.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}


As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Check this out!

How is this for an Xmas present...

Paul Wilson has an amazing photo archive here http://fractal.piczo.com

Here is a sample - Tony, Val and Nicky at Stonehenge in 83 or 84

Paul is Mark Wilson of The Mob's brother.

Paul's photos range from 1981 to 2004 and take the 'anarcho-goth punk' saga onwards and upwards via .. well, have a look and see...

Thanks Paul!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

IPv6 and nuclear power


1.A few weeks ago I read a letter in the Scottish Herald newspaper by an advocate of nuclear power. The writer dismissed the possibility of micro-power generation (household level wind, solar, water devices) on the grounds that the national grid could not cope with the chaos that would ensue. Electricity generation had to be kept centralised, he argued. Only nuclear power could take over from existing fossil fuelled mega-power stations.

2. But is this centralised power generation and supply model outdated? I suggest it is.

2.1 Think of how the internet works. It is a highly devolved system, with multiple routes for information to flow back and forth between millions of computers. Think of electric power as information. The existing model is a 'broadcast' system, with electricity (information) generated at a few centres and 'broadcast' to millions of passive 'receivers'. With the internet + world wide web this model has been turned upside down. Every computer is a transmitter as well as a receiver of information.

2.2 If every home became a micro-generator of electricity, could the electricity distribution system become more like the internet? Yes, it could, so long as sufficient 'intelligence' is embedded in it. This intelligence would have to be able to balance supply and demand constantly and continually across the system. To do this it would also have to balance supply and demand within each home / office/ factory. This is exactly the kind of job computers are very good at. Their ability to do so keeps the internet going.

3. What will be necessary to achieve this objective?

3.1 The existence of intelligent technology which can micro-manage power use in each environment (home/ office/ factory/ street). This technology is already available , for example linking lighting/ heating etc. to motion sensors so empty rooms can be 'powered down' even if someone forgets to switch the lights out before leaving.

3.2 The development of micro-power generators. This would mean solar panels and windmills on every roof plus hydro-electric generators on every (viable) stream. Again this technology is already available, but as with personal rather than mainframe computers, requires a 'paradigm shift' before it becomes viable.

3.3 Insulation + energy efficiency. This is essential. Minimising energy need and minimising energy waste reduce energy demand.

3.4. Internet Protocol version 6. This is due to start replacing Internet Protocol version 4 over the next 12 months. IPv6 will make the internet more secure. It means that each 'packet' of information sent over the internet will reveal its origin as well as its destination. This will make it harder (impossible?) to send Spam and to carry out 'phishing'. It will also create three hundred billion billion billion billion possible internet addresses. IPv4 (the current standard) only provides 4 billion. Even kettles and fridges will soon have their own internet addresses/ identities.

3.4.1 In theory then, Internet Protocol version 6 will allow the micro management of electrical use and generation.

4. Info on IPv6 from Guardian- see below

New media

Inside IT

Bigger and better: the internet gets a sixth sense

Ambitious plans to connect not just phones and TVs but kettles and fridges to the net will come to fruition in 2006

Kieren McCarthy
Thursday December 22, 2005
The Guardian

No more spam. No more "phishing" bank scams. News, pictures and short clips sent seamlessly to your phone ... or your fridge. Video conferencing that works first time, no hassles. Free, stereo-quality phone calls anywhere in the world. No, it's not a utopian ideal, it's the internet that some people will begin to experience in the next 12 months.

Unknown to virtually everyone except IT engineers, the internet is being upgraded to a system called IPv6 (for Internet Protocol version 6). Just as you upgrade your mobile phone, computer or any modern appliance, the internet is undergoing a vast, gradual upgrade that will transform how it works and the way we interact with it.

The change could be compared with that from analogue to digital TV. Like that shift, the benefits are obvious to those involved, but people will have to buy new equipment and the network's infrastructure will in some cases need a virtual rebuild. It will also, in some places, create incompatibilities between old and new.

But the shift to IPv6 is largely seen as inevitable, and big companies including Microsoft and BT have already made the move. Ironically, the US, where the internet was developed, will be among the last countries to move over as it has so much invested in the old system.

Communication over the internet works by breaking up information - an email, web page, picture, or even voice call - into small chunks, called packets. Using a combined method called TCP/IP (for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), these packets are sent by myriad routes from one computer in the world to another somewhere else.

Ability to expand

Each packet carries an electronic label that explains what it is and where it wants to get to. Non-terminating computers that handle the packets try to send them on to the terminating machine. There, the information is reassembled using the rest of the header information. The fact that it doesn't matter what route the packet took from one computer to another explains its incredible ability to expand, because (in theory, at least) no route is more important than any other, so you can add more as you like.

For years, TCP/IP has been stuck on version 4 which while not perfect (you can't trace where packets originated because their headers can be "spoofed"), does work, and is easy to implement.

But IPv4, as it is known, is becoming outdated. An updated version, IPv6, provides solutions to many of the problems that have cropped up.

All IPv6 effectively does is change the format of the electronic label on each packet. But doing so has enormous consequences.

