Art for The Global Garage.
Will Meyer,  August 24

The Global Garage

Militarized frontiers get a tech-savvy makeover

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“There is no other country on Earth that thinks the same way that we do, like Israel does. Israel truly is the ‘Startup Nation.’ You think like us. You break things, you make things, you’re creative. It’s special.” This is what Google’s Don Dodge told a room of some three hundred tech entrepreneurs in Tel Aviv in 2016. Dodge shared a stage with representatives from Facebook, Microsoft, and Intel to talk about why, according to Facebook Israel’s general manager, Adi Soffer Teeni, “Israel’s a playground where it feels like home for the multinational.” Teeni added, “There’s a magic and it’s not easy to explain what it is.” She went on to compare Facebook Israel’s research and development facilities to those in California, where engineers are said to “move fast and break things.”

In their writeup of the event, Business Insider dubbed the country “Google’s Garage in the Middle East.” At the time, the company employed more than six hundred engineers there working on “core products” like Maps and Search, and they had recently acquired the Israeli startup Waze. The tinkering in the proverbial garage paid off. This year, Google and Amazon Web Services together signed a $1.2 billion contract to build a cloud for the Israeli state. According to The Nation, the cloud will service some of the darkest impulses of Israel’s high-tech settler occupation of Palestine, including “increas[ing] the IDF’s competence in artificial intelligence technologies, such as those deployed in the repression of Palestinian activists, surveillance along the Gaza border, and Israel’s Iron Dome system.” The magazine also notes that the cloud will be used by the Israel Land Authority to advance Jewish settlements while pushing Palestinians into denser areas, and, as Human Rights Watch explains, “sharply restricting [their] access to land.” In many ways, Amazon and Google’s cloud project—by providing core infrastructure to advance the Israeli Defense Forces and the country’s speculating Land Authority—is today’s infrastructure project of continual expansion, much like railroads were in the nineteenth century. Amazon is one of the largest logistical operations in human history, one that rivals many nations’ militaries. Amazon Web Services now serves 245 countries and territories, which the company itself describes as “global infrastructure.” Scholars call it the “cloud empire.”

Railroads powered western expansion in the United States, supported by the efforts of (often British) financial capital, lawmakers (who passed laws like the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864, designed to grab indigenous land and transfer it to corporate owners), the army, and local militias. In his book Empire’s Tracks, Manu Karuka teases out the economic preconditions of that era’s railroad, but he easily could be describing those of Amazon’s cloud. Karuka contends that the transcontinental railroad “proceeded through the development of industrial and financial capitalism in the mid-nineteenth century, through an imperial process materializing as military occupation.” This process, he explains, was rooted in “the frontier dynamic [that] is at the heart of U.S. political economy,” which he calls the “war-finance nexus.” This nexus, he says, is powered by “acts of overwhelming, often random violence, targeted along colonial, gendered, and racial lines”; it is “governed on the principle of extraterritoriality, of legal impunity for colonizers and their economic and political institutions.” What may have seemed like organic eruptions of violence based solely on local tensions and prejudices in fact worked hand in glove with formal military intervention and big business’s westward march. Indeed, as the historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has noted, citing John Grenier, what makes U.S. settler colonialism unique is how “irregular methods [are] used in tandem with operations of regular armed forces”—creating conditions for vigilante violence to serve as pretext for military intervention.

This “frontier dynamic” is also at play in Silicon Valley’s present-day political economy. From Google’s artificial intelligence, which trains weaponized drones, to the AWS servers that power the CIA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the technology has been updated, but the empire’s territorial mission remains similar. If anything, the military occupation and “overwhelming, often random violence” might help explain the “magic” that Facebook Israel’s Soffer Teeni couldn’t quite put her finger on back in 2016. When AWS and Google signed the cloud contract in late May, Israeli forces had just carried out an offensive bombardment that displaced more than ten thousand Palestinians, killing at least 137 people and three dozen children, while some twelve Israelis were killed by rocket fire from Gaza.

