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DEATHG̶U̶I̶L̶D̶ DIALOGUES #8
0x2619
March 27th, 2022

ANONYMOUS IN CONVERSATION WITH TRAVIS WYCHE

Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin

When I read over the earlier DeathGuild documents my mind returns to [Walter Benjamin’s writing on violence](https://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/10/11/notes-thought-walter-benjamin-critique-violence/#:\~:text=The%20Critique%20of%20Violence%20is,by%20what%20means%E2%80%9D%20(p.) and how the state maintains a monopoly over violence. That’s kind of how power works, right? Who has the authority to wield violence, who has the authority to sanction violence; we can use the word violence in a lot of different ways. Benjamin was writing in post-WW II Europe and has a very particular character of violence in mind. I was thinking about violence in terms of humans wielding power over the rest of the earth’s life forms and the presumed hierarchy that is instated to (supposedly) ensure our survival as a species. The human project has been endowed with a higher importance from Enlightenment Humanist thinking and we use that as a logical structure to justify our violent behaviors.

The tyranny of logic becomes terror when it’s being leveraged as justification for upholding human values — not simply at the expense of other beings’ values, but to deny them the status of beings at all.

And to have the power to decide whether or not they are offered status. Another book was circling around my mind while reading Anonymous’ and Jonatan’s conversations called A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. It’s a very short book by a woman named Kathryn Yusoff. In her case, she’s writing about the mineralization of black bodies and how the Anthropocene is a continuation of a particular interpretation of humanism within white Western European thinking to continue asserting its dominance over all other life forms, including black and brown bodies and peoples of southern hemispheres. This brings me back to thinking about the Myanmar situation in relation to these cryptocurrency ideas we have been discussing; what it means to play this game and who doesn’t have the status to play the game and why don’t they have the status to play that game? When you get left out of the game, what sort of statelessness is imposed upon you because you are not able to join in to this weird meta economy of virtual governance?

Civilization, the game
Civilization, the game

There’s an implication in the title of the text that there’s one world or one game — the Anthropocene — against the potential of many, surpassing business-basic multiculturalism to approach the possibility of a billion worlds approaching the infinitesimal. When the scope of the game becomes so universal that all of the multiplicity is folded back into that singular game it resets and perpetuates the very thing that we were trying to escape in the first place, ie: the singular, hegemonic, Eurocentric, patriarchal, aristocratic worldview. Even accessibility becomes something that we must handle very delicately. As Jonatan and I discussed recently, it’s a design problem, at least partially. He is very interested in designing for openings rather than cinching things up into pragmatic little satchels of clean solutions. Rather than to design towards resolutions, maybe we might design into the questions to develop and cultivate our inquiry, to nurture or incubate better questions.

This notion of mineralization makes me think of a substrate in common. As far as the earth itself, the terra firma is the mineral that we all share in common, all beings, all plants, animals, humans and otherwise. It’s the substrate upon which the collective imagination, whatever it might be and whatever form it might take, is stewing and swirling. If we could somehow shift perspective, to be cultivating more as stewards or caretakers locked in a desperate embrace, to recognize how reliant upon upon each other we are, as fragile beings across cultures and also across species or across quanta, whatever the metric, this might shift our composure, shift our way of considering ourselves and our way of performing our being in relation to the other. We might begin to recognize others where we have not thought to recognize them before.

Speaking of your thesis, I was thinking of your involvement with water, with waterways, with flowing movements, with the larger sense of ecological dynamics and other related issues that you were working with in your creative work. Where your artistic practice and meets your intellectual work seems very relevant to our meditation on resources and resource management. I think management is kind of a dirty word, at least I have a pejorative association with it. When we organize things into a hierarchy, when our worldview becomes so compartmentalized, we don’t see water anymore. We see a flowing potential for money; we see the potential value of the resource.

There’s a violence inherent in the abstraction of material substances; I don’t know if it’s specific to capitalism or if it’s specific to economic thinking. This point relates to Gaston Bachelard’s The Formation of the Scientific Mind. I love and hate this book. I wanted to throw it across the room multiple times while reading it. He says that in order to create a scientific mind you have to attain a certain level of abstraction, that it’s absolutely necessary, and that necessity comes from a specific time and place that I trace through the development of Humanism. What is this desire to order and abstract the world around us in order to make sense of the chaos and be able to count things and apply value to them in little categories, little parcels, as opposed to keeping them open and fluid?

