In the Days of the Seasteaders part 4: Extropians on the Playa of Immanence 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Supposedly there was just platforms of solid soil floating out there, just like a pristine ploughed field on a raft, or sand, flat little desert islands where the CEOs only knew about them, go out there and live out their little Robinson Crusoe kinks. The soil would be algae solids, pass it through the digestive tract of a Brandling worm. But its what they did with it after that – some of them would eat it straight up, spooning it in, sometimes they would put it in tablets and you’d take a cure, a ‘Loam Cure’ they called it.  

That’s where the Vril cults made their credits, making the soil. I think maybe Vril was something to do with the worm, when it passes through it picks up a bit of magic. So the worm was like a God to them, it was a revered, sacred animal. We humans aren’t as independent as we like to think, we’re parasites, gotta feed off something, or pick up someone else’s waste to get by.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The accepted narrative of Seasteading’s history states that the idea came to Patri Friedman at the 2002 Burning Man festival[1] – Freidman is a long-term devotee of the festival, where he belongs to the ‘Future Camp’ community – ‘a group of futurists and transhumanists.’[2] Over the last decade Burning Man has become a ubiquitous part of the culture of silicon valley’s elite, somewhere for them to kick back and engage their atavistic desires. Sergey Brin, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg have all attended, with Musk going so far as to state that “Burning man is Silicon Valley.”[3] The presence of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs has met with widespread ire from long-term attendees, who criticise their closed compounds, yurts, air-conditioned R.V’s and celebrity chefs[4] as a perceived contradiction of the festival’s countercultural heritage.

burning_man_aerial
Fig.4, Aerial Photograph of ‘Black Rock City’ – Burning Man Festival (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burning_Man#/media/File:Burning_Man_aerial.jpg)

Burning Man describes itself as “a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.” The week long festival culminates in the dionesiac spectacle of ‘burning the man’ – the large central outdoor sculpture at the centre of BRC, and a symbolic standin for ‘the Man’ – the authoritarian Hippy/Liberal iteration of Lacan’s ‘Big Other’. The festival, which has grown exponentially since being established in 1986, now attracts nearly 70,000 visitors (known as ‘Burners’) and takes place in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, on a dry flat lake bed referred to as the ‘Playa’.[5] The vast semi-circular form of the festival is known as ‘Black Rock City’ or BRC, and functions as a sort of temporary autonomous zone for the period of the festival.[6] Nothing can be bought at the festival except for coffee and ice, participants are expected to bring everything they need and to provide for others freely.[7]

Burning Man is where Silicon Valley does its hiring and firing, (a google employee: “How do you think I ended up working at Google? I met Larry and Sergey on the playa…running around in full spandex bodysuits”[8]) it is where new startups secure seed funding, and the closest iteration of the Valley’s Libertarian-utopian values made flesh. The festival’s aesthetic is New-Age counterculture via Mad Max patchwork multiplicity, a nomadic anhedonia of weekend steampunks, endlessly searching the playa for social media-worthy photo opportunities. Yuri Pattison’s 2017 work context, collapse, sheltered (burning man edition), took a a piece of digitally augmented webcam footage of BRC, a disparate plane dotted with semi-constructed shelters, an occasional reveller criss-crossing the playa in ornate costume on a dune bike as the evening sunlight casts yellow through a dust cloud – the footage could be of refugees migrating out of a collapsing middle eastern state, except that no-one appears to know the right direction to take.

The footage is overlayed it with a rolling news ticker of algorithmically garbled psuedo-news and ‘bot generated hashtags, playing out on a screen sheltered within an upholstered privacy booth, the corporate furniture of blurred work/play. The setup shrewdly captures the contradictions of the Silicon Valley startup subculture, the booth perhaps offering the next logical step from the air conditioned R.V for executives seeking a more vicarious engagement with the festival.

5.-context-collapse_-installation-view-of-monitor_context-collapse-sheltered-burning-man-edition_copyright-the-artist-and-mothers-tankstation-limited-678x1024
Fig.5, Yuri Pattison. context, collapse, sheltered (burning man edition), 2017. Vitra Alcove Cabin, Networked Digital Signage monitors & media players, colour temperature adjustable LED panels, mineral oil, scale models, found footage, live news feed data, text processing algorithm, 137 x 230 x 154 cm. Unistrut support structure dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and mother’s tankstation limited, Dublin & London.

