Care Against Growth [draft]

Draft essay for a talk I’m giving at The Maintainers III in DC on October 7.

Sidewalk Labs’ smart cities project in Quayside, Toronto has become a combination of lodestar and black hole. Almost no element of the project has gone unaddressed and uncritiqued, and rightfully so. From Bianca Wylie’s excoriation of the privacy and governance nightmares endemic to the project,[i] to Shannon Mattern’s reveal of the hollowness of Sidewalk’s community engagement and attempts at ‘co-design’,[ii] to Molly Sauter’s discussion of the colonial aesthetics of the imagery of the project’s renderings.[iii] These critiques are indispensable but my focus in this essay is much smaller in scope—about a meter in diameter, if memory serves.

In a universal project such as Sidewalk’s Quayside, the details betray the whole—and a simple modular paver functions as a cypher revealing a monstrous intentionality. At Sidewalk Labs’ 307 (their “experimental workspace”-slash-guinea pig cage in Toronto),[iv] a wood-construction concept version of this paver is on display. Designed with Carlo Ratti Associati and called “Dynamic Street”[v], the installation allows visitors to get familiar with the system. In the recent Master Innovation and Development Plan (or MIDP), these pavers are intended to be “coupled with open access channels consisting of precast concrete sections, enabling streets and the infrastructure they house to evolve as technology changes”.[vi] The initial idea for the paver was lifted from the French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport, Development and Networks, or IFSTTAR. The IFSTTAR version was called, with considerably less hubris, the “Removable Urban Pavement”, or RUP.

Both Sidewalk and IFSTTAR begin as a desire to cut down on on-site labor time necessary to repair a street—an admirable goal. IFSTTAR’s report notes the RUP was intended to allow a street to be “opened and closed within just a few hours using very lightweight site equipment, in restoring the initial street appearance and all its functionalities”.[vii] Similarly, the Dynamic Street, when paired with open access utility channels beneath, “could work as a pair to increase the ease of utility work” and lessen disruption (disruption, the Silicon Valley motto, is now the enemy in this case).[viii] But in the case of the Dynamic Street, replacability is abandoned to “create a streetscape that responds to citizens’ ever-changing needs”.[ix] The focus is less on the street as a stage than as a technological armature, featuring lights, heating, and sensor suites.[x] For Sidewalk, the street and its pavers are a means to a greater end: a city as a blank slate of infinite amenities and infinite control, where capital, as technological progress, can play unimpeded. Technoutopia begins in the destruction of the old mundane, and the simple paver ushers in a world where responsiveness—to bourgeois desires, to capitalist privations—is the rule. “Sidewalk Labs recognizes that this new approach to street systems would require changes to existing regulations and operations,” the MIDP shyly admits.[xi] But the changes Sidewalk describes are seismic shifts. By reconsidering street maintenance not as a laborious process of 20- or 30-year maintenance cycles, but one of von Neumannesque continuous reproduction, urban maintenance is recast as a logistical issue. Logistics has no place for the human subject or its labor, just the expansion of wealth.[xii] To enable the logistical dawn, labor must be made a background process. When labor is invisible, the city seems organic as well as a highly technological artifact, seemingly responding ‘automatically’ to “the emergence of [the] new”[xiii], free to pursue relentless “optimization”.[xiv]

“To work today is to be asked,” Fred Moten and Stefano Harney write, “…to do without thinking, to feel without emotion, to move without friction, to adapt without question, to translate without pause, to desire without purpose, to connect without interruption”.[xv] As Karl Marx wrote, capital considers the worker “when he is not working, as a human being”, but this same sentiment is true while at work as well.[xvi] Logistics is the capitalist systematic, the fever dream of the brain of capital, and its moving parts are caked with blood even as they take on ever more hideous forms.[xvii] The heart of Quayside is not the digital, but the flowing of people and commodities: “an empire which, with its network of pumps, filters, vats and basins, incarnates the Principle of Fluidity… “approaching this horizon, the ideal would be a factory without matter and…without workers!”[xviii] But labor is not a constant in an algorithm or the action of a hollow subject: it is a social relationship, an expression of care. To understand care, we can turn to the experience of unpaid domestic labor.

