Prelude

... this is a continuation of the issues raised in Taxonomies. Taxonomies only work to the extent that their boundaries make sense; systems of difference depend on clear, or at least well described boundaries (and boundary changes).

It might be good to start with the biggest one of them all - the boundaries of 'society' (and various versions of the 'generation gap').

Margaret Thatcher (in)famously said "there is no such thing as society" (on my watch!) , and Theresa May, with equally patronising disdain, said: "If you believe you're citizen of the world, you're a citizen of nowhere. You don't understand what 'citizenship' means". (Remarkably, the Tories have always kept one foot / family-trust off-shore, but still managed to believe in nationalism).

Apart from the fact that May equates citizenship with nationalism, and presides over a 'United Kingdom' that is threatening to fall apart at the seams ... apart from all that, it's useful to keep in mind the experience of generations of citizens who have grown up with different cultural boundaries.

The 60's was many things to many people, at least one of which was a truly global youth culture, based loosely on sex, drugs and rock 'n roll - all of them anathema to the establishment across the 'world' (it hadn't become the 'globe' yet).

Many people grew up 'in' (-side the emerging 'boundaries' of) this global youth culture, i.e. 'outside' the culture of their prescribed national 'states'. Moving on, 40 years or so ... the millennial generation has already grown up 'in' a kaleidoscope of internet-global cultures, pop-up diaspora, and robots who/which are based on 'AI' and have no national allegiances - they are the paradigm of the new 'migrant workers' which the nationalists hate so much.

Nationalism in 2016/17 might aspire to be clearing all this away, 'hunkering down' (that lovely, cosy Americanism) within the illusion of local protectionism/ fascism. Alternatively, this could be the last gasp attempt by nationalism to survive. This reminds one of the rise (and fall) of the Nationalist Party in South Africa, between (roughly) 1948 and 2008 - which ended up merging with the ANC (who are currently looking more and more like just the right bedfellows for them). It also makes one think of the other strand in South African politics, of 'assimilation' (with and of elites), which was tried out at various times (see 19/10/16, here) and has now culminated in Zuma's 'rainbow coalition of kleptocrats' which is currently running the country.

The irony of course is that kleptocracy is best served off-shore, and has no 'national' allegiances. And the last three surges in nationalism led to the 1st and 2nd World Slaughters (aka WWI and WWII), and the Cold War - not much to recommend there ...

So ... let's start with boundary changes, and move on to reactions to them in: science, politics, war, childhood, gender, love, privacy, chaos, emergence, abuse, higher education, ... etc


Introduction
Communities of resonance create, change, and revise their boundaries, and the way they define them, from time to time. The means and modes of production of resonance (to borrow a phrase) change dynamically, offering new, different, and sometimes frightening affordances, as they open up (or close down) various 'Pandoran boxes' and affordances.

And Don Trumpo (him again) provides the exception (as the New York Times pointed out): he is constantly inconstant - management by incontinence? The aim is to hold all our attention, all of the time - and not, perhaps, just because he is a narcissist (which he is), but because his 'strategy' is to fill up all the media space around him (and then some) by undermining the idea of consistent boundaries altogether. Instability is, by definition, news, it's just odd when it, itself, is unstable, in which case it's just a macabre version of short selling.

Thi is post-trust politics: what happens when you try to 'fool all the people all of the time' (see President Lincoln). So, Trump is a deliberately unstable President - that's a completely new way of dissonating/dissing/with the public. It's a variant of mafia rule - what's crucial in both cases is that no-one should be able to guess what the Capo di tutti capi is thinking. Rule by contempt, not consent. That creates new edgy types of non-boundaries, new ways of (permanently) playing/ruling - on/across the edge of chaos. That takes the idea of complexity over the limit. The question then is, what (negative) constraints will be put in place - if any, to avoid total chaos? - See complexity, here ...

To get back to the broader issues ...

Resonance, as a metaphor, is in principle open. If meaning is use, and every use becomes a sign of itself, it's open season on meaning, use, users, and communities. All that is required is that a particular use is adopted by more than one user; this then generates a shared sign. There are no restrictions, in principle, which is why a dizzying profusion of languages has evolved, for instance, even amongst groups of people living very close to each other.