I was invited to give a lecture at a university in the Netherlands, at a conference on water histories. It largely focused on people representing the European water resource management spectrum, but for whatever reason they found my work very interesting. My thesis was essentially that we are water balloons; we are walking water, we are vessels of the hydrosphere. We are not as individuated as we think, but are more like filtration systems in service to water, the same water that has been on the planet since the beginning of time. Dinosaur piss is running through our bodies all the time. We are filtering the excrement of history. I think the reason why they decided to invite me into this weird conference of scientists and water resource managers and conservation groups was to try to somatically dismantle this ridiculous notion that we are somehow separate from these rivers that they are tasked to manage. If I could somehow, through my presentation and through my butoh workshop, get people to experience themselves as salineated meat sacks, perhaps this could lead to some very interesting conversations.

Unfortunately, the workshop never happened, because COVID hit and the conference went completely online. That was a missed opportunity for everyone. I think it’s important to take artists who are interested in somatic performativity and material languages - all the gross stuff - and put them in a place where people have been tasked to parcel things that aren’t easily parsed out, to try to get them to think and experience through this different orientation of being.

What a profound missed opportunity! Assuming that these folks are good at their job, which is to say that they’re good managers, we might assume that they are experts in dissociating from themselves in order to occupy a God-King helicopter view of the world. If they’re benevolent, if they’re good people, we could hope that they’re trying to act on behalf of the public good. What a wonderful opportunity that would have been to help these people get in touch with their own liquidity, their own fluidity, in a corporeally embodied way.

Now I’m thinking of that book, The Secret Life of Water by Masaru Emoto. It describes a series of relational experiments with water, observing the crystallization of snowflakes forming in relation to human emotional states. That’s a powerful image and metaphor for how our affective states determine how we organize ourselves, how we organize our minds and our bodies through internal subjective composition, but also our potential to organize collectively and collaboratively through our social architecture. Different composures that we bring to our relationships amount to different geometric configurations, different modalities, different architectures, different ways of moving through our relationships.

That makes me think of relational aesthetics and social performative practices. These artistic genres poke holes in the fabric of society, but one of the things that started creeping into my mind is who gets to orchestrate these performances? Why is it that my imagination or Nathan Lynch’s imagination or Andrea Zittel’s or Harrell Fletcher’s are the imaginations orchestrating these things?

A Wagon Station by artist Andrea Zittel
A Wagon Station by artist Andrea Zittel

Nicolas Bourriaud, right? The guy that makes curry in art galleries and then he calls it radical politics or emancipatory coordination?

Maybe it’s the punk or the anarchist in me, but even though I’ve achieved an expensive education and have obtained some spectrum of status within the social sphere of my interests that I don’t totally understand, I kind of hate all of that.

I acknowledge you as an expert, for the record.

It always feels dirty. It always feels like it’s tainted by something: the position that one has to be in to have meta-linguistic conversations or conversations that are so abstracted from survival instincts. It was hard for me to sit and read some of the exchanges between you and Jonatan while thinking about my friends in Myanmar, who are trying to band together to get enough rice to make community meals, to resist the tyranny of their government. The LungA School in Iceland; it sounds like a dream, right? There’s so many really cool utopian ideas that only a small smattering of people get to taste. That’s my pessimism. If you’re in the position to experiment, to have these radical meta conversations, how do the learnings get deployed in ways that benefit people on a more practical level? Does me saying this drag down the high-level abstract thinking?

I do not think that it drags it down. I think this is a very important thing for us to consider and I think we should address it head on. There’s two things here; not to be reductionist about it, but two things stand out to me. One is: even with the creation of a utopian idealist organization, such as a wonderful art residency, or art school, or embassy at the edge of the world, there is still a business model at play. There’s still a tethering with globalized capitalism. These realities often seem mutually exclusive and paradoxical. To say the very least, they are very difficult to reconcile with each other. It’s the classic tension, from an artist’s point of view, of needing to choose — to make the false choice — of sacrificing the concept for monetary gain or somehow remaining true to the concept and becoming the cliche of a starving artist. The negotiation occurring at the interstice raises eyebrows and breeds suspicion from all parties, for how could the negotiation result in a sustainable art project? How do you design a project, whether it’s art or business or otherwise, that is somehow able to generate value without causing more harm? To distribute that value in a way that truly benefits all with no losers or victims and is able to be transparent in it’s motivation so that there’s no deception, no need to turn a blind eye to local peoples - often women and people of color - that are not included within the scope of the project? The other thing is: I want to somehow find a way of circling back to talking about you and your role within these grassroots, anarchistic, punk-activist, decentralized organization networks that are forming in Myanmar.

