Communicating with agents in the field using urban environments and artefacts of consumer society

Further to my post yesterday on the subject of haptic and other kinds of supportive and CBT-based environments, I would like to explain today one of the means by which such support may be being provided – in my case (if it be the case), without a) explicit knowledge or b) known informed consent, though – at what I judge to be this late stage – with a fairly broad and accepting collaboration on my part; in other cases, perhaps both being givens, without either given becoming detrimental to the experiment and experience generated.

One may ask why I might collaborate in a process I have no explicit understanding of, nor have obviously consented to.  Perhaps I am being generous, but since intellectual generosity is easy for me, conversely generosity may be the wrong word!  In truth, ever since I started my journey to personal freedom in December 2015, a journey which involved the creation and writing of, eventually, two poetry and prose blogsites, I have been conscious that maybe other people and organisations have been there in the background, attempting to help me.

I have re-learnt how fun it is to drive a car; I have acquired the fabulous enjoyment of flying by plane (something I never had); and eventually, recently, not a week ago in fact, I have begun to clarify quite straightforwardly, I hope lovingly, and certainly fairly firmly, what I want to do with my future and – at the very least – whom I am unable to share that future with.

You cannot imagine the weight of pain that has been lifted from my shoulders.

You might also be asking yourself: “What does this have to do with agents in the field and communication?”

For those playing catch-up, I was put in a mental hospital for a month in the summer of 2003 for dysfunctional behaviours which came from my perception that people and organisations were following me.

It’s true that pointedly the NHS saved my life by putting me behind electronic bars for that month.

But it and its workforce have since refused to modify the original diagnosis.  It was only about a week after release that I did something which should have made the diagnosing psychiatrist and other support workers think twice – even then.  They had concluded I would not be able to carry out more than two hours of voluntary work maximum per week, for at least a year – such had been the severity of my condition.

A week or so after release I was driving myself to a local McDonald’s, and working fifteen to twenty-hour weekly shifts in a front-of-house customer-contact position.

I had been diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.

If you go to miljenko.com’s homepage, you will see half way down the page an assignment I did for my MA in Criminal Justice recently.  It has an appendix where I detail in a PowerPoint my impressions (some inexact, some bound to be incorrect – all, however, communicated in absolute good faith) around what I now feel was an inappropriate use made by someone or other of mental health legislation to carry out criminal justice proceedings on me: to essentially undermine my credibility as a witness of what had happened over the preceding years, without allowing me a public forum to speak out in a reportable way.  In mental health legislation, the tribunal which judges the applicability of a sentence (a diagnosis, in this case) consists only of three people behind closed doors, never witnessed by the media.  Criminal justice process is much more public, and much more open than that.  I hope you sense the important difference, and the advantage to the powerful in not using the latter when the former may be encouraged to kick in.

So.

That’s the back story to what I am now perceiving.  I would like to add into the mix – before continuing to an explanation of how communication with field agents may be carried out in the way I certainly am perceiving on my person (an explanation which – despite my mental-health history – I’d also request you still strive to approach with an open mind) – something else I have described in my assignment as a paradigm shift: something which changes our entire perception of reality.

In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed everyone was being followed.  Prior to that moment, we had been told only suspicious characters, those already outside the law, those with prior form, and the generally anti-social, would ever be deserving of such surveillance.  Inclusion lists were the order of the day: most were supposedly not on them; only the infamous few would be.  In fact my MA dissertation is currently being written, and will expand on this topic, analysing its before and after in terms of this 2013 gearshift.

It never fails to surprise me how professionals are incapable of thinking outside their processes and procedures.  The complexity of modern medicine and law requires that they are drilled into their adepts: this I understand, appreciate and value.  However, intelligent and free thinking must also be taught to these individuals.  Their responsibilities are sufficiently weighty to the lives of ordinary people for them to be encouraged in the strongest terms possible to believe that thinking outside the box is not only a virtue, but just as important a responsibility as following laid-down procedures.

When my psychiatrist discovered I was working in McDonald’s and driving myself around without problem, a bare two weeks after having been heavily medicated in a secure mental facility, is when he really should’ve thought outside the box: for his own professional position; for the position and reputation of the NHS, his employer; and for the interest and life trajectory of the person – myself – he had a sacred and Hippocratic duty of care for.

Communication, admitting wrongdoing, even when unconscious and in good faith, seems so institutionally and personally hard, doesn’t it?

What had put me in hospital in the first place?  I believed I was being followed by all sorts of organisations and institutions.  I was wrong in the often offensive details: but something was driving me there.  I have repeatedly said online that I don’t believe, generally, in a mental ill-health or illness which is located in the individual but, rather, in a mental distress located in the environment.

I believe this today, in the light of what I described yesterday as the haptic environment I perceive in my mobile phone (a classic symptom of paranoid schizophrenia, by the way), and what I am going to thought-experiment now.

For many years, Google has been recording every single feature of every single urban and natural environment on the planet.  The task was astonishingly ambitious to simply propose, and admirable to my mind too.  Street View is a fabulous achievement.  It brings so much visual information, with all the obvious caveats about privacy, to the billions of people on this rock with Internet access.

But it also allows for many developments on the back of it: some surely intentioned, others quite collateral.