Seed Capitalism

Israel’s technological revolution—its “magic”—didn’t appear like a rabbit out of a hat. According to the country’s biblical mythology, the “desert bloomed” from “orange groves [in]to mobile-phone apps.” In his foreword to Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s Start-Up Nation, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres claimed that through this transformation, “the kibbutz became an incubator, and the farmer a scientist,” and he suggested that it was “courage and technology” which overcame the nation’s many attackers. Israel was, to Peres, “a perpetual startup”—echoing the historian Frederick Jackson Turner, who in 1893 argued that the American frontier was the result of “perennial rebirth.” The first symbol of Israeli ingenuity was the country’s agricultural settlements, emerging from a movement of labor Zionists who believed that hard work in egalitarian communities could renew their holy land. The kibbutz not only served as an incubator for some of Israel’s founding figures—like Peres, who spent his adolescence on one, as did the country’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion—but would also come to provide the elevator pitch for the country’s technological revolution.

The technology has been updated, but the empire’s territorial mission remains similar.

Although Jewish settlers had their sights set on Palestine as far back as the 1880s, these early, scattered settlements often couldn’t compete with Palestinian labor. Not to mention that some lacked farming talent. In order to fulfill the mandates of the early Zionist movement, which included kibbush h’avoda, or “the conquest of labor,” Jewish settlers sought to eliminate wage work and turned toward collective living. By 1910 or so, the beta versions of both the kibbutz and the moshava (a collective agricultural settlement that would allow for a limited amount of private ownership) were understood as the most economical way to settle the land. However, as the historian Tom Segev explains, it was the backlash to Palestinian revolts in the 1930s that would greatly expand such settlements, while at the same time entrenching the country’s military position. During this period,

Some 130 new settlements were established; most of them were agricultural outposts, including fifty-three new kibbutzim. Some of these settlements were constructed in the middle of the night, which gave them a clandestine, heroic aura. The settlers, nearly all of them young people with ties to the labor movement, would arrive at a site, build a fence around the land, and erect a watchtower, which is why these settlements were called homa u-migdal, or “stockade and tower.” At first they were meant to prevent Arab farmers from continuing to work land bought by the Zionist movement. But the homa u-migdal system also allowed the settlers to feel patriotic and rebellious, as if they were engaged in secret military operations.

As the architect Eyal Weizman notes in his 2007 book Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, one such kibbutznik, Yigal Allon, a commander in a pre-state armed militia which would later become the IDF, wrote a “strategic and political manifesto” to encourage further settlement titled Curtain of Sand (1959). In it, he argued that the kibbutz “is no less valuable than a military unit, and may even surpass it.”

Early American settlers saw the forest as a key to their salvation. As the historian Greg Grandin writes in his book The End of the Myth, “The forest was the place where the community could be redeemed and given a new purpose, a chance to start again anew.” Quoting the Israeli sociologist Adriana Kemp, Weizman explains the corollary in Israel: “Between 1948 and 1967 the Israeli state created a series of ‘rhetorical and institutional mechanisms’ that presented the frontier region as the symbolic center of the nation, ‘a laboratory for the creation of a new Jew.’” Weizman goes on to detail how the establishment of Special Commando Unit 101, which was instituted for the purpose of carrying out “frontier raids,” played a significant role in expanding the territory of the nascent Israeli state.

