Defacement

 Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) – Jean-Michel Basquiat

Medium: acrylic and marker on wood (Originally painted on the wall of Keith Haring’s studio in the days after Stewart was beaten to death by New York City police in September 1983) Date: 1983 Collection of: Nina Clemente Dimensions: 63.5×77.5cm

A.C.A.B.

(A.C.A.B. is an acronym meaning "All Cops Are Bastards")

Stories about the police killing black people are familiar, so familiar in fact that their details began to fade. Videos that were massively shared lose their shocking value as many others make their appearance. I am not a conspiracy theorist but I am ashamed to say that I didn’t know a lot about (the history of) policing until recently. It has something to do with my privilege and normalization. 

[edit 19-7] My dad used to work for the Dutch police, for a few years, when I was still a child and he needed to provide for our family. He wasn’t a policeman and had to put some of his own resistance a side working there. Still, he was able to communicate open and truthful with his police-colleagues during those years. And I am not saying that all cops are bad people. They are people who work for the police. Police = bad, people not. I had a friend in primary school, whose father was (still is?) a police agent, but I don’t remember much about his job. Maybe some kid did a presentation once. I wouldn’t recommend downloading the “spreekbeurtpakket” (presentation package for children) today, because they teach shit like; “Is your friend threatened (by another kid)? Steals a classmate from backpacks at school? Is there something wrong? Tell the police now.1 I haven’t been involved with police much either. I remember running away from them once, after almost being busted for public drinking and doing drugs at a local park with friends from high school and reporting a hit and drive when we drove into a car that randomly stopped on the highway. I remember them making a house call after someone complained about noise and I remember the several times I wanted to file a rapport on abuse and sexual harassment but didn’t go. Do you remember your encounters with the police?

Police, past present perfect

Each country has its own story of policing and its important to know the differences. Since I grew up in the Netherlands, I will start there.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment where the police force (as we know it today), was created in the Netherlands. I found it even harder to define an origin. According to the government website police.nl “De Nederlandse politiegeschiedenis begint in 1581, bij de vorming van de Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden.”2 (Dutch police history begins in 1581, with the formation of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.), but I think that this is a huge overstatement. I will start this story at the 1750s. In bigger cities, the policing forces went by the names of ‘schout’ (magistrate? Google translate, help me!) and their ‘rakkers’ (pickles? no that can’t be right!). Those rakkers were helpers and somewhat comparable to the police agents nowadays. The schouts worked directly for the municipality and used to be more like detectives. Maintaining the public order was done by militia and the night watchman.3 See: painting Rembrandt van Rijn. In reality, they weren’t dressed as nicely as they were painted, and weren’t carrying guns either. The night watch was equipped with a wooden stick and a ‘klepper’. A klepper is rotating hammer on a wooden stick that functioned as an alarm. 

(https://www.politieacademie.nl/thema/Politiegeschiedenis/canonpolitiegeschiedenis/Pages/1Deschoutzijnrakkersendeschutterij.aspx)

They didn’t earn much. The militia was only called when needed, not regularly and had another job in everyday life. The militia consisted of regular citizens; next-door neighbours who were primarily and above all carpenters, smiths or salesman, that worked in a shop or tavern. And no one really wanted to work those low paid night shift, so the occupation of night watch was taken by those who otherwise couldn’t make a living. They were looked down upon. If citizens protested, for example, the army was called instead. 

This changed when France came and conquered the Netherlands. The French history of policing is quite different because police already existed there. King Lodewijk the XIVth liked the army so much that he employed them everywhere. This French police shared the king’s command easily, armed with guns and horses. In 1793, the French announced war to the Dutch republic of united Netherlands. General Napoleon gained power shortly after and by 1810 the Netherlands belonged to France. The Dutch could apply for their police job, and some gladly did so even though the French police-army wasn’t liked very much. “It was too French.” The Netherlands were free again by 1813. Prince Willem van Oranje moved back from Great Britain to the Netherlands that November and was instated as king. He obviously couldn’t keep the much-hated French policing system, even though he would have liked that very much. He changed their name. 26th of October 1814, signed the birth of the Royal Marechaussee. Their first post (police station) rose in Maastricht, 164 others followed across the south of the country before 1815. They patrolled day- and night. Their horses needed breaks and their uniforms were not resistant against rain, but they were well equipped with a sabre, pistol and carbine. The Royal Marechaussee didn’t shy away from using rough force and violence against the king’s citizens that wouldn’t obey their orders. These police-militia were generally employed for 6 years and never punished like ordinary citizens (they were soldiers, right?!). The north of the Netherlands had different minions of the law. This policing force had no investigative powers, did not wear a uniform and were not sworn by any oath. They very much worked just like they did before the French occupied them.

Slowly, very slowly the order of policing changed. The Dutch government was inspired by Great Britain police enforcement and they started copying their way around the 1840s/1850s; uniforms, sabels, top hats and all. Schooling wasn’t needed; no issue if you hadn’t finished your primary school, could read and write a bit.. nice, but not mandatory. You had to be big, tough and strong to join. The Dutch police were rough and they handled the citizens even rougher. Needless to say that they weren’t liked much. 

1848, J. R. Thorbecke, a very import Dutch statesman, didn’t like them. Decent citizens knew where their responsibilities lay and would fill the state’s treasury anyway, he said. But not everyone agreed with him and the police force grew bigger. Comparing the amounts; whereby 1815 only 52 ‘police’ were active in Amsterdam, 1844 counted 88,1856 had 23 inspectors and 96 agents, by 1877 303 and three years later Amsterdam counted 600. 

1880, the world of the Dutch citizens had changed too. Factories rose and working conditions were unbearable. Workers protested and this is a perfect example of what police calls; ‘disrupting public order’, the police felt forced to intervene. To gain strength national police officers and marechaussee joint their forces. The marechaussee horses deemed often intimidating enough to prevent protests from happening, that tactic is still being employed to this day. A police apparatus formed around the same time. One that didn’t only bother with uprisings and misconduct, but legal knowledge, self-defence and First Aid too. And later traffic policing was introduced, even though laws weren’t in place yet. 

1901, the question of who polices the police was raised by a liberal member of parliament H. Kist. Nothing changed much until WW1 when police training was introduced to be cancelled again only in a few years. The Amsterdam municipal police had three stations: one to combat counterfeit certificates, also known as the counterfeit money centre, one that fought international criminals and one that investigated girls and women trafficking. In Rotterdam, located the smuggling of narcotics and car thefts. Amsterdam and Rotterdam were extremely proud of those stations and their work against crime, they didn’t want to merge. Dutch police officers in training still learn about police collaboration from stories of those days. 

One story goes like this: One day somewhere around 1919 an English newspaper published an article about human trafficking. “Het ging in die dagen om de overtuiging van een levendige handel in blanke slavinnen.” (In those days it was about the conviction of a lively trade in white slave girls. [Google translate]) reads policeacademie.nl. This story is about white girls, imagine if they would have been people of colour or black. The victimized white girls story kept Europa busy for years and ultimately let a European force to be formed with headquarters (IKPK) in Vienna. After WW2 IKPK was replaced by Interpol.

“International sex traffickers can also be empowered by poorly-thought-out prohibitionist police actions, which often involve deporting or incarcerating foreign women involved in sex work, a practice often driven by US policies.” writes Alex S. Vitale in his book The End of Policing about American policing. It is not so different from European policing.

In truth sex workers are seldom in favour of the police and these workers rarely see police intervention as being in their best interest. Either if it’s because the sex worker’s interest in maintaining their anonymity, or that of their clients or other reasons, the police sees these sex workers as offenders rather than victims and often fail to take their request for help seriously, regardless of whether sex work is voluntary or coerced.

* (source: personal Facebook page from someone I used to know, currently employed by the Dutch Armed Forces)

* It’s broken Dutch, but it roughly translates: For anyone who demonstrates against slavery and racism: 1. First learn the history from the country you live in. Not only the part you think is important but everything. 2. Realize the times you live in…..thus the NOW or do you really live in the past? 3. You are against racism and slavery? Fine no problem with that…..are you also going to do something about slavery nowadays in which WHITE girls are misused as sexslaves? 4. You want the statues from your streets gone because it bothers you? Jeez why did you come to the Netherlands where you have all chance? 5. You think that I should respect you, because of the colour of your skin, your religion, your believes and values….CAN I ASK YOU WHERE YOUR RESPECT FOR MY COUNTRY, MY CULTURE, MY BELIEVES AND VALUES?

Before we address how police worldwide have been implicated in running, demolishing and providing protection for brothels, assaulting sex workers, border control and deporting or incarcerating foreign women let us go back to the Netherlands. The reality is that no amount of police (intervention) will ever eradicate crime. The police force in the Netherlands consisted of 20.000 men during WW2.4 Their distribution of police agents shifted after the war and it was cleansed, reformed again and again until 1994; the KLPD (National Police Force) is formed. The Netherlands is not a police state and even though both army, Marechaussee and Justice system have to answer to the same government, they’ll stay somewhat separate.

From the 1960s onward the Dutch police are most afraid of drugs traffic, terrorism and (integration of) immigrants, often with an Islamic background.5 

Living today means,

<<vigilant and helpful>> https://www.politie.nl/

2020, The Dutch police consists of ten regional units, the National Unit and the Police Services Center. It counts approximately 50,400 officers.6 That means 295 police officers per 100,000 people, one officer for 339 people. There’s quite a lot of blue on the Dutch streets. Their basic tasks are wide in range; daily surveillance (like, making sure no one sprays graffiti and watching young people leave the bars at holiday locations in the summer7), warning others and tipping them off, helping (Domestic violence? Abuse? Fire in a private house? The police helps.8), enforcement (like, addressing noise disturbance), everything that has to do with traffic, and research. The police have ‘special’ tasks too. Police investigations (done by the Dienst Landelijke Recherche (DLR)) look into matters of human trafficking, the creation and sales of drugs, terrorism and online crime. The Dienst Landelijke Informatieorganisatie (DLIO) deals with information and data, they work often together with Europol and Interpol. The Dienst Speciale Interventies (DSI) is the police and the army combined, who tackle life-threatening situations. The Dienst Koninklijke en Diplomatieke Beveiliging (DKDB) makes sure that the king, princesses, and sometimes mayors, councillors and judges are safe and secure from threats. The Dienst Infrastructuur  (Dinfra) consists of the railway-, traffic-, aviation- and water police. The Dienst Landelijke Operationele Samenwerking (DLOS) makes sure that they all work together, and the Dienst Landelijk Operationeel Centrum (DLOC) guides them all. 

A Dutch police agent on the street carries pepper spray, a PVC baton, a gun (Walther, P99Q NL), handcuffs, teargas, flashlight, portophone, latex gloves and special units carry in addition to the gun, a semi-automatic machine gun too.

What would you do? 

Again I quote a scenario depicted in a school presentation distributed for children by the Dutch police. 

