“Everything in the world is, as we see it now, rule, order and form; but anarchy still lies in the ground, as if it could break through once again, and nowhere does it appear as if order and form were what is original but rather as if initial anarchy had been brought to order.” – F. W. J Schelling
For a long time now, the AGORA has served as the implicit structural model for every legitimate democratic politics.
Historically, the AGORA named the public space in which Greek citizens contested, proposed, and reflected upon political decisions and possibilities. It was located in a physical place, like the Agora of Athens, and citizens congregated there, first, to argue and orate and, later, to buy and sell goods and services. Jean-Pierre Vernant writes:
The Greeks found themselves with a certain form of social life and a kind of thought that in their own eyes constituted their originality and their superiority to the barbarian world: in place of the king who wielded his omnipotence without control or limit in the privacy of his palace, Greek political life aimed to become the subject of public debate, in the broad daylight of the agora, between citizens who were defined as equals and for whom the state was the common undertaking. In place of the old cosmogonies associated with royal rituals and myths of sovereignty, a new thought sought to base the order of the world on relations of symmetry, equilibrium, and equality among the various elements that made up the cosmos. (11)
From the structural model of the AGORA (note that the Ancient Greek word ἀγορά simply refers to “an assembly” or “a coming together”) comes the more contemporary sensibility of the marketplace of ideas, along with all its cognates and derivatives. Implied in this model is the assumption that providing such a space is enough to assure or promote the development of rational, or at least viable, decisional outcomes. Of course, the space the AGORA provides ostensibly imposes constraints or requirements on everyone who enters it. For example, open violence is forbidden in the AGORA, for the presence of undue compulsion disrupts the circulation and free exchange of ideas. Agon (from the word ἀγών, referring generally to “a competition,” “a contest,” or “a struggle”) must be bloodless in order to function properly, in order to avoid degenerating into feuds, tricks, and vendettas.
As such, the AGORA is supposed to foment two processes useful for regulating and sustaining a political community. On the one hand, there is a process of immunization. Displacing conflict into the AGORA is how a political community immunizes itself against (or delays) a hot civil war, if not a cold one. If you want your fellow citizens to pursue a course of action, then you have to persuade them, rather than force them. Instead of violence, the AGORA introduces a cross-checking method into the process of political decision-making. By opening up that process and incorporating all the relevant stakeholders, the decision (about whatever) gets cross-checked, refined or revised, and thereby legitimated.
A fundamental assumption here is that passing through the crucible of the AGORA filters or optimizes for fitness. The dysfunctional, or the false, or the undesirable are to be flensed away. Note that fitness can be defined variably here without any alteration in the function being described. For example, you might argue that exposing a knowledge claim or a practice to robust review necessarily improves its performance (John Dewey, Paul Feyerabend) or its truth quotient (John Stuart Mill, C. S. Peirce, Karl Popper), or that groups of diverse problem solvers outperform both high-ability and homogeneous groups.
In this regard, we can see how the structural model of the AGORA undergirds, or underwrites, the democratic imaginary of what is politically possible. Insofar as democracy is theorized, or democracy gets invoked, the AGORA provides its conceptual foundation. It serves as the limit horizon beyond which can exist only the writhing dragons of autocracy. Here we can see how this AGORA and how the agora of ancient Greece both impose a similar constraint, for the “broad daylight” of the AGORA contrasts markedly with the dark domain of barbarian principles, enemies of civilization, exotic despots, and nomadic tribes. Despite the superficially wide spectrum of theoretical reframings (consider only a brief typology of democratic forms: deliberative, direct, liberal, procedural, radical, representative), the basic reference points of our democratic imaginary remain relatively invariant.
