It’s the summer of 2020 and our operating systems are failing. Systemic inequality has been exacerbated at both local and planetary scales by the current pandemic intensifying the demand for systemic justice. Yet we now exist in an unstable condition of flux—highly volatile, as well as extraordinarily generative—and we are all accountable for and subject to the future that emerges from these shifting conditions. A future built through this flux demands new territories and creates nodes from which to act.

Meeting the multiplicity of health crises, missing social safety nets, climate change, AI, automation, and risk analyses require scalable cohering narratives that must emanate from within small clusters yet also engage the overall assemblage of larger systems. Strategic alliances will define new terms of engagement between systems and societies, and these alliances are and will be the protagonists as well as the spaces through which they navigate.

What is needed now is, in general, an ability to maintain cohesion while navigating noise. Protocols are needed to develop conviction and confidence in our expansive capacities and responsibilities as a species, while maintaining the humility and understanding of our species’ limitations as sapient matter immersed in a multitude of systems whose command is beyond our capacities.

A.S.T. proposes the following set of protocols for the construction of twenty-first century alliances traversing borders, nation states, and species. We look to the typology of the murmuration as a model for new operating systems and protocols that adapt as they move: through their murmurations, starlings have the “remarkable ability to maintain cohesion as a group in highly uncertain environments and with limited, noisy information.” We likewise need cohering protocols to make the conceptual and organizing tools to build strategic alliances defining new terms of engagement between systems and societies; tools to repair and remake our cities and communities in the face of ghastly historic failures. And, like murmurations, these protocols must be adaptable and revisable.

  • 001_Adaptation
  • 002_Territory
  • 003_Navigation
  • 004_Scale
  • 005_Time
  • 006_Risk
  • 007_Translation
  • 008_Alliances

The basis for survival is adaptation: agility in the face of contingency, a capacity to revise, to take on the feedback loop as a working methodology.

Adaptation is not “survival of the fittest”; it cannot be derived from market values of individuated neoliberalism. Adaptation is a dynamic force for coalition building; it is diverse capacities coalescing into a distributed fortitude that operates across a system.

We [‘we’ as defined in Protocol 008_alliances] become the adaptation we need to be, that we need each other to be, by bringing together our diverse capacities. It is within our synthetic capacities that our greatest potential emerges—socially, technically. Irrigation systems can sustain natural systems, dredged bodies of water work in tandem with natural land formations, digital information flows impact brick and mortar city planning.

Adaptive use and re-use is cyclical and integral. Virtual and material affordances of a multitude of assemblages can both mutate and bond with other assemblages in unforeseeable and adaptable ways.

Protocol 001_We are already synthetic. Adaptation is our only way through.

The concept of territory must now be defined by shifting urgencies rather than historical power grabs. We must unlearn the ways we previously understood territory. New language, new maps, new spatial matrices must be developed in order to articulate where we are. “Territory” must be recalibrated.

Previous territories and borders were delineated by mapping through extractivist processes, a history of violence and contradictions defined by power in the interest of power. Westphalian sovereignty is not adequate to engage with climate change, geo-political entanglements, the cloud, pandemics. These are our pre-existing conditions. Centuries of digging up and burning the remains of dinosaurs have released their ghosts. Those ghosts are haunting us and are not bound by something as human and temporally fleeting as national borders. As new urgencies surface, new territories are defined and new alliances must be built.

Protocol 002_Territory is now a process. It is not a fixed state.

Navigation now is not just understanding how to move through space. It also means knowing how to move through information. And information comes to us amidst a cacophonous sea of noise.

Noise exists in various spatial modalities: (land, sea, air, etc.), mediums (human and non-human bodies, news, data, infrastructure, etc.) and contested platforms (television, social media, radio, internet, etc.). There are global and local parameters to both noise and noise navigation that scale up and down. Navigation is making sense of the noise, at times differentiating noise from the message as the field morphs around it; other times taking clues from the noise itself.

Historically, navigation involved finding a way between fixed points. Territory is information in constant flux. The ground is no longer fixed, but fluid. Navigation is a methodology for sense-making in a space of constant dynamism, not plotting lines from understood origins to logical solutions.

Protocol 003_Navigation is not typological but topological. Navigation is recursive positioning.

