Conference lectured on 10th November at the Symposium "Archipelago of Exceptions. Sovereignties of extraterritoriality" CCCB 10-11 November 2005
«You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.» Harold Pinter1
The spaces of concentration camps and detention camps perhaps embody one of the strictest understandings of exception as a legal instrument of government in a perceived state of emergency. As we examine contested borders and war zones, the camp also alerts us to the use of architecture and urbanism as legal or military instruments of that exception. These conditions perhaps stand in sharpest focus within regimes that recognize the western traditions within which exception originated.
To these examples of exception proper, we would do well to add other mongrels, other spatial formats that thrive in legal lacunae and political quarantine. Archipelagoes do not always define themselves against the logic of the continent or the law of the land. They may contain surprises that upset the stepwise logics of exception or breed forms of non-state immunity that care nothing for the legal traditions of exception.
Rather, governments develop sympathetic postures and techniques related to not only legal but commercial cocktails, adopting their looser and more cunning behaviors in diplomatic and military maneuvers. Indeed, it would be foolish to apply strict legal definitions of exception to these formats precisely because they move between legal jurisdictions for amnesty and advantage. Recent US attempts to administer secret detention centers as foreign or «offshore» installations is only one, all too obvious example. Stepping to the side of exception in the strictest sense reveals its naturalized commercial counterpart, freer to adopt a thousand ruses and masquerades in the vast non-state space upon which the state thrives.
In the argot of the orgmen who concoct this space, these are the «parks» or «zones» or «campuses» – enclave formations that are routinely exempt from selected laws, taxes, labor regulations and regulation of the materials and methods of industrial production. And they typically benefit from a slippery interjurisdictional space that often delivers streamlined customs and cheap labor. The enclaves are warm pools for various cocktails of spatial products from resorts, knowledge villages, high-tech agriculture installations, export processing zones, religious enclaves and retail franchises. As repeatable formulas for space, these spatial products are shaped by the parametric manipulation of tonnage, lay-over times, housing frontage, bandwidth, tee time, stock keeping units or cheap labor. These formats are indexical expressions of legal and logistical parameters. They create worlds of self-reflexive logic that move around the world finding favorable conditions as if they had their own weather fronts or their own sea. And they are making gigantic conurbations – new forms of global city – that are very different from the capital city or its familiar sister, the financial center. Most banish the negotiations that are usually associated with urbanism – negotiations such as those concerning labor, human rights or environment.
Crucial to the chemistry and power of these spaces is a special kind of stupidity. They rely not only on the banishing of selected law but on the banishing of information other than information which is almost preternaturally compatible to the logics of the organization. These are materializations of digital capital for which information is a tool of competition and survival. The denial of anything but self-reinforcing information would perhaps appear to create dim-witted zones of simple stupidity and blind belief. Yet what is really in play is not simple stupidity but rather a compound condition that we might provisionally call special stupidity. And this species of special stupidity is more cunning than dumb. Elaborate, dangerous hilarious masquerades and fictions flower in political vacuity that denies contradictory information, and those masquerades typically portray the organization as righteous and innocent. An information-free environment creates an ecstatically persuaded, narcotic reality that welcomes everyone. It also lubricates the expansion and protection of spatial products by naturally developing dispositions of collusion and aggression that seem to intensify in direct relation to the denial of extrinsic logics or contradictory evidence. Spaces may unleash these dispositions in their planning, building and occupation.
«Like malice, cruelty, or banality, with which it is often allied or confused, stupidity has largely escaped the screening systems of philosophical inquiry.» Avital Ronell2This species of immunity is perhaps best pursued with primary evidence, and it is perhaps also best to begin in the middle of the sea. The sea is already a space of slippery legal status and the first location of islands and offshoring where pirates and other non-state actors mixed with those juridical bodies that try to legally striate the water. Easterlings and Hanseats in the 14th century, and maritime cities like Genoa, created areas of free trade exempt from some tariffs and restrictions of the state. Since the 1960s, the same intention is served by a repeatable formula that has been adopted by most nations of the world, and by developing nations is often seen as the engine of developing economies. The Free Trade Zone and all its variants in the Special Economic Zone, the Foreign Economic Zone, Free Economic Zone, or the Export Processing Zone routinely provide exemptions from taxes, streamline labor restrictions or circumvent regulation of industrial processes. Looking on the Tumen River, the South China Sea, the maquiladoras on the border between Mexico and the States, in Eastern Europe, South Asia and the Middle East in urban formations that may be hundreds of kilometers in size.