Maria Puig de la Bellacasa describes care as “a signifier of devalued ordinary labours that are crucial for getting us through the day”. [xix] This labor is often thought of as “domestic”, such as childcare, hospice, and other “embodied practices”, as Monique Lanoix explains, and it is undertaken predominantly by women and people of color.[xx] But care can be a mode of both production and reproduction—it is the ‘personal reason’ to the question “why are you doing that?”. As an unquantifiable quiddity of labor in the abstract, care cuts past the capitalist presentation of labor solely as a wage relation, gesturing instead towards an atavistic understanding of work as a social practice which can and does exist apart from capital but has been captured and commoditized by it.[xxi] It is in the interest of capital to maintain the a singular conception of labor as a wage-relationship which produces value, as we have seen in feminist critiques of unpaid domestic labor and the demand of “wages for housework”. Returning again to de la Bellacasa, capital must be “a sociotechnical assemblage [which] can reinforce asymmetrical relations that devalue caring”.[xxii] Sidewalk’s Quayside fits snugly into this asymmetrical machinery, which we can give another name: capitalist development in and of itself.[xxiii] This system can seem inexorable: Achille Mbembe warns that “[u]nless we reinvent the terms of what counts and in the process resignify what value stands for as well as the procedures of assigning value, of measuring value, of exchanging value, things won’t change”.[xxiv]

“[W]e could imagine physical infrastructures that support ecologies of care — cities and buildings that provide the appropriate physical settings and resources for street sweepers and sanitation workers, teachers and social workers, therapists and outreach agents,” Shannon Mattern writes. To imagine caring infrastructures is to imagine a world for us, far from Quayside and its rabid commoditization of urban life and activity. This imagination is a theoretical standpoint first and foremost: workers are the subject, coming first, with technological progress a firm second, in a dramatic inversion of the status quo.[xxv] The theory is answered by a polical practice of design-labor, addressing labor in its role within the logistical system, that is, “the inevitable interrelations of agendas of technological change and (re)distributions of labor with associated implications for both material and symbolic reward”, as Lucy Suchman writes.[xxvi] By becoming conscious of our role as caretakers of infrastructural and social relationships, the potential for interrupting capitalist development begins to come into view. Labor reasserts itself as a teleological undertaking, and care the method by which it is performed.[xxvii]

This new standpoint throws the differences between the RUP and the Dynamic Street into harsh relief. In the RUP report, I was shocked to find that the pavers themselves were ultimately not the essential element. After design meetings with engineers and “network operators”, the RUP team realized that the paver itself lived and died by its substrate. The new “Structural Excavatable Cement-Treated Material” (SECTM) developed in response with and as an element of labor ultimately was, as the report stated, the “most innovative aspect” of the project, designed greater ease of maintenance and installation.[xxviii] When Sidewalk and Carlo Ratti Associati adapted the RUP for Toronto, they seemingly left out SECTM, instead favoring ‘good life’ scenarios that imagine the street as a stage for unbridled logistics and the occassional block party, wherein residents with an “digital reconfigurator” can “design urban scenarios of their own”,[xxix] “in order to swiftly change the function of the road without creating disruptions on the street”.[xxx] The hypnagogic urbanism of Sidewalk Labs—ephemeral, responsive only to desire, possessed of infinite growth—is not free of the material world at all, despite their claims. The digital dream is borne up by a sea of faceless logistical workers, bound to the city-machine. To center labor in our minds represents a weapon in the war against the smart city—a war that we are, perhaps, already losing.



[i] Wylie’s Medium page is an inexhaustible and incredibly valuable repository of information about the Sidewalk Toronto process as well as full of brilliant ruminations on the threats it poses to governance, privacy, and citizenship. See more at Bianca Wylie, “Collected Medium Posts,” Medium, accessed September 19, 2019,

[ii] Shannon Mattern, “Sidewalk Labs’s Material Co-Design,” Words In Space (blog), April 28, 2019, See also the now-canonical “The City is Not a Computer” and “Instrumental City”, both at Places Journal.