There are chains of consequences, capacities, and horizons which all need to be regularly adapted to and adjusted for. The ramifications of these scale shifts proliferate across strata (geological, infrastructural, social, molecular, quantum). There is an urgency to construct systems that function across multiple scales, as well as systems that function at different scales but are able to link into one another.

Scale is operationalized by both extensive and intensive material properties. As the phase changes occur, scale oscillation needs to occur too, with comprehensive and recursive agility.

It is not enough to hover in the familiar. We must inhabit the alien—not through mastery or domination but through the optimization of constraints, recognition of the broadest sense of “we” and our diverse capacities.

Protocol 004_Multi-scalar fluency is essential.

We evolved to comprehend time at a particular scale where it maintains a persistent linearity, one event following another. We appear to be witnesses as well as agents of causality. But our timelines extend now beyond experience; our timelines are geological. Fuel made from long dead life compressed for millions of years has been consistently burning for two-hundred years, affecting a global system ten-thousand years into the future.

We did not evolve to experience this temporality, yet it looms as an existential threat, as real as any ancient predator bounding at us through the dark. Time is creeping up on us, hunting us; we are predator and we are prey. Time will eat us whole if given half a chance.

Our commitments in time tend to be bound by our perceptions of it. We can recognize our limits and act on what we know rather than the limits of our experience; we adapt to navigate and affect temporality’s indeterminacy, enabling our commitments to act as murmurations extending across time. And as we recognize our perceptual limits, we expand the temporal commitments we have the capacity to make.

We must speak from various time frames depending on what subject and/or time period we are speaking from or to. Time is a pliable medium through which alternate futures can emerge. We can and must commit to temporalities outside experience. Additionally, we are now in a period of deep time urgency.

Protocol 005_Time is not fixed. Time is plastic.

We evaluate where and when and what to protect, to repair, and to let go of. “Disasters” are perceived: environmental “catastrophes” are labeled as such; hurricanes are coded by their “cones of uncertainty”; “pandemic protocols” are created; and insistence on human rights challenges the powers that be.

Risk mitigation occurs every time you leave your home—ie. forced by environmental factors, buying food in the face of a health risk, or protesting under duress. These are the risks that can be mitigated as individuals, but risk functions across scales—from the quantum to the cosmological.

Proliferation of complexity and risk makes top-down grand narratives obsolete as a relationship to the future. Thriving in this context means practical, political, and epistemic commitments need to happen across a multitude of systems and scales to provide protective and proactive measures (care-taking), assuring the survival of system diversity, health and wellbeing, and equity across systems, both human and non-human.

Protocol 006_Risk mitigation is constitutive of existence.

We like to understand ourselves as agents in the process of worlding, as the species with the capacity to construct the future. On some scales we can; on other scales we are mere fodder for material processes. Worlding is enacted sometimes with deliberation; other times it is an act of emergence arising from a set of conditions. Worlds do not exist a-priori.

Understanding ourselves as part of material speculation—deliberate or otherwise—constitutes a productive alienation. It is in our interest to attempt to apprehend alien worlds that already incorporate us. To understand where we are, where we have been, and where we want to go requires translation.

Translation should advance our empathies as well as understand our complicities as a species.

It is the interface that makes legible, visual, and palpable what we see—not simply what we want to see. Art is a function that makes the invisible visible and penetrates consciousness through leaky infiltration.

Protocol 007_Alien translation is what we need art to be.

Entanglements, both visible and concealed, govern our world. Alliances operating at the scale of the biosphere are essential to address the challenges and crises in our midst. At the same time, the biggest shifts are catalyzed at the granular scale—they are accessed through pattern shifts of mundane behaviors that rewrite imaginations, both individual and collective, and vibrate into deep time. Alliances embody the rewired coalitions that reconfigure territories and societies within transformation. They can counter entrenched power by finding mutual aims and constructing webs of connection from contamination, mutation, the indeterminate space of precarity. Whether born from spontaneity or strategy, new alliances are the responsive agents of this condition. They are the dynamic technology for mediating difference, the unclassifiable, the chaos, the fallout; they can flip crises into essential transformation.

Alliances are the protagonists and the navigational structure, alliances are the territory. Alliances give us access to the multiplicity we must work within; alliances enable us to be an adequate “we,” a “we” sufficient to the scale of the problem.

Protocol 008_We are alliances or we are nothing.