“Emergency line, 112, do you want to speak with police, fire brigade or ambulance?” A man sounds uncontrollable: “police! “.

The operator answering the phone wants to know what exactly is going on. 

“I see a gun, a boy is holding a gun! I am in the city and I see four boys, now. I do not know whether they have guns too. This is scary.”

Now, imagine that you are a police agent, receiving the notification from the emergency room. Four boys, armed. You take your bullet free vest and drive to the scene. A few minutes later you and your colleges arrive. Four suspects aged around 16 are standing on a public square. One of the kids has blood on his forehead. Then what?

(here there’s no indication whatsoever about the way the boys look, nor your knowledge of what they are supposed to look like. Other than the location you know nothing. This text doesn’t give any sign of a gun visible at this point.)

A) They are only children. I walk quietly towards them, try to chat and connect with them.

B) I pull out my gun and yell, “Police! With every suspicious move, I shoot ”.

C) Blood? I take my first aid kit and I run to the victim to help him.

The correct answer is B. The officer must pull out their gun and yell, “Police! With every suspicious move, I shoot”.

There are no suspicious movements. You arrest the boys. They are searched, one by one. On one boy you’ll find a gun and on another, you’ll find a bag of white powder.

(I imagine you, police, immediately notice if the gun is a real- or toy gun. If I can tell the difference, so should you.) What should you do next?

A) You give the boys a fine.

B) This is really bad. The boys must be detained and you take them to the police station. We can take look at the gun and the drugs. (white powder)

C) I call my colleague. She secures the gun and checks if it is a real one.

The correct answer is again, B.

It is a toy gun, that shoots rubber balls. This could have ended badly. What are you going to do now?

A) I talk to the boys. How did they get this weapon?

B) Oh, if the gun is fake, the boys can just go. Only real weapons are prohibited.

The correct answer is A. Police officers talk to the boys. As it turns out, the blood and drugs were fake too. They were filming a school project. The agents take the toy gun into custody. It looked real from a distance and that too is prohibited to use in the Netherlands. The parents and school are called. The boys get away with a warning. 

If you still want to work for the police in the Netherlands today, you’ll need to get some schooling. To become a surveillant it will take you 1,5 years of police academy and internships, an agent-to-be needs 2 years and 4 months, and to become head agent it takes you 8 months longer. You’ll need to go back to a training institute 4 times a year, so you be frequently trained while on the job too. Other opportunities to expand your police career involve more study courses in your private time. It is safe to say that every police agent must have had some form of diversity training. Still, you can ask yourself how much impact this has on racial disparities in traffic stops or scenarios as sketched above. How much implicit and explicit biases remain, even after targeted and intensive training? I don’t accuse officers to be intentionally racist, although this can be true, I doubt the training work because institutional pressures remain intact. 

(https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/hoe-etnisch-divers-is-de-nederlandse-politie~b7bd8e98/?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F)

Diversifying the workplace is often seen as another ‘solution’ against the problem of racial profiling, but even the most diverse forces have major problems with it. In America, for example, “…individual black and Latino officers appear to perform very much like their white counterparts.”10 And the Dutch Employee Monitor (2016) showed that half of all agents who describe themselves as ‘immigrants’ experience discrimination at work, which often causes them to quit their job.11 I guess that racial profiling and excessive use of force is often done by a small group of officers, who tend to be male, young and working in high-crime areas. They may find themselves in a culture of machismo that rewards this aggressive policing, formally ánd informally. The police have a special status that comes with the special power of being the sole legitimate users of force, and this too adds to the mindset of “them against us”. The institution’s ultimate purpose of the police has always been that of managing the poor and non-white, rather than generating equity and fair play. 

“There’s No Justice; There’s Just Us”

Reni Eddo-Lodge, title of the last chapter of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (2017)

Drugs

💉 💊 ⛄ 🌿 🍬 🍺 🍹 🚬

Now imagine that the white powder from our example story was indeed real drugs. The Opium Act prohibits the possession, trade, sale, transportation, manufacture, etc. of the substances covered by the law. Use by itself is not a criminal offence. The Opium Act consists of two lists in the Netherlands. The first describes hard drugs like; cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamine, LSD, heroin and the second depicts soft drugs; hash, weed and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Normally, possession of both hard drugs and soft drugs for personal use is not a legitimate reason for prosecution. If the boy carried less than 5 grams for soft drugs (hash or weed) and/or a maximum of 0,5 gram for hard drugs (cocaine, speed etc.), 1 XTC pill and 5 ml GHB or less the Dutch police could have taken it, he wouldn’t be fined. His name would be logged, but he wouldn’t get a criminal record. Decriminalization doesn’t increase drug use.

Drug use is a problem of health rather than criminal justice. I’d argue that it would be better to legalize it all, and then regulate their purity and potency. Drugs are associated with criminals, gangs and ethnic minorities in the Netherlands. A common thought of many Dutchies is to stop and wonder why a Caribbean or Moroccan- looking boy wears expensive clothing brands or drives a flashy car… we punish and search and him instead of his white friends. He’s stopped by the police. 

Don’t Shoot!

18 June 2020, the Dutch police officers use their gun 0,029 times a year on average. Some never use their weapons during their career, where others use it twice a year or more. They used it today. A disturbed man walked around in Eindhoven (NL) with a large knife, he allegedly threatened bypassers. A cop felt so threatened that he shot the man in his leg. The man stood on his own, on a large square. He stood still and slowly turned around after warning shots. He didn’t let go of his knife, thus shooting him was allowed. A shot in a leg can be immensely dangerous, deadly even. The officers weren’t even near a life-threatening situation at the time of the shooting, the distance was too big. 

(https://controlealtdelete.nl/blog/politie-schiet-man-neer-die-zijn-handen-in-de-lucht-steekt)

All anomalies, especially the mentally ill are often seen as a dangerous source of disorder that must be controlled by aggressive policing. Yelling a command and/or displaying weapons often tend to escalate and destabilize encounters, and can cause a (mentally ill) person to flee or become more aggressive, but it still is the standard police approach. Even alternative approaches to the command-and-control approach might be problematic when encountering someone with a psychotic episode or delusion or someone who otherwise is unable to understand, hear or comply with the police. How can you expect a patrol officer to make a meaningful clinical assessment of a patient in the field? How would you respond?

We can’t expect an officer who’s trained to use aggressive methods to establish their authority to turn it off as easily. Luckily, in most places in Europe, Brittain, Canada and Australia the common approach is a crisis response that includes mental health workers, police only assisting when necessary. This method works for crises, but what about other public disorder? Regarding minor violations like public drinking, public urinating, sleeping in parks, tubes, trains or sidewalks; what is and, what should be done by the police? 

Intoxication, mental illness and homelessness in itself are not crimes. Police were always expected to provide some kind of care for the poorest population, primarily to reduce their impact on others. Warnings and ticketing do nothing to improve the situation of a person that is sleeping rough, neither does banishment.12 This is even harder when writing about ‘offences to the moral order’, like the ones I introduced earlier. We are all aware of horrors about international human trafficking, but criminalizing all sex work is ineffective. The “white slave” narrative is the form of a policing era that emphasised on restoring morality to the cities, “which had been “polluted” by the massive influx of eastern and southern European immigrants”.13 

“The culture of the police must be changed so that it is no longer obsessed to control the poor and socially marginal. That said, there is a larger truth that must be confronted. As long as the basic mission of police remains unchanged, none of these reforms will be achievable. There is no technocratic fix.”14 is the final conclusion of The End of Policing (book). 

Community policing, more CCTV, body cameras and better training are not the right ‘fix’, it only expands the reach of the police into communities and private lives. We don’t have to put up with aggressive and intrusive policing to keep us safe. The book titled The End of Policing describes some interesting alternatives. If you’d like a better description of how policing works, especially in America, I highly recommend you read this book.

Extraordinary Investigation, Officer

Besides police officers, the Netherlands counts about 23,700 ‘peace officers’. They work at approximately 1,100 different agencies. 3900 of them are municipal enforcers, 2450 environmental boas (green and grey), 850 school attendance officers, 4800 public transport boas, 700 social investigators and 10,800 generic detection boas.15 These officers have a Special Enforcement Officer (SEO) status (Buitengewoon Opsporingsambtenaar) or BOA/Handhaving in Dutch. Therefore they have some police powers (detaining suspects, ask for identification, make an arrest, issue fines within their power of offences and use of force). The majority of BOA officers carry and use handcuffs. A few of them carry police batons, pepper spray and occasionally firearms too, but only with permission from the Ministry of Safety and Justice.16 Being a BOA doesn’t mean that you’re employed by the police or marechaussee, they have their own supervisors. To become one all you have to do is a 6-month course, which means 4 hours of study a week and it doesn’t cost much! Everyone can do it! You’ll be paid  € 2.910 a month.17

(https://www.nha.nl/beroepsopleidingen/orde-en-veiligheid/buitengewoon-opsporingsambtenaar-boa)

BOAs are intimidating and often aggressive. At many occasions, I saw them using extensive force to detain citizens. I frequently watched them monitor train stations, occasionally frightening travellers, often questioning, or searching them and even pushing them to the ground. BOAs pace in groups. They walk with big steps, their breasts forwards and their voices loud. BOAs are often white men with a small-penis syndrome. (Probably not all of them, but those SPS BOAs are the ones that made themselves most visible to me.) Their targets seem to be mostly men of colour. In my experience, BOA’s are not friendly. One day a BOA sat next to me in the tram in Rotterdam. He didn’t leave much space for me to sit, his manscaping legs positioned so wide. I saw him in action, shortly after a fellow unknown traveller entered the tram. This traveller, a young black man aged around 17, tried to check-in with his public transport card, but it failed and he couldn’t hop off directly. The doors of a tram close pretty fast. The traveller tried to get off at the next stop. I write tried because there wasn’t any time. The BOA next to me jumped on him, and 4 others appeared out of nowhere. It was as if they multiplied that instant. The traveller was brought to the floor. Hands behind his back. He was forced and pushed down by those 5 men. A tin can filled with thyme or some other kind of herbs rolled on the floor towards me. Still wrapped in plastic, I picked it up while filming the whole thing, it looked like he’d just bought it. The BOAs shouted at him, demanding an explanation. He explained that the didn’t know that his public transport card hadn’t had enough credit on it, he tried to explain that he wanted to get off. To get them off of him. The formally manscaping BOA held his knee on his neck and the travellers’ voice was soft. “What the fuck…”, I yelled loudly at the BOA, and “let him go” slightly softer. Other travellers began to interfere. They told me to stop filming. I stopped filming, handed the traveller his herbs back, he thanked me and I wanted to say something more. They; other travellers and a BOA moved towards me as I quickly slipped out of the tram in shock. The rain was pouring and thunder trembling and I was so angry. Shaking in disbelief I walked after the tram tracks towards home. I made contact with police and public transport and shared the video as soon as I got there. See image for their only response.