[iii] Molly Sauter, “City Planning Heaven Sent,” e-flux Architecture, February 1, 2019,

[iv] Sidewalk Labs, “Participate,” Sidewalk Toronto (blog), accessed September 18, 2019,

[v] Rima Sabina Aouf, “Carlo Ratti and Sidewalk Labs Collaborate to Build Reconfigurable Dynamic Street,” Dezeen, July 20, 2018,

[vi] Sidewalk Labs, “The Urban Innovations,” Draft Master Innovation and Development Plan, June 24, 2019, 137,

[vii] François de Lerrard, Thierry Sadran, and Jean Maurice Balay, “Removable Urban Pavements: An Innovative, Sustainable Technology,” The International Journal of Pavement Engineering 31p (2012): 1–2,

[viii] Sidewalk Labs, “MIDP,” 136.

[ix] Aouf, “Carlo Ratti and Sidewalk Labs Collaborate to Build Reconfigurable Dynamic Street.”

[x] Quoted in Aouf.

[xi] Sidewalk Labs, “MIDP,” 135.

[xii] Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, “Fantasy in the Hold,” in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Brooklyn: Minor Compositions Press, 2016), 87.

[xiii] Sidewalk Labs, “MIDP,” 138.

[xiv] Sidewalk Labs, “Sidewalk Labs Street Design Principles,” Sidewalk Labs Street Design Principles, accessed May 12, 2019,

[xv] Moten and Harney, “Fantasy in the Hold,” 87.

[xvi] Buret quoted in Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, trans. Martin Milligan (Amherst: Prometheus, 1988), 50.

[xvii] Raniero Panzieri, “The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx versus the ‘Objectivists,’” in Outlines of a Critique of Technology, ed. Phil Slater (Ink Links, 1980).

[xviii] Gilles Châtelet, To Live and Think Like Pigs: The Incitement of Envy and Boredom in Market Democracies (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2018), 76.

[xix] Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, “Matters of Care in Technoscience: Assembling Neglected Things:,” Social Studies of Science, December 7, 2010, 94,

[xx] MONIQUE LANOIX, “Labor as Embodied Practice: The Lessons of Care Work,” Hypatia 28, no. 1 (2013): 85–100.

[xxi] Bruno Gulli, Labor of Fire: The Ontology of Labor between Economy and Culture (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2005).

[xxii] Bellacasa, “Matters of Care in Technoscience,” 97.

[xxiii] Panzieri, “The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx versus the ‘Objectivists.’”

[xxiv] cls-1{fill:#fffffc;} cls-2{fill:#11161a;}profile-placeholderBy: Sindre Bangstad et al., “Thoughts on the Planetary: An Interview with Achille Mbembe,” New Frame, September 5, 2019,

[xxv] This inversion is discussed more fully in Mario Tronti, “A New Type of Political Experiment: Lenin in England,” in Workers and Capital, trans. David Broder (Verso, 2019). More generally, it occupies a central theoretical obsession of operaia, particularly the editors of Quaderni Rossi.

[xxvi] Lucy A. Suchman, Human-Machine Reconfigurations. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 278.

[xxvii] Georg Lukács, Ontology of Social Being: Labor, vol. 2, 3 vols. (London: Merlin Press, 1978).

[xxviii] François de Lerrard, Thierry Sadran, and Jean Maurice Balay, “Removable Urban Pavements: An Innovative, Sustainable Technology,” 5.