The unit was headed by the perfect archetype of this “new Jew”: Ariel Sharon, a kibbutznik who would rise through the ranks to become prime minister and who would later provide a model for U.S. military tactics. According to Weizman, Sharon and his men didn’t wear uniforms, and they “expressed an arrogant intolerance . . . of all formalities perceived as urbane and outmoded ‘military procedures and bureaucracy.’” They also rejected the legal limits placed on them by both the state of Israel and international law. Sharon, who embraced the “ambiguity” of orders he was given, became infamous for his aggression toward Palestinians over the course of his tenure as a military commander. As his biographer explains, “every bad thing that Israel needed to carry out but didn’t want to be associated with—there were no orders needed, only a wink . . . and Sharon would carry out the dirty job.” In Weitzman’s telling, Unit 101’s main duty was to slaughter unarmed Palestinians in villages and refugee camps. The wanton killing of sixty-nine Palestinians in the West Bank village of Qibya gave the unit “mythic status” and “greatly appealed to the imagination of Israeli youth.” If the agricultural settlements of the Israeli frontier had become the laboratory for creating the “new Jew,” Unit 101 would be the template for, as Moshe Dayan has described it, a “new generation of [Hebrew] warriors,” and thus the model for the entire IDF. In this transformation, the IDF would replace the kibbutz as the dominant institutional symbol of the Israeli state—and together the pair would provide the sales pitch for the startup nation.

Today the kibbutz experiment continues, though many are shifting toward privatization. Some kibbutzim are chasing the Israeli tech “gold rush,” having invested 110 million shekels in thirty-four startups as of 2019. Kibbutz Nir Am, approximately one mile from the Gaza border, and the location of the torture and execution of an Arab man by Jewish paramilitaries during the 1948 war, has turned their mess hall, underused since they stopped serving lunch in 2003, into “new startup offices complete with a bar and a pool table.” Nir Am’s most famous export might be failson Adam Neumann, who pitched the overvalued WeWork to Wall Street as “Kibbutz 2.0.” Other kibbutzim have found success in business. According to Fast Company, when Donald Rumsfeld needed a solution to protect soldiers “against roadside bombs in Iraq,” he turned to kibbutz-owned business Plasan, then the IDF’s top armor supplier, who had recently gained a foothold in the export market.

The 2009 publication of Start-Up Nation spawned a decade of puff pieces about how the IDF’s elite intel Unit 8200 has engendered innovation, groomed tech entrepreneurs, and attracted billions in capital. One study estimated that 80 percent of the two thousand three hundred people who founded seven hundred Israeli cybersecurity companies came through the unit. As the publication Rest of World explains, “Officially, an 8200 soldier’s status is classified both during and after service. Publicly, 8200 graduates happily boast of their experience in cover letters. In the many industries that touch their work, Unit 8200 is a brand name.” But like any startup job, the hours suck. During the May bombardment of the Gaza strip, one member of the reserve unit was reportedly hospitalized after going eighty hours without sleep. Whether it’s sleep-deprived IDF technicians authorizing drone strikes or Elon Musk catching a nap on the Tesla factory floor, you don’t need to squint to see the parallel fetish for overwork in both tech-sector innovation and colonialist violence. And what better catchphrase than “move fast and break things” to describe the juggernaut of today’s political economy?

To further Israel’s brand, American billionaire and Republican donor Paul Singer pumped $20 million into an initiative called Start-Up Nation Central (SUNC), intended in large part to counter the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Singer has funded other right-wing causes like the American Enterprise Institute and a think tank called Foundation for Defense of Democracies, known for Islamophobic views. Today, SUNC acts as a chamber of commerce of sorts to encourage international investment in Israeli companies hawking the latest cybersecurity and water tech products that, according to SUNC’s website, “make the desert bloom.” Singer’s investment—and, more importantly, the $3.3 billion in unrestricted U.S. aid to fund Israel’s defense—is another example of the war-finance nexus at work, explicitly predicated on monetizing indefinite occupation and countering one of the most visible decolonization movements. But hey, Israel’s just a scrappy startup; a few more massacres could attract the right capital. They just might become a unicorn. Magic, indeed.

Garage Door Openers

If the kibbutz was Israel’s first “incubator,” the fairytale of Silicon Valley begins in the Palo Alto garage where Bill Hewlett and David Packard pioneered not just military products that would power the war effort, but a management style that would later be adopted by Nixon’s Department of Defense. Before the company was officially founded, Hewlett and Packard got its first big contract to provide Walt Disney with audio equipment for its film Fantasia in 1938. They had followed the advice of their Stanford professor, Dr. Frederick Terman, to start new electronics companies near campus rather than joining existing firms on the East Coast. By the following year, the company launched in the garage at 367 Addison Avenue, which is now recognized as a national historic site, commemorating the birthplace of what we now call Silicon Valley.

The Israel Defense Forces would replace the kibbutz as the dominant institutional symbol of the Israeli state—and together the pair would provide the sales pitch for the startup nation.

In their architectural history Garage, artist Olivia Erlanger and architect Luis Ortega Govela explain that structures like the one Hewlett and Packard worked out of were modeled on Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style home, which reflected the architect’s “Emersonian ideals,” a commitment to “individualism and self-realization.” Indeed, America’s fight for independence wasn’t just about “self-reliance.” Nearly sixty years after the frontier had “closed,” the creation of the suburbs would allow the American project of land speculation coupled with racial exclusion to further expand. And the garage would become, per Erlanger and Govela, the “architectural symbol that would attract the right venture capital.” No one understood this better than former HP intern Steve Jobs, who mobilized the symbolic power of the garage into the myth that it would become. The rest of our now imperial tech giants followed suit, save for Facebook, which was started—who could forget—in a Harvard dorm room to see who was hot and who was not.

For their part, Hewlett and Packard understood their connection to the frontier economy. The audio oscillator first used by Disney would turn out to be an asset to the U.S. military. Hewlett was drafted to serve, while Packard stayed back to fulfill government contracts. Erlanger and Govela note that to support their country, HP sold their audio oscillator to the government at the price point of $54.40. The discount was a direct reference to the latitudinal Manifest Destiny slogan “fifty-four forty or fight!” that had been used in the campaign to take the Oregon Territory from the British—implicitly suggesting that settler conquest was their blueprint.

As business slowed after the war, the company had to both shrink and reinvent itself. By the mid-1950s, after major staffing cuts, Hewlett and Packard opted to institute better workplace conditions in the form of profit-sharing, increased benefits, and greater autonomy within the workplace. As Businessweek described it, “[HP] shunned the rigid hierarchy of companies back East in favor of an egalitarian, decentralized system,” thus creating “The HP Way.” HP’s management structure was replicated far and wide, leading the magazine to declare that “the pair’s greatest innovation was managerial, not technical.” One of the pioneering steps they took was rearranging the office into open cubicles “to encourage the free flow of ideas.” And of course, the founders wanted to be called by their first names: Bill and Dave.

The HP Way would be appropriated by the Department of Defense, which took the management approach of California’s tech industry and funneled it back into war effort. As Nixon’s deputy secretary of defense, David Packard reformed the Pentagon’s bureaucracy and management style while overseeing weapons procurements. In 1980, after he left the DoD and returned to the company, Packard was criticized for expanding into South Africa and for the role the HP machines played in advancing apartheid. Soon after the state of Nebraska passed a resolution expressing its support for boycotting corporations engaged in the country, Packard declared, “I’d much rather lose business with Nebraska than with South Africa.” Today, HP has earned the dubious distinction of being the only American tech corporation being campaigned against by the BDS movement. The company first created a presence in Israel in 1957, and its subsidiary, HP Israel, was founded in 1998. According to the company’s website, Israel “is one of the few countries where HP has a massive presence.” HP servers power Israel’s Aviv System, a “population registry [that] is the basis of Israel’s ID card system,” what some critics describe as a mechanism for maintaining “institutionalized racial discrimination.”