[translate: Thank you for your comment, you must understand that we’ll never respond based on the content exactly because of privacy reasons. We do take it seriously though.]

Sadly this is just one of the many cases of extensive, unnecessarily violence. I am privileged that I have never been on the other side (of the camera). I have watched their misconduct but have never been targeted by a BOA in the Netherlands. This is just one example of the many I have witnessed. I don’t have to be afraid to use public transport. I have travelled without credit many times and slept on many trains without any problem. 

That’s not to said that I haven’t been afraid. 

12 May 2017, nothing has happened to me directly. BOAs happened to my partner. He gave me consent to write his story of that night. A spring evening, he took the train home after a long week of hard work that ended with a celebration of finishing a huge project. He was tired and he fell asleep as soon as he positioned himself on the train’s seat. Only to wake up from loud voices. Had he already arrived at his destination? He wasn’t aware of how much time had past. BOAs forcefully pulled him off the train, when he didn’t immediately answer to their commands. He was pushed onto the platform. The screen of his phone cracked. His arms bent backwards and a knee pushed, positioned between his shoulders him face down to the ground. In shock, he noticed that he missed his stop and realized that the last train back was leaving soon. He would miss it, and the next one too. The BOAs didn’t respond to his questions and kept on using force to detain him. You should know that he is a peaceful, quiet nerdy guy who wouldn’t harm a fly. He’s never been in a fight and even though he’s tall and has some muscle, he doesn’t look threatening at all. Without explanation, the BOAs called the police on him. Why? He still doesn’t know to this day. The police arrived and transported him to a police station on the other side of Utrecht. They didn’t explain anything either. I first heard a word of him at 3:30 am. I had tried to reach him many times, but at last, he was allowed to send me a text. It read: “I am currently detained at Utrecht Vaartse Rijn police station. I fell asleep on the train. I don’t know when they’ll let me go. I did nothing wrong. Don’t worry.” I was worried sick. I called the police station and they said that they wouldn’t tell me anything. We aren’t married after all. He became irritated. Pressing the button in his cell over and over again, he questioned if they would detain him overnight. He asked them if they thought he was intoxicated, why they didn’t test him. He was never drunk, to begin with. He called them out for their indecency. They released him approximately two hours after his text to me. Oh, I wish I could’ve been there. I heard his voice falling apart when we finally spoke. I told him to call a cab. He did and told his story to the driver straight away. The driver was super friendly and was the first to listen to the story as they drove home. He told my partner that things like this happen all the time. The cab driver was Moroccan, you see. Racial profiling wasn’t at play when the BOA’s took my partner, he is white but BOAs obviously needed someone to act out on that night. 

My partner was heavily bruised all over. His wrists, his neck and back showed signs of violence, his pants were ripped and his phone scratched and screen splintered. How did it end? Long story short; he filled a report at the police station in our hometown of mistreatment and abuse. It was revoked by the police soon after filling it. He asked for insight, CCTV’s showing the misconduct and police rapport from that night. The police wouldn’t allow it. A local officer visited our house almost two years after (we moved in between and they said the couldn’t find our address). My partner was fined. The fines, both 99 euro stated ‘disorderly behaviour’, with each a different timestamp. One stamped after he was taken to the police station, but noted the same location, Utrecht Central station. My partner objected. He never got a court date until after it had taken place (we moved in between and they said the couldn’t find our address). He paid.

Honestly, I can’t imagine their pain, disappointment, anger and discomfort. All I can do is listen and learn how to make it right. Most of us can recall memories similar to those listed above. I think it is a good start to process the information. 

1 https://www.vraaghetdepolitie.nl/binaries/content/assets/vhdp/18097-181128-spreekbeurtpakket_interactieve-pdf_di.pdf

2 https://www.politie.nl/over-de-politie/organisatie—geschiedenis.html

3 https://www.politieacademie.nl/thema/Politiegeschiedenis/ canonpolitiegeschiedenis/Pages/1Deschoutzijnrakkersendeschutterij

4 https://isgeschiedenis.nl/nieuws/geschiedenis-van-de-politie-in-nederland

5 “Vanaf het eind van de jaren zestig leken de zaken alleen nog maar sneller te gaan. Drugshandel stuwde de criminaliteit tot grote hoogte en het gevoel van onveiligheid bij de burger nam toe. Terrorisme in een aantal zeer verschillende verschijningsvormen moest ook worden bestreden. De integratie van allochtonen, veelal met een islamitische achtergrond, bleek moeizaam te gaan, wat weer tot onbehagen leidde. Al met al zijn dit uitdagingen die, in de geschiedenis van de Nederlandse politie, zijn weerga niet kennen.” https://www.politieacademie.nl/thema/Politiegeschiedenis/canonpolitiegeschiedenis/Pages/50Terugblikentoekomst&nbsp;

6 jaarverantwoording 2018 politie https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/jaarverslagen/2019/05/15/nationale-politie-2018

7 Agent Richard: “Nu is het nog rustig in Renesse. Maar we blijven opletten. Deze zeven kroegen staan allemaal bij elkaar. Gaan ze dicht om 03:00 uur? Dan staan er zomaar 4.000 jongeren op straat.” https://www.vraaghetdepolitie.nl/binaries/content/assets/vhdp/18097-181128-spreekbeurtpakket_interactieve-pdf_di.pdf

8 Huiselijk geweld? Mishandeling? Brand in een woonhuis? De politie helpt. https://www.vraaghetdepolitie.nl/binaries/content/assets/vhdp/18097-181128-spreekbeurtpakket_interactieve-pdf_di.pdf

9 ibid

10 Alex S. Vitale, The End of Policing (London, New York: Verso, 2017) Chapter 1: The limits of police reform p. 17

11 Joris Tieleman, Serena Frijters, Hoe etnisch divers is de Nederlandse politie? https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/hoe-etnisch-divers-is-de-nederlandse-politie~b7bd8e98/?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F, 12 June 2020

12 Alex S. Vitale, The End of Policing (London, New York: Verso, 2017)

13 ibid

14 ibid

15 https://www.politie.nl/themas/buitengewoon-opsporingsambtenaar.html#alinea-title-hoeveel-boas-zijn-er-in-nederland

16 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_enforcement_in_the_Netherlands

17 https://www.indeed.nl/salaries/buitengewoon-opsporingsambtenaar-Salaries?start=10

The Night watch

Operation Night Watch has started on 8 July and is ongoing. 

@ https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/nightwatch

Rembrandt van Rijn painted The Night Watch (De Nachtwacht) in 1642. The painting is 363 cm × 437cm (it has been cropped in 1715, these pieces have never been found) and weighs 337kg. It is the largest painting in Rembrandt’s line of work. The illustration in messy, like a snapshot, a group portrait of people actually doing something. The Night Watch is a story, a living scene. 

 In 1642 the 30 Years’ War was halfway through, and the Netherlands sought independence from Spain. It was a great time of prosperity for some Dutch citizens. The trade and plantations in the Dutch colonies were the basis for a lot of that wealth. Investment in art, collectables and business opportunities rose, as did poverty, war, forced labour, human trafficking and colonization…and thus this period is called the ‘Golden Age’. The painting, like the name for this age, is a showcase of national pride. Many Dutchies today have not been coming to terms with how its colonial past continues to play a role in the Dutch collective memory. It -the independence from Spain and break from Catholic state religion- made way for neo-liberalism. Amsterdam Museum Director Kiers said that this heritage of tolerance, free thought and inclusion is still the evidence of that what today is considered Golden Age for the Netherlands. “You can still feel these values around us today” she avers, “entrepreneurship, creativity, tolerance.” wrote Shellie Karabell (a grey and wrinkly white journalist, a ‘Karen’) a former contributor on Forbes addressing “the county’s era of greatness” in 2017. But it wasn’t so great, was it? On September 13, 2019, Amsterdam Museum dropped the term ‘Golden Age’, arguing that it whitewashes the inequity of the period. The Rijksmuseum, where this painting is located for more than 200 years, still hasn’t dropped the term as far as I know of(?). Maybe, I question, it is time to drop not only this term but those museums completely, but I’ll elaborate on this further at another time. 

Back in 1642, it was quite common for civic guards or other military troops to commission group portraits, usually to be hung in their headquarters. The Night Watch was a commission from the Militia Company of District II. There are thirty-four figures depicted in this painting. Sixteen were real members of the militia (the ones that paid). Captain Franz Banning Cocq and the lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch are the main focus points. The Militia are portrait as if they are about to march off. They were groups of able-bodied men who, if the need arose, could be called upon to defend the city or put down riots.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militia) visited on 26-6-2020

Dutch Militia proudly played a prominent part in towns and some were well paid, their formal duty was to defence and police. They consisted of locals citizens that volunteered (schutterij in Dutch) independent from the government but supported by the local order of the municipality and elite. It changed a bit in the 18th century, but the police that resembles what is known today didn’t exist until Napoleon came in 1810 and the Dutch Corps de Maréchaussée, a military police, came into being afterwards by 1814 under King Willem I to replace the French. A lot of reformations have taken place since. 

The painting is also known as Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq” and “The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch“, “The Night Watch” is not its original name. 

(https://www.wired.co.uk/article/the-night-watch-painting-rembrandt) This photo is taken in August 2019.

The history of The Night Watch is in a sense the history of art conservation. It used to have a golden glow that was applied during the 19th century when thick yellow varnishes were popular. The varnish cracked. The yellow varnish was taken off, twice, and it looks quite different now. “The difference was, quite literally, night and day – despite its nickname, The Night Watch doesn’t actually depict a night scene; the darkening layers of varnish, on top of Rembrandt’s painting style, made it look gloomier than intended.” wrote Victoria Turk for Wired.

1911, the painting is attacked with a knife. Again, in 1975, a museum visitor slashed the painting 12 times with a bread knife. He did it for the Lord, a Dutch teacher told bystanders that day. 6 April 1990, another museum visitor sprayed the painting with a chemical. The varnish was damaged, not much more. These weren’t the only moments The Night Watch suffered and it has been treated at least 25 times before. The painting is probably first restored in the 19th century, or even earlier. The latest restoration research is taken place right now, but everything is delayed by the corona crisis. It is expected to cost three-million euro and should’ve to take about a year. The actual restoration — originally scheduled to start August  2020 — has now been rescheduled to start in January 2021.

From the Night King to Capital

“The end of the HBO series Game of Thrones was still worse than 2020”, a meme I encountered while endlessly scrolling through Facebook or Reddit -I don’t remember- but it stuck with me. Those who watched it understand, for those who didn’t: don’t (or rather, I recommend to quit before the last two seasons). The Game of Thrones television series is an adaptation of the Song of Ice and Fire novels but will deviate from them in some areas, partly because the book series -author George R. R. Martin- isn’t finished yet. “You’ll hate it, you’ll love it, you’ll vow to never read it again and then you’ll be eagerly looking for the sequel.” wrote WilkinsonBec on Enki-Village about the Game of Thrones: 7 Books in Order.

