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Re: <nettime> China needs more water. So it's building a rain-making net
tbyfield on Mon, 26 Mar 2018 18:37:50 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> China needs more water. So it's building a rain-making network three times the size of Spain

'Three times the size of' is the new black — like the GPGP, the cryptic-alliteratively acronymed Great Pacific Garbage Patch that, it was recently reported, is three times the size of France and is growing at an 'exponential' rate. Of course, if a scientist claimed that *France* is growing at that rate, s/he would be drummed out of the corps(e). Externalities can grow at such a rate but what we could retronymically call 'internalities' can't. That predicament lies at the heart of most discourses that are, or are inspired by, environmentalism — which is to say, most discourses at this point.

I ranted about this in a non-threaded thread on twitter, in response to another thread that Morlock pointed out here, François Chollet's take on algorithms:


	In response to:


	Morlock's message:


The crux of my argument was that the new dominant historical trope is the crisis, which relies on a template consisting of two 'key performance indicators': one that's linear, usually 'flat' in some sense, and one that's running away (geometric, exponential, asymptotic, approaching 1, approaching 0, whatever, it's all the same, rhetorically speaking). Its logic is damned-if-we-do, damned-if-we-don't: we're always fucked — fucked if the two KPIs are converging or we're fucked if the two KPIs are diverging. Maybe someone else has pointed out some variation on this already (Theweleit did a bit in _Buch der König_), but either way I think a good name for this is 'the crux': we define our position in relation to the point at which lines ~intersect. So, in a sense, the crux is a secular addition to a list of sacred geometries that, similarly, were efforts to define our place in the world.

The crux has some obvious mirrors: in theories of subjective 'intersectionality,' on the one hand, and in the relentless babble about people 'who work at the intersection' of X, Y, and (increasingly, as everything is these day) often a Z. Those theories differ in part in which geometric elements they take as primary: points, boundaries, areas.

It should be obvious that all of this rhetoric is, on a basic level, at least tacitly visual: it's partly a vestige of techniques of teaching mathematics. The trick, as with a lot of 'technology'-related discourses now, is that what it describes is both imaginary and real: imaginary in the sense that we insist on evaluating them qualitatively, and real in the sense that that same growing mathematical literacy is a precondition of — and driver or — rapid technological advance. The result is a sort of a feedback loop in which secular data and sacred ideas amplify each other: Google drives around producing views of the 'street,' Uber drives around producing a God's-eye-views, and the oscillation between these two frames of reference drives people insane. In the absence of a clear ground, we run around manufacturing them to explain who were are, what we do, what things are, and most of all where we're going individually and collectively.

But back to your point about China:

The main difference here lies in how deliberate the activity is. The premise of the theory of the anthropocene is that, for decades or centuries or even millennia, depending on who you talk to, we know not we do — but face the externalities of the fact that we did it. But China's actions are different, because they're planned — they know exactly what they're doing in the myopic engineering sense: internality-wise. But the just-add-water ecological catastrophes that have happened elsewhere in China strongly suggest that, when it comes to the externalities, they either don't know or don't care. Or, worse, both: they don't know *and* they don't care. That places them squarely in line with the centuries-long behavior of previously developed countries (PDCs?) — a historical continuity, as opposed to the discontinuity that lies at the heart of the historical trope of the crisis, which is a form of rupture.

So where is the rupture here, actually? Is it in the scale of the activity? Or in the fact that a nation-state is pursuing it? Again, there are precedents — Stalin's White Sea–Baltic Canal, the US Amy Corps of Engineers efforts to change the course(s) of the Mississippi River, even the ways the Dutch have played with their coastlines, even military strategies to despoil entire landscapes — that suggest continuity.

Pointing out continuities is often a crypto-strategy for dismissing a question: same old, same shit, etc. That's not my point at all. There's no question that our ability to operate 'at scale' can reach a point that threatens the viability of the planet. The question is whether we *have already done so* — and it's mainly a question because a suspect set of actors benefit from a feedback loop in which they pay out some of their profits to promote 'questions' about the effects of their revenues sources — a FAKE question, basically.

But, even so, I think we need to step away from all this talk about *topias: utopia, dystopia, etc. Better to focus on the 'topes' themselves than the evaluative prefixes. It's also helpful because doing so gives us a more solid ground to think about what's going on. But it's also tricky because it tends to disaggregate these activities and imply that some of them might be necessary or even beneficial.


On 26 Mar 2018, at 9:59, Felix Stalder wrote:

The drive towards geo-engineering is gather pace. It's hard to see this
as anything but dystopic. A kind of autonomous vehicle problem wright
large. And this problem goes like this: If the system detects two bads
(e.g. driving over an pedestrian or steering the car into a wall) which one does it take? Now, if we change the weather patterns, whose weather
should improve? OK, it's not a zero-sum game like in the car accident
situation, but I doubt that this is an unambiguous win-win either. Felix
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