The structural model of the AGORA can be defined preliminarily as follows: the AGORA is a public space in which stakeholders freely exchange arguments, ideas, and proposals that substantively shape downstream political decisions. Translated into the commonplace language of our democratic imaginary, this means that, in order for democracy to function properly, there must be an accessible public sphere in which citizens can be recognized and/or represented adequately so as to effect the task of shared popular governance regulated by a common interest. Accordingly, citizens need access to informational channels enabling access to events and facts, which they then can process and refine in the agonistic space the AGORA provides. The AGORA may not guarantee perfect outcomes, but it is supposed to guarantee viable ones. And if outcomes are suboptimal, they can be revised, for such agonism iterates. Ostensibly, all that is needed for the AGORA to keep working is for (enough? the right?) stakeholders to opt in.
But there’s a problem.
The AGORA is a bad structural model – or, at least, it’s a bad model for politics given systemic political decay. There is a false dichotomy that haunts our thinking, which necessarily opposes the AGORA (in any of its superficially protean forms) to the specter of autocracy. So the story goes, autocracy is always threatening to materialize, and autocracy materializes principally when the AGORA is abandoned, or when it falls into extraordinary disrepair. Accordingly, and purportedly, for so long as the AGORA remains populated by active stakeholders, it cannot really fail. It cannot fail because all it requires to do its work is a ceaseless flow of inputs from stakeholders, inputs optimize and transform simply by means of their circulation and free exchange. Cross-checking always wins. From this perspective, as long as the AGORA exists, it functions like a grand and self-perpetuating alchemical engine, refining the base material of inchoate chatter into evermore optimized forms over time. (You can map any number of live issue areas today onto the model the AGORA provides: free speech, market efficiency, moral or historical progress, the raw power of innovation, technological development, etc.)
So why is the AGORA a bad model?
It is a bad model because it can function as described only provided a certain set of disruptions never manifest in the AGORA. Call these disruptions the three pathologies of the AGORA, which are themselves the major factors of systemic political decay: cacophony, hegemony, and sovereignty. Obviously, all three terms – and especially the latter two – have complex conceptual genealogies attached to them, which inform my use here (e.g., see Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, and Antonio Gramsci on hegemony; see Hannah Arendt, Georges Bataille, and Carl Schmitt on sovereignty). That being said, disregard those genealogies for now. Instead, consider the three pathologies of the AGORA as follows:
Cacophony refers to the oversaturation of the AGORA with noise. You can figure noise as abstractly or as concretely as you like: it is the excessive volume of conflicting or random signals that disrupt and overwhelm an agent’s ability to parse and process information. Signals may presuppose background noise, to one degree another (François J. Bonnet, Michel Serres), but too much noise increases signal degradation unto death (i.e., signal loss), or else makes identifying or locating a specific signal difficult or even impossible. When cacophony comes to the AGORA, the free exchange of ideas stops, because exchange becomes impossible, because the receipt of transmissions, effectively, gets interdicted. Signals can’t be swapped, so the AGORA shuts down. (Note an irony here. Cacophony can also be the byproduct of an overexpression of the AGORA’s core function. The AGORA needs a multitude of signals, or voices, but too many signals and everything starts getting noisier and noisier…)
Hegemony refers to the overwhelming domination of the AGORA by a stakeholder (or a group of stakeholders) constituting the hegemon. Domination here entails the effective capture of the medium of propagation itself. Call this controlling the field, or owning the terms of the debate, or stacking the deck, or weaponizing the media (media in the broadest possible sense). In hegemony, the array of conceptual or discursive options available to a subordinate stakeholder are subject excessively to the controls and directives of the hegemon. When hegemony comes to the AGORA, you could say a cloud of unknowing descends, such that all subordinate stakeholders can make their contestations and submit their proposals only by employing or rearranging the hegemonic terms imposed upon them. Hegemony obliterates or occludes the inputs the AGORA needs to do its work. Indeed, it transforms those inputs into yet further iterations of itself. And note the degree to which the most effective hegemony camouflages itself. The camouflage is necessary because the invisibility of hegemony precludes any meaningful contestation of its reach, much less an abrogation of that reach. Fish can’t see water. Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen (whereof one cannot speak, thereof must one be silent): these are the words of power.
