Bernie Sanders is “once again asking” Joe Biden if he stood on the Senate floor and advocated cuts to Social Security and Medicare. From the CNN/Univision Democratic Debate on March 15, 2020.

Just a couple hours ago, CNN broadcast the latest Democratic debate in conjunction with Spanish-language TV network Univision. It was the first one-on-one media face-off between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, the two remaining frontrunners in the race. It was hard to watch.

Throughout the debate, Biden continually insulted viewers by telling bold-face lies about his political history, despite the fact that we have the technology at our fingertips to uncover his lies within seconds. It’s called YouTube. It’s been around for 15 years at this point, and Joe Biden should know about it by now.

Of course, he does…

Photo by Teddy Österblom on Unsplash

Imagine you are a young child who is deathly allergic to bees. One day, while you are outside playing, you get stung. You are now in a life-or-death situation, which can potentially be resolved through a specific action: going to the hospital. Your mother wants to respond by taking this action. But unfortunately for you, your father is a member of a cult that believes that all illness is self-created. He refuses to allow it. He argues that this is not the most effective way to treat your illness, despite a mountain of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. …

Artwork by Nick Schauer.

For hundreds of thousands of years, the concept of “surplus” was relatively unknown. People worked to feed themselves and their own families, hunting, foraging, herding and practicing shifting agriculture. They did not, generally, work themselves to the bone; rather, since food was easy to come by, they saw no reason to hoard it.

It was the “social cage” of the alluvium that gave birth to a new beast: civilization. The lush world of the silty river floodplain promised a natural surplus; all who settled along its banks could prosper almost without trying. But like all conveniences, it came at a…

Image by Pascal Laurent from Pixabay

To further understand the world of power and narrative, we’re going to have to cover something that at first seems tangential: basic geography.

Geography seems obvious, like water to fish. It surrounds us always; it just is. We trace our lines of path and fate along its contours, and at times we don’t even notice how its contours shape us in turn. But the deep, slow-moving forms of the earth have dramatically molded the palm lines of history.

You’ve seen maps of the world before. There are hundreds, each charted from its own logic. No one map is “correct” or…

Image: Public domain. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France: Département des Manuscrits. Division orientale. Supplément persan 1113, fol. 65v.

First: A Recap, and Some Future Directions

We have come to the end of the first part of our series, focusing on the rise of civilization as a new “technology” of power in early history. This will be the last article in the chapter; then, we will start discussing the concept of empire through the ages. Story and narrative will begin to figure in here, as well. Moving forward we’ll take on a new approach, one that is more accessible, less dry, and combines information with a more creative style. …

Social media behemoths conquer our data and the landscape of our attention. // Photo: Clint Bustrillos via Unsplash

A few behemoths, over a period of only a few years, have conquered and territorialized the landscapes of our online social worlds. Like in a game of digital Risk, companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google have staked their claims on the geography of our minds. They are the new kingdoms of attention — and the businesses and influencers who compete for us on their platforms have become their corresponding feudal lords.

For a variety of good reasons, this makes many of us uneasy. For some, it seems these platforms don’t have enough official regulation; for others, their already-close…

Seen in Long Beach, CA. || Instagram: @hkynefinarts

“They call me the disappearer:
‘When he arrives, he’s already gone.’
I come flying, I go vanishing.
Rushing, rushing, on a lost course.

Me llaman el desaparecido:
‘Cuando llega, ya se ha ido.’
Volando vengo, volando voy.
De prisa, de prisa, a rumbo perdido.”
Manu Chao, “Desaparecido”

Official institutions don’t like wanderers. Neither do the social webs that crystallize in their grasp. The world has fossilized into systems, predictable, stable, and sedentary. To play your part means remaining rigid in your place. A network of automated plans and protocols beats out an endless rhythm around you. …

Photo by Nathalie SPEHNER on Unsplash

Every dynamic system requires energy to function. This is a fact of physics: you cannot have movement without a power input. This maxim applies to mechanical systems, biological systems, and also to human societies. Energy is another word for food; so we might ask:

On what does the state feed?

Leading up to this article, we have discussed how the state emerged and cemented its institutional power. Once the state becomes an entity, an “emergent property” of a pre-existing network of social systems, it requires fuel to keep it going.

Today, we’re going to examine how the early state fueled…

Chances are, you probably already know some words in another language. — // — Photo credit: Jayson Hinrichsen via Unsplash

As a permanent traveler, chances are you will pass through many different countries — encountering hundreds of different language zones as you go. Ethnologue, one of the most detailed linguistic catalogs out there, documents 7,111 recognized languages globally (as of this writing). That’s thousands more languages than there are countries on earth. It would be impossible for one person to learn them all in a lifetime.

Sir John Bowring, the fourth British governor of Hong Kong, allegedly spoke over 100 languages, although there is no direct evidence for this figure. Today, there are a couple rare polyglots who can speak…

Photo by Pavel Nekoranec on Unsplash

Last time, we imagined what life was like for humans before the invention of the state. Using historical-archaeological evidence, combined with observations of modern hunter-gatherers from around the world, we showed that the state was perhaps not the inevitable remedy to a meager and fear-filled prehistoric life. On the contrary, we have reason to believe that hunter-gatherers and nomads actively avoided integration into the urban, civilized polity.

But if ancient humans had so many reasons to avoid incorporation into the state, how did it consolidate its power? …

Haley Kynefin

I study myth, power and social structures. Particularly: How do states gain power through narrative? How do individuals & groups dare to resist that power?

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