For the Silicon Valley Burners, the Playa is Deleuze’s Plane of Immanence complete with “disparate things and signs mov[ing] upon it…the plane of consistency is the abolition of all metaphor; all that consists is Real.”[9] – the background to the conditions in which new ideas are born, new lines of flight instantiated. The Playa is to the valley Burners what Negrastani’s desert is to radical Jihadis: “an ideal battlefield…the desert as militant horizontality.”[10] The burning of ‘The Man’ is their equivalent to the Jihadi’s purging of all erected structures, the Playa “a desert where no idol can be erected and all elevations must be burned down…If oil runs toward the desert, so does everything that is dissolved in it,”[11] – through the intertwining of High Frequency Trading software and accelerated hyper-capitalism the Valley’s Techno-Libertarians are most certainly dissolved in Oil.

Burning Man’s Playa represents the realm of the possible that techno-capitalism has internalised into its Mythos, an ideal space for play unrestricted by the interference of central government – the place where the Valley became Libertarian. Google/Alphabet CEO Larry Page echoed the sentiments of the Seasteaders when he made the case that tech firms should be granted special allowances at a 2013 Q&A:

we should set aside a small part of the world, like going to Burning Man, for example…As technologists, we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out what is the effect on society, what is the effect on people without having to deploy it into the normal world.[12]

While some see these libertarian tendencies creeping into the world of the American counterculture as a new and negative influence[13], the two have historically been far from mutually exclusive. Josephine Armistead sees the roots of NRx in Bill Gates’ 1976 Open Letter to Hobbyists, in which Gates moved to commodify and privatise the hacker/hobbyist world of computing, leading to a startup culture that “relied on a heirarchical, dictatorial model,”[14] sentiments echoed by Peter Thiel who has stated that: “A startup is basically structured as a monarchy. We don’t call it that … but the truth is that startups and founders lean toward the dictatorial side because that structure works better.”[15]

The wider American New-age and Hippy counterculture from which Burning Man and Silicon Valley takes its cues has long held a libertarian-compatible notion of Freedom, including freedom of speech and the right to transgression at its core. Angela Nagle traces the origins of the current alt-right neo-conservative moment back to the provocative impulse stretching through ‘60s happenings, ‘70s performance art and punk, with some internet trolls claiming their doxxing and harassment practices as a form of performance art.[16]

Silicon Valley primarily finds the outlet for its esoteric impulse in Transhumanism of the specifically self-improving kind. Thiel has invested heavily in anti-aging research including ‘Parabiosis’ startups offering therapeutic blood transfusion[17] whereby the blood of the young is used to combat ageing and disease in an older recipient.[18] Patri Friedman is a board member of the Transhumanist think tank Humanity+[19] (formally the world transhumanist association) and an advocate of ultra-monogamy – he and his wife taking vows “committing to marriage for multiple human lifetimes.”[20] Friedman and Thiel’s brand of Transhumanism falls within the Right-Libertarian leaning ‘Extropian’ school, those seeking to combat the entropy of the body, and break beyond the cybernetic temporality that in the CCRU’s terms “ensures that all human experience is of–and in-time.”[21] The Extropian school of thought is the reverse of the impulse found in the process of accelerated Hydrocarbon production, applied to the human body – in these processes of speeding up and slowing down we see a continuing tendency in contemporary techno-capitalism not to accept temporalities as a given.

If we are to see Silicon Valley’s NRx-tinged projects such as Seasteading as an act of Hyperstition ultimately serving a Landian acceleration of capital, then in the terms defined by the CCRU, it requires a mythos. The collaborative hyperstition blog from which the term was born bears a definition page entitled “Polytics: Elements of Hyperstition”, with the second element being:

Mythos. Comprehensive attribution of all signal (discoveries, theories, problems and approaches) to artificial agencies, allegiances, cultures and continentities. The proliferation of “carriers” (“Who says this?”) – multiplying perspectives and narrative fragments – produces a coherent but inherently disintegrated hyperstitional mythos while effecting a positive destruction of identity, authority and credibility.[22]

