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<nettime> towards AE/comparison/state
brian carroll on Thu, 16 Sep 1999 15:54:35 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> towards AE/comparison/state

 the last chapter of the ae thesis...
| working on 'the architecture of electricity' (ae) thesis to be
| finished near 2000 Common Era. just finished writing this piece
| about Plato's utopic state, the Republic. the upper-case letters
| are of a smaller font size than the lowercase letters, and
| these words will be hyperlinked to their definitions, as will
| the numbered footnotes with the bibliographic information. of
| the concepts in this piece, most all have been established in the
| the thesis prior to this text (this is at the end of the thesis).
| thus, a concept like the E-INFRASTRUCTURE has a whole section
| detailing how electricity is produced and consumed, and that in
| turn has another section about what ELECTRICITY is, etcetera.
| feedback is welcome. bc
 a r c h i t e x t u r e z : an online community for hacking |
 and cracking the architectural code - www.architexturez.com |

 AE   S T A T E

The classical Western state envisioned by Plato in the seminal
philosophical work The Republic, written in the 4th century B.C.E., is
foundational to understanding our present-day ELECTRICAL STATE.

The issues Plato describes in the "allegory of the cave" are parallel to
SYSTEMs, for example. The story begins with Socrates talking with Plato's
brother, Glaucon:

"Here allegory may show us best how education- or the lack of it- affects
our nature. Imagine [wo|men] living in a cave with a long passage-way
stretching between them and the caves mouth, where it opens wide to the
light. Imagine further that since childhood the cave dwellers have had
their legs and necks shackled so as to be confined to the same spot. They
are further constrained by blinders that prevent them from turning their
heads; they can see only directly in front of them. Next, imagine a light
from a fire some distance behind them and burning at a higher elevation.
Between the prisoners and the fire is a raised path along whose edge there
is a low wall like the partition at the front of a puppet stage. The wall
conceals the puppeteers while they manipulate their puppets above it."

Socrates continues that the puppeteers use objects such as stone and wood
to create stories with human and animal images, projecting them as shadows
onto the cave wall by the LIGHT of the fire, accompanying them with sound
effects. Conclusively, Socrates says, "reality for the prisoners would be
nothing but shadows cast by artifacts." (502)

The audiovisual CYBERSPACE of our ELECTRONIC MEDIA SYSTEMs can be
considered to be an ELECTRONIC cave. We sit, staring at the screen like
Plato's prisoners, thinking that what we are seeing is REALITY itself, when
instead it is like shadows cast on an ELECTRONIC cave wall. (504n)

Socrates then says of the prisoners: "Imagine now how their liberation from
bondage and error would come about if something like the following
happened. One prisoner is freed from [his|her] shackles. [S|He] is suddenly
compelled to stand up, turn around, walk, and look toward the light. [S|He]
suffers pain and distress from the glare of the light. So dazzled is [s|he]
that [s|he] cannot even discern the very objects whose shadows [s|he] used
to be able to see. Now what do you suppose [s|he] would answer if [s|he]
were told that all [s|he] had seen before was an illusion but that now
[s|he] was nearer reality, observing real things and therefore seeing more
truly? What if someone pointed to the objects being carried above the wall,
questioning [him|her] as to what each one is? Would [s|he] not be at a
loss? Would [s|he] not regard those things [s|he] saw formerly as more real
than the things now being shown [him|her]?" (506)

Glaucon agrees with Socrates that the freed prisoner would doubt their own
eyes, and instead would want to believe that the shadows cast on the cave
wall by the LIGHT of the fire are the true REALITY.

