"A short-hand synopsis of Out of Control would be to say it is an update on the current state of cybernetic research."
This is a very interesting book. It covers a gamut of topics that are all related to systems and control. The symbol of droning slavery, the beehive, is considered initially at great length. It is given as an example of a decentralized democracy where every bee has a part to play. In contrast to this beekeeping is discussed. From the start the author wants you to think the bees are in control, when really it is the beekeeper who is in charge. Again and again you will read examples of systems with no central authority that are juxtaposed against statements like "a flocked guided by a shepherd". A flock of sheep is not a decentralized democracy. It is a totalitarian dictatorship under the shepherd's crook and dog.
There is also an enormous amount of Darwin and evolution mentioned. This leads into such topics as natural and artificial evolution, social Darwinism, economics, computer simulated life, computer viruses, parasitism, Gaian theory, and almost countless others. To say Darwinian evolution, even when Lamarckian evolution is treated in depth as well, is a foundational tenet of this work would be an understatement.
Beyond Darwin, some of the other major players that those familiar with the various MK-Ultra-like programs would recognize include, but are not limited to, Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, Marshall McLuhan, Stewart Brand (the founder of WIRED, where the author was once editor), and even the grand-daddy of cybernetics, Norbert Weiner.
One view, that communication between agents of a system occurs through the world is fertile ground for showing how a decentralized system can still confer top down control. Consider the intelligence community and the oligarchy that, while often seen as completely centralized (CENTRAL Intelligence Agency), are actually a number of cells of agents working independently. The operations of one group are seen by the other groups which can adapt their strategy. With only a few contact points between agencies, a yearly meeting at a Bohemian Grove, Century Club, or a United Nations conference, and the pervasive feedback of seeing what the other groups do, both successfully and unsuccessfully, you can develop a shepherding system of control that is quite decentralized. A perfect example of this decentralized control can be seen in the late 1800's and early 1900's when the English Empire re-branded itself as the Commonwealth. In England and in far off lands like India and Australia you had many individual agents working in their own independent manor, but each was deftly directed by London. Not overtly, but by instilling particular values in the future leadership of these colonies by another name. Each part of the commonwealth was free to act independently, as long as they were moving in the same general direction. This is kind of like letting out fishing line, giving the fish a chance to wear itself out on the false illusion of freedom, before reeling in your catch.
Many comparisons to environmental engineering being like machine engineering bring about a blurring of biological and mechanical (a clearly stated recurring theme). This reminds me of permaculture, succession, guilds, and assemblages. There is actually a lot of what I learned studying permaculture present in this work. "Happy accidents" are mentioned, and the idea of seeing how something works by simply trying it are both strong beliefs of many permaculturists.
While not front and center to permaculture, Lovelock's Gaia theory is occasionally mentioned and most certainly a staple in this book. I make the connection to permaculture because, although it sounds great on the surface, could it be another cybernetic input to pacify those fed up with the status quo? If you are out gardening and planting trees, you are not combating the oligarchical fraud. If you are not starting families, who are you improving the environment for?
All of these vectors of social change steeped in cybernetic theory lead to worldwide single living system that feeds back on itself with "obligated cooperation", which sounds a lot like justification for manipulation of the masses.
Several times the ubiquity of parasitism and symbiosis in natural systems is noted and increasing as more species evolve to interact with one another in novel ways. When applied to the social human world, what will it look like? It seems more justification for an oligarchy that is completely parasitic in its behavior.
Von Neumann's games are discussed in fleeting generality, but more interesting is that the idea of a zero-sum game is discounted continually. The network effect, the more telephones there are the more valuable a telephone becomes (1 telephone is all but worthless), is heavily promoted instead of the zero-sum effect. While this sounds appealing, everyone can win, it is unrealistic. In terms of wealth, which is nothing more than a particular arrangement of (finite) earthly resources, it (life) is a zero-sum game. Things like the economy can exhibit non-zero sum characteristics (the stock market goes up and up and up), but that is an artifact of their artificiality. Money is a construct of man's mind, a tool for measuring perceived wealth akin to inches measuring length. There is no limit to the amount of inches or dollars, but there is a definite limit to things we can measure with each.
