deviant globalisation: the unpleasant underside of transnational integration

Wow. This is the most interesting what-is-going-on-in-the-world thing I have encountered in a long long time:

Nils Gilman, co-author of deviant globalisation, giving a SALT talk.

There is so much going on in this talk. Seriously check it out. My summary below is incomplete.

Basically he is mapping the vast underside of globalisation – the enormous flow of cash and people engaged in vastly profitable illegal trades – from drugs, to sex tourism, to organ trafficking, to people trafficking, etc,
and the black financial market underlying it, which is as big as the rest combined since it facilitates it – things that will sound familiar – and places them in an utterly fascinating analysis of how and why this happens, and what it means.

Short version: our weird morality causes asymmetry in the world, which produces opportunities for arbitrage – systemic inequalities which can be leveraged for profit – ie what we ban makes it valuable when it crosses the border, which provides incentives to deal in those things – the harder the push to illegalise them, the more profitable they are.

The organisations making use of this systemic leverage are gigantic, and occurring in places in which the development model has failed and which are borderline failed states.

His provocative argument includes saying this is actually what development looks like – this is “actually happening” development, transferring more wealth from the global north to the global south than anything else that is being done.

This is the system, it is not marginal. It is creating a new class of geopolitical actors – what John Robb calls global guerrillas. In many cases they are replacing functions of the state in a privatised form – health clinics, justice, security, parks, schools – not for the public but their own constituents, their community.

While violent since they are outside the law, they are not revolutionary – they are not trying to take over the state. They don’t usually conflict with the state unless the state attacks them – eg a gang shutting down Sao Paolo for 3 days. They are mostly interested in autonomy, while functionally sapping the state in practice.

What does this mean for the future?

We will not make the world like us. However, it will also not descend into anarchy. Deviant globalisation represents an order, just not a liberal order, an illiberal order. It is not ungoverned, but governed by people we don’t like. They are not failed states – that assumes our ideal of a state – but rather a different kind of order outside of liberal states.

What can we do?

We can make judicious choices. Embrace the reality of the system, and what effects our local prohibitions have elsewhere.

The question then becomes what do we worry about more? (eg) our morality of drug use vs slaughter in the supply chain. He thinks these are not easy choices but that they are not going away.


Some thoughts I have about his analysis, however, is that all this arbitrage is parasitic off the liberal global system existing. He is describing something in a dynamic state of evolution, and it is hard to predict where it is going. This is the world system going into flux, losing equilibrium. Tracking it is certainly vital, but prediction is hard, as the out-of-control changes coming to our part of the system (peak oil, climate change, etc) will also affect the deviant global system.

Also, since what he is describing is a system that is effectively unfettered capitalism – unrestricted by any morality – interacting with the arbitrage created by our morality, we could get rid capitalism as an underlying system, thus removing the profit motive, or we can change our morality.

We are defined by what we prohibit; we could change what is allowable. Which brings us back to what is human, what is us, and other, and why, and how do we change that. And all the other stuff in our head, which most of my work for the past few years has been about hacking…

Finally, something I particularly took from it is a map of how and where the warlords of the multi-multi-polar near future are going to evolve.

Sunday Mutants 24/10/10

Missed a week, since rewriting ate my brain.

First up, the Iraq War Logs wikileaks leak is staggering, and deserves probably multiple posts. You should be following this.

Reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq, comprised of 66,081 ‘civilians’; 23,984 ‘enemy’; 15,196 ‘host nation’ and 3,771 ‘friendly’

(One interesting question is whether this can sink the private contractor model of warfighting, as the leaks are particularly damning of blackwater/xe etc.)

This happens as government and legal attacks on wikileaks step up.

Two on visualising money in the world:

The difference more global equality could make

“Consumer democracy” is rendered meaningless by the fact that a few consumers have most of the votes, because they have most of the money…. The rich don’t just have more money than us as individuals, they have more than us collectively.

A map of GDP Density = GDP per capita * Number of people per square kilometer.

A map of GDP Density = GDP per capita * Number of people per square kilometer.

Two free ebooks:
The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto

Old futurist predictions for 2010, compared with what we got

Oh yeah, and this excellent essay about magic by Alan Moore in two parts

…aaaand holy shit, twitter has capped how far back I can track my mutants list; it has grown and there has been a lot happening, but there are several days missing… hmm, may be time to tweak the lists

book four, draft 2

Just finished the 2nd draft of the book I wrote in April. (Shorter, more practical non-fiction companion to the last one.)

It has been a funny sort of year – it hasn’t felt defined by a major creative project the way previous years have. So it is almost surprising to note, oh, I just finished a book.

(Of course, it needs another draft, the process never ends, etc. But it is solid and off to its first reader tomorrow; it is a thing that is. It even has a name: “Riding the Tiger.” And a couple of potential subtitles.)

But yeah. Yay for the process. Looking back over four manuscripts and many drafts, I’ve come a long way, in every sense.

Unk. 3am and it feels like time to go and run around.

Review: Inuit Time

Went along to see a play the other day, the method of which was reviewed a decade ago as an “insult to the conventions of theatre.”