The first is to allow the internet to potentially expand virtually to infinity. Here's why. Everything connected to the internet needs its own numerical address so the packets know where to go. IPv4 offers a maximum of just over 4 billion such addresses. That could never cope with the ambitious plans to connect not just every phone, TV and computer in the world to the internet, but also things such as kettles and fridges. IPv6 solves this by providing not 4bn addresses but more than three hundred billion billion billion billion (actually, 3.4 x 10^38, or 2^128).

IPv6 will also make the entire internet more secure by including a check on every single packet sent. The packet's receiver will know its origin and that it wasn't tampered with on the way. Fears about online security, which still stop many people from buying online, will be squashed.

Visible scams

Such precision will also make life harder for online criminals. Scams will become far more visible and reveal spam's origin - making it easier to track down offenders.

This tighter connection between packet and computer also makes the internet far more efficient, and allows for an "always-on" connection for mobile devices - vital for new 3G mobile phones. Suddenly, the "internet on your phone" becomes a practical reality rather than a futile disappointment.

Video conferencing and internet phone calls will become several orders more reliable and hence of far better quality. Peer-to-peer sharing networks, which big media companies are building so you can download music and films direct to your living room, will become faster and more reliable. You will no longer need to walk to the local video store - just click and play.

IPv6 also helps new devices automatically configure themselves, so connecting new things to the internet will simply become a matter of sticking a wire into a socket.

Yet the bad news is that, despite being invented 10 years ago, IPv6 remains a poor cousin to the old IPv4.

This is where the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) comes in. At its recent meeting in Vancouver, the organisation, which acts as an overseer and organiser of all "technical" parts of the internet, announced that IPv6 would soon be introduced into the internet's "root" servers, so IPv6-only communication at the highest level of the internet was now possible.

Psychological impact

IPv6 expert Suzanne Woolf called it a big step forward. It has certainly had a huge psychological impact as many companies were previously running combined IPv4 and IPv6 systems, providing little impetus to move to IPv6. Add official governmental support from the European Community, Japan and Korea, and the next generation network is finally on its way.

But it isn't without potential pitfalls. Just as you can't watch digital TV on a purely analogue TV, an IPv4 network can't handle "pure" IPv6 packets; so there must be compromise and workarounds, and they all cost money. One internal report has said the move to IPv6 will cost the US government anywhere from $25bn to $75bn over the next three years, bringing visions of a terrifying boondoggle to compare with the Y2K "millennium bug" panic. But those costs are tiny compared with the billions spent in business transactions across the internet each day.

These sudden shifts are thanks in part to Icann sorting out its own problems. At its summit in Tunis last month, the world's governments gave the non-profit organisation their full backing, giving it a huge mandate to implement change.

Vint Cerf, who chairs Icann and is also the co-inventor of the TCP/IP system, said that Icann "has a pretty modest role in the daily operation and ultimate operation of the internet" and that "99% of the internet is in private hands". But he accepted that it "has a pretty important role" in influencing what happens in the internet's domain name system.

It's a busy road ahead, but we are all going to benefit.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Quantum evolution and quantum consciousness

For more on this theme see http://www.surrey.ac.uk/qe/cemi.htm

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Nuclear weapons break international law

Greenham Women were right!

Back in the early eighties, when women from the Geenham Common Peace Camp were getting arrested and charged with numerous offences, they argued in their defence that they were acting to prevent a crime being committed - that nuclear weapons (including Cruise missiles) were illegal.

This argument was not accepted at the time - although they did get legal advice on it from the law firm Bindmans.

Now it seems the they were right. But realistically such 'technical' legalities are irrelevant. he doctrine of 'force majeur' prevails.

Use of Trident 'would be illegal'

Richard Norton-Taylor

Tuesday December 20, 2005The Guardian

The use of a Trident nuclear missile, or its successor, would breach international law, the government is warned today. Even the threat to use nuclear weapons is unlawful, ministers are warned in a legal opinion by leading human rights lawyers.

They say use of Trident would infringe what the international court of justice calls the "intransgressible" - or absolute - requirement that a distinction must be drawn between combatants and non-combatants. Nuclear weapons would also breach the requirement that use of force in self-defence must be proportionate.

"A Trident warhead would be inherently indiscriminate," says Rabinder Singh, QC, and professor Christine Chinkin of the London School of Economics, in a legal opinion for the campaigning group, Peace Rights.

"In light of the blast, heat, and radioactive effects of a detonation of a Trident warhead, it is impossible to envisage how the intransgressible requirement of the principle of distinction between combatants and non-combatants or the requirement of proportionality" could be met.
"Even if aimed at a military target [a Trident warhead] cannot distinguish between that and civilians. Radioactive effects are not contained by time or space." They say the distinction between civilians and combatants is a key feature of the statute setting up the international criminal court which Britain has signed up to.

Life as a supercomputer/ symbiogensis

This piece from the Guardian by Paul Davies supports the arguments George Dyson makes in
Darwin Among the Machines that (in my very crude summary):

a. Intelligence 'evolves' out of complex systems.

b. That 'nature' / life on earth is intelligent.

c. That we are converging on a symbiogenesis between our 'natural + cultural intelligence' and the intelligence of our computers.

