Surveillance Valley – a review

Note: This post is a book review. I did not buy this book on Amazon, and if, after reading this post, you consider buying it, I strongly urge you not to buy it on Amazon. Amazon is a proprietary software vendor and, more importantly, a company with highly problematic business and labour practices. They should clean up their act and, failing that, we should all boykot them. 

Most of us have heard that the Internet started as a research project initiated by the ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency under the US military conducting advanced research, especially focusing on counter-insurgency and future war scenarios. A common version of this story is that the Internet was originally intended to be a decentralized network, a network with no central hub necessary for its operation, where individual nodes might be taken out without disrupting the traffic, which would just reroute itself through other nodes. A TCP/IP network may indeed work like that, but the true origins of the Internet are far darker.

In the 1940′s and 50′s, Norbert Wiener’s theory of cybernetics became very popular. Wiener was a mathematician who worked for the American military during WWII. The gist of cybernetics is that all systems maintain themselves through feedback between their elements. If one could understand the nature of the feedback that keeps them stable, one could predict their future behaviour. The beauty of this theory is that systems could consist of human beings and machines, and it did not in fact matter if a given element was one or the other; as the systems were supposed to stabilize naturally just like ecosystems, it should be possible to set down mathematical equations they’d need to fulfill to serve their role in the system.

This theory was criticized, in fact even by Wiener himself, for reducing human beings to machines; and the analogy to ecosystems has proven false, as later biological research has shown that ecosystems do not tend to become stable – in fact, they are in constant change. In the 50s, however, this theory was very respected, and ARPA wanted to utilize it for counterinsurgency in Asian countries. For that purpose, they started a detailed anthropological study of tribes in Thailand, recording the people’s physical traits as well as a lot of information about their culture, habits and overall behaviour. The intention was to use this information in cybernetic equations in order to be able to predict people’s behaviour in wars like the Korea or, later, the Vietnam war.

In order to do this, they needed computation power – a lot of it. After the Soviets sent up the Sputnik and beat the Americans to space, there was an extraordinary surge of investments in scientific and engineering research, not least into the field of computers. In the early 60′s, psychologist and computer scientist J.R.C. Licklider proposed “The Intergalactic Network” as a way to provide sufficient computation power for the things that ARPA wanted to do – by networking the computers, so problems might be solved by more computers than the user was currently operating. In doing so, Licklider predicted remote execution, keyboard-operated screens as well as a network layout that was practically identical to (if much smaller than) the current Internet. Apart from providing the power to crunch the numbers needed to supposedly predict the behaviour of large populations for counterinsurgency purposes, the idea that such a network could be used for control and surveillance materialized very early.

In the 1990s, the foundations of the company currently known as Google was created in Stanford Research Institute, a university lab that had for decades been operating as a military contractor. The algorithmic research that gave us the well-known Page Rank algorithm was originally funded by grants from the military.

From the very beginning, Google’s source of income was mining the information in its search log. You could say that from the very beginning, Google’s sole business model has been pervasive surveillance, dividing its users into millions of buckets in order to sell as fine-tuned advertising as possible.

At the same time, Google has always been a prolific military contractor, selling upgraded versions of all kinds of applications to help the US military fight their wars. As an example, Google Earth was originally developed by Keyhole, Inc. with military purposes in mind – the military people loved the video game-like interface, and the maps and geographical features could be overlaid with all kinds of tactical information about targets and allieds in the area.

More controversially, the Tor project, the free software project so lauded by the Internet Freedom and privacy communities, is not what it has consistently described itself as. It is commonly known that it was originally commissioned by a part of the US Navy as an experimental project for helping their intelligence agents stay anonymous, but it is less known that Tor has, since its inception, been almost exclusively financed by the US government, among others through grants from the Pentagon and the CIA but mainly by BBG, the “Broadcasting Board of Governors”, which originated in the CIA.

The BBG’s original mission was to run radio stations like Voice of America and, more recently, Radio Free Asia, targeting the populations of countries that were considered military enemies of the US. Among other things, BBG has been criticized for simply being a propaganda operation, a part of a hostile operation against political adversaries:

Wherever we feel there is an ideological enemy, we’re going to have a Radio Free Something (…) They lean very heavily on reports by and about dissidents in exile. It doesn’t sound like reporting about what’s going on in a country. Often, it reads like a textbook on democracy, which is fine, but even to an American it’s rather propagandistic.

One could ask, what kind of interest could the BBG possibly have in privacy activism such as that supposedly championed by the Tor project? None, of course. But they might be interested in providing dissidents in hostile countries with a way to avoid censorship, maybe even to plot rebellion without being detected by the regime’s Internet surveillance. Radio Free Asia had for years been troubled by the Chinese government’s tendency to block their transmission frequencies. Maybe Tor could be used to blast a hole in the Great Chinese Firewall?

At the same time, Tor could be used by operatives from agencies like the CIA, the NSA or the FBI to hide their tracks when perusing e.g. Al Qaeda web sites.

But, if the US government promotes this tool to dissidents in Russia, China or Iran as a creation of the US government – why would they trust it? And, if an Al Qaeda site suddenly got a spike of visitors all using Tor – maybe they’d figure it out anyway, if Tor was known as a US government tool? Wouldn’t it be nice if millions of people used Tor because they thought they were “sticking it to the man” and “protecting their privacy”, giving legitimacy with respect to the dissidents and cover to the agents?

