Detached Bodies Can Fly

By. Alexis Madrigal

Dear Dad,

Got your email about the Wall Street article, "Pain From Free Trade Spurs
Second Thoughts." My take on it is this: governments don't need to do a
goddamn thing to "encourage" globalization. That, fortunately or not, is WAY
out of their hands/league. The forces putting pressure to globalize are so
deep and structural, and so ingrained in almost every kid in every country
I've ever been to, that I don't think anyone can really stop it.
Governments, as the British did after the enclosures act in England, as the
French did during the post WWII rebuilding under De Gaulle, as the Chinese
did during the great opening up, as the Japanese did during the early 20th
century, need a more active role in the lives of workers during huge times
of change. It just is the case. The big problem is that the market is
changing faster than people can adapt. What do you do then?

And I don't even see this as a US jobs being shipped offshore thing,
because, like, who didn't see that coming? I mean, globally, the problems we
face require governments, at least, to view the inhabitants of their borders
as human-citizens who need help when their entire way of life changes. Or
shit will get violent. The history of violent opposition to full-speed
mechanized capitalism has largely been suppressed in the triumphalist
second-half of the 20th century, but it's been there since the very
beginning. A lot of the Islamic extremism is mirrored by similar Christian
fundamentalism right around the time that The Big C hit the Christian world.
The Christian resistance took all kinds of different forms, but was a real
presence at times. Not saying I mourn the passing of Christian worldview
dominance, but just saying that religious values, which most of the world
relies on, are not (at least initially) compatible with capitalist values.

Really, the creation of the modern state, and its strange hold of force
within its borders, is a response to the nationwide possibility of revolt
with a nationwide job market and that new freedom of movement. Really,
before that, there was no need. There were a few international
organizations, like the Church or various empires or what have you, but
really, life was going on at a local level because there was no benefit to
scale really. Even in the Roman Empire, they were oftentimes hands-off. So,
it's really like, machines=nation-state. Info/comm technology will have the
impact of mechanization... But info/comm tech=? in the governmental realm?
What organizing principles will evolve in response to these new pressures?
This guy, I know, is not advocating a full-scale revolutionary situation

Me personally, I don't see the nation-states as currently conceived and
executed as being up to the job. But it's not like they are going to go
gently into that good night. We might not even want them to, after it was
all over. But still, I think that begs the question: what is going to happen
when the opposition network is truly global? And how is that going to
happen? As Fremont, WA icon V.I. Lenin once put it, "What is to be done?"

But I don't want to be a Debbie Downer and I think that the end of oil as we
know it (cheap transportation) will completely change the way the world
works. We will have to get back local, global transportation will make way
less sense and I think the world will return to a new equilibrium. So,
really, we should be rooting against hydrogen cells and the like. Some new
transport tech is the only thing that I think can stop the whole global
system from skidding into a wall and rapidly devolving power, economic and
political, back to local authority and control. That will bring up a whole
new set of problems that probably haven't been dealt with in America since,
like, 1880, but at least some of those problems will be solveable and the
answering of those questions will actually involve people at the
know-what-is-going-on level.

So, you can all see why I loved Children of Men.

They define "revolutionary situations" as those in which there are multiple
claims to sovereignty, right? I've been thinking that the multinational
corporation is a revolutionary actor. They domicile in some place like
Bermuda, outside the laws of a US or a France, and then they play the
various countries like an organ. While operating inside of countries, they
only allow that they are partially subject to the laws of that country.
There is the real company that works in Tennessee and there is the virtual
company which is subject to laws in Bermuda. Only what the "real" company
does is subject to US law. That virtual company operates in international
waters, basically.
In the future, I could see that model--of partial subjectude--to be a big
deal. Like, you'd have a mesh of governmental affiliations and you'd only be
subject to some of that place's laws.

The point here is that in the future (10+? 25+?), you will almost always be
in two places at once--your embodied, meatspace self one place and your
enminded, virtual self somewhere else. What country's law will be most
applicable to what you do online? The one promulgated where your sack of
flesh is? The one promulgated where the computer you are connecting to is?
The one where the telecom network that somebody built is? The one created by
the company that built the software in which your virtual self is moving?

This might all sound crazy to you, or at least out there (in the ether,
man), but I think it is closer than we think. In 25-50 years, a very large
percentage of the world (World - Africa = Very Large Percentage) will have
fast enough broadband to stream all kinds of HD channels (including
point-to-point ones of your virtual office, your virtual conjugal bed) into
the home, etc. Hard drive space will be almost infinite. The wireless
networks that cover just about the entire world will be 20x faster and the
work they are doing on communicating directly by electrical signals with the
brain will be much farther along. Ava will also be Mo's age to Mom's age.
That's gonna be her world. I'd be willing to bet money that there is, at
that point--minus oil + true virtual worlds--a vast underclass that does the
physical work of living and then there will be the people who voluntarily
choose the Matrix that connects all middle-class people across the world.
How could they not choose it? That's where all the good jobs will be. The
scary thing is that I think people can live like that, essentially
disembodied. A lot of them will welcome it. It's fundamentally inhuman and
yet... Maybe we've been going down that road for a little too long to stop
now. We already manipulate our bodies and also voluntarily dephysical things
for fun and profit (hormones, steroids, special diets, prosthetics, Swedish
made penis pumps, gender reassignment surgery, ass implants, boob implants,
laser eye surgery, contact lenses, , eHarmony,
virtual sex, virtual relationships, massively multiplayer online games,
Facebook/MySpace/Friendster/AdultFriendFinder, botox, tummy tuck,
e-commuting, e-commerce, e-books, iTunes, scanning pictures, digitizing all
the books in the world, webcams, phone sex, pacemakers,meal replacement
shakes, treadmills, etc).

And the thing is, we're doing it all voluntarily. That's where just about
every science fiction writer has gotten it wrong. It doesn't take
telescoping from above, it bubbles up from the bottom with the right stars
in the sky. We hate our bodies anyway, why keep 'em around. Eff it, give me
a full body suit and a feeding tube stocked with only the healthiest
nutrients and give me the Holodeck sensation of flying.

Just kidding.

Love you,

Your Son

Alexis Madrigal's body lives in a tube that provides him with adequate
nourishment and a way to relieve himself. His brain does the work of the
future on a virtual Earth that Google made when this one got boring and
unprofitable. His work has been published in the Harvard Advocate.