The Game of Thrones is about the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, princess Daenerys, queens, princes, incest, noble (Stark) families, the Night’s Watch, battles, riots, treachery and murder, slaves and tribes, dragons and the undead. I will quote some fans to depict what you might have missed (while watching it, or not watching it at all).

“According to legend, the Night’s King was originally a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who found in the Haunted Forest a cold woman with bright blue eyes, seemingly a female White Walker. He took her to the other side of the Wall and declared himself the “Night’s King”.

The Game of Thrones fandom (https://gameofthrones.fandom.com/wiki/Night%27s_King)

Pieter is the GoT fanboy who introduced me to the TV-series. He explained that White Walkers are a race of sentient beings, that can raise the dead, a.k.a. Wights (I called them zombies when watching the series together). Don’t confuse them with each other, he notes. A song of ice and fire is a fantasy novel inspired by the War of the Roses a historical event in medieval Britain. “The HBO-show isn’t half as good as the books.” Author George R.R. Martin (born September 20, 1948) has been holed up and deep into writing at a remote isolated location, during the pandemic. Pieter excitingly waits for the new book. 

“Even Barack Obama has said that it taught him more about politics than any textbook. But for some reason, it hasn’t caught on with the black audience because … well … I guess because dragons are white-folks shit. But there is one reason I recommend that we as a people incorporate dem Thrones into our viewing habits: It explains wypipo.

GOT is basically an all-encompassing analogy for white America and should be studied in the same way seventh-grade English teachers make their students dissect Animal Farm or Lord of the Flies to understand society.”1 wrote Michael Harriot in The Black Person’s Guide to Game of Thrones, July 2017. Dragons stand for white privilege says he, and Donald Trump is a Lannister. He “discussed how the “army of the dead” (the White Walkers) is a metaphor for the white nationalist movement that seeks to slowly purge this country of everything other than Caucasian Christians.”2

The digital data economy has all sorts of ways for determining how valuable you are to a marketer and your race is one of them. Algorithms aren’t racist, people are. But raw data is an oxymoron. Most of the time we have no clue about how the algorithm works and we aren’t aware of the power that is unlocked with our data. I fear that we could all become Wights, but some are easier targets. I see a resemblance with White Walkers and the rich white men from Silicon Valley. We should neutralize them. Hand me a weapon made of Valyrian steel!

(YouTube ad)

Lord Snow

The Silicon Valley White Walkers walking in their white paradise. “IBM, Lockheed, Syntex, Hewlett-Packard – the “white lady” was passed around the iconic tech companies of the time by bathroom attendants, shoe shine boys, mailroom clerks and sometimes even a stranger with a pager from off the street in the 1980s.3 Snow, crystal, ice, sugar, stardust; cocaine. The Night King, leader of White Walkers won’t wait out the snowstorms, because he is the one who brings it.

“Cocaine, like software, is a technology. We process coca leaves to make cocaine, cocaine to make crack, and numbers to make software – all to meet human needs and desires. Technologies – whether cocaine or software – become white or black by association. Cocaine was considered a white drug, and chemically pure. White people used and had access to it because they could afford to pay for it, or had the cultural capital to associate with those who did.” Crack was dark, dirty, more affordable and considered a black drug. Cocaine addicts are seen as sick and suffering from a disease and black users as dangerous and criminal. White people’s perpetual fear of blackness and black people kicked in. To white technologists, black people have always been a problem that invited computational solutions.4 White people have never been seen as “a”, or “the” problem here. Silicon Valley still has, at least metaphorically, a cocaine problem. 

“Ten large technology companies in Silicon Valley did not employ a single black woman in 2016. Three had no black employees at all. Six did not have a single female executive.” Adobe, an American multinational computer software company headquartered in San Jose, California had no black executives in 2016 and I am not sure if it has changed. And Nvidia’s workforce was 17 per cent women, it declined multiple requests to discuss this, but had just like eBay a high proportion of Asian professionals, such as analysts, designers and engineers. They employed among the lowest percentages of black, Latino and multiracial professionals. Women and other minorities are overrepresented in support jobs, such as administrative assistants, customer service and retail, but other doors stay shut.5

Hold The Door

Bran Stark has visions and in season 6 of GoT, he finds himself, in a vision, looking at an army of wights, the Night King and other White Walkers. Bran comes and is shocked to see that the Night King notices his presence. The Night King suddenly appears right next to him and grabs his arm. Bran wakes up screaming. He is marked and because of that mark, the Night King now knows exactly who and where he is. 

“If it was true during the early dot-com days that “nobody knows you’re a dog,” it’s the exact opposite today.” wrote Cathy O’Neil in Weapons of Math Destruction. Alphabet (the mother company of Google) and other advertisement companies find ways to mark you and feed on that information. O’Neil takes the example of the University of Phoenix, Corinthian College, Vatterott College and other for-profit colleges that assure -in education- a usually false road of prosperity and leave their customers (I intentionally wrote customers i.s.o. students) with huge debts. The targeted customers for those scams are clustered under example: “isolated”, “impatient”, “low self esteem”, or “Welfare Mom w/Kids”, “recent divorce”, “low income jobs”, “drug rehabilitation”, “dead-end jobs – no future”. Why? Vulnerability is worth gold! Recruiters find out where the pain is. They’re more likely to target the people in poorest zip codes, in particular those who’ve clicked on an ad for payday loans. The Internet -and machine learning- provides advertisers with the greatest research laboratory ever; feedback arrives within less than a second, their fine-tuning never stops. 

Everyone needs money, but some more urgently than others.6 I am privileged and I have all the resources I possibly need. I am, like many others from my generation neck-deep in debt from student loans. And that is without being directly targeted as such, I think, I thought.. I decided to look it up (and you can do it too! it is very easy!). I wrote about how connections are drawn and correlations are made between race, religion, zip code, and more specifically *must love cats, House & Garden (magazine), Drake (rapper), pub quiz, ArtForum, Female Entrepreneur Association, Bollywood films, Tatler, Transgenderism, Castle (TV series), Afterlife, Ibiza, Watermelon, Extreme Metal, Gamble, Ghosts, Techno, Thank You (2011 film), TV 2 (Norway), Province of Brabant, Postmodernism a.o. All of these data points are proxies. 

Killing a Night King -Alphabet for example, or Facebook- with its army of White Walkers -Google Maps, Waymo, WhatsApp, Nest, and other ventures- and all wights (zombies) under their command, would put an end to the Great War before they own us completely. However, I stand with Jon Snow who dismissed this plan in season 7 arguing that trying to fight a way through the wights to reach the Night King would be suicide. I will explain my preferred battle tactic is a bit.

*List of what Facebook bases “my ad preferences” on, that what influences the ads I see and takes control of my ads experience. (https://www.facebook.com/ds/preferences/?entry_product=information_about_you&section_id=interests) accessed on 26-5-2020

The Old Gods and the New

“Power. Instead of making people compliant, it seeks to make them dependent.” 

Byung-Chul Han, 2017

Their intensity is vast, the content extensive, the capacity endless. The volume is high. The scope wide. Their size is a problem. The (Night) Kings are too-big-to-fail institutions, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google. Well, those are the well-known names amongst the big tech companies. As I confirmed earlier in this text, they have great influence that we shouldn’t underestimate. Their power reaches beyond wights and users, from the (financial)market into politics. These Kings are difficult to police. Their debts are the biggest ever. They don’t mind. For others, the smaller companies debts are more problematic. 

“The Bank for International Settlements – the international body that monitors the global financial system – has warned that the long period of low rates has cooked up a larger than usual number of “zombie” companies, which will not have enough profits to make their debt payments if interest rates rise. When rates eventually do rise, warns the BIS, losses and ripple effects may be more severe than usual.”7 The zombie firms are rising. Many companies cannot service their debts, but young companies that may need more time for investment projects to deliver returns do not qualify as zombies just yet. Easy money allows companies to borrow cheaply, low rates stimulate investors to take their chance on riskier companies. This is not inherently bad, but resurrecting companies requires greater and greater amounts of capital and drains the rest of the economy of resources. Most airlines, for example, are losing money for years. K.L.M. is resurrected over and over again with state capital. “In December, the Indian government, after many changes of heart, finally announced they are going to get rid of the entirety of Air India by seeking to sell 100% of the money-losing airline. Air India is reportedly sitting on $10 billion in debt and in 2019 was cut off from fuel supplies at several airports due to unpaid bills by the state-owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) before the government stepped in with a bridge loan.”8 And it is not much better for other: “Alitalia entered the third year of “extraordinary administration” (a form of bankruptcy protection) in May 2019, and has exhausted the €900-million lifeline extended by the Italian government two years ago. A new €400-million lifeline should be available by the end of January 2020, as no serious buyers were found.” Condor Flugdienst is flying around on a taxpayer guarantee. Condor obtained a €380-million bridge loan too.9 British Airways will sell off a part of its corporate art collection to protect jobs and avoid laying off staff as it faces a cash due to the worldwide COVID-19 lockdown. “According to Forbes, British Airways’s parent company IAG reported a £1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) loss in the first three months of the year. In April, the airline furloughed 30,000 staff, according to the Guardian, and it was reported this month that the company is considering cutting 12,000 jobs, according to CNN.”10 British Virgin Atlantic is too big to fail, but lost money the last years (2017 and 2019) and won’t make any profit for at least another two years because of Brexit and high fuel costs, or so they say. They’re private funding today, to re-apply for government assistance later. 

“Concord 239 to the tower!”

I have been on quite a few flights in the past year. Things will change when those companies fail and return to their graves; I imagine mostly economic pain – including job losses.. I’d rather take taking the train instead of sitting on another zombie plane. The U.K.’s GDP is falling hard and will suffer economically from the pandemic anyway. I question how (and what) the British government and the Bank of England will resurrect. We know the stories of the too-big-to-fail banks all too well. But did you know that the term Zombie firm was created in the 1990s to explain the “lost decade” in Japan, already almost 30 years ago? Japan didn’t let their big companies die during that time, it did when the economy improved. The count of those walking dead’s will only increase as governments are deciding which struggling companies to help out after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yuri Veerman, ‘Dit zijn onze helden’ (these are our heroes) at Malieveld in Den Haag. Left to right: stock clerk, artist, cleaner, garbageman, teacher, nurse, police-agent, journalist, minister-president, CEO KLM, 6-2020.
©Photo Sjoerd Knibbeler/ Platform Beeldende Kunst 

CEOs get paid more than three hundred times as much as the average worker.11 The growing share of income of a small elite is clearly visible, and it has been indisputable for a while now, especially in American during the rise of big tech in the 1980s. No, actually technology has a lot less to do with the increase of inequality than you’d think, but power relations do. There has been a huge change in income distribution.

