The flipside of postnationalism

Paul Raven @ 14-03-2011

Tim Maly has an interesting (and enviable) response to being insanely busy with non-blog stuff, in that he ends up posting more material than usual. (I know, right?) Granted they’re small idea-sketches and think-nuggets, but given that Maly can fit ten times the erudition into a few hundred words than I can squeeze into a whole week, well, I’m not complaining. Anyways, here he is thinking about the fluidity of city boundaries and identity:

The interesting thing about cities (not city-states) is that while they are clearly entities, they do not have borders. They bleed and blur around the edges. It’s very easy to come and go. It’s very easy to move there or to move away. In a political context where every now and then people like to trumpet post-national politics with a rise in urban power to match the drop in state power, this is very interesting. Once you have crossed the borders of the state (the ones that aren’t police states) you get free reign to come and go as you please from place to place; something that can have wonderful or disastrous consequences for the health of an urban environment and the people left behind.

[…]

In some ways this opens up a lot of exciting possibilities but in other ways it weakens civic engagement. Sometimes reforms are necessary and painful. A lot of the problems we’re facing are at a scale that’s larger than the city, but that if cities are the new seats of power that we must deal with tools at city-scale. If your opposition to a policy means you just move a county over to avoid it, policies are harder to enact. If you don’t want to pay taxes, you move to a bedroom community and rob the the infrastructure of life-giving dollars. But the problems don’t happen county by county. They happen all over.

This seems to me to be another failure of the nation-state model: circumstances vary too widely and too quickly for a centralised governance system to cope, and the variation is getting stronger and faster. I have a tendency to cheer-lead the decay of the nation-state (oh, really, you’d noticed?), but this is the dark underside of that process – there’s still a lot of issues that need sorting on a regional or global scale, and a general narrowing of focus to local issues will leave those problems out in the cold. And given the number – and weight! – of those problems, ignoring them even temporarily is not a very good idea.


Seeing Like A State: Why Strategy Games Make Us Think and Behave Like Brutal Psychopaths

Jonathan McCalmont @ 02-03-2011

0. A Tendentious History of Strategy Games Leading Up To A Question

All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring.

– Chuck Palahniuk

Some video games require greater imaginative leaps than others. For example, games like Pong (1972) and Space Invaders (1978) were so graphically primitive that the gap between the things on the screen and the things they were supposed to represent could only be crossed with the use of a rocket-cycle; this collection of squares over here is an alien. That collection of squares over there is Earth’s last line of defence. The little squares moving up and down are particle weapons… or possibly missiles… or shoeboxes filled with explosive. It was difficult to tell. Continue reading “Seeing Like A State: Why Strategy Games Make Us Think and Behave Like Brutal Psychopaths”


More calls for web citizenship, plus precedents

Paul Raven @ 31-01-2011

In light of the internet’s inescapable role in the Egyptian revolution*, Stowe Boyd is the latest pundit to suggest some sort of post-national citizenship-of-the-intertubes set-up, which is something we’ve discussed here in recent months. Boyd cites the precedent of the Knights of Malta, which is a UN-recognised nation-without-a-nation that issues its own passports and everything; riffing on their remit, his initial conception of the United States of Intarwub is a bit wishy-washy, though it has noble ideals at heart:

Perhaps we should structure an equivalent organization — directed toward saving the planet, perhaps — and centered on a religious military order dedicated to Gaia: the belief that the world is a living whole, that she and all her parts need to be protected from those that would destroy her, and that the place of greatest freedom and promise on Earth today is the web and the culture we are building there.

The Knights Of Gaia is a bit over the top. [ O RLY? – PGR. ] But, taking on the metaphor of the web as the Eighth Continent, I suggest The Eighth Continent Contingent. Perhaps we need to actually hold a continental congress? And truly, collectively, declare our independence, and create a constitution?

Yeah, it’s a little bit crazy… but last time I looked at the firehose of global news, the world was looking pretty damned crazy as well. Desperate times, and all that.

Reading about the Knights of Malta reminded me of another precedent, albeit an agit-prop-art version that never achieved (nor, I suspect, ever sought) official recognition. I’m thinking of Laibach, the controversial Slovenian art collective; best known for their subversive and provocative faux-totalitarian imagery (and a distinctly Teutonic flavour of sludgy industrial music, which was an acknowledged influence on the much better-known Rammstein), the art collective of which they are the musical wing, the NSK, went through a stage of issuing passports to anyone who’d stump up the cash… a service for which they apparently still receive numerous enquiries, especially from African citizens. While NSK’s intent was/is to provoke a questioning of the meaning and legitimacy of the nation-state (especially the hypernationalist nation-states of Eastern Europe in the late 20th Century), from our vantage point here at the beginning of the Twentyteens, they’re looking more than a little prescient.


