Exit Spaces: From Koreshan Cults to Wireless Mesh Networks
By Tobias Revell
This paper examines the modern potential for exit spaces, places of exile and protest, disengagement from the mainstream and agonistic practice, with reference to historical precedents. Taking Albert O. Hirschman’s concept of Exit, Voice and Loyalty as responses to political upheaval, the paper examines a history of the securitisation or ‘flat-packing’ of protest through legal restraint, the militarisation of the police and political manoeuvring.
Three case studies are used as examples of alternative modern responses to the desire to create exit spaces outside of the standard political hegemony. Firstly, the rise in neo-Randian libertarianism among the Silicon Valley elite, in which increases in private funding for space programs, earnest seasteading startups and rhetorical conflicts with government and legal bodies show a distinct desire amongst the ‘custodians’ of modern technology to flee or exist outside of the restraints of government. In this example, the ideas of Mars colonies and artificial islands as tax havens are representative of a real and pressing drive to break the state’s regulatory bonds over business. Secondly, the Silk Road provides an example of extra-statecraft operating from within the network, where, through the use of anonymising technology, a narcotics marketplace actively traded, utilising state infrastructure such as postal services and public wi-fi in the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. The third case presents the rise of mesh networks in Athens as a response to government shutdowns following public protests against austerity and its role as activist network infrastructure. The popularity of these ad-hoc networks has since been further accelerated by the Snowden revelations of NSA surveillance. Though mesh networks are relatively slow and inefficient, they represent the construction of a new class of territories, wherein the relinquishing of state-backed infrastructures of pipes, routers and wires promises a space of free discourse and political empowerment.
We face a new age of political upheaval, chronically lacking in space for polities to act without corporate power or illegal subversion. Chantal Mouffe highlights that we lack agonistic spaces for real political conflict that enable us to feel that our Voice (in Hirschman terms) is valuable or caries power, while David Graeber speculates that political apathy is born of an 'apparatus of hopelessness.' These Exit Spaces present examples of how new apparatuses might lead to new kinds of political action might be built in an adversarial role.
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