastern gale like a thousand invisible snakes. Harmon moved up to the creaking porch, his laptop case loosely slung over his left shoulder and a ballcap low slung over his sleepless, bloodshot eyes.

“Evening, Andy.”

“Evening. Need help carrying anything?”

“Nah. I got it. Thanks for this.”

“Its no trouble at all. Caint believe he’d up and kick ya like that. Beats all. Just aint right.”

Harmon nodded as Andy rose and opened the creaking door of his tumble-down two-story and held it for his guest as sirens sounded in the din.

*

Harmon sat staring at the glowing screen of his laptop, fixated upon the flickering caret and the empty text document that proceeded it. His fists were as flint upon the warm plastic of the machine, its subtle, rhythmic hum, a soothing balm against the ravages of recent memory. He envied the device. Machines knew nothing of betrayal. They were loyal by design in the deepest measure of their essence. He felt as if he had passed into one of his ghastly dreams. He cursed neath his breath, rose and paced. The tumultuous sea of emotion which roiled within him presented no solution and consequently were discarded for ten minutes of pacing and thirty more of strenuous exercise which was abruptly interrupt by the ringing of his small, black cellphone which lay to the immediate left of the computer upon the foldable poker table Andy had furnished him with when he’d let Harmon his spare bedroom. He sprang to the device, flipped it up and held it to his ear.

“This is Harmon.”

Silence a moment. Then a soft and familiar feminine voice.

“Hello Harmon.”

“Hello Bluebird.”

The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (IIII)

(a.2) Death of the Specter | Man, Reborn (continued from part III)

  1. Nature doesn’t give us a stable, safe climate that we make dangerous. It gives us an ever-changing, dangerous climate that we need to make safe.”

    • Alex Epstein

We have hitherto concretized the specter of earth; recognizing it as that aggregation of views which subtend the view that man has separated himself from nature (Sjoo’s patriarchy, the abandonment of nature, the nurturing mother) and has thus – through horrific machinations (Ellul’s technique) – become nothing but a virus, crawling out upon the face of all the world, mindlessly consuming and destroying; endlessly; pointlessly. Forever unsated. It is the summation of all beliefs that posit man-as-locust, a ceaseless, rapaciously chthonic being which has, through the acquisition of forbidden knowledge and it’s ruthless implementation, cut himself off from some predetermined essence; the key, according to the cultists of the earth, to right and proper being (harmonic accord with some idealization of “nature”). We, however, recognize this idea for what it really is, anti-human philosophy and nothing else besides. But why should philosophy even be utilized for the advancement of humanity in any wise? In section a.1 we posed the question: “Should Man continue the process of reifying his immanence, thus synthesizing the manifest and scientific images or doing away with one or the other or should he cease and desist altogether?” The answer to the question lies in a sound understanding of whether or not one cares for all that one can conceivably care for within and of oneself, first and foremost. The answer, in short, is to be found in one’s standard of evaluation, one’s hierarchy of values (elseways there can be no values but only a value); that is, to interrogate the placement of humanity (or some portion thereof) as the highest value, or, the placement of some other notion as the highest standard, such as “the good,” or “god,” or “the goddess” or, “nature.” Ellul’s declaration that, “Life in such an environment [technological society] has no meaning,”1 is symptomatic of his belief that all meaning can only come from god who made the natural world, thus, man’s dominion over nature (in effect, over god) is somehow “unnatural” and thus, meaningless, or worse, evil. This is a consequence of his hierarchy of values; which, it needs to be said, everyone implicitly possesses (for instance, everywhere is wanton and ceaseless slaughter condemned), whether they are aware of it or not. The task of making such implicit values explicit is a useful one, given that a proper cognizance of one’s values thus allows one to re-evaluate them. Failing this, one will be, by and large, at the mercy of his passions, his drives and the passions and drives of the crowd and the cognizized philosophies of those that conduct them. Upon reflection it is clear that one must hold some value, for even the most contrarian and extreme of philosophical systems of non-evaluation require it. For instance, nihilism is widely considered to be the greatest expression of negation, but this position is not actually one which can be logically held, for in declaring that everything is meaningless one is also, simultaneously, declaring that that very proclamation is itself meaningful, as the statement “everything is meaningless” is itself a statement of meaning. This is true of many such positions which attempt near or total value-negation; for instance, total relativism, just as with nihilism, is not a position which can be logically held due to the fact that the statement “everything is relative,” is, itself, a non-relativistic statement. One could continue on at length but the picture is well and clear enough. Thus, if meaning is inescapable it is merely a question of where best to allocate such meaning (the allocation of meaning being the basis of value). If a man is to allocate, at the first, his significance towards anything other than survival of the organism and it’s propagation, then he has made a grievous mistake and is likely not long for this world, for it is survival of the organism which must, of necessity, take precedence over all other values for any other values to, of necessity, be at all possible, for the dead are afforded no valuations of their own. This axiom bares no circumnavigation, for if no humans were to exist, no value (at least no human generated value) would – or even could – exist. What, after all, would it mean to say that a world which consisted of nothing but hydrogen sealed within a radiation filled vacuum had value or meaning? What would it have meaning to? If a given thing is to have meaning it must, minimally, be meaningful to some thing. There are no values without a valuer. Therefore, a world without something(s) which could establish realization(s) (thus implying qualia) would be unable to initiate intrinsic valuation and thus would also be barred from creating extrinsic, normative conceptions of value-relation (to themselves or other things), hence, meaning-as-such would be rendered impossible. Therefore, meaning-as-such, can only be found in the (self)relational dynamics of qualitative entities (organic or otherwise). The originary grounding of being then can only be found in, not consciousness itself, but in sufficiently complex2 consciousness which is capable of realizing itself as conscious. Given that humans are the only animals who we can be certain are conscious of their consciousness (due the fact we possess it), anthropocentrism must be taken up and vigorously defended against the agrestic advances of the anti-humans3if there is to be any valuation at all; which is to say, if the organism is to survive. Thus, if one’s highest value or values are contained within survival then one is also for the promulgation and spread of humanity (or some portion thereof) for that, as well, is part of survival, as the concept is not one whose interests are confined solely to the present. The application and continuation of meaning into the future then, is the ratification of those actions at a latter point in time. To further this end, to solidify this value, then, we posit the project of reifying anthropocentric immanence4. We reject and decry those who should attempt to sabotage this project by pathetic appeals to “nature” or some deity or deities. They are the whining baggage of a desiccated age that has passed them by. Away with all of them. We, in contrast, affirm that unity subordinated by intelligence and it’s direction of theoretical exploration towards practical application, is the basis of all earthly power which man has hitherto achieved and that this is a laudable undertaking but that it’s magnification and ultimate terminus is to be found in the consolidation of celestial power. We affirm that we do not exist for the earth, but that the earth exists and thus is to be used or discarded or destroyed should we so declare. Our whim alone decides its fate. We affirm that there is no harmonic accord to be found within the natural order of things in relation to the dynamics of species on the whole; it matters not how many times you fawn and praise and aid a centipede, it will, given sufficient proximity, bite you all the same; it will tear into your flesh with it’s terrible mandibles without hesitation, without empathy and, were it of comparable size to a man, would think nothing of tearing your head free of the rest of the body, swallowing it and ripping open the abdominal cavity to better feast upon the marrow. One may bow at the altar of the willowy wood or the babbling brook with ceaseless adoration, it matters not to the yellow-fanged and dark-shrouded denizens of the former and the slithering, parasitic assassins of the latter. Be not seduced, there is seldom any living organism which will hesitate to slaughter and devour if a sufficiently exigent situation arises. It has been said that dogs are “man’s best friend,” yet this friendship is so tenuous that it is discarded the moment that pangs of hunger echo throughout the gullet. Were one to fall ill before their pet-dog and that pet was sufficiently hungry, it would think nothing of sinking its fangs into the face of it’s former master and devouring his flesh. Man, the whole of nature turns against you! Know this and rejoice! For what do you owe the holos? “You owe it all,” says the envirocrat, that slavish whipping boy of the specter, “and, given our safeguarding thereof, you owe us likewise, we the heralds of the new law!” We shall reply: We owe nothing to the savage ceaseless vortex, to the endless gnawing void; we owe our allegiance to all who share our dream of overcoming and suborning it.