It was pretty interesting.

The play was by Tao Wells, who has launched to some local notoriety for getting funded while unemployed to make a conceptual art installation of a PR company advocating unemployment, and was sort of directly related to that project.

The method was, he got some people to hang out and have conversations (with no guidance as to what they should be about), where they had to write down anything they said, starting each thing on a new line, and write down anything they thought felt or did in brackets.

Wells then took the transcripts, transcribed them, arranged them into what seemed like order; the play consisted of inviting the participants to come along and play themselves in any way they wanted, being given a script on the night, while also projecting the script onto the wall behind the stage so the audience could see the text.

The content of the text meandered, often incomprehensibly, talked about the project, and how odd the thing they were doing was, how unnatural the process was, and random stuff.

The experience was damn weird for the players – it wasn’t quite acting, or improvisation. Two of the participants weren’t there, so their scenes were just paged through on the projection.

The fact of the text was surreal. My brain was in a kind of overdrive. The level of engagement was oddly intense at times. Though it also fell over completely at times.

On reaching the end of the script, he paged back up to the top and they started going through again. The performance frayed even further. People stopped playing their roles, and started reading random lines. Much of the audience left. Some who remained starting participating in the text, taking the part of players. This seemed entirely natural.

Eventually Wells caved, acknowledging we had broken him (the handful who remained) and that he had intended to go until everyone left. (In fact, even one of the players, Campbell Walker, left midway through the second run through, without a word.)

Anyway. This felt like art should, as an event and an experience. Immersive, alive, challenging. The way I ended up engaging with the piece was fascinating; a suspension of thought, plus all sorts of meta-textual awareness, veering from hilarity to disbelief to other things. Unusual, and probably not for everyone.

Apparently it will be on again next Monday at Freds. May well be quite different.

Harry Potter: worth it? + books v films

Right. So now the craze has died down, and we have some distance on it, I have two questions re: the Harry Potter series.

1. Is it actually any good? Is it worth sinking the hours into in and of itself, rather than just as a means of taking the temperature of mass culture?

I read the first one, and it was well done; sharp, funny, well delivered. But it wasn’t anything more than a well done version of that type of young adult story, and it didn’t inspire me to read further at that time. I also saw the film of the first one, and it was a reasonable adaptation, I guess, though lesser, as is the way of things.

But that is it. And since then I have paid as little attention as possible in a culture that went all frothing at the mouth over it for a while.

2. While assuming the books are better: are the films good enough?

Like, can I just watch the films and not really miss that much of whatever the point is? (And the story itself – the later books seem like doorstops, are the adaptations functional?)

This is all prompted by seeing the trailer for the 7th one, which made me kind of curious.

Oh, and if possible, comment without spoilers 🙂


Had my first play on an e-reader the other day.

It was shit. Really starkly shit.

I mean, proof of concept and all, but it has a loooong way to go.

Reading 2010: vol 6

Sleepless – Charlie Huston

Good shit. One of the most compelling near future slides into awfulness I’ve seen, both in the denseness of its detail, and its humanity. Set in a future where a highly contagious disease stops people sleeping; after months of pain, and roaming around sleepless, they die. Society collapsing into a broken police state, and rumours of a suppressed cure. Excellent characters, particularly Park, the cop, and Jasper, the highly aesthete assassin. And way more emotionally resonant than one might expect.

The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick

Collection of Dick’s non-fiction writings, from the autobiographical, to the SF related, to flat out philosophical essays, and material related to his exegesis and related experiences. Excellent and necessary for anyone seriously interested in the man. Most of my favourite stuff I had already read, but the essays on schizophrenia and hallucinations were exceptional, and the summary of the insights of the exegesis was pretty interesting, though saddening – the confusion and pain comes through.

The Little Black Box – Philip K Dick

A volume of his collected stories, browsing it made an interesting counterpoint to the above. Faith of our Fathers is an incredible, and disturbing, story.

Nevada – Steve Gerber

6 issue comic about a showgirl, her ostrich, a dude with a lava lamp for a head, and interdimensional ruptures. Not even slightly normal; highly wonderful. Gerber’s weird was his own.

Cyclonopedia: Complicity With Autonomous Materials – Reza Negarestani

This should get its own post at some point, and a detailed review, as my reaction to it is complex. It is a fascinating artifact. However, one that doesn’t live up to its blurbs.

A general description runs along the lines of “the middle east is a sentient entity, and oil is a Lovecraftian Elder God manipulating the world.” Reads like a gaggle of grad students heavily into Deleuze and Guattari spent 6 months smoking dope and reading Babylonian mythology and middle eastern politics while constructing labyrinthine theoretical frameworks linking all sorts of shit, that are simultaneously vast in jokes and an occultural critique of petropolitics. It is certainly very clever, and has moments of yawning understanding as you internalise the deranged systems of relations put forward and realise that it actually has a point sometimes. But mostly it is more work than it is worth. Sort of like if the book within the book of House of Leaves was written in an unreadable french postmodernist philosophical style.