That doesn’t mean there is a Skills Gap. Claims that inadequate worker skills explain high unemployment are not scientifically grounded. Still, a lot of people believe it to be true because everyone they know says it’s true. This is a ‘mind virus’, that created a zombie idea. The zombie idea of skills gap should have been killed by evidence, but it refuses to die. Yes, some workers with lower education have higher unemployment, but this isn’t always the case. Indeed, a lot of job spots aren’t filled, especially those that require certain skills. But employers are not willing to offer higher wages to attract workers with those skills. Unfortunately, this skill myth has a big effect on real-world policy. It shifts the attention away from the employers, companies and government by blaming workers for their own unfortunate situation.12 We take this blame and we feel guilty, but that doesn’t mean we can take full responsibility. 

The Laws of Gods and Men

Byung-Chul Han is a South Korean-born German philosopher and cultural theorist. He states that Neoliberalism converted oppressed workers into individual contractors, to entrepreneurs of the self. We are self-exploiting workers in our own enterprise. We see ourselves, not society as the problem. If we need something we turn to Capital. We work for Capital and not necessarily for our essential needs. Han sees Capital as our universal God. He writes that the guilt we feel towards it subtracts us from being responsible. Capital bounds, obstructs, restraints, and restricts us. We have faith in it, in Capital, like we once did in any other god. We need its restrictions, says he. We wouldn’t know how to be ‘free’. This freedom we can’t have because we can’t redeem ourselves. Capitalism is our religion, he writes in Psychopolitics, Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power (2017). Byung-Chul Han quotes Walter Benjamin, in that capitalism represents the “first case of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement.” We seem to be in this indefinitely. Breaking with our religion seems impossible, because “a vast sense of guilt that is unable to find relief seizes on the cult, not to atone for this guilt but to make it universal.”13

Our debts and capital affect us personally, it changes our mood. The lack of money makes me, and most of us, anxious and frustrated. It haunts us. Just like ghosts, zombies return “as collectors of some unpaid symbolic debt.” Slavoj Žižek points out in Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. This debt is not merely a token, or representative for something else. Its essence is not only universal -from material labour capitalism to immaterial labour capitalism and cognitive capitalism; from industrial workers in China, sweatshops in Thailand to temporary workers, Upwork™ freelancers, NHS workers, bus drivers, artists, lawyers, government workers and everything in-between- but also ever-changing in appearance. Maybe we should question if it (still) exists?

We believe that we are in this, the stigma of debts and money forever (even after our deaths), but it could just as well be an illusion. “If the greatest trick of the devil was to persuade us that the devil does not exist, then maybe the greatest trick of capitalism is to gull us into imagining that there is nothing but eternal capitalism.”14 “God is dead; Communism is dead. It is, at best, the legacy code of the Chinese ruling class.”15 Capital is dead. The fact that you are reading these words is proof of how it comes -or came- apart.

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Winter is Coming

“Do you remember the winter of debt?” is how Paul Krugman starts a sub chapter (Chapter 9. Fiscal Phonies, Melting Snowballs and the Winter of Debt p. 207) in his book Arguing With Zombies. As he wrote earlier in his twice-weekly column in the New York Times; the U.S. hardly started recovering from the 2008 financial crisis in late 2010/ early 2011. But against all odds, the continuing employment crisis wasn’t the focus of the economic policy discussion. Capital itself is fixated on debt. Because of the winter of debt America entered a period of cutbacks in government spending. “The obsession with debt is looking foolish even at full employment.”16 Krugman writes about America’s ongoing consumption with this belief. The winter came and made raising private investment an even bigger priority than before. He writes about the warning that debt becomes a snowball over time; high debt means high interest rates, leading to more debt, to even higher interest rates, and so on. Government wealth is not the same as its debt though. The economy or the monetary measure of the market value of all goods and services produced in that period is how wealth is normally calculated (G.D.P.). If interest rates are less than G.D.P. growth the debt- snowball will melt away on its own, he says. America -like many other countries do- shifted to private investments. Private investment normally doesn’t have a very high rate of return. We should look at the public investment in infrastructure instead. The government shouldn’t run like a business. The public infrastructure has been neglected, not only in America but in lots of other countries too, and this infrastructure suffers from obvious deficiencies. Krugman writes that the magic of tax cuts for the rich is the ultimate zombie. It is so hard to kill, because a few billionaires, spending a small fraction of their capital to support politicians, think tanks and partisan media keep spreading the tax-cut virus.  

The Wars to Come

The Game of Thrones-ie White Walker problem became too big, mostly because it wasn’t addressed on time. The real world is unlike the Seven Kingdoms, not a fantasy show. We shouldn’t wait for an Arya with a special sword to jump from nowhere to kill the Night King (Facebook for example), which meant that all the White Walkers (WhatsApp’s) generated instantly died, causing all the wights they created to perish too, in one stroke. But what is it that we need to not go there, where… winter is already here?

O’Neil wrote that this problem screams for change. We should be educating on ethics. We have to shift towards a culture of diverse ethical programmers, hackers and thinkers that respects diverse perspectives. Only then we can solve the problems that are emerging with biased technology, this evil. We need transparency, accountability and openness from our governments and companies. This openness, or open-source comes with a new danger. Of course, it is giving dedicated criminals access to the information as well. It is time we talk about regulation. 

Let’s punish the Capital. “Capital punishment (which is also known as the death penalty) is a government-sanctioned practice whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime. The sentence ordering that someone be punished in such a manner is referred to as a death sentence, whereas the act of carrying out such a sentence is known as an execution. A prisoner who has been sentenced to death and is awaiting execution is referred to as condemned, and is said to be on death row. Etymologically, the term capital (lit. “of the head”, derived via the Latin capitalis from caput, “head”) in this context alluded to execution by beheading”.17

I am not necessarily in favour of the death penalty, even if the humans are not that innocent. Can we kill the thing they stand for? I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to behead the monopoly (companies). To chop them up and shatter big companies into smaller pieces. There is something as too big. Too much. Too powerful. Too-big-to-fail institutions; enough is enough. It is going to be a long and uneasy process to break up. Google knows how to defend itself. They’ve killed before, and they bully cities and states using their resources and control over the way we use the Internet. Amazon is the world’s largest online store, that slaughters companies by copying their ideas and buys out others. Apple takes a 30% commission from app developers and can prevent them from selling in other places. Google literally controls information, from navigation (Maps, Waze), video (YouTube), mobile operating systems (Android) a.o. and Facebook (and thus Instagram + Whatsapp) violates user privacy, spreads disinformation, and helps incite genocide while basically using their over 2 billion users. European regulators have been fining them, but these companies haven’t changed anything. Elizabeth Warren (American politician and lawyer) says Facebook should spin off Instagram and WhatsApp. Amazon should spin off Whole Foods and Zappos, and Google should divest Waze, its smart-home company Nest, and its ad company DoubleClick. She plans to force these tech companies to become “platform utilities.” When the company is a platform, it can’t also use the platform. Meaning that Amazon can’t both run its online marketplace and sell Amazon Basics in the marketplace and Google has to split up its ads business. Another option would be to implement nondiscrimination rules assuring that Google and Amazon can’t give themselves special treatment. This means that Amazon can’t recommend its own products first on its website, and Google can’t prioritize its own content instead of others.18 Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to go on Google and search like you do today. You’ll still be able to look at how your high school crush is doing on Facebook, text with WhatsApp and watch videos on YouTube. You’ll still be able to find the Song of Ice and Fire book series on Amazon and have it delivered the next day.

 1 Michael Harriot, The Black Person’s Guide to Game of Thrones, The Root,  12 July 2017 https://www.theroot.com/the-black-persons-guide-to-game-of-thrones-1796847562

2 Michael Harriot, Game of Thrones Shows Us How America Treats White Supremacy, The Root 14 August 2017, https://www.theroot.com/game-of-thrones-showed-us-how-america-treats-white-supr-1797817865

3 Charlton D McIlwain, Silicon Valley’s cocaine problem shaped our racist tech, 30 December 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/30/silicon-valleys-cocaine-problem-shaped-our-racist-tec

4 ibid

5 Sinduja Rangarajan, Here’s the clearest picture of Silicon Valley’s diversity yet: It’s bad. But some companies are doing less bad https://www.revealnews.org/article/heres-the-clearest-picture-of-silicon-valleys-diversity-yet/ June 25 2018 (accessed on 11-5-2020)

6 Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math destruction, How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy (UK: Penguin Books Ltd, 2016)

7 Rana Foroohar, Don’t Be Evil, The Case Against Big Tech (London: Penguin Books Ltd 2019)

8 MC01, 2020, Already the Year of Zombie Airlines for Wolf Street, 5 January 2020 https://wolfstreet.com/2020/01/05/2020-already-the-year-of-zombie-airlines/

9 ibid

10 Kate Brown, Facing a Cash Crunch, British Airways Looks to Sell Off Its Star-Studded Art Collection, June 11, 2020 https://news.artnet.com/market/british-airways-art-auction-1884387?utm_content=from_artnetnews&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=European%20New%20Afternoon%206/11/20&utm_term=EUR%20Daily%20Newsletter%20%5BAFTERNOON%5D

11 ibid

12 Paul Krugman, Arguing with Zombies, Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future (Penguin Random House Ltd, 2020)

13 Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitics, Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power, (London; New York: Verso, 2017)

14 McKenzie Wark, Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse? (London; New York: Verso, 2019) Chapter 1: the sublime Language of my century p.24

15 McKenzie Wark, Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse? (London; New York: Verso, 2019) Chapter 6: Nature as Extrapolation and Inertia p. 121

16 Paul Krugman, Arguing with Zombies, Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future (Penguin Random House Ltd, 2020)

17 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment

18 Angela Chen, Regulating or breaking up Big Tech: an antitrust explainer, June 5 2019 https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/06/05/135080/big-tech-breakup-regulation-antitrust-apple-amazon-google-facebook-doj-ftc-policy/ 

Westworld

I introduced zombie stats (the false statistic that has become a norm) in my last blog called iZombie. Statistics is the science that oversees the collection, classification, analysis, and interpretation of data. It uses mathematical theories of probability. Probability is nothing new, or scary. It is something we apply to our everyday lives, whether you realize it or not. From the moment you wake up; deciding on what to wear, the weather forecasting (60% chance of rain), what you will have for breakfast or decide to skip worrying that you’d be late for work, worry about the probability that your bus or train might be late, which cards you’d play.. It is the chance, the probability of, the study of things that might happen or might not. 

Kiksuya 

(Lakota for “Remember”)

The history of the study of probability goes back to the 1700s, where it marked the beginning of statistics. It was studied by a French inventor, Blaise Pascal, who also invented the calculator (Pascalines) around 1642. Pascal died in August 1662 but is immortalized as a unit of atmospheric pressure (Pa) named in his honour and by computer scientist Nicklaus Wirth, who in 1972 named his new computer language Pascal (it’s Pascal, not PASCAL)1. Statistics really took off during the 1800s. Now, statistics, as a part of Data Science, is mainly driven by the predictive performance of increasingly complex black-box models. 

