This week → Technological lessons from the pandemic ⊗ Revenge of the real ⊗ Solarpunk is not about pretty aesthetics. It’s about the end of Capitalism ⊗ No Utopias: Gerard O’Neill, Gundam, and the illusion of space colonization ⊗ The fungal mind: on the evidence for mushroom intelligence
A year ago → The most clicked article in issue No.139 was Pace Layering: How Complex Systems Learn and Keep Learning by Stewart Brand.
If you are like me, you might very well be quite tired of reading about the pandemic, which is why last week I skipped over this essay at LibrarianShipwreck. Definitely good to circle back to it though because it’s an insightful consideration of this moment of transition in “the information age” and in the pandemic itself, which is not done of course, but perhaps close enough to it for taking stock before everyone moves on. The pandemic is/was a blunt instrument but it did shift a number of habits and changed the way ‘we’ understand digital technology and our use and acceptance of it.
The author considers the inequalities in technological access, which were revealed more clearly through who can and can’t work from home, as well as who could and couldn’t access services. Then over two sections, how so many of us longed for techno-scientific solutions and were both shown right with the arrival of the vaccine, but also blatantly wrong (if you paid attention) when all the “social, political, economic, and historic hurdles” were revealed and tripped over.
[E]ven as many people lamented events and conferences being transitioned to “online only,” this switch made many of those events more accessible to many people. And when considering the various individuals who have benefited from some of these technological shifts it is worth recognizing that a wide variety of groups have benefited in one way or another. […]
[T]he pandemic has clearly shown that the embrace of digital technologies has largely served to maintain a status quo in which those who were doing pretty well before the rise of digital technologies continue doing pretty well while those who were struggling before the rise of digital technologies continue struggling. […]
the point here is not in any way to oppose the vaccines, or to question their efficacy (I am fully vaccinated, and have been since May), but to consider the ways in which the narrative surrounding vaccines has played into a broader technological narrative. […]
It is understandable to be frustrated with the people who learned everything they know about vaccines from reading memes on Facebook—but it’s important to remember that those aren’t the only people who aren’t vaccinated. […]
[T]he pandemic is about more than just a virus—it is also about the social, political, economic, and historic forces at work that have exacerbated the virus, and though the vaccine works great against the virus…it has trouble curing those deeper social, political, economic, and historic problems.
At 032c, an interview with Benjamin Bratton about his book Revenge of the real. Although it’s about his views on the west’s covid ineptitude, it does overlap with his idea of planetary sapience which I find intriguing and his answers go some way in decrypting that vision.
Especially worth a read for the framing of the pandemic as a “massive experiment in comparative governance” of each country’s response to the climate crisis, and for Bratton’s sure to fail but likely correct intended shifting of the word “surveillance.” He feels it’s used too narrowly, that some “societal self-sensing” is useful but being thrown out with the rest.
Finally, you should read it alongside the previous piece; that one is basically taking stock of the technological layer around the world; this one is considering the next stages; both starting from the lessons of the pandemic.
Governance really has to do with all of the modes and processes by which a society makes sense of itself, and then acts upon itself through processes of deliberate composition. […]
[W]e’ve dismantled the state’s capacity to govern deliberately over the past decades, not months. At the end of this road, we may have nothing left but police functions in terms of what states are allowed to do. […]
[T]he longer that intelligent and equitable plans are deferred, the more likely that stupid and authoritarian plans will be realized by default. […]
We are at a point in history where it is quite clearly understood that the political, economic, cultural, epidemiological, bio-political circumstances in which we are all enmeshed inevitably operate at a planetary scale. But, the political technologies we have, to act upon those circumstances and compose them, are artificially diminished down to spatial and temporal scales that are mismatched with the conditions they’re being asked to act upon.
Good read at Motherboard, where Hannah Steinkopf-Frank gives an overview of Solarpunk’s history, what it means, aims for, and how it’s inching towards mainstreaming while many of its proponents worry about the inevitable appropriation. Useful for the emphasis on the movement’s implied need for the end of capitalism and for the various links to explore. Bonus points for including and linking to Belgian architect Luc Schuiten.
Solarpunk is radical in that it imagines a society where people and the planet are prioritized over the individual and profit. […]
“We would have to rethink systems of capitalism,” she said. “We would have to rethink hierarchies in themselves, and that is a major conflict that's not necessarily all that utopian.” […]
“I want to provide a vision for a better world for my fellow islanders,” he said. “I want to boost our representation as diverse Caribbean people in the sci-fi/speculative fiction genre, and I want to explore the strengths and weaknesses of a Solarpunk society in the ‘playground’ of fiction.”
