DIY Utopia: Floating Cities, Crowdfunding, Disruptive Technologies

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J.G. Ballard believed that our surveillance society of unfreedom would soon lead its citizens into the dangerous territory of personal and collective forms of psychopathology ‘in order to enlarge the scope of their lives and imaginations’.1

The future is no longer a fictional site for your dreams, instead in our time the future is nothing more than a DIY Toolkit for your psychopathological dreams: a crowdfunding enterprise for building experimental utopias among the ruins of global capital.

Nicole Sallak Anderson tells us that for any technologically advanced society to move forward and truly become a technically and socially sustainable, we must change the story of our lives from competition to collaboration. She also lists the aspects of such a successful transition will entail universal access to information; decentralization of food, healthcare, education, currency, and manufacturing; decoupling of work and personal definition; universal basic income; servant leadership; and a participatory and cosmopolitan democratariat.

Of course this, too, is a form of DIY Utopian thinking, a way to inveigle a form of libertarian propaganda of freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of private and individual happiness under the illusion of reigning in the global monopolies: the Oligarchs, Bankers, and major stock-holders who at the moment control the planet’s resources and territories on a global scale. She feeds into the libertarian hype of 3D entrepreneurs ousting the old monopolies with designer blue jeans and ultra fashions created in your own DIY home projects, alleviating and shutting down the sweatshops of the global GAP’s of the world.

Don’t let my sardonic and cynical wisdom keep you from your libertarian dreams, I’m only looking at the rear view mirror of history where such escapes and exits litter the global highways of a temporal disorder that few dare explore much less take off their brand new google eyeware to ponder. The only difference between the mega-socialist and mega-capitalist welfare systems of the past and the new liberation capital front of innovation and creativity is that this time it serves a small fringe cybertariat of techno-entrepreneurs whose average pay is feeding this new frenzy of activity. Instead of the old command and control structures of super-states and conglomerates of multinational systems of coercion we have the self-made ideology of the aquapreneur. Didn’t we see this in the 90’s with the venture capitalism of the netentrepeneur. Didn’t that kinda wipe out after just a few years when all those old meanies of the monopoly set stepped in and began to buy up those little self-made millionaires goodies and close down the freedom lovers of libertarian capitalism? Of course many of those Silicon babies joined the ranks of the old capitalist regimes as front runners for the techno-commercial empires we see around us now. Want these new aquapreneurs become the aqua-commercial empire capitalists of a future oceanic civilization?

Oh, how easily we forget…

We see other and even stranger installations of Marx’s notion of the General Intellect being actually funded by monopoly capitalism in initiatives like the Global Brain Institute. A program as they tell us:

The Global Brain can be defined as the distributed intelligence emerging from the Internet. The Global Brain Institute (GBI) was founded in 2012 at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) to research this phenomenon. The GBI grew out of the Global Brain Group, an international community of researchers created in 1996, and the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition research group at the VUB.

The GBI uses scientific methods to better understand the global evolution towards ever-stronger connectivity between people, software and machines. By developing concrete models of this development, we can anticipate both its promises and its perils. That would help us to steer a course towards the best possible outcome for humanity.

Their project sounds more like a convergence world for the capitalism Transhumanist Vision:

We see people, machines and software systems as agents that communicate via a complex network of communication links. Problems, observations, or opportunities define challenges that stimulate these agents to act. … The propagation of challenges across the global network is a complex process of self-organization. It is similar to the “spreading activation” that characterizes thinking in the human brain. This process will typically change the network by reinforcing useful links, while weakening less useful ones. Thus, the network learns and adapts to new challenges, becoming ever more intelligent.

All the old key words are here: Agents, Collective Intelligence, Self-organization, machine learning… system theory, emerging intelligence etc., a techno-commercial utopia seeking to install machinic AI’s as the swarm distribution nexus systems for a new global Infosphere of ubiquitous and invisible dataveillance, as well as surveillance and algorithmic cultural systems based on the supra-jouissance society of gratified stock-holders and enslaved pleasure workers of a united intelligent front. This notion that the “network” as alive and learning, becoming intelligent is like the religious pseudo-science of Dianetics for the Brain Nerds.