[xxix] Carlo Ratti Associati, “The Dynamic Street,” Carlo Ratti Associati, 2018,

[xxx] “Dynamic Street for Sidewalk Labs,” Smart Cities World, accessed September 19, 2019,

Daniel Bell and the fiction of post-industrialism

What does post-industrial mean? Of course, answering this question requires first answering what industrial means, but this does not tell the entire story. I will concern myself solely with the post-industrial, as in it I identify something of a semiotic container which contains subsequent periodizations and proposed epochal shifts of a socio-technological nature: the Information Age, the Age of Artificial Intelligence, the Digital (or Third) Industrial Revolution, semiocapitalism/cognitive capitalism, surveillance capitalism, and the Anthropocene, to name just a few. (If there’s one thing to be sure of, the declaration of new historical eras seems to be profitable for one’s academic prospects, if nothing else.) It is my position that the declaration of the post-industrial necessarily preconditions or is isomorphic with all the above epochal shifts in that it is a subject without an object, a form without an object, a fabricated truth that attempts in the first instance to provide handholds and propulsive force to the societal totality. It is worth noting here that the only thing that can be said to discursively challenge this expansive definition of the post-industrial in terms of planetary-historical ramifications may be neoliberalism—which, I will argue later, effectively can be viewed as the political-bourgeois manifestation of a post-industrial weltanschauung insofar it is isolable at all. And above it all, the post-industrial age is itself a phantasm, just another tactic of capital’s spectacular tendency towards naturalization (particularly, post-industrialism’s insistence on its own Pyrhhic victory, making is so “old debates about capitalism and socialism are increasingly irrelevant”), and a specific reaction to political unrest and the collapse of the Euro-American economic base. (Lasch 1973) However, I will use the term—though with some distaste, and for the purposes of analysis only.


Even in the triumphalist, reactionary circles which spawned post-industrialism as process/product, there is significant disagreement with the specifics of the post-industrial age: when it began, what it entails, and so on. That said, Daniel Bell’s 1974 The Coming of Post-Industrial Society is largely taken to be the touchstone of this new designation, and Bell as its prophet, having popularized Alain Touraine’s phrase from a few years prior. Bell’s sketch of post-industrialism’s anticipated social form has some generic features, including the change “from a goods-producing economy to a service economy, the centrality of theoretical knowledge for innovation, the change in the character of work, from a game against nature and a game against fabricated nature to a game between persons”.[1] In the face of this description, Bell’s caveat that “A post-industrial society cannot provide a transcendent ethic….” almost goes without needing to be said.[2] I follow from Christopher Lesch’s assertion, in his review of The Coming of Post-Industrial Society for The New York Review of Books, that Bell’s declaration of the dawn of the post-industrial age is ageless, predicated on not just various other thinkers but also Bell’s own essays predating his book by 15 years. Of course, the novelty of Bell’s work is not at stake. What is, however, of immense importance, is the fact that the concept of the post-industrial has come not to inform but to dominate: power functions in a post-industrial manner, bearing in mind Marx’s statement that theory which gains material form by gripping the masses. However, in a grotesque perversion, the masses are made to dance, as ever, to the steps provided by an elite that styles itself as post-industrial: post-industrialism, along with any epochal designation more broadly, does not exist outside the minds and actions of power. Beyond any discussions of the service economy, innovation, or development of work’s character, it is simply a social-economic relation—specifically one of hierarchical power.


By choosing to remain oblivious to both the primacy of social-economic relations insofar as they constitute the totality of society, Bell could not help himself but to “rebel” (if you could call it that) against what he perceived as the monomyths of both a vulgarized Marxist “econocentricism” and a functionalist-positivist moral standard. “Marxists,” Bell wrote, “believe that the society is unified through the mode of production; functionalists believe that society is integrated through a common value system. Neither view, I believe, is adequate to explain certain contradictions in contemporary society”.[3] Bell positions his own account of the disunity of society specifically against Lukács’ totality, as an alternative view, thus begging the question (where did the perceived atomization come from?) and then seeking to plot out the ramifications of a social metaphysic of his own construction.