But then, Socrates says, the prisoner is brought out of the cave, into the
LIGHT of the sun. (508) The prisoner is habituated with their new external
environment. First they see familiar shadows. Next reflections in the water
of humans and other objects. Then the objects themselves, and ultimately
the phenomena of the heavens, including the LIGHT of the sun. (510)

At this point Socrates proposes that the prisoner "would be able to
conclude that the sun is the cause of the seasons and of the year's
turning, that it governs all the visible world and is in some sense also
the cause of all visible things." (512)

Today, if we are to understand places such as CYBERSPACE, we will need to
walk out of the ELECTRONIC caves created by our TELEPHONEs, RADIOs,
TELEVISIONs, and COMPUTERs and look for the source of this new ELECTRICAL
LIGHT. Realizing ELECTRICITY is the source, like Plato's sun, will focus
our vision on the central role the ELECTRICAL INFRASTRUCTURE plays in
establishing and sustaining these new VIRTUAL ELECTRICAL WORLDs.

The story continues with Socrates describing to Glaucon how the freed
prisoner returns to the inside of the cave: "Consider... if [s|he] should
go back down again into the cave and return to the place [s|he] was before,
would not [his|her] eyes now go dark after so abruptly leaving the sunlight
behind?" "They would." Glaucon answers. (514) Socrates then states:

"Suppose [s|he] should then have to compete once more in shadow watching
with those who never left the cave. And this before [his|her] eyes had
become accustomed to the dark and [his|her] dimmed vision still required a
long period of habituation. Would [s|he] not be laughed at? Would it not be
said that [s|he] had made the journey above only to come back with
[his|her] eyes ruined and that it is futile even to attempt the ascent?
Further, if anyone tried to release the prisoners and lead them up and they
could get their hands on [him|her] and kill [him|her], would they not kill
[him|her]?" (516)

"Of course" Glaucon replies. Socrates then summarizes the allegorical
story: "The prisoner's cave is the counterpart of our own visible order,
and the light of the fire betokens the power of the sun... in any case,
this is the way things appear to me: in the intelligible world the last
thing to be seen- and then only dimly- is the idea of the good. Once seen,
however, the conclusion becomes irresistible that it is the cause of all
things right and good, that in the visible world it gives birth to light
and its sovereign source, that in the intelligible world it is itself
sovereign and the author of truth and reason, and that the [wo|man] who
will act wisely in private and public life must have seen it." (518)

Glaucon again agrees with Socrates, sharing the belief in an educated
understanding of the LIGHT of reason as the bearer of goodness and truth.

Likewise today, to understand the CYBERSPACE of our ELECTRONIC caves we
need to begin to understand the rationale and truth of ELECTRICITY as it is
POWER, MEDIA, and TECHNOLOGY. We need to understand where nature ends and
artifice begins.

Plato proposes this "enlightenment" constitutes and founds the perfect
state, on both the individual level and that of the city-state:

"Perhaps if we adopted procedures to examine city and citizen
simultaneously, we could rub them up against one another and generate
enough friction to light the countenance of justice and fix it firmly and
forever in our own minds." (522)

In a manner similar to Plato's description, by establishing CONSCIOUSNESS
of the source of our ELECTRICAL ENLIGHTENMENT, we can understand the
ELECTRICAL STATE in terms of an individual HOMO ELECTRUS and the collective

Yet the state that Plato promotes in The Republic is one ruled by a
monarch-philosopher or aristocratic assembly of super-[wo|men] called
guardians who are courageous, wise, and virtuous, like the utopic city
itself. (524) Plato believes these people are the clear and strong "light"
that will illuminate the ideal city. (526)

Paradoxically, Plato's pragmatic idea of the "good" and "true" is also rife
with elitism, classism, racism, and slavery. (528n)

Taking this into account, it is still possible for us to appreciate Plato's
state, where justice battles injustice, and the anarchy and civil war of
the city and the self is governed by "reason, spirit, and desire." (530)

Plato declares: "...the best city is one whose situation is most like that
of an individual human being." (532) Plato then describes how the best
state, a city like that of a human BEING, experiences pain and pleasure as
a whole organism via 'a bodily network that communicates the event to the
governing soul.' (534)

Today the local and global ELECTRICAL STATE can be "seen" in the ELECTRICAL
INFRASTRUCTURE of our cities of ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION which emulate the
structure of an individual HOMO ELECTRUS, as Plato proposes.