Sovereignty refers to the overconcentration of procedural or regulatory influence that enables direct intervention in the composition or structure (the νόμος, or nomos) of the AGORA itself. “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.” In other words, the sovereign alone possesses the power to change the “rules,” the rules that process and structure inputs from all other stakeholders. Deciding on what constitutes an exception means deciding when a given rule obtains, or when that rule is to be suspended. When sovereignty comes to the AGORA, the flow of inputs from stakeholders gets redirected, revaluated, or shut down by fiat (and “thus the people were by force and fraud made to resolve upon their own ruin”). Insofar as the structural model of the AGORA presumes to be self-regulating in some capacity, a sovereign captures the regulatory apparatus and distorts that apparatus to its own benefit. Sovereignty thereby disrupts the function of the AGORA because it rewrites what is possible and impossible, precisely by virtue of its sovereign intervention.
Notice how each of the three pathologies of the AGORA derives from the overaccumulation of technical debt: too much noise, too much capture, too much intervention. Technical debt compounds itself forever. Hence, defenses of the AGORA tend to return again and again to the structural model of the AGORA. Whenever a pathology does get acknowledged, it is always again the structural model that gets invoked in order to correct, ward off, or warn against the pathology in question. (Think if your doctor only provided colorful descriptions of health and then proposed such descriptions as the remedies for any sickness afflicting you.) This rapidly leads to an infinite regress – an autoimmunitarian spiral – in which redressing the pathologies of the AGORA requires a return to the AGORA, which intensifies the pathologies of the AGORA, which necessitates a return to the AGORA, which… My point is that the three pathologies of the AGORA preclude resolution in the AGORA, at least insofar as these pathologies have intensified to such a degree that they genuinely disrupt its function. (From the perspective of the AGORA, of course, this observation constitutes a form of apostasy, because it is suspending the AGORA, or departing from it, even temporarily, that ostensibly guarantees the recurrence of autocracy, the condition of primal exteriority.)
To clarify the role played by the three pathologies of the AGORA, consider this analogy: Imagine you’re playing a game. The game has pieces you move about, and the range of possible moves is constrained and produced by the rules. No pieces, no rules, no game. Here are three possible disruptions of the game: (1) The other players scream constantly at such a high volume as to preclude any of your moves. Maybe the other players are oblivious or rude, or maybe it’s a strategic ploy intended to impede your plans. In any case, after a certain duration or intensity of the screaming, the game can no longer proceed. (2) You get no pieces, or you are forbidden from moving, or your moves are decided by other players. Constraints are necessarily part of every game, of course, but if there are too many constraints, or if they’re imposed too asymmetrically, then any game will founder. (3) Other players get to adjust the rules continually to their benefit and your disbenefit. You always remain obligated by whatever rules currently apply.
Cacophony, hegemony, sovereignty. Faced with any (or all) of these disruptions, what would you do?
In contrast to the AGORA, we need an alternative structural model of political possibility. Call this alternative model the ARCHIPELAGO.
Geographically, an archipelago is a chain of islands that coexist in the same oceanic region. In the most generic sense, an archipelago is just the collective noun for a group of islands. Most archipelagos, however, consist of oceanic islands originating from volcanic activity. They form when volcanoes erupt on the seafloor, close to tectonic plate boundaries. As tectonic plates shift, lava forms mid-ocean ridges, and when parts of these ridges break the surface, volcanic islands emerge. A chain of such islands, also known as an island arc, is the paradigm case of an archipelago.
Abstracting away from a strictly geographical register, we can derive a number of distinct conceptual or speculative features that characterize the ARCHIPELAGO as a structural model.