"Although some links become hardwired and nearly symbiotic, most species are promiscuous in evolutionary time, shacking up with a different partners as the partners themselves evolve." This struck me as interesting because it promotes promiscuity as an absolute. At least from a social human society standpoint, promiscuity erodes families. If the goal, as I submit it to be, is to break down society to the helpless individual, adrift in the virtual worlds, then this promotion is not at all out of place and simply another key being pressed to make the human organ sing the tune of submission.
At one point the book begins to talk about an omega-point where ecosystems tend toward. I immediately thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the originator of this omega-point theory. Pierre, a priest, combined science and religion in some really novel ways. Omega-point theory basically stated that everything in the universe was moving toward a single point, God. A few paragraphs later the largest bomb in the book was dropped. A quote from John Perry Barlow that mentions Pierre and The (Masonic) Great Work:
"Computers-the gizmos themselves-have far less to do with techie enthusiasm than some half-understood resonance to The Great Work: hardwiring collective consciousness, creating the Planetary Mind. Teilhard de Chardin wrote about this enterprise many years ago and would be appalled by the prosaic nature of the tools we will use to bring it about. But I think there is something sweetly ironic that the ladder to his Omega Point might be built by engineers and not mystics."
In my opinion this one quote simultaneously summarizes and betrays both this book and the whole of the technocracy/cybernetic vision of the future. "Hardwiring collective consciousness" equates to plugging everyone into the (online, social media) matrix.
Further, the book goes into great detail of what we would call virtual reality. It covers simulated war games for the Department of Defense and simulation games like BattleTech. I find it interesting that there is such a crossover between gaming and war. Consider that the modern drones use controls eerily reminiscent of X-box game pads.
There is a whole chapter on e-money. Remember that this was written in the mid 1990s, long before things like bitcoin were even a glint in Satoshi's eye. It portends the omnipresence of things like debit cards, club cards, and cards that use a small microchip to store reloadable value years before they became fashionable. The words you hear today surrounding bitcoin are all there: crypto-currency, libertarianism, crypto-anarchy, anonymous, and verifiable. Again, the chapter on e-money is pretty damning evidence that the oligarchy was either behind crypto-currency or at least had their finger on the pulse of the crypto-kids and therefore would not be shocked at the rise of something like bitcoin.
South American fiction master J. L. Borges and his Library are talked about at great length. Borges' library is called back to many times subsequently after its introduction. Dawkin's Biomorph Land and the various artificial evolutionary systems are compared to wandering through Borges' library.
Moving beyond the gradual evolution Darwin, a new theory of saltationism (from Latin saltare, to jump) is pondered to describe how "hopeful monsters" appear suddenly. "The clues I present here of symbiosis, directed mutation, saltationism, and self-organization, are far from conclusive." This, to me, reads as nothing more than mysticism masquerading as science, the modern religion.
The Macy conferences are mentioned as a great collection of minds sharing cutting-edge ideas since 1942. "Among the several dozen visionaries invited over the nine years of the conference were Gregory Bateson, Norbert Wiener, Margaret Mead, Lawrence Frank, John von Neumann, Warren McCulloch, and Arturo Rosenblueth. This stellar congregation later became known as the cybernetic group for the perspective they pioneered- cybernetics, the art and science of control."
The book closes with a few pages on being a god. The godlike feeling one experiences when poking around in the world of artificial evolution or life mimicking games like SimCity is mentioned many times. It seems that god has taken on new meaning, acceptable to be bandied about haphazardly in the scientific community: to be the creator of a world, virtual or ecological. This is the last piece of evidence that shows where these peoples' hearts and minds are. They see themselves as gods. All the matter of the world, including you and I, are to be subsumed into their artificial control mechanisms.
The constant restating of the title, "out of control", is counter positioned to a less overtly stated "under control". The entire book vacillates between the two contrary positions. Even when expressing such concepts of control being "bottom up" or as a shepherd herding sheep, control by any other name is still control.