Scale Primitives

Mirrors and copulation are abominable, for they multiply the number of mankind.

Jorge Luis Borge [(tlon-uqbar-orbis-tertius)]

Silicon Valley today is all about that "scalable technology", but the fetishisation of scale itself is much, much older than the young "disruptors" may like you to think it is. Scale, is a civilisational instinct that's been with us since the earliest states, playing itself out on larger and larger stages over the ages.

Agriculture as the first multiplier the imperative of primitive warfare, "more people => more wars won", throwing in a dash of avarice and hubris, encouraged the formation of permanent agricultural settlements. Although agriculture is less efficient per person (vs hunting-gathering), it is more efficient per land area, hence more accessible from a state nucleus. The concentration within a small, reachable area, along with the relative permanance of the cultivated land, meant that agricultural products were more easily appropriated by the state (i.e. taxed). art-not-gov. With the agricultural base, it was then possible to provide the food and the manpower needed for waging more devastating, and successful wars.

(State) Warfare, the great anonymiser universal currencies—coinage—became important only between strangers. Credit systems were much more common within communities and between neighbours. Encounters between friendly travellers and locals were left to the arts of hospitality. But encounters between hostile strangers (e.g. soldiers passing through) and locals—necessitated a form of one-and-done exchange facilitated via a universal, interchangeable currency: cold, hard cash. debt

"War is a collectivizing process, and large-scale collectivism is inherently warlike. If not militarist by nationai tradition, highly centralized states must become so by the very necessity of sustaining at home an inordinate, “unnatural” power concentration, by the threat of their governmental mobilization as felt by other nations, and by their almost inevitable transformation of commercial intercourse into organized economic warfare among great economic-political blocs. There can be no real peace or solid world order in a world of a few great, centralized powers.”

Henry C. Simons, via breakdown-of-nationsp. 56

With our dependence on massive existence for individual survival, every occupation disposing of a multiplying element becomes important on that account alone, while quality ceases to be a criterion of value altogether.

breakdown-of-nationsp. 119

If the economic take-off of the West began with the techniques that made possible the accumulation of capital, it might perhaps be said that the methods for administering the accumulation of men made possible a political take-off in relation to the traditional, ritual, costly, violent forms of power, which soon fell into disuse and were superseded by a subtle, calculated technology of subjection. In fact, the two processes - the accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital - cannot be separated; it would not have been possible to solve the problem of the accumulation of men without the growth of an apparatus of production capable of both sustaining them and using them; conversely, the techniques that made the cumulative multiplicity of men useful accelerated the accumulation of capital.

surveil-and-punishp. 220–221

Here's the rub: at every stage of the development of "civilisation", we've told ourselves the story that more manpower = better future for all. This is a lie. This is the very first lie in the series of lies that transmuted quantity into quality. More manpower in the early states meant more soldiers and conscripts with which to wage war... not exactly the ideal situation to be drawn into. The acquisition of more land in that process meant an expanded agricultural operation, which enabled ever larger, denser populations, putting strains on resources (=> the invention of scarcity) and creating problems that arise only in unnaturally crowded conditions, e.g. pandemics.

Today, this population growth ideology manifests itself in the "pro-life" rhetoric, which strives to protect the increment of human beings on the planet and turns angrily away at the mere mention of helping improve their lives once they are born.

It manifests in the anti-abortion preachings of Western missionaries abroad, which then, ironically, sets off a Malthusian panic in the developed world when it realises that all these people in the "Global South" would too, like to attain the living standards of the developed middle-class—yet another pipe dream sold to them by the IMF and the World Bank.

It manifests in the rhetoric of unfettered economic growth, which for small city-states like Singapore apparently means growth in population without end— via either pro-natalist government policy or through pro-immigration policies. Without regard for the living standards of the citizens already living on an over-crowded island, for the consequences of un-abating growth (in corresponding consumption and extraction) on an already straining planet, for the rights of the workers from the "less fortunate countries" who get chewed up in the hierarchies in the global pecking order when they take up exploitative and coercive jobs that the "locals didn't want", precisely because those jobs don't pay fair wages.


art-not-gov Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. Yale University Press. ↩︎ 1

debt Graeber, David. 2014. Debt, Updated and Expanded: The First 5,000 Years. Melville House. ↩︎ 1

surveil-and-punish Foucault, Michel. 2012. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. ↩︎ 1

breakdown-of-nations Kohr, Leopold. 1978. The Breakdown of Nations. Dutton. ↩︎ 1 2

tlon-uqbar-orbis-tertius Borges, Jorge Luis. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”. ↩︎ 1 2 3 4