My argument from this is that we need to develop/ evolve an intelligent relationship between human culture and nature: the natural world is not 'dumb', it is as complex and 'intelligent' as we are. For more on my version see Greengalloway Archives 17 May 2005 - Cyberchaos in fifth aeon

Quantum leap of life

Darwin famously didn't tell us how life began, but modern computers can help to provide clues Paul DaviesTuesday December 20, 2005The Guardian

When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, he gave a convincing account of how life has evolved over billions of years from simple microbes to the complexity of the Earth's biosphere today. But he pointedly left out how life got started. One might as well speculate about the origin of matter, he quipped. Today scientists have a good idea of how matter originated in the big bang, but the origin of life remains shrouded in mystery.

Although Darwin refused to be drawn on how life began, he conjectured in a letter to a friend about "a warm little pond" in which various substances would accumulate. Driven by the energy of sunlight, these chemicals might become increasingly complex, until a living cell formed spontaneously. Darwin's idle speculation became the basis of the "primordial soup" theory of biogenesis, and was adopted by researchers eager to recreate the crucial steps in the laboratory. But this approach hasn't got very far.

The problem is that even the simplest known organism is incredibly complex. Textbooks vaguely describe the pathway from non-living chemicals to primitive life in terms of some unspecified "molecular self-assembly".

The problem lies with 19th-century thinking, when life was regarded as some sort of magic matter, fostering the belief that it could be cooked up in a test tube if only one knew the recipe. Today many scientists view the living cell as a type of supercomputer - an information-processing and replicating system of extraordinary fidelity. DNA is a database, and a complex encrypted algorithm converts its instructions into molecular products.

Viewed this way, the problem of life's origin is switched from hardware to software. The game of life is about replicating information. Throw in variation and selection, and the great Darwinian experiment can begin. The bits of information have to be physically embodied in matter somehow, but the actual stuff of life is of secondary importance. There is no reason to suppose the original information was attached to anything like the highly customised and evolved molecules found in today's living cells.

The rapid convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology and computer technology has opened up new possibilities for processing information on ever-smaller scales. The goal of this race to the bottom is quantum computation, in which information is attached to atomic/ subatomic states and manipulated using the rules of quantum physics. If life is formed by trial and error, speed is the key. This suggests life may have emerged from the quantum realm directly, without the need for chemical complexity.

All it takes to get life started is a quantum replicator - a process that clones bits of information attached to quantum systems by allowing them to interact with other quantum systems in a specific way. The actual system could be anything at all - the spin of an electron, a meta-stable atomic state, or a molecule that can flip between two conformations. The uncertainty inherent in quantum mechanics provides an in-built mechanism for generating variations.

How, then, did life arise? We can gain a clue from modern computers. Quantum systems may be fast, but they are very fragile. Computers routinely transfer important data for safekeeping from speedy yet vulnerable microchips to slow and bulky hard disks or CDs. Perhaps quantum life began using large organic molecules for more stable data storage. At some stage these complex molecules took on a life of their own, trading speed for robustness and versatility. The way then lay open for hardy chemical life to go forth and inherit the Earth.

· Paul Davies is a physicist at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology and the author of The Origin of Life

Sunday, December 18, 2005

On holiday with J.G. Ballard

Festive season now kicked in - Callum at home til 9th January. Abnormal service will be resumed next year. In the meantime found a book

The Angle Between Two Walls The Fiction ofJ.G. Ballard: Roger Luckhurst:Liverpool University: 1997.

This has provoked a fresh line of approach to previous enquiries into the location of the counterculture in 21st century. Also found editorial in New Scientist 17 December 2005 which is somewhat gloomy. Apparently even President Bush's climate change advisor reckons we only have ten years to act before change is irreversible. Time to re-read The Drowned World?

Luckhurst's book pretty comprehensive on literary/ art movements front , avant-garde v postmodernism etc but no interface with music. E.g. Joy Division's Atrocity Exhibition or Cabaret Voltaire and industrial musics which create soundscapes equivalent to Ballard's wordscapes. [Read book whilst listening to Cabs, cd of music 78-82 - replacement for missing/ scratched vinyl]

Also the overlap between development of chaosmagic and postmodernism through eighties into early nineties. With revival of Cold War 78/85 as historic background. [From a history of The Bomb ]

All a pretty dense / intense conjunction of signification.

Happy Solstice : MerryChristmas: and looking forward to 2006 as 30th anniversary of 'punk'.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Counter Culture and Instrumental Reason

The Myth of Objective Consciousness

In the last two chapters of The Making of a Counter Culture, Theodore Roszak went for it. Here, rather than describe the actuality of sixties counter culture, he tried to direct its energies towards a specific target. It was an ambitious aim : to replace the dominant ideology.

The dominant ideology of the technocracy is that the only true description of reality is provided by objective consciousness / instrumental reason, AKA science.