Without mandatory military service like in the startup nation, the U.S. Department of Defense has had trouble competing with Silicon Valley salaries and retaining tech-savvy soldiers. At least until 2018, that is, when the Army Cyber Command and the Defense Digital Service launched a formal partnership to innovate on behalf of the war machine. In converted barracks, soldiers of these new units created a “makeshift workshop.” As Wired explains, “In an old shower, [the soldiers] set up a battery fire, which they used to solder metal for hardware parts. Because the security restrictions on government-issued computers prevented them from coding, they’d purchased replacement parts and were building their own computers. These hacks helped them circumvent the costly, time-consuming military-acquisitions process that would have slowed their progress for months or even years.” Wired describes the new program as “a sort of tech startup inside the Department of Defense,” likening it to “the storied garages where Apple and Hewlett-Packard began.” In other words, to advance the war-finance nexus, the DoD found it advantageous to appropriate cultural signifiers of Silicon Valley, much the same way the mythical garage was a relic of the masculinity created by the imperial suburb, itself modeled on the militarized frontier.

Girls potting plants on a Zionist colony, approximately 1920 to 1933 (Library of Congress) / Matson photograph collection

Hippies in Space

Not long before Steve Jobs started Apple, he lived in a renovated chicken coop on an apple orchard in Oregon, which, for all intents and purposes, acted as a commune. As Meagan Day has written, All One Farm “would be a spiritual utopian community, a place for countercultural post-hippie freaks and seekers to explore new psychic dimensions and push the limits of consciousness.” The farm attracted monks, Hare Krishnas, and an array of drifters who would pick apples, chop firewood, and press cider without pay, according to Michael Moritz in his book about Jobs. The farm was part of a movement of communes that would, like Israel’s kibbutzim, use the fruits of the military-industrial complex to remake the world in their own image. As Fred Turner argues in his book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, this new back-to-the-land movement “embraced collaborative social practices, the celebration of technology, and the cybernetic rhetoric of mainstream military-industrial-academic research.” Distinguishing this group from the New Left, who engaged in conventional politics to alter society, these back-to-the-landers, who Turner dubbed the New Communalists, rejected politics and believed that social change would occur through awakening consciousnesses and altering minds. Theodore Roszak, again echoing Emerson, argued that reclaiming the hillsides would be “the primary project of our counterculture: to proclaim a new heaven and a new earth so vast, so marvelous that the inordinate claims of technical expertise must of necessity withdraw in the presence of such splendor to subordinate and marginal status in the lives of men.”

What better catchphrase than “move fast and break things” to describe the juggernaut of today’s political economy?

By the early 1970s, some seven hundred fifty thousand hippies had packed up campers, VW beetles, and reclaimed school buses and driven “off into the hills of Marin County and the deserts of New Mexico . . . to build self-sufficient retreats in which they might rediscover what they imagined to be pre-industrial forms of intimacy and egalitarian rule,” according to Turner. The New Communalists created more than ten thousand communes, rejecting the conventions of Cold War America in what he describes as “a turn toward . . . a new nation, a land of small egalitarian communities, linked to one another by a network of shared beliefs.” Indeed, it was consciousness rather than collective action that would unite this new commonwealth. The New Communalists rejected leaders of all stripes; one poet who influenced the movement warned his followers to “beware of structure freaks. / They do not understand.” In this new world, Turner writes, “the self was the ultimate driver of social change,” and thus “individual lifestyle choices became political acts, and both consumption and lifestyle technologies—including information technologies—would . . . take on a new political valence.”

Yet, despite the egalitarian talk, the New Communalists recreated the same class, gender, and racial hierarchies that they had presumably been trying to escape in suburbia. Turner cites Rosabeth Moss, whose research describes how women took on the communes’ domestic chores, while men congregated to make “important” decisions. In fact, gender relations weren’t defined by ideology or even aspiration, but by the standard of “an imaginary American frontier.” Likewise, the communes recreated the racial exclusion that defined the suburbs. While these back-to-the-landers shunned explicit racism, their communes were composed almost entirely of young white people. And like in historical migrations of the past, poor, Black, and brown residents were displaced to make room for this “new world.” As a Chicano resident in New Mexico told a reporter, “Every time a white hippie comes in and buys a Chicano’s land to escape the fuckin’ city, he sends that Chicano to the city to go through what he’s trying to escape from, can you dig it?” Of course, with present-day techies returning to cities to perform flexible labor in co-working spaces and high-end coffee shops modeled on the HP Way and—in the case of WeWork—the Israeli kibbutz, the cycle is repeated, with police violence and NIMBY activism enforcing the new front of capital speculation.