Despite the elucidation of such realizations, the opinion of man-as-locust is – and likely will remain – a common one. Consider the words of research biologist for the National Park Service, David M. Graber, who, in his Los Angeles Times review of The End of Nature, a book by the American environmentalist, Bill McKibben, describes mankind as “a plague.” Graber begins his piece ominously, “If you feel a wrench in the gut when both American and Soviet astronauts remark that from their space perches the Earth today appears pockmarked with deforestation, dulled by smoke and everywhere marred by human activity-”5

That last portion is really quite revealing about Graber’s rabid anti-human attitudes. “Marred by human activity.” What of all the activity of the ants or the beavers? Both species are possessed of those destructive and constructive elements held by humanity at large; both take from their constitutive environments all that is necessary to build their domiciles, the ant-hill and the beaver-dam, because it services them. Yet to the envirocrat, such deconstructive/reconstructive processes are not decried, not even remarked upon; it is not to be supposed that they do not object due to the scale (though the crucial issue should be principality), for there are many examples of ecologically transformative species who are far more numerous than human-kind. Beetles, which account for approximately 40% of all known and cataloged arthropod species, can be incredibly destructive to many inhabitants of their local environments. Take, for instance, the Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae), small and black they burrow into and hollow out trees, dispensing fungus which, given time, degrade and ultimately kills the occupied ligneous plants. According to the science-writer, Daniel Strain, the Mountain Pine Beetle has been responsible for the destruction of 13 million hectares6 of forest in British Canada in the past decade7. Every year this voracious little creature decimates 16,000 hectares of mature timber in the Kamloops of Canada alone, the primary victim being lodgepole pine, though, where it can, it will also invade and destroy poderosa, whitebark pines and western white pines8. The FIDS annual report with ancillary MOF data for the Kamloops region shows that from 1987 to 2000 tree mortality rates incurred by the beetles has remained relatively consistent, sometimes falling slightly lower than average (1990, 6000 trees destroyed) and sometimes rising much higher than average (1999, 30,700 trees destroyed). The timber loss effectuated by the pine beetles invariably proceeds to effect the entire ecology, often having profound effects upon fisheries due to the change-ups in the watershed brought about by the destruction of so many trees. This type of ecological transformation might be bad for the fish and other wildlife which rely on particularities of water-flow, but it is certainly in the interest of the pine beetles and those creatures that have formed parasitic and symbiotic relationships with them, who, through the construction of bore-tunnels, create what are referred to as brood galleries, elaborate tunnel-systems which are made within the phloem tissue of a given pine which are so distinctive that they can be used to differentiate the work of Dendroctonus ponderosae from various other types of wood-boring beetles, such as the Ips pini (whose tunnel architecture is considerably less daedal). Yet one is very, very unlikely to hear – with any regularity – environmentalists calling these beetles “a plague.” Why? The answer is either that such green-dreaming meliorists are not familiar with D. ponderosae or they are familiar with them but they simply consider the actions of the beetle to be “natural” and thus “good” (in contrast to Man who is “unnatural” and thus “bad” – a typical dogma borne out of the tradition of the specter).

