, Announcements

Open Call: For Planetary Governance

Author: Benjamin Bratton

For Planetary Governance is an open call for papers, projects, and research related to the topics of planetary governance, and how they are now and will continue to affect urban life, systems, and futures.

Read “New World Order”: For Planetary Governance by Benjamin Bratton

This initiative will feature ideas and projects that are surprising, pragmatic, unconventional, and honest—even if productively controversial. We presume that the work that most directly confronts the implications of today is full of risk.

Submit a short proposal through this form by April 10. Selected participants will be given time to finalize their submissions, which should not exceed the 2,000-3,000 word limit. Multiple authors may apply with one proposal. The honorarium for the published piece is €150.

These themes below are prompts, not instructions or strict categories for potential submission. We invite departures from these starting points. The inquires for other geopolities are not against governmentality but on behalf of its reimagining, not the end of history but a long-delayed synthetic beginning.

 

POPULATIONS

First, where do the people go? Among the most decisive and disturbing realities of the pandemic was political filtering whereby an otherwise mobile and intermingling human population was instantaneously re-sorted back into their nations of passport. What may it have been like if health services were widely available wherever you may be? What other artificial cosmopolitanisms are on call?

What other than the passport? Fixing the right of entry and movement to a state certificate of identity is a relatively recent development and one that holds the separation of migrants and natives as its history, and exclusive citizenship as its content. But segmenting the human population into discrete tracts of the planet’s surface need not be the default. Other future norms are available, some of which already exist. We are interested in other formal means by which humanity could be amalgamated and disentangled, gathered and dispersed, self-sorted and self-assembled based on other geographical presumptions.

As the license of “citizen” is simultaneously reinforced and undermined, what other credentials assume its place, or multiply it, or innovate a new space of positions? Must citizenship be so binary, a yes or no? What forms of gradient citizenships, partial, temporal and multiple “citizenships” are possible? How do any of these function as technologies of inclusion and exclusion? Assemblage and differentiation? How do the internal borders of incarceration that suspend or subtract full citizenship draw a portrait of the anachronistic punishment of the social body that should be retired? What is the future of stateless people? When does the minimal state and maximal state converge?

All of this may open some borders while multiplying others, fortifying historical public States and/or proliferating privatized urban fields, platforms, and networks. These may be admirable or not, an open planetary surface dotted with private enclaves, or vice versa, each with exacting terms of membership.

 

BORDERS AND MOBILITY

To question “borders” is not only to question the historical preservation of post-colonial nation-states, but to ask what can possibly constitute political interiority and exteriority. These combine in different ways (Just as there is an interior exclusion can there be an inclusive exteriorization?) Some borders are physical and others are intangible. Some trace the walls of the city and others the stewardship of the cloud. Some are constrained by the defended lines on maps and others perforated by the platform sovereignty of infrastructural access open to anyone who logs on or turns a faucet, regardless of citizenship status.

The contemporary gravity in political thought is, however, on behalf of delinking from global networks, nativism, rebordering, restoration, indigeneity as a universal allegory, the primacy of placefulness: autochthonousness. Planetary governance however will have to make sense of allochthonous forces, from capital flows to climate refugees, from pandemics to carbon accumulations. There is no original place to which things can be returned. History itself is not just extraction; it is also, fundamentally, circulation.

Accordingly, possible futures are not simply a symmetrical inversion of the status quo. A world “without borders” is one scenario, but without which kind of borders? Does a world of absolute inclusion only shift the question of exclusion toward the internal differentiation of parts to the whole? There are other possibilities for which borders exist, and are even multiplied and layered on top of one another, but have radically different purposes than at present. Perhaps their ability to concentrate activity into an interface between two systems comes to overtake the function of cleaving and separating them. Perhaps, as they already do, borders assemble into overlapping, discontinuous intersections of component zones that only sometimes add up to a single map.

In conceiving of open borders, the question of mobility can’t be limited to a vision of individualist cosmopolitanism and personal mobility, if only because the geopolitics of motility have as much to do with compulsory migration as compulsory enclosure. The forces that will push populations away from zones most adversely affected by climate changes are exemplary, not the exception.

A core principle of the open borders movement is that basic services and the ability to fully participate in a planetary social self-composition must not be dependent upon arbitrary national access. The question emerges then, not only what that universal infrastructure would be, but also who or what might provide it: state, post-state, private, post-private institutions, etc. For this, we look not only to political movements but also to programs and platforms that already allow for transnational, supranational, and subnational services, and, indeed, to anything else capable of meeting the challenge of what happens next.

