Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Algorithms of Power

Marilena Preda-Sânc, Globe (Glob, world globe, nails, 35 x 35 x 35 cm, 1999; via the Bucharest Biennale). Image Source: Pavilion.

The footage below of the ruined Syrian city of Homs below was circulated by RussiaWorks on Youtube on 2 February 2016. Business Insider cites the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria, which states that 13,301 people have died in the city since 2011. Business Insider also reports critically on the Russian video source:
"The video has not been independently verified but is similar to previous RussiaWorks productions, such as a video from January shot in the Damascus suburb of Darayya.

Speaking to Business Insider in October [2015] Boris [Z]ilberman, a Russia expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said: 'RussiaWorks is part of a slick campaign by the Kremlin to sell the war at home and project Russia as a military power.'

'The videos are put together by a number of Russian war correspondents/production folks that are tied to the Kremlin and probably have a lot of time on their hands — and some good drones — to make highly edited videos.'"
The Russians, with Iranian-backed Shia troops, are supporting Syrian government forces against Syrian opposition fighters and ISIS. On 20 April 2016, American analysts discussed these military movements into Aleppo, with Sunni civilians fleeing Aleppo ahead of the Russian, Syrian government's and Shia troops' advance:
"Russian aircraft, helicopters and troops have also been moving toward Aleppo over the past several weeks, they say. At the same time, hundreds of Iranian-backed Shia militia fighters are converging on the area to bolster existing regime forces.

'The Syrian regime seems to be driving towards the eventual isolation of opposition forces in and around Aleppo,' a U.S. intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.

The official said at least in the area north of Aleppo, Russian actions appeared to be in support of the Syrian regime, aimed at cutting off the supply lines for moderate opposition forces.

'We also see indications of fighting southwest of Aleppo between Syrian forces with Russian backing and opposition elements,' the official added.

Russian officials have long said their actions in Syria have been aimed at terror groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, and U.S. officials admit Russia has picked up the pace of airstrikes on terror targets.

But analysts caution the type of Russian equipment being sent to Aleppo suggests not just a different enemy in the short term but also a broader strategic endgame.

'Russia has begun to alter the shape of its own deployment,' Institute for the Study of War analyst Genevieve Casagrande said during a panel discussion Wednesday [20 April 2016]."

Video Source: RussiaWorks via Independent via Facebook. Also circulated on Youtube by RT.

Some argue that the Americans, particularly the CIA, the British, sometimes the French, and the Israelis are behind a masterful New World Order bid to turn the whole Middle East into a batch of western puppet states, with countries falling domino by domino, after a social-media-driven succession of Arab Springs gone wrong. That gives the Americans and supposed Illuminati too much credit. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is very much 'like father, like son'; the Syrian civil war resembles the 1982 Hama massacre, in which Hafez al-Assad crushed a Sunni uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood which had been brewing since 1976. The failed American bid to topple Assad by joining the Saudis to fund Syrian opposition forces - and some argue, ISIS, despite American battles with the group - has led to a disastrous foreign policy mess, which brings the drone-slinging Americans to what The Guardian called, "plan B."

Déjà vu: similarities between Shia-led crackdowns on majority Sunni uprisings in Syria. Image Source: Georgetown University via Ben Davies.

Plan B involves cooling the American alliance with Saudi Arabia and tentatively supporting Iran, leaving one to wonder where the Saudis will pivot, perhaps toward Russia. The picture: ISIS in Europe; Russia and Iran in Syria; the Saudis alienated by the Americans to temper Iran's nuclear ambitions. All eyes turn to Jordan, now sharing anti-ISIS intelligence with the Israelis and Egypt, terrified of a nuclear Iran. If Iran has nuclear weapons, some argue that other Middle Eastern countries should have them too, or none at all. Beyond the usual astronomical expenditure on weapons in the Middle East, what would a nuclear arms race there look like and where would it lead? There is already a conventional arms race. In 2015, USD $1.7 trillion was spent collectively by all powers on weapons of mass, medium and minor destruction; you can see a worldwide comparative chart here. Of that amount, Saudi Arabia spent USD $87.2 billion in 2015; in 2013, the country spent USD $67 billion, and USD $56 billion in 2012, which gives an idea of the kingdom's escalating anxieties.

RussiaWorks video of Russian troops fighting ISIS, Syrian desert (published 15 March 2016). Video Source: RussiaWorks via Youtube (Hat tip: World in War).