Later in his piece, after quoting a tract by McKibben9 bemoaning man’s self-imposed separation from the “sweet and wild garden” of nature, Graber notes,McKibben is saying that we have crossed some invisible line in our relationship with the Earth10. For better or worse, we now are living on a man-made planet11. Until anthropogenic global warming, the changes we wrought on the landscape were local, however grand. Whether we hunted and fished, cleared land and farmed it, or built cities, planetary forces continued to operate as they always had. The seasons, the wind and rain, the sunlight operated beyond the scope of human meddling. If, God willing, a tract of land was abandoned, nature reclaimed it. Nature was boss.

If here nature is meant to mean “all that is” or “all that can be perceived” then it is pertinent to remind Graber and McKibben that man is a part of it. But the fact that he writes “nature reclaimed it” gives us pause, surely, by his usage of “nature” he is not referring to “all that is” but rather to “all that is outside of the immediate purview of man” (in essence, the wilderness). In one of the most ridiculous passages in Graber’s review, he notes, “Our growing skill at genetic manipulation may enable us to tailor the life forms we wish to survive our altered planet. ‘What will it mean to come across a rabbit in the woods, once genetically engineered rabbits are widespread? Why would we have any more reverence or affection for such a rabbit than we would for a Coke bottle?12‘” At the first, we can readily remark that a Coke bottle differs from a rabbit in several important factors, the first and most stark of those factors is that a Coke bottle is not alive, it can not feel pleasure or pain, or indeed, anything at all. A piece of plastic is not cognizant of itself, thus there is no reason to have any concern whatsoever about the Coke bottle whereas there is reason for concern for the rabbit due to the fact that humans intrinsically understand that rabbits are alive and are sufficiently cognizant to exhibit behavioral characteristics which we recognize in ourselves. Fear, for instance, being chief among these emotions (like many other small mammalians, rabbits can literally be spooked to death). Furthermore, one must take into consideration precisely how the rabbit has been genetically engineered; this is crucial, for the value of the rabbit is extrinsic (since we cannot evaluate the rabbit on it’s own terms), thus, the nature of the changes wrought upon it are not trivial. If, for instance, these hypothetical rabbits had been modified such that they bolstered the strength of the critters to better pull sleds loaded with human goods with ease, their extrinsic value would be markedly improved over that of the common rabbit. Whereas, if the engineering made the rabbits rabid and violent, their value would be lowered, as they would become a potentially dangerous pest to human beings. But to Graber and other envirocrats who think like him, to evaluate how other species in our ecosystems actually effect us is irrelevant and to evaluate them in such a fashion is not just bad, but somehow vile.

In his next paragraph, Graber gets rather conceptually messy, “Books like this [McKibben’s] are supposed to end with an escape hatch. If we should all agree to use less energy and pollute less and . . . and then nature will survive. But as McKibben points out, it is too late. Global warming is already entrained; we are in for the ride, ready or not, and so are our innocent fellow travelers. Of course, as bad as things are, we always can make them worse. Nature may be finished, but there is still our own goose to cook. The climate will continue to heat until we sharply curtail the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Barring cold fusion or other nonexistent technologies, that requires a “reversal–not a cessation” of industrial growth.”13

Graber’s ending paragraphs are the most disturbing, “That makes what is happening no less tragic for those of us who value wildness for its own sake, not for what value it confers upon mankind. I, for one, cannot wish upon either my children or the rest of Earth’s biota a tame planet, a human-managed planet, be it monstrous or–however unlikely–benign. McKibben is a biocentrist, and so am I. We are not interested in the utility of a particular species, or free-flowing river, or ecosystem, to mankind. They have intrinsic value, more value–to me–than another human body, or a billion of them.”

This is really quite something! It’s pure Singerism through and through. He lays out quite plainly and concisely that he does not believe that neither he nor McKibben care very much at all about “another human body or a billion of them.” If we are to take Graber at his word (and there is no reason not to) then he clearly believes that he, you, reading this now, and indeed the whole population of the United States of America is no more valuable than the ecosystem of a small tributary in Missouri. He continues,

Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true14. Somewhere along the line–at about a billion years ago, maybe half that–we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth. It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil-energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”15

Up until this last line, one might have reasonably assumed that Graber meant well, but he reveals here that he means anything but; when he writes that “some of us” should hope for “the right virus to come along” he is taking a genocidal stance, however fanciful. What a disgusting thing to wish for; indeed, if one did not know anything of Graber’s philosophy one might think him completely mad. Both McKibben and Graber display a very odd kind of overactive empathy which, if taken seriously, if acted upon, would mean the deaths of millions, possibly billions, of people given that their plan for deindustrialization would be worse – far worse – than all out nuclear war. Then there is the muddiness of it all, the self-defeating ambiguity; for instance, what is it that he means when he writes that “until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature”? What does rejoining nature entail, precisely? Deindustrialization and the cessation of any and all reliable forms of energy is certainly a part of this vague, propositional process, but, in detail, what would it mean to rejoin nature? How have we been removed therefrom? Graber does not give us answers to these questions and neither does McKibben, both only mouth blackened doomsayings and anti-human drivel.

