This should probably be a newsletter, but you can’t drop embeds in them – which, tbh, is one of their strengths. Plus, after staying up ’til 4am, the night before the US Election, finishing the first draft of the final chapter in the series of newsletters that is Field Notes from the proto Invisibles Monastery and uploading it straight to Patreon, well, the thought of going back to finish all the parts in the middle has me needing to gather my strength a bit. And think things through in public a bit more.
This should really be a blogpost where I talk about reviewing Bruce Sterling’s latest novella, Pirate Utopia. But, despite getting an advance copy, I haven’t read a single word of that yet. (Sorry, Bruce.)
Instead, I literally just finished the book of his I picked up months ago in preparation for that, to compare it against in my mind. The classic cyberpunk book he wrote in 1988: Islands in the Net.
The glue that binds together this world of data pirates, mercenaries, nanotechnology, weaponry, and post-millennial voodoo is the global electronic net.
It’s amongst my favourite of his novels, but I hadn’t re-read it in years. So I plucked it from my cyberpunk bookshelf, and started reading it on the train back’n’forth from my writing class. It must’ve been having bumpy time, bouncing around inside my courier bag, ’cause that old paperback got battered pretty damn quick. And with it, my bibliophilic reputation was in tatters.
What immediately impressed me on re-reading it was just how close to our the near-future that book written two decades ago was. Sure, in it ‘net time is a scarcity, and everyone’s sending faxes still and watching videotapes… but the rest? Holy shit is it prescient.
The “net” that it’s all about is a globalist new world order (referred to as “Vienna” in the novel, after the Vienna Convention that brought about this realignment of planetary power structures). It’s the kind of thing Alex Jones rants about daily – hourly at times – to his legion of followers. The kind of thing we would’ve seen Hillary continue to build out for her Shadow State backers, if she’d managed to be on track to be appointed as Clinton II. A world where assassinations are carried out remotely by drones that are little more than toys.
The biggest difference between the world today and the world within Islands of Net though is that the islands in the net we have to contend with are more like the weights keeping it in place. As much as places like Iceland really wanna become “media havens,” it’s countries like Turks & Caicos, where the rich have been stashing their loot as “tax havens” – to the extent that trillions have been kept out of the global economy – that are the real islands. And they’re not rebelling against the new world order, they’re responsible for maintaining it.
Makes one wonder: if President-elect Trump is serious about rebuilding American’s infrastructure, just where will he get the estimated $US2-3 trillion he needs to do that properly? That’s assuming, of course, he’s not just setting up to raid the Republic’s coffers further, doll out all the contracts to his mates, and stash the loot in the same place as the rest of his elite buddies.
Because if I was a possible Kremlin spook proxy, I’d sure be sending over an undercover CIA agent, like Christopher Walken in the second of the Worricker film trilogy, to have a sit down with those peeps who’ve profited from fat contracts to build out the infrastructure of the prison planet, and stashed the cash offshore.
“Only a few years back, America was rich. We could go to war. We could fight all the wars we wanted, and nobody counted the cost.”
“You got ripped off?”
“Now it’s dusk in America and people are sore. It’s time for us to get our money back.”
To, at the very minimum, empty the bank accounts of my rivals. And it’s just one of the strategies that’s worked for Putin.
These are officially post-truth times we live in.
Their arrival was no surprise to those that were forewarned by Adam Curtis’s documentary, HyperNormalisation. Even less so to those that tuned in to get a preview of it on his buddy – and Black Mirror creator – Charlie Brooker’s end-of-year recap, The Wipe, back in 2014:
For others though, Trump’s ascendancy has been a major system shock. The sudden, jolting realisation that they’re deep within the postcyberpunk condition has been a rude awakening.
“How is it that every group I’m engaged with, from the boards I sit on to the conferences I attend, to the friends I eat dinner with, to the band I play with, to the companies I lead and invest in, to the schools and the universities my kids attend, to the pundits I follow…how is it that no one I’ve engaged with in an honest intellectual conversation over the past few months, NO ONE, thought it was possible that this could happen?” ~ WTF?!, John Battelle
This is the shattering of what Gordon White calls the Hologram – that self-reflective prism that the MSM has become. A fair’n’balanced echo chamber of opinion where the truth rarely leaks in, or out. And for all their initial revolutionary, CyberUtopian appeal, the big two social media companies, Twitter and Facebook, are just the new face of the mainstream news. Almost as if that was by design.
It’s why what I was feverishly writing about mere hours before the polls opened in the US amounted to: watch HyperNormalisation, watch Zero Days and gtfo public Twitter and for Crom’s sake, delete your Facebook account.
