Beta INTERVIEWS Zeta

(from the upcoming issue of SPRAWL zine. All collages by the Ann Arbor Dinner Party Syndicate (A2DPS)).

BETA: Zeta, why are you always so depressed?

ZETA: Well, there is a lot of joy in my life, but you are correct that I am very worried about the state of the world. I am afraid that humans might disappear soon and planet earth might die. And these two paths are definitely related.

BETA: Where will humans disappear to?

ZETA: Well, we are ripping ourselves apart at the organism level and at the genetic level. I am not afraid of change. I am not afraid of distributed existence either but humans haven’t thought hard about how far we want to distribute ourselves and we haven’t done a good job of interviewing the tools we make before releasing them into the wider world.

Many technologies know what they want and it is to help humans rip themselves to pieces and to be scattered all over the universe. One has to remember that just because humans think of technologies as amoral doesn’t mean that technologies don’t have wants and biases.

All I am saying is that if we don’t slow down and decide how far we want to spread out the human body
your progeny will be an eyeball on mars, a hand on earth, a brain on venus, and a tongue on Saturn’s moon. Pretty soon humans might not even happen in the HERE and NOW.

At the organism level, we are continuing to distribute our senses. Humans have been increasing their reach in space in time since humans started.

Writing allowed humans to offload some of their brain matter onto other atoms that weren’t humans. Writing is a form of time travel. Writing allowed humans to send pieces of themselves far away and into the future. But now we are speeding up. Humans are sending pieces of themselves further and faster. Television rips our eyeballs out of our head and sends them halfway around the world in real time. We turn on ABC news and our eyes fire over to New York City, or we turn on the NASA channel and our eyes are in outer space, or we turn on a sitcom and our eyes are in a big hollow studio building with a set that is fake and made to look like the room we are sitting in. We are sending our eyeballs to the other side of the country so that they can see reflection of where we are sitting. That situation is a form of information pollution. But that’s just the mechanical and temporal aspects of the tele-visual experience.

Then there are the economic aspects of Television. Television (TV) is different then either the medium of video or the technical infrastructure that facilitates the broadcast of tele-visual material. We have known since its inception that TELEVISION DELIVERS PEOPLE. The economic structure of most privately funded television the world over is a process of monetizing eyeballs. All this focus on eyeballs. I wish television would think about my nostrils or my love or my God occasionally.

BETA: Is that why you have that poster that says “SMASH YOUR TELEVISION”?

ZETA: Yeah, TV is brainwashing us. And I don’t just mean that TV is turning all humans into insatiable resource consumers that are destroying the planet, which is a huge problem. But if we go even further upstream from material reality, and sneak into the human brain, TV makes us all think the same. Its a one-to-many medium that most humans can’t talk back to. This is troubling because our mental environment is becoming polluted AND monocultural. The combination is proving deadly for humans and non-humans alike.

B: TV makes us monocultural? Like how a lot of regional accents disappeared in the U.S. when national news programs came out?

Z: Exactly, but it is happening at the global scale. Television is much more powerful mental homogenizer than the printed book ever was, precisely because it is more flexible. TV moves faster than a book, its information can mutate quicker, but the search space of Television is very small. Imagine a freckle on your body, and that is about the size of the search space that Late Capital’s version Tele-Vision engenders. Late capitalism and information diversity DO NOT mix.

Not surprisingly we can not get good investigative journalism or robust public affairs coverage in the U.S. The lack of diverse perspectives is a large part of why the madness of the Iraq war happened. Careful and rational consideration of facts OR religious indignation over war-mongering and war-profiteering were not presented in our main tele-visual pipelines. Thats the funny thing about the marketplace of ideas, it doesn’t fit into the marketplace of capital exchange because it is a positive externality. Good information wants to be free. But it is not cheap.

The problem with an increasingly homogenous mental landscape is that our mental ecology becomes a lot less robust. It becomes very difficult for our collective brainscape to deal with exogenous shocks to the system. Secular fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins scare me as much as Religious fundamentalists. Fundamentalism of any stripe becomes self serving because it never has examine its own premises. One might think that this points to a privileging of the scientific method and rational, verifiable means of knowing the world, but we know the problems with the ‘Science’ metanarrative as well. I think even Dawkins would agree that some level of noise is necessary to keep system robust, and noise will be based on absurd nonrational knowledge structures such as faith and beauty.

We need a collection of global village idiots, freaks, and weirdos who look through glasses that are spiritual, scientific, rational, non-rational and irrational. All those lenses are important for a healthy mental ecology. Any move towards homogenization is doomed to failure. Beauty is a strange attractor not a fixed point. But I digress…lets get back to information diversity.

B: Right. Isn’t that what the internet is for? There are all kinds of crazy ideas out there. Doesn’t the long tail have enough room for all kinds of anomalous thought.

Z: This is partially true, and despite the continuing commercialization of the Web there is still room for weirdness. And I should stop here and say that when I say weirdness I just mean information, the difference that makes a difference. I don’t want to use the word information too much because it has become too loaded in our culture and most people see data, or the appearance of information and call it information. But information is weird and weird makes you slow down, or maybe sick to your stomach at first. Weird does not mean SIMPLE but it may be SLOW. It takes some getting used to.

Knowledge is even weirder. Wisdom, weirder yet. Wisdom is big bushy eyebrows and long beards and sitting on mountain tops, or listening to the ocean for twelve hours a day, or staring at branching tree structures or making audio recordings of ones breathing patterns for accompaniment later in life. That’s where wisdom comes from and that is weird. No one gets paid for being different, much less for being the difference that makes a difference that makes a difference.

