Monday, December 7, 2009

The Dragon

I found Trevor Paglen's lecture on geo-stationary orbits absolutely fascinating. Although his talk didn't heavily emphasize a basis in theory, Paglen really maintained his style of narrative-driven exploration that I came to enjoy in Blank Spots on the Map. Since the lecture, I've often found myself thinking about the gravitational belt that surrounds the earth, where in awesome amount of satellites that rotate with the earth, matching the speed of the earth's rotation, thus remaining absolutely stationary over specific spots in the earth's geography. The lecture brought up obvious concerns about security and public knowledge, surrounding so called "black operations" run by the government that launch relatively small, technology-heavy satellites into the GSO. These new satellites are equipped with boosters that allow them to precisely position themselves anywhere in the GSO, raising concern about the motives behind the project. Interestingly, I was not struck by the amount of technology that the government hides from us as citizens, for we've discovered this in the media, Paglen's book, and Galison's Removing Knowledge. The government has been hiding technologies from us for a very long time and, although I am undoubtedly concerned about the location of power in these instances, I feel like in many cases, the government's selective removal of technical knowledge from the public has much unreached potential (both devastating and productive). This is where I was truly effected by the lecture- technologies are tools that are operated and motivated by humans, so there must be an ultimate goal or reason for creating them. So, technological gadgets (satellites for example) can remain ultimately useless without the right reason or motivation for their use, empty goal-less vessels if you will. I am not concerned about the government's ability to hide these technologies from us, for I sincerely have no use for them, but I am concerned about the government's motivation, reasoning, and anticipated use for the technologies. Here, Paglen really revealed important clues as to the mindset behind these secret projects by presenting the patches that the government assigns to the "black operations." If I recall correctly, one patch portrays a ferocious green dragon with US-flag-patterned wings, and large, pointed fangs clutching a globe in its talons. The dragon's tail snakes behind the globe and cradles, at the end, a large crystal clear diamond. How are we supposed to interpret this disturbing array of symbols? The dragon can only mean the US government, and it's clutching the world! Not quite the motivation that I had pictured... And the dragon is cradling a diamond- a valuable resource that has caused bloodshed across the world (and undoubtedly connotes economic value, thus capitalism and desire). The technologies are scary because of their potential, but the patches are even worse. I can't imagine giving a nuclear bomb to a ferocious dragon that wants to control the world and all of its resources... Even worse- it has the knowledge to operate it.

No comments: