Vectorial Empires

01. These are precarious times. These are eventful times. Let us note some of the symptoms of this instability. There is September 11,and the prospect of a new form of American empire that uses September11 as its pretext. There is the global stock market slide, triggered by the collapse of American tech stocks, which altered the lives of chip-makers in Korea and Coltan miners in the Congo. These are instances of what I call weird global media events. They are events because they are singular. They are media events because they happen in a vectoral space of communication. They are global media events because they call a world into being. They are weird global media events because they defy explanation. They subsume every explanation as mere ripples and eddies in their wake.

02. The weird global media event always begins in the middle.
Something happens for which there is no readymade story instantly to hand. If only for a few moments, news media has to present the troubling images while it casts about for a story, inventing a beginning and positing an end. In the weird global media event what happens is always contrary to expectation. A new narrative trajectory has to be created to accommodate its singularity, after it happens. But in the moment when it happens, the weird global media event announces the presence of an unstable, ineffable world -- a world immune to interpretation. For an instant, we gape and gasp, confronted with the inexplicable.

03. How are we to avoid being stupefied by an event? Or worse, merely contributing a smart soundbite to it, enhancing it and extending it? By being prepared, when the event happens, not to look at the lightning strike of images, nor to just wait for the thunderclap of explanation. Rather, one looks toward the horizon of the event, to see what it illuminates. In the moment of the event, one can see the shape of the virtual geography that makes the event possible. One can glimpse the network of military, business and communication vectors that create the event space within which any and every event now unfolds. One searches for the narrative horizon abstract enough that explains not just a particular weird global media event, but also the abstract space within which any such event is possible.

04. I only have to say "September 11", and we all have before us the memory of an event that flashed as lightning in the dark, illuminating the space of the vector. There were the vectors of the planes, guided by global positioning satellites. There were the vectors of news information, spreading their own debris around the world. Of course, the range of things that "September 11" might signify is itself a cloud of dust, settling differently in one memory to the next, but designating a dispersal of differences, created out of nothing, instantaneously.

05. What the vector communicates is unknowable, a cloud of dust. What it is that communicates is knowable, but only in the abstract. We cannot know what lies behind the images and stories - the pictures of Osama and Bush, or of Enron and WorldCom executives. We cannot know the economy that fascinates those bizarre business news channels, with their scrolling stock quotes, and their experts who narrate the current events seamlessly - provided you don't check up on their predictions. But we can know the nature of a world in which such events are possible.

06. This is the world of the vector. Or more precisely, it is the world of the splitting of the vector into two different speeds. Paradoxically, the revolution of speed, which is the revolution of the vector, is a slow moving one. The crucial moment of transformation was the development of the telegraph. Since the telegraph, information has moved faster than bodies, faster than commodities, faster than warheads. The Internet is really just a refinement of the telegraph. Since the telegraph, the vector of information, with its superior speed, creates a geography within which to organize the geography of people and things. This virtual geography is a space within which all the possibilities for the organization of other spaces come together. It is where objects are brought together with subjects, and where the categories of object and subject exist as real, yet abstract entities.

07. The virtual geography of the communication vector emerges as the promise of a space where the contradictions of second nature can be resolved. By second nature I mean the space of the material transformation of nature by collective labor. Second nature is a space of fragmentation, alienation, class struggle. In many ways, the space of the vector really is a third nature, from which the second nature of our built environments can be managed and organized, as a standing reserve, just as second nature treats nature as its standing reserve. However, this third nature does not emerge as a rational and transparent space, with a homogenous and continuous time. It emerges as a chaotic space, an event space. To the chaos of nature history responded by building a second nature, in which to dwell. To the chaos of second nature, history responded with a third nature, which in turn is producing yet more chaos. The angel of history, propelled by the blast of these two historical phases, can no longer look back at a point of origin, for the trajectory is clouded by the dust of its own information.

08. The weird global media event throws the space of its own possibility into relief, revealing it. In the light of the stock market crash, one sees a space in which power operates by traversing territories, marking and valuing them, assigning every object a value and a locus, calculating the potential of any and every interaction, commanding the movements of objects, timing their interactions, and evaluating the results. The vector of communication makes of everything it touches a resource for displacement and transformation. In the light of September 11, one sees a space in which power operates by gathering intelligence, by intervening in territories, breaching their integrity.

09. Power is in both cases vectoral. When called upon by the vector, there are two games every object thus identified may be called upon to play. One is the game of the commodity. In this third nature, everything is proximate to everything else, thus multiplying exponentially the possible combinations. The other game is that of strategy. Here proximity is still relative. What matters is the locus of an object relative to the border that encloses it. On the one hand, the vector makes every object property and all property proximate in an emergent space of the world market. On the other, the vector aggregates objects as territories in the emerging space of the world battlefield.

10. There is a tension between these two dimensions of third nature. The vector does not just develop third nature as a commodity-space. It develops and extends third nature as a strategy-space at the same time. Third nature is a plane upon which both kinds of power develop and both become more concentrated. The vector heightens the significance of both the flows that cross boundaries and the boundaries themselves. The vector undermines state sovereignty and at the same time enhances it. What makes this era so unstable is not just these two phenomena acting alone, but also the conflicts and collusions between them.

11. The United States has been through a period under Clinton in which the vectors of commodity-space dominated; and is now passing through a period under Bush Jr in which the vectors of strategy-space dominate. Both phases are developments of the same vectoral forces. In both cases, power resides more and more in control of the communication vector. The conflict between these two developments is less important than the fact that they stem from the same history - the emergence and enrichment of a third nature, through which not just nature but second nature appear as standing reserves, as objects cut from the scene. To the vector the spoils.