 

POSITIVE BIOPOLITICS

The future of planetary governance includes a positive biopolitics at planetary scale. We can glimpse a bit of what that may entail through the lens of the pandemic. Responses based on equitable, well-structured data platforms that were able to sense relevant information, bring it to the fore, communicate in a credible and consistent way were able to get greater social buy-in for what would later become more ambitious forms of focused intervention. Those that were not were left with the worst combination of draconian and anarchic improvisations. Populism crashed. Whether justified by an idea that free-floating finance is all that is necessary to steer a society, or that bottom-up elective communities and networks of self-organization can immediately do everything states once did but without the insults of hierarchy, the notion that complex systems such as human societies can do without top-down steerage finds its limit.

For a positive biopolitics, the aesthetic dichotomy between technological and social institutional responses is fictitious. The best responses were based on both. It is necessary for a society to be able to sense, model, and act back upon itself, and it is necessary for it to plan and provide for the care of populations. The implication of this experiment in comparative governance is that a positive and planetary-scale biopolitics is not only necessary, it is also possible.

In the longer term, it includes the preservation, cultivation and diversification of planetary life, both as it is and as it could be. Evolutionary and synthetic biology are conjoined as compositional frameworks. This refuses any Zoe vs. Bios metaphysics and instead acts deliberately and collectively as a species, not just as a private organism. It entails an agency of quantitative and qualitative models but also an archival purpose for 'Big Data' (seed vaults, ice cores, genomes, etc.) This, in turn, relies on the embrace not renunciation of a general sapience, both biological and technological, and a coherency of care for the astronomically rare lifeforms that we are and in which we are embedded.

 

ZONING EARTH

The planet is already structured through multiple spatio-temporal organizing regimes, meridians, national borders, notional borders, elevation lines, Karman lines, airspace rights, payments and settlement systems, GPS and BeiDou backbones, Top-Level Domain Names and IP addresses, and so on. These give predictable if distorting shape to interlocking complex systems of diverse scale and position. Not just spatial, these systems have also been structured at least as much through regimes of artificial time, from train tables to punch clocks, from French Republican decimal time to UNIX time. The rationalization of time as infrastructural tempo allows for the interoperation of processes across space, however mundane or visionary or violent or all at once. They may be constraints or lines of flight, and so it may be that the forms of planetary governance that will prove most useful and most effective have less to do with the Law per se, than with the organization and registration of artificial space and artificial time ...

The future zoning of Earth may draw on that history or seek to rectify it. It may be based on less arbitrary constants, such as astronomical units, or the strong arbitration of historical and archaeological preservation, protected corridors, megababylons, oceanic revenges, and so on. At stake are the means by which worlds are made and embodied, unit by unit.

Such standards and protocols are not just descriptive, they are generative. The metric system doesn’t just measure things, it defines the future scale of things and their interoperability. This artificiality is to be welcomed, not because it is “true,” because it can be redrawn. We can redraw the planetary structures of how we measure and calculate time, and thereby how we coordinate with one another; we can redraw maps and lay them on top of the old maps, layer upon layer leaking through. There are in fact multiple totalities not only possible, but already at hand.

 

ECOLOGICAL ENGINEERING AND ENFORCEMENT

The challenge of ecological governance runs directly into the obvious mismatch between local jurisdiction and the ubiquity of, for example, atmospheric carbon dioxide. Where effective planetary-scale planning and governance should reside, there is instead a screeching void.

Despite their flaws, the underlying premise of “Green New Deals” is a shift in the role of governance. Instead of just reflecting the general will, governance is now also the direct management of ecosystems, inclusive of human society. This may, however, not go far enough. The absence of strong planning discourages directed investment in infrastructures predicated on long-term recuperative cycles of energy and material flows. The retail market in carbon can’t be expected to just suddenly invert itself to incentivize burying the stuff instead of burning it. That must be forced into existence, just as fossil fuels would be forced out of the energy mix. A planetary-scale Green New Deal would also be based on the painfully obvious link between robust public health systems and economic and ecological viability. It would forego nationalism on behalf of coordination, foreground core research, and delink culture war romanticism from ecosystem robustness.

For example, the specter of “geoengineering” includes some interventions that absolutely must be realized as quickly as possible, such as negative emissions technologies, and others, such as solar radiation management, that are hopefully never actually used. There absolutely should be a deep and broad debate on what should and should not develop, but this cannot just be a mechanism for the Global North nimbyism to veto interventions on behalf of its comfortable notions of climate change as a foremost a “narrative.” Somehow, for some pundits, the idea of ​​widespread negative emissions technology is disqualified because “unlikely,” whereas the wholesale transformation of the global social order, immediate carbon zero, and the end of economics as we know is, actually, immediately at hand and just a matter of moral will (or better “storytelling”). There are moral hazards involved, including the moral hazards that come from doubling down on the dichotomization between envisioned decarbonization of society versus direct decarbonization of the atmosphere. There are real moral hazards that come from delaying the decarbonization of the atmosphere By Any Means Necessary, and buying a few years for the necessary transitions to social decarbonization to be both more likely and less violent.