And the cocktail now also includes SIPs [Science Based Industrial Parks] or research and development campuses that mix free trade with headquartering. The IT campuses of South Asia like those in Bangalore or Hyderabad, or the multi-media super corridor in Malaysia, can now be married to the FTZ formula. A company like CIDCO or SKIL who are working on the MahaMumbai SEZ will make a city for anyone based on the Shenzhen model, designing their logistics, infrastructure and the usual mix of programs. The mixtures often boast of eliminating striking workers and creating knowledge villages in terms of progressive stances for developing countries. Since these enclaves develop stronger networks amongst themselves than within their national boundaries they also form an uber-version of the park in cross-national growth zones that circulate products between favorable legal and labor conditions. Offshore areas find their own offshore.
High-tech agriculture installations around the world are similar logistical zones, annexing locations that offer abundant sunshine, wind and cheap labor. In Andalusia, in Europe’s only desert, where Sergio Leone filmed his spaghetti westerns, plastic greenhouses cultivate the 200-square-mile formation that grows off-season cherry tomatoes. An underground aquifer together with 3,000 hours of annual sunshine and automated systems to deliver nutrients, provide for every aspect of tomato growth in an intensive vegetable urbanism. In fact the new urban regulations governing urban hygiene sound very much like urban reform laws that regulated housing light and air in many cities and it does just that, but only for the tomatoes, not for the illegal North African workers who live in chabolas made from remnants of the greenhouse construction. Routinized weekend KKK-style raids on illegal North Africans accompany a reliance on them for labor. The organization polishes and hardens its own boundaries while looking beyond them for an outside deal.
Any of the export processing zones, maquiladoras, or high-tech agripoles exist within a strict logistical envelope that entertains a masquerade about complexity. The orgmen of free trade have their own new versions of the invisible hand that derive from their responsiveness to the instantaneous desires of the market and the cost-cutting stats of material handling. They boast of being an error-free environment pulling down enormous amounts of information to create broad organizations of plenitude. Or in optimal environments, the stats become a measure of an obsessive competitive belief played out in irrational promotion and bluster. Optimization of the organization eliminates only errors that are compatible to the system. In these information-rich environments, the organization is often spectacularly information poor. Error, corrections or contradictions must remain as an exterior condition that does not contradict the central premise. The worker must remain part of another jurisdiction in another nation, or he must be a mobile, invisible, untraceable character who never assumes the identity of the demos. He is, as Zygmunt Bauman has said, this «vagabond who is the alter-ego of the tourist.»3 He is the unnamed character who provides a silent engine for our own mobile consumption. As Ranciére has written, He is also hated and expelled as the contradiction to the perfectly relaxed regime.4
The zone as a paradigm of government is perhaps nowhere no more clear than in a city-state like Dubai. Dubai Internet City was the first IT campus to merge the «knowledge park» with the free trade zone. Dubai has gone on to use the park as the aggregate unit of its expansion, rehearsing it with almost every imaginable program. Calling each new enclave «city», it has either planned or built Dubai Internet City, Dubai Health Care City, Dubai Maritime City, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai Techno Park, Dubai Media City, Dubai Outsourcing Zone, Dubai Humanitarian City, Dubai Industrial City and Dubai Textile City (6 million hectares) which are among these new enclave building blocks. Dubai is also building engineered islands like The Palm and The World as well as Dubailand, an enormous new tourist installation, which will cover an area of two billion square feet and include 45 mega projects and 200 sub projects. The Emirates rehearses a cagey nationhood as the world’s free zone, keeping everyone’s secrets, researching everyone’s forbidden products and procedures, and laundering global identities.
Dubai only magnifies the status of citizenship in the park-state. The populations that inhabit these spaces are often not nationalized. They pledge no allegiance or taxes. Nor are they offered the protection of a military, but they are offered the immediate state-endorsed protection of special security forces. Dubai has discovered the perfection of this kind of citizen. Indeed 80 percent of the population is made up of foreign workers. At any one moment, a large number of visitors are also tourists. Here, the problem of cheap labor is no longer a problem or a secret. Fees associated with guest workers often provide the hidden, but cost-effective revenues that offset the taxfree environments. While some investment is required to lure them in, the temporary tourist citizens save up their money all year so that they can deposit in the country and leave without expressing any further needs.
Trade and tourist enclaves are something like Vatican-like states within a state. Prefiguring the freeports and maritime cities are the extra-territorial enclaves of religious organizations that have always been exempt from financial accounting by the state. Belief systems love real estate and bring to it a special savvy. The practice of colonizing the soul and conquering territory has perhaps accelerated as spiritual organizations borrow the architectural/urban envelopes and evangelical techniques of business. They use marketing and hybridize with formations that are something like malls or resorts, to create new forms of intentional community or create networks of community around the world that flirt with nationhood. Mega churches in America offer one example. A seemingly more hyperbolic but not really uncommon group like Maharishi Global Development offers another. The Maharishi’s organization wishes to establish its own global country of world peace by buying an existing country that would serve as the headquarters of a more atomized set of locations around the world. These Peace Palaces, which have been rendered either as the tallest buildings in the world or as agricultural settlements, would, according to predictions, collectively radiate a harmonizing effect that would bring peace to the entire world.
