How Not to Network a Nation. The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet

(Ben Green) #1

24 Chapter 1

references the hierarchy in “the sacerdotal structure of the Church” in
which “the many ends are ordered by the right of each to inhibit all infe-
riors.” He then contrasts a hierarchical network with an intransitive neural
network in which a crossover is introduced between neurons C and A. In
this case, to model the network one needs to “map the network not on
a plane, but on a three-dimensional Taurus (a donut-shaped topological
space).” Instead of imagining such a network arrangement as inferior or
inconsistent, he observes that “circularities in preference actually demon-
strate consistency of a higher order than had been dreamed of in our phi-
losophy. An organism possessed of this nervous system—six neurons—is
sufficiently endowed to be unpredictable from any theory founded on a
scale of values. It has a heterarchy of values, and is thus internectively too
rich to submit to a summum bonum.”^28
With the concept of neural heterarchy, McCulloch introduces the multi-
dimensional possibilities for complex systems that cannot be mapped onto
two-dimensional logics of either flat markets or tall hierarchies. This con-
cept has since proven helpful in cybernetic-compatible research far beyond
brain research, including self-organization, feedback loops, automata the-
ory, and non-Turing and non-Euclidean computing for thinking about the
superabundance of actual complex networked relations and also about the
limits of traditional tools for accounting for these relations. As detailed
later, similar cybernetic notions introduced both the terms and the network
tools for describing and managing the heterarchical tensions at the heart of
the Soviet command economy.

Cybernetics beyond the Cold War Superpowers

Between 1948 and the mid-1950s, cybernetics also enjoyed reception and
development in a number of countries outside of the cold war superpower
axis. For the purposes of this section, I focus on the postwar reception of
cybernetics in England, France, and Chile, although the point of the sec-
tion supersedes comparative local or national histories. The conditions of
modern countries after World War II and during the cold war were ripe
for an umbrella science of self-governance. Many scientists worldwide were
rushing to find ways to stabilize and regulate the consequences of a torrent
of new and disruptive technologies—and cybernetics modeled a technical
mindset for how to grapple with and control the consequences of tech-
nology itself. The 1950s saw a dizzying number of potentially revolution-
ary technologies become popular—atomic and hydrogen bombs, nuclear
power plants, Sputnik, the double helix, passenger jets, dishwashers, polio

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