Against this ideology, Roszak invoked shamanic magic [quoting from native American/ first nation sources as well as William Blake in support].

This was a very ambitious challenge for the counter culture to take up and achieve. So ambitious that it failed. If there is a challenge to technocracy, it comes from a revival of fundamentalist interpretations of monotheistic religion not shamanic magic. From mystification rather than mystery.

The shaman may be an outsider, but she/he is an outsider on the edge of cultures which are not based on the myth of objective consciousness. Currents and traditions of magic(k) have survived within / on the edge of cultures which are based on belief in the power of instrumental reason, but, e.g. Thelemic Magick, they require a degree of commitment and practice alien to the counterculture. Even chaos magic, which emerged out of an overlap between postmodernism and the counterculture, remains a minority pursuit. "New Age" and neo-paganism belief systems also emerged out of the counterculture, but pose no real challenge to the dominant paradigms of the technocracy.

Or am I looking at this the wrong way? That the monolithic and absolutist 'technocracy' described by Roszak no longer exists. That rather than converge upon a ' Unified Theory of Everything', science has fragmented, has been unable to discover/ create a total history.

Maybe Roszak himself believed in the triumph of technology/ instrumental reason/ objective consciousness as a brute fact of history rather than as a persuasive myth. He was writing at the height of the Vietnam war. In the midst of [Paris May 1968 etc] a cultural revolution - but a revolution he anticipated would be defeated by a conservative counter-revolution.

So are the 'neo-cons' now triumphant? Politically yes. [i.e. Iraq war, but looking less and less like a swift victory and more and more like slow defeat]. Culturally no - a point Jonathon Green makes in his 1998 reflection on the sixties "All Dressed Up" - that large chunks of the counter culture's agenda are now taken for granted. The main difficulties here come from religious fundamentalists- but if they win, technocracy would begin to wither- science would once more become impossible.

Increasingly, it looks as if global climate change is going to be the deciding factor. Assuming that it is a reality and not some weird conspiracy theory...

Funny one really. On one hand it has emerged as a force for change like some external 'deus ex machina' but it is also an internal process, a 'Gaia ex machina'.

Pause. Torn between two different ways to proceed. One is to skate over the deep philosophical questions and focus on what is practical. There other is to slow down and explore the background before proceeding. My feeling is I need to backtrack before trying to move forward.

Lets go back...

1.But how far back? To Chris Knight's Blood Relations. Chris' theory is that (very roughly)
150 000 years ago, our ancestors made a shift from being 'almost' human-like apes to 'actual' human-like beings. Chris identifies the factor in this shift as menstruation (linked to the lunar cycle and hunting) - which triggered the evolutionary emergence of 'culture' out of and in response to 'nature'.

2. Immediately there is a problem. Chris' suggestion is just one among many competing versions of 'how we became human'. But as Chris points out, all are 'ideological' - all reflect back into the past contemporary positions which in turn are used to justify (in circular logic) those current positions. "Man the Killer Ape" is an alternative. [See Donna Haraway's Primate Visions for more detailed discussion of this theme]. At this first stage, women were the physical creators of culture through myth and ritual associated with the 'magic' of menstruation - that which distinguished ourselves from our ape cousins and all other mammals.

3. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Chris' argument has some validity, where does it take us? That as the first humans moved out of Africa and across the world, they took with them a human culture which was intimately embedded in nature, and which adapted itself to local ecologies and environments. This aspect of Chris' theory allows him to make sense of social anthropologist Claude Levi- Strauss' 'structural' approach to myth and kinship. Having struggled at SOAS to understand Levi-Strauss, this impressed me. Suddenly it all fitted together!

4. The next step - the step which began the separation of nature from culture- involved the seizure by men of the mystery of 'culture' from women and its separation from 'nature'. Did this really happen? It certainly did in myth. And in history - where male supremacy has justified itself on the belief that women are closer to nature and so further from culture.

5.The final stage - the stage we are at now - started with farming about 10 000 years ago but only really took off with the beginnings of civilisation (cities, armies and writing) a few thousand years ago. Writing was a critical advance - the beginning of history. With writing, knowledge began to accumulate. The Greek and Roman civilisations might decline and fall, but their knowledge survived to inspire a renaissance and then an enlightenment. And then a scientific and industrial revolution.

6.Coal into steam into power. It is yet another suggestion fraught with counter arguments, but what pushed 18th century Britain beyond the level of technological and cultural development attained by the Roman Empire and other (Egyptian, Chinese etc) civilisations was the liberation of the energy locked up in coal. In the fossilised remains of forests which had grown and absorbed energy from the sun 300 million years before. To move beyond a slave based economy. [But don't forget that wealth created by African slaves and sucked out of India stimulated the industrial revolution: see Robin Blackburn: The Making of New World Slavery]].

7. The blazing furnaces of Britain’s industrial revolution forged the modern world as sparks from their fires were carried across the globe. It was a fossil fuel fired chain reaction. A reaction which is still blazing forth - a pillar of smoke by day, a pillar of fire by night.

