Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Is Virtuality Inherently Social?

Exploring the consideration that virtuality is fundamentally social—both its greatest asset & greatest weakness

Social media in its current —and defining—form is perhaps only a little over a decade old. But the core essence—which is, the function—of things like Facebook, Reddit, and Tumblr, that is, sociality (and the reification or formation of group identities), is the seed of the entire internet (and I contend, possibly all of virtuality, which predates even telecommunication in print forms). It's easy to see the world wide web as a disembodied sea of data—an entity in its own right—with which we each individually interact through the lens of our computer screens in order to procure information, as if we're miners extracting ore from the earth, or devotees all propitiating a faraway god in respective isolation. This image reveals a dilemma—the computational ideology that we are mired in that sees meaning and semiosis as linear processes that consist of the transmission of static packets of 'information' between entities. Not only is our interaction with information at large seen in this way, but our very cognition, too—our perception of reality. Ironically, this thinking of the mind-as-Turing-Machine was born out of the age of computing. Computing was born out of a need that was indeed, one could say, purely informational—the need to calculate, to count. But though modern computing may have given birth to the now-adolescent field of cognitive science that seems all too preoccupied with the individual (as opposed to the collective) and the mind (as opposed to the body), it gave birth to something else—cyberspace. Connecting machines gave rise to something that could not be farther from the cold, mechanistic nature of the algorithm—a new, terrifyingly open platform for human affect. Nothing could be, comparatively speaking, more messy, more fuzzy, more dynamic, than the interpersonal—the social relation, and also more ironic than its marriage with the smooth, hard, angular, clockwork precision of the computer—like hot blood running through cool metal veins. For a moment (some time in the 60's or 70's?), the most rudimentary personal computers were tightly coupled extensions of a single mind and personality—that is, they were closed systems. But then, through the phone line, those systems started to crack open, and this virtual self started to bleed out. After that, things were never the same. In the end, our affair with electronics as personal items that only lead back to ourselves will have been a blip on the screen of modern history. Now, all electronic devices are synechdoches of virtuality, with its eternal promise of sociality, and with that, an eerily open, omnipresent void.
This is to say, the existence of the personal computer, and the 'democratization' of computing that it has enabled, plays deceptively well with modern neo-liberal notions of individuality—ideal personhood means professional, autonomous, knowledgeable, original. And this is all catalyzed and annealed through a bionic coupling with a world of information modulated via the computer—an ethereal, oddly "other" world whose human history it is too easy to forget. But don't let it fool you! This "individuality" is provisional—a stepping stone on the path to collectivity of a higher order. Our concept of information itself—and thus our definition of "Information Technology"—is fundamentally flawed, too. There is a need for a paradigm shift, and part of that involves shifting backwards through time, to the moment where the first sign appeared. What was it, a chemical excreted by an amoeba, an animal's scratch on a log, a footprint, a circadian rhythm? But that's just it—signs don't just appear, they are apprehended. They become signs—that is, they come to 'contain' information—through relation. When you talk of information, you must try to train yourself to stop using the verb "to be", because information never "is", it only "becomes". There is no fundamental substance of which information is made—nope, not even now, when it's stored as code, on vast server farms, because it's still, when you get down to it, just light (and mostly trash). No technology can escape the fact that all matter is energy. That technology—the technology of vibration—is woven into the very fabric of the universe.

 My dictionary defines "virtual" (in its computational sense) as "not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so". Thus, the virtual reiterates the metaphysics of process philosophy—which contends that the world is made up of events/apprehensions/relations, not particles or substances. But… it had us tricked for a moment, there. The passage to digital technology has somehow placed glaringly in the spotlight something fundamental to ALL information, that is to say, its dual nature. The simultaneous existence and non-existence of information now appears more 'concrete' because we wrote the f*cking code for it, thus essentially making it apprehensible to a 10 year old watching The Matrix. This wave/particle duality shared by both information and, according to quantum mechanics, subatomic particles, has begun to engender new ways of thinking about reality—as in, everything is information, and so every artifact is a text—which up-cycles the older esoteric adage that the world is made of language (which itself informs many magickal/occult systems of thought). But we are dealing here with information in the new, dynamical understanding, not the old, computational understanding of reality-as-computer and God-as-programmer. (That's so 1980's!) Rather, Neo's realization, whispered under his breath in The Matrix Reloaded at his second meeting with the Oracle "programs hacking programs" more more closely approximates 'what is actually going on here' (though it's still a metaphor). You may just associate this "literary" thinking with the obscure upper-floors of the ivory tower (humanities wing), but NO, you'd be wrong, because Derridean deconstruction and poststructuralist literary theory, in my view, are commensurable with post-cyberpunk (even nano or biopunk) conceptions of the self and reality, and with it the ultimate plasticity and immanent semiotic potential of all of nature and the universe—which manifests in cutting-edge corners of Neuroscience, Biology and Ecology and Evolutionary Sciences if you care to look. HOW COULD EVOLUTION HAPPEN IF THE WORLD WASN'T MADE UP OF CONTINGENT MEANING AT THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL LEVEL? Yet I'm an atheist. It's just that "meaning" isn't what we thought it was...