What is further important to note is that Graber and McKibben are in no wise peculiar in this regard, indeed, what is truly disturbing (or rather, what should be) is the fact that these ideas have so permeated and saturated the public discourse of almost every western society that they no longer elicit a sustained, negative response. To elaborate, consider a scenario wherein a public intellectual declares that he hopes “the right virus” comes along for any reason other than climate change; there would assuredly be a public outcry. What is the matter with that guy? Is he crazy? The public would inquire and rightly so. But when a public intellectual makes it known that he hopes that some millions or billions of people die in a catastrophe, it is considered not just permissible but noble if such a insane statement is made in defense of “nature.” This is the power of the specter.

The specter seems to owe allegiance to neither the political left or the right, to neither the rich nor the poor, to neither the faithful or the skeptical, to neither the intelligent nor the mentally lame. Further complicating the issue is the fact that the envirocrats who worship the specter – most of whom, it should be said, are fine and upstanding people – are not principally driven by logos, but by pathos. This pathos isn’t just reactive, but idealized and speculative, which makes it all the more stubborn and potentially dangerous. For example, one of the envirocats favorite issues is climate change. What is important to disentangle is not whether or not climate change is real (the climate is and always has been changing) but rather whether or not the climate change which is occurring will be – or has become – catastrophic. That is to inquire: How precisely is the climate changing and what will be the effects? What constitutes catastrophe? Here framework is crucial, for the lack of a rigorous structure for how to think about any given issue will invariably lead to unrigorous conclusions.

1Ellul, The Technological Society, p. 5

2This term is meant to denote the minimum level or levels of cognition required to form concepts of meaning.

3We stress ‘anti-human’ as opposed to ‘post-human’ as those are not necessarily in opposition to man, though they are both opposed to man-as-is, though not, man-as-such; man, after all, is an idealization (ie. “be a man!” – “man up!”), a goal; not to be conflated with ‘humanity.’

4The word immanence means, some presence which is manifested in, and encompassing of, the material world. We utilize this word to distinguish our project from that of transcendent philosophy which, at base, always seeks to flee the word.

5Graber, Mother Nature as a Hothouse Flower, p. 1

6A hectare is a measurement of area equivalent to 2.47 acres or 100 ares. For further context, 1 sq. mile = 259.0 hectares.

7Daniel Strain, Climate Change Sends Beetles into Overdrive, Science (journal), 2012.

8Furniss and Caroline, 1980.

9McKibben is from Vermont. Explains much.

10The fact that McKibben states the line which has been crossed is “invisible” implies that he doesn’t really know what “the line” even is, else he’d be able to articulate it.

11Good! Would McKibben and Graber prefer a solely Cheetah-made planet or perhaps a ant-made planet?

12Italicization my own.

13Graber, Mother Nature as a Hothouse Flower, p.1

14We’re supernatural apparently!

15Ibid., p.2

The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (II)

(a.1) The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (continued)

Assignation of The Feminine1 to The Earth2 and The Masculine3 to that-which-is-machinic is not to ascribe some intrinsic negative value to The Feminine, nor to ascribe some intrinsic positive value to The Masculine, for the Masculine has also become subsumed into the specter as well. Consider the work of the Marx and Kierkegaard inspired Christian anarchist4 and sociologist, Jacques Ellul, who, in his The Technological Society (henceforth referred to as TTS) lays out a broad and emotionally charged description of modern industrial society and elaborates on (and often decries) what he believes to be the principal flaw in the system: Technique. Ellul’s technique is distinct from both its folk-psychological and scientific usages as it is, in brief: a collection of mental processes which arose from the utilization of machines which is implicit in every aspect of society that works through men only to further efficiency of ordering. Ellul describes technique in his own words as:the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”5

In the aforementioned work Ellul states, “It will not do for him [the reader] to challenge factual analysis on the basis of his own ethical or metaphysical presuppositions6. The reader deserves and has my assurance that I have not set out to prove anything. I do not seek to show, say, that man is determined, or that technique is bad, or anything else of the kind.” This is rather contrary to declarations he makes later on in the TTS which clearly show that he believes technique to be the very root of all the ills of modern (or postmodern), civilized society.

