Topology Is Politics

When I returned to Art School a decade ago to finish my long abandoned BFA degree, an interesting event happened. Our school had a new Dean, he was ultimately doomed as Dean, but was a brilliant postmodern theorist. He gave his inaugural lecture on Postmodern Art. But our art history school had a focus on Dada and Duchamp and was moving pomo so this lecture could shape the direction of future curriculum. For me, the shift in sensibilities would be more obvious, I remembered the old school from the days when people used to talk about Grant Wood teaching painting. The lecture was highly anticipated, people had located some of the new Dean’s published papers but were not sure what he was all about.
The lecture began with the room darkening and slides appeared on the screen, this was another slide lecture, how many hours had I spent in slide lectures throughout my life, I could not even count. The slides appeared, and side by side were two nearly identical paintings, one by Gerhardt Richter, and one by Jean Dubuffet. These are my two favorite painters. The lecture began by posing the question of why these two paintings were in different genres, why was one pomo and one Modernism, even though they contained astonishingly similar content and were painted at almost the same date? Then the tone of the lecture changed. I was astonished to sit through an extremely abstruse lecture on Duchamp, n-dimensional physics, and topology and their application to postmodern studies. This is not the place for an intense pomo lecture, especially since this is my favorite topic and I’ll go on and on and on. But let me hit a couple of points. Fasten your seatbelts, we are entering the incomprehensibility zone.
In the old world-view of Modernism, there is one Great Work, we see farther than others because we stand on the shoulders of giants. We build a consensual paradigm, occasionally we have paradigm shifts but the great work moves onward towards perfection. We construct a map of reality, our reality is filtered through our perception. The reality is the Map. We are on the Chosen Path, and will not turn back.
But in pomo, the world view fractured sometime along the Vietnam War era, people lost their faith in a monolithic eurocentric world view. Perhaps there was a problem, a lack of correspondence between our mental maps and reality. The buddhists believe all suffering is caused by delusion that keep us from seeing the world as it is. Perhaps we are reading from the wrong map. Perhaps we should continuously deconstruct our predominant paradigm, and have the ability to choose which mental map is the most effective at any one moment. This was perhaps best expressed by Rudy Rucker, who wrote (paraphrasing here) "a man of true intelligence should be able to analyze things from many points of view, simultaneously." The choice itself had to be deconstructed. As comedian Ian Shoales said, "How many deconstructionists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Even the asking of that question makes assumptions about the value of labor, phallocentrism, and enlightenment." This is the endless recursive quantum theoretical black hole of self-self-self-analysis, the abyss of incomprehensible drivel that pomo theoreticians and semanticians argue endlessly. But for them, the microcosm is the macrocosm, and the entire world’s condition rests behind every decision in every brushstroke. This universe is an manifestation of a continuous record of our millions of infinitesimal decisions that shatter our world-line into infinite multiple universes.
Whew. Well you can see why people hate Art Historians and their drivel. But this is my field and I actually like this drivel. So after the lecture, I went up and thanked the Dean for his interesting lecture, and told him he should read some of Rudy Rucker’s math books. I told him briefly about Rudy’s radical ideas about how life was a cellular automaton that constructed a fractal wavefront in n-dimensional space. And I briefly related one of his points back to an old computer hacker’s saying, "Topology is Politics." And when the Dean heard that quotation, he said, "What?? Where did you hear that?"
Yes, the battle between postmodernism and Modernism is the battle in topological space, an n-dimensional battle for our predominant paradigm, and the battle lines are drawn in the places that are most information-rich. I call it the "Paradigm paradigm." The new paradigm is that no predominant paradigm is valid, our mindspace and our reality are mapped by many maps simultaneously. When you pull out a map of your reality, how dense is it? How many dimensions? How many of the maps can you overlay crosscheck and deconstruct simultaneously? What assumptions are you making when you pick these maps? Why? What politics are involved?
So there you have the model for what is even happening in the world of Web Services (oh no, here it comes again). It’s the same battle of paradigms. We have one Modernistic monolithic monoculture monopoly, Bill Gates of Borg. You will be assimilated, resistance is futile. The current world view is propagated to all drones through Microsoft Critical Updates, we are all in sync, we the One, we are Borg. But can the unity and perfection of the Borg survive its obvious structural problems? Monoculture is prone to viruses and other unusual structural threats, the whole structure could collapse instantly. But the Borg continue to extend, and your biological distinction will be added to ours, adding to our perfection.
But Mac people think different. We are not Redmond geeks who watched too many episodes of Star Trek and haven’t evolved political sensibilities beyond Ayn Rand. We are not like Them. We have long resisted letting Bill Gates and other megalomaniacs get their Borg probes into our machines. We want control of our configurations and how our machines perform is strictly our decision. We’re restructured with armored BSD and high power Unix, it is an multiculture of cooperating standards. It is a perfect economic model of open source and a little proprietary eye candy and OS icing on the cake to keep customers attacted to the products and buying them. But when we look at a product like Radio, it seems to me that Dave wants to be Bill, and hates Steve. Dave wants to run his daemon in your userspace, userspace is remapped as Userland, continuously updated and linked to the centralized Borg database, just like Bill’s. That way his every expressed thought, his algorithms will battle it out in the netspace. It’s a battle for dominant net paradigms, and Dave is a control freak. Customers are only a carrier wave to deliver Dave’s standards to the netspace. If he could do this without those pesky customers getting in his way, that would be preferable. But then how would he make a buck? Gimme a break.
So in case I’m not making myself clear here, which is likely, let me make it even more clear. Dave, WTF are you doing? I’m mostly a content creator and I don’t care about this political battle for networking topological standards, I have work to do, I’m busy. Get your act together. Get a Mac. WTF are you messing with dual CPUs and samba and odd configs with old linux distros? Get a dual-1Ghz Quicksliver Mac and put in a high-speed disk system with a redundant RAID and see what Exodus can do with its Gigabit ethernet, they’ll love it. These systems are reliable and sturdy, get the MacOS X clients working up to those standards. Get your servers off your bozo boxes and put it on one unified Mac, running in BSD. Check out the NetInfo system, written by people who would understand what you’re trying to do. Get a machine with a Superdrive so you can do a DVDR backup of 4.4Gb and not have to worry about downtime and major incidents. Get Serious. We like reliability and long uptimes. I seem to recall even Adam Curry made some remarks at how he wrote Applescripts to quit and restart when it hangs, your product should not need such close supervision. Get serious about core performance before new features. And get out of that Microsoft-centric mindset, I’m sick of creeping feature-itis and bloatware and poor performance and Borg probes. Even Microsoft is on a new-features moratorium until the end of their 30-Day security review (now nearing the end of its 3rd month). Even Microsoft realizes, somewhat reluctantly, that someone will build it right if you don’t.
So let’s go back to Art School one last time and get out of here. One of the continual ordeals of Art School is the periodic group critiques with your classmates. As G. B. Shaw said, "it is not the critics role to say whether or not he was amused, but to say why he was or was not amused." But critiques can turn into horrible political and social battles. The problem is simple, people fail to understand that criticism does not equal condemnation. If I do a structural analysis of someone’s work in front of them, and they hear you say this bit works and this bit doesn’t work, most people only hear that as condemnation, especially those people with bloated egos. It becomes personal, and people respond in kind, it can become a vicious circle. People who have a distinct opinion about their work tend to believe that their vision is the only valid one, and no other way of working could possibly be valid. Rigid paradigms are not sustainable in this postmodern age. So Dave, get over yourself, check your paradigm and get to work.

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