Let’s take what I thought was happening to me, way back when I went to Croatia in 2002 to try and set up a cross-national software business.  I quickly sensed an interest from many parties: some highly suspicious of me and my motives; some wanting a finger in the pie they maybe perceived much better than I did.  I was not, never have been, a good businessperson.  But I have always been good at seeing the shape of things, when very little shape is visible to many others.  This skillset I have carried over into my MA, and it has been duly and publicly recognised by one person in particular who I believe is the most intelligent person I have ever met.

So.

Croatia in 2002 had me being supposedly followed by local mafias, by field agents of different countries, by all sorts of madnesses only a dysfunctional person could perceive.

Yet even then, I felt I perceived a means for communication which, whilst kind of beyond my grasp, was all the same being used, despite my inability to capture properly its functioning.

It involved, primarily, the usage of a full and local knowledge of street names, shop signs, carrier bags of boutiques, and so forth.  As well as, one presumes, a pretty good idea of how the mark / contact / individual being pursued (tick your preferred option, OK?) thought and saw the world.

This latter point is very important: the subtlety of the communication process, its undiscoverability, necessary in the sector of surveillance (and counter-surveillance, it has to be said!), would – in this thought experiment, and if indeed it were more than that – be far greater and easier to sustain if it were possible to know how the individual at the centre of the activities and communication events thought, saw the world, and sensed their rights and wrongs.

Of course, much as the command and control economy of the Soviets failed in the 20th century due to a lack of number-crunching power, and succeeded in the guise of transnational technology corporations in the 21st because the necessary IT now exists, so what was possible in 2002 – tell someone what to do by guiding them through a pre-existing environment in a carefully sequenced order – is nowhere near what might be possible today:

  1. Street View has brought a global control of the local to any long-distance operator of drones, mobile-phone location devices, or other tracking systems, so allowing anyone to communicate with a subject by flashing externally-unfathomable patterns which guide, inform and instruct this individual what to do next.  The meat of this language – visual in the main, but particularly applicable to a younger generation (not me!) super-versed in this visual, practically from birth – are the words to be found on street and shop signs, billboards, carrier bags of all kinds, as well as in the content of mobile phones.  This thought-experiment process requires no special material to be delivered or posted or made or highlighted.  As such, its origin is not attributable, for its meaning lies more in its ordering than its existence.  All it requires to function is the intelligence and ingenuity of traditional, historical spycraft, and the background knowledge of how someone thinks in their deepest recesses, to adjust and make bespoke the best and most efficient sequences of ideas – trails of thought, if you like, as per Vannevar Bush’s venerable Memex machine – to suggest, where not explicitly demonstrate, what a person should do and think.
  2. The 21st-century ability to number-crunch huge amounts of physical, geographical and sentiment-based data in real-time processes – where in 2002 this was not really efficient nor, actually, the case in any useful way – allows for decisions and revisions of instantaneous communication needs, which have to be made continuously, to become amazingly efficient.

Two examples of how this might work.  Remember, it works for me, but if I am not exhibiting terrible signs of paranoid schizophrenia, it only works for me because the people who have designed the system (if indeed anyone has designed it) must know, from all my online activity since 2002, and perhaps earlier, exactly how I might react, respond, get enraged and calm down.

The first example would be to take a city space.  We have a Well Lane, a Paradise Street, and a School Alley.  If I were led down School Alley first, then Well Lane and finally to Paradise Street, we could argue the following message had been transmitted: learn, feel better, achieve a state of grace.  If it was known from my online communication prior to or around the communication event that I was at a professional crossroads in my life, then the message would work even more effectively.

That’s an example of a trail of thought to nudge one into a certain response, behaviour or act.  Here we are using a well-photographed and recorded urban environment to write a narrative for discrete individuals.

But in order to develop a trail of thought, in order to string together a sentence, there have to be punctuation marks too.  This is where the artefacts of consumer society come in.

Let’s take the River Island bag.  On the one side, it says River.  On the other side, it says Island.  Let’s say in the case of the subject under discussion, again from their prolific history of posts, comments, likes and photographs, we know they struggle between communication and keeping things to themselves.  They have a psychological tendency to close down in times of stress: moments when surely we can all agree it is best to confide in someone.

If the subject is seen to be exhibiting Island behaviours – choosing to be Batman rather than Superman, one might argue! – in clear detriment to their wider mental wellbeing, we might move them towards a flurry of such bags being carried with Island visible.  If, on the other hand, the subject is communicating socially and in what is judged a well-adapted way, the flurry of words becomes River.  Of course, there could be a third interpretation: River means one is communicating too copiously, but in all language systems words have a baggage of meanings, and here it is obvious that context – the fuzzy aspect to human discourse we shall never quite rid ourselves of – has to play a grand part in interpretation.

For language always will involve interpretation.  And this is precisely where it, and our, grandeur lies.  As in love’s vicissitudes and uncertainties, where aspiration and reality sometimes overlap but often fail to coincide, so in human communication of all sorts.

A way, then, of communicating not only with agents in the field, in the context of spycraft, but of provoking concrete individuals into a mental state which allows them to be imprisoned without trial.

As with everything, of course, and as my evermore beloved Foucault has said, none of this is necessarily good nor bad – it is all just inevitably dangerous.  And precisely for this reason, and precisely for this reality, these are things we should not shy away from: quite the contrary.  Precisely because we fear their reach is precisely why we should get even closer.

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