8. The triumph of culture over nature? Perhaps. But what if nature is not so dumb? What if our culturally conditioned intelligence is a product of / a development from an intelligence embedded in nature? Physically, it must be so. [Unless one is a believer in unnatural divine intervention/ design]. The human brain is the product of natural evolution. Nature has given us the hardware, and our engagement with nature over the past 150 000 years or so has given us the cultural software which runs on this hardware.

9. This creates a bit of problem. Rationally based human culture is very recent. Only we modern humans can claim to have an accurate and scientifically valid conception of nature/ reality. We have history, our ancestors only had myth. Logically then, their understanding of reality was false- their lives were based on lies. How then did they survive long enough (150 000 years) to give birth to us? Why did they not all jump over cliffs under the impression they could fly - lacking our knowledge of the effect of gravity? Or poison themselves eating unsafe food? Or get crushed after building huge temples that fell down?

10. Either they were not so stupid as we like to believe they were, or we as not so clever as we like to believe we are. Logically, since we exist, they cannot have been that stupid, otherwise we would not exist.

11. In which case- lacking our scientific knowledge of the world, how did our ancestors survive? I suggest that they survived because at least some of (a necessary and sufficient number of) their myths connected with reality, with nature. A nature which supplied the 'intelligence' [as we understand the word] necessary for their survival.

12. With global climate change, the boot is now on the other foot. What ever happens, no doubt some humans will survive. But will modern/ technocratic culture? That is more doubtful. Ours is such an energy dependent ' just in time' culture that any prolonged loss of power would destroy it. We do not have the flexibility to cope with the likely physical impact of global climate change - but do we have the flexibility to adapt to the 60% reduction in co2 emissions necessary to check global warming?

The Necessity of Myth

The Necessity of Myth

Or should that be the inevitability of myth?

How about- myth is to history as langue is to parole?

De Saussure distinguished between language (langue) and speech (parole). 'The English language' denotes a total system of word conventions and usages: from the point of view of any given speaker, it is a 'given', it is not something they create for themselves; the parts of a language are available for use, but they do not have to be used. But when 'I' as an individual make an utterance I use 'speech'; I select from a total system of 'the language' certain words and grammatical conventions and tones and accents, and by placing them in a particular order I am able to transmit information by my utterance. [Edmund Leach-:Levi Strauss: Fontana: 1971 : 45]

For all the billions upon billions of words spoken and written in English - its 'parole' , the full potential of the language (langue) itself has not been exhausted. Parole is therefore a finite subset of an infinite langue.

History is a similar subset of myth. Myth is the potential; history the actuality.

But 'subset' implies a smaller part of a larger whole. Another way of looking at it is that a 'langue' is a set of rules (or guidelines) for the creation of 'paroles'.

Getting bogged down in the details. What I am working towards is that to have an influence on history, to change the way things are - the focus should be on myth. To keep up the counter culture theme and to carry it on from past to present and into the future; the counter culture must evade the entrapment of history.

I have just been re-reading Jonathan Green's 'All Dressed Up' as a counter point to Roszak's 'The Making of a Counter Culture'. My first reading of Green's book enthused me - it inspired this blog site. I was convinced that our 'anarcho-goth-punk' subculture was just as creative and vital as the sixties counter culture - it just hadn't been written up as history - all the attention having gone to the first phase of punk.

Now I am not so sure. I reckon Roszak's text is the more interesting since it locates the counter culture within the realm of creative mythology whereas Green reduces it to a specific historical era. Roszak is langue, Green parole. Roszak's counterculture is a dynamic, flowing, mythical, living entity. Green's counterculture a bunch of fossils isolated in a distinct geological/ historical strata.

My reading of the anarcho-goth-punk era [1979-1984] reveals it as stretching backwards and forwards in time. It isn't part of a 'dead history', it is part of a 'living myth'. A living myth which stretches back to Chris Knight's speculations about the origins of humanity and forward to what ever forms of human culture which will exist post-global climate change [ just as we exist post- the Third World/ Nuclear War which never happened].
It is a difficult (i.e. you won't believe it) point to make, but what I got from anarcho-goth-punk at the early eighties height of the renewed Cold War was an almost physical/tangible connection with 'myth' as a force greater than history. I could not, and still cannot, articulate this connection. But the strong feeling I got was 'It won't, it can't, happen'. That we were not all going to die in a nuclear war.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, historians can assure us that the Cold War was a clever playing of 'realpolitik' by adversaries who never had any real intention of pushing the button. It was all bluff and counter bluff and we won because the USSR's economic system collapsed when they tried to match the USA's Star Wars project...