O’Sullivan identifies mythos as the critical aspect that delineates left and right-accelerationisms, where “myth is often at the service of a reactionary Right rather than a progressive Left,”[23] with the left’s rejection of mythos as too ‘folk’, too anti-empirical, perhaps being the factor which has thus far served to stymy efforts to accelerate and break capitalism. O’Sullivan sets up a delineation between those forms of mythos which have fascistic potential “the ‘blood and fire’ myth-system of the Nazis (the “master-race”), or indeed any mythos premised on exclusion (a ‘them and us’ logic)” and those with true liberatory potential ”more open myths – includes the stuttering and stammering minorities of Deleuze and Guattari’s minor literature (here the people-to come ‘belong’ together because they do not belong anywhere else)”[24] The Mythos of Extropian Transhumanism into which Silicon Valley and the Seasteading Institute tap is one which stretches back through modernism, finding perhaps its purest and most Geopoetically charged iteration in the cult of Vril.

[Next Time: Vril Tangent]

[1] Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman and Daniel Keller, “The Seasteaders” (2018), Video,

[2] “A Commitment for More Than One Lifetime,” The New York Times, accessed April 30, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/10/fashion/weddings/a-commitment-for-more-than-one-lifetime.html

[3] “Elon Musk is Right, Burning Man is Silicon Valley,” TechCrunch, accessed April 30 2018 https://techcrunch.com/2014/09/04/elon-musk-is-right-burning-man-is-silicon-valley/

[4] Keith A. Spencer “Why The Rich Love Burning Man,” Jacobin, last modified August 25, 2015 https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/burning-man-one-percent-silicon-valley-tech/

[5] “Glossary,” Burning Man, accessed April 30, 2018 https://burningman.org/culture/glossary/

[6] Keith A. Spencer “Why The Rich Love Burning Man,” Jacobin, last modified August 25, 2015 https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/burning-man-one-percent-silicon-valley-tech/

[7] “Glossary,” Burning Man, accessed April 30, 2018 https://burningman.org/culture/glossary/

[8] “Burning Man becomes a hot spot for tech titans,” SFGate, accessed April 30, 2018, https://www.sfgate.com/style/article/Burning-Man-becomes-a-hot-spot-for-tech-titans-4756482.php#photo-8612683

[9] Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 69

[10] Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia, complicity with anonymous materials p.34

[11] Ibid. p.37

[12] Mobilegeeks.de, “Larry Page Google CEO Complete Q & A at Google I/O 2013,” released May 15, 2013, video, 24:32, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfK8h73bb-o

[13] Keith A. Spencer “Why The Rich Love Burning Man,” Jacobin, last modified August 25, 2015 https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/burning-man-one-percent-silicon-valley-tech/

[14] Josephine Armistead, “The Silicon Ideology,” last modified May 18, 2016, p.11, https://archive.org/stream/the-silicon-ideology#page/n0/mode/2up/search/adam+smith

[15] Brophy World “Peter Thiel on Dictatorships in Business,” last modified July 22, 2012, http://brophyworld.com/thiel-dictatorships/

[16] Angela Nagle Kill All Normies: The Online Culture Wars from Tumblr and 4chan to the alt-right and Trump, (Winchester: Zero Books, 2017), 30

[17] “Questionable “Young Blood” Transfusions Offered in U.S as Anti-Aging Remedy,” MIT Technology Review, accessed April 30, 2018, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603242/questionable-young-blood-transfusions-offered-in-us-as-anti-aging-remedy/

[18] “Home,” Ambrosia Plasma, accessed April 30, 2018, https://www.ambrosiaplasma.com/

[19] “Staff/Board/Advisors,” Seasteading Institute, accessed April 30, 2018 https://www.seasteading.org/about/staff-board-advisors/

[20] “A Commitment for More Than One Lifetime,” The New York Times, accessed April 30, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/10/fashion/weddings/a-commitment-for-more-than-one-lifetime.html

[21] CCRU, “Lemurian Time War” in CCRU Writings 1997-2003, (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2017), 43

[22] “Hyperstition: Polytics,” CCRU, accessed April 30, 2018, http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/006777.html

[23] Simon O’Sullivan “Accelerationism, Hyperstition and Myth-Science,” Cyclops Journal no.2 (2017) p.19

[24] Ibid. p.30

Author: danielseankelly

I'm a practicing artist. This blog is for me to channel my ideas into writing, through short form essays.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s