 To get back on point, I think that virtuality is ontologically—and inescapably—social, and that is why it's such a fraught and contested medium, especially today with the incursion of social media into the lives of anyone who spends time with computers. It is obvious that cyberspace is a social space, or at least, a place for encounters with other entities—but I get the feeling that this relationality somehow pervades (or has pervaded?) into all virtual and hyper-textual worlds. Thus, virtuality is social, but it's not recognized or treated as such all the time. Since humans classically fail to see what matters to them most, its utility is still little understood—but it has a history, one in which actions speak louder than words (or in this case, text). The internet came out of the needs of a particular (and exclusive) discourse community to share information (the military's DARPANET, in fact). The social/tribal/and playful uses of virtuality go back to dial-up Bulletin Board Systems, Usenet, and MUDs. You can take 'social media' even further into the analog than even BBS, into the realm of phone phreaking, where members of that community from far and wide would meet on party lines (essentially giant conference calls) to form friendships and build community (trading tips on how to build a black box was, you might be surprised, more of an added bonus). You could take it yet further into print culture, in personals ads or "letters to the editor", or you know, actual bulletin boards! As computing took over social media, it accelerated the rate of time-shifting (though this is still a defining feature of social media)—but the gap between virtual events and our apprehension of them is indeed getting thinner.

One of the things I really wanted to talk about in this essay is attention, intention, and focus, and the way that modern virtuality has in many ways fragmented, derailed, or changed-the-quality-of these human capacities. I'm not here to demonize communication technology, because I don't think that it is inescapably 'bad' for human mental, social, or physical health. But I think that many of its problems arise because we still haven't really collectively, as a society, apprehended why we have it. And to me, it has become clear that the virtual world we are continuing to create, and have been creating for quite some time now, is not as much about learning as it is about connecting. That might sound obvious, but I think it's more profound than we give it credit for—for one thing, are the two things even compatible all the time? Why should they be? I think PLAY is much more AT PLAY here than we realize, or want to realize (Apes Love Graphical User Interfaces) The virtual world may have didactic functions, but only because it is discursive. It may contain information, but only because that information was put there by a person with some intention—though by the time you see it, the original intention may be unknowable. In that way, a lot of the information that "floats" in the datasphere, some in more unmoored fashion than others, is like a footprint, an animal track that is never erased—from an animal long dead, or completely elsewhere, and in that way, is basically gibberish masquerading as information, which exhibits the unfortunate formality of being decipherable. But I digress… though there is a point of connection: Today's virtuality turns all information social (which as we discussed, it always originally was)… and our subconscious mind has figured this out long before we become cognizant of it. The effect of this subconscious awareness is that utilizing virtual space—ANY virtual space, even if it's not ostensibly social-virtual-space—maintains an odd, unavoidably open quality to it. One finds one's focus losing clarity, getting fuzzy, oscillating, in a way that simply wouldn't happen if you were sitting in the woods with a pen and paper as your only 'information technology'. (Yet, I don't mean to say that cognition does not naturally oscillate or behave like a wave-form, because I think that is its fundamental character—after all, it is the interplay of pattern and deviation from pattern that produces novelty—but virtual space, hyperspace, and cyberspace can change the frequency of the neural wave, which is most problematic when we do not understand what is happening) You see, virtuality operates in a fundamentally mantic way—it gives back what you put in (and this happens in multiple dimensions, but you can take Google algorithms that tailor search results to individual IP addresses as an extreme [blackmagic IMO] example of this sort of cybermancy) And I'm sure what I'm about to say has crossed your mind, but the tendency of virtual space to either lead you to the treasure of "finding yourself" or the trash of "losing yourself" (it doesn't usually deviate from the two extremes) underscores the fundamental ambiguity of its value, and of the ethics connected to its use. Consider this—some of the most focused I've ever been, when acting in virtual space, is when I'm INTER-acting (because this reifies the actual purpose of virtuality in the first place). Even writing a blog post is easier if I'm doing it inside the web browser and not simply in a text file on my desktop, because its inter-activity is more phenomenologically present in my perception—the potential social ramifications of it feed into my creative process, and are a part of it, instead of obstructing it and derailing it. When sociality and creativity can potentiate each other in the strange, atemporal continuum of virtuality, they produce a gleaming and sharp synergy, startling in its ability to cut through the fog that cognition often contends with in the landscape of cyberspace. My attention and will in cyberspace is most focused—sharpest—when I'm writing an email to a loved one, finally typing up a blog post that's been percolating in my mind for weeks, or _yes_ posting a comment on a Facebook thread (ESPECIALLY WHEN THERE'S A DEBATE THAT'S RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS). What this means, to me, is that agency and attention—and by extension, creation of meanings— in the virtual realm is most effective, most productive, when it is vectored in dialectic. Whether we like it or not, every action has a direction, but in cyberspace it can become easy to forget where you're pointing, because of the illusion that we leave our bodies behind and mind-meld with data. In that instance, the location of individual agency is destabilized, distributed—even more radically than it normally (already) is in meatspace, and maybe it's a good thing, if it can just teach us how powerful, how magical, how sacred, our agency is in the first place.

It's its own kind of wilderness out there in cyberspace, where the sun never sets… a wilderness of collapsed dichotomies of public and private, self and other. It's a space where expressive modalities like writing and speaking, or perceptive ones like reading and hearing, aren't so distinct. It's a city built by aliens. It's a place where shadows become real. It's an illusion that we all keep buying into because everyone else is, just like every other semiotic system that ever was. POINT IS: THAT SHIT NEEDS TO COME WITH A WARNING.

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