Unfortunately for those of us living in a prime Soviet target (London), to convince the Soviets 'we' really meant business in the game of nuclear poker, Reagan and Thatcher could never blink. We had to believe for several years that we were all living only four minutes away from death. How stupid of us not to realise it was all a game! All those Cruise missiles were just a ploy, there was never any intention to launch them. Even though they only made sense as a first strike weapon ...[Nuclear Cruise missiles were not designed to be fired from their bases-Greenham, Molesworth- but from the surrounding countryside. They were also designed to fly low i.e. beneath radar. If the USSR struck first, the Cruise missiles would be destroyed in their bases. But if, in the period of pre-war tension, the Cruise missiles were spread out around the countryside and then launched first, they would be able to take out USSR nuclear missiles whilst they were still in their silos. This policy increased the risk of all out nuclear war - it encouraged the USSR to strike first before the Cruise missiles had the chance to disperse from their bases rather than waiting for diplomacy to work... all in all a damn risky strategy]

In the above case, history has confirmed myth. But can one really rely on myth to prevail over apparent historical inevitability? I don't know. All that myth says is that humans will survive global climate change. But in what form of human society ? History requires a more technologically complex/ developed form of human society than myth. History equates with civilisation. Most human societies and cultures have been pre-historic and 'uncivilised'. They have been closer to the counterculture than the technocracy (to use Roszak's definitions).

Survival-wise, the counterculture is better placed than the technocracy. Neo-paganism requires fewer high-energy resources than nuclear physics - but the so do fundamentalist monotheistic theocratic societies...

Myth and History

Myth and History

Last night I woke up and jotted down the following.

Myth: continuous, joins, fuses, blurs, weaves; spoken/ song, performance, elusive rainbow- vanishes, moves. Thoughts.

History: discontinuous, discrete (Turing machine) breaks down, fixes, splits, divides, recorded. Written language.

with TRANSLATION as a connecting theme, shown with curving arrows suggesting movement between myth and history, history and myth.

For my self, this is sufficient. It is clear to me that I am constantly, continually, continuously moving back and forth between myth and history, from the real to the unreal and back again.

Finding myth in history and history in myth.

At this moment, the mythic prevails: "Turn off your mind relax and float down stream..."

It requires an effort of will to stop. To break up the flow into words. To enter into history, into the present /past/ future as distinct entities. To communicate. There is nothing to say, or at least nothing new to say. Myth is a totality. It just is. Or to speak historically "IT" just "IS".

A statement which is meaningless from the perspective of historical consciousness. What exactly is this 'IT' which 'IS'? Myth is so vague, so generalised, so infuriatingly smug. Isn't myth really just some lunched-out, tripped-out hippie hypnotised by the flow of sensations, unable to distinguish and differentiate between destructive and creative forces and entities?

Isn't myth the Spectacle? The Spectacle the myth from which we must awaken? An awakening which requires full consciousness of history? "Before you slip into unconsciousness, I'd like to have another kiss...." [Doors/Crystal Ship]

yes...but... I have blitzed myself into consciousness through fast and furious / slow and detailed attempts to understand history. Not just one bit of history, but many. From cosmology and the origins of the universe, the pre-human history of the evolution of life on earth, the development of human culture and the first civilisations of the ancient near east, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, British history, European history, world history and local history. The history of philosophy, of religions, of technology, of science, of art, of magick, of the counterculture, of punk.... of computers and the nuclear bomb. Of the internet and world wide web.

So many fragments, so much confusion. Yet within the confusion, amongst the fragments the patterns of myths weave their spell. Myth seems to me to be the driving force of history. Imposible ideals towards which we strive or against which we struggle. At times even Reason itself can seem a myth, a chimera, a delusion.

Has there ever been a time, even now, when myth has not been used/ abused to motivate action? Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. They were a myth. Nuclear power is not the answer to global climate change; belief in its practicality is a myth.

Myth in this historical sense is nothing but delusion. But from the mythical perspective, history is an illusion. To be sure, events happen, but even as they happen, the significance and actuality of 'events' become distorted and manipulated, become part of the Spectacle. History is and always will be distorted by its incorporation into the discourse of power.

Reality exists, but it exists as myth, not history. By which I mean that reality can be - necessarily is- experienced by each of us as individuals and as participants in our particular societies/ cultures - but the meaning of our experiences eludes historical analysis. We create meaning subjectively and our subjectivity flows 'naturally' into myth-as-narrative.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Counter culture, technocracy and climate change

The Making of a Counter Culture: Theodore Roszak :1969

The theme of 'counterculture' has been one I have kept returning to here. Looking back at punk, it has become clear that it did not emerge spontaneously in late 1975, but was a continuation by other means of the counterculture.

It is also clear that other strands of the counterculture continued a parallel development through the seventies and eighties, to emerge as (for example) the anti-road protests of the early nineties. These in turn fed into the still ongoing anti-globalisation protest movement.

Within the popular culture/ 'youth' subcultural strand, punk directly gave rise to the still significant goth subculture. There was also a degree of overlap with the free festival [Stonehenge] and 'new age traveller' subcultures and some elements of the dance music subculture which emerged in the late eighties and which still continues as a strand of popular culture.

However, despite all the sound and fury, despite all the shock horror headlines, the continuation of subcultural/ popular cultural elements of the counterculture over the past 40 years is a sign of failure rather than success. Even the adoption of countercultural themes into academia via postmodernism must be counted a similar failure.

How can I be so sure that the countercultural project has failed?

Going back to Roszak and his contemporary (written in 1968, published in 1969) account, the dominant culture against which and as an alternative to the counterculture emerged was technocratic culture.