Just as spiritual organizations borrow the techniques of the marketplace, so the marketplace borrows the evangelical techniques of spiritual organizations. For instance, the legal envelope of a homeowners association, not dissimilar to a free trade zone in its civic immunities, is a spatial product. It calibrates the parametric expressions of golf-course development in terms of debt versus housing frontage. Yet, crucial to this logistical formula are the irrational attributes of symbolic capital usually associated with a guru like Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus: an emotional association with a celebrity who triggers feelings about fathers and sons. Like the Maharishi, he either has been or is associated with currency, he beams his own whispered satellite TV transmissions. He is surrounded by a green timeless landscape that spans generations and is covered with patches of saturated sun and shade. In this ephemeral space of meditation and afternoon walks, cohesion relies on fiction camouflaged into a broader landscape of persuasion in which all things, however unrelated or unfinished, might be construed to be progressive steps towards perfection.
New mixtures of the chemistries of the tourist-state, and the spiritual state with the zone or park are not unusual. One broad, almost cartoon-like example is Hyundai’s tourist resort near Mount Kumgang in the DPRK. In the first incarnation of the tour, a cruise ship originally used in the Love Boat television series initiated a new resort in the DPRK. The guides, placards and mountain carvings recite the aphorisms of Juche, the DPRK’s solipsistic philosophy of self-reliance. Identities, products and experiences are laundered by the conjoined fictions of tourism and an oxymoronic Soviet dynasty. In this bizarre handshake between logics of shamanism, communism, Confucianism, neo-Christian mythology, Juche, and capitalism, the mutual attraction between the DPRK and tourism exposes political disposition in both worlds. The optimized format of the world of cruising was the solvent fairy tale to the fairy tales of communism and capitalism and anachronistic cults of modernity.
Like golf, tourism generates symbolic capital not because the comedy of its fake crests, seals and epaulets actually means something, but precisely because there is a tacit agreement that it means nothing. Absurdist gestures and cultural gibberish are techniques in tourism’s sleight of hand, the means by which it floats irreconcilable motives over a revenue stream. Not only do tourism and totalitarianism utilize the same tools of mental vacuity, they become each other’s next masquerade. The ease of this seemingly peculiar partnership in the DPRK evidences the potential extremes stored in urban forms that are often regarded as banal. Indeed, their banality is not only their attraction but also the source of their narcotic emptiness. The deregulated, relaxed reality serves as a solvent to difference that would have to cause conflict if actually asked to navigate a political process. In their prescriptive self-reflexivity and their perfect utopian dream of the end of politics.
«[There is] … no great idea that stupidity could not be put to its own uses; it can move in all directions, and put on all the guises of truth. The truth, by comparison, has only one appearance and only one path, and is always at a disadvantage.» Robert Musil5These envelopes of highly capitalized symbolic capital test the chemistry of that special stupidity. Tautological logistical environments are not only vessels of organizational parameters. They are also, ironically, the medium of the puffy fairy tales of belief that accompany most relentless forms of power. They seem almost to oscillate between a resolute belief that wishes to deny information and a remarkable shrewdness in gathering information. The deployment of an enormous amount of intelligence actually nourishes the hermetic. While remaining intact, the organization recognizes the need for auxiliary tactics and strategies to fortify its stupidity and defend against contradiction. Patriotic, religious, legal or scientific sources galvanize support around credos, facts, laws and statistics. The Bible, constitutions, and ancient history are even portrayed as the place from which the exclusions and segregations of belief have sprung. Meanwhile the CIA, SS, KGB, Special Operations, guerilla warfare, nighttime raids, extortion and other sneaky forms of cheating attend to the under-the-table game that is played on the side. Complex undercover work is necessary to root out any contradiction. George Bush continues to stay «on message», and «make his own weather» repeating the same information over and over, but behind the scenes and enormous intelligence must continue to track and reset the naturally errant facts of the world to align with his reality. A remarkable agility is deployed in the service of rigidity. Perhaps surprisingly, this works best when there are many iterations of fictions and many different forms of cheating, These either refresh the original myth or confuse any reckoning. In this solipsistic lockdown the big picture is always available. Regimes of power at once diversify their sources and contacts while consolidating and closing ranks, extending and tightening their territory, growing while deleting information.
This information paradox – wherein an enormous amount of information is required to remain information poor – is a common tool for both power and camouflage. It is a favorite trick of not only righteous liberators like the United States, but also neoliberal governments that, as Jacques Ranciére has noted, would like to locate the «end of politics» in a consensus that banishes conflicting information.6 The fierce boundaries of these enclaves of stupidity are both stretchy and taut. They must grow and expand but remain responsive only to a solipsistic system. The character of these worlds seems to reflect the conundrum that RETORT in the US has identified between «primitive accumulation» and a sophisticated capitalized spectacle of something like pre-capitalist symbolic capital. As if some highly sophisticated techniques were being used towards a crude form of concentration, expansion and aggression.7
In this state of special stupidity, the legal/logistical envelope, heavily laced with fiction, is at once powerful and vulnerable. The information paradox renders an organization so information poor that it becomes an instrument of entrenchment and escalating violence. This is the fierce and friable condition of remaining intact. In industrial jargon, this fragile moment is often called a control error, when a company maintains a blinkered position toward absolute failure. It hopes simply to change the perception of a market on which it is inflicting a dangerous or inappropriate product. One treacherous outcome of the control error is that it brings the company down completely. Indeed, for companies seeking immunities, it is often the very attempt
to become exempt with massive optimized volumes of product that has landed these companies in the cross-hairs of conflict.
To speak not of a reasonable but rather a fantastical political imagination: Perhaps one is looking for a shore in the shoreless sea about which Carl Schmidt writes, or a shore about which Ranciére writes on which raw democracy is negotiated. Yet, that shore is not a shore between sea and land but between multiple seas in the world.8
Perhaps this shore could only possibly exist for a stance that is willing to confound the tragic epic monism of world-system political theories. That they are a multiplied condition means that the interface between those boundaries is the point where multiple species of exemption meet. Logistical expressions offer many other multipliers – more multipliers than a worker, for instance, who no longer responds to theories of the proletariat. Control errors reside at the strongest and weakest points in the organization. When they are massive, they multiply any change. There are many things that constitute not multitude, but multitudes in the organizational recipes that run the world. Powerful within these recipes is the logical fallout between regimes, the denials that are inevitably revealed by another even similarly self-reflexive regime.
In America, our largest national resource is stupidity and we must learn to use it wisely. Resolute beliefs and righteous, reasonable fights for what is right (perhaps as violent as the things against which they fight) are out-maneuvered by stupidity’s agility. The ecstatic fictional attributes of stupidity are hyperbolic explosions of nonsense that are very carefully crafted. Yet, stupidity is, after all, stupidity and manipulating the puffy misty stories that accompany it resets the game of the spectacle on different terms. We are accustomed to looking at the spectacle as part of a tragic end-game of capital from which there is no escape hatch. Those fairy-tale moments of gibberish that are Debordian tragedies may be moments of political instrumentality. In the DPRK, for instance, the fact that both tourist and totalitarian masquerades require the complete obfuscation of meaning is not a tragedy of meaninglessness. It is the meaning. If resistance adopts the agility of stupidity, perhaps they are also the opportunity for political leverage. The partisan or the pirate devolve an auxiliary form of resistance in addition to the resistance that stakes its right in more familiar political processes. In this fantasy, stupidity and its naturally occurring errors appear in mixtures of productive piracy and comedy that alter legal boundaries and release extrinsic information into tautological logics. It is a piracy that replaces innocence and righteousness with ingenuity – piracy that is too smart to be right.
NOTES1. New York Times, 8 December 2005, 1A.
2. Ronell, Avital, Stupidity, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002, p. 20.
3. Bauman, Zygmunt, «Tourists and Vagabonds», In: Globalization: The Human Consequences, New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, p. 94.
4. Ranciére, Jacques, On the Shores of Politics, London: Verso, 1995, p. 93-107.
5. Musil, Robert, The Man Without Qualities, New York: Vintage International, 1995, p.57.
6. Ranciére, Jacques, op. cit.
7. Retort: Boal, Iain, Clark, T.J., Matthews, Joseph, Watts, Michael, Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War, New York: Verso, 2005, p.I o-I 2.
8. Ranciére, Jacques, op. cit., p.1-2, and Agamben, Georgio, Homo Sacer: Sovereignty, Power and Bare Life, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995, p. 172. Agamben quotes Carl Schmitt from «Staat, Bewegung, Volk», In: Schmitt, Carl, Die Dreigliederung der politischen Einheit, Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlaganstalt, 1933, p.57. «[…]The way forward seems to condemn us to a shoreless sea and to move us ever father from the firm ground of juridical certainty as adherence to the law, which at the same time is still the ground of the judges’ independence.»