Because even if Total CyberWar isn’t coming, the Mind War is about to escalate and everyone on there is potential collateral damage.
But if Imperator Trump is good for anything at all, it’s waking people up to the true nature of the Empire they’ve been living in this century.
All that’s happened is that the velvet glove woven with the threads of liberalism has been torn off, and people can finally see the rough iron fist that lay underneath it.
It’s a period of great revelation, and people are not just seeking to stay woke… they’re finally mobilising.
First to escape & evade the Empire and its ally, the global Surveillance Marketing State, and then to regroup on the crypto backchannels to understand what’s happening, and plan what to do about it.
Which is the operative question: What is to be done?
For those of us that saw it all coming, there’s no time to waste with I told you so’s, because it’s past time to rally the troops and get to work.
And people are finally ready to do that.
That’s the real reason I haven’t had time to read Bruce’s new novella. I’ve been splitting my free time between setting up a staging area for the Resistance using a busted up, SIM-less old HTC Desire – like a real postcyberpunk thoughtcriminal – and working on my garden.
It’s why I’ve been so driven the past few months to finish the book – to the point of complete exhaustion at one point – and it’s only now, that the first draft is almost complete, that I’m putting together the pieces – joining the dots to find the throughlines – to realise just what I’ve really been trying to write this whole time.
Which is a great excuse to delay diving back in, and just pull back and zoom out a little and look upon my work.
Plus, there’s so much more to not just revise/expand, but that I want to add to it before it will be complete to my mind.
But most of that requires further research and reading and thinking hard. And I need to empty my mind completely first, before I can move on to the next stage. But of course, I’ve been filling up my wishlist with books to acquire when I’m ready to begin that.
But, as the tweet that began this post states, there’s one book I can’t buy.
Because it doesn’t exist.
That’s the work-within-the-work of Islands in the Net: “The Lawrence Doctrine and Post Industrial Insurgency” by Jonathan Gresham.
There was a book on the table, a thick looseleaf pamphlet. No spine, no title. Laura picked it up and opened it. Page after page of smudgy Xerox: The Lawrence Doctrine and Postindustrial Insurgency by Colonel Jonathan Gresham.
“Who’s Jonathan Gresham?” she said.
“He’s a genius,” Sticky said. He came back to the table with a carton of yogurt. “That’s not for you to read. Don’t even look. If Vienna knew you’d touched that book, you’d never see daylight again.”
She set it down carefully. “It’s just a book.”
And when your particular jam is writing samizdat for the prison planet… well, let me tell you about my influences.
Except, as the zeroth law states, in part: “it’s not a war, it’s a rescue mission.”
And as the question I attempted to convey in the last blogpost boiled down to: how do you adapt theories of war and insurgency to mount a planetary rescue mission?
What can you learn from studying not just Fourth Generation Warfare, but also NonLinear Warfare? What does a Technomad intent on ghosting through the Collapse of the Empire… what do they actually get up to?
Studying such theories, and then trying to adapt the techniques within to become something like the Rangers (Anla’Shok) of Babylon 5: “a military group dedicated to nothing less than preserving the future and all life. Even our enemy’s life, if possible.” That’s where I think the seeds of a Post Industrial Rescue Mission lie waiting.
Apparently, the first step is to sit on the train with a busted up old cyberpunk paperback, first using a complicated system of dog ears to mark key pages, then finally giving in, grabbing a highlighter and a finelinear, and underlining and highlighting key phrases and passages, and scribbling in the margins like… some crazy conspiracy theorist. (Hi, it me.)
Then you turn to your peers for suggestions. The fellows of IAS gave me a nice short-list to start with… that is, after I’ve read John Robb’s Brave New War, to my mind the closest thing to The Lawrence Doctrine… that currently exists.
They recommended the following two books as key texts:
- Manuel De Landa’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines
- Frans P. Osinga’s Science, Strategy, And War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd
Adding that “‘Spy Story’ from the Neil Gaiman run of Miracle Man is good futurism about anti-truth people in a truthful world.”
Which reminded me that a modern day team of would-be “cyber magicians” had a slide referencing that very unit amongst the deck of their PowerPoint presentation on The Art of Deception: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations:
Robert Anton Wilson once said:
“The border between the Real and the Unreal is not fixed, but just marks the last place where rival gangs of shamans fought each other to a standstill.“
If you want to understand the world we’re in now – the world of post-truth – that’s exactly what’s happening.
The Mind War you’re watching play out online involves rival gangs of shamans and cyber magicians battling to redefine- and blur – the borders of reality.
Like most wars, there’s plenty of people profiting from it.