Disclaimer: I know of the existence of Gundam but have never seen any of it. That being said, the article was regardless an excellent read, mixing as it does O’Neill (he of the gorgeous cylinder colonies bearing his name), the Gundam universe, space stations, war, exploration, colonisation, sci-fi, and capitalism in space. In short: Yoshiyuki Tomino’s vision in Gundam addressed war, inequality and extraction, while O’Neill’s abstracted all of that, and how that translated in their respective work.
the Princeton physicist, blinded by the sheer potential of his vision, failed to realize the gross inequities that such a project would require and perpetuate. That interrogatory labor would fall on artists like Tomino and Takayama, who took inspiration from O’Neill but questioned the validity of his dream. […]
In addition to satisfying audience expectations, the climax of War in the Pocket does crucial thematic labor. It reveals that despite idealistic visions, colonization entails conflict, coercion, and class stratification. O’Neill doesn’t argue for a radical overhaul of the system—he doesn’t even attempt to imagine a post-scarcity or emancipated future. What he proposes is capitalism in space, with all the structural oppression that entails. […]
The battle that breaks out between Zeon and Federation forces exists both on a literal and figurative level. It suggests that violence is endemic to the colonial project. The superficial beauty of these suburban environments masks the struggles of their creation.
There are three things particularly interesting about fungi. First, simply their existence and what they do. Without fail, some astonishment is in store when reading about them. Two, the discoveries themselves, how researchers are expanding our knowledge of the various forms and talents of fungi. Three, and perhaps most intriguing in this piece, is that there seems to be almost as much thinking to be done around the semantics of what is discovered as there is to be unearthed. Consciousness, intelligence, communication, collaboration. Our vocabulary, in itself or in our day-to-day use, is so anthropocentric that it makes it that much harder to name what we find.
Mushrooms are the reproductive organs produced by fungi that spend most of their lives below ground in the form of microscopic filaments called hyphae. These hyphae, in turn, branch to form colonies called mycelia. Mycelia spread out in three dimensions within soil and leaf litter, absorbing water and feeding on roots, wood, and the bodies of dead insects and other animals. […]
As crucial players in the ecology of the planet, these fascinating organisms deserve our full attention as genuine partners in sustaining a functional biosphere. […]
Fungal expressions of consciousness are certainly very simple. But they do align with an emerging consensus that, while the human mind might be particular in its refinements, it’s typical in its cellular mechanisms.
No.186 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 👉🏼👉🏼👉🏼 🤩 🌳 Virtually everyone in that lineup has appeared in the newsletter at some point, so …I’ve already pre-endorsed this? Branch Magazine Symposium – A New Digital Deal. “This year’s theme conference explores how the internet should serve our collective liberation and ecological sustainability. Branch Magazine, the recipients of the first-ever Ars Electronica Award for Digital Humanity, offers four panels unpacking climate justice, solarpunk, sustainable digitalization, solidarity and care as well as low-carbon design and education. Chaired by Michelle Thorne, Chris Adams, Christine Lariviere, Andres Colmenares and Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino.”
- 🇮🇹 🤔 🏗 Non-Extractive Architecture. “Non-Extractive Architecture will transform Palazzo delle Zattere into a live research platform focused on rethinking the balance between the built and natural environments, the role of technology and politics in future material economies, and the responsibility of the architect as an agent of transformation.”
- 🇬🇦 🇳🇴 👏 🌳 Gabon becomes first African country to get paid for protecting its forests. “Gabon recently received the first $17 million of a pledged $150 million from Norway for results-based emission reduction payments as part of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI). Gabon has 88% forest cover and has limited annual deforestation to less than 0.1% over the last 30 years, in large part possible due to oil revenues supporting the economy.”
- 🇦🇫 🇺🇸 🪖 🤦🏼♂️ This is the real story of the Afghan biometric databases abandoned to the Taliban. “By capturing 40 pieces of data per person—from iris scans and family links to their favorite fruit—a system meant to cut fraud in the Afghan security forces may actually aid the Taliban.”
- 🤖 Computer-Generated New Yorker Cartoons Are Delightfully Weird. “The project consists of image-and-caption combinations produced by a generative adversarial network (GAN), a deep-learning-based model. The network is trained using a database of punchlines and images of cartoons found online and then ‘learns’ to create new gags in the New Yorker‘s iconic style, with hilarious (and sometimes unsettling) results.”
- 🗺 🔭 Your moment of 🤯 this week, as you click through from theory to theory and try to understand. Theories of Everything, Mapped. “Explore the deepest mysteries at the frontier of fundamental physics, and the most promising ideas put forth to solve them.”
- 🤖 🐧 🌊 Robo-penguin: how artificial birds are relaying the secrets of ocean currents. “The Quadroin is an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV): a 3D-printed self-propelled machine designed to mimic a penguin in order to measure the properties of oceanic eddies.”
- 🇮🇩 🇵🇬 🇦🇺 💀 First ancient human DNA found from key Asian migration route. “The 7,000-year-old skeleton of a teenage hunter-gatherer from Sulawesi in Indonesia could be the first remains found from a mysterious, ancient culture known as the Toaleans, researchers report this week in Nature1.”
- 🤣 🎥 🎶 📺 Hilarious and quite a bit of work. The Seinfeld Theme Mixed With A Hit Song From Every Year Seinfeld Was On TV.
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