Children in the playground already know that signs can be used to include or exclude members (usually both), as they constantly invent slang for things that happen in their environment, and nicknames for colleagues and authority figures, like teachers. Second-guessing the slang used by an excluding group is an object lesson (for the excluded) of the way language is created and used, and the way the borderlines between semiotic usergroups (or communities) are constantly being created, reinforced, rearranged, undermined, and challenged.

If knowledge is the capacity for effective action, controlling (by stabilizing or destabilizing) the resonance of uses, and the boundaries of uses and users - is the foundation for effective action, collaboration, or power.

Traditional media as well as social media operate on this basis, and millions are spent every day trying to constantly re-invent the agenda, bury bad news under extraneous announcements, and create distractions (like the dead-cat gambit, see #5, on Trolls, in Taxonomies) - not to mention plain propaganda, censorship and judicial and extra-judicial control of people, resources, etc.

0. Runaways / rogue semiotics
There has been a lot of agonising and hand-wringing recently about the danger of driverless cars, and the artificial 'intelligence' that drives them, as well as the algorithms that drive search engines (like Google) on the internet, which seem to drive us (lemmings?) into the hands of bigots / fascists / and holocaust deniers . But as we will see, it is inherent in the very nature of semiotics that unconstrained, open, interaction and communication systems tend to throw up these dilemmas at the margins. Instead of being so (naively) alarmed, we should re-examine the dynamics of open systems, and re-think the (negative) constraints that need to be put in place.

There are two sorts of boundary issues - boundaries that change, on the one hand, and boundaries that are transgressed, on the other hand, which happens when the nature of a particular text/organism/organisation metamorphoses into something of a different kind (the classic example is the metamorphosis of exchange value into use value), and it enters the land of (serial) derivatives. This section explores this latter category.

All texts (linguistic or financial) are potential runaways, the basis for what we might call viral semiotics, although I prefer the more edgy term, rogue semiotics. This is simply because, like any other genes, or memes (whether material or virtual), or temes (i.e technological memes, like mobile phones), texts and practices can and often do take on a life of their own.

Toilel roll meme 1.jpg
For instance: the toilet paper folding meme, which popped up a few years back, out of nowhere (see
right), as a simple way of reassuring hotel guests that the toilet paper in their rooms is clean and hygienic, despite not being a new roll. This rapidly spread of its own accord across the globe, like a self-reproducing virus, and has now branched out into a new mashed-up meme, full-scale toilet paper origami).

Material memes and temes may be more interesting and more complex, but they the way they increasingly take on a life of their own is similar to what happens to linguistic signs. As signs are used, they develop into indicative and then predicative sentences, which can be cumulatively combined into syllogisms, axioms, algorithms, theses, genres, interactive models - with an overlapping branch into programmes, enactive and recognition software, and artificial 'intelligence'.

But they are all variations/derivatives; just more complicated (or complex adaptive) versions of systems of difference, as they become difference machines of various kinds. They are just articulated at finer and finer resolutions of signs, codes, electrical, and now even quantum states, and linked together into composite machines and networks, which move further and further away from our control (and even our comprehension [add link]).

This is neatly encapsulated in the David Walliams comedy routine where the characters repeatedly hit a brick wall for no other reason than that 'the computer says "no"'. The expression "you can't fight City Hall" [the establishment] should perhaps be rephrased to "you can't fight City Hall's computer" - even if you can have a go at hacking it!

These derivatives are all potential runaways, within viral and even rogue semiotics, in virtual, material and technological modes. So the idea that texts, algorithms, machines and networks (including the Internet) all take on a life of their own, which can cause serious problems (e.g. genetically modified foods [and babies], the publication of the genome of anthrax, Google query-completion A'I', financial market trading software, and public access to various forms of the anarchist cookbook, from fertilizer-based bombs and IEDs, to chemical and biological terrorism - all increasingly available via the internet) - all of this should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Its up to us, collectively, to set the boundaries and constraints within which we allow these 'autonomous' virtual, material and technological machines and networks to be used, traded, exchanged and expanded, or live with the consequences.

