Rob van Kranenburg on Sun, 10 Apr 2005 16:02:02 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The New Middle Ages

a text I wrote for the Eastern Economic Forum:

The New Middle Ages

Money can't buy back your youth when you're old, - Walkabouts

A plausible scenario: disintegration of Europe's nation states before 
a European identity is established

A new class emerged during the Middle Ages; the merchant. The growth 
of trade and the merchant middle class went hand in hand with the 
growth in towns. Town populations swelled during this period, 
particularly after the Black Death. Trade routes grew, though roads 
remained poor and dangerous, so most goods were transported by water.

Towns were built on trade, and the elite of towns were the merchants. 
Merchant guilds controlled town government, though they often clashed 
with craft guilds for power. Merchants needed stability for trade, so 
they supported the king and the establishment of a strong central 
government against the rule of individual nobles. The king, for his 
part, encouraged the growth of towns and trade. Town charters became 
a major source of royal revenue. Eventually the growth of towns and 
guilds led to the breakdown of the manor-centred feudal society.

A new class emerged during the 21th Century; the cognitariat . The 
growth of trade and the cognitariat middle class went hand in hand 
with the growth in virtual worlds. Virtual town populations swelled 
during this period, particularly after AIDS. Communication routes 
grew, though wireless remained poor and dangerous, so most data were 
transported by telephone cables.

Virtual towns were built on trade , and the elite of virtual towns 
were the cognitariat. Cognitariat communities controlled virtual town 
government, though they often clashed with democratic institutions 
for power. Cognitariat needed stability for trade, so they supported 
IP and the establishment of a strong central government against the 
rule of pirates. The patent, for his part, encouraged the growth of 
virtual towns and trade. Virtual town charters became a major source 
of IP revenue. Eventually the growth of virtual towns and communities 
led to the breakdown of the institution-centred democratic society.

=46rom the Netherlands (or any other European nation) to many many 
lands in twelve steps:

1. The Netherlands has no coin of its own, it has euros.
2. Most legal jurisdiction and law comes from European law and growing.
3  What is a nation state that cannot define itself in its own legal 
and monetary terms?
4. A state that cannot define itself legally needs an ironclad mental 
model that embraces all and everyone in the Netherlands.
5. This inclusive mental model is under heavy pressure.
6. The digital network turns civilians into professional amateurs. We 
see a growth of informal networks operating in between a formal 
policy level and an idiosyncratic everyday life.
7. The nation state tends to privatise and outsource tasks and obligations.
8. Individual core needs can be privately dealt with; medication 
through internet, medical care globally available.
9. So we wait now for the first village that refuses to pay its taxes 
to the Netherlands. Why should they pay for the Creole cities where 
over fifty percent of  young people are from different backgrounds 
and descent?
10. What happens when a thousand people refuse to pay their taxes to 
what for them is no longer a friendly nation state? Who is going to 
lock them up in the end?
11. There is no room in the Netherlands to put 1000 people into 
prison. The nation state loses its final argument as a state as it 
cannot make good on its monopoly of violence.

Europe is a dying dynamics.

Its citizens have no sense of solidarity either across nor in their 
nation states any more that can be politically addressed and 
intellectually exploited for public domains. Strategies and tactics 
of squatters and small oppositional groups are broadly adopted by the 
backbone of the democratic system: the middle class. Not in favour of 
establishing a strong public domain, or access for all, no for purely 
individual gain.

It performs poorly in the global competitive key areas technology and R&D.

The decisive difference in techn=E9 between the young, vibrant, alive 
nations such as China and India and the old, shivering, dying nations 
of Europe is easily shown in two stories.

In the new 754i BMW sedan the iDrive, also known as the miracle knob 
"is designed, through a computerized console, to replace more than 
200 that control everything from the position of seats to aspects of 
the navigation of the car itself to climate, communications and 
entertainment systems." In May 2002 15,000 7-series were recalled. 
"BMW tried to do too many things at once with this car, and they 
underestimated the software problem," says Conley, ex-CEO of EPRO 
Corp." Only two-thirds of hardware has been unleashed by software. 
There are so many predecessors and dependencies within software that 
it's like spaghetti-ware. It's not that easy to get all these little 
components to plug and play." 

That is what you get when you hide all axiomatic code, protocol and 
procedural knowledge. If your car won't start you have to go to the 
nearest BMW Centre. If your neighbour's car will not start it is not 
advised to help him or her  anymore as the electric current for your 
power cables could damage the engine. Imagine! Helping your neighbour 
is bad for your car.

Now imagine a car in Delhi.

We see the car, the engine and the tools to fix the engine, put it in 
the car it. We see code, protocol and procedure. Anyone 
with a mind to it can get to work on it. It is designed to be visible.

Europe's Future and Emergent Technology Programs as well as the major 
corporate labs as the new EU vision of Digital Territory have fallen 
unequivocally for pervasive computing (ubicomp, ambient intelligence, 
things that think, i3, Disappearing Computer Initiative ) which for 
the first time in the history of technology sets forth its own 
disappearance as technology as fundamental to its success.  The 
result will be dumb interfaces that hide all keys to the technology 
that drives it and consequently it will keep citizens from being able 
not only to fix it when it is broken but to build on it, to play with 
it, to remake, remodel, reuse it for their own ends.  I believe this 
being able to negotiate stuff, stuff that is axiomatic thinking 
embodied, is called: creativity.

EU R&D is aimed at keep on keeping on supporting existing ways of 
claiming to do research instead of aiming at violent   intellectual 
clashes, discontinuities and risk-taking.

Three young Dutch architects are working in Bejing, setting up a 
research practice. China is planning to build 400 new cities, as it 
is very much aware that it is still the farmers, still the country - 
that shapes the fate of the nation. The cities should act as buffers. 
The young architects devised a research scheme and when they 
presented it to the planners they turned it down flat. Why do we need 
research for that? We will just start building them and if they are 
not good we'll tear them down. We have no time for anything else.

Academic research and general R&D are becoming increasingly 
irrelevant for actual practices of  business, transactions, 
standardization, organising, in short for the very practice of 
everyday living. For a viable dynamic industry to flourish open flows 
of data inform the possibilities of what might become information for 
some, plain data to others and knowledge for commuties. Rapid 
prototyping , practice based phd's, and demo or die should not only 
be seen as new ways of disseminating ideas, but as radical breaks 
with the academic positivistic tradition. Why has a need now for all 
this endless checking?  Not even in the real world, no in models that 
might in our networked world just as well come out of Propp's 
Morphology of the folktale for who would now actually believe that 
situations will remain more or less stable during the time the study 
is conducted?

European poets and politicians have always been aware of the 
modularities of implementing ideas. Alphonse de Lamartine's keyword, 
of which he never tires, is peace:

"The people and the revolution are one and the same. When they 
entered upon the revolution, the people brought with them their new 
wants of labour, industry, instruction, agriculture, commerce, 
morality, welfare, property, cheap living, navigation, and 
civilisation. All these are the wants of peace. The people and peace 
are but one word."

Now, in 2005 too the people bring with them their new wants of 
labour, industry, instruction, agriculture, commerce, morality, 
welfare, property, cheap living, navigation, and civilisation.

Little has changed in human needs in 300 years in living alone and 
living together in families, communities, regions, nations and united 

But the keyword has. It is not peace that seems to drive us. We too 
have "Fifty years of the freedom of thought, speech, and writing," 
after WW II engulfed Europe. But what has it produced? Have "books, 
journals, and the internet accomplished that apostolic mission of 
European intelligence, reason?"

No. It has produced fear.

One March afternoon in 2004 students from St Joost Arts Academy, 
Breda set off for Oisterwijck, a lovely quiet provincial town. They 
were dressed in white suits, suits that made them look like weird 
medics, the kind of people who come to clean out your chicken farm 
after some horrible disease. Not the kind of people you would trust, 
at least that is what we thought. Some had sticks to point at 
dangerous things. Such as the sky. Don't you trust it with all that 
satellite debris. Better watch out. Some had stickers that made icons 
of dangerous things. In a red triangle the dangerous object was 
represented in words: watch out an umbrella, watch out a window, 
watch out a  tree. You can bump into these things, you know. You 
better watch out. Be careful. Hey!

The idea of this performance like intervention was to draw feedback 
of the kind that would get the joke, that would be aimed at the 
experienced top down disciplining design process going on. What 
happened instead was far more interesting but also far more 
disturbing. Whenever they were approached with a question like what 
kind of organization are you from, they'd reply: the government. We 
are the Watch Out Team, a new government sponsored initiative. At the 
market where they dished out watch out umbrella stickers to grateful 
umbrella holders I overheard a daughter telling her mother:  "They 
should have done this much sooner!"

We never realized how deep a ravine between this huge longing, this 
ocean of belief and the lack of credibility. As De Certeau argues, so 
much belief and so little credibility. We saw it played out in front 
of us. We did not look like clinical scary government spooks, no we 
were potential saviours, safeguarding the people, the public from 
harm in every which way.

The new library in Rotterdam has cut her bookshelves in halves, 
transferring the old serene experience of wandering among books 
hoping for this serendipitous moment into a full contact zone of 
wandering bodies, their backs aching.

The current dangers of this cultural/political axiom to highlight 
safety/insecurity as if there could ever be a safe default position, 
only leads to more fear, more distrust, more anger as incidents will 
inevitably happen and you will take the blame for not having been 
able to prevent them.

The fear policy goes directly against the call for more and more 
innovation, innovation needs a risk friendly environment. If you 
scare your population, very few risks will be taken.

Who is going to distribute themselves into such an environment? An 
environment that you are being reminded constantly of that is unsafe, 
and insecure?

The mobile industries 3G & 4G presentations highlight a person 
surrounded by power stations that connect nodes that should give this 
person more agency. The security industries presentations highlight 
exactly the same but in their case the agency lies in the nodes, not 
in the person. For both the systems logic is the same: to distribute 
yourself, your data- into the environment. The key themes, the 
cultural and political views that shape the environment are 
insecurity, un-safety, and fear.

Behold the axiomatic EU deadlock and its inevitable demise in the 
21th century. The way that it posits and thinks of technology as 
techn=E9 - pervasive computing - requires unequivocally that its 
citizens trust the environment. The way that it posits and thinks of 
building communities - safety as the default - requires unequivocally 
that its citizens distrust the environment.

In this dilemma there is no way out.

And in this paradoxical situation enters the new player: the cognitariat.

Resulting in: the new middle ages.

All its axiomaric requirements are met: the network has empowered and 
is empowering individual citizens to such an extent that they can 
start managing their private and public (is there a difference 
still?) lives for themselves, while Europe as an idea, as a story is 
still to abstract for citizens to outsource their newly gained 
perceived autonomy to. One does not have to study the data that 
planners think are data, such as the amount of EU citizens actually 
voting for their national EU candidates or the EU constitution. Or 
the lack of trust in their own population in even not organizing a 
referendum. Who on earth is going to read 852 pages? 4.25 kg the 
thing weighs.

The coming decade will see the crumbling of the European nation 
states as the cognitariat will script its own forms of solidarity 
(with its familiar national and international cognitariat) breaking 
with the 19th century installed democratic institutions starting with 
the health, educational and security systems, causing the start of 
new class wars between the disempowered vast majority of 
non-cognitariat unemployed and the cognitariat which breaks away from 
national solidarity.

So where do you go Central Europe? To new forms of solidarity?
New forms of economic models? Will you recognize that the patent is 
dead? Employ distributing insecurity as a political principle?

It took me five years to figure out, to grasp, - understand - let me 
use the word resonate - these lines of Heraclitus: and I rephrase 
them in my own lines - "of all that which is dispersed haphazardly, 
the order is most beautiful." In the Fragments you read that these 
lines are incomprehensible as far as the Heraclitus scholars are 
concerned. They can not  link it as a line of verse with other words 
in other lines in verse. I read it and in reading I knew it to be 
true. Knowing that only as experience is not very productive in a 
society that has no non-iconic medium for transmitting these kinds of 
experiences. In order to make this experience productive; read: make 
it politically viable and socially constructive - in order to find 
ways of transmitting, ways of teaching experiences like this - we 
textualise them. We find analogies, we read initial lines as 
metaphor, as metonomy. 

I went for a walk one day in the woods near F., in the Belgian 
Ardennes. A beautiful walk it was, steep down, hued autumn colours, 
leaves fading into black. In the quiet meadow that we passed I saw 
autumn leaves, small twigs, pebbles sometimes - hurdled into the most 
beautiful of patterns by the strenght of water moving. I looked hard 
realizing there was indeed no other way of arranging them.

I recognized leaves as data. I recognized data as data. And I 
recognized the inability to find a way to come to terms with 
Heraclitus' line without walking, without taking a stroll in the 
woods and look around you, look around you and find the strenght of 
streams arranging.

So where do you go Central Europe? Why this haste to align yourself 
with decay and decline? If I were you I'd turn South, towards a third 

The coming decade will be determined by the relationship between 
formal and informal structures and environments and you hold the key. 
You know that feeling safe has to do with the ability to deal with 
un-safety and insecurity, to have a corporeal experience of agency. 
It has very little to do with being safe. For how long will it last? 
That is what people won't stop worrying about.

A design for commoning, for living together locally in a globally 
connected world, that seems to be the new challenge and agency in a 
cultural economy policy.

=46or this to happen, policy needs to find new  ways of presenting its 
data and information. Instead of talking about  solidarity, it should 
talk about friendship. Instead of talking about  profit, it should 
talk about sustainability. Instead of talking about  sustainability, 
it should talk about the trades and the quality of work of artisans 
and small entrepreneurs. It should get rid of the  essay, the report, 
the document and start cross media content in  visual, narrative 
documentary productions. It should reduce the cycle  of producing 
clear information for SME and lone entrepreneurs by  adopting rapid 
prototyping and demo or die research strategies. It  should plan, 
provide and pay for the infrastructure as broadband and  wireless 
have become basic human rights, not outsource infrastructural demands 
to an open market.

It is therefore that the IP battles fought at this moment are so 
irrelevant for 21th century possibilities of economic policy agency. 
Winners are those who can move away from the ideas of property rights 
and patents over things and licenses to adapt specific modules for 
services, as money making models. At the Contested Commons Conference 
(Sarai/CSDS, Delhi, January 2005) an impressive number of voices 
argued to go beyond Creative (some rights reserved) Commons, as this 
way of operating leaves the fundamental notions of individual 
ownership and individual rights to specific ideas a person might 
conjure up, intact.

Apart from the facts that the notion of  'originality' is a specific 
historic constellation - for in a  networked world all nodes draw 
upon the same published data -, that  this idea of being 'the first' 
in or with something is a specific  western historic sociocultural 
constellation as if this is of any  matter in our over mediatized 
globally networked environment.

The default in vibrant cities like Bangalore and New Delhi is the 
unplanned, the illegal, and the pirated. The majority of architecture 
is unplanned, creole, and organically tuned to doing business because 
of the clustering of business interest. Directly against western 
economic policies of spreading business interest so as to avoid 
direct competition, in Bangalore and Delhi we find "the old 
clustering story but now with realization that customized
infrastructure seems fundamental." (Solomon Benjamin)

As the system of patent and intellectual property rights is crumbling 
in high tech western countries, corporations such as Philips sponsor 
IP Faculties in China. Instead of regressing back into an untenable 
situation that cripples  creativity and the kind of link management 
that is required for a  creative cultural sustainable economy, the 
East would do  well to take a leap forward away from licenses and 
individual  property rights to new forms of scripting solidarity 
between  producers and consumers, citizens and policy, money and 

  "Before Edward I all repairs to streets were the responsibility of 
adjacent householders. After Edward's time town councils began to 
take over more responsibility. New roadways were often built directly 
on top of the old with little attempt to clear it away. Thus repairs 
never lasted long. There was also the possibility that a citizen 
would build his section higher than his neighbour. Because of this 
practice street levels rose and rose."

They probably thought it was progress.

Sleeping in the midday sun.

0031 (0) 641930235

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