Central to the New Communalists’ theoretical utopia was the idea that mind-altering technologies and substances would help them achieve this important new consciousness. They embraced MIT scientist Norbert Wiener’s theory of cybernetics, which offered “a vision of a world built not around vertical hierarchies and top-down flows of power, but around looping circuits of energy and information,” as Turner puts it. “These circuits presented the possibility of a stable social order based not on the psychologically distressing chains of command that characterized military and corporate life, but on the ebb and flow of communication.” Wiener worked in the MIT’s radiation lab, which applied mathematical formulas to the dilemmas of war. And it was in the Rad Lab—“a site of flexible, collaborative work and a distinctly nonhierarchical management style”—that he had a vision. In trying to construct a mathematical formula that would effectively help U.S. forces obliterate their opponents’ airplanes, Wiener and his collaborator created a metaphor to explain humans’ relationship to machines that would go on to shape both the military industrial complex and the counterculture. It was cybernetics, along with LSD—which the CIA used in human experiments as part of its MK-Ultra program, hoping the “drugs had the potential to become weapons in the cold war”—that led hippies to a new way of seeing. For Steve Jobs, as he told his biographer, LSD “reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”

The counterculture, like the garage and the frontier before it, was shaped by military institutions. By operationalizing the “blank spaces” within the landscapes of the old world, these new pioneers would be able to overthrow the existing order and create a new establishment in its image. As one hippie guru wrote in Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, “The metaphor is inescapable: today’s middle-class consumer culture as a Mother Country to cut loose from; then a period of long-learning, in which modern frontiersmen gain the individual competence that allows them to do the necessary, practical things.”

As the communes died out, the New Communalists turned toward—and against—space colonization. In 1975, after Brand introduced readers to the Princeton physicist Gerard K. O’Neill’s proposal for cylinder-shaped space colonies in his CoEvolution Quarterly, a supplement of the Catalog, a fierce debate about the future of the movement ensued, and many were split. Wendell Berry wrote in a letter to the editor that O’Neill’s vision amounted to a “moral escape valve” that would eventually be administered by big business. Others, according to Turner, believed the colonies could become “a veritable Eden’’ that could afford each resident five acres of cosmic land. Yet it was the feminist intellectual Silvia Federici who argued at the time that the appeal of space exploration was a suspiciously conservative one, noting that in order to travel to space humans needed to be tamed of their earthly desires. In a cowritten missive, George Caffentzis and Federici warned that “the thrust to the organization of industries in space and the dematerialization of the body go together.”

One Small Step for the Bald Man

When he announced his own trip to space, Amazon’s then-CEO Jeff Bezos invited his brother to come along. The announcement video depicts the brothers atop horses, wearing cowboy hats, staring off into the vista of a western landscape. This wasn’t the first time the richest man on the planet had invoked western iconography in his cosmic PR campaign. After previous flights with Blue Origin—the private aerospace manufacturing and spaceflight company founded by Bezos—he took to social media to post pictures of his lucky cowboy boots. They are inscribed with the Latin phrase Gradatim Ferociter, which translates to “step by step ferociously.” This new doctrine is no doubt a departure from his startup days, when he wanted to get ahead of the competition as fast as he could, costs be damned—but stepping ferociously is an empire-building doctrine, as well.

Hey, Israel’s just a scrappy startup; a few more massacres could attract the right capital. They just might become a unicorn. Magic, indeed.