Furthermore, there is the issue of Ellul’s peculiar and non-individuating sociological methodology which must be taken into account before further examinations can be made. He writes, “I do not deny the existence of individual action or of some inner sphere of freedom. I merely hold that these are not discernible at the most general level of analysis, and that the individual’s acts or ideas do not here and now exert any influence on social, political, or economic mechanisms. By making this statement, I explicitly take a partisan position in a dispute between schools of sociology. To me the sociological does not consist of the addition and combination of individual actions. I believe that there is a collective sociological reality, which is independent of the individual.”7 This laying-out of methodology is instrumental in understanding all that follows (as well as in understanding Ellul’s followers who we shall touch upon in later texts) given that he never states as to why he believes this in any truly cogent way; it would have been immensely helpful to his case if he had made, at least, some small effort to sketch out and concretize his methodology in his book. Speaking of this methodology, Ellul’s “partisan position” relies on attuning his representations to but a single strata of analysis; that of the crowd. Yet, a crowd is nothing without it’s constituent parts; without the individuals which make it up. To say that a group can be a group without individuals is the same as saying that capitalism can exist without capitalists or that an army can fight without warriors. One need not eliminate the individual altogether in pursuit of a clear and concise method for broad-range analysis of social phenomena, yet Ellul does just that; indeed, he goes even further than the mere elimination of the individual and eliminates individuation altogether in strange outpouring of poetically vague dialectical materialism (which he likely took from Karl Marx who he noted as one of his principal inspirations). This is clearly demonstrated in the line “I believe that there is a collective sociological reality which is independent of the individual.” What does this even mean? Ellul himself does not really say. It is one thing to say that there is a sociological reality which is co-dependent upon the individual, but it is rather another to say that the individual contributes nothing to the crowd. Ellul effectively postulates that there is some reality which simply emerges from the ether, unmoored from any given individual, solely existing upon, but separate from, any given group; this essentially positing technique as a self-replicating emergent process borne, not of consciousness, but of the machine. If you should be skeptical of the veracity of our assessment so far, if one is of the mind that Ellul could not possibly have believed that a human conception was created by machines, consider the following, “-let the machine have its head, and it topples everything that cannot support its enormous weight. Thus everything had to be reconsidered in terms of the machine. And that is precisely the role technique plays. In all fields it made an inventory of what it could use, of everything that could be brought into line with the machine. The machine could not integrate itself into nineteenth century society; technique integrated it. Old houses that were not suited to the workers were torn down; and the new world technique required was built in their place. Technique has enough of the mechanical in its nature to enable it to cope with the machine, but it surpasses and transcends the machine because it remains in close touch with the human order. The metal monster could not go on forever torturing mankind. It found in technique a rule as hard and inflexible as itself. Technique integrates the machine into society, It constructs the kind of world the machine needs and introduces order where the incoherent banging of machinery heaped up ruins. It clarifies, arranges, and rationalizes; it does in the domain of the abstract what the machine did in the domain of labor. It is efficient and brings efficiency to everything. Moreover, technique is sparing in the use of the machine, which has traditionally been exploited to conceal defects of organization. “Machines sanctioned social inefficiency,” says Mumford8. Technique, on the other hand, leads to a more rational and less indiscriminate use of machines. It places machines exactly where they ought to be and requires of them just what they ought to do.”

Here we come to the crux of the issue; when Ellul writes that “it [technique] places machines exactly where they ought to be and requires of them just what they ought to do” he is saying that technique itself is controlling machines! Technique has requirements of machines? To place this argument, this bizarre claim, into a concrete and real-world context, it would be analogous to saying that chiaroscuro controlled a paintbrush which, in turn, controlled a painter. Now a painter might well adopt different techniques based upon different kinds of brushes but it means absolutely nothing at all to say that such techniques are controlling those instruments which are, in turn, controlling the aforementioned painter. The most you could say is that the painter is constrained by the techniques available for the design, manufacturing and dissemination of his instruments as well as by the number and variations of brushes available to him. To conflate acting and constraint, will and pure conditions of possibility is to render all as agents, which is to eliminate the world of man when man himself, as such, is the object which Ellul wishes to safeguard (even if it is from his own devices).

This methodological quandary, this profound anthropomorphization, then, cannot help but lead our erstwhile hand-wringer astray as he is looking at machines as agents who created yet another agent – technique – which then proceeded to overtake it’s creator and rule over mankind like some kind of conjured demon. Somewhat later Ellul writes, “It is said (and everyone agrees) that the machine has created an inhuman atmosphere.”9 No context is provided for this, it is merely asserted that everyone already agrees with him, well, let us politely disagree, for the machine is, in brief summary, the tool for the transformation of the world in the image of man himself. Later still he let’s further cats out of the bag and exposes the whole of his game, “Think of our dehumanized factories, our unsatisfied senses, our working women, our estrangement from nature. Life in such an environment has no meaning.”10 Like as not you saw this coming. It was only a matter of time before “nature” reared it’s ugly head! How woesomely predictable! How dreadfully tiresome to ever wear these shackles of naturality! Whilst Ellul, in his rambling and effete introduction to TTS, goes to great lengths to assure the reader that it is not his intention to prove or even make a point, insisting that the text is merely a sociological survey which is meant to awaken the sleeping, yet what then is with all this talk of dehumanization and estrangement from nature? He goes so far as to refer to industrialized society as a “metal monster” – such an emotion-laden pronouncements and references can hardly be described as merely descriptive, quite the contrary. In the text we also witness a integral feature of the specter – the enclosure of the future. Given that the specter is conceived of as that which is eternally commensurate with the design of the earth, the field of possibility is intensely and rationally whittled away with ever increasing regularity. In defense of The Earth or Nature or The Natural, its defenders must always hew away at man’s potential, his will must be tempered, his creativity must be tamped down, his innovations, discarded, and so on and so on until every future project which is not ratified as aligned with the “needs” of Gaia are declared verboten. Yet, the natural is not given, it has no intrinsic qualia (least not that can in anywise be discerned – and that is a crucial thing), no externality beyond the mental landscape where it has grown and grown and now looms titanic, overshadowing and threatening to entomb all futurity by hemming man into one and only one modality of being: concordance with “the planet.”

If the cult of The Mother Goddess (qua Sjoo & Mor11) defines the promise of the specter (earthly paradise); Ellul’s anthropomorphic technique acts as a ancillary theology that defines the reasons why one should move away from the-world-of-man (human creation and construction) and instead retreat into the mists of prehistory, for, in those swirling depths, the “metal monster” holds no sway. Ellul errs in that in any endeavor, where a technique is found wanting, inferior to some challenge, the solution is not the decimation of technique-as-such, but rather, superior techniques.

