Rob Van Kranenburg: A Morality of Movement, as the center will not hold

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Outside the train station there's a bold painted sign, It says try to be patient don't forget to choose sides, We got the loudest explosions that you've ever hear, We've got two dollar soldiers and ten dollar words, If I didn't own boots I wouldn't need feet, I come from the nation of heat Nation of Heat, Joe Pug

A Morality of Movement, as the center will not hol
We are in a moment in time where we have been before. In such a moment all positions are overstretching their capabilities, - especially in all matters of identity - over pushing incremental evolutionary steps thinking only one more step is needed to reach the final goal, planned some fifteen years ago. What they do not understand is that every incremental step created its proper opposition, too small, too ineffective to act against the procedures that were installed. Every step created its own opposition and its own ‘extra’. The extra is necessary to gather the energy to make the consequent next step look logical and more: necessary and ‘normal’. How interesting and how sad it is that we are in need of paleontologists, Teilhard, Lamarck and Ward  - to tell us change does not have to be gradual, but sudden and abrupt. And abrupt it will be.

I used to think in terms of breakdown, now I see the immediate, the rupture, is also just another iteration. As Victor Klemperer writes in his book on the München revolution in 1919: “This is how truth looked on a Thursday.”

The Expansion of Everyday Life, a book by Daniel Sutherland is full of anecdotes that set you pondering; of all 690.000 dead in the Civil war 425.000 died of disease and 40.000 in accidents, going to battle for the first time was called ‘seeing the elephant’ and privates in both armies chose their own company officers (captains and lieutenants), but I read it foremost because it helps me understand how everyday life  (the normal) is produced by a variety of mechanisms, some strategic, some mere directives in one domain that gets ported over to others, a little bit of chance and a lot of mirroring. It is possible to detect almost geological layers in your own lifetime. You can pinpoint certain body movements to a particular period and wonder how they have changed. In three acts I will describe one of the most important discoveries that I made myself in full everyday experiential mode.

I have discovered that it takes about fifteen to sixteen years to produce the next normal over a full societal stretch.  I draw two conclusions. The first, this time the center will not hold. And second, nothing is certain in a scripted paradigm shift, even if you have managed step 1 to 9, clinching it, creating the real capacity to produce the nature of new capabilities – moving from 9 to 10, might not be possible. Logically, as you have planned and succeeded partly you forget that you are  instrumental in shifting the terrain itself.  Victory becomes the horizon, you cannot reach it, ever. For some empirical evidence as it seems to be that that is still how most people prefer their arguments that can move to action, here is my testimony.

On a 2004 spring afternoon on a train station in Brabant, Den Bosch, I got myself a coffee, put it down on the bench on which I was sitting and started to hand roll a ‘sjekkie’, a cigarette. It was either Samson or Van Nelle, not the deepest blend, but the three-quarter brew, that I cannot recall. Now I have quit smoking, but I can remember the quiet dizziness easing into the sound of passing trains. I was brought out of my reverie by two men carrying a long pole with a hole the look of an ashtray to a hole they had made before. When the pole stood it said ‘Rookpaal’, ‘Smoking pole’. A circle in paint had been drawn around it. Next time I’d lit up a smoke, in open air, in a train station the men said I would have to walk up to that pole and stand there, in the circle. As to my ‘why?’ they had no answer. Only that it would cost me. I’d be fined for smoking outside of dedicated, designated territory. We know now that one in every eight deaths in Europe can be linked to pollution. In the Netherlands an estimated 10 100 premature deaths are attributable to air pollution (2015). I realized that day, on the spot, that I was not in the presence of health indicators creating these zones. This reeked of something entirely different: behavioral disciplining.

That day I had been teaching in Rotterdam. As I walked into the newly renovated public library, I was shocked to be able to see what seemed like miles around, but probably was about 50-70 meters. It took my literally a few minutes, then it sank in. They had halved all bookcases.  I walked up to a person at the desk and asked what had happened to the old bookcases lined up to the ceiling. Sometimes you had to find one of those small boxes you could step on to reach for a book beyond your reach. Oh, we created a line of sight, now we have a full overview of the room. Creating transparency, overview, a sense of visual control, as I put a match to my cigarette I thought back to the days where you just lightly locked your bike leaving it just wherever as you ran to catch that train. My God, I thought, and recall thinking it; they are disciplining books, disciplining bikes, discipling smoking, what is going on?