This proposition that you’re suggesting, that an art or life project could do the things that you just laid out, is very potent to me. It makes me think of conversations that we’ve had in the past about blurring the line between what is art and what is life. Can you live a life that is an art work? Do you document it? If you do is it authentic living or does it become something else because you’re still performing? You’re also implying a potential art functioning as social welfare or art as a utilitarian tool.

Art-organizing by Fritz Haeg
Art-organizing by Fritz Haeg

I was a part of a lot of these projects where the artist goes to work with a community and the community does most of the work, but the artist owns the name of the project, puts it on their resume, takes a picture standing over the community building the artful garden or whatever the fuck they’re doing. I was involved in a conference for artist-educators and a woman was showing documentation of a project that she conducted in North Milwaukee. She was a white woman. She had signs that were hand-painted by people from the neighborhood — predominantly poor and black — that said things like nothing to fear here and it’s not always what it seems, stuff like that. On one hand, there’s a question of how we transcend the limits of multiculturalism and debilitating race issues. When projects like this, where a 20-something white woman from the suburbs of Milwaukee can come into a black community and get them to make signs to put in their own neighborhood for white people to see — because who the fuck else are those signs for — that art is not for the local community. The people in the neighborhood already know these things, they don’t need to be told that.

The idea of benefiting the greater good became a grotesque display of demented hubris. I refer to the Coded Bias film, which offers a solution to these problems by crafting multiculturalism within tech companies, to make sure that there is a diversity of people overseeing the code. How do we trust those stakeholders to keep the greater good in mind? Is this reducible to race or does anyone know how to effectively keep the needs of the greater good in mind? There’s an element missing and I’m not sure what that element is. Maybe it’s my pessimism again, but multiculturalism isn’t the solution. It’s a piece of a larger picture, but there are other specters lurking here and it has to do with the monopoly on violence, going back to the Benjamin article. While reading your conversation with Anonymous on the power to create governances and the power to create systems of rules or the idea that code is law, my response was whoa! Who is writing the code? If code is law, what bias is carried through the code? Who is being excluded? Is this upholding all the same systems and structures that we are currently playing in?

No territories, no passports, free access, no borders… Who is it that might be advocating for a society with no passports? Who views legal legibility as an encumbrance more than as a protection or as a right or as a certification of identity? There’s something to be said about the world of exclusionary, territorial, political divisions, to consider the arbitrariness of the lines that we draw over land that come to divide us against each other, but someone that comes from a place in the world that denies or oppresses their identity, because of their cultural orientation or simply their geography, their gender, their sexuality, or the tint of their skin, these are people that see the value in having a government recognize them as autonomous, sovereign citizens.

Cognitive Bias Codex (click for larger image)
Cognitive Bias Codex (click for larger image)

If there’s a tension between the utopian ideas being produced by people already benefiting from current systems not necessarily having in mind people who are not benefiting from these systems, is the utopia really applicable to everyone? Does the borderless, passport-less, autonomous and anonymous sovereignty extend to all people in these manifestos and idea spaces? It’s so tricky.

I think you’re highlighting another very important problem of this research project. How much of this community’s advocacy for a truly decentralized, autonomous, and open structure is repeating exclusionary structures? How can we come to recognize and test if the motivations are sincere? If so, might they be failing in the execution? Is this perhaps a larger ontological or epistemic problem, that we’re trying to devise a solution for something by referencing a record of cultural and political failures throughout history? This might be considered as a design problem, a sociological problem, a coordination problem, and a motivation problem that is much larger than the tech community can solve on their own. It’s a question of whether we’re going to remain optimistic about it.

I personally believe that, at least in an ideal sense, a truly cryptographic currency that is not bound to identity and free of government oversight, free of territorial legislation, might come to empower people that are otherwise barred access from realizing true freedom, even if it begins with economic freedom. I wonder if the people in Myanmar going through the revolution might benefit from these ideas and technologies, but on the other hand this might be leveraged as propaganda to piggyback some financial manipulations serving those in privileged positions that have access to these resources, injecting an ideology of exclusion under the banner of humanism. If we don’t handle our phrasing with great care, we might find ourselves inadvertently quoting from the American Constitution or something. Who are the people that have freedom, especially economic freedom, according to such a document? White male landowners.