And so, Tor the Privacy Tool was born. People were told that if they used Tor and were careful, it was cryptographically impossible that anyone should know which sites they were visiting. Except for the fact that Tor has all the time had serious (unintentional) weaknesses which meant that hidden services might have their IP exposed and web site visitors might, with some probability, be identified even if they were using Tor correctly. And using Tor correctly is already very difficult.

Yes, someone like Edward Snowden who knew about its weaknesses and had considerable insight into its security issues could indeed use Tor safely to perform his leaks and communicate about them, for a short while. But advising people in repressive societies with no technical insight who may have their lives at stake doing really serious things to rely on this tool might be … completely irresponsible. Like sending someone in battle with a wooden toy gun.

And maybe, just maybe, the American government was happy enough letting these pesky privacy activists run around with their wooded toy gun, courtesy of Uncle Sam, instead of doing something stupid like demanding effective regulations. And who better to evangelize this wooden toy gun but Jacob Appelbaum, the now-disgraced Tor developer who toured the world pretending to “stick it to the Man”, all the while working for a military contractor and netting a $100,000 paycheck directly from the American government? Maybe, in that sense, Tor as a privacy tool was always worse than nothing.

These are just a few of the topics covered in Yasha Levine’s new book Surveillance Valley. Levine’s idea is to cover the military roots of the modern computer industry, and he does that in gory and unsettling detail.  Apart from cybernetics, ARPA, Google and Tor he also covers the influence of cybernetics on the counterculture and its later history of WIRED magazine and the Californian ideology. It also offers a critical examination of the consequences of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

This is not a flawless book; Levine has a point he wishes to get through, and in order to get there, he occasionally resorts “hatchet job” journalism, painting people’s motives in an artificially unfavourable light or not researching his accusations thoroughly enough. For instance, Levine accuses Dingledine and the Tor project of giving vulnerabilities to the government for possible exploitation before making them public. The example he gives to prove that assertion is wrong, and I guess he makes the mistake because his eagerness to nail them made him sloppy, and because Levine himself lacks the technical expertise to see why the vulnerability he mentions (TLS normalization, detectability of Tor traffic) couldn’t possibly have been unknown to others at the time.

But, apart from that, I wholeheartedly recommend the book. It tells a story about Silicon Valley that really isn’t told enough, and it points out some really unpleasant – but, alas, all too true – aspects of the technology that we have all come to depend on. Google, the “cool” and “progressive” do-good-company, in fact a military contractor that helps American drones kill children in Yemen and Afghanistan? As well as a partner in predictive policing and a collector of surveillance data that the NSA may yet try to use to control enemy populations in a Cybernetics War 2.0? The Tor Project as paid shills of the belligerent US foreign policy? And the Internet itself, that supposedly liberating tool, was originally conceived as a surveillance and control mechanism?

Yes, unfortunately – in spite of the book’s flaws, true on all counts. For those of us who love free software because we love freedom itself, that should be an eyeopener.

Technoshamanism and Free Digital Territories in Benevento, Italy

From October 23 to 29, an international seminar about technoshamanism and the concept of “Digital Land” or “free digital territories” was held in the autonomous ecological project Terra Terra near Reino, Benevento, Italy. The event was organized by Vincenzo Tozzi announced on the Bricolabs Mailing List. The seminar was held in the form of a “Pajelança Quilombólica Digital”, as it’s called in Brazilian Portuguese, a “digital shamanism” brainstorming on the possibilities of using free digital territories to connect free real-world territories.

Vincenzo Tozzi is the founder of the Baobáxia project which is run by the Brazilian network Rede Mocambos, and the main point of departure was the future of Baobáxia – sustainability, development, paths for the future.

Arriving in Napoli, I had the pleasure of meeting Hellekin and Natacha Roussel from Brussels who had received the call through the Bricolabs list. Vince had arranged that we could stay in the Mensa Occupata, a community-run squat in central Napoli that was occupied in 2012 and is the home of a hackerspace, a communal kitchen and a martial arts gym, the “Palestra Populare Vincenzo Leone”, where I was pleased to see that my own favourite capoeira is among the activities.

The actual seminar took place in much more rural settings outside Reino, in the country known locally as “terra delle streghe” or “land of the witches”. With respect to our desire to work with free territories and the inherent project of recuperating and learning from ancestral traditions, the area is interesting in the sense that the land is currently inhabited by the last generation of farmers to cultivate the land with traditional methods supported by an oral tradition which har mostly been lost in the most recent decades.  During the seminar, we had the opportunity to meet up with people from the local cooperative Lentamente, which is working to preserve and recuperate the traditional ways of growing crops and keeping animals without machines (hence the name “lentamente”, slowly) as well as trying to preserve as much as possible of the existing oral traditions.

During the seminar, we accomodated to the spirit of the territory and the settings by dividing the day into two parts: In the morning, we would go outside and work on the land until lunchtime, which would be around three o’clock.  After dinner, we’d dedicate the evenings to more general  discussions as well as to relaxing, often still covering important ground.

After lunch, hopefully properly wake and inspired by the fresh air and the beauty of the countryside, we would start looking at the technical side of things, delve into the code, discuss protocols and standards and explore possible pathways to the future. Among other things, we built some stairs and raised beds on a hillside leading up to the main buildings and picked olives for about twenty litres of oil.

As for the technical side of the encounter, we discussed the structure of the code, the backend  repositories and the offline synchronization process with newcomers to the project, reviewed various proposals for the technical future of the project and installed two new mucuas. In the process, we identified some bugs and fixed a couple of them.

An important aspect  of the concept of “free digital territories” is that we are looking for and using new metaphors for software development. Middle-class or otherwise well-off people who are used to have the means to employ servants or hire e.g. a lawyer whenever they need one may find it easy to conceive of a computer as a “server”  whose life is dedicated to serving its “clients”. For armies of office workers, having a computer pre-equipped with a “desktop” absolutely makes sense. But in the technoshamanism and quilombolic networks we’re not concerned with perpetuating the values and structures of capitalist society. We wish to provide software for free territories, and thus our metaphors are not based on the notion of clients and servers, but of digital land: A mucúa or node of the Baobáxia system is not a “server”, it’s digital land for the free networks to grow and share their culture.

Another important result was that the current offline synchronization and storage using git and git-annex can be generalized to other applications. Baobáxia currently uses a data format whose backend representation and synchronization is fixed by convention, but we could build other applications using the same protocol, a protocol for “eventually connected federated networks“. Other examples of applications that could use this technology for offline or eventually connected communications is wikis, blogs and calendars. One proposal is therefore to create an RFC for this communication, basically documenting and generalizing Baobáxia’s current protocol. The protocol, which at present includes the offline propagation of requests for material not present on a local node of the system, could also be generalized to allow arbitrary messages and commands, e.g. requesting the performance of a service known to be running in another community, to be stored offline and performed when the connection actually happens. This RFC (or RFCs) should be supplemented by proof-of-concept applications which should not be very difficult to write.

This blog post is a quick summary of my personal impressions, and I think there are many more stories to be told about the threads we tried to connect those days in Benevento. All in all, the encounter was very fruitful and I was happy to meet new people and use these days to concentrate of the future of Baobáxia and related projects for free digital territories.

The Catalan experience

Yesterday, I went to the protest in Barcelona against the incarceration of the leaders of Omnium and ANC, two important separatist movements.

The Catalan question is complex, and there are lots of opinions on all sides. However, after speaking with a lot of people down here and witnessing a quite large demonstration – as shown in these photos – it seems clear that Catalan nationalism is *not* about excluding anyone the way Danish racism and British UKIP-ism is.

After all, Catalonia has been an immigration destination for years, and people are used to living together with two or more languages, with family members from all over Spain. The all-too-familiar right-wing obsession with Islam and the “terror threat” is conspicuously absent from Catalan politics.

And it’s not all about language or regional identity, as many Spanish-speaking people with origins in other parts of Spain wholeheartedly support Catalan indepence.

Rather, it’s about a rejection of and rebellion against the Spanish state which is seen as oppressive and riddled by remnants of Francoism. The slogans were radical: “Fora les forces d’ocupació”, “out with the occupation forces!” and “the streets will always be ours!”

Indeed, for many of the young people it seems to be about getting rid of the Spanish state in order to implement a much more leftist policy on all levels of society – as one sign had it, “we’re seditious, we want to rebel and declare indepence and have a revolution!” First independence, afterwards people will take charge themselves, seems to be the sentiment.

“The people rules and the government obeys!” – is another slogan. The conservative forces behind Puigdemont (the current president) may have other ideas, but for now these are the people they have allied themselves with – people who actually believe in the direct rule of the people themselves. Looking at the people present in the demo, it’s clear that it’s a really broad section of society – old and young, but everybody very peaceful and friendly. There were so many people in the streets that it was getting too much, some especially old people had to be escorted out through the completely filled streets.

The European Union may have decided that Catalans should forget all about independence for the sake of the peace of mind of everyone, but these people honestly don’t seem to give a damn.

We need to talk about the social media silos

O Jaraguá é Guaraní

The photo displayed above is from a protest in São Paulo on August 30. The protest was because a federal court in São Paulo has decided to strip the area called Jaraguá of its status as indigenous land, effectively expulsing 700 men, women and children from the land they’re currently occupying, no doubt to satisfy hungry developers and real estate vendors in their dreams of seeing soy fields and shopping malls wherever clean forests and rivers can still be found.

The Guaraní will, as may be appreciated from these photos and from this video, not be taking this lying down, in fact the Jaraguá’s designation as indigenous land in 2015 was the result of decades of struggle on their part. With the current Brazilian government, however, and the possibility of the arrival of an even more right-wing one with the presidential elections next years, the prospects might be very bleak indeed.

The aspect of this case which I want to discuss stems from the fact that the photo above as well as the album it links to was taken by my friend Rafael Frazão, an active member of the technoshamanism network who has been instrumental in establishing a collaboration with the Guaraní in Mbya, Pico de Jaraguá (see here, in Portuguese, for an example of this collaboration). As many members of the network use Facebook to communicate, everyone posted the photos of the videos there – and something strange happens: The photos and videos from the protest got much less attention than everything else the same people were posting, as if Facebook was deciding that some things are best left unsaid and consequently declined to show this very protest to anyone.

I’m guessing that the reason is that Facebook’s algorithms figured out the pictures are about a protest and that protests are given low priority because they don’t sit well with ad buyers, e.g., they fall afoul of the algorithms that maximize ad revenue. All in all, a non-political consequence of some people’s reaction to this kind of material.

The effect, however, of this algorithmic decision is highly political. I apologize for speaking in all caps here, but effectively, and especially for those millions of people who use Facebook as their main communication channel, this means that Facebook SPECIFICALLY silenced news about a protest against more than 700 people having their land STOLEN beneath them as just one small step of an ONGOING GENOCIDE against the indigenous population in Brazil. Censorship hardly gets any more serious than that.

But what would the company’s general attitude to that kind of controversy be? Well, in his highly readable review of three books about Facebook, John Lanchester notes that

An early experiment came in the form of Free Basics, a program offering internet connectivity to remote villages in India, with the proviso that the range of sites on offer should be controlled by Facebook. ‘Who could possibly be against this?’ Zuckerberg wrote in the Times of India. The answer: lots and lots of angry Indians. The government ruled that Facebook shouldn’t be able to ‘shape users’ internet experience’ by restricting access to the broader internet. A Facebook board member tweeted that ‘anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?’ As Taplin points out, that remark ‘unwittingly revealed a previously unspoken truth: Facebook and Google are the new colonial powers.’

This kind of censorship, and Google’s and Facebook’s arrogance and colonial attitudes, would not be a problem if these companies were just players among players, but they’re not. For a large majority of Internet users, Google and Facebook are the Internet. With the site itself, Messenger, Instagram and Whatsapp, Facebook is sitting on a near-monopoly on communication between human beings. It’s come to the point where the site is seriously difficult to abandon, with sports clubs, schools and religious organizations using it as their only communication infrastructure.

During the twelve years I’ve followed the free software movement, I’ve seen the movement go back and forth, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, never gaining much ground, but never losing in a big way either.

I suppose with the rise of Google and especially Facebook, this has changed: Free software has lost the battle for nothing less than electronic communication between human beings to a proprietary behemoth, and it is already – exemplified in a very minor and random way by the Guaraní – doing serious damage to democracy, to freedom of speech and to civil society in general.

So, dear lovers of free software, how do we turn this around? Ideally, we could solve the problem for ourselves by creating interoperable platforms built on free software and open standards and convince everybody we want to communicate with to follow us there. So easy, and yet so difficult. How do we do it?

Technoshamanism at Aarhus University

by Fabiane M. Borges

(originally)

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Conversation around technoshamanism in the center of Digital Living Research Commons in the Department of Information Studies & Digital Design at the University of Aarhus.

We talked about the traditions of festivals before the festivals of technoshamanism, such as Brazilian tactical media, Digitofagy, Submidialogy, MSST (Satellitless Movement), etc. We presented the Baobáxia and the indigenous / quilombola struggles in the city and the countryside. The aesthetic manifestations of encounters of technoshamanism as well as ideas about free or postcolonial thoughts, ancestorfuturism and new Subjective territories.

Organized by Martin Brynskov and Elyzabeth Joy Holford (directors of the departament and hacklab) and colaborators as Kata Börönte, Winnie Soon and Kristoffer Thyrrestrup and students of the departament. Connection and introduction of Carsten Agger, with the participation of Fabiane M. Borges, Raisa Inocêncio and Ariane Stolfi.

Facebook of DLRC: Digital Living Research Commons

Facebook event: Technoshamanism at the DLRC

PHOTOS

VIDEO

Technoshamanism in the Dome of Visions, Aarhus – review

by Fabiane M. Borges

(originally)

DCIM100GOPROG0181439.

In 12 of August of 2017 we did the second meeting of technoshamanism in Aarhus/ Denmark, here is the open call “Technoshamanism in Aarhus, Rethinking ancestrality and technology” (2017).

The first one was in november of 2014 with the name “technomagic and technoshamanism meeting in Aarhus“. It was made at the Open Space, a hacker space in Aarhus.

The second one was made at Dome of Visions,  a ecological geodesic located in the region of Port of Aarhus, supported by a group of eco-activists. The meeting was organized by Carsten Agger with  Ariane Stolfi, Fabiane M. Borges and Raisa Inocêncio. With the participation of: Amalia FonfaraRune Hjarno RasmussenWinnie Soon and Sebastian Tranekær. Here you can see the complete programme.

First, we did a radio discussion, after performance/ritual presentations, in the end a jam session of voice, noise with analogical and digital instruments, Smoking and clay bath.

AUDIO (by Finetanks): https://archive.org/details/II-tcnxmnsm-aarhus

PHOTOS (by Domo of Visions):

 

 

 

VIDEOS (by tcnxmsnm):

Part 1

Part 2

 

“The venue was really beautiful and well-equipped, its staff was helpful
and people in the audience were friendly and interested. Everything went
completely smoothly and according to plan, and the final ritual was
wonderful with its combination of Arab flute, drumming, noise and visual
performance. All in all a wonderful event.” (Carsten Agger)

“I think it was really instructive and incredibly cool to be with people who have so much knowledge and passion about the subjects they are dealing with. Communication seems to be the focal point, and there was a great willingness to let people express their minds.” (Sebastian Tranekær)

“The meeting was very diverse, the afternoon with speeches and discussion of some topics linked to the network of technoshamanism, such as self-organization, decolonization of thought, then we discussed technology and future cyborg and at the end we talked about noise and feminism. Ritual open with the participation of other people and was very curious to see the engagement, – it was a rite of rock!! ” (Raisa Inocêncio)”

It was so nice to see Aarhus again, this dome of vision is really special place, thank you to all of you!! We did just one day of meeting and we could not listen everybody, but I am sure it is just the beginning!!! I agree with Raisa, it was a rite of rock-noise. (Fabiane M. Borges)

Technoshamanism in Aarhus – rethink ancestrality and technology – PROGRAM

FREE RADIO
Moderated by Carsten Agger
14:00-14:45    What is technoshamanism? How does it work and what does it want?
What political issues does it raise? Introduction by Fabiane M. Borges, input from various participants
14:45-15:15    What and how may we learn about Chinese text censorship with machine learning? (Winnie Soon)
15:15-15:45    Decolonization and self-organization (Carsten Agger and Raisa Inocêncio)
15:45-16:30    Immigrating ontologies, recovering ancestralities (Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen and Amalia Fonfara)
16:30-17:30    Sonora Network – Collective Feminism in music and gender study (Ariane Stolfi)
17:30-18:00   BREAK
PERFORMANCE
18:00 – 19:00 Workshop: Invisible Drum (Amalia Fonfara)
19:00 – 19:30 Political Bath (Raisa Inocêncio)
19:30 – 20:00 Open Band (Ariane Stolfi)
20:00-21:00 BREAK, preparations for ritual
21:00 – 24:00  A collective DIY ritual created by the participants.
For the ritual, please bring musical instruments, clothes, whatever props are adequate for your contribution as well as inspiration and ideas.
EXHIBITION
Throughout the event, the installation Hyperelixx by Samuel Capps will be exhibited and can be perused by visitors.
The event will take place in Dome of Visions, Aarhus on August 12, as announced in the Open Call.
BIOGRAPHIES
Amalia Fonfara: (Greenland 1985) Artist and shamanic practitioner based in Trondheim. Since 2010, Amalia Fonfara has lived in Norway. She holds a bachelor of fine art (2013) and  an international master of fine art (2015), from Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Fonfara has studied different esoteric practices, including spiritism, shamanism and contemplative healing practices. She is currently doing a one year study prg. at Scandinavian Center of Shamanic Studies in Sweden. In her artistic practice the perception of reality, imagination and spirituality are closely connected and intertwined. Will present the Invisible Drum project at this event. www.amaliafonfara.com
Ariane Stolfi: Architect, composer, programmer and musician, transits between languages. Doctorate candidate on Sonology (ECA-USP), researching interactive interfaces on web technologies, has made installations and performances such “Hexagrama essa é pra tocar” and “Cromocinética”. Joined festivals such Submidialogias, #DisExperimental, Virada Cultural and Dissonantes, mantains finetanks.com experimental netlabel and collabotates with Sonora feminist collective.
Carsten Agger: Software developer, activist and writer, active in social movements for free software and civil rights and against racism and colonial wars, for twenty years. Trained as a theoretical physicist he works as a free software developer, contributes to the Baobáxia project and co-organized the LibreOffice Conference 2015. He wrote a book about the Qur’an and is currently studying Norse religion and language for a comparative project. Served two years on the board of the hackerspace Open Space Aarhus and co-organized the II International Festival of Technoshamanism and technoshamanism events in Aarhus and Berlin. www.modspil.dk
Fabiane M. Borges holds a Post PhD in Visual Arts and a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica in São Paolo (Brazil) and works as a psychologist, artist and essayist; organizes events relative to art and technology and social movements; authored two books, Domínios do Demasiado (Hucitec/2010) and Breviário de Pornografia Esquizotrans (ExLibres 2010); coordinated two books with the media, art and technology network Submidialogia (Ideias Perigozas, 2010, and Peixe Morto, 2011). She is one of the organizers of the I and II International Festival of Technoshamanism – http://technoshamanism.wordpress.com/en Blog: https://catahistorias.wordpress.com/ – e-mail: ca t a d o re s@gm a il. c om
Raisa Inocêncio: Brazilian, born in 1989. She studied philosophy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Visual Arts at Parque Lage School. Now studying at Toulouse University (France) in Erasmus Mundus Masters Europhilosophie. Research on the aesthetic-political practices of post-porn movement through performing actions and references such as artists Anne Sprinkle, Diana Torres, the collective Coyote, Ju Dorneles among others.
Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen:Graduated from the University of Copenhagen with an MA in History of Religions and Anthropology, which included two fieldwork periods in Brazil and two in Uganda. He has self-published a book on the role of traditional songs in Capoeira, and has collaborated on documentary film work on the role of religion in Ghana (2002). He worked for two years in humanitarian work removing land-mines in Angola and the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, and he has worked and published on anti-trafficking. He is currently finishing a PhD on ritual technologies in Afro-Brazilian religion.
Samuel Capps is a British artist whose work, among them the recent show ‘Relics from the De-Crypt’, work around themes similar to technoshamanism. He also runs the gallery Gossamer Fog in London. www.samuelcapps.com
Winnie Soon: Winnie Soon is an artist-researcher who resides in Hong Kong and Denmark. Her work approach spans the fields of artistic practice and software studies, examining the materiality of computational processes that underwrite our experiences and realities in digital culture. Winnie’s work has been presented at festivals, conferences and museums throughout the Asia Pacific, Europe and America, including but not limited to Transmediale2015/2017, ISEA2015/2016, ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Si Shang Art Museum, Pulse Art + Technology Festival, Hong Kong Microwave International Media Arts Festival, FutureEverything Art Exhibition. Currently, she is assistant professor at the Department of Digital Design and Information Studies in Aarhus University. More info: www.siusoon.net

Technoshamanism in Aarhus – rethink ancestrality and technology

OPEN CALL

On August 12, 2017 from 14:00 to 22:00 there will be a technoshamanism meeting in Dome of Visions, Aarhus, Denmark.

The purpose of the meeting is to unite people who are interested in the combination of DIY technologies such as free software and permaculture with ancestral, ancestorfuturist and shamanistic practices. We are calling all the cyborgs, witches, heretics, technoshamans, programmers, hackers, artists, alchemists, thinkers and everyone who might be curious to join us and explore the possiblities of combining ancestorfuturism, perspectivism, new and old indigenism im middle of the climate changes of anthropocene.

If you feel attracted by the combination of these terms, techno + shamanism and ancestrality + futurism and if you’re worried about the destruction of the Earth and the hegemony of capital and neoliberal ontologies, this event is for you. In view of Aarhus’ slogan as European Cultural Capital of 2017, the theme of this event could be: Rethink ancestrality and technology!

We welcome all proposals for rituals, musical and artistic performances, talks, discussions and technological workshops. Please send your proposal to xamanismotecnologico@gmail.com.

The proposal needs to be short (250 words) with your web site (if any) and a short bio.

PROGRAM

FREE RADIO

The verbal talks will be structured as roundtable discussions with several participants which are recorded and simultaneously live streamed as Internet radio.

Topics:

  • TECHNOSHAMANISM – What is it?
  • Ancestrality and ancestrofuturism
  • Experiences from the II International Festival and other events
  • Immigration and new ontologies arriving in Europe
  • Self-organizing with free software and DIY technology
  • Your proposal!

PERFORMANCE AND RITUAL

A collaborative DIY ritual to end the event – bring costumes, proposals, visual effects, ideas and musical instruments.

We welcome proposals for all kinds of performance, rituals and narratives along the lines of this open call – all proposals to be sent to xamanismotecnologico@gmail.com.

NOTE

When we have received your proposals, we will organize them and publish a detailed program around August 1, for the discussions and workshops as well as for the rituals.

ACCOMODATION

If you don’t live in Aarhus and need accomodation, that can be arranged (for free). Bring your sleeping bag!

WHO ARE WE?

This encounter is organized by Carsten Agger, Beatriz Ricci, Fabiane M. Borges and Ouafa Rian.

TECHNOSHAMANISM – THE NETWORK

Tecnoshamanism is an international network for people interested in living out their ideas in everyday life while focusing on open science, open technology, free and DIY cosmological visions and feel the necessity of maintaining a strong connection to the Earth as a living, ecological organism.

In recent years, we have had meetings in Spain, England, Denmark, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Germany, and Switzerland. In November 2016, we had the II International Festival of Tecnoxamanism in the indigenous Pataxó village of Pará in Bahia, Brazil. The purpoose of this meeting is to discuss technoshamanism as outlined above and to strengthen and grow this network, hopefully reaching out to new partners in Denmark and beyond. The network is based in Brazil but draws inspiration from all over the world.

You can find more information on technoshamanism in these articles:

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This event is supported by Digital Living Research Commons, Aarhus University.

Technoshamanism and Wasted Ontologies

Interview with Fabiane M. Borges published on May 21, 20171

By Bia Martins and Reynaldo Carvalho – translated by Carsten Agger

Fabiane M. Borges, writer and researcher

Fabiane M. Borges, writer and researcher

Also available in PDF format

In a state of permanent warfare and fierce disputes over visions of the future, technoshamanism emerges as a resistance and as an endeavour to influence contemporary thinking, technological production, scientific questions, and everyday practices. This is how the Brazilian Ph.D. in clinical psychology, researcher and essayist Fabiane M. Borges presents this international network of collaboration which unites academics, activists, indigenous people and many more people who are interested in a search for ideas and practices which go beyond the instrumental logic of capital. In this interview with Em Rede, she elaborates her reflections on technoshamanism as platform for producing knowledge and indicates some of the experiences that were made in this context.

At first, technology and shamanism seem like contradictory notions or at least difficult to combine. The first refers to the instrumental rationalism that underlies an unstoppable developmentalist project. The second makes you think of indigenous worldviews, healing rituals and altered states of consciousness. What is the result of this combination?

In a text that I wrote for the magazine Geni2 in 2015, I said this: that techno + shamanism has three quite evident meanings:

  1. The technology of shamanism (shamanism seen as a technology for the production of knowledge);
  2. The shamanism of technology (the pursuit of shamanic powers through the use of technology);
  3. The combination of these two fields of knowledge historically obstructed by the Church and later by science, especially in the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

Each of these meanings unfolds into many others, but here is an attempt to discuss each one:

1) When we perceive shamanism not as tribal religions or as the beliefs of archaic people (as is still very common) but as a technology of knowledge production, we radically change the perception of its meaning. The studies of e.g. ayahuasca show that intensified states of consciousness produce a kind of experience which reshapes the state of the body, broadening the spectrum of sensation, affection, and perception. These “plants of power” are probably that which brings us closest to the “magical thinking” of native communities and consequently to the shamanic consciousness – that is, to that alternative ontology, as Eduardo Viveiros de Castro alerts us when he refers to the Amerindian ontology in his book Cannibal Metaphysics3, or Davi Kopenawa with his shamanic education with yakoana, as described in The Falling Sky4. It is obviously not only through plants of power that we can access this ontology, but they are a portal which draws us singularly near this way of seeing the world, life itself. Here, we should consider the hypotheses of Jeremy Narby in his The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and origins of knowledge where he explains that the indigenous knowledge of herbs, roots and medicine arises partly from dreams and from the effects of entheogens.

When I say that shamanism is a technology of knowledge production, it is because it has its own methods for constructing narratives, mythologies, medicine and healing as well as for collecting data and creating artifacts and modes of existence, among other things. So this is neither ancient history nor obsolete – it lives on, pervading our technological and mass media controlled societies and becoming gradually more appreciated, especially since the 1960s where ecological movements, contact with traditional communities and ways of life as well as with psychoactive substances all became popular, sometimes because of the struggles of these communities and sometimes because of an increased interest in mainstream society. A question arose: If we were to recuperate these wasted ontologies with the help of these surviving communities and of our own ruins of narratives and experiences, would we not be broadening the spectrum of technology itself to other issues and questions?

2) The shamanism of technology. It is said that such theories as parallel universes, string theory and quantum physics, among others, bring us closer to the shamanic ontology than to the theological/capitalist ontology which guides current technological production. But although this current technology is geared towards war, pervasive control and towards over-exploitation of human, terrestrial and extra-terrestrial resources, we still possess a speculative, curious and procedural technology which seeks to construct hypotheses and open interpretations which are not necessarily committed to the logic of capital (this is the meaning of the free software, DIY and open source movements in the late 20th and early 21st century).

We are very interested in this speculative technology, since in some ways it represents a link to the lost ancestral knowledge. This leads us directly to point 3) which is the conjunction of technology with shamanism. And here I am thinking of an archeology or anarcheology, since in the search for a historical connection between the two, many things may also be freely invented (hyperstition). As I have explained in other texts, such as the Seminal Thoughts for a Possible Technoshamanism or Ancestrofuturism – Free Cosmogony – Rituals DIY, there was a Catholic theological effort against these ancestral knowledges, a historical inhibition that became more evident during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance with its inquisitions, bonfires, prisons, torture and demands for retraction. The technology which was originally a part of popular tradition and needs passed through a purification, a monotheist Christian refinement, and adhered to these precepts in order to survive.

In his book La comunidad de los espectros5, Fabián Ludueña Romandini discusses this link between science and Catholicism, culminating in a science that was structurally oriented towards becoming God, hence its tendency to omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience. Its link to capital is widely discussed by Silvia Federici in her book Caliban and the Witch6, who states that the massacre against witches, healers, sorcerers, heretics and all who did not conform to the precepts of the church was performed in order to clear the way for the introduction of industrial society and capitalism. So two things must be taken into account here: first, that there has been a violent decimation of ancestral knowledge throughout Europe and its colonial extensions and secondly, that the relationship between science/technology and the wasted ontologies was sundered in favor of a Christian theological metaphysics.

Faced with this, techno + shamanism is an articulation which tries to consider this historical trauma, these lost yet not annihilated leftovers, and to recover (and reinvent) points of connection between technology and wasted ontologies, which in our case we call shamanism since it represents something preceding the construction of the monotheisms and because it is more connected to the processes of planet Earth, at least according to the readings that interest us. But there are several other networks and groups that use similar terms and allow other readings such as techno + magic, cyber + spirituality, techno + animism and gnoise (gnosis + noise), among others, all talking about more or less the same issues.

The result of this mixture is improbable. It functions as a resistance, an awakening, an attempt to influence contemporary thinking, technological practices, scientific questions as well as everyday practices. These are tension vectors that drive a change in the modes of existence and of relation to the Earth and the Cosmos, applied to the point where people are currently, causing them to associate with other communities with similar aspirations or desiring to expand their knowledge. These changes are gradually taking shape, whether with clay or silicium technology. But the thing is crazy, the process is slow and the enemy is enormous. Given the current level of political contention that we are currently experiencing in Brazil, associations and partnerships with traditional communities, be they indigenous, afro-Brazilian, Roma, aboriginal or activist settlements (the MST7 and its mystique), seems to make perfect sense. It is a political renewal mixed with ancestorfuturist worldviews.

You’ve pointed out that conceptually technoshamanism functions as a utopian, dystopian and entropic network of collaboration. What does this mean in practice?

Fundamentally, we find ourselves in a state of constant war, a fierce dispute between different visions of the future, between social and political ontologies and between nature and technology. In this sense, technoshamanism manifests itself as yet another contemporary network which tries to analyze, position itself with respect to and intervene in this context. It is configured as a utopian network because it harbors visionary germs of liberty, autonomy, equality of gender, ethnicity, class and people and of balance between the environment and society that have hitherto characterized revolutionary movements. It is dystopian because at the same time it includes a nihilistic and depressive vision which sees no way out of capitalism, is disillusioned by neoliberalism and feels itself trapped by the project of total, global control launched by the world’s owners. It sees a nebulous future without freedom, with all of nature destroyed, more competition and poverty, privation and social oppression. And it is entropic because it inhabits this paradoxical set of forces and maintains an improbable noise – its perpetual noisecracy, its state of disorganization and insecurity is continuous and is constantly recombining itself. Its improbability is its dynamism. It is within this regime of utopia, dystopia and entropy that it promotes its ideas and practices, which are sometimes convergent and sometimes divergent.

In practice, this manifests itself in individual and collective projects, be they virtual or face-to-face and in the tendencies that are generated from these. Nobody is a network, people are in it from time to time according to necessities, desires, possibilities, etc.

This network’s meetings take place in different countries, mainly in South America and Europe. Can you give some examples of experiences and knowledge which were transferred between these territories?

Some examples: Tech people who come from the European countries to the tecnoshamanism festivals and return doing permaculture and uniting with groups in their own countries in order to create collective rituals very close to the indigenous ones or collective mobilization for construction, inspired by the indigenous mutirão. Installation of agroforestry in a basically extractivist indigenous territory organized by foreigners or non-indigenous Brazilians working together with indigenous people. The implementation of an intranet system (peer-to-peer network) within indigenous territory (Baobáxia). Confluence of various types of healing practices in healing tents created during encounters and festivals, ranging from indigenous to oriental practices, from afro-Brazilian to electronic rituals, from Buddhist meditation to the herb bath of Brazilian healers, all of this creating generative spontaneous states where knowledge is exhanged and is subsequently transferred to different places or countries. Indigenous and non-indigenous bioconstructor’s knowledge of adobe, converging in collective construction work in MST’s squatted lands (this project is for the next steps). Artistic media practices, performance, live cinema, projection, music, and so on, that are passed on to groups that know nothing about this. In the end, technoshamanism is an immersive and experiential platform for exchanging knowledge. All of this is very much derived from the experiences of other networks and movements such as tactical media, digital liberty, homeless movements, submediology, metareciclagem, LGBTQ, Bricolabs, and many others. In the technoshamanism book, published in 2016, there are several practices that can serve as a reference.

Technoshamanism arose from networks linked to collaborative movements such as Free Software and Do It Yourself with the same demands for freedom and autonomy in relation to science and technology. To what extent has it proposed new interventions or new kinds of production in these fields? Can you give an example?

First is important to say that these movements of free software and DIY have changed. They have been mixed up with the neoliberal program, whether we’re talking about corporate software or about the makers, even though both movements remain active and are still spaces of invention. In the encounters and festivals, we are going as far is possible, considers our precarious nature, lack of dedicated funding or support from economically stronger institutions, we rely mainly on the knowledge of the participants of the network, which come into action in the places. I also know of cases where the festivals inspired the formation of groups of people who returned to their cities and continued to do work related to technological issues, whether in the countryside, in computer technology, and in art as well. Technoshamanism serves to inspire and perhaps empower projects that already function, but which technoshamanism endorses and excites.

I think that a fairly representative example is the agroforest, the Baobáxia system and the web radio Aratu that we implemented with the Pataxó in the Pará village. It is an exhange and simultanously a resistance that points to the question of collaboration and autonomy, remembering that all the processes of this planet are interdependent and that autonomy is really a path, an ideal which only works pragmatically and to the extent that it’s possible to practice it. So we’re crawling in that direction. There are networks and processes much more advanced.

What we’d like to see is the Pataxó village Pará (home of the II International Festival of Technoshamanism), to take one example, with food autonomy and exuberant agroforests and wellsprings, with media and technological autonomy and very soon with autonomous energy. We’d like to see that not just for the Pataxó, but for all the groups in the network (at least). But that depends a lot on time, investment and financing, because these things may seem cheap, but they aren’t. We should remember that corporations, entrepeneurs and land-owners are concentrating their forces on these indigenous villages and encouraging projects that go totally against all of this, that is, applying pressure in order to take their land, incorporate them in the corporate productive system and turn them into low-paid workers, etc.

In May 2017 we met with the Terra Vista Settlement in Arataca (Bahia, Brazil). They invited the leaders of the Pataxó village to become part of the Web of Peoples8 which has this exact project of technological and alimentary autonomy and I see this as a kind of continuation of the proposals which were generated in community meetings in the Pará village during the preparations for the II International Festival of Technoshamanism. Everything depends on an insistent and frequent change in the more structural strata of desire. And when we understand that TV channels like the Globo network reach all these territories, we see the necessity of opening other channels of information and education.

Do you believe that insurgent knowledge and anti-hegemonic epistemologies should gradually take up more space in the universities or is it better for them to remain in the margin?

Fabiane M. BorgesIn a conversation with Joelson, leader of the MST in the Terra Vista settlement he gave the following hint, which was decisive for me: “Technoshamanism is neither the beginning nor the end, it is a medium.” His suggestion is that as a medium, technoshamanism possesses a space of articulation, which rather than answering questions of genesis and purpose functions as a space of interlocution, for making connections, uniting focal points, leveraging movements, expanding concepts and practices concerning itself and other movements – that is, it plays in the middle of the field and facilitates processes.

As yet another network in the “middle”, it negotiates sometimes within institutions and sometimes outside them, sometimes inside academia and sometimes outside it. Since it consists of people from the most diverse areas, it manifests itself in the day to day life of its members. Some work in academia, some in healing, others in a pizzaria. That is, the network is everywhere where its participants are. I particularly like it when we do the festivals autonomously, deciding what to do and how to do it with the people who invite us and we don’t have to do favours or do anything in return for the institutions. But this is not to say that it will always be like that. In fact, the expenses of those who organize the meetings are large and unsustainable. Sometimes the network will be more independent, sometimes more dependent. What it can’t do is stagnate because of the lack of possibilities. Crowdfunding has been an interesting way out, but it’s not enough. It’s necessary sometimes to form partnerships with organizations such as universities so the thing can continue moving in a more consistent and prolonged form, because it’s difficult to rely on people’s good will alone – projects stagnate because they lack the ressources.

Notes

4 Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, The Falling Sky, Belknap Press (2013).

5 Fabián Ludueña, La comunidad de los espectros: Antropotecnia, Mino y Davila (2010).

6 Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia (2004). Available here: https://libcom.org/files/Caliban%20and%20the%20Witch.pdf

7 MST, the “landless worker’s movement” is a social movement in Brazil that fights for workers’ access to land through demands for land reform and direct actions such as establishing settlements on occupied land.