At the uppermost level of the ARCHIPELAGO model, there is the discrete colocation of individual islands. Each island is discrete, that is to say, distinct from every other island in the island arc. The watery passages or straits between islands separate them, yes, but, like borders, such passages simultaneously divide and provide sites through which the meaningful circulation of bodies, goods, symbols, and weathers transpires. Water is a fluid boundary, a zone of transit; the seas have depths. Accordingly, the colocation of islands in an archipelago refers to the discontiguous continuity of the island chain or grouping itself. An ARCHIPELAGO is a network structure: it is neither a mere coming together of disparate elements nor the mere background or site for such a coming together. Islands in an archipelago are colocated because they exist in the same locality, as part of the same island arc, but they are also discrete insofar as you need more than one island in order to have an archipelago in the first place.
One level down in the ARCHIPELAGO model, we discover the subterranean mode of association that constitutes the physical structure of the island arc. The discrete quality of individual islands (along with their respective biogeographies, cultures, and microclimates) largely takes place on and around their surface land mass, but there is an occult network beneath the surface of the sea. Leave the marvel-shadowed islands, swim out past the brooding reefs, and dive down through black abysses. Go deeper – slip beneath the obscuring waves – and you will find the secret geological affinities that link all the islands in the archipelago together. Mid-ocean ridges and volcanoes form seafloor mountain ranges, of which the visible surface islands are only peaks. So most of an archipelago (sometimes called the archipelagic apron) is actually submerged. This is what I mean by a subterranean mode of association: the ARCHIPELAGO is a network, and nodes in the network are linked. Indeed, their linkage is necessary condition for an ARCHIPELAGO at all. But the network links between each node are not readily visible. They have been encrypted.
Go even deeper now – take your Iron Mole and penetrate beneath the subaquatic striations of ocean crust – and you will find the geotraumatic origins of every ARCHIPELAGO. As tectonic plates shift, tensional stress fractures the Earth’s lithosphere, resulting in a variety of geological phenomena, from magma activity to seafloor spreading. Everything visible on the surface of our world is but the jagged remains of its infernal interiority (“the repercussion of a primal Hadean trauma in the material unconscious”). We live among the scattered bones of the Earth. Directly below your feet at all times, far down below the crust, is the black blazing world that birthed you. Accordingly, high island formation is always the result of geotraumatic activity, and island arcs, or archipelagoes, are the ellipses and traces of that ongoing primal trauma… How does Heraclitus have it? “War is father of all and king of all.” The subterranean mode of association that composes an ARCHIPELAGO leads down to the dramas of the depths, to the shearing tensions and torsions that ultimately produce the world of visible forms.
Consider here J. G. Ballard’s 1964 short story “The Volcano Dances.” The story follows Charles Vandervell, a British expatriate living in a house situated on the slopes of an active volcano. The locals have largely evacuated, save for a mendicant “stick-dancer” temporarily living just outside of Vandervell’s house and performing his apotropaisms or venerations to the burning mountain. Vandervell is fascinated by the dancing man, one of the few other humans who remains in the increasingly blasted landscape – and who seems, like Vandervell, to bear an active, if obscure relation to the geotraumatic site that looms increasing visible. Throughout the story, Vandervell announces his search for another volcano enthusiast (or, perhaps, fetishist would be more apt…), named Springman. For Springman has already committed himself to the fiery wound, or so it it seems: “‘I’m looking for Springman. I think he came here three months ago.’ ‘Where is he? Up in the village?’ ‘I doubt it. He’s probably five thousand miles under our feet, sucked down by the back-pressure. A century from now he’ll come up through Vesuvius.’ ‘I hope not.’ ‘Have you thought of that, though? It’s a wonderful idea.’ […] Cinders hissed in the roof tank, spitting faintly like boiling rain. ‘Think of them, Gloria – Pompeiian matrons, Aztec virgins, bits of old Prometheus himself, they’re raining down on the just and the unjust.’” The story ends as the volcanic activity continues to intensify, approaching a full-fledged magmatic eruption, and Vandervell’s companion, Gloria, discovers him absent. Fire licks at the rim of the crater. The volcano dances.