Paul Masson on the Guardian, The end of capitialism… sees much of the new libertarian techno-secessionism among the rising cognitariat as a new business subculture moving across the niche markets of the globe:

New forms of ownership, new forms of lending, new legal contracts: a whole business subculture has emerged over the past 10 years, which the media has dubbed the “sharing economy”. Buzzwords such as the “commons” and “peer-production” are thrown around, but few have bothered to ask what this development means for capitalism itself.

I believe it offers an escape route – but only if these micro-level projects are nurtured, promoted and protected by a fundamental change in what governments do. And this must be driven by a change in our thinking – about technology, ownership and work. So that, when we create the elements of the new system, we can say to ourselves, and to others: “This is no longer simply my survival mechanism, my bolt hole from the neoliberal world; this is a new way of living in the process of formation.”

 One such notion is the DIY Utopia….

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Floating Cities and DIY Utopia

I remember years ago reading the works of Jacque Fresco a self-professed futurist and social engineer who believed that in the 21st Century humans would once again return to the oceans to exit the corruption and pollution of nation states. His Venus Project is still quite powerful. His approach back in the early sixties was to build floating cities with advanced materials. A man ahead of his time, perhaps.

I remember visiting Arcosanti  during the 70’s, which was a fascinating project by Paolo Soleri. This early DIY project begun in 1965 by Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) and his wife Colly (1925-1982) incorporated the Cosanti Foundation, a not-for-profit educational organization devoted to the support of Soleri’s noted architectural and urban planning research. Even now this project goes on educating students, design professionals, urban planners, and the general public about Soleri’s architectural concepts and philosophy. Ensuring the continuing construction of Arcosanti, according to the Arcology concept. This has been the main ongoing project of the Cosanti Foundation since 1970. Hosting educational and cultural conferences, as well as performing arts events, on a regular basis.

Yet, in our time we’re beginning to see a new breed of Aquapreneurs who are performing vast oceanic DIY projects for offshore utopian floating cities. Modular cities built on both personal and collective scales based on algae farming on the oceans of the world. Once such place is the Seasteading Institute where the notion of building an actual test pilot project city off the coast of South America may possibly offer a path. Whether the project succeeds or fails it is fascinating to see people seeking alternatives to our present decaying and dying civilization. Another such DIY Utopia is Blueseed a techno-libertarian Silicon Valley start-up that touts itself as the “Googleplex of the Sea”, and plans to launch the ship in 2015, offering living and office space in an elegantly designed modern tech environment, attracting top entrepreneurial and technology talent from all over the world to Silicon Valley, where they can create companies and jobs, and develop disruptive and innovative technologies.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen coined the term disruptive technology. In his 1997 best-selling book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Christensen separates new technology into two categories: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining technology relies on incremental improvements to an already established technology. Disruptive technology lacks refinement, often has performance problems because it is new, appeals to a limited audience, and may not yet have a proven practical application.

In his book, Christensen points out that large corporations are designed to work with sustaining technologies. They excel at knowing their market, staying close to their customers, and having a mechanism in place to develop existing technology. Conversely, they have trouble capitalizing on the potential efficiencies, cost-savings, or new marketing opportunities created by low-margin disruptive technologies. Using real-world examples to illustrate his point, Christensen demonstrates how it is not unusual for a big corporation to dismiss the value of a disruptive technology because it does not reinforce current company goals, only to be blindsided as the technology matures, gains a larger audience and market share and threatens the status quo.

Brian Solis lists 26 trends in disruptive technologies and innovation that are going to help dismantle the overblown behemoth of monopoly capitalism that has spread its tentacles across the globe.