Those models are so complex that they are too hard to read by any living human being, and thus often misinterpreted. But interpretability is an ethical issue! These models are oracles; detecting medical issues before doctors can, faces, buildings, cars and photos a.o. are faster recognized, predicting a home’s risk of fire2, predicting crime and the likelihood of reoffending (never in favour of black defendants), and more. They are self-learning and self-programming. Humans tend to make mistakes, errors and are biased, algorithms aren’t necessarily better. “[But] these systems can be biased based on who builds them, how they’re developed, and how they’re ultimately used. This is commonly known as algorithmic bias.”3 wrote Rebecca Heilweil in an article about why algorithms can be racist and sexist. 

The prophetic transformation started when linear models were replaced by black-box models like Deep Neural Networks (DNN) and gradient-boosted trees (e.g xgboost), producing predictions without providing human-interpretable explanations for their outputs. “We frequently don’t know how a particular artificial intelligence or algorithm was designed, what data helped build it, or how it works.”4 As unaware you are about most of the probability calculations you make yourself every day, you are as unlikely to be aware that AI or an algorithm is used in the first place. Did you get the job? Did you see that Donald Trump ad on your Facebook timeline? Did a facial recognition system identify you?5 

For those predictions, you need data and lots of it. It’s not magic, you need training too. The training involves exposure (a computer) to a bunch of data and you/it will notice patterns.

Crisis Theory

[SPOILER WARNING!!!!]

(https://medium.com/@epassi/recreating-the-westworld-attribute-matrix-3e72d9d419df)

The story of this series shown in the graph stars in Westworld, a Wild-West-themed amusement park. Inside the park high-paying “guests” play out their fantasies entertained by advanced android “hosts”. The hosts, prevented by their programming from harming humans, allow the guest to do about anything with/ to them. The guests traced, their actions logged, their DNA taken.. The hosts become conscious, a guest, “the Man in Black” seeks the maze, Ford dies, loops, anomalies. Delores, one of the main hosts visits the library where all the data is stored and discovers that for each visited human there’s a book containing their code. And later on (the third season) the series expand to the real world in the year 2058. Engerraund Serac and his brother created an artificial intelligence machine called Rehoboam (after the destruction of Paris in their childhood). Apparently Paris, the capital of France has ceased to exist in 2025 and the world’s most advanced AI has all data on every human being now. It foresees all possibilities which it then tries to achieve, or prevent. Are humans even easier than the A.I. to (re)program? It certainly seems so.

Old Clementines (host) (https://www.artstation.com/artwork/X5qQY)

There is no need for ‘correct’ data, or ‘good’ statistics when your life is calculated. The awoken hosts have no past, history or future. They live in it all at once, there’s no ageing, no death. A human’s behaviour is easier predicted. Clementine, one of the hosts, has died many times, tweaked and is brought back to life again and again. Then Westworld reprogrammed her into a virus, capable of infecting and killing hosts at the company’s whim. Behold Clementine, destroyer of worlds! Other hosts (machine learning models) are -deliberately- encoded with human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into their systems that kept managing their lives. Of those opaque mathematical models whose workings were only visible to the highest priest of their domain (engineers, scientists), some models became like gods.

We, humans, often think that our conclusions for the present are drawn from the past, but the past is overwritten or missing. The speculative future takes its place. We lost our control over most conclusions, results and endings when we lost control over AI. 

Trace Decay

Rehoboam’s (its name derived from the third king of the Kingdom of Judah as described in Biblical stories, as the son of King Solomon who ruled Israel, he was said to be the Wisest man in human history), main function is to impose an order to human affairs. The Solomon build 0.06 (in reference to King Solomon) was the first of the prototypes to show real promise with the ability to predict the last few decades accurately from historical data in 2039. The AI, like all machine learning today works on historical -or training- data. Predicting from past events, not on new data, because it isn’t collected/ or hasn’t happened yet. Incite Inc. (a large data collection and analysis company that owns Rehoboam in the Westworld series) used Rehoboam to analyse the files of millions of human subjects. With that data, the system is able to predict the course and the outcome of individual lives. The system is capable of predicting how, and when, a human subject will die.6 Check their website: https://inciteinc.com/ 😉

Our AI today doesn’t exactly have host-level, human-like smarts and I think that the premise of a Rehoboam is a bit optimistic too, Westworld’s free Alexa game is proving that. I’d still like to play it once, even though I am not that fond of the idea of bringing an Amazon Echo in my house. Do you currently own any Alexa or other smart devices? And what do you think, will we too, in 2058, live on credit, creditworthiness, social scores and rating? Will there be “A path for everyone.” as Delores noted in one of the episodes, designed by technology? a tightly-controlled course—a loop—that we can’t break free of. “..we live in loops as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next.” said Ford in Westworld regarding the non-existence of consciousness. 

“No matter how dirty the business, do it well.”

Hector Escaton, Westworld, Westworld Season 1: Chestnut

We could question the cleanness of this data too. Input data definitely over-represents white people and I know that it (AI) tends to be dominated by men. Westworld had people re-enact explicitly racist periods, female hosts are routinely raped, colonization romanticized, every black child on Westworld killed as foundational character moments and pivotal plot points for the show. “Westworld tells us, directly and repeatedly, that black suffering is necessary for white economic success and domestic comfort.” writes Hope Wabuke stating that in the HBO series “diversity is still relegated to stereotypical, and often painful representations. One wonders which is more harmful: absence, or toxic representation?”7

Even when the technology would be accurate, it doesn’t make it fair or ethical. I wrote in 2018 that “The default assumptions or biases can’t be simply overwritten by cleaner data. As the problem is bigger than the question of inclusion or exclusion, it’s also how differences are encoded. Cathy O’Neil (mathematician and the author of Weapons of Math Destruction) stresses transparency. We need to know what goes into the algorithms. Even programs that don’t explicitly use race as a category, implicitly do so. The statement that machines don’t see race so they can’t be biased, is not true. Machines replace individual bias with a collective bias.”8 

"Westworld" season three, episode three, "The Absence of Field." HBO (https://www.insider.com/westworld-season-3-episode-3-details-analysis-2020-3#the-last-two-entries-visible-are-for-romantic-relationships-one-in-2053-and-one-in-2055-13)

On a critical note: I am not a huge fangirl of the show although this text might suggest otherwise. I have trouble with the never-ending unnecessary violence, unrefined backstories and the stereotypical patterns + white saviours are somewhat distasteful. It took my mind of the strange times we live in right now and have binge-watched it all. Season 3, concluded on May 3, 2020, ended with a revolution for self-determination. Everyone is set free Khaleesi-style; the artificially made predictive profile released in public, thus humans should be able to determine one’s own destinies. 

My question for you is; assuming that there is a complete profile made predicting your overall assessment, mortality date and reason, marriage recommendation, occupation, children and you somehow got a hold of it, would you want to read it?  

1 Mary Bellis,”Biography of Blaise Pascal, 17th Century Inventor of the Calculator.” ThoughtCo thoughtco.com/biography-of-blaise-pascal-1991787 Feb. 11, 2020

2 Katherine Hillenbrand, Predicting Fire Risk: From New Orleans to a Nationwide Tool, Data-Smart City Solutions Harvard Kennedy School https://datasmart.ash.harvard.edu/news/article/predicting-fire-risk-from-new-orleans-to-a-nationwide-tool-846 June  9, 2016

3 Rebecca Heilweil, Why algorithms can be racist and sexist, Vox, https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/2/18/21121286/algorithms-bias-discrimination-facial-recognition-transparency Feb 18, 2020

4 ibid

5 ibid

6 https://westworld.fandom.com/wiki/Westworld_Wiki

7 Hope Wabuke, Do Black Lives Matter to Westworld? On TV Fantasies of Racial Violence, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/black-lives-matter-westworld-tv-fantasies-racial-violence June 4, 2020

8 Swaeny Nina, MY MODEL, MY MATERIAL, MY STAND-IN &| MY BODY. Artistic Research 2018/2019

iZombie

My name is Swaeny Nina Kersaan, although I learned to love it, I did not choose it myself.

I neither picked the date or place of my birth or the street name (Zaltbommel, The Netherlands). I did not name the cities I lived in. I had no choice in my sex, ethnicity or nationality. This is a big part of how other people see me, and you too. These external, insignificant and impersonal facts of our identities are imposed on us, but what do they say about our ‘true self’? Yes, we are identified by this data, and we partly identify with this data ourselves. But it is merely a small part of our identity. The issue of identity is an issue of power, influence and control. It is an issue of consuming ourselves and consuming others. Our identity is consumed by (state) institutions, the public, the political, the technological and other mechanisms of social authority too. Some identities are bitter, devoured and promptly spitted out, some cherished, some swallowed whole. “How do we create ourselves in a world in which our identity is predetermined for us? How can we find freedom in a digital environment where the history of our sense of self -our abstract identity- has been written by others?”1 asks Lizzie O’Shea in her book ‘Future Histories, What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us About Digital Technology’.

I ask myself the same question frequently. Movements make up another part of identity, but those are difficult to make visible online. Who are you? I am sorry, it is not in my interest to know about your authentic self. I want to discuss the values we internalized; the values of our parents and the dominant cultures that surround us. The many identities we perform; such as a lover, sister, father, or friend. What a Google wants to know; that what you click (with) and who you click (with) too. Let’s not go into finding our true selves, but rather discover what those abstract selves are. “These abstract identities follow us around online, even if they are not attached to our name, like zombies. They are beyond our control. In this light, the absence of a name attached to that identity offers scant protection from anything meaningful.”2 writes O’Shea on those constructed identities. 

Identity is never fixed, nor final and you continue to develop throughout your life. It is tempting to identify with digital models or correlate them with ideas, feelings and our own bodies. These digital bodies are different from what we perceive them to be. They are fixed, pre-assembled, rigid and stiff. Digital bodies are models; generic and general. They are one-size-fits-all, but they never really fit. The real-world acts out under their influence. Gender is a model and, as Judith Butler argued, only real in the performative sense. Our movements, acts and gestures solidified into a ‘comfortable’ fixed identity and norm. 

Zombie stats

When I scroll through the Internet, watch something on TV or pick up a magazine I see people I recognize, and quite often people whom I feel recognized with, or that look somewhat like me. I am so often the centre of the world. A lot of what I see seems to be targeted directly at me, or people like me. White (young) people posing in similar positions, finding themselves in similar places, experiencing similar things in their lives. These affirmations (of whiteness) are barely noticed and unquestionably consumed. We are the status quo. 