Even those numbers cannot compare with American, Chinese and Russian defense budgets. More chilling are weapons of high technology: "The Israeli army is now using robots which can climb stairs, fly and go through windows to take digital images. They can even detect the body heat of a hidden enemy."  As for the Americans specifically, the active US armed forces includes 1.4 million people, second after China. There is an interesting document online from Martin Dempsey, retired Commanding General of the United States Army and 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, entitled the US Army Operating Concept (AOC). This is the American Army's plan for World War III. It is continually updated, but the 19 August 2010 version of the plan for 2016 to 2028, with examples from American Iraqi and Afghan engagements, is here; it includes a comment on cyberwarfare:
"In the cyber/electromagnetic contest, significant advantage will go to the side that is able to gain, protect, and exploit advantages in the highly contested cyberspace domain and electromagnetic spectrum. As Army forces increase demand for cyber capabilities to support precision guidance, navigation, and communications, they must learn to operate information systems at peak capacities and when degraded or disrupted."
However, the real question of warfare is not about weapons or technology. The 2010 version quotes Sir John Keegan's The Face of Battle:
"What battles have in common is human: the behaviour of men struggling to reconcile their instinct for self-preservation, their sense of honour, and the achievement of some aim over which other men are ready to kill them. The study of battle is therefore always a study of fear, and usually of courage; always of leadership, usually of obedience; always of compulsion, sometimes of insubordination; always of anxiety, sometimes of elation or catharsis; always of uncertainty and doubt, misinformation and misapprehension, usually also of faith and sometimes of vision; always of violence, sometimes also of cruelty, selfsacrifice, compassion; above all, it is always a study of solidarity and usually also of disintegration – for it is toward the disintegration of human groups that battle is directed."
The 2014 executive summary of the AOC was subtitled: Win in a Complex World. The 2014 version is quoted as being preoccupied with coping with "unknown unknowns," with complex attempts to predict the future, to reassert rational operations procedures at the bleeding edge of human time, disintegration, and total irrationality. In 2015, General David G. Perkins was interviewed about the 2014 AOC by Army AL&T Magazine, cited by the US Army Acquisition Center:
"Changes pile on fast and furiously these days—that much is clear. The technology used by Soldiers five years hence is likely to be unrecognizable to today’s Soldiers. If a chessboard was ever an accurate analogy for the global security environment, the board has been upended. Tomorrow’s Soldiers will play a different game.

Who will the next generation’s enemy be? The new U.S. Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World, 2020-2040 (AOC) doesn’t attempt to predict the future—nor, necessarily, to answer that question directly. It does assess the current threat climate and extrapolates from there to help the Army plan for an unknown future. ...

ARMY AL&T: You have said, looking ahead to Force 2025 and Beyond, that 'Everybody’s got to change.' What does this mean for the Army AL&T community in the near, mid- and long term? What does it mean for the TRADOC requirements community?

PERKINS: If you look at the previous concept that I grew up in the Army with, AirLand Battle, [it was a] great concept, very intellectually rigorous, and drove a lot of change. AirLand Battle was written specifically to deal with the known: the Soviet Union in the central plains of Europe with NATO. We knew the enemy. We knew the location. We knew the coalition. This AOC, Win in a Complex World, is specifically to deal with the unknown. We don’t know who the enemy is. We don’t know where we will fight, and we have no idea who we’ll fight with. [It is] the same intellectual process: Who is the enemy, where do we fight and what’s the coalition? But a very different answer. When you look back at AirLand Battle, … it gets back to innovation. Everybody wants to innovate. Who wants to say, 'Hey, I’m a legacy guy. I just wanna keep what we have. Getting new stuff is very expensive and a waste of time. In fact, I just want to go back 10 years.' ...

Usually when you focus on differentiation exclusively, what happens is it takes a lot of time—a lot of testing involved, a lot of bureaucratic processes and all that, and so it takes you 10 years to build a tank. But, since you have a known enemy and you know what you’re going to use it for, even though it took you 10 years to build it, it gives you a level of differentiation for 20 or 30 years. The problem is, in an unknown world, that’s not what you have to focus on because you don’t know what your enemy has, you don’t know what you have to fight against and you don’t know what they’re going to do. You have to focus on rate of innovation rather than level of differentiation. So what you do in an unknown world is you start measuring the quality of innovation by the rate of innovation, the rate of change. ...

I constantly have to describe to folks the significant differences in this [new concept], which is unknown world versus known world, [and] rate of innovation. Another part of this is that we do gap analysis: Here’s the requirement that’s out there, here’s the requirement I have and here’s the delta gap. So we’re basically trying to manage shortages: Here’s the bad guy capability, here’s my capability, I have a gap, which means you’re basically letting the current enemy define what you focus on. The other thing we have to get better at is exploiting opportunities, whether it’s from a technology point of view or not. It really is a hybrid, both concepts and technology. There’s a symbiotic relationship there."
In the "delta gap," there is an underlying dark mystery, a compulsion toward disintegration. I cannot confirm this, but I remember reading a comparison of deaths across different conflicts in history, and noticing that wars generally continued until a certain common percentage of the population had died. That may be wrong, but in 2003, the New York Times observed: "Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history."

Oddly then, operating in conflict is now a form of predicting the future, which involves reconciling our ancient primal impulses toward disintegration and reassertions of control - with constant unknowable change. No wonder the path of the current world looks like a voyage into humanity's dark night of the soulFriedrich Nietzsche authored a famous quote:
"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."
In February 2010, Romanian artist Marilena Preda-Sânc attempted to describe this human process, where all sides violently and compulsively struggle from the known into the unknown, at terrible cost. Her video installation below is entitled, The Algorithms of Power.

Marilena Preda-Sânc, Algorithms of Power (2010). Video Source: Youtube.

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