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<nettime> The Ghost in the Network
Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker on Tue, 17 May 2005 05:05:56 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> The Ghost in the Network


The Ghost in the Network

In discussing the difference between the living and the nonliving,
Aristotle points to the phenomena of self-organized animation and
motility as the key aspects of a living thing. For Aristotle the
"form-giving Soul" enables inanimate matter to become a living organism.
If life is animation, then animation is driven by a final cause. But the
cause is internal to the organism, not imposed from without as with
machines. Network science takes up this idea on the mathematical plane,
so that geometry is the soul of the network. Network science proposes
that heterogeneous network phenomena can be understood through the
geometry of graph theory, the mathematics of dots and lines. An
interesting outcome of this is that seemingly incongruous network
phenomena can be grouped according to their similar geometries. For
instance the networks of AIDS, terrorist groups, or the economy can be
understood as having in common a particular pattern, a particular set of
relations between dots (nodes) and lines (edges). A given topological
pattern is what cultivates and sculpts information within networks. To
in-form is thus to give shape to matter (via organization or
self-organization) through the instantiation of form--a network
hylomorphism.

But further, the actualized being of the living network is also defined
in political terms. "No central node sits in the middle of the spider
web, controlling and monitoring every link and node. There is no single
node whose removal could break the web. A scale-free network is a web
without a spider" [1]. Having-no-spider is an observation about
predatory hierarchy, or the supposed lack thereof, and is therefore a
deeply political observation. In order to make this unnerving jump--from
math (graph theory), to technology (the Internet), to politics ("a web
without a spider")--politics needs to be seen as following the necessary
and "natural" laws of mathematics; that is, networks need to be
understood as "an unavoidable consequence of their evolution" [2]. In
network science, the "unavoidable consequence" of networks often
resembles something like neoliberal democracy, but a democracy which
naturally emerges according to the "power law" of decentralized
networks. Like so, their fates are twisted together.

Rhetorics of Freedom

While tactically valuable in the fight against proprietary software,
open source is ultimately flawed as a political program. Open source
focuses on code in isolation. It fetishizes all the wrong things:
language, originality, source, the past, status. To focus on inert,
isolated code is to ignore code in its context, in its social relation,
in its real experience, or actual dynamic relations with other code and
other machines. Debugging never happens through reading the source code,
only through running the program. Better than open source would be open
runtime which would prize all the opposites: open articulation, open
iterability, open practice, open becoming.

But this is also misleading and based in a rhetoric around the relative
openness and closedness of a technological system. The rhetoric goes
something like this: technological systems can either be closed or open.
Closed systems are generally created by either commercial or state
interests-courts regulate technology, companies control their
proprietary technologies in the market place, and so on. Open systems,
on the other hand, are generally associated with the public and with
freedom and political transparency. Geert Lovink contrasts "closed
systems based on profit through control and scarcity" with "open,
innovative standards situated in the public domain" [3]. Later, in his
elucidation of Castells, he writes of the opposite, a "freedom hardwired
into code" [4]. This gets to the heart of the freedom rhetoric. If it's
hardwired is it still freedom? Instead of guaranteeing freedom, the act
of "hardwiring" suggests a limitation on freedom. And in fact that is
precisely the case on the Internet where strict universal standards of
communication have been rolled out more widely and more quickly than in
any other medium throughout history. Lessig and many others rely heavily
on this rhetoric of freedom.

We suggest that this opposition between closed and open is flawed. It
unwittingly perpetuates one of today's most insidious political myths,
that the state and capital are the two sole instigators of control.
Instead of the open/closed opposition we suggest the pairing
physical/social. The so-called open logics of control, those associated
with (non proprietary) computer code or with the Internet protocols,
operate primarily using a physical model of control. For example,
protocols interact with each other by physically altering and amending
lower protocological objects (IP prefixes its header onto a TCP data
object, which prefixes its header onto an HTTP object, and so on). But
on the other hand, the so-called closed logics of state and commercial
control operate primarily using a social model of control. For, example,
Microsoft's commercial prowess is renewed via the social activity of
market exchange. Or, using another example, Digital Rights Management
licenses establish a social relationship between producers and
consumers, a social relationship backed up by specific legal realities
(DMCA). Viewed in this way, we find it self evident that physical
control (i.e. protocol) is equally powerful if not more so than social
control. Thus, we hope to show that if the topic at hand is one of
control, then the monikers of "open" and "closed" simply further confuse
the issue. Instead we would like to speak in terms of "alternatives of
control" whereby the controlling logic of both "open" and "closed"
systems is brought out into the light of day.

Political Animals

Aristotle's famous formulation of "man as a political animal" takes on
new meanings in light of contemporary studies of biological
self-organization. For Aristotle, the human being was first a living
being, with the additional capacity for political being. In this sense,
biology becomes the presupposition for politics, just as the human
being's animal being serves as the basis for its political being. But
not all animals are alike. Deleuze distinguishes three types of animals:
domestic pets (Freudian, anthropomorphized Wolf-Man), animals in nature
(the isolated species, the lone wolf), and packs (multiplicities). It is
this last type of animal--the pack--which provides the most direct
counter-point to Aristotle's formulation, and which leads us to pose a
question: If the human being is a political animal, are there also
animal politics? Ethnologists and entymologists would think so. The ant
colony and insect swarm has long been used in science fiction and horror
as the metaphor for the opposite of Western, liberal democracies. Even
the language used in biology still retains the remnants of sovereignty:
the queen bee, the drone. What, then, do we make of theories of
biocomplexity and swarm intelligence, which suggest that there is no
"queen" but only a set of localized interactions which self-organize
into a whole swarm or colony? Is the "multitude" a type of animal
multiplicity? Such probes seem to suggest that Aristotle based his
formulation on the wrong kinds of animals. "You can't be one wolf," of
course. "You're always eight or nine, six or seven" [5].

Ad Hoc

Unplug from the grid. Plug into your friends. Adhocracy will rule.
Autonomy and security will only happen when telecommunications operate
around ad hoc networking. Syndicate yourself to the locality.

Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker

+ + +

[1] Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Linked (Cambridge: Perseus Publishing,
2002), p. 221.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Geert Lovink, My First Recession (Rotterdam: V2, 2003), p. 14.

[4] Ibid., p. 47.

[5] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 29.


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