It is the very nature of semiotics that as it becomes more useful to everyone and anyone, and therefore more desirable, it also becomes potentially more dangerous and uncontrollable, because it cumulatively strips away its subjects and their contexts, leaving nothing more than the vicissitudes of price, wealth and chance to determine its uses and users.

Aladdin's Lamp and Pandora's Box are not just 'fairy tales'. They are if anything metaphors for what happens in open/ed systems without constraints. And managing these (negative) constraints requires just two things:

i) Recognising the distinction between complex-adaptive and complicated events, and
ii) Adopting strategies appropriate for complex-adaptive events, to manage them.
(See in particular Figures 4 and 5, here)

1. Science
Science is a useful place to start. It paradoxically has no boundaries, in one sense, but has extremely rigorous boundaries in another sense. Science deals in facts-as-universal-currency. The user community is completely open, just as the user groups of financial currencies are open - in principle, even though they might have geographical user-boundaries in practice. But the scientific borderless community is constrained, in the way all sustainable complex-adaptive systems are, i.e. by negative constraints: Nothing is sacrosanct, everything can be challenged (it's a contingent-truth community, slightly, but in fact radically, different from a post-truth community. The absolute border is defined by what cannot be falsified, which is, by definition, totally unscientific.

1.1 Doing Science
How, then, does this strange paradox of a borderless community resonate with, and survive in, radically open (social) media?

In one sense it resonates completely; social media provides 24/7, global, access for anyone, anywhere, to use, add to, test, challenge, and advance science.

Online platforms, as well as social media add unprecedented immediacy and transparency. For example, one of the earliest serious prospective proofs (early by a just a few years) of the Higgs Bosun discovery was first 'published' on a blog (it turned out to be mistaken), rather than in a prestigious scientific journal. ArXiv provides a wiki type archive for such publishing, and seems largely self-regulating, though it does require authors to register. Collaboration on global health crises (e.g. SARS, Bird flu, Ebola) use online collaboration across a range of closed and open user groups. Galaxy Zoo has for some years used online collaboration to classify galaxies.

Individual researchers and institutions can create their own multi-platform public and/or collaborative spaces, and frame each one anywhere from entirely private and encrypted to completely open.

1.2 New management for new boundaries
Science needs open borders (the paradox remains) but radical openness now poses some difficult problems, each of which requires managing boundaries in new ways, or even setting up and managing new boundaries:

1. How to tag, flag up, and certify, quality research.

2. How to navigate through the information 'noise' - from boring science to dodgy science to dangerous science (see the autism and MMR vaccine scandal), to quackery.

3. How to manage open online collaboration, and particularly the problem of personal abuse / trolling.

4. How to manage conflicts of interest between open (and 'free') platforms and underlying conflicts of interest. The most obvious are those conflicts inherent in the freemium business model on which most social media is built (a modern day reminder of the adage that 'there is no such thing as a free lunch'). The most glaring, recent, example is the furore around fake-news or what Don Trumpo calls strategic hyperbole. As John Norton points out, research by Buzzfeed journalists discovered that "top fake election stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined".

The fact of the matter is that Facebook's management is obliged to deliver shareholder value, which in this case means to not only allow, but to give fake-news preference over real news. The monetization of 'news' and reliance on Facebook as a source of news distorts news itself, and, therefore, electoral choices, with consequences - to what extent remains to be proven in the USA and the UK, of course, but we're living with/in it already.


1.3 Monetization v. Empiricism
The case of public health and epidemiology's potential conflicts of interest with pharmaceutical company shareholders (not to mention political lobbyists) is another whole area of problems - arising out of particular models of monetization and research financing.

It should go without saying that empiricism covers most of these issues (under the banner of 'falsifiability'). But how empirical (as opposed to interesting speculative theory) is some macro/nano physics - it 'could' all be empirically tested, but when, and how? And then there's the question of whether empiricism can be bought - see the MMR vaccine scandal referred to above.

1.4 What are the principles that need to be applied?
Science (as we know it today) as well as the science/art of governance and the marketing of the state, were built around peer review - in the form of the Royal Society started by Charles II, and the translation of the King James version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer respectively - in the late and early 17th Century. [add links].

Both were based on some of the principles of sustainable complex-adaptive systems: many actors interacting frequently, with relatively high degrees of freedom and openness, but within ongoing monitoring and - wherever possible, light-touch correction, and some negative constraints. The result is, hopefully, a relatively self-correcting and self-regulating system.