Bell placing his own account of the post-industrial in relation to the totality opens up a particularly withering line of critique by Lukács from History and Class Consciousness, bound up in his own definition of what the totality is—a heuristic by which to observe and comprehend the fitful interaction and laws of motion of capitalist society in toto. To begin, Lukács draws out Marx’s statement: “The relations of production of every society form a whole”.[4] This is also where Bell begins, and which he turns aside in favor of a fitful plurality defined by contradiction (it is to Bell’s paltry credit that he can detect these). Lukács goes on, admitting that “This dialectical conception of totality seems to have put a great distance between itself and reality, it appears to construct reality very ‘unscientifically’”.[5] However, the unscientific appearance of the totality is only when juxtaposed against bourgeois “royal science”: “The rightness of this view [of the totality] only emerges with complete clarity when we direct our attention to the real, material substratum of our method, viz. capitalist society with its internal antagonism between the forces and the relations of production [emphasis mine].”


So—Lukács’ totality is not a monomyth at all, but rather a method by which to collapse the above and the below, the macro and the micro, into a subject of analysis which nevertheless does not eliminate contradiction so as to construct a closed, teleological system. Bell’s own claim that Post-Industrial Society is an attempt to reckon with “changes in the social structure” falls flat, as by his own admission that, yes, his analysis comes with gaping holes and contradictions of its own. (When pressed on his claim that the promotion of knowledge to a primary role in production characterizes post-industrial society and thus “makes the university a central site” fails to take into account geopolitical intelligence regimes such as the CIA, he can only say that “there are many devils in a devilish world, but those kitchen sinks belong in another room, and please keep them there”. It is here that the true value of the totality becomes clear, as a method of working with and through contradiction. What in Bell’s fetishistic science appears as the limit of its logic and a space in which the goalposts must be moved back could be and in fact is resolved easily by an understanding of the totality as a gestalt. Contradictions are not overwhelmed or transcended; contradictions belong to the nature of capitalist reality. These contradictions are constantly shifting and transitory—they are themselves conditional to the particular, peculiar logic of capitalism itself.


By synthesizing his post-industrial framework, Bell has made an ideological argument that not only seeks to provide a gloss for capitalism’s inherently contradictory structure, but further performs a crude sleight of hand by admitting that capitalism’s relations are conditional (in a vulgar theodicy: industrialism is dead, long live capitalism!) while at the same time promising that capitalism in itself is “predestined to eternal survival by the eternal laws of nature and reason”. Post-industrialism, in Bell’s view, happened to capitalism—not the other way around; it reigns supreme, indomitable, and the most Bell can humbly do is take its pulse and try to paper over its excesses and its crises. Thus, the problem of accumulation and the annihilation of urban fixed capital in the 60s and 70s becomes a promising pivot towards a world in which neither matters, where value can be conjured out of thin air.

[1] (Bell and Lasch, An Exchange on Post-Industrial Society 1974)

[2] (Bell and Lasch, An Exchange on Post-Industrial Society 1974)

[3] (Bell and Lasch, An Exchange on Post-Industrial Society 1974)

[4] The Poverty of Philosophy

[5] (Lukács n.d.)

Critique of “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”

Langdon Winner’s widely-cited essay “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” is perhaps a perfect example of what Georg Lukács would identify as a wholly bourgeois approach to the interaction of technology and society. Winner’s piece means well, but remains fundamentally blinkered by a worthy progressivist veneer that nevertheless cannot conceal a “bourgeois, contemplative materialism” inseparable from “the classical economics with which it is so closely bound up”, resigned forever to merely express “the antagonisms of capitalist society and the intractability of its problems when conceived in its own terms”. Winner, for his part, attempts to play both sides: pitting Marx and Engels against each other on the question of technology’s effect on the organization of social (and particularly productive) relations, but at the same time speaking to a rosy view of the future as a choice between nuclear or solar power, and never mentioning capitalism by name—not even once!

Winner’s piece seems to be the type of writing that, if I had read it a year or two ago, would have absolutely floored me. His approach is clear and his arguments seem lucid, nearly indomitable (an opinion shared by the Wikipedia editor of his article who writes that “criticisms [of Winner] are often narrowly focused upon particular cases in Winner’s essays, the height of the bridges built by Robert Moses on the Long Island Parkway, for example, and tend to overlook his general arguments about the interweaving of political institutions and technological devices”. However, Winner suffers from the aforementioned inability to escape the formulation of capitalism’s problems within its own terms.

