In gaming, the term PUG (Pick Up Group) is used to describe a quickly selected, random group or players that have inadequate information for a given goal.  
 
I'm going to use this ad-hoc, urgent concept as an approach to researching contemporary warfare and its associated knowledge production and aesthetics on the network. Acceleration of networked connectivity has violated many accepted doctrines and theorizations of warfare, resulting in a scramble to develop approaches and methods that can function in today's environment (much like in contemporary art).  
 
As the bulk of operational information is classified, I'm going to use contemporary gaming and its related cultural production as an oblique plane cutting through topologies of the war machine, culture, structural violence and evolving networked tactics. 
 
Games, non-linear pulses of light streaming through human eyes and bodies, are spaces with massive stores of knowledge about navigating light-based informational ecosystems. As of 2 years ago, Call of Duty, one of the most widely played games on this planet, has accreted 2.85 million years of human experience.  
 
There's a correspondence to the speed of connectivity in gaming that forces the necessity of PUG's and to the forced improvisations of exiled populations who are made irrelevant by capital. Often-times, these populations are the ones most vulnerable to the predations of war-machines, both as victims and perpetrators. There is also a very real material connection between these bodies and games. They are the operational and logistical components of network-accelerated weapon systems and when their bodies are exhausted, their ghosts are modelled and automated, animating the next iteration of war games such as Call of Duty. 
 
These ghosts leak into and through images. Their animations circulate through the bodies of the next wave of operators/designers, expressed through fan production, social media and videos documenting actual combat via helmet-mounted GoPro footage. Current gamers simulate war on information a generation old, while contemporary combatants employ and corrupt the same representational conventions of these war simulations. As such, contemporary combatants appear through an urgent manipulation, filtering and improvisation of the languages of representation themselves. Their bodies are glimpsed through photo-chops, remixes, cos-play, tutorials, re-enactments, leaks and simulations. 
 
These are not the under-represented, they are the impossible to represent. The Non-%. 
 
A core-sampling of image grammars pulled from simulations and circulated through amateur communities. Members of these communities include the designers and operators of the weapons systems that manufacture the bodies idealized in these images. 
 

The Militarization of Speculation 

Three author/consultants on Call of Duty: Black Ops migrate to the Atlantic Council, a D.C.-based think tank and launch the Art of Future Warfare project. Here's the vision and mission statement: 
 
Vision 
A world in which artists — writers, illustrators, directors, videographers — and creativity enjoy a valued place in the defense establishment’s planning and preparation for the future of warfare and social conflict; in which unconventional, imaginative thinking and expression contribute meaningfully to the study and professional conduct of diplomacy, defense policy and military operations; in which fiction about future wars holds a regular place on the reading lists of military professionals. 
 
Mission 
The Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project is driven by the Scowcroft Center on International Security’s mandate to advance thinking and planning for the future of warfare. The project’s core mission is to cultivate a community of interest in works and ideas arising from the intersection of creativity and expectations about how emerging antagonists, disruptive technologies, and novel warfighting concepts may animate tomorrow’s conflicts. We will create a platform for this community — the Art of Future Warfare website, activate social media around this mission and host live events. The project will curate artistic renderings of future warfare through crowd-sourced “war-art challenges,” and publish collections of these works. The project also will cultivate an audience within the traditional defense community for this creative approach to understanding the future of warfare and social conflict. 
 
A follow-up post this week will expand on this evolving circulation of public military intellectuals/creative writers, academic think-tanks and the bodies affected.  
 
 
 

The Militarization of Speculation pt. 2 

Think-tanks by no means are monolithic entities. They operate within an ecosystem that constitutes 'the marketplace of ideas'. Medvetz sees think-tanks more as connective tissues with differing degrees of autonomy and ties to multipolar actors. They derive authority from being of but also opposition to the fields in which they are producing their products. ₁ 
The Art of Future Warfare Project becomes interesting as a sample of rhetorical tactics in the ‘marketplace of ideas’, where much of the arms-race is based on creating claims on the future itself. Taking another look at the vision statement: 
 
“ A world in which artists — writers, illustrators, directors, videographers — and creativity enjoy a valued place in the defense establishment’s planning and preparation for the future of warfare and social conflict; in which unconventional, imaginative thinking and expression contribute meaningfully to the study and professional conduct of diplomacy, defense policy and military operations; in which fiction about future wars holds a regular place on the reading lists of military professionals.” 
 
In the first sentence, it's clear that creativity operates as a meaningless word, standing in for some magical ingredient to cut through the 'future'. Creativity is a nebulous, transcendental value that artists, who are conceived of as medium-specific experts, have a privileged relationship to. As such, the military can benefit from 'unconventional, imaginative thinking and expression'.  
 
The age-old love affair between mysticism and 'creativity' becomes an incredible weapon in the marketplace of ideas. There is no epistemic tool that can rationally evaluate 'creativity' because it's very nature is to be irrational, immeasurable, unconventional and imaginative. 'Creativity' here signifies surplus -- the very elements that cannot be measured or known by any available knowledge production tools.  
 
As such, 'creativity' is the perfect resource to increase a player's advantage in a marketplace where other players are bound by rigor and corroboration. It's the license to bypass traditional processes of verification. The ‘art’ of this project is to exploit a blind-spot inherent to the actual mechanics of the security industry's knowledge-production machines. By openly utilizing the unknowable, the project can make riskier claims without fear of losing credibility -- much like my invocation of the Pick-Up-Group as an excuse to generate non-rigorous research. 
 