The internet has some weirdness left, but the internet has the opposite problem as TV. The sheer volume of information is overwhelming. With the internet one can talk about anything at any time with anyone. Humans, as pattern seeking animals, could spend their entire lives exploring the web. But we would be living apart from our physical reality. I think that the movement towards ubiquitous computing is highly problematic, but one positive development will be situating information geographically. Some information should be globally available, while other info should be tied to a place. Physically moving through space that has meaning is important for humans. Once humans stop moving through spaces that have meanings humanity is done. Brains in vats might be fun, but I prefer old fashioned sweating and sleeping and fucking.
But putting information in its place is not enough. some information should be in the foreground, while most of it should exist ambiently, in the periphery.

B: So if TV brainwashes us and the internet overwhelms us how do you propose humans can stay humans and stay weird?

Z: Temporary islands are scary, and beautiful and essential. Most temporary islands involve going underground for a little while. One time I thought about starting an extremely temporary island where people would create sex games involving digital cameras. I have yet to make this island.

Schools are good examples of temporary islands, but they are not the only ones. Schools are just the most obvious and visible temporary islands. Lifelong learning might mean you have the chance of going to a school that is not a jail.

Schools are places where humans convene to closely examine the world. Ideas are vetted locally, and problems are dealt with in an iterative manner. After some amount of time the humans that make up a school disperse and bring their highly specialized knowledge to the world where it undergoes new stresses, and is recombined with other forms of specialized and general knowledge.

Learning is lifelong, but living in an island for a while is important. The ocean that keeps you penned in can be almost anything: a remote location, not using electricity, agreeing to call each other something such as ‘artist’.

It is important that these islands are TEMPORARY in nature. Otherwise they become cults. But it is also important that there is intensity. The brain has to steeped on some very local and immediate concerns, more than general and global concerns or else it is not an island setting. Once humans or artifacts leave a temporary island they can set off massive cultural bifurcations. For example, just think about Japanese prints showing up in Europe and being one of the catalysts that flattened the picture plane in Western art. It would be great to write a book about Cultural Invasive Species someday.

How to balance the possibility and the possibility of ALL at ONCENESS recombinatory play and the need to let information live in a geographic location? An island only works if one sets up an ocean and keeps somethings out and lets some things in. But that is why islands have to be temporary. Walls may sometimes be necessarily, but eventually they a door put in, or they should be knocked down entirely.

B: So your ideal setting for cultivating difference is a classroom? Whatever happened to ‘don’t let school in the way of your education.’

Z: Auto-didacticism is bigger than ever. Everyone needs to get uncool about some topics or idea. But all the interesting stuff happens at the fringes, and overlap is easier when there a multiple humans involved. That way they have to translate things. Translation implies mutation and iteration and the mental models that are created are not just internal, they become manifest outside the brain.

A perfect example is a a drawing studio. Here is a place where people go out on their own and meditate on the visible world, and slowly find ways to translate 3 dimensional space into two dimensional artifacts. But more importantly many different humans with different eyes, and wrists and artifacts come together, hang their drawings on the wall and critique them. By making things public in a physical manner, all the participants can look at a RANGE of work, make assessments, steal good ideas, and then go back and make another iteration, and the process is repeated. We have system that is coherent and starts to take off in really interesting directions. I know ‘Interesting’ is a vague word, but ask any systems theorist when a system is complex and they will say when it is ‘interesting’. ‘Interesting’ like ‘information’ is weird.

The kind of iterative, local, and highly intense collaborative visual research one experiences in a drawing studio is similar to the way that many biological systems work when they are in formation. It can happen remotely as well in an online community space such as a blog or wiki, but the more distributed and the more asynchronous the sharing the less instant adjustment and accountability that exists. I think that many more learning environments should be based on the model of the drawing studio. Project based learning that aims for complexity.

B: Okay so back to those disappearing humans. Other ripping ourselves apart what is happening at the genetic level?

Z: Where do I begin? Its horrible. The economic drivers and the technological development are far outpacing policy or philosophical developments when it comes to biotechnology. Just to give you one example humans will soon have a favorite chromosome on the human genome. What I mean is that the intellectual property regime of Patents is being inappropriately applied to the human genome. The number of patents on the human genome are exploding. As you know, different chromosomes on the genome have different lengths, and also contain varying amounts of information that biotech companies can patent. So before we even begin to talk about Eugenics, lets keep it simple and just say there is going to be a favorite chromosome before the decade is out.

And because this is America and because this is capitalism BIGGER is BETTER. Given the flows of capital into, and genetic material out of, sperm banks in the U.S. we already know that blond, blue-eyed children are being selected for. Parents are willing to pay so that their daughters have biologically induced large, pert, breasts. have you scene the rates of ‘artificial’ breast augmentation recently? We know this is going to happen. Little kids will go to bed with stuffed animals of Chromosome XX. Parents will tell their children to grow up to be like Chromosome XX. Chromosome XX is the BIGGEST and the RICHEST.

B: Okay, and the end of the planet?

Z: Information Pollution is spurning Environmental Pollution. But the solution will be many faceted, and will require networks of local initiatives that are clustered, and then linked. We should not just turn our forests and oceans into Carbon Capturing Machines.

There will be no top-down solution to this problem. The solutions will require the base of the pyramid getting access to production as far up stream as possible. Recycling cans is not going to help anyone. Designers need to go as far upstream as possible, past the mass production all the way to the harvesting of resources. But artists can go even further. They can go further upstream than raw materials, and enter the minds of other humans.

One Comment

  1. andrea
    May 30, 2009 at 8:30 am

    i was just thinking about how we once used my birth control stickers to make soup night collages and was wondering if there was a record of that little project….glad to find it here

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