Goldman and Wade often tell each other they aren’t creating anything that’s not already there, that they’re simply fanning it, that readers know not to take their hyperbole and embellishments seriously. And even if the comments suggest otherwise, they try not to pay them too much attention. People will say anything on Facebook, they remind themselves. They tell one another they’re only minor participants in a broader “meme war” between outlets such as The Other 98% (other98.com) on the left and Nation In Distress (facebook.com/NationInDistress) on the right, but then they see the protests in the streets, the divisions in America, and wonder if their work is making things worse. What if one of their readers actually does harm Soros? Would they be complicit? Is their website dangerous? Or is it savvy entrepreneurship?
The larger question is: are you actually gaining anything by participating in that? Or are you better served helping, in whatever way you can, to build something to help fix the world with? How do you oppose the Empire? Is that even possible? Or do you just bail altogether on it, salvaging what you can on the way out? Is reform even possible? Can you ever really change a system from within? Or are you better served constructing your own “islands” as the globalist net descends on the Earth.
As Jidenna advises us: “you can either lead, follow, or get out of the way.“
Which is why Field Notes from the proto Invisibles Monastery is, in part, about evading the Empire in order to survive the ever-escalating chaos we call “the Churn” in order to survive and live to build the next civilisation. It’s a modest project, obvz.
Islands in the Net ends with the globalist new world order being revealed as the spook-driven, “truth” controlling, tactical narrative spinning, terrorist enabling, proxy war fighting horror that, frankly, most Empires are; no matter what form they take, or front they adopt. Justifying their actions as it all being for the Greater Good; all in “the national interest.”
The globalist project stalls after this revelation, then reboots itself by absorbing the weirdness that’s been brewing at its edges – what people had been building within those islands.
It’s what most civilisations do in order to survive: fold in the counter-culture to re-form the mainstream. The centre can only hold by periodically absorbing the fringe.
Which is exactly what Jonathan Hickman was talking about in his excellent graphic novel that examines the nature of change, Pax Romana:
CR: So you can do this — achieve what seems impossible?
NC: We do not believe that achieving it is the problem — maintaining it will be.
EM: We will have to manufacture a fluid social and ethnic structure to eliminate the standard problems of most older societies like rigid social classes and subnationalism — plus, others will arise.
NC: Yes, man will evolve quickly, so as soon as possible we need a support structure in place for clearly identifying the most talented and ambitious citizens. We must keep them personally satisfied and out of government and our higher military ranks until our democracy is established.
CA: Then the problem will take care of itself.
CR: And that’s it, then. The course of human history — plotted.
Before we can fix the world, we need to go out to the edges, to the fringes, or just hide in plain sight, and build those islands. Safe in those sanctuaries, we can steal the future back.
Which is why Invisibles Monasteries…
John Robb’s Brave New War has been on my to-read list since I first stumbled on his blog, Global Guerrillas, back in the day. But he’s since moved on, to focus not war, but on building resilient communities:
Robb defines resilient communities as a social and economic development in response to a broken bureaucracy. Resilient communities are self-dependent, producing all critical goods (food, water, energy, security, etc.) locally rather than relying on a central supply system. Such communities do not separate themselves from society, but are prepared for any breakdown in society that might arise.
Which is his own rescue mission.
In Islands of the Net, towards the end, the reader finally encounters Jonathan Gresham, author of the work that’s inspired so many of the people the globalist spook state sees as its enemies; as terrorists.
He instantly disowns the work, insisting it’s been largely misinterpreted.
“You’re Colonel Jonathan Gresham, author of The Lawrence Doctrine and Postindustrial Insurgency?”
Gresham looked embarrassed. “Look, I was all wrong in that book. I didn’t know anything back then, it’s theory, half-ass bullshit mostly. You didn’t read it, did you?”
“No, but I know people who really thought the world of that book.”
She looked at Gresham. He looked like he’d been born in limbo and raised on the floor of hell. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Gresham mulled it over. “You heard about me from your jailers, huh? I know they’ve read my stuff. Vienna read it too-didn’t seem to do them much good, though.”
“It must mean something! Your bunch of guys on little bicycles just wiped out a whole convoy!”
As I enter another, final phase of dematerialisation, and prepare to finally go Full Technomad, there’s one book I definitely won’t be parting with.
One that maintains my status as a bibliophile.
When I was fortunate enough to travel through the Middle East, unknowingly drifting in during the short-lived “peacetime” between the Gulf Wars – and getting a first hand preview of the tensions that would come to the fore in the Arab Spring – I made a pilgrimage out to the desert. To Wadi Rum. Getting off an air-conditioned bus at an unmarked crossroad, and wandering over to meet the local berbers, drinking tea with them in the desert, communicating through gestures and drawing in the sand, before jumping onto the back of their beat-up old Hilux and racing through the desert to the sole building in Wadi Rum.