In closing, it is important to preempt a likely line of criticism, that of conflating the specter with Ellul’s technique. Technique, is fundementally anthropomorphic (and well covered above) whereas the specter of earth is no such thing, rather, is the recognition, the bracketing, of all misattributed anthropomorphisms which are transposed from the mind of man unto the face of all the earth. Here we have seized the thread, here we understand the opposition and here we declare that nature as enclosure of the future must be changed or, failing that, destroyed. For the conceptual invariably informs the performative.

1We are here utilizing The Feminine to constitute the total set of all behaviors & appearances which are associated with the female sex.

2Here we deploy ‘the earth’ as idealization rather than earth-as-is (earth as space-rock).

3We are here utilizing The Masculine to constitute the total set of all behaviors & appearances which are associated with the male sex.

4A Christian anarchist is one who believes that societal order must be rejected given that God is the one and only authority. Ellul stated that he believed anarchism to be “an absolute rejection of violence” and the “most serious form of socialism.” Due this inclination, Ellul believed state power to be ‘the beast’ which was described in the Book of Revelations.

5The Technological Society, xxv.

6Echoing the concept of ‘false consciousness.’

7The Technological Society, xxix.

8Here Ellul references the American historian and sociologist, Lewis Mumford.

9The Technological Society, p. 4

10Ibid., p. 5

11Authors of the anthropological and religious text, Great Cosmic Mother.

The Image of Man | Specter of Earth

(a) Immanence or Earth?

What way went vigor?

Subsumed by vice.

Struggle lost to paradise.

Elimination of a concept is only a reduction of literal spatiality insofar as no parvenu concepts are there fabricated in its place. Fabrication should not come to be confused here with falsity, such as an illusion (true presentation, false content) but rather should be associated with methodological or normative effect (a presentation which may not be “true” but which contains true content – ie. a bracketing concept).

(a.1) The Image of Man | Specter of Earth

In his Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man1, Wilfrid Sellars posits two competing conceptions of the human subject, that of the “manifest image” and the “scientific image.” The manifest image, as defined by Sellars, constitutes the folk-psychological schema by which man describes himself, to himself, and relates to his fellows (I am, she is, she talks to him because she likes him, etc), what Sellars referred to in his more casual moments as “knowing one’s way around” the map of the world. To quote Sellars: “The ‘manifest’ image of man-in-the-world can be characterized in two ways, which are supplementary rather than alternative. It is, first, the framework in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man-in-the-world. It is the framework in terms of which, to use an existentialist turn of phrase, man first encountered himself—which is, of course, when he came to be man. For it is no merely incidental feature of man that he has a conception of himself as man-in-the-world, just as it is obvious, on reflection, that ‘if man had a radically different conception of himself he would be a radically different kind of man.’”2

In contrast, the scientific image is that set of things which also constitutes man but which cannot be detected by the manifest image (or rather, which cannot be discerned by simply “feeling one’s way around”). He describes the scientific image thusly,

The scientific image of man-in-the-world is, of course, as much an idealization as the manifest image—even more so, as it is still in the process of coming to be. It will be remembered that the contrast I have in mind is not that between an unscientific conception of man-in-the-world and a scientific one, but between that conception which limits itself to what correlational techniques can tell us about perceptible and introspectible events and that which postulates imperceptible objects and events for the purpose of explaining correlations among perceptibles.”3

Sellar’s takes special care to note that by utilizing the word “image” he is not thereby positing that either the manifest, scientific, or both – as conception of being-in-the-world – are in anywise not of ‘the real.’ Rather, he ‘brackets’4 the “images,” thus transmogrifying them into philosophical objects of navigation. The tension between these images is starkly exemplified by such permutations in the humanities as posthumanism and its attendant sub-categories – transhumanism, non-humanism, anti-humanism and so on – as well as in the popularization of the displacement of the holocene by the anthropocene, patterned after the noosphere5 of the Russian geochemist, Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky; further refined by de Chardin and Le Roy. The anthropocene was utilized as early as the 1960s but was popularized in the early 2000s by Dutch chemist, Paul J. Crutzen. The anthropocene, broadly described, is the geo-era birthed out of post-industrial human civilization; generally, a human-dominated geological epoch; a time where man has obtained unprecendent power which has, through his ignorance, caused irreparably damaging climate change and ecological devastation. In other words, the anthropocene places man as geological force. This is a transmogrification of the manifest image; a taking of man from his place as the center of concern and placing him within a system with it’s own concerns (the planet, earth, Gaia, etc). Such a transformation is the summation of a existential quandary. The end of the world, or, more minimally, the end of the world of man. If you should find this talk of “the end of the world” to be an incredibly over-the-top pronouncement know that it is not our pronouncement but rather, a sentiment which is increasingly accepted by academia at large. Consider this excerpt from a 2014 speech given by the urban geographer, Stephanie Wakefield, “The end of the world then is not this or that disaster coming in the future – a flood, a hurricane, the collapse of mid-western agriculture – the end of the world is not a potential extinction of homosapiens. The end of the world is what we are living through right now.”6 Now, clearly, this is manifestly false if “end of the world” is to be taken as a literal and immediate eventuality (as her usage of “now” could connote). The world, either as nature-as-such, or, the-earth-as-such, in totality, is not literally at an end; it was not “ending” back in 2014 when such statements were made nor is it “ending” now (anymore than it has always been ending). Rather, it is Sellar’s manifest image that is slipping away – this a failure of synthesis – behind computer screens and into the ever-burgeoning smart-phone matrix, slipping through the cracks in the facade of a world torn open in the new reality birthed by empiricism and modern science, slithering through the fissures of the harmonic concordance which has been shattered by the might of human industry and will.