Of course like all utopian and futuristic scenarios it’s more hype than fact, and we can imagine how the global powers who have so much to lose will probably sneak in and invest their own money into such crowdfunding and trump the prize these libertarian utopianists envision. Who won the internet itself? Unless one is willing to enter Dark Net and burrow in the rhizomes of cryptological anonymity one is stuck with the commercialized net of global capital. So don’t look anytime soon for such DIY Utopias to suddenly find their techno-secessionism dreams of floating cities of free ocean born enclaves of independent aquapreneurs and deep citizens of the waves to arise any time soon. One imagines that monopoly capital: the big corporate or global governance authorities will suddenly popping by, saying, “Oh, by the way, we’re taxing seasteaders now as part of our global commons initiative to clean up the Ocean and make it safe for all.”

Thing that keeps coming back to me is the question of logistics and infrastructure: Water, Energy, Waste, etc. … all these fun loving aquapreneurs living on the high-seas without a care might also think of the weather: cyclones, hurricanes, etc. One looks at all the beautiful models of these cities being designed and wonders what lies below the decks of these glittering edifices of technological dreamscapes. Who will supply these dreamcities of the new elites? Where will they get their pollution freed sources of energy? Oh, did they forget that living above our last refuge of planetary life that they might just have an impact on its existence, that these blue initiatives might just pollute and deplete the ocean further; or, have they great untested self-organizing food and waste systems to be totally self-contained and closed worlds that will not bother the oceans deep life?

Is this a governless system or governed? Will it be run like our gated cities around the world? Totally regulated and bound by contracts and agreements legally binding you to follow certain unfreed codes and programs that must be completely adhered too else forfeiting your rights and possibly your ability to exist within such confines? What of ethics, schooling, social and political aspects of these systems of so to speak, freedom? The more I think about such artificial environments the more I see a completely controlled environment that will be based on strict and regulated codes of behavior and sociality, as well as the sorts of closed communicative systems that Nicklas Luhuman was so great at elaborating.

Luhman taught that society emerges on the basis of contingent differences drawn by emerging systems. The economy becomes the economy by operating economically in a noneconomic environment. It starts creating an economic world by treating things and communications in its environment (the fruits on the tree, their consumption, their exchange, for instance) economically. It distinguishes itself from other communications and things outside communication and thus it establishes itself within society. It becomes another difference within the differences already made. None of these differences “have to be” made, but once they are made, they make a difference. There is no principal need for establishing a social system of economy, education, or politics. The existence of society is not by its “nature” dependent on these systems.2

Society consists of social systems, of certain communicational “organisms” that emerged and have established their own specific types of operations. These can connect to each other and continue the operations of this communicational organism—similar to a cell that by its bio-chemical operations creates its own autopoietic “being.” A social system “is” nothing else but the autopoietic reproduction of itself. A social system, such as the economy, consists of nothing but economic communication that connects to itself. It is only by economic communication that the economy continues and further constructs itself—and thus builds its own communicational “membrane” by which economic communication can be distinguished from other types of communication. (pp. 23-24)

These rock-a-bye aquapioneers of the free waves will soon discover that if their successful the larger monopolies will soon step in and buy them out, invest their own illiberal systems of surveillance and dominance upon the high-seas and begin again the monopolization of the global membrane matrix of communication. One does not escape or exit monopoly capital that easy. Nothing is easy under the global eye of the Oligarchs, Corporations, and Global Governance systems they’ve fabricated to tightly enclose the global commons within the sphere of capital.

Dreams of freedom always have a way to crumble before the military and naval power of the global law of monopolized capital. That want end anytime soon. But, hey, who am I to keep you from building your very own crowdfunding project for a DIY Utopia. Be my guest!

  1. J.G. Ballard Extreme Metaphors: Collected Interviews (Fourth Estate, 2012)
  2. Moeller, Hans-Georg (2011-04-15). Luhmann Explained: From Souls to Systems (Ideas Explained) (p. 41). Open Court. Kindle Edition.

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