I decided to set up some investigations with my students in Breda, of Sint Joost. We started with the ‘Rookpaal’. Four of five of us dressed up as a smoking pole and with ashtrays in our hands we approached smokers asking them to use our ashtrays, pointing to the smoking pole so recent that not everyone was ready yet to walk up to it. But, to our surprise, no one – no one – was willing to use us. Asking them if they realized that in walking up to that smoking zone in an open air was like walking to your own prison cell without actually really having done anything problematic (remember people were dying from industrial and car pollution by ten thousand plus without any calls for strict regulation by the same institutional actors implementing zones to smoke in the open air), they sort of nodded, or coughed. Most even refused our lighters and matches. The week after we took a train to Schiphol to see the new face recognition capability outfitted cameras. We all sat down in one carriage. One of us started to clean the windows quite professionally. Another student unfolded a neat small table next to the toilet, draped a flowery cloth on it and clinched the design with a yellowish vase and some flowers and a porcelain bowl. She then proceeded to clean the toilet and installed herself on one of the train seats in that small compartment ready to properly earn 50 cents from the next visitor. The  conductor went ape just by watching us clean the windows. By the time he saw the table he nearly fainted. We had brought bingo cards, distributed them and started to shout out some random numbers. It took a few minutes for everyone to ne on board but then every single passenger – but one – was game and joined in with the bingo. People started to talk to one another, stood up and looked around and smiled at us as we read out numbers. The one person who did not join in started filming us on a Sony Ericsson S700i. He also texted Schiphol security. The moment we arrived in Schiphol police was waiting for us.

Figure 1 The Watch Out/Pas Op team in Oisterwijk 2004, picture taken by the author (students of St Joost Breda walking)

Our third information gathering expedition was in the town of Oisterwijk, where I took that picture in Figure 1. It is 2004 still. About a dozen of students from my class in the Arts Academy of Sint Joost in Breda dress up in white industrial suits. They are the Pas op team, the Watch Out team. We have stickers saying: Watch Out. We put these on trees. Trees are dangerous, you can bump into one. We put them on shop windows. Shop windows are dangerous. If they are too well cleaned, you can crash into one. You can hurt yourself badly. Shop windows are dangerous, but fortunately we brought our ‘Pas Op’ stickers. The team escorts the lady in red across the empty street. Two rows bodyguard her and she smiles as they explain they are the Watch Out team, a new initiative from ‘the government’. She thanks the team. Not a car in sight. Every half hour the team stops and starts looking up, scouting the skies for satellite debris. Satellite debris is known to have crashed and hit homes, cars and people. Skies are dangerous. Fortunately, there is a new initiative from the government. Fortunately, no debris that afternoon in Oisterwijk. The team hits the local food market. I linger a bit behind. I overhear a daughter telling her mother: They should have done this much sooner. I hear this. This is real. I am shocked. We did not expect to be thrown out of town or to be treated violently. But we had anticipated pushback, people being angry, getting upset, telling us are you insane? This is Oisterwijk, nothing ever happens here, there is no traffic we do not have to be escorted across the street, please get out and tell the government we do not need a Pas Op team, Donderop! Yet instead, and remember dear reader this is 2004, we were told that the government should have done this much sooner. We went into the first pub we saw and got drunk.

So, what was going on?

Paul Du Gay relates, in In Praise of Bureucracy, how entrepreneurial governance became the magic word in the 90s era’s New Public Management adopted in every OECD country, and the EU . It has ten essential principles:

"Entrepreneurial governments. promote competition between service providers. They. empower citizens by pushing control out of the bureaucracy, into the community. They measure the performance of their agencies, focusing not on inputs, but on outcomes. They are driven by their goals - their missions- not by their rules and regulations. They redefine their clients as customers and. offer them choices - between schools, between training programs, between housing options. They prevent problems before they emerge, rather than simply offering services afterward. They put their energies into earning money, noit simply spending. it. They decentralize authority, embracing. participatory management. They prefer market mechanisms to bureaucratic mechanisms. And they focus not simply on providing public services but on catalyzing all sectors -public, private and voluntary - into action to solve their community's problems." (Osborne and Gaebler, 1992, 19-20)

Reading this list of requirements, we can quickly testify to its enormous scope of success:

“Because this approach presupposes that no organizational context is. immune from the winds of change, it naturally. assumes that all organizations - whether hospitals, charities, banks or government departments - will need to develop similar norms and techniques of conduct, for without doing so they will lack the capacity to pursue their preferred projects. As Kanter (1990:356) forcefully. argues, all organizations - public, private and voluntary - must either move away from bureaucratic guarantees to post-entrepreneurial flexibility or....stagnate - thereby cancelling any commitments they have made.”

The one requirement that turned out to be the key element - They decentralize authority, embracing. participatory management – read the scope of and for identity management - is only now being carried out, but only after current and proactive value in the system has been removed from all participants, by the successful operational capabilities coming into play by outcome based competition catalyzing market mechanisms paid for by customers (as the new only role of former ‘citizens’) empowering specific actors who have executed this roadmap and instead of decentralizing authority at the beginning of the 90s or alongside early 2000s, through identity management, it is  only now, after there is no more value in the system, that this decentralized authority is on the market in the form of outsourcing digital identity management in all European countries. Like a snake biting its own tail, but as a a bigger snake, it is then capable of leaving citizens fully behind, not even anymore as ‘customers’, but purely as entities, dynamically portable parts of ‘event identities’, thus fully instating the primacy of financial capital as the new political model.