Define the structural model of the ARCHIPELAGO like this: the ARCHIPELAGO is a discontiguous network space, neither public nor private, and it is populated by discrete stakeholders (or groups of stakeholders) in variable and various conditions of colocation, stakeholders whose modes of association are subterranean yet manifold. (Recall Herbert A. Simon’s parable of the two watchmakers. Lovisa Sundin summarizes Simon’s concept of “near-decomposability” like this: “Imagine two watchmakers constructing equally complex watches that each consist of 1000 elementary units. One watchmaker constructs his so that if he had assembled some parts and then was disturbed the watch would fall into pieces and would have to be reassembled from scratch. As a result, he quickly runs out of business. The other watchmaker organizes his watch into stable subassemblies of ten parts each, to make up a super-assembly of ten, and so on. If he is disturbed, the watch would fall back on the last intermediate subassembly level. His work loss is therefore smaller by orders of magnitude. Needless to say, he prospered. The gist is that systems analyzable into successive sets of subsystems evolve more rapidly than non-hierarchic systems, because the time it takes to achieve complexity depends on the number of potential intermediates. In the survival of the stable, only hierarchies have time to evolve.”) Underlying or even producing the ARCHIPELAGO is the shifting inorganic lifeworld of geotrauma. There is therefore an ineradicable instability or unruliness lurking underneath the foundations (you could say the pillars of the earth are magmatic flows), so nothing can be fully secured, but this very unruliness in fact gives rise to both islands and archipelagos – indeed, to the continents themselves. Contrast this kind of latent, productive instability with the instability of the AGORA, which does not presuppose cacophony, hegemony, or sovereignty, but rather only falters whenever these disruptions manifest. In other words, the ARCHIPELAGO enables the projection of political possibility on the basis of complex, partial, and shifting dynamics of occlusion, association, and formation.
Exploring the ARCHIPELAGO (1): social media
Thinking like an archipelago has figured before in the history of thought. For example, the Caribbean theorist and writer Édouard Glissant advocates and articulates in his work what we may term a process of “archipelagic thought” (“by which he has in mind the thought that emanates from the Caribbean archipelago and that somehow resembles it”). For Glissant, every philosophy is also a geography, and the form of the archipelago, viewed as a model for thinking, contrasts productively with continental form.
What, then, is Glissant’s archipelago? Principally, the archipelago stands in conceptual opposition to the continent – that is, to the authoritative, the centralized, the stable. Fixed ground contrasts with liminal and motile meshworks. In the archipelago, ambiguous, chaotic, and complex trajectories intertwine and recombine. An archipelago isn’t a single island, nor is it the merely fluid expanse of the sea. It is a mode of association that relates islands to each other in negotiable and negotiated formations – and also to the mainlands they explicitly are not, but to which they nonetheless bear many and variegated relations.
Insofar as there is a difference between Glissant’s archipelago and the ARCHIPELAGO, it operates by differentiating the latter from Glissant’s sense of the archipelago form as a paradigm for the world as a whole. For Glissant, archipelagic thinking involves acts of productive seeing, in which what appears at first to be monolithic, totalizing, or unitary gets broken apart, intermingled, particularized, singularized. “Le monde entier s’archipélise” (the entire world is becoming an archipelago). By contrast, the ARCHIPELAGO, intended as a nevertheless (para?)democratic alternative to the open forum of the AGORA, provides a structural model of political possibility, possibilities that remain always already partially occluded, largely encrypted or submerged, grounded in (and ungrounded by) materialist processes of ecological vermiculation and primal geotrauma: “For a solid body, the vermiculation of holes undermines the coherency between the circumferential surfaces and its solidity. The process of degenerating a solid body by corrupting the coherency of its surfaces is called ungrounding” (Negarestani).