It’s quite clear that the productive pillars of this project -- crowd-sourcing, social-media campaigns and ‘live events with artists’, are another element strategically positioned to outmaneuver traditional evaluative mechanisms. These tactics are at least a couple marketing generations old, only novel to an audience with an outdated media literacy. 
 
The more interesting implications are when the project includes but separates public media production with industry-grade information circulation: 
 
“ The project will curate artistic renderings of future warfare through crowd-sourced “war-art challenges,” and publish collections of these works. The project also will cultivate an audience within the traditional defense community for this creative approach to understanding the future of warfare and social conflict.” 
 
The project specifically uses the rhetoric of the network -- the 'crowd' -- to imply the obsolesence of the 'traditional defense community'. Playing the 'unconventional' intelligence and 'creativity' of the crowd allows the project and its directors enough leverage to question established doctrines while simultaneously selling the professionals a new source of influence. It's the classic think-tank (and contemporary art) strategy of composing blind spots in order to create the aura of novelty/expertise -- but played by a younger generation using the forms and languages of the network. 
 
Medvetz, T. (2012). Think tanks in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

How to See War Like an Internet (Pt. 1) 

Post-Representational Image Atlas 
 
Sources: ISIS Magazine, Spanish Special Forces Blog, Game-based Concept Art, Israeli Special Forces, Call of Duty Fan Art, Cos-players, Comic Pinterest Boards, SEAL Team, U.S. Military, ISIS Instagram Screen-caps. 
It's clear that one of the major problems in contemporary art (and warfare) is how to think with post-digital images. While the critical tools of postmodernism gave us the utterly necessary foundation for skepticism towards ‘reading’ mediated images, I think we’ve reached a functional cap on the amount of discourse we can consume and produce focused solely on the contradictions of a mediated image -- the gap between what an image is saying and what it is doing. 
 
The usual critical approach relies on a ‘reading’ of the image -- cutting into the optic ambiguity with strings of symbols in order to anchor the ‘meaning’ of the image. Parcel up every aspect of it, the compositional aspects, sequence, etc. into ‘choices’ created by a sentient desire. 
 
The clearest way to understand the limitations of this approach to viewing a post-digital image is to think about your body. With a body required to limit its movements to consume an image and its associated information, you can quickly see how impossible it would be to gain a functional comprehension of the other embedded processes and linkages when approaching each image as a unique, incommeasurate kernel of specific symbolic compressions. 
 
Even if your body accumulated enough structural privilege to keep itself safe enough to ‘read’ images 20 hours a day, it would not be able to keep pace with the 72 hours of video uploaded every second, let alone the massive amounts of text generated, and then the time required to parcel up each artifact and do the research necessary for text-based standards of interpretation. 
 
Information processing costs time, with extra for 'rigor', time costs accumulated wealth, wealth costs the abstraction of resources and bodies generated from constant warfare. 
 
(not proposing the erasure of these skills at all, just trying to propose an additional tool of literacy acknowledging various converging software/network capacities) 

How to See War Like an Internet Pt. 2 

Described above is the age-old problem of textual ‘surplus’ (will insert proper attribution to Derrida here later). Every piece of text is a compression, therefore always inferring an inexhaustible amount of context. It becomes a pragmatic and existential question when a body with a limited life-span is faced with an overwhelming amount of information. 
 
Compression becomes a necessary strategy for navigating these informational environments at a functional speed. Historically, every time a new level of compression has been introduced, there's always been anxieties over the loss of information and the duplicity of the compression. While these anxieties are not to be dismissed, I think there's a radical potential in exploring the new capacities that increased compression allows. 
 
Below I've made a chart proposing a strategy for an imagined, future level of compression based on current constellations of networked capacities. 
 
(There is no such thing as a linear history of compressions, just for ease of explanation.) 
 
 
 
 

Cheating the Network Game 

It’s pretty clear that modes of representation correspond very closely to the bodies that can be murdered and the bodies that can’t. In addition, it’s obvious that attempting to change representational discourse through legitimate political channels requires massive investments of time, money, and cutting-edge information on identity trends. 
 
These are all resources that the Non-% do not have. 
 
The Non-% is not an abnormal result of a faulty policy that can be tweaked through further fine-tuning. It is the logical outcome of the structural limitation of the logic of representation itself. 
 
Attempting to achieve equitable conditions by ‘representing’ every single voice is like trying to fit the Atlantic Ocean into a cereal bowl. No matter how hard you try, the tool is utterly unfit for the job. 
 
As such, I harbor zero delusions that this piece of writing, or the meager amount of accumulated research, researched in this way, written this way, will do a damn thing. 
 
This mode of writing has its own circulation, which is dominated by the harrowing demands of public intellectualism -- an elite grind that must adhere to standards of legitimacy. Thus, the Non-% of these studies are constantly told that they must be accredited intellectuals, using resources they will never attain, in order to study and voice their own plight. 
 
(If you’d like a much more theoretically-secured version of what I’m saying, take a look at Francois Laruelle’s philosophy of The Victim). 
 
As representational discourse has hit its carrying capacity, this requires not a new complete textual architecture, but a dimensional shift in how to cheat the constraints of representation and it's material manifestaions. 
 
And this requires less writing and more gaming, more playing, more lying, more cheating and more joking. These skills are all related to capacities -- how can one unconventionally mis-use speech, images, behaviors and tools to bypass the inherent constraints of this collapsing game of representation? 
 
For the close of this residency, I’m launching a platform called ‘The Futuring’. The aim is to actively theorize and experiment with strategies of re-distributal cognition, rumor production, collective licensing of illegitimate actions and the weaponization of speculation. The first project will be an online exhibition in direct response to The Art of Future Warfare. 
 
Please contact me if you’re interested. 
 
 
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