So where did the technocracy come from? Well, Roszak specifically mentions the threat of thermonuclear war as the creation of technocracy. The hydrogen or thermonuclear bomb would have been inconceivable had nuclear fission not been achieved during World War II. It also required, to make the calculations necessary, the use of computers. These were another creation of World War II. The ENIAC computer in the USA was completed in February 1946 and was immediately used by John von Neumann to calculate three partial differential equations to test the viability of a hydrogen 'superbomb'.

It is a ferociously complex bit of history to decode, but to summarise :

1. The German which arose in 1871 (following Prussia's victory in the Franco-Prussian war) was a new type of nation-state. It was in many ways a 'revolutionary' entity, one in which power lay in the hands of a military-industrial elite.

2. The emergence of this new state led to the break down of the post-Napoleonic 'balance of power' in the late 19th century. This in turn created the conditions for the Great or First World War.

3. The Great War was an industrial war. For example, without the advances made by German chemical scientists, which allowed the industrial scale production of nitrogen, Germany would have been unable to continue the war beyond 1916.

4. The Great War was also the first 'total' war, that is a war in which the civilian population played a direct part in the war effort through their role as an industrial workforce geared up to wartime industrial demands.

5. With the Great War (part two)/ WW II , the UK dedicated every possible resource to the war effort. These resources included scientific and technological developments. Radar was given immediate priority, but this was later to be matched by the development of mathematical code-breaking (including the use of computers) at the Bletchley Park complex, which eventually employed 10 000 people. The UK also began a nuclear bomb project.

6. At the same time, civil society was organised, managed and controlled at every level under conditions of secrecy and security. It can be argued that the UK mobilised 'voluntarily' more effectively and thoroughly for total war than any other country, including Nazi Germany and the USSR.

7.The entry of the USA into the war did not require such an extreme mobilisation of every single resource into the war effort. However the resources and level of secrecy required to create the nuclear bomb were unprecendented. The need for secrecy and security meant that the whole Manhattan project (as it was called) had to be kept hidden not just from the enemy powers and notional allies (i.e. the USSR), but also from those within the USA who might question the seemingly 'non-essential' use of resources the project required.

8. Technocracy and Global Climate Change

8.1 The technocracy/ technocratic state culture which Roszak identifies as the inspiration of a 'counter culture' has its roots in the 19th century, in the revolutionary nation-state of Germany.

8.2 The technocratic state reached its peak of achievement in the UK and USA in the 1940ies, and achieved ultimate 'victory' over its rival (the USSR) in the 1980ies.

8.3 That the 'total' mobilisation of all available resources, from the most abstract reaches of pure mathematics to the most basic needs of everyday life, could achieve the seemingly impossible - from the cracking German codes to the creation of a nuclear bomb - imbued the technocratic state with an almost magical belief in its power.

8.4 That the 'war-winning' developments took place under a cloak of secrecy is also significant. Only a handful of individuals were ever aware of the full scope of these ultra-secret projects. To illustrate - when the nuclear bombs were ready to be dropped on Japan in August 1945, both the UK and USA new leaders (Attlee and Truman respectively). Neither of these new leaders were aware that an atomic bomb was now science fact rather than science fiction.

8.5 Although the technocratic state is no longer as supremely self-confident of its 'magical' powers as it was in the immediate post-war era, the belief in the ultimate triumph of technological will remains. The embedded structures of power, the collective mind-set is unable to grasp the reality of the situation.

8.6 Nor is there any apparent willingness on the part of the citizens of the technocratic state to accept an equivalent to the austerity of the forties since the threat posed remains elusive rather than obvious.

8.7 To sum -up: the technocratic state resembles a pyramid of power 'hidden' within the structures of everyday life. This pyramid was created during WW II in response to the direct threat posed by Germany and Japan. It was maintained during the Cold War era as the 'nuclear state'. However, whilst supremely effective against concentrated threats (such as those posed by rival military-industrial complexes), it is ineffective against diffuse threats.

9. Windmills and psychedelic dreams.

9.1 Written in 1968, Roszak's critique of the counterculture highlights its cultural revolutionary aspects. Against the enforced rigidity and willed focus of their parents' generation, of the forties generation, the sixties generation reveal a displaced explosion into 'madness', into individuality and celebration of being over doing.

9.2 This brief cultural explosion remains the mainstream perception of the counterculture- with its effective death marked by the re-election of President Nixon in 1972.

9.3 The counterculture did not die in 1972. Instead it mutated. One strand, stimulated by the events of 1973/4 (when there was world wide 'oil crisis' provoked by an Arab-Israeli war), sought practical ways to create effective alternatives to the technocratic state.

9.4 This strand, the alternative or radical technology strand, went to the heart of the problem- the structure of industrial/ technological society. [Roszak briefly touches on this possibility in the context of events in France in 1968, wondering if the workers mobilised then would ever have been prepared to ' deconstruct' car factories, nuclear power plants or the Concorde project].

9.5 Radical technology challenged the physical power system itself. Take electricity generation. The paradigmatic model was (still is) the centralised power station. This late Victorian invention had its roots in the late 18th century industrial revolution when production of cloth was centralised in large urban factories. (Previously, cloth making had been a widely distributed rural 'cottage' industry). Using steam power, electricity was centrally generated and then distributed outwards. As the technology developed, larger and larger power stations were built. These were then linked up in the 1930ies via a centrally controlled National Grid.

9.6 The radical technologists turned this model on its head. They suggested and developed small scale, micro-electric power sources- using wind, water and solar energy. Combined with effective insulation of houses, local production of food and manufactured items for local consumption, a shift to a co-operative rather than competitive social economy our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels (with nuclear power as the technocratic alternative) could be overcome.

9.7 It was an attempt, thirty years ago, to develop an effective and viable sustainable economy and society. Had this 'sensible' development of the counterculture's radical and revolutionary agenda been adopted wholeheartedly, the effects global climate change would have been mitigated- even eliminated.

10 What went wrong?

10.1 Alan Turing. In 1936, Alan Turing created a mathematical model which is the basis for all existing computers. In 1939, Alan Turing joined the team of code-breakers at Bletchley Park. He played a critical role in the decoding of the German Enigma codes and inspired the creation of Colossus, the world's first digital computer. Alan was also gay. Threatened by a court case which would have revealed his sexuality and created a 'national security' scandal, he committed suicide in 1954.

10.2 In his biography of Turing, Andrew Hodge makes explicit the destructive shift which occurred between 1939 and 1954. In 1939, the technocratic state had yet to be created. An 'alternative' or 'radical' intelligence like Turing's could still be accepted (given the extreme threat posed by Nazi Germany) within the mainstream and could still influence its direction. By 1954, this situation had changed. The immediate threat had been overcome and creative individuals like Turing (and Robert Oppenhiemer in the USA) were no longer required in the long Cold War against the USSR. Such dangerously creative individuals were once more viewed as liabilities rather than assets.

10.3 By the 1970ies, the technocracy was structurally incapable of absorbing new ideas, especially when those new ideas challenged its very physical integrity. Instead, the technocracy displaced the challenge posed by the oil threat onto the Soviet Union, thus the 1980ies heightening of the Cold War and the negative conservative [Reagan/ Thatcher] cultural reaction to the counterculture.

11. What can be done?

It is possible, perhaps even probable, that global climate change is irreversible. The collective structural inertia of the technocracy is such that the necessary measures will not be taken. Politically, no government will be able to impose the 'austerity' measures necessary.

What needs to be done is to start planning for the impact of climate change. To start carrying out risk assessments and generally work towards mitigating the likely impact. To launch a survival programme.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I am the Warrior Lord of the Forties

Computers vs NuclearPower

Backtracking through numerous sources (books), it looks as if both computers and nuclear energy (weapons and power stations) had their origins in the Second Great War, that of 1939-45.

Today's computers have their origin in Alan Turing's 1936 paper on Computable Numbers. At the same time, various experiments were being done which indicated the possibility of a uranium based nuclear chain reaction.

The outbreak of war pushed these developments from theory into practice.

1. Turing's theories informed attempts to decode secret German cyphers at Bletchley Park. Although not directly involved in its creation, the Colossus 'computer' which emerged out of this process drew on Turing's work. The ability to decode the less complex Enigma codes (whichTuring was directly involved with) -especially as regards the North Atlantic u-boat campaign- were critical in the survival of the UK as centre for opposition to Nazi Germany in the period (1940/41) prior to USA involvement post Pearl Harbour.

2. At the same time, and relying heavily on input from 'aliens' [foreign nationals] , the potential of nuclear energy was also being developed in the UK. This included the critical realisation that a nuclear bomb could be constructed.

3. In both cases, and especially re nuclear bomb, the UK alone was unable to deploy the resources necessary to 'exploit' the theoretical potential of these developments. What happened was that post- Pearl Harbour, the USA was able to use its much larger resources to develop and manifest the actuality of nuclear bomb and computers.

4. Post 1945, an impoverished UK was pushed out of the loop.

5.1 ooking through the histories, there are not many direct 'people' connections, but in the USA, the first computers were used to process the mass of data needed to create the hydrogen bomb. [John von Neumann]

5.2 In the fifties and sixties, the need to create a 'nuclear war survivable' communciation network stimulated (Paul Baran) the development of what was to become the Internet. Similar processes pushed the general development of computing forwards.

5.3 The link back to nuclear physics comes via Tim Berners-Lee who created the World Wide Web at CERN in the early nineties.

6. Is any of this significant?

6.1 Yes, it is. My theory is that if the power of a'computer in every home' could be linked to the ability of every home to be a generator of energy via mini-wind, solar etc power sources and if the power needs of every home could be managed by home computers, then the need for nuclear power as a centralised solution to future energy needs would be diminished.

6.2 Energy as power could be devolved, as it is in modern computer networks, to the micro-level. The centralisation of power as energy which is implicit in the nuclear model would be negated.

7. This is just an idea.