To explore the ARCHIPELAGO further, let’s try to operationalize it, to look at an archipelagic possibility. What follows is therefore an attempt to see how archipelagic thinking could be used, as my proposal is that we need a different structural model to inform what we are doing, such that we can perceive and pursue pathways and strategies beyond the AGORA. In future posts, I hope to explore further such attempts in relation to information filtering (or the news) and political action. For now, though, let’s take a closer look at social media.
4chan and Facebook are the two social media platforms epitomizing the social media framework that dominates our digital environment, and, perhaps surprisingly, both are modeled after the AGORA.
On 4chan, at least notionally, anonymity prevails. Users make posts without revealing their identity, which means that each post gets attributed to an impersonal collective subject referred to as Anonymous – it is everyone and no one, almost like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, muttering to itself about everything from board games and guns to politics and porn. By contrast, Facebook (again, notionally, at least) aspires to something like complete user transparency and content control.
This was incepted by Facebook from the very start. The Facebook profile isn’t just an avatar or a handle, an instrument used to chat with friends and sift through information. To the contrary, it is a digital persona that Facebook encourages the user to identify with in no uncertain terms (note here the fundamental weirdness of the Timeline, which encourages the user to log backdated events for comment and display, such as things that happened long before Facebook even existed, like the user’s birth, deaths, graduations, and marriages…). The platform was literally built to trick you into unconsciously confusing every aspect of your digital persona with yourself, in order better to harvest and sell your virtual organs for ad revenue. And don’t forget: The digital persona embodied in your Facebook profile never sleeps. It just sits there, a strangely motile data point in a slowly unfolding infrastructural plot. We’re deep in voodoo territory. It’s a zombie puppet, and you have to manage it pretty carefully if you don’t want to give the wrong impression or misrepresent yourself to everyone in your social network.
That isn’t really a concern on 4chan, and, despite 4chan’s generally controversial reputation, it obviously instantiates one version of the AGORA model. So the story goes, user anonymity ensures that users will be frank, at least, and that safeguard (i.e., of anonymity) supposedly functions as a filter for downstream conclusions or content, as ultimately some kind of filter for truth or, at worst, for less falsity. In the marketplace of ideas, after all, good and true ideas are supposed to win by dint of their greater fitness (assume that truth is always good for living…). And giving people a place to be wrong without overwhelming social repercussions furthermore exposes them to the very means of becoming less wrong. Undeniably, there is an extraordinarily high noise to signal ratio in a forum like 4chan, and only a fool could miss the degree of deception, fabrication, irony, and memetic and verbal offgassing constantly manifesting on the imageboards. Nevertheless, an AGORA is supposed to be able to survive bad or imperfect speech precisely by iterating its stakeholders through further deliberation and away from deleterious or nonviable outcomes. What’s that old saw? The only cure for bad speech is more speech.
Facebook instantiates yet another version of the AGORA model. On Facebook, the regulatory ideal isn’t anonymity, but instead a form a transparency. After all, your Facebook profile is supposed to be you in some substantive sense. On Facebook, the notion is supposedly that, by verifying each user, and by enticing or requiring users to represent themselves directly, there will be some measure of forced accountability on the platform (at least for the userbase). It is that measure of accountability that’s intended to constrain and produce how users opt in (e.g., by disincentivizing defection by bad actors) and, implicitly, to incentivize accuracy or truthfulness in self-representation and content generation. Again we can detect the structural model of the AGORA lurking in the background.
Of course, all three pathologies of the AGORA afflict social media in all its forms (e.g., notice how discourse on 4chan tends toward virtually enforced repetitions of the same tired memes, anti-Semitic clichés, and extreme right talking points, or how abrupt changes in policy by Facebook offload accountability onto users as a surreptitious advertising or data capture strategy). The point isn’t that the AGORA breaks down or fails on 4chan and Facebook in some unique way, but that both fora endeavor to legitimate themselves by reference to the AGORA. 4chan and Facebook – these are digital paradigm cases of an AGORA rewired by pathology.