An example will help draw out the parallel: 'the bodily network' of the
heart, SPINAL COLUMN, CORD, and nerves are mirrored by POWERPLANTs,
ELECTRICAL POLEs, TOWERs, and POWERLINEs, while the 'governing soul' of the
BRAIN and SENSEs are mirrored in the mediums of ELECTRONIC MEDIA SYSTEMs.

In ARCHITECTURAL terms, the ELECTRICAL POWER SYSTEM composes the body of
the COLUMN, while the ELECTRONIC MEDIA SYSTEMs compose the CAPITAL, or
head: the eyes are extended through TELEVISIONs, the mouth through RADIO,
the ears through TELEPHONEs, and the BRAIN through a networked COMPUTER.

In addition it could be said that the ELECTRICAL OUTLET is "female" and
vulva-like, and the PLUG is "male" and phallus-like. In their conjunction
ELECTRICAL POWER is transferred, animating various ELECTRICAL TECHNOLOGIES
like toasters, ELECTRICAL LIGHTs, and video games for example.

The local and global ELECTRICAL STATE is understood as BEING both a local
individual and a global city.

As in Greco-Roman ARCHITECTURE, the trabeated COLUMNs and CAPITALs of an
ARCHITECTURAL ORDER, in essence, symbolize the individual bodies and minds
that make up the city, the ENABLATURE representing the collective state.

So too do the individual COLUMNs of ELECTRICAL POWER and CAPITALs of
symbolically represents the collective ELECTRICAL STATE. Each local
ELECTRICAL individual structurally contributing to the global cities of

The central question becomes whether the governance of the head (MEDIA) or
body (POWER) of the individual or city, and thus the trabeated ELECTRICAL
STATE, is PUBLIC or PRIVATE or a combination of the two. (542n) Can an
aristocracy of PRIVATE MEDIA and POWER truly foster a democratic PUBLIC
ELECTRICAL STATE, and vice versa?

Plato's philosophic and textual city is named The Republic. It is built by
"architects using measurements from the divine pattern", political artists
and philosophers who first clear the city for a new foundation, then
outline a constitution, and "look at justice, beauty, and temperance in
their ideal forms and then again at what they are trying to reproduce in
[wo|men]." (544n) In all, it is the image of an idealized state wherein the
city is an individual, and the individual a city.

This enables us to consider HOMO ELECTRUS as the measure of ELECTRICAL
CIVILIZATION. The "city walls" of our ELECTRICAL STATE becomes the wall
between our CONSCIOUSNESS and REALITY, as it is mediated by the ELECTRONIC
news program keeps certain ideas outside of the city's mental and physical
perimeters, while embracing and exploiting others.
Plato next refers back to the allegory of the cave as a dialectic journey
of reason- stating that "education is not what some professors say it is"
and that the individual ascending toward the LIGHT or "the good" equals
true philosophy. (546)

Yet we have to disagree with Plato's "good" that monarchy and aristocracy
are better suited to governing the human-city, than is democracy.

Given this contradiction, it is not difficult to see there is an
aristocratic elite controlling today's ELECTRICAL INFRASTRUCTURE of POWER,
MEDIA, and TECHNOLOGY. What is a TELEVISION news anchor, if not a Platonic

Plato then writes of Socrates comparing the citizens of a democracy to
drone bees in a hive:

"Armed to sting, these [wo|men] now wait inside the city. Some are burdened
with debt and others disenfranchised; some suffer deprivations of both
kinds. Hating those who acquired their estates and plotting against them
and the rest of the citizens as well, they thirst for revolution." (548)

Likewise, today, we need to realize that our ELECTRICAL STATE is an
aristocratic, not democratic, government. This is evidenced in the
auctioning off of rights to the PUBLIC property to PRIVATE monopolies,
often multi-billion dollar cartels, making it difficult if not "illegal"
for democratic POWER, MEDIA, and TECHNOLOGY to function, such as
micro-power RADIO stations and open-source software.