12. In the United States, the ruling class may no longer even be described as exclusively capitalist. It is becoming vectoralist. The power of the vectoralist class resides in the command of information as intellectual property - in its portfolios of brands and patents. The vectoral class controls the designs and images for objects that are to be produced elsewhere, by mere subcontractors. It controls the research and development from which new intellectual property arises. It controls the vectors of command and promotion by which production and consumption are regulated. This vectoralist class was a major backer of Clinton, and got much of what it wanted from his administration, from a liberal trade agenda to strict new intellectual property laws and the deregulation of media and communication industries. The collapse of the tech stock bubble may have weeded out the more speculative aspects of the vectoral industries, but if anything has merely concentrated power among the vectoralist class.

13. The vectoral class has another faction; less interested in a liberal trade agenda, more dependent on a statist economy of military procurement. The mass-produced armed forces of the capitalist era give way to the information war of the vectoralist era. This is the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs, which the Bush Jr administration is struggling to impose on the Pentagon. The strategy of overwhelming force becomes information war - no less deadly, but more reliant on surveillance, remote controlled weapon systems, intelligence management. The assassination of an alleged Al Queda operative in Yemen by rockets launched from a remote controlled drone is a mere foretaste of the emerging vectoral war.

14. The liberal wing of the vectoralist class uses the vector to command the resources of second nature. Anything that can be objectified, classified, brought into potential relation with other objects, is what it seizes through its control of the vector. The statist wing, on the other hand, uses the vector to command the resources of nature. Anything that be treated as a resource, but which must remain territorially specific, is what is seizes through its control of the vector. While it appears that the interests of the energy industry dominate Bush Jr's administration, this is no less a vectoral interest. It is just that what the vector identifies as a resource is one of the few things that are spatially fixed. One can transport a tanker of oil, but not an oil deposit, which remains in place, subject to strategic calculation in the aggregate, rather than commercial calculation in the particular.

15. What confronts the world now is a dual empire, not a unitary empire. The military-industrial complex of the cold war era has been replaced, not by a juridical empire of global law and trade, but by a new duality, a military-entertainment complex. The two aspects of this empire, its commodity-space and strategy-space, overlap and contradict one another. Both are driven by the same imperative - the vectoralization of the world. The vector is what produces the world as such, as a space of property and strategy, a plane upon which things are identified, evaluated, commanded. Both empires emanate from the United States, but are not identical to it. They are, if anything, what are tearing the United States apart. The stress of this dual empire upon the fabric of American democracy and society is what prevents it from becoming, if you will, a 'normal' state.

16. The 'collateral damage' from the tension between these two empires includes both its notional friends and its enemies. The dual empire forces Europe into a Union that can both manage and contain its own vectoralization. The dual empire creates for itself the perfect double, the perfect enemy. Al Queda are a perfect and necessary enemy, in that it stands for opposition to both factions of vectoral power, both dimensions of empire simultaneously. It has attacked symbols of both aspects of the dual empire: the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

17. These are precarious times, eventful times - not least for the forces that would oppose both the dual empire and its violent adversaries. Before September 11, it seemed to some as if the empire was a juridical one, to be confronted by a movement that addressed its highest councils of global coordination, such as the World Trade Organization. After September 11, some argue that one confronts the old American imperial regime, ever willing to shed blood for oil. Neither diagnosis is correct. The becoming-vectoral of power was never just a matter of the globalization of trade and its consequences. Nor is it the case that there is a simple continuum between the imperial military adventures of the past and the emerging strategy-space.

18. The purpose of this diagnosis is tactical, as an orientation for autonomous thought and action. These are not times in which, in Vaclav Havel's words, one can 'speak truth to power'. Power has no necessary relation to truth, only to communication, which has no necessary relation to truth whatsoever. All that matters to vectoral power is the value and location of objects. All that concerns it about those objects is the logistics of extracting value or neutralizing threats.

19. One cannot confront a vectoral power by renouncing the use of the vector. There is nothing outside the vector. Rather, it is a question of using the vector otherwise. It is a question of using the vector as a trajectory for the creation of an open plane upon which difference is possible on its own terms, rather than as an equivalence based in calculations of strategy or property. The space of the event need not be equivalent to the space of the disaster. It is not necessarily a question of confronting the dual empire, so much as of escaping it. It is not a question of resisting an imminent apocalypse in the name of nostalgia for a pre-vectoral past, so much as of constructing a present that escapes the logic of a destructive history.

20. In the various practices of the tactical media movement are the seeds of another becoming. In the space of the dual empire, things have their qualities only as an adjunct to their quantities, their values and their dispositions. In tactical media, regimes of property and territory are bypassed, constructing the vector as the line along which a free creativity might flourish, one that is indifferent to authorship, ownership, territory and otherness.

21. If all this is abstract, elusive, it is only to prevent any readymade interpretation. "Never interpret, always invent", as Deleuze says. Invention is not, however, just a matter of concepts, percepts and affects. It is a matter also of the vector, of the space of their emergence, mingling and transformation. The space of invention has yet to be invented. A material practice of communication is called for, that renounces not only the metaphysics of truth and representation, but also the concretized game theories of the commodity-space and the strategy-space. What escapes the dual empire is the possibility of a material practice of communicating otherwise, as an expression of multiplicity, without the logic of identity that characterizes exchange, and without the logic of the other which characterizes strategy.


Jason Vest, The Dubious Genius of Andrew
Marshall, American Prospect Online, 15th February 2001,

Andrew Pollack, Building the Military
-Entertainment Complex", New York Times, October 10, 1997,

Jean Baudrillard, Du Miroir & De L'ecran, Critical Secret, No 10, 2003,

McKenzie Wark, Strategies for Tactical
Media, Realtime, October 2002,

McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto version 4,