The Internet of Kings
The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan was an impostor. J.L. Borges describes him as a masked avenger of unbearable beauty but in actual fact the man whose name was Hakim, born in the land of Turkestan, a desert man, of voice so sweet for it contrasted with the gruesome mask, who once promised to reveal the face when every man on Earth professed the new law, turned out to be an ugly, cowardly, and defenseless surprise. The kind you squash with vigorous rigor and immediately forget, and go along with your daily business. This might indeed be the case of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The rise or emergence of “vertically-integrated global software companies used by millions” has been recently used as a template for understanding what has become of the techno-economic paradigms of the early century. This novel arrangement of the prevailing orders defies the use of old metaphors, this is what confronts any definition of actuality, what pits tribal federations against big cartels and if you look at it sideways you can see how it will be defined in the future, what it really is: Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Tencent.
The Internet of Kings is a political regime formally structured and stratified on the basis of territorial tenure and the varieties thereof, built on top of and powered by the “accidental megastructure” of global communication networks.
Kings have dashboards. Their relationship to science is the same as that of government to economics, they have enough resources to acquire personality, or a hint of character, an odor, an impression made upon the new methods to devise the new. They can observe and grant favor to certain trends, certain people. Kings influence what is around them to the point of global literacy or access, they are able to impress blindness upon their enemies, their devoted and their servants. Kings demand allegiances, they protect their own from external forces, a valuable gift in a new system without effective supervision and with only a sketch of rudimentary justice.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who shall never travel to Jordan or Saudi Arabia, silent about Guantanamo, never once heard uttering the word Gaza, impostor, wearer of Rolex, may well be a mercenary or a meaningless punishment with no staying power – at best – but he sure is plausible.
The establishment of the Caliphate brings home the fact that a successful, rapid and somewhat incomprehensible armed attempt to reorganize the maps is a sign not of possible madness but of the global repercussions that political opportunity can have in the early twenty-first century.Approval ratings for tyrants soar: it’s not only the hungry and the destitute that want to say yes to a new dress, that welcome the arrival of exponential growth made flesh, of a horizon where events are truly unpredictable and therefore completely overwhelming and irresistible. Capitalist democracies aren’t even able to withstand the attack of bullies, let alone the onset of a new mode of vassalage, pregnant with possibility.
The shift we are witnessing in the twenty-teens is an accelerated version of the transformation of the open-field system into a regime of enclosure. Gone are the commons and the original digital utopias, here are the times when “traditional Westphalian modes of political geography, jurisdiction, and sovereignty” are distorted and deformed by above and below to the point of ridicule. The effort to understand the current geopolitics of informationalism can only benefit from a closer look at the Sovereigns and their vision, at the underlying implications of the establishment of parasitic microsovereignties which are at the same time too interconnected and too eager to emancipate themselves from the governance models of the 20th century.
The Internet of Kings is thus the software and hardware equivalent of something like the Caliphate, an eruption of new laws and new borders, new territories that will owe their stability and legitimacy not to the authority of our legacy systems but to the specifics and the power of each kingdom as it establishes itself against the background of capitalist democracies. An eruption of new leaders.
In the wildness of the digital universe live many fabulous and powerful creatures. It is not intelligence that simmers just below the visible structure and calling it artificial perpetuates a mistake that some cultures have been wise to avoid: in this imaginary landscape of castles made of light, of royalty and wizardry made of code, how could there not be a dark forest of mysterious qualities, a forbidden and uncharted night where metabolism and replication are left to evolve the kind of brutal fauna that inspires legends and dreams of colonialism?
Google’s acquisition of DeepMind, Nest and Dropcam felt like a quiet announcement of such kind of presence in the realm. Kings have armies, but really wise Kings invest in long-term education, they hire tutors. Video games, temperature and sight are important concepts for a young, distributed and knowledge-hungry learning machine – for that kind of being, companies are the equivalent of books. The truth is that some of the mutant forest creatures grow under the severe or benign tutelage of the global internet stacks and Larry Page, Gothic high-tech mogul, capable of arguing in a concise and prescient manner about the necessity of redistributing labor, able to call the bluff on the European Austerity, believer in Calfornian Abundance, turns out to be quite specific on the political importance of long-term strategic thinking. He is not alone.
Kings do not want to be subjected to election cycles because they are haunted by visions.
“Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism. It was a condition of bondage which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.
Serfs who occupied a plot of land were required to work for the Lord of the Manor who owned that land, and in return were entitled to protection, justice and the right to exploit certain fields within the manor to maintain their own subsistence.Serfs were often required not only to work on the lord’s fields, but also his mines, forests and roads.
The manor formed the basic unit of feudal society and the Lord of the Manor and his serfs were bound legally, economically, and socially. Serfs formed the lowest social class of feudal society.”
The Secret of Primitive Accumulation is an ancient tale about freedom and bondage, it tells us about how the two apparently opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other like hot and cold, light and dark, people and money. Once, goes the tale, the means of production were violently privatized and taken away from the many by the few. “In letters of blood and fire”, this expropriation created a new class of homeless and landless travelers who roamed the Earth looking for work. It is called primitive because it signals the genesis of a new world. The many were to become the recombinant DNA of this sudden and abundant species. It is called a secret because this monstrosity operates by means of a liberation, a revolution if you will, a turn of the key that unlocks the shackles only to become the instrument of a locked door.
People become measurable entities when, homeless and landless and divorced from the means of production, they are left to roam the Internet of Kings under the unblinking eye of the forest creatures. Predictive data analytics is just one of the many spells cast upon the city dwellers as they make their way through the comprehensive battle-space of a billion sensors and capacitors, through the haze of statistical layers that will make up the future’s urban smartness. Cattle is said to suffer a similar fate.
Hakim, The Veiled Prophet, was not the first to observe that the universe as we know it is a mistake, “an incompetent parody” from which we should do well to escape when seeking a better life. Perhaps his fictional recipe of disgust, or nausea, can be used as a sharp reminder of the vast array of tactics at our disposal for the fabrication of a better history.
Kings die, and in their wake often arises a new class of lesser men.
This essay was originally published by Yuri Sousa Lopes Pereira on stress.fm