Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

BLDGBLOG has a great post on architecture and fear (Via Reason Magazine). Starting quote:

""The next time a moth alights on your window sill," New Scientist warns, "watch what you say. Sure, it may look like an innocent visitor, irresistibly drawn to the light in your room, but it could actually be a spy – one of a new generation of cyborg insects with implants wired into their nerves to allow remote control of their movement" ... What fascinates me about this, though, much more than simply pointing out how advanced surveillance technology has become, is the fact that such statements would have been dismissed as absolute schizophrenia as little as two decades ago. Pointing out the window at insects as you whisper: They're listening..."

It's great futurism to think about. It reminds me of a combination of the mental illness part of Descartes meditation on Doubt with his argument about the evil demon/djinn. How can you know that something is true if you are mad? Are you really being watched? Or is it just an insect? How can you really know if you are being watched if the deceivers are quite powerful in their trickery? That insect really looks, sounds and moves like an insect, could it be a micro-surveillance platform?

Part of why I bring up Descartes is because his evil demon argument is quite powerful, especially when it pertains to trying to gain knowledge from illusions and deception. I think it relates quite well to the epistemology of conspiracy, or the work Intelligence agencies do to penetrate secret networks.

How do you gleam truth from sources that are an illusion? How exactly do you gain knowledge from an entity that is actively deceiving you? There have been some great examples throughout history of this line of questioning: the British Double Agent operations against the Germans come to mind, or the Russian penetration of both the CIA and the FBI counterintelligence wings (which turned certain chiefs quite paranoid). I can't imagine a better way to influence the "evil demon" side of perception management then to control the very apparatus - counterintelligence - that intelligence agencies rely on to not be deceived.

Update thought: Perhaps running along the lines of Descartes Meditation, I could say that Intelligence gathering can be problematic with a deceptive enemy (though not entirely problematic, because obviously there are intelligence gathering victories). On the other hand Intelligence analysis, which the Intelligence collection feeds into, is the equivalent of the "think" in "I think therefore I am". If nothing else, no matter how much deception an enemy projects into the intelligence feeds, one could take solace that reasoning, and the intelligence community equivalent of the mind, is ticking over on the problem. Of course, what if the "think" part of the intelligence community is also infiltrated by an "evil demon"?


Ortho said...

Münzenberg, thanks for pointing to an analysis of the connections between architecture and fear. I will definitely read the linked post soon.

Your thoughts on Descartes are interesting as well.

I think the first 3 lectures of Foucault's Security, Territory, Population, where he lays out spaces of security, is another approach to looking at architecture (often the organization of space) and fear (often gives rise to the creation of security mechanisms).

Also, I must suggest one of my favorite writers, Virilio. In two short interview collections (Pure War and Politics of the Very Worst), he outlines the connections between architecture (in a built urban environment), war, and security/fear.

Münzenberg said...

ortho, thanks for the comment, I thought you'd be interested in this topic. I'll add Foucault's book to my reading list. I added Virilio's writings to my book pile when you recommended him last. I managed to pick up the Vision Machine and Original Accident. Hopefully I'll get to them with all the other reading I have to do. I'll add those other ones too. Thanks for that.

Two other books on the topic that look interesting, but I haven't read yet are: Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation by Eyal Weizman and Landscapes of Fear by I-Fu Tuan.

There is a blog on the topic of architecture and fear too:

Ortho said...

Münzenberg, thanks for the blog and book recommendations.

I'm familiar with Weizman's Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation. It's a brilliant exploration on the waging of war through the transformation of a landscape.

Have you seen Weizman's article, "The Art of War," from Frieze (May 2006)? I linked to it in the past. It's a somewhat condensed version of the argument he makes in Hollow Land. Here is a link to the article:

Münzenberg said...

no i had not seen that, reading it now. thanks.