In sum, as Plato suggests, to have a democratic ELECTRICAL STATE of
ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION and HOMO ELECTRUS would require a revolution.
For democracy to happen, each person would need to establish a government
within themselves, which would then spread to the city at large. Socrates
believes children should be educated in this way:

"The same purpose must guide us in raising our children: before we set them
free, we must, in effect, establish a government within them. The best in
ourselves must foster the best in them. And we shall not let them go until
we confirm in them this authority... Then they may go free." (554)

Plato concludes The Republic with an admission from Socrates of this
idealistic human-city built so far, only in a dialectic of words:

"It makes no difference whether such a city now exists or ever will. But
perhaps its prototype can be found somewhere in heaven for [him|her] who
wants to see. Seeing it, [s|he] will declare [him|her]-self its citizen.
The politics of this city would be [his|her] politics and none other."

We propose The Republic currently exists as the ELECTRICAL STATE, in both
HOMO ELECTRUS and the cities of ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION. Like Plato, the
collective city is measured by the individual human being, and vice versa.

Yet, in disagreement with Plato, we believe a revolution needs to occur to
transform the aristocracy of the ELECTRICAL INFRASTRUCTURE of POWER, MEDIA,
and TECHNOLOGY to more democratic formations.

This is to say, to democratize the governance of ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION
and HOMO ELECTRUS, we will need to transform the ELECTRICAL ORDER from a
PRIVATE to a shared PUBLIC CONSCIOUSNESS constituting the E-STATE, or

As William Morrish and Catherine Brown write in Infrastructure for the New
Social Covenant, we can start by understanding the ELECTRICAL
INFRASTRUCTURE as a "repository of cultural imagination, as well as the
network for community connections." (560)

Like Plato's ideal state of the individual relating to the collective city,
Morrish and Brown write:

"Infrastructure is the visible underpinning of civic life, which can
instruct citizens about their values and relationships to each other and
highlight the connections between city, suburb and the hinterland whose
natural resources sustain it. Infrastructure can-- and should-- make those
lines of connection clear and vivid." (564)

Similarly, our ELECTRICAL STATE is mirrored by a common natural and
the body and ELECTRONIC MEDIA SYSTEMs as the head of HOMO ELECTRUS, and
their collection constituting a local and global ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION.

Morrish and Brown continue in their vision: "In order for infrastructure to
become the background for our collective existence, identity, presence and
history, we believe that infrastructure must fulfill broader cultural,
social, and ecological functions. The infrastructure in these human-made
landscapes should serve multiple goals, chief among them enriching our
sense of place, bridging our commonwealth and enhancing the workings of
ecological systems." (566)

This enables us to see the ELECTRICAL INFRASTRUCTURE in new ways. For
example, by understanding the similarity in function between an ELECTRICAL
POWERPLANT and the human heart, we can "see" that the pollution caused by
burning fossil fuels, like the smoke from a cigarette, has an impact on our
collective body which ultimately influences our ELECTRICAL STATE. This
pollution is in addition to the status quo of 2/3rds ENERGY-loss of the
typical ELECTRICAL POWER SYSTEM, which from Plato's perspective would
constitute a diseased and dying state of BEING.