The first marauder returned at a trot, bearing the belt of the dead driver, with rows of bullets and a ring of keys. He studied Laura’s handcuffs alertly, picked the correct key at once, and clicked them loose. He gave her the cuffs and keys with a little half-bow and an elegant hand to his heart.
Other desert raiders-about two dozen-were looting the broken trucks. They were riding thin, skeletal dune buggies the size of jeeps, all tubes, spokes, and wire. The cars bounded along, agilely, quiet as bicycles, with a wiry scrunching of metal-mesh wheels and faint creak of springs. Their drivers were wrapped in cloaks and veils. They looked puffy, huge, and ghostlike. They steered from saddles over heaps of cargo lashed down under canvas…
She walked past him. The rest of his caravan had arrived, and the Tuaregs had set up camp. Not the rags and lean-tos they’d skulked under while raiding, but six large, sturdylooking shelters. They were prefabricated domes, covered in desert camo-fabric. Inside they were braced with mesh-linked metallic ribs.
From the backs of their skeletal desert cars, the hooded nomads were unrolling long linked tracks that looked like tank treads. In harsh afternoon sunlight the treads gleamed with black silicon. They were long racks of solar-power cells. They hooked the buggies’ wheel hubs to long jumper cables from the power grid. They moved with fluid ease; it was as if they were watering camels. They chatted quietly in Tamashek.
While one group was recharging their buggies, the others rolled out mats in the shade of one of the domes. They began brewing. tea with an electric heat coil. Laura joined them. They seemed mildly embarrassed by her presence, but accepted it as an interesting anomaly. One of them pulled a tube of protein from an ancient leather parcel and cracked it open over his knee. He offered her a wet handful, bowing. She scraped it from his long fingertips and ate it and thanked him.
Jan Chipchase made a many interesting observations in his piece, 61 Glimpses of the future, but one stood out to me above the rest: “After twenty years of promising to deliver, Chinese solar products are now practical (available for purchase, affordable, sufficiently efficient, robust) for any community on the edge-of-grid, anywhere in the world.”
We’ve come along way from when the lifestraw was being touted by CyberUtopians as a key piece of kit that could enable a person, or a community, to survive anywhere.
The advances in solar products the Chinese are making available isn’t just welcome news to future Technomads, and the wifi-oasses they might construct with them. It means that, for those wanting to escape the Grid – and thus the Empire – they could load up a few old Hiluxes with such tech, a few boxes of Soylent, a few bags of seeds, and some basic tools… and really go live anywhere.
To build eco-resilient communities, and reintegrate back into natural systems.
To go to the fringes and help field test a better future.
Or go help those already there, that are struggling, and could use allies in their fight. Not to save them, or show them a better way, but to work with them.
“I don’t understand.” It seemed so unfair. “What do you want?”
“I want freedom.” He fumbled in his duffel bag. “There’s more to us than you’d think, Laura, seeing us on the run like this. The Inadin Cultural Revolution-it’s not just another bullshit cover name, they are cultural, they’re fighting for it, dying for it… Not that what we have is pure and noble, but the lines crossed here. The line of population and the line of resources. They crossed in Africa at a place called disaster.
And after that everything’s more or less a muddle. And more or less a crime.”
Deja vu swept over her. She laughed quietly. “I’ve heard this before. In Grenada and Singapore, in the havens. You’re an islander too. A nomad island in a desert sea.” She paused. “I’m your enemy, Gresham.”
“I know that,” he told her. “I’m just pretending otherwise.”
“I belong out there, if I ever get back.”
“They’re my people. I have a husband and child I haven’t seen in two years.”
The news didn’t seem to surprise him. “You’ve been in the War,” he said: “You can go back to the place you called home, but it’s never the same.”
It was true. “I know it. I can feel it
Integrating into local cultures and the environment. Everybody and everything wins that way. Because fuck zero sum logic.
“Gresham, we have to figure how to hustle those Azanians. They’re old-fashioned, funny about information. They wouldn’t let me near their damned telex, and they’ll want to clear everything with Pretoria.”
“We don’t need them,” he said.
“We do if we want to reach the Net! And they’ll want to see the tape first-they’ll learn everything.
He shook his head. “Laura, look around you.”
She put down the mirror and humored him. They were in a dome. Fabric over metal ribs and chicken wire.
“You’re sitting under a satellite dish,” he told her.