Returning to Lukács’ essay “Technology and Social Relations” is illustrative in showing how Winner’s argument, while persuasive, is founded on capitalism’s foundation. As Lukács critiques Bukharin throughout the essay, he slowly explicates not just Bukharin’s failures to accurately situate technology within society but a wider problem of technology in general. “All economic or ‘sociological’ phenomena“, Lukács writes, “derive from the social relations of men to one another. Emphasis on a false ‘objectivity’ in theory leads to fetishism”. Winner commits the same error Bukharin does: both “find the underlying determinants of society and its development in a principle other than that of the social relations between men in the process of production” and thus give to technology a “far too determinant position” which, in Bukharin’s own terms (cited by Lukács) “every given system of social technique determines human work relations as well”. In this model, technique (or technological development) determines society itself. Technology becomes, like nature, an abstract, transcendental constant, “over and above” social relations. Though Lukács does not, of course, dispute that technology “retroactively influences the productive forces”, what is at issue here is both Winner’s and Bukharin’s mistake of placing those same productive forces at some remove above technology itself. In Winner’s quest to “take seriously” (always an injunction to maturity with these people!) the technological artifact, he makes a foundational mistake, which Lukács finds to be exactly the problem of the artifact (and specifically, the undialectical character of a new artifact qua progress), which he identifies within a general stream of productive “technique” as a dangerous focus on erroneous figures as opposed to the actually important ground, on the “undissolved quiddity (unaufgelöster Dinghaftlichkeit) and false ‘objectivity’” of the object as opposed to the truth of technology as subjected to socio-economic relations, or labor.

Winner identifies his approach as both technological and political. “The theory of technological politics,” he explains, “draws attention to the momentum of large-scale sociotechnical systems, to the response of modern societies to certain technological imperatives”. At no point does he explain what those imperatives are, or to ask who is giving them. Later, Winner continues: “societies choose structures for technologies that influence how people are going to work, communicate, travel, consume, and so forth over a very long time”. How do societies choose? Though Winner is not shy about pointing out, say, the role of a mechanical harvester in destroying agricultural communities, he seems incapable of stating the obvious: societal choice is not undertaken consensually, it is not something that we, as a civilization, are all grasping towards with each other’s best interests in mind. Winner spends some time adopting the tone of the scold, the dour academic Marxist, wherein Winner (in caricature) undertakes a separation of the economic and political in order to establish a “Marxist” view in which everything is suborned to the economic and therefore allowing Winner the wherewithal to properly and “maturely” get down to brass tacks. We should not give Winner any credit here: in his attempt to carve off the economic from the political, he then entreats us to imagine a political object: Robert Moses’ bridges, for example, intentionally designed as too low to admit buses under them. Winner writes:

“Automobile-owning whites of “upper” and “comfortable middle” classes, as he called them, would be free to use the parkways for recreation and commuting. Poor people and blacks, who normally used public transit, were kept off the roads because the twelve-foot tall buses could not get through the overpasses. One consequence was to limit access of racial minorities and low-income groups to Jones Beach, Moses’s widely acclaimed public park. Moses made doubly sure of this result by vetoing a proposed extension of the Long Island Railroad to Jones Beach.”

He then comes so close to diagnosing the problem—”Moses’s social-class bias and racial prejudice”—without asking the question he himself asks earlier. Why does Moses have these biases, why was he able to put them into action? If society is determining its technological future, why did we not all roll up our sleeves and put a stop to this?

I’ll end this post with the blunt answer: Winner is a bourgeois theorist, and as such, eliminates questions of class as a universal in order to readmit it as a particular.

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.”

Brainlet Corner 1: What is Philosophy: Intro & Ch. 1

Brainlet Corner is my attempt to actually read books in their entirety in an intensive way. Please don’t own me. Hopefully it will be a series.


There is already an incredible amount of work on D&G’s notion of the concept andalongside and in tandem, the conceptual persona or friend. The concept answers the question “what is philosophy?” quickly: philosophy is an act of creation—”forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts”. Only philosophy can create concepts, not science, art, and especially not design (which only produces simulacra), which have robbed the concept of its initial meaning and degraded it.