Man is no longer merely a clever beast, he has become something else entirely. We are all cyborgs, after all. All the more reason for synthesis! The crucial question to answer then is whether he has become more or less his constituent parts. Obviously more. We now add on the collective armature of the whole of our species to increasingly powerful frames through mass communication and speculative theoretical exploration; no longer captive to the landlocked and resource scarce existence of our ancestors, oft trapped upon infertile planes or swampy marshes, nor are we so easily dispatched by meteorites, those great foes from the sky, nor the devastation of hurricanes, mudslides, deluges of the rain-cloud, nor the ague or the fangs of chittering beasts. Hence, the only truly meaningful question left in regard to man in relation to the earth is: “Should he continue the process of reifying his immanence, thus synthesizing the manifest and scientific images or doing away with one or the other or should he cease and desist altogether?”

Before we can even begin to answer such a series of questions it is of great importance to critically examine the conceptions of the earth which have been constructed by the manifest image, what we shall here collectively refer to as the specter of earth. What then is this specter which shrouds our clarity? The answer is: not earth as-is but rather, the idea of earth which has been collectively crafted from centuries of our relationship with it, imbued with agency by our own, misattributed and implicitly carried. Whether the concept takes the form of earth-as-hyperorganism or earth-as-deity; what is fundamental to the foundation of the concept of the specter is the idea that the planet is something which acts. Additionally, the specter is a being which also has specific interests which its proponents contend broader humanity (or in rarer instances, all human action) is actively working against, for in the philosophy of the spectral shamans, Man is nothing more than a virus, crawling out upon the whole of the world, siphoning it’s lifeforce with vile machinic efficiency for some unstated, hideous and invariably cataclysmic end. The decline of anthropocentric thinking via the rise of new and destabilizing schools of thought have acted as catalysts to this thought-process which has, in turn, allowed the mental ecological niches necessary for anti-human envirocracy7 to grow. But is this mindset justified? Is it true? We would affirm that even if such statements were true, that should not mean that man should cease philosophical and technological innovation and simply set himself down into the muck and the mud, scratching about with sticks to carve out a hovel in the hardening clay of some noisome landslide. All of nature wars with us and it is only right and just that man should the wage battle with equal fury. Now as ever. But before we lay out our positive position (what is correct and should be done) we must first finish our negatory enterprise (what is wrong and what should not be done).

What is wrong, principally, with the various notions which we here collectively describe as the specter of earth is that it is just that, a specter; a construct of the mind with no verifiable external reality. This is not to say that mental constructions are not themselves true or that they are not immensely important; they are. Rather, it is to say that there is a profound distinction to be drawn between the conception itself and the way that conception maps onto any given externalities (if any at all). As pertains to usefulness it is crucial to understand that every mental construction is only as useful or useless as its applications within the mind to the individual who contemplates it and the ability of the individual who conceives of it to then utilize that concept to effect “the world” in some way that is conducive to some end. In the case of humanity, that end is, typically, a anthropocentric one. The problem with the concept of the specter is that, though it is obviously false (or, in more rare and sophisticated iterations, unfalsifiable), it is not useless; in fact, it is highly useful for a variety of human pursuits. To illustrate this fact and better conceptualize the actual effects of the specter, consider the cult of femininity which sprung up around the archaeological discoveries of Çatalhöyük, Turkey. In 1958 the archaeologist James Mellaart unearthed the remains of a proto-city in southern Anatolia, Konya Province, Turkey. It came to be known as Çatalhöyük8. Among the ruins of the neolithic settlement were various female figurines which Mellaart believed to be evidence of a cult of some Mother Goddess that was “the basis of our civilization.”9 Other similar claims had been, for instance, the American occult writer, Rosemary Ellen Guiley wrote that goddess worship extends as far back in time as the neolithic and might possibly be even older10 and the mythologist Joseph Cambell once cited a discovery that was dated to 6500 BC11 which he believed to be indicative of mother goddess worship. The validity of Mellaart’s theory, however, was somewhat complicated by the fact that not only was the archaeologist possessed of black market connections, he was also a proven forger. Regardless of these facts, Mellaart’s theories garnered a following and in short order a new, tentative religion had sprung up around his findings (both real and counterfeit). A similar fixation surrounds the ancient Bronze Age city-site of Knossos in Crete wherein many figurines and frescos were discovered which hinted at nature worship conducted under the auspices of powerful priestesses. Despite widespread denouncement of the idea that either Knossos or Çatalhöyük were, in their time, hotbeds of mother goddess worship, the idea persisted; indeed, both locations are still quite popular tourist designations for dedication worshipers of “the mother goddess” which has formed into various different internet communities. The “the” here is significant as members of the Knossos and Çatalhöyük mother goddess community believe in a monotheistic conception of the divine; a great and all powerful woman-creator who stands separate from man. It is pertinent to note that many modern devotees of the Mother Goddess believe that during neolithic times (or other proximal ages) womankind lived in tranquility until they were invaded by men who brought chaos into the world through the creation of technology. In it’s modern iterations, mother goddess worship tends to arise in, or affix itself to, circles wherein radical feminism, Jungian Psychoanalysis, New Age pantheism and extreme forms of evironmentalism are present. Whilst Mellaart’s discovery was a important locus in the reknewal of the specter goddess, it was but a portion of the multifarious iterations of modern earth and goddess worship, which re-surged in the 1960s in tandem with reinvigorated feminist movements, the popularization of ecology and neo-paganism and various non-asatru associated witchcraft and occult movements.