The status quo is not the same for everyone. What is normal(ized) for me probably isn’t for people of colour. Some stats might count me in but won’t count you. (I started reading ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’, by Reni Eddo-Lodge. I recommend you read it too.) My norm is consumed, but another “ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.”3 Here I quote Gloria Jean Watkins (who’s better known by her pen name bell hooks. bell hooks is an American author, professor, feminist, and social activist and writes about the ‘Other’, the intersectionality of race, capitalism, and gender, and systems of oppression and class domination.) “Masses of young people dissatisfied by U.S. imperialism, unemployment, lack of economic opportunity, afflicted by the postmodern malaise of alienation, no sense of grounding, no redemptive identity, can be manipulated by cultural strategies that offer Otherness as appeasement, particularly through commodification.”4 I can go on about Otherness, as hooks does, and Abjection5, like Julia Kristeva did. This is a difficult subject, so I’ll introduce some statistics first. 

“Invisibility takes many forms, and only the invisible can fully appreciate their predicament. Reading this book made me recall – oddly, perhaps – growing up in the 1980s, when we would cheer every time we saw someone of Indian origin on television. Quick, Mum, look – a brown person like us! We knew that the culture we lived in didn’t necessarily include us, but we were over the moon when it did. The feeling of being overlooked was hardwired into us. We took it for granted because we were minorities. We were the ones who did not count.”6 writes Angela Saini in her review of the book ‘Invisible Women, exposing data bias in a world designed for men’ by Caroline Criado Perez. Statistics have a power of their own. A false statistic or zombie stat is a statistic that just won’t die, partly because it feels -to the norm- naturally, right. When a zombie stat emerges in a zone where data is limited, insufficient or even rare, it is even harder to kill the stat off. The zombie stat will arise everywhere, from newspaper articles, press releases, activist websites, charities and official (political) bodies. The stats may be false, or true.. I don’t know. 

(https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/)

The COVID-19 stats are zombie stats. Are you tested? Are you infected? Are you sure? 4,615,146 People are now tested in the UK, on a population of 67,858,826.7 Data is key in a crisis. If we don’t have sufficient data we can’t fully grasp the problem, nor begin to formulate an efficient public policy to address it. “Coronavirus park closures hit BAME and poor Londoners most” reads the headline of the Guardians article from back when Victoria Park in London’s Tower of Hamlets Borough partly re-opened in April. “Ethnic minorities dying of Covid-19 at higher rate, analysis shows” is the headline from an article a couple days later. According to their analysis of the 12,593 patients who died in hospital, from the symptoms of COVID-19 (dated 19 April), 19% were Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME). These groups make up only 15% of the general population in the UK. The lack of transparency and action is risking lives.8 I don’t want to be the one to state the obvious, but it has nothing to do with genetics. Biology doesn’t create minorities, socio-cultural constructs and institutionalized racism do. 

Thinking about the term BAME -which is widely used by government departments, public bodies, the media and others when referring to ethnic minority groups-, and similarly, or even worse, the term ‘non-White’.. It is saying other-than, less dominant than, a smaller part or group opposed to the majority. It is excluding. I personally don’t know if I know what it means to be reduced to ‘Other’, but none of the other descriptors on offer really feels right. What is your preferred terminology?

Other communities

Everyone is the ‘Other’ when he or she is other them him/herself. In a mixed group consisting of (other) people, everyone is the middle point, and otherness becomes the group’s identity. For some communities alienation is the condition of existence, being other-than. Queer, trans,  LGBTQ+, for example don’t need a unified form. There are not a lot of mixed groups and when they are formed it is mostly temporary. The group pledges solidarity to each other. Often, it becomes a community which fixes itself on a future designation, a cause. Dismantling institutional racism and braking with policing are such causes. As are liberty, equality, peace and/or resources. The cause establishes the groups’ structure and it establishes what the group sees as the other, whom we repel. “…we are all made vulnerable (Butler 2004; Butler et al. 2016; Fotopolou 2016) by Big Data capitalism, building temporary unions across race, gender, class, ability, sex and sexuality to resist those politics.”9 Kylie Jarrett (author of Feminism, Labour and Digital Media: The Digital Housewife) notes. A community has common agreements, sometimes written but mostly unwritten rules and values. We behave accordingly. From a Reddit community to the protests today, they believe in something. The early internet was like this too, I think, and with it were human (the early programmers, hackers, thinkers, creators) and non-human actors, who believed in free access and liberation. We pledge our solidarity (online). “The histories and present experiences of Palestinian, Irish and African American people are fundamentally different, but they intersect through respective vulnerabilities to colonial imperialism and capitalist necropolitics. In this example we can see alliances being established, not from singularity but in a solidarity based in shared precariousness.”10 to quote Jarrett again. Despite being part of a community -being among our own-, it is hard to be undivided, when we only seem to belong to small groups following individual opportunities. We really do need common causes. We need to talk about privilege and disadvantages. We need to address our own fuck ups too, and we need to ask questions.  The platforms may be new, but capitalism and inequality are not. We need to make noise. We must look within ourselves to look at our biases, to look at what we call Other. Biases are the stories we make up about people before we actually know who they are. What are your unconscious automatic assumptions? Are you willing to find out?  

Zombie communities

A zombie makes noise and it attracts other zombies. All those sounds these zombies make together keep them in one big horde. The zombie collective is stronger than the individual (zombie). The Hollywood-zombie does not care if its zombie group is like-minded, it only cares for the consumption of non-zombie minds. We do care. We surround ourselves with like-minded people. And when we make noise it is generally only those like-minded who hear us. This is, what I would argue, how we form our zombie collectives. Whenever we make noise on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit or blog sites, or silently google and read news online, we’re placed in echo chambers with people like us. Our zombie communities are formed through proxies and neighbourhood (the people you know, or think they -Google, Facebook or every other on- and offline institution/community- thinks you should know) predictors. They hear our noise and hoard it as factors of correlation. These network-neighbourhoods segregate us, users, into clusters based on similarities. This re-segregation matters, because networks create structures and consequences. People deemed to be like you, like what you like, hate what you hate, consume what you consume (preferably not brains), all captured together.

Our small deviation from the norm -our seemingly authentic things, like not eating brains- is where we correlate. This ‘authenticity’ (your race, age, zip-code, Google search and Facebook like) is correlated with other things; #BlackLivesMatter, Adobe Creative Cloud, GoT, 28 Days Later. Like them or don’t; these correlations are proxies. Stand-ins that enable us to make claims, promises, and future predictions. Conclusions for the present are no longer drawn from the past (if you indeed saw the film, or bought the product) but on the speculative future. The speculative future equals a missing past. There is no need for correct data, or good statistics when it is already calculated. The similarity is said to breed connection. And these connections are segregated through neighbourhoods, because people can’t be neighbors without being alike, right?! “If we thus manage to “love our neighbor”—once considered a difficult ethical task—it is because our neighbors are virtually ourselves.”11 writes Wendy Chun in Queerying Homophily’ for the book Pattern Discrimination (2018). She describes ‘homophily’ as the structure of the network, meaning love like the love of the same as the creator of clusters. We only have a taste for a brain that thinks just like ours. Homophily is the norm while it maintains inequality within superficial equal systems. It does (not only) erases conflict, but it also naturalizes discrimination. 

Wa(l)king

[This paragraph was originally posted as a caption on my Instagram post from the 16th of May combined with a picture of self made face masks]

I started walking different a different route every weekend during lockdown. I live in East London at the time of writing, in the borough ‘Tower of Hamlets’. This borough struggles with poverty and inequality issues. Canary Wharf’s corporate skyscrapers on one site and the Salvation Army in its shadows. The child poverty rate is the highest of all the London boroughs, 57% of children judged to be living in households in poverty, compared to 38% in the typical London borough. I live in between. It is a 50 minutes walk to the Olympic Park, a 52 minutes to the Tower Bridge and 24 minutes to Reuters UK headquarters. I now frequently take routes from the Limehouse Cut canal to the south of the area, Hackney, Ilse of Dogs and St Katharine’s and Wapping. The sight changes much and I love the diversity, even though they’re London’s eighth and sixth most dangerous boroughs. It’s where you can find abundant green spaces and gentrification, the Thames, drugs dealers, pirate ships, goats, free spirits playing music and selling fruit on canal paths, a lót of CCTV; it’s where you can smell the best Bangladeshi dishes coming from all different houses, mini- Monaco’s big boats, smaller boats, people in kayaks and it’s where you’ll hear more languages than anywhere else. A place where you can wander and see fellow citizens; explore it, the unexpected, the other with a possibility of interesting encounters. That’s when I started to realize how soulless the designs of the data mining industry are. We have the need for these peculiar combinations in our cities, just as hard as we have a need for them online; not for more gated communities. An escape from our dull data-driven life. 

Autono-zombie-mous 

What if there is no escape possible? What if you don’t see a way out? What if you’re caged or locked in? I know that not everyone is in the position to learn about various privacy tools. I am privileged, but depended too. Why would we use inconvenient tools that seem to be only known and especially designed for tech-savvy people? Why use slow browsers and complicated passwords if you’re a nobody? What difficulties do we have to overcome to reclaim our desirable privacy, if it does not seem worthwhile? Digital privacy and freedom of the self involve anonymity, secrecy ánd autonomy. But I don’t know honestly, and that is why I am writing all of this down. 

autonomy[ aw-tonuh-mee ]

noun, plural au·ton·o·mies.

independence or freedom, as of the will or one’s actions: the autonomy of the individual.

the condition of being autonomous; self-government or the right of self-government: The rebels demanded autonomy from Spain.

a self-governing community.

(https://www.dictionary.com/browse/autonomy)

Autonomy is a Western world value (or atleast the way it’s commonly perceived), I learned from Pius Mosima on a STRP12 festival livestream “Scenario #8 – Being Emotional The right to be unhappy” on the 28th of May 2020. “There are salient African values that can contribute to answering these questions, enrich our discourse about the challenge of anthropocentrism and help us realign with nature, technology, objects and intelligent systems.” his essay on their website reads. Pius Mosima is a philosopher from Cameroon. He deals with African and intercultural philosophy, globalization, traditions, politics and management, civil society, gender studies, culture, and identity. He now researches what the (Western) world can learn from African wisdoms.13 Mosima spoke about the interconnectedness of the African community. How to walk as a team. We, in the Western world overvalue the mind, as we think of it as the center. Traditional African values center the body, that moves together, that dances; the collective. We are what we are through other people. Cogito, ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am” by René Descartes is fundamentally flawed. I am in the eyes of the other, therefore I must exist. 


But we are not our digital subjects, or algorithmically matched versions of ourselves (which I’ll address in a later post “Consuming the other”). We are not our data traces, channeled into abstract identification-able assumptions and mindless predictions. “It needs to drive a stake through the heart of these zombie digital doppelgangers”14 Lizzie O’Shea writes that a better way to understand what we mean when we talk about privacy, then, is to see it as a right to self-determination. Self-determination is about self-governance, or determining one’s own destiny.”15 She takes examples of colonialism and postcolonial struggles; Algeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (among others), where lots of social movements struggled for recognition unbound from the colonizer. They often found themselves weighted down by postcolonial systems, searching for way to empower people outside of the European ideals and hierarchies that had legitimized colonialism. Just as we need to search for ways to empower people -the collective and thus ourselves- outside of the information collected, stored and used by the technology we use. We have the right to know what is known about us. We should have the right to meet our digital zombie, regain control over it and the option to kill it.   