She was stunned. “You access satellites?”
“How the hell else do you touch the Net from the middle of the Sahara? The coverage is spotty, but during the right tracking times you can make a pass.”
“How can you do that? Where does the money come from?” An awful thought struck her. “Gresham, are you running a data haven?”
“No. I used to deal with them, though. All the time.” He thought about it. “Maybe I should start my own haven now. The competition’s down, and I could use the bread.“
Two days after arriving in Wadi Rum – after recovering from food poisoning under the clear night sky, lying on a cement sack, watching an incredible meteor shower that lasted all night long – I was standing atop the remnants of the house of the man they called Lawrence of Arabia.
It felt important at the time, but I couldn’t have told you why. I hadn’t yet watched the famous biopic, and wouldn’t until after seeing Prometheus.
That night we all slept out in the desert under the stars; one of the most memorable nights of my life.
A decade and change later, I came across an original copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom in a book store and, despite really not having the money, I bought it anyway. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but maybe I now do. Like Pirate Utopias, it still remains unread. Sitting on my occult & esoteric bookshelf with all the other amazing works I’ve collected the past few years, waiting for the right moment to open them.
Because, if the legends are true, that’s the book I need to mine to the most, to study in-depth in order to write what’s next.
The pillows had a pleasant, resinous smell. They were full of grass seed. She saw that some were already half empty. They’d been sowing the grass in the gullies as they ran from pursuit.
Then think hard and apply all this to the rescue mission. Figure out how to evade the Empire and kick start the planetary restoration in one movement.
How else do you learn “the Lawrence Doctrine” but directly from the source?
“Colonel, did you know that your book on the Lawrence Doctrine is now a best-seller?”
“It was pirated,” Gresham said. “And expurgated.”
“Could you explain a bit of the doctrine for our viewers?”
“I suppose it’s preferable to having them read it,” Gresham said reluctantly. Feigned reluctance, Laura thought. “Over a century ago, Lawrence … he was British, First World War … discovered how a tribal society could defend itself from industrial imperialism… The Arab Revolt stopped the Turkish cultural advance, literally in its tracks. They did this with guerrilla assaults on the railroads and telegraphs, the Turkish industrial control system. For success, however, the Arabs were forced to use industrial artifacts-namely, guncotton, dynamite, and canned food. For us it is solar power, plastique, and single-cell protein.”
He paused. “The Arabs made the mistake of trusting the British, who were simply the Turks by another name. The First World War was a proto-Net civil war, and the Arabs were thrust aside. ‘Til oil came-then they were assimilated. Brave efforts like the Iranian revolt of 1979 were too little too late … they were already fighting for television.”
“Colonel-you speak as if you don’t expect anyone to sympathize.”
“I don’t. You live by your system. Vienna, Mali, Azania – it’s all imperial hardware, just different brand names.“
“The British political analyst Irwin Craighead has described you as `the first credible right-wing intellectual since T. E. Lawrence.’ ”
Gresham touched his veil. “I’m a postindustrial tribal anarchist. Is that considered `right-wing’ these days? You’ll have to ask Craighead.”
I’m sure Sir Irwin would be delighted to discuss definitions.”
“I’m not going to Britain-and if he tries to invade our zones, he’ll be ambushed like anyone else.”
Years after writing Islands in the Net, Bruce Sterling would coin the phrase “involuntary parks” to describe such places as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and the DMZ between the borders of North and South Korea. Areas that have “lost their value for technological instrumentalism” and become rewilded.
What Gresham, and his comrades in The Inadin Cultural Revolution, created were exclusion zones as an insurgent act. Sectioning off chunks of the desert to be under their protection, fighting off any incursion from the Empire, so they could manage their restoration, and gift them to future generations.
They ran more tape. Arbright asked Gresham about FACT.
“The Malian regime is finished,” Gresham said, “the submarine is just a detail,” and he began talking about Azanian “imperialism.” Detailing how roads could be land-mined, convoys ambushed, communication links cut, until Azanian “expansionism” was “no longer economically tenable.”
Then without warning he started in on plans to heal the desert. “Agriculture is the oldest and most vicious of humanity’s bio-technologies. Rather than deracinated farmers in Azanian sterilization camps, there should be wandering tribes of eco-decentralized activists…“
Earlier in Islands in the Net, the characters discussed the high tech machetes being produced by Singapore, largely for the Third World Market, and how such a simple piece of technology has devastating consequences for the forests of the world.
Prentis emerged. He was brandishing a yard-long scimitar.
“Jesus Christ!” David said.