Bezos’s flight on July 20 launched from his cluster of ranches in West Texas, also home to one of Bezos’s more quixotic endeavors, a clock that he hopes will tick for ten thousand years and inspire future generations to take on ambitious projects—like space travel. According to the plaque that sits outside one of the ranch’s gates, one of the final battles between the Texas Rangers and the Apache tribe took place in the mountains just west of the property in 1881. That same year, the Texas and Pacific railroad built through the area of Van Horn, the town closest to the ranch.

One of Bezos’s primary motivations for investing in space exploration is escaping the planetary constraints of climate change. In a 2019 speech, he explained that despite gains in efficiency, the desire for ever-increasing amounts of energy will collide head on with “finite resources.” This future, he says, will lead to “stasis and rationing,” to a world “where your grandchildren and their grandchildren would have worse lives than you.” In yet another example of governments lavishing public funds on the vanity projects of our billionaire overlords, NASA has dumped some $579 million into Blue Origin’s development of a lunar lander. After NASA awarded Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm a $2.9 billion contract “to put astronauts on the moon,” Blue Origin spent months lobbying Congress to convince the agency to hire a second contractor. Such efforts have been effective, as the Senate has passed an amendment earmarking these funds. Indeed, Blue Origin—along with Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and other companies—is raking in even more government cash to develop capabilities to send manned missions into “deep space.” Lockheed Martin, for its part, has also created a radar-based “space fence” to protect “national assets” beyond the earth’s borders.

Bezos’s “Figure 2” ranch is located about a hundred miles from the border town of Fort Hancock, Texas—the site of a small sliver of border wall. In The End of Myth, Grandin describes the wall as “America’s new myth, a monument to the final closing of the frontier.” But AWS and its partner companies continue to profit handsomely by providing cloud services to the border enforcement apparatus, earning $21 million from Customs and Border Patrol in fiscal year 2020. Journalist Todd Miller argues that the buildup of the border fortifications really represents “a war on climate change, aimed not at mitigating carbon emissions in the biosphere, but at erecting ‘defensive fortresses’ against the people most impacted, the people on the move,” as he writes in Build Bridges, Not Walls. And, as Miller notes in Empire of Borders, Israeli tech companies have flocked to the U.S. borderlands to cash in.

Israel has some of the most advanced barrier systems and surveillance equipment in the world, and the executives of the Israeli companies who set up shop near the U.S.-Mexico border, believed that, like Gaza, this would be a perfect testing ground for new products. As The Intercept explains, the borderlands “have become laboratories for new systems of enforcement and control,” including the surveillance towers created by Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest military company. The Intercept report details how Elbit received a $26 million contract from CBP to erect ten surveillance towers—“capable of continuously monitoring every person and vehicle within a radius of up to 7.5 miles”—on the Indigenous Tohono O’odham Nation reservation in Southern Arizona. In many ways, this is a modern take on the aforementioned “stockade and tower” developed on the kibbutz. Members of the Tohono O’odham Nation have described the presence of border patrol on their ancestral lands as an “occupation.” If the border is being built up to manage the contradictions of sending billionaires to space while leaving the rest of us here to weather climate fallout, elites will have no choice but to summon up the chutzpah to erect what anthropologist Jeff Halper calls a “Global Palestine.”

In his 2019 speech, Bezos described the “incredible civilization” he wants to create in space. Like the hippies before him, Bezos has taken to Gerard K. O’Neill’s vision, as laid out in his book The High Frontier. Bezos’s proposed settlements could exist in large spheres or cylinders that would spin to create the simulation of gravity. As NBC explains, these colonies “would be constructed from material mined from the moon and delivered into space using enormous electromagnetic catapults.” Due to the near “unlimited resources” in space, Bezos explained, there could be room for a trillion humans, including “a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins.” The only problem, he lamented, was the will to get there, which he believes will be a multi-generational undertaking. But if anyone can do it, it might be those “space entrepreneurs start[ing] a company in their dorm room.”

Will Meyer is a freelance writer and co-editor of The Shoestring in western Massachusetts. His writing has appeared in Teen Vogue, The New Republic, Longreads, Columbia Journalism Review, and  other publications.

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