The silk road: two thousand years in the heart of Asia – Frances Wood
Research. Not what I was looking for.

What I did on my holidays: essays on black magic, satanism, devil worship and other niceties – Ramsey Dukes

Collection of essays over a decade; thus less focused than his other books. The same extraordinary mind and insight at play, however. The essays on Spare, and the Book of the Law, are exceptional.

Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi

Afghani writer who just won the Prix Goncourt.

Novella length story of a grandfather, traveling with his grandson, to see his son and tell him that the rest of their family was killed in a Russian bombing raid, and kind of freaking out since he assumes that his son will then, for the sake of honour, have to go off and get himself killed. Simple, beautiful, brutal.

Burma Chronicles – Guy Delisle

Cartoon diary of a dude who spends a year in Burma/Myanmar looking after his baby while his wife is on a doctors without borders mission. Pretty fascinating glimpse into life under a military junta, as well as the whole NGO sphere. Good shit.

Shenzhen – Guy Delisle

Same dude, on a three month contract in Shenzhen, China. He doesn’t have much fun. Alright but easily the least of his books. Read his Pyongyang instead.

The Photographer – Didier Lefevre and Emmanuel Guibert

Fairly fascinating narrative mix of comics and photos. Lefevre went along as a photographer to document a doctors without borders mission into Afghanistan in 1986, during the war with the Soviet Union. The account is based on his diaries and photos. The story is pretty mind-blowing and heart-wrenching. Unique and really excellent.

The invention of Morel – Adolfo Bioy Casares

Apparently the film Last Year at Marienbad was based on or inspired by this. (Last Year at Marienbad being pretty fucking strange and wonderful, that was enough reason to track it down.)

Anyway. TIOM is a short latin american science fiction novel from 1940. It is pretty stunning. A fugitive alone on a most unusual island – containing nothing but a “museum” – really more like a hotel – a chapel, and a swimming pool – is inexplicably intruded on by people who seem not to notice him, one of whom he falls in love with. I really enjoyed everything up until the explanation – just a total surreal ride into what seems like madness but is something else, written from a jagged obsessive point of view. (Oddly, in terms of feel, it reminded me of Rene Daumal’s Mount Analogue. A fragment from another world of possibility.)

Mayor Wade-Brown

Fuck yeah! No more Prenderghastly!

I have encountered Celia Wade-Brown a few times in activist/environmentalist circles. While she is genuine, committed, and her heart is in the right place, it will be fascinating to see her step up to the challenges of mayoralty.

All in all, this should be an interesting term of local government. But a hopeful one 🙂

ten thousand years older

Short film by Werner Herzog, about a Brazilian Indian tribe with whom first contact was made (and filmed) in the early 1980s. Herzog goes back twenty years later.

YouTube Preview Image

Sunday Mutants 10/10/10

Less linky, more thinky this week.

A new Brainsturbator post:

Albert North Whitehead was fond of saying that the greatest discovery of the nineteenth century was not this or that invention, but the discovery of the technique of invention itself. It is very simple, and was loudly proclaimed by Poe, Baudelaire, and Valery, namely, begin with the solution to the problem, and then find out what steps lead to the solution. In other words, work backwards.

Such is Operations Research, in which metallurgic problems are tackled by psychologists and historians but not metallurgists. For the expert knows too much about a problem in advance. He sees why it is impossible. But teams of intelligent non-experts, not seeing the difficulties in advance, have time and again won through, and at high speed. The new pattern in management is small teams of men of varied competencies, not the pyramid of job hierarchies.”

Vinay Gupta, one of the most interesting and inspiring mutants I’ve come across lately, explains where he is coming from. As a ball park, he is fusing Buckminster Fuller and Ghandi. This is the conclusion from a really excellent inspiring piece.

I meditated until I realized the greatness of these masters, and then I attempted to follow. That’s what is unsaid.

I’m trying to build the tools we need, Free to All, to get us the lives we want, in full knowledge of the consequences of our actions. And the thing that drives me to do that is the thing which is sometimes called enlightenment, the thing that I saw at the top of the mountain, when I talked with god.

Can you create a cultural centre on an island off Abu Dhabi with $27 billion? They are going to try.

The biggest obstacle is still social evolution. Authentic culture is an intangible thing, and it cannot be bought wholesale. Abu Dhabi may want to follow the West’s model of individual creative freedom, but does it really have the stomach to let its people follow their creative visions, and to welcome all work in the name of freedom of expression. Will hopeful artists from around the world converge here in the way they do in NYC or London or Berlin? There are 200 nationalities living side by side, but they are strictly stratified and it is hard to imagine a ‘scene’ evolving out of the grass roots. Right now, Emirati artists are a small elite group; they need roughing up a bit, culturally speaking. But though a culturally forward society in the heart of the Gulf might suit the West, it is too early to get excited. This is still a place bound by rigid social and tribal traditions. The ruling family desire relevance on the global stage, but equally they will not want a rush of radical artists destabilising the social or political status quo.

Have a backlog of stuff to blog at the moment… hmm.

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