“It’s from Singapore,” Prentis said. “They make ’em for the Third World market. You ever see one of these?” He waved it. David stepped backward. “It’s a machete,” Prentis said impatiently. “You’re a Texan, right? You must have seen a machete before.”
“Yeah,” David said. “For clearing brush …”
Prentis slammed the machete down, overhand. It hit the desk with a shriek. The desk’s corner flew off and hit the floor, spinning. The machete blade had sheared completely through the wooden desk. It had sliced off an eight-inch triangle of
tabletop, including two sections of desk wall and the back of a drawer.
Prentis picked up the severed chunk and set it on the desk like a little wooden pyramid. “Not a splinter! You want to give it a try, Dave?”
“No thanks,” David said.
Prentis grinned. “Go ahead! I can superglue it right back; I do this all the time. You’re sure?” He held the machete loosely, at arm’s length, and let it fall. It sank half an inch into the desktop.
“A wicked knife,” Prentis said, dusting his hands. “Maybe you think that’s dangerous, but you don’t see it all, yet. You know what that is? That’s peasant technology, brother. It’s slash-and-burn agriculture. You know what that might do to what’s left of the planet’s tropical forests? It’ll make every straw-hat Brazilian into Paul Bunyan, that’s what. The most dangerous bio-tech in the world is a guy with a goat and an axe.”
“Axe, hell,” David blurted, “that thing’s a monster! It can’t be legal!” He leaned toward the desk and scanned it with his glasses. “I can see I never thought this through…. I know we use ceramic blades in machine-tools… but that’s in factory settings, with safety standards! You can’t just sell ’em to all and sundry-it’s like handing out personal flame-throwers!”
Andrei spoke up. “Don’t tell us, David-tell Singapore. They are radical technical capitalists. They don’t care about forests-they have no forests to lose.”
Laura nodded. “That’s not farming, it’s mass destruction. That’ll have to be stopped,” she said.
Prentis shook his head. “We got one chance to stop it, and that’s to put every goddamn farmer in the world out of business.” He paused. “Yeah, honest old Mr. Yeoman Farmer, and the wife, and his million goddamn kids. They’re eating the planet alive.“
There’s a project to re-green the Sahara that’s been under way for some time now, with mixed success. In 2007, the African Union proposed the creation of the Great Green Wall, to be, as CNN report, “the largest living structure on the planet.”
The purpose was to provide a mighty barrier against the advance of the Sahara, and to reverse the plague of desertification spreading drought, famine and poverty through the Sahel region…
The projects has sky-high ambitions; to restore 50 million hectares of land, provide food security for 20 million people, create 350,000 jobs, and sequester 250 million tons of carbon.
It’s the kind of thing that gets design fiction types excited enough to start proposing ambitious projects to aid these efforts. Like Mangus Larsson’s plans to use a bacteria to 3D print a vast sandstone wall to “architecturally support the Green Wall Sahara initiative”:
A particular microorganism, Bacillus Pasteurii, is flushed through the dunescape (an analogy could be made to an oversized 3d printer), which causes a biological reaction that turns the sand into solid sandstone. The initial reactions finish within 24 hours; it would take about a week to saturate the sand enough to make the structure habitable. The bacteria are non-patogenic and die in the process of solidifying the sand.
The temperature difference between the interior of the solidified dunes and the exterior dune surface makes it possible to create nodal points that could both support water harvesting and inhabitable thermal comfort zones. In this way, we can start ‘growing’ controlled oases in the desert, and stop the sand from pushing people away from their homes and villages, which, in the worst-case scenario, may lead to huge migration floods, food shortages, wars, and other horrible situations.
Despite all the initial hype around the project, to the best of my knowledge there isn’t, as Geoff Manaugh wrote: “A vast 3D printer made of bacteria [that] crawls undetectably through the deserts of the world, printing new landscapes into existence over the course of 10,000 years.”
It turns out those doing the most work to reclaim the desert aren’t high tech visionaries. They’re the kind of “yeoman farmers” the globalists in Islands in the Net were disparaging and plotting to disrupt.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. Yet its farmers have been able to revive vast tracts of arid land with minimal investment.
“Niger has seen the largest positive transformation in the whole of Africa,” says Chris Reij, a sustainable land management specialist and Senior Fellow of the World Resources Institute, who has worked for decades in the Sahel.
The farmers of Niger practice natural regeneration of the land, using innovative practices such as reviving the roots of plants and trees, and digging “half-moon” pits to store water. Trees destroyed during droughts are allowed to recover over years, and then carefully maintained.