There are two questions here: what precisely do we mean by these principles in general, as well as in in particular practices, and how do 'we' - in this case the global scientific community - manage, finance, and support the creation and regulation of such systems?

In the past the 'scientific' user community overlapped very closely with other institutions - like the Royal Society and Universities, but 'science' is now done in a range of places, within a range of competing regulatory regimes - and interest groups. That requires changes in the rules and processes for oversight and regulation - scientific quality can no longer be entrusted to an established, powerful (and stable) set of social institutions.

1.5 Addendum

Arthur C. Clarke's contribution to the boundaries of science: his three laws, of which the third is the best known and most widely cited:

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. (from wikipedia)

... WIP ...

1.6 Empiricism
Science is generally seen to be based on empiricism. But what does that mean, and how did what we currently understand to be empiricism get established? Not too long ago, medicine and alchemy were based on practices which we now regard as primitive, if not downright wrong.

[WIP ... ]

2. Gender
Many of the boundaries of blurred gender have now come out of the closet, and have changed into what Zygmunt Bauman quite presciently (in the 1990's) called liquid love, or even liquid modernity: an age in which "all agreements are temporary, fleeting, and valid only until further notice". [In subtle - but stark - contrast to science, in which agreements (aspire to be) cumulative / even though they remain, in principle, falsifiable ...].

Gender reassignment is now a widespread option, even in Iran (where it seems to double up as a 'cure' for homosexuality, though that often seems to end up in prostitution ...), and the era of having three parents (two nuclear DNA parents and one mitochondrial DNA parent) has now arrived too. Sexual resonance will never be able to be put back into the gender binarism box.

But there are some sticking points, perhaps the most intractable of which is misogyny, which Suzanne Moore, analysing Trumpism, reminds us is hard-wired into the very capillaries of patriarchal society: a misogynist, Menken says, is “a man who hates women as much as women hate one another”.

Trumps adorers 3.png
The epitome of Trumpism? (credit: Chip Somodevilla)


Gamblers, so we are told, rise and fall on their 'tell'. So ... if Bill Clinton was said to be the first 'Black' President, does that make Obama the first LGBT President, and Trump the first (and last?) RFM President ? (Racist, Fascist, Misogynist?) - no, that's too easy, Fifty Shades of Grey [FSG] is more 'telling', and digs deeper, no?.


3. Globalisation - our 'Tranny' society.

Zygmunt Bauman writes ...


"We could describe what is going on at the moment as a crisis of democracy, the collapse of trust: the belief that our leaders are not just corrupt or stupid, but inept. Action requires power, to be able to do things, and we need politics, which is the ability to decide what needs to be done. But that marriage between power and politics in the hands of the nation state has ended. Power has been globalized, but politics is as local as before".

[This shift has, of course, been gestating / peering out of the closet ever since the 1960’s critiques of trans-nationalism, which has by now developed into the outlines of our full-blown ‘multi-tranny’ society - the real nightmare of the alt-right].

"Politics has had its hands cut off. People no longer believe in the democratic system because it doesn’t keep its promises. We see this, for example, with the migration crisis: it’s a global phenomenon, but we still act parochially. Our democratic institutions were not designed for dealing with situations of interdependence. The current crisis of democracy is a crisis of democratic institutions".

Several commentators, like Simon Jenkins, are in denial about this - arguing that we need to reform/transform politics (and liberalism) within nation states and the representative 'national' democracies that underpin them; advocating the positions of Haidt and Lilla who "seek a 'post-identity' liberalism, built round a restoration of the nation state as a repository of agreed values". In other words, staying within the comfort zone of national politics rather than confronting the more intractable issues of how the resonances and crises of global politics can be approached - and hopefully transformed, by global alliances of the new 'tribes' (see elsewhere in this wiki), rather than the archaic 'nations'.

What more is there to be said? Well, just that the grumpiness of Trumpism and Brexitannic-ism' goes far deeper than xenophobia - it's the last (?) stand of White Patriarchy against liquid modernity, which is why the anger is so deep and so blind. But what the Trumpers and Brexitannicers need to hear is: "this is the new tranny society, get used to it".