The answer was already known and had not changed, they say, but the conceptual poetics has been modified. Asking what is philosophy requires knowledge of the temporospatial and personal circumstances in which the question is being asked—which Hegel would identify as “the Figures of its creation and the Moments of its self-positing). This creation is dependent on the conceptual personae that are engaged with throughout the process of its fabrication, the spectre of the friend.

The friend, as far as I can tell, is rooted in a greek urbanity—the philosophy of the forum/agora. Creation of concepts is a social act, an amphisbetesis or striving/competition between the philosopher and the “friend, lover, claimant, and rival” which constantly must be worked through and inhabited. It is this relation that defines the philosopher in relation to the concept, which seems to me to be a stepping outside of oneself in order to fabricate and extirpate the concept from within (as an act of friendly creation that involutes into sodomy (or just masturbation)).

D&G follow Marx in making completely clear that philosophy is not a passive act, not performing examinations or contemplation. The identification of philosophy as motion, uncertainty, procedure seems to remove all useful distinction between theory and praxis as altogether irrelevant; theory or conceptual production is in fact practical production (of aerolites).

D&G quote Neitzsche in saying concepts are not gifts, but they must be made and created (or more accurately, self-created, allopoetic), which is to say, backed up and fortified (which I take to be gathering an accretive disk around the bright ordinal of the conceptual components, a cosmogenesis). In this sense, creation is “always a singularity”, albeit one that occurs along multiple valences and collects them into an internally objective and externally subjective epigenetic haeccetic unity, a “whole but a fragmentary whole”, a totalization of its components (which may themselves be concepts), constantly haunted by the “mental chaos” that’s hunting it. (Side note: how is this different from Hegel’s dialectics (as I understand them through Lenin, the contradictions of an object constantly lie benthic within the object and threaten to overwhelm it). Maybe the relation is that to D&G the chaos that forces the concept to embody a shattered unity is anterior to the concept itself?)

The concept does not stand alone. As I mentioned earlier, it is contingent on the Figure and the Moment; or, as D&G describe it, as a landscape they call the plane of immanence, the “field”. “Here concepts link up with each other, support one another, coordinate their contours…” A massively codependent landscape populated by ordinals that are “distinct, heterogeneous, and yet not separable”. They blur into each other and co-associate in what D&G call a “zone of neighborhood, or a threshold of indiscernability” where traffic occurs between adjacent (like) concepts, leaving the ordinals (“intensive features”, all of this is a question of intensities above all, a vast topos) as hard points, condensations (guess the disk of accretion image from earlier was kinda accurate). This landscape is traversed at infinite speed by the point of omniscient survol. The image that occurs to me is a song in the round: a layering of constantly returning complexity (or as the text says, a “refrain”) that allows the singular point of the listener to experience all the processes of the song at once as intensity goes negentropic). The concept is absolute internally and in relation to its problem but relative to the distributed plane-system in which it lies, freely associating with other concepts along thresholds and bridges. It is “real without being actual, actual without being abstract”—possessed of both its pedagogy in the former and ontology in the latter.

Language w/r/t a defined philosophical grammar is important here—best I can tell is D&G are trying to move away from the idea that concepts are their extension rather than their intension or that a concept is analogous to its friend/associated conceptual persona(e) and the language used to define it. When they address the Cartesian cogito it is in the interest of ripping it out of language and turning it into a diagram by identifying the components that compose the intensity.

D&G take care to mention that though the use the image of the landscape as a cartography of concepts (conceptopography I guess), there is nothing here to track space or time. The point of survol is the god eye, everywhere at once. Not even energy (which is just a corporealization of intensities) exists here. “The concept is defined by the inseperability of a finite number of heterogeneous components traversed by a point of absolute survey at infinite speedthe specific infinity of the concept.” So a concept, and the plane in which they appear, is modifiably infinite (w/r/t the concept) and probed by an equally infinite (or maybe transfinite) eye. To D&G, survey is speed. Thought is speed.