Janus Face(book)

Paul Raven @ 27-01-2011

When corporations get big, stuff starts getting weird. Facebook is now sufficently large and internationally ubiquitous to be playing a part (albeit a passive/enabling part) in the recent spate of revolutions in the Middle East… but that involvement puts them on the same playing field as nation-states.

For example, Tunisian Facebook users reported some account hacks, which led Zuckerberg’s people to block the government-ordered man-in-the-middle attack that was behind said hacks [via TechDirt]. Now, on one level that’s just a company looking after the interests and privacy of its client-base… but on another level, that’s a non-nation-state entity blocking a nation-state’s attempts to control its citizens. Not entirely unprecedented, of course (East India Companies, anyone?), but the post-geopolitical implications are… well, let’s just say a lot of old certainties have pretty much disappeared, especially for less-developed nations with a recent history of despotism, but increasingly for the old “first world” titans, too.

My inner cynic suspects that there’s more than a hint of good PR strategy involved, though; Facebook has suffered from the inevitable bad press that comes with becoming big news real fast, but they’ve earned much of that opprobrium fair and square… and largely through a cavalier attitude to the privacy of their userbase, ironically enough. Their latest we-opted-you-in-while-you-weren’t-looking move is a real doozy; take it away, Ars Technica:

Better go check your Facebook profile pic to make sure it’s suitable for advertising—the company has begun using real users’ postings in ads being shown to their friends. The effort is eerily similar to parts of the now-defunct Facebook Beacon, but Facebook is now calling them “sponsored stories,” and users won’t be able to opt out of their posts being used to advertise to friends.

The new “feature” started showing up quietly on Wednesday morning without any kind of fanfare from Facebook, but users began to notice it right away. Things posted by their friends; check-ins at businesses and “Likes” clicked from other websites started being highlighted in the right-hand column with the other ads, under the headline of “Sponsored Story.”

It’s the lack of opt-out that will rile people as this story gains traction (which, given similar stories last year, I fully expect it will). Furthermore, the Facebook T&C clickwrap now says that any content you post there – pictures, status updates, blog posts, whatever – becomes Facebook’s IP to do with as it pleases. Makes sense from a business point of view, enables them to keep the service free to use, and probably won’t bother the vast majority of people… but I’ll be switching off all my feed imports from now on. For me at least, Facebook’s utility is outweighed by my feeling that if my content’s worth anything to anyone, I should be getting some cut of the deal… but in countries hungry for political change, whose citizens find themselves with an unprecedented tool-set for self-organisation, the balances tip in the other direction.

How Facebook decides to wield this power will be worth watching closely. We spoke before about wanting to become “citizens of the Internet”; if we think of “the Internet” as a sort of federation of city-states, Facebook starts looking remarkably like a panopticon remix of Brave New World.


The fate of the post-geographical nation-state

Paul Raven @ 08-12-2010

Via Tobias Buckell, a reiteration of a question we’ve asked here beforeif a tiny nation-state’s territories are wiped out by climate change, such as the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, what becomes of that nation-state as a political and social entity?

What happens if the 61,000 Marshallese must abandon their low-lying atolls? Would they still be a nation? With a U.N. seat? With control of their old fisheries and their undersea minerals? Where would they live, and how would they make a living? Who, precisely, would they and their children become?

[…]

“We’re facing a set of issues unique in the history of the system of nation-states,” Dean Bialek, a New York-based adviser to the Republic of the Marshall Islands who is also in Cancun, told The Associated Press. “We’re confronting existential issues associated with climate impacts that are not adequately addressed in the international legal framework.”

This is probably the very thinnest thin end of the wedge, too. Sadly for the Marshallese and others like them, it won’t be until similar issues start hitting bigger nations that the legal framework will be looked at; until then, the transition from citizen to unrepresented and unprotected climate refugee will become increasingly ubiquitous, and noticed only by the majority – by us – as a steady increase of blank and desperate faces in the internment camps at the border.

We’ve made our bed, but we’re making the servants lie in it first.


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