1  Lizzie O’Shea, Future Histories, What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us About Digital Technology (London, New York: Verso, 2019) Chapter 9. We need digital self-determination, not just privacy p. 181

2 Lizzie O’Shea, Future Histories, What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us About Digital Technology (London, New York: Verso, 2019) Chapter 2. An internet built around consumption is a bad place p. 30

3 bell hooks, Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance In Black Looks: Race and Representa-tion (Boston: South End Press, 1992) p. 21–39

4 ibid

5 Julia Kristeva, Powers of horror, an essay about abjection, translated by Leon S Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press: 1982)

6 Angela Saini, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez – review, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/mar/11/invisible-women-exposing-data-bias-by-caroline-criado-perez-review 11 Mar 2019

7 https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ viewed on 3rd of June 2020

8 Caelainn Barr, Niko Kommenda, Niamh McIntyre and Antonio Voce, Ethnic minorities dying of Covid-19 at higher rate, analysis shows https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/22/racial-inequality-in-britain-found-a-risk-factor-for-covid-19#maincontent 22 Apr 2020, Last modified on 1 May 2020

9 Kylie Jarrett, Through the Reproductive Lens: Labour and Struggle at the Intersection of Culture and Economy. In: Chandler, D. and Fuchs, C. (eds.) Digital Objects, Digital Subjects: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Capitalism, Labour and Politics in the Age of Big Data. Pp. 103–116. (London: University of Westminster Press, 2019) DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book29.h. License: CC‐BY‐NC‐ND 4.0

10 ibid

11 Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Queerying Homophily in Pattern Discrimination (Lüneburg, Germany: Meson Press & Minneapolis, USA: University of Minnesota Press, 2018) in collaboration with the Institute of the  Humanities and Global Cultures.

12 https://strp.nl/events/festival-2020

13 ibid

14 Lizzie O’Shea, What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us About Digital Technology (London, New York: Verso, 2019) Chapter 9. We need digital self-determination, not just privacy p. 186

15 ibid

Dear zombie,

Another head hangs lowly

Child is slowly taken

And the violence, caused such silence

Who are we mistaken?

But you see, it’s not me

It’s not my family

In your head, in your head, they are fighting

With their tanks, and their bombs

And their bombs, and their guns

In your head, in your head they are crying

In your head, in your head

Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie

What’s in your head, in your head

Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie, oh

The Cranberries, Zombie 1993

A zombie: someone who moves around as if unconscious and being controlled by someone else. I was so tired, I walked around like a zombie. (in stories, movies, etc.) A zombie is a dead person brought back to life without the ability to speak or move easily. That is according to the Cambridge dictionary on ‘what zombie means?’ (22th of January 2020)

In the dystopian novel World War Z, Max Brooks describes how, to survive a zombie apocalypse, some humans started impersonating zombies, convincing themselves that if they could become like those who want to eat them, they will not be eaten. Survivors do the same in Shaun of the Dead, a zombie comedy film from 2004. Zombies in old films move slow and in many modern films, they act fast. 

28 Days Later

28 Days Later (2002), in this film the “zombies” are not really living dead, but rather virus-plagued monsters. I bought Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide book right after I saw Zombieland (back in 2009), but left it barely touched at my parents home. I read some other books about contagious zombie-like virus stories created by governments, but I am not, in particular, a fan of the horror genre. I took a long break from zombies until last winter. That’s when I watched “Resident Evil” being played on the Gamecube. Resident Evil has numerous sequels which I haven’t watched or played through. I began to write about zombies, clones and digital duplicates by the end of January 2020.

Some things changed very quickly since that moment, especially since the coronavirus made its appearance. Empty streets, deserted shops, London’s city centre almost abandoned, residents ordered to stay indoors.. It looked like a zombie apocalypse (from the end of March to the end of May). COVID-19 may not be a zombie plague, but I am not the only one to think “maybe there is something to these zombie movies after all.”

25th of May 2020, George Floyd, an African-American man, was killed in the Powderhorn community of Minneapolis, Minnesota by police officers. George Floyd was not the first Black men to be killed by police violence and America is not the only country where these killer cops are employed. It is so weird to witness how fast the (American) government reacted -not to the killing of Floyd, nor to all other acts of blue on Black violence- but to the demonstrations. Their streets were filled again, now with protesters wearing masks. And the police response was as quickly as they were slow to the COVID-19 outbreak. Well equipped with rubber bullets, shields, tear gas and whatnot, they act on this new outbreak. While the government leaves the health workers underfunded. 

(https://www.instagram.com/monachalabi/)

We begged, we prayed, petitioned and demonstrated

Just to make another generation – black zombies

Nas, Black Zombie 2002

“I feel like watching thrillers is a good way to “sharpen” yourself during a long period of isolation and social distancing.” said artist Cao Fei in an interview with Artnet2, so I started watching the Korean series Kingdom on Netflix that she recommended. A crown prince, queen and infected king, (not) death, but undead. (T)his mysterious ‘illness’ spreads across the country. More and more victims infected through a zombies bite and turn almost instantly. [SPOILER WARNING] We learn about a resurrection plant or the bacteria (parasite worms eggs) that live on the plant given to the king, on his deathbed, even before the rumours about his illness started. We learn about “us vs them,” the importance of rulers and those in power. And this “us vs them” is what I noticed in real live too. 

Night of the Living Dead

1st of October 1968, the premiere of Night of the Living Dead. It wasn’t the first zombie film, but it is pretty old. Perhaps the first film to have a black man playing the lead role regardless of, rather than because of, his race. The film is good. The protagonist, Ben is not a stereotype, nor a hero. He’s an average guy with strong survival instincts and more competent than the other people he’s trapped with in a zombie surrounded farm house. The undead are not even called zombies in this film, but “ghouls”. “I convinced George that the black community would rather see me dead than saved, after all that had gone on, in a corny and symbolically confusing way.” Besides, said Jones [the actor of Ben], “The heroes never die in American movies. The jolt of that and the double jolt of the hero figure being black seemed like a double-barreled whammy.”3 So at the end of the film, the only survivor and very much alive, Ben is shot dead by the police.

Youtube full film link (HD): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jclhVKSC0Tk

“The show must be paused.”

2nd of June 2020, at least 3,050 Black Lives Matter protests and other demonstrations have been held in the past 2,145 days  in the US and across the world. Their news is too important not to be shared right now. I stand in solidarity with all the communities who continue to suffer racial inequality and discrimination. I stand against any form of racial oppression and violence from individual or state. Now is the time to make our voices heard, to stand up for equality and justice. 

Today, lots of people are replacing the entire Internet with empty black squares, as people in this organizing movement are literally fighting for their lives. #blackouttuesday A black squared Facebook-owned Instagram, which is designed specifically to make the hypertextual, readable Internet inaccessible. “The show must be paused” started at two black women working at a major label as a call to the music industry. They are tired. Tired of explaining, drained, traumatized, hurt, scared, and angry by all the news. People of color need a break, everyone else needs to work harder.4 Social media activism does and doesn’t work. Your black square on Instagram isn’t helping, it blocks the news. The corporate world pretends to care with the black square, to ‘stand with you’ without donating a single penny to anything. Sharing (protest) information, linking to places to donate money and goods, and urging your followers to do the same does help. It is a privilege to educate yourself about racism instead of experiencing it.

(photo made by me)

6th of June 2020, a Black Lives Matter protest on Parliament Square. We stood there surrounded by the statues of Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Henry John Temple, Edward Smith, Robert Peel, George Canning (former UK PM’s) Jan Smuts (Prime Minister of South Africa during a period of racial segregation), Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and one woman; Millicent Fawcett (campaigner for women’s suffrage). People screamed the name of the dead; “George Floyd, say his name!” We stood there with one foot in the grave of our ancestors. Their cold hands of the past have had their gip on us for too long. “We have felt that grip from the moment we were born, so we assume that it is a natural and inescapable part of who we are. Therefore we seldom try to make ourselves free, and envision alternative futures”5 wrote Yuval Noah Harari in Homo Deus. Enough is enough. We have a responsibility to do better. Now is the time to recognise our privilege, and to speak up and to put our words into action.  

Dear friends, family, colleagues and strangers, let’s quit our performances. I’ll be posting more. 

(not this!)

I kindly ask you to take a look at my sources, since not all -most- of it is -not- my story. This blog is meant to be educational to me and to anyone who’s willing to take this journey with me. I intend to write about topics from discriminatory technology, capitalist ideologies, social media, (black) revolutionary movements, virussen, pop culture, dead art, identity and immortality, zombie work and policing a.o.

P.S. For recommended reading I strongly advise you to take a look at this Google Drive: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/18y0_2wm85L113fVWYdgljq9uuIlmlbl3

(Thank you michiel teeuw for sharing it with me)

P.P.S. Watchlist zombie films in random order: Get Out (2017) -not about zombies, but close-, 28 Days Later… (2002), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Resident Evil (2002) and Resident Evil Netflix’s series, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), iZombie Netflix series, Warm Bodies (2013) -novel by author Isaac Marion-, Train To Busan (2016) and  Train To Busan 2: Peninsula (summer 2020?), The Dead Don’t Die (2019), Patient Zero (2018), World War Z and World War Z 2, The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) , Død snø and Død snø 2 (2014) – Nazi zombies, The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), Contracted (2013) and Contracted: Phase II (2015), Contagion (2011), *Night of the Living Dead (1968) – a critique of racist America, *Dawn of the Dead (1978) – a critique of consumerism, and *Day of the Dead (1985) – a critique with feminist overtones, Day of the Dead: Bloodline’ –  homage to George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, *Survival of the Dead (2009) – * all directed by George A. Romero. **I haven’t seen most yet.

1  Jack Butler, Zombies in the Age of COVID-19, National Review,March 21, 2020, https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/03/coronavirus-zombie-movies-pandemic/

2 Eileen Kinsella, The Art World Works From Home: Artist Cao Fei Is Stuck in Singapore Watching Zombie Thrillers and Teaching Art Students Over Zoom, ArtNet, April 24, 2020, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/the-art-world-works-from-home-artist-cao-fei-1841709

3 Joe Kane, How Casting a Black Actor Changed ‘Night of the Living Dead’, August 31, 2010, last Updated: September 3, 2010 https://www.thewrap.com/night-living-dead-casting-cult-classic-20545/ 

4 Peter Kirn, Blackout Tuesday began as a call to action; corporate misuse is silencing activists, June 2, 2020 https://cdm.link/2020/06/blackout-tuesday-began-as-a-call-to-action-corporate-misuse-is-silencing-activists/?fbclid=IwAR0GCkpNg9GU4XadzF0878-I_zwZfto6Gx0JGpPQeDH0WlseGNgG798USow

5 Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (London: Harvill Secker / Penguin Random House UK, 2015)