I stand in wonder of how a quote from 1992 was executed fully as a successful political program. This program has left me, a citizen, quite orphaned. I pay my taxes as a good member of society, sometimes up to 60% or more. Before the entrepreneurial program I had a small stake in society, as I helped to contribute to common services. In 2020 I pay taxes to an empty shell for a nation ‘state’ (Emperor’s clothes) that has no more money of its own (euros), no more law of its own (over 90% is from Brussels), no more instruments (privatized), no data (in the hands of GAFA). It still issues me a passport. This entitlement - passage - (for it is not identification) will become a credential soon in my wallet. And as the model of the entrepreneurial state is nearing its completion it reveals it has fully eaten out the state and privatized every and any capability. And citizens are expected to pay not only for this operation that leaves them without shelter and fairness or democracy, but also for a payment to the private sector for the privilege of being able to do so as well as pay for its actual use.

What then is the rationale behind this? What is the trade-off for the civil servants and politicians who are willingly carrying out these operations? Why would an actor coherently dismantle itself, and aim to hide each step from the participants in the model? The reason is that the next phase of a global underpinning of power has already begun to instantiate itself as CPS, Cyber Physical System outsourcing the security and stability of the assets acquired in the last thirty years fully to what is left of state actors – military and especially steadily militarizing police – and the operational capabilities to large private alliances of services (that are increasingly independent of specific brands and/or companies). This is the new program that we see carried out globally, as all ‘systems’ begin to look like each other. There may be some minor cultural sensibilities but that is all. The short emancipation of the individual in a democratic state has come to its (logical) end. From now on ‘it’ (yes it) will be approached at the level of capabilities just like any other good, machine, robot or script: an entity among entities.

This is happening as we speak. A tremendous magical operation, the scope of a fairytale - started about forty years ago and what a hack it is, yes Sir,  I do tip my hat. A group of actors takes about 50-75% (add up all taxes) of everyone else claiming this is for keeping resources intact, then starts to sell them of one by one: telecom, water (in some places), energy, healthcare….

And now we know how this started, and how this was deliberately engineered.

The rail infrastructure ProRail was split off from NS; Nederlandse Spoorwegen (since 1938) in 2003. Citizens took a train and could feel like actual small shareholders of this state-owned enterprise. Yet in 2004 as we took a train thinking it was still ‘ours’ it was in fact no longer fully under control of the Dutch government. It was privatized. I was actually walking  no longer in public territory I was walking in a privately owned mall.

With every loss of a real capability,  a theatrical apparatus appears giving the impression that you are still in control.

The Rookpaal appeared to act as a zone for discussion, debate, identifying locally those who hesitated, and as a visual reminder that moral alignment (it was ‘wrong’ to smoke) was something that you could not really escape from. As the actual operational range of the authorities got weaker, an imaginary reminder of their power was literally put in your vision, in your face.

I have evidence. I was at the station. We did our research in 2004. It made me realize ‘nothing’ could be done if citizens were that easily steered. I feel a bit naïve now, thinking back on my talks with policy makers in the Netherlands warning them that the center would not hold ,and people would stop paying taxes wrecking our democratic model fully. How they must have smiled and laughed with this worried character, trying to explain to them what they were engineering themselves! Now, logically not everyone would be ‘in the know’, as – and that’s the beauty of it all, the magic – there was no conspiracy, no briefing, no plan just three directives that became mottos: government bad, corporates good, distrust is the best default as you can only be proven right, procedures before dialogue.

I am a happy man. I understand what drives my reality. I have proof. I was there, in the market, library and in the station. In October 2020 the smoking poles were removed, and the entire station was declared smoking free. Amazing. Such a brilliant trick I am honored to have witnessed it. You want to install a new regime of behavior in a territory with practices that have been thought to be normal for centuries, to light up a fag in open air. All it takes is fifteen years. You create a new ritual by force (and fines) and add a symbolic artefact (pole). It signifies the operation. It designates the zone of proper behavior. After fifteen years you remove the symbols and declare the entire space ‘clean’, ‘free of earlier bad behavior.

I am a calm person. I understand we best are calm. For what we are witnessing on a daily basis is the entrepreneurial paradigm executing its final step: privatizing identity management, signing away as public capability to the very act of verification, authentication, signing and authorization itself. It has been working towards this for decades. And as the state has finally dismantled itself but wants to hide that from the actors (us) still paying for its procedures and members (politicians, civil servants, police), it offers you a vaccination passport as a new form of identification to celebrate your...freedom. Brilliant.

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