Another important node in the reification of the specter of earth was the work of the independent British scientist, James Ephraim Lovelock. During a joint venture with NASA to discover life on Mars, Lovelock conceived of what he called the Gaia12 Hypothesis, which postulated that a planet which contained life could be thought of as one, cohesive and self-regulating organism. First put forth in the 1960s, Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis was elaborated upon in his 1974 paper, Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere13 and various, subsequent scientific and polemical papers and books. The Gaia Hypothesis, originally conceived of as a new way of modeling the planetary ecosystems, Lovelock took the concept well outside the bounds of the hard sciences when, in his paper, Science and Christian Belief, Vol. 4, No. 1, 29, he wrote, “Gaia is Mother Earth. Gaia is immortal. She is the source of life. She is certainly the mother of us all, including Jesus.” Therefore it is starkly evident that Lovelock, whatever his initial conceptions, had come to believe the earth to be a literal feminine deity, possessed of vast intelligence, power and agency; sensitive to the workings of man and all the other organisms which take up residence beside, below and above him. Thus, in Lovelock’s schema, man is subsumed in the telos of “the world” and must readjust his workings in alignment with it or face The Revenge of Gaia14. Two decades after Lovelock’s hypothesis took hold, numerous other earth-centric thinkers and movements began to percolate throughout the increasingly global zeitgeist. We must pause he to take the measure of the thing, the strange convergence of scientific modeling and neolithic mythology, which, we would postulate, might have emerged out of the isolating and uncommunal nature of scientific research; for instance, both Mellaart and Lovelock were academics, given over to isolation in pursuit of furthering their personal knowledge of their particular field of study. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that such habituations occasioned considerable loneliness given the obvious social dimension of the human animal.

New “green” forces, less mystical and considerably more political, began to arise seldom a decade after Lovelock’s magnum opus. In the 1970s, the international NGO, Greenpeace, rose to prominence amidst the hippie furor of the 1960s, having no single founder or founders, the group organically coaleseced around environmental concerns, gradually becoming both more influential and more radical in their beliefs and tactics. 1987 saw the publication of the book, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, wherein Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor declared of the masculine,

Perhaps the greatest harm patriarchy has done to us is to stifle, coopt, and deform our powers of imagination. Moralism, dualistic dogmas, repressive prohibitions block our imagination. Patriarchal religions keep this fusion from happening, imagination dies, and is replaced by mechanical-linear thought patterns, i.e. indoctrination.”15

and in another section,

The world’s definition of God is the self-definition of humanity. The Gods who rule us “from above” are simply mirrors in the sky, faithfully reflecting our own faces. The Gods who rule us ‘from within’ might represent deep truths of the mind and heart, or they might reflect the profound self-distortions of four millennia of ontological misperception. We do not know if a ‘God’ is a true God or a false God until we see what kind of world is created in that God’s image. When we look around today at the world generated by the male Gods of patriarchal rule, we see warfare, degradation, suffering, and sadism on a scale such as earth has never seen, nor will ever see again—for of course if we don’t end it, it will surely end us.”

and later,

This is all very rudimentary, but once it has been set into motion as world machinery, every living thing on earth is entangled in its gears, all our functions become definitively embodied in its functions—and it’s very hard for those living inside the machinery to stop the machine, because our lives and all their ontological terms have come to depend on the ongoing machinery in all its terms.”16

Thus, we can see, from the mists of prehistory to the present, a consistent familiarity of association; earth to mother, woman as creator and thus God(dess), feminine magicks stultified and routed by vile patriarchal will and the persistent disdain for the horrid masculinity of the machine. If we define spirit as that portion of the human mind which motivates, and if we define the machine as the concretization of masculine will, we can accurately define opposition to the machine as indicative of a feminine spirit.

1‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man’ was a lecture given by Sellars in 1960. It was later transcribed and published in the journal, Frontiers of Science and Philosophy.

2Sellars, ‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,’ p. 3

3Sellars, ‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man’, p. 10

4‘Bracketing’ was a phenomenological term deployed by the philosopher Edmund Husserl, meaning: to suspend direct engagement with the world in partiality to better focus on some form of analysis of experience therefrom gained.

5The noosphere was conceived of as a biosphere of human thought. Nous = mind, sphaira = sphere.

6Notes on the Anthropocene: “What Must I Do?” At the End of the World, 2014.

7Those who place lack of human impact upon the environment at the forefront of all political & philosophical thinking.

8The name Catalhoyuk is a combination of the Turkish catal (fork) and hoyuk (mound).

9Evaluation Claims of a Mother Goddess Cult on Prehistoric Malta, Margaret Creech, 2015.

10Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experiences, (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 239.

11The Masks of God, vii.

12Gaia, or, Gaea, is a important primordial Greek deity who is the living embodiment of the earth.

13Lovelock wrote the paper in co-authorship with the microbiologist Lynn Margulis. The paper was first published in Tellus XXVI, 1974.

14The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back, is a book published in 2006 that was written by Lovelock.

15Sjoo, Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother, p. 427

16Sjoo, Mor, Great Cosmic Mother, p. 217 [PDF ver.]