These methods have succeeded in restoring five million hectares of land, and around 200 million trees. Reij estimates this delivers an additional 500,000 tons of cereal grain a year, which is enough to feed 2.5 million people. The investment amounted to less than $20 per hectare.<
A critical factor was the weakness of the Niger government, says Reij, which allowed farmers to reclaim trees that had previously been the property of the state, and restore them to health. He is convinced that success must come from the bottom up, rather than through top-down interventions.
“We need enabling agricultural development policies and enabling forestry laws,” he says. “Unless the accent is put on empowering millions of smallholders to protect and manage trees, it won’t be possible to overcome land degradation.”
The practice of “farmer-managed natural regeneration” (FMNR) has since spread beyond Niger, and Reij points to successes in Malawi and Ethiopia where farmers have been allowed to control the process.
The poor farmers of Niger have shown those with billion dollar cheque books how to fix the planet. That it’s not about top-down control, but facilitating bottom-up rescue efforts. Working with the people already there, tapping into their traditional knowledge. Rather than dropping in some sorta SimCity-style, fix-the-planet geoengineering station.
Great Green Wall partners have recognized the progress of Niger, and the lessons have been incorporated into their programs.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is leading initiatives in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger using water conservation techniques and native crops, which have delivered impressive results.
“We are looking at restoration with a bottom-up approach,” says FAO Foresty Officer Nora Berrahmouni. “It’s not about planting x or y, but identifying species with the local communities and then supporting them. Sometimes you don’t need to plant anything, just to assist the natural regeneration of land.”
Behrrahmouni agrees with Reij that supporting low-cost, grass-roots work offers the best hope of reviving degraded landscapes.
“We can be really transformational if we build the capacities of communities to do it themselves,” she says. “Money is not the issue; the issue is capacity…If we invest in the real human capital of this region we can really achieve our objectives.”
There is a growing movement to redefine the Great Green Wall as something closer to a mosaic, abandoning plans for a vast forest in favor of a patchwork of greening initiatives tailored to local conditions.
“Our vision is a line of sustainably managed Sahelian landscapes that includes trees, managed wetlands, sustainable farmland, and well-protected rangeland,” says Davies.
This is a key lesson in how insurgent tactics might be modified to effect a planetary rescue mission.
But Bruce Sterling’s body of work has other lessons to offer. It’s almost as if there’s a thematic continuation that runs across his novels – from Islands in the Net and Heavy Weather… up until his last published full novel. As if he was running the infamous Viridian Design Movement mailing list in the 90s for a reason…
The day after I hit the final pages of that battered cyberpunk classic I’ve quoted so much from – by which time the back cover had fallen off as I was waiting for a train, grabbing it just in time from behind a railing – I plucked a later work of Bruce Sterling’s from my cyberpunk bookshelf. His great ubicomp book: The Caryatids.
Where Islands in the Net has a globalist new world order opposed only by islands of resistance and countries like Azanian (formerly South Africa) intent on building their own empires… in The Caryatids the planetary political system – after most nation states have collapsed as a result of climate chaos – is divided into two network-based, global civic societies: the capitalistic Dispensation and their more socialist counterparts, the Acquis.
Why did I pick that book up straight away? Because where Islands in the Net has Jonathan Gresham in the background for the most of the book, influencing the world with his great work, and ending by leading a resistance front to effect planetary rescue by any means… in The Caryatids, written a decade later, the revolutionaries are out in the open from the beginning. And there’s a great many ideas in there to fold in, if one was attempting to craft a Post Industrial Rescue Mission from fictional materials.
Herbert Fotheringay. The climate crisis had dealt harshly with Herbert’s home, his native island-continent. Australia had been a ribbon of green around a desert. Drought had turned Australia into a ribbon of black.
The Acquis was partial to recruiting people like Herbert, ambitious people who had survived the collapse of nation-states. The Acquis, as a political structure, had emerged from the failures of nations. The Acquis was a networked global civil society.
From the days of its origins in planetary anguish, the Acquis had never lacked for sturdy recruits. Herbert had been ferociously busy on Mljet for nine years.
Herbert awaited her at his latest construction project: another attention camp. Attention camps were built to house the planet’s “displaced,” which, in a climate crisis, could mean well nigh any person at almost any time. Attention camps were the cheapest and most effective way that the twenty-first century had yet invented to turn destitute people into agents of a general salvation.
Mljet was an experimental effort by a technical avant-garde, so its camps were small in scope compared with, say, the vast postdisaster slums of the ceaselessly troubled Balkans. So far, the island’s camps held a mere fifteen hundred refugees, most in the little districts of Govedjari and Zabrijeze. The refugees in Zabrijeze and Govedjari were among the wretched of the Earth, but with better tech support, they would transit through their unspeakable state to a state that was scarcely describable.