In this sense, the collective ELECTRICAL STATE can be very unhealthy for
the individual and collective BEING, and demonstrates the detriment of
having an aristocratic control of ELECTRICAL POWER, MEDIA, and TECHNOLOGY.
All of which SIGNALs a need for revolutionary and evolutionary change to
optimally balance the democratic PUBLIC and aristocratic PRIVATE control of

Morrish and Brown continue that "infrastructure should be designed as
bridges to link us rather than walls to divide us." (572) Likewise, we need
currently live within. "Seeing" this wall of our CONSCIOUSNESS, whether
through ELECTRONIC MEDIA or our SENSEs, we can then 'bridge the gap' to the

This democratic approach, as Morrish and Brown write, would "encourage
infrastructure projects which evolve out of public participation." (576)
Yet, the reality of the PRIVATE marketplace is not ignored:

"Infrastructure is more than a utility but a foundation for our sense of
being and place and carries within its veins the lifeblood of many
different communities-- the neighborhoods and habitats for human, plant and
animal populations. Ultimately there is no economy without a living nature.
Without it infrastructure ceases to function, the marketplace withers and
dies, and individuals lose the common ground of community." (578)

need to be understood as an ecological system needing balance. For
instance, the "planned obsolescence" of COMPUTERs demonstrates the
economic, social, and political sickness we face today.

Morrish and Brown conclude by proposing a "new covenant" using
infrastructure to create community:

"We believe that the role of infrastructure... is to create the systemic
framework for each community's mission: to nurture economic productivity,
cultural expression and social equity while preserving and replenishing
natural resources. Infrastructure can become the vessel to carry forward
the dreams of a new covenant into physical reality." (580)

foundation of our ELECTRICAL STATE, we can begin to constitute ourselves as
a community of ELECTRICAL humans, living in an ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION,
inhabiting the EARTH as an ELECTRICAL organism, all of which is mutating,
evolving, and revolving democratic governance alongside ELECTRIFICATION.

Let us return the poetry of ARCHITECTURAL reason from exile. (584n) Let us
find ELECTRICAL ENLIGHTENMENT from within the ELECTRONIC caves we inhabit.
Let us "see" the ARCHITECTURE OF ELECTRICITY. And let us build a democratic

Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture. Edited by Cyril M. Harris,
c.1977. Dover Publications, Inc. New York. (390) p.389 (414) p.130 (444)
p.507 (452) p.227 (454) pp.227-228 (540n) p.95 this is literally the case
with Greco-Roman caryatids, "a supporting member serving the function of a
pier, column, or pilaster and carved or molded in the form of a draped,
human, female
The Republic, Plato. A new translation by Richard W. Sterling and William
C. Scott, c.1985. W. W. Norton & Company, New York. (500) p.209, (502)
p.210, (506) p.210, (508) p.210, (510) p.210, (512) pp.210-211, (514)
p.211, (516) p.211, (518) pp.211-212, (522) p.129, (524) p.135, (526)
p.125, (530) pp.129-139, (532) p.154, (534) p.154, (544) p.190, (546)
pp.212-226, (548) p.247, (550) p.248, (554) p.282, (556) p.284, (584n)
p.297, "...we shall declare that if poetry that is imitative and aims to
produce pleasure can show cause why it should find a place in a
well-governed city, we should be glad to welcome its return from exile."
(504n) The light of this electronic screen can be equated with Paul
Virilio's 'electronic false-day'.
(528n) p.131, Plato believes there can be no paradox, with which we
disagree. Plato's idea of the "state" functions as a double entendre, at
once profane and sacred, true and false.
(538n) The electrical state can thus be understood as both being both
physical and metaphysical.
(542n) Thus, can a public state be said to exist, when both the electrical
power and electronic media are privately constituted? And likewise, can a
private individual exist when both the head and body are only publicly
Infrastructure for the New Social Covenant. William Morrish & Catherine
Brown, c.1993. Excerpted from the forthcoming book: The Productive Park:
Infrastructure as Neighborhood Resource, to be published by The
Architectural League and Princeton Architectural Press. (560) p.2, (564)
p.6, (566) p.8, (572) p.15, (576) p.16, (578) p.20, (580) p.22,
(570n) This is written from the point of view of an American. This is not
to say that public power, media, and technology are without fault. Only
that, currently there is a myopic lack of public awareness in America,
which is dangerous for its one-sidedness. We believe a combination of a
public and private electrical state is still the most ideal form of

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