So what could a social media ARCHIPELAGO look like?
First and foremost, think of a social media ARCHIPELAGO in terms of discrete colocation. Rather than expecting any particular or singular social media platform to meet all your needs, focus instead on actively breaking up your social media presence into discrete digital personae with different faces, functions, and levels of encryption, interconnectivity, and opacity. To some extent, we already do this: messaging platforms like Kik or Telegram offer a kind of pseudo-anonymity for users who don’t want to thumbprint all their communications directly. But this strategy could be pursued more actively. Remember that anonymity or transparency is not the ultimate goal. Anonymity or transparency are just levels of access, or channels regulated by users to one degree or another. The ultimate goal is actually to perceive and pursue pathways and strategies beyond the AGORA. Regarding social media, such pathways and strategies already exist, dead but dreaming.
For example, there are plenty of social media platform alternatives floating around – Discord, ello, Mastodon, Matrix, Riot.im, Semaphor, Slack, Wickr, WT:Social, etc. The point isn’t that these alternative platforms “replace” the functionality of dominant social media platforms (although they are often described either as competitors, as if they were trying to replicate the dominant norms, or as failures, when they fail to attract a comparably sized userbase). Rather, what’s interesting about these platforms is precisely the extent to which they are, or can be more readily used as, discrete or partial platforms rather than as longstanding or legacy platforms. In this respect, at least, organization is suppression, so encrypted and purposive disorganization is a valuable countervailing force. Consider the radical – and, much more importantly, the useful – potential of such apps from our prehistory of the ARCHIPELAGO as AdNauseam and TrackMeNot. Now, imagine if you could do that for your entire identity. The imperative here is to carve up your digital personae into something more like a flock than a fixed identity. Individual users should be able to manipulate their digital personae as a discontiguous aggregate, a virtual herd of puppets who get deleted, encrypted, registered, replicated, and revealed at will.
Modeling social media (or social media use) after the ARCHIPELAGO allows subterranean modes of association not only between the partial platforms one employs to various ends (e.g., active communications, information filtering and updating), but also between disparate users or groups of users. In the AGORA, the idea is that cross-cutting exposure fosters the refinement and revision of information. In its pathological form, though, cross-cutting exposure in the AGORA makes information fester and provides it with a proliferating series of vectors by which to become pandemic in scope. By contrast, in the ARCHIPELAGO, the sequestration of identity and information alike has a positive function: it enables the construction of resilient networks of elective affinity and encrypted exchange. If the Leviathan can’t see you, then you can’t be eliminated – or, at least, not quite so easily. As I put it elsewhere, if you’re being hunted, attentionally or physically, then accurate representation is preface to capture. At the same time, however, it’s highly necessary to retain and to be able to initiate new channels of vermicular communication throughout the undercommons. If the sovereign can’t hear you, but you can still talk to each other, then you can start the dark, patient work of building new covens and enclaves, refuges, data havens, encrypted networks, private trackers, pirate radio, hidden fortresses, ghost dances, fugitive democracies… (A categorical imperative for the future we are building: “Can you work, with others or alone, to create places or networks that act as refuges from the unfolding storm?”)
Note, in conclusion, that an ARCHIPELAGO isn’t an echo chamber, for an ARCHIPELAGO is a foam-like, porous, or vermiculated structure (a kind of early structural prefiguration of the ontological protocols and utility fogs that must be developed in the near future). It very precisely isn’t a wall. Rather, it is a mode of regulating the transaction of affects and information across fluid, submerged boundaries, which circulate continuously and productively around discrete colocations of substance or surface. In this regard, a social media ARCHIPELAGO is actually platform neutral. What’s important is how the user marshals multiple digital personae and operationalizes digital presence in conjunction with others: the possibility of an ARCHIPELAGO.
Special thanks to Glen Goodrich, Brian Kobylarz, Matthew Murphy, and Christina Pierce-Tomlin for critical comments and productive conversations.