Because one of the questions we’re going to be facing more and more is: what do you do with the rising flood of climate refugees? You can build walls to keep them out, shoot at them, send the navy out to stop the boats… or, you can recruit from their numbers, not an army, but a global rescue mission squad. Let them heal, then give them the tools to heal the planet and find redemption in doing so.
Adapt the weapons of war – like mech suits you’ll soon see super soldiers wearing – into instruments of restoration.
Herbert’s exoskeleton, bone-white, huge, and crouching in a powered support rack, filled almost half his modest tent. Vera’s personal exo-skeleton was a pride of the Acquis and had cost as much as a bulldozer, but Herbert’s boneware was a local legend: when Herbert climbed within its curved and crooked rack, he wore full-scale siege machinery.
The burdens of administration generally kept Herbert busy, but when Herbert launched himself into direct action, he shook the earth. Herbert could tear up a brick house like a man breaking open a bread loaf; he could level a dead village like a one-man carnival.
Emily Dare wrote this great post, back in the Grinding daze – as part of The Grinder Dialogues – called Any tool is a weapon if you use it right. And part of what we’re talking about here is the exact opposite: any weapon is a tool… for the Restoration… if you use it right.
The Caryatids is full of heroic workers wading into toxic sacrifice zones to extract the poisons industrial civilisation left behind. Each person broken by the collapse of the world, and turning around to become agents of its restoration and their own in the process.
Life would go on. Surely it would. Because, despite every harm, distortion, insult, the island was recovering. Through her helmet’s face-plate, Vera could see that happening in grand detail. She was an agent of that redemption. She had an oath and a uniform, labor and training and tools. She belonged here.
How do all the pieces fit together? I’ll let you know. But the Acquis, boy are they ever a vital inspiration.
It’s a fair bet, that as I continue to re-read this book, out will come the highlighter and fineliner and I’ll be marking up all the Post Industrial Rescue Missions tips I can salvage from its pages.
Vera had obeyed Herbert anyway, because Herbert was willing to rescue Mljet. No one else of consequence seemed even willing to try. The Acquis were global revolutionaries. They got results in the world. They did some strange things, yes—but they never, ever stopped trying.
But before all else, I need to actually read Pirate Utopias and see what fresh gems I can salvage from Bruce Sterling’s mind, and write that up.
Then get back to finishing the first, raw “asteroid death cult” edition of Fields Notes… then both edit it down and expand it further for a wider audience of non-initiates.
Then vanish to an island – real or metaphorical – somewhere… with a tablet loaded with enough books to fill a medieval monastery’s library, and the beautiful 1st Edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom I salvaged from my previous life.
And do this all over again. But, with lessons learned.
So many lessons… and so many more field notes to make.
Okay, that was way too long. Again. Thanks for reading! This is just how I think rn, okay… don’t judge me!
“I talk too much,” he said sadly. “A theorist.”
Let’s end with a song, shall we?
Play us out you crazy revolutionary, post industrial insurgent Kel Tamashek:
Listen, people of the Kel Tamashek,
We are the Inadin, the blacksmiths.
We have always wandered among the tribes and clans,
We have always carried your messages.
Our fathers’ lives were better than ours,
Our grandfathers’ better still..
Once our people traveled everywhere,
Kano, Zanfara, Agadez.
Now we live in the cities and are turned into numbers and letters,
Now we live in the camps and eat magic food from tubes.
Our fathers had sweet milk and dates,
We have only nettles and thorns.
Why do we sufffer like this?
Is it the end of the world?
No, because we are not evil men,
No, because now we have tisma.
We are blacksmiths who have secret magic,
We are silversmiths who see the past and future.
In the past this was a rich and green land,
Now it is rock and. dust.
But where there is rock, there can be grass,
Where there is grass, the rain comes.
The roots of grass will hold the rain,
The leaves of grass will tame the sandstorm.
But we were the enemies of grass,
That is why we suffer.
What our cows did not eat, the sheep ate.
What the sheep refused, the goats consumed.
What the goats left behind, the camels devoured.
Now we must be the friends of grass,
We must apologize to it and treat it kindly.
Its enemies are our enemies.
We must kill the cow and the sheep,
We must butcher the goat and behead the camel.
For a thousand years we loved our herds,
For a thousand years we must praise the grass.
We will eat the tisma food to live,
We will buy Iron Camels from GoMotion
Unlimited in Santa Clara California.
I wonder if any of those new wave rock groups over there might record this sometime? It’s not a planetary restoration rescue mission if you can’t dance…
Featured image: Islands in the Net by Chris Moore.