If the future of planetary governance will be determined by capacity for mobilization and enforcement, then the relation between geotechnologies and geopolitics shift accordingly. The former may determine the latter, more than the inverse. Long-term secular energy futures, decarbonization, and carbon capture, the rationalization of planetary metabolisms, the reformulation of the legal status of “waste,” and the governance of molecularity more than the mediation of majority voice all attest to a climate realism more than an environmental medievalism. They also attest to the need for not just rebellion against extinction but the active prevention of it, as well as the projection and curation of viable planetarity.

 

ANOTHER KIND OF “TECHNOCRACY”

The term technocracy, for obvious but not always legitimate reasons, is also disreputable. It has come to be synonymous not with a kind of politics but with the purported absence of politics. It implies anonymous functionaries making petty rote decisions so that the very big decisions, such as what kind of society do we want, not only never have to be decided, they never have to be posed at all. We would envision instead a technocracy that not only allows us to ask that question, but is itself an answer to that question. How may governance enforce normative claims and through them regularize justice? Perhaps directly.

The “technocracy” to be conceived is not the one cherished by populists as an all-purpose bogeyman, but nor is it necessarily drawn from the lineage that traces Alexander Bogdanov, J.D. Bernal, and Howard Scott as forefathers of Cybersyn and cyberpunk. It need not render the whole of society as a machine, but rather to recognize the role of the machinic in the formation of the social, and to grasp this as a basis of governance. That the social would be planetary, the machine may be as well, but planetarity implies not just scale, it also implies interrelation. For that, what is really an Idealism is governance by prefigurative discursive inscription, that is, the law. By contrast, Watt and Maxwell's Governor is not what Adam Curtis might call “a dream,” but rather a most immediate medium.

On behalf of that alternative sort of technocracy we then ask first: why are the law and lawyers deciding? The scientists and the engineers tell us the climate change is real and they understand its complexities, and so why must society convince the lawyers and the MBAs what to do about it? Why is it that today the scientists work for the lawyers, and not the other way around?

This speaks also to questions of centralization and decentralization, because the term technocracy has implications in both directions. In its earliest visions, technocracy implied a massively centralized top-down institution, but there’s no reason that it should necessarily be the structure of one. The investment of aspiration (and a lot of actual energy) in blockchains, to take only one example, is also an investment in the idea that a machine can replace a law, and that a machine is not only a repository of past design decisions that happen under the supervision of the law, but that the machine can be a way in which society makes decisions about itself directly.

 

HEMISPHERICAL STACKS

If planetary-scale computation is an accidental megastructure comprised of interlocking layers forming “stacks,” then planetary governance is exercised at each level, each a different scale and demand. Our geopolitics is already organized around planetary-scale computation, even if it doesn’t refer to itself in this way. The geopolitical conflict between China and the United States — over 5G, AI, chips, and who gets to sense whose data, who gets to produce models about whom, who gets to simulate whom within the larger models that constitute contemporary governance — are exemplary of this. Competitions over the ability to produce data about the world, the ability to produce models from that data, which in point of fact, becomes not just what governance does, but what governance is.

Hemispherical stacks is one place where geotechnology and geopolitics converge. But we should see this not as some kind of perversity or unnatural invasion. Rather, we should recognize that what we call “politics” has always been dependent upon the technologies that make it possible. The State has always evolved in relationship to what it can see, as has every other institution, including the most decentralized.

But what is the conversation on this today? It tilts toward very mutable invocations of "sovereignty." There are as many different definitions of “internet sovereignty” as there are positions claiming that it is the primary issue. Does the hemispherical segmentation of stacks mean tech nationalism, isolation, delinking? If so, does this in turn mean conceptual diversity in technological development or rather simply self-retardation? Does it mean authoritarian control of information and a captured civil society, or does it mean democratic control of policy norms and access free from market demands? The answer depends on who you ask. In every case, it means a shift of governance from a politics that is about technology to one that recognizes technology as governance.

However, the core actors in this drama and realignment are not precisely countries, but rather hemispherical-scale State-structural networks that extend from infrastructural technologies to platforms of influence. Each wishes to enforce its hegemony, but the deeper and more profound shift at work is that hemispherical stacks are now the domain through which hegemony is contested. The “US” wishes to protect an International Order built after the Cold War, and “China” wishes to build another after the “post-Cold War era” itself bids good night.