It’s a matter of speed; we have to slow down. It’s also a matter of space and time. We must work together to craft the space and practice the patience to meditate on these concepts longer and deeper, to ask-after who is designing, who is benefiting, and identify the risks in relation to the potential gains. Can we figure out a way to leverage this knowledge and tech to serve as a tool that would benefit the revolutionary community in Myanmar? Might we learn to subvert these tools for our own purposes, to distribute currency from those that are willing to give to those that need it at street level?

Oakland, CA — Tech mecca and shanty town
Oakland, CA — Tech mecca and shanty town

Speaking of street level, I’m seeing so many deer on my walk.

Where are you? In a park right now?

I’m on a trail in the woods.

I’m looking out the window at a buffalo. We just discovered that the property next door is a piece of land stewarded by the Pueblo. It’s reservation lands on the other side of the fence and we just discovered yesterday that they have a fucking buffalo just hanging out over there, hanging out in the wild flowers eating all the fresh greens that are coming up right now.

You’re on my great grandmother’s people’s land.

When the American anarchists segregated from British rule it was seen as a radical gesture and it was spoken about as a great decentralizing revolution until the constitutions that they rendered solidified and centralized into a tyrannical power evolved over hundreds of years to become the panoptic surveillance state that we live in today. Of course, even the people that are trying to organize decentralized or anarchist revolutions in the DAO and crypto space are keenly aware that if they’re not careful we can very quickly slide into a centralized system of control. Some are essentially proposing an alternative to the world banking system that is independently engineered and puts the means of production back into the hands of the citizens, but this is offset by the supposed need for progressive decentralization and centralized custodians that serve as bridges between the old way and the new dreams. To be fair, the community seems to reveal very strong attributes of both sides we are considering here. I’m still very much an outsider to this community, but the reason I’m involved at all is because I can sense the strong anarchist undertones and I’m really trying to investigate how serious they are, whether this is some kind of aristocratic revolution so that white men can perpetuate a colonial land grab or whether this really is an opportunity te reevaluate the social, cultural and political conditions by way of the financial and economic conditions.

As cryptocurrency becomes mainstream, we are going to be faced with a conversation of how this decentralized network interfaces with our legacy systems. When it gets so big that we have a community representative showing up to Congress to defend the technology against accusations of monopoly or justify how these systems are in support of the people, not taking advantage of them, we must face the inevitability of legislation, liabilities and legalities that accompany integration and mass adoption. In the true spirit of Dada, of anarchy, of punk, and of noise as the most inclusive genre of sound, I believe this is an opportunity for these ideas to be leveraged as (oh shit, should I say this? I don’t know if I want to be on the record saying this) an ontological weapon, as a meme-able virus, in the Burroughsian sense of language as a virus of the mind. Might we leverage this ideology to inject new perspectives into the legacy system, like an ideological COVID that is injected into the delusional, cancerous, obese, bloated corpse of the legacy government economy?

I also want to recognize, in the same breath, that many might identify me with the white, male, middle class, American, privileged position. Even in this critique I am performing a great spectacle of that privilege. I think I have a responsibility to be self-deprecatory to some extent and create space for the voices that I think need to be heard. That’s what I’m trying to do with this project. DeathGuild is simultaneously a sincere, transparent and radically intimate gesture, but it is also a manipulation to the extent that I’m proclaiming to be doing something really pragmatic with this MolochDAO grant money while choosing to use it as an opportunity to conduct some really wild philosophical investigations with some allies and collaborators.

Gliding along that razor edge between free market and anarchy, I am reminded of a passage in Tyson Yunkaporta’s book Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. I meant to send it to you last year. Did you ever get to read it? He’s an indigenous man from Australia, raised between cultures without looking one way or the other. He tells a story about the Emu bird, representing the vanity and narcissistic potential of human behavior and it’s destructiveness, or violence. He’s doesn’t tell the story, because he says it’s not his to tell, but he suggests that somewhere within human history emu behavior has become rampant. Whereas before it was an outlier characteristic that perhaps everyone had the potential to reveal, but it was always kept in check through social structures within indigenous communities. In today’s world this emu behavior has become the rampant COVID virus of our collective mind that has taken over, come out of balance, imposing survival instincts and the necessity of asserting dominance over other life forms. When emu behavior grows out of control, we are no longer experiencing ourselves as part of an integrated communal fabric and begin to locate ourselves outside and above it.

What would an indigenous community think of cryptocurrency? Is there any interest or curiosity in exploring that through this DeathGuild research? To take a completely different system of thinking and see how it is assimilated or digested? Can the ancient stories be given a new voice and the lessons finally internalized?

This series is made possible by a generous grant awarded by MolochDAO. Thank you Moloch!

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