The prospect is that we are living into an interconnected, inter-dependent, complex-adaptive society in which everyone lives partly on the edge of chaos, and ALL boundaries are negotiable ( from the bizarre example of Iran, above, onwards) and, as Bauman says, (see link above) "the question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren't created ... you either have one or you don't. What social networks create is a substitute ... [where] you feel in control".

3.1 King James's Bible
Secular and non-secular versions of nationalism have been tried, enforced, and failed. What they share are attempts to fuse national boundaries with metaphysical (or millennial) visions. National boundaries can only be enforced when their borders have some prospect of delivering mono-culturalism, mono-metaphysical/mono-millennial visions (and control), or at least being viable sites, and mechanisms, for ethnic purification against the pollution of one or more Others, in the rule / rage of the obscenity of the unconscious (see Jacqueline Rose , and here - the image in the first paragraph tells it all).

National homogeneity (most interestingly attempted via the interpellations and recitatives of the King James version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, not to mention various Manifestos [Communist, & the ANC's Freedom Charter, and Mao's Little Red Book), as well as transnational homogeneity (Assimilationist and non-assimilationist Empires, Catholicism and various ancient and recent 'Caliphates', neo-conservatism/ neo-liberalism), and elites with good and bad national 'anthems' are now desperately looking for watertight borders (or post-historical global reach) within which to enforce and redeem the recitatives of their power (and banknotes).

But the 24/7, internet, globe (of things and people), within which pop-up diaspora and a kaleidoscope of fractured narratives emerge, go viral, and disappear on a whim, is an unlikely place for them to thrive. Looks like we will live in transitioning times - and will do for some time to come.

4. Alt-real / Alt-wrong/ Truthiness
Trump's Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, in his first appearance before the Press, has angrily insisted that Donald Trump drew “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”. No flies on him, then, and as Kellyanne Conway helpfully explained, this was not a lie, it was just "alternative facts", or as Sean Spicer subsequently said, it was just "disagreeing with the facts", as illustrated below:


Alternative Facts.jpg
Trump (L) v. Obama (R) inauguration attendance



This is a totally radical approach to changing boundaries, and drops any pretensions as subtle as 'post' truth, or even 'post' reality, and just jumps straight into a parallel universe, in which 'alternative facts' or 'alternative reality' rules, under the new banner "Yes, I can" which clears away all the messy political niceties of Obama's "Yes, we can", and tweets straight from the hip. Eat your heart out, John Wayne, The Lone Ranger, and Joseph Goebbels! It's just a pity that Don Trumpo has neither the looks nor the swagger for it (and his hands are too small too, according to the US media consensus, to 'shoot from the hip').

The problem is that there does seem to be a self-proclaimed 'alt-real' out there, an 'alternative reality' in which many Americans live, who don't see this as farce at all. It gives a new meaning to 'virtual reality', or even better, truthiness, that marvellous term that just drips irony (defined, as long ago as 2006, here, as "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true." Perhaps when Kellyanne Conway gets tired of lying for a living she can get a job as the Truth Fairy (sorry!)
5. Propaganda Then there is always the old favourite, propaganda. No 'alternatives', just good old fashioned lies, trumpeted as frequently as possible. (Free of [conceptual] borders, ironically - for the Trumpers and Brexiters).
Many people in the UK are getting very exercised about the affairs of State being carried on, on the basis of half-truths, on the 'other' side of the pond.

TIme to get the UK's own house in order. Tony Blair knowingly (which he still denies, of course) went to war on the basis of a 'false prospectus' or an 'over-egged' dossier (read: lies). Theresa May is changing the constitutional status of the UK by Brexiting, based on a referendum that was 'won' on the basis of a false prospectus, that gave new meaning to the term 'over egging the dossier/bus' (read: lies). Not only that, but she has rewarded the deceiver-in-chief, Boris Johnson, by promoting him to Foreign Secretary. (Cue chorus: "When will we ever learn?")
The UK is building up a 'proud' tradition of international adventurism based on propaganda, but pointing fingers at the US - or is it just getting into a new alliance, where our approach to propaganda just resonates so perfectly? (Who says its just the 'average' social media users that disappear up their own echo chambers?)