Are these hemispherical stacks the basis of what comes next or the odd exhaustion of what came before? If fully devolved anarchism is as absurd as hereditary monarchism and as brutal as any other medievalist fantasy, the perpetuation of “end of history” market liberalism is also a nightmare nostalgia parade. In the imbalance, the present feels improvisational, provisional. It is filled with charter cities popping up in the desert and artificial islands rising in strategic shipping lanes. It invites in turn, exploratory combinations and matrices: neocameralist socialism, fully automated luxury whateverism, Kantian peace with Chinese characteristics, top-down decentralization, bottom-up centralization, Alexandre Kojève's final Hyperstate at the end of the road listed on NASDAQ, etc.

 

SPACE LAW

Twentieth-century space programs discovered Earth as a planet (more than a world). Earth is, after all, in space: we are in space right now. And so, what is its law? Even if geotechnologies will determine geopolitics more than the inverse, the legal architectures of planetary governance are not just an outcome, they are also the medium through which that determination would flow. Beyond Federalism, what are the forms that begin with the planetary, not the national, as the starting point? Space law represents an existing, if also disorganized and permeable body of precedent law regarding the legal authority over an entire astronomic body. While it is usually meant to adjudicate conflicts beyond Earth, its future implications for terrestrial planetary governance of Earth are compelling for the question of planetary governance, here and now.

The principle of space law that planets, moons, satellites, and asteroids are to be legally understood first in their entirety, rather than first sub-sectioned into separate sovereign zones which might only later convene as Federalist global governance imagined it, is its advantage. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 set out some aspirational rules that are followed (or not) by the irregular cooperation of its signatories. It fortified the primacy of States as the responsible legal actors in space (at USSR’s insistence) and indeed much of contemporary space law works to adjudicate space as an extension of Earth. This is sure to change. While satellites orbit under the flag of particular terrestrial countries, the rise of private space industries will surely complicate this norm. As more infrastructure is projected and located beyond the atmosphere, we will see that the extension runs both ways.

The current projection of terrestrial international law into extraterrestrial contexts will need to accommodate new questions that it cannot answer without changing its premises and promises. It will evolve, and over time, it will come to form a political governance architecture that is as different from the Treaty of 1967 as that declaration was from the Magna Carta. As it does, Earth will be seen less as the core from which the law is projected and more as the central site over which Space law is asked to decide. The legal structure of planetary governance should (must) be a kind of Earth-inclusive Space law if it is to meet the challenges we ask of it.

 

MODES OF PLANETARITY

The term, planetarity, appears in the Humanities at the end of the last century, but the condition to which it refers is several billion years in the making. That is, there is a political-philosophical planetarity and also an astronomic planetarity, and while the two have different meanings, the implications of one for the other should inspire correspondence and mutual reinforcement. The interests of one should not be opposed to the other. There is no viable political-philosophical planetarity that does not define itself through the scientific disclosures of what a planet is, where it goes, and how it comes to render itself, just as those must inform the premises upon which that rendering intelligences comprehend themselves as an embedded phenomenon of their planet, not a figure separated from it.

Even as “planetarity” is posed as a projective and futural question, a challenge to a futurity to be composed and structured by a general sapience, it must also be understood first as the current provisional name for a condition revealed by recent planetary technical vision, measurement, engagement with, and modeling of what has largely been there all along, preceding the present time and also making it possible.

There is then another dual sense of the term. There is the astronomic connotation and the philosophical connotation, but derived from these there is also the revealed planetarity and the projective planetary. Put differently, there is (1) a planetary condition that is the specificity of Earth, and the arc of life that evolved upon it, including the sapient life that comes to conceptualize that evolution and that specificity, and there is also (2) the planetary condition that is brought about by the chaotic coordinations of that sapience to organize conditions, which would include the scope of human history, transcontinental entanglements and extractions, geological effects, technological cultures, the diversity and convergences of languages, the liberation of carbon and the wrapping of the planet in wires, satellites, sensors and servers, and so on.

Crucially, it goes both ways; each makes the other possible in a way. The relation between these two kinds of planetary — superficially a natural and an artificial planetarity — is mutual. The latter emerges from the former, as a guise of the former, and then acts back upon it to alter its course, but also the latter reveals and discloses the former as the reality in which and on which the latter is inextricably situated. (I don't mean “reveal” in the sense of Heideggerian sense of “framing” but rather the scientific disclosure of the disenchanted reality of the planet — something that he famously found so disturbing.) The implication of those Copernican revelations is that this “Artificiality” is a challenge to collective sapience by and through the demystification of a former innocence. It can never again act without also knowing its conditions and their consequences. This is a matter of competence, not mastery.

For general sapience to find its way, it must be able to govern its own functions. For governance to function, it must be planetary and for it to be planetary it must be immanent in whatever constitutes the planet.

For a deeper dive into the topic, read “‘New World Order’: For Planetary Governance” by The Terraforming Program Director Benjamin Bratton.

If you noticed a typo or mistake, highlight it and send to us by pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Share