Thursday, 5 February 2009

CyberSyn

A novel about Cybersyn

SYNCO (2008) by Jorge Baradit Ediciones B, Santiago de Chile

I’ve just been in Chile where I found the novel SYNCO. It was one of the local literary events of the end of the year. The novel is about the CyberSyn Project that took place in Chile during the Salvador Allende’s government in the early 1970s. I was the operations manager of that project and responsible for the project’s local name: SYNCO. The name came about as a composition of the word Synergy and the Spanish word cinco (‘five’ systems of Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model). Naturally I bought a copy and read it.

It starts with an introduction to the CyberSyn Project, including a photograph of the Operations Room (you can see it in my paper ‘CyberSyn and the re-construction of a holistic nature’, offered as a download in this website: http://www.syncho.com/). The project’s objective is defined as “...converting Chile in the first Cybernetic State in history, underpinned by a network which anticipated in decades the Internet as we know it”

It is a ‘retro-futuristic’ novel that takes place in 1979. Its assumption is that the coup of 11th September 1973 did not succeed and that the Allende’s government continued with the support of General Augusto Pinochet. In this note I don’t want to develop its argument but to comment the extent to which it fails conveying what a Cybernetic State would look like.

Baradit portrays Chile after the six years of the attempted coup as a neo-fascist State, dominated by the SYNCO machine, which controls all aspects of private and public lives. One of the protagonists who is trying to counteract the state’s drift towards a technocratic rightwing society, says: “SYNCO, a god made of wires and a shared mind, a beehive, will establish the first technological dynasty in history...But we are building up an army of code breaking children. We have educated them in the secrets of SYNCO ... a battalion of mind focused soldiers which will face up with their keyboards a new type of war for which they (the government) are not prepared”. Furthermore, some else states in relation to the government’s socio-economic direction that “The third way is an illusion” produced by a network of black covered cooper wires. Overall it appears that Baradit accepts as the lesser evil for Chile a successful military coup; the alternative was too awful to contemplate.

It is sad that this popularisation of the SYNCO project appears to give credence to the fears expressed by the right wing political press just before the coup in 1973. It re-enforces the view that information and communication technologies could only have led Chile to a neo-fascist, totalitarian outcome. This is a trivialisation of the argument that betrays lack of grasp of organisational cybernetics as a science of effective governance and not of autocratic control.

In my paper ‘CyberSyn and the re-construction of a holistic nature’, which as I said above you can down load from this website I say:
“Did the CyberSyn project succeed in re-constructing the nature of the Chilean society? This project, an invention of Stafford Beer, was an alternative to the extremes of running a centralised planning system or an unrestricted free market. This third way wanted to favour governance for social cohesion and distribution of power.”

Furthermore I say:
“CyberSyn was a project ahead of its time. Its creation was visionary; however its intended implementation did not have requisite variety. The necessary social and organisational contexts to re-construct the nature of social relationships did not exist; however desirable it might have been to provide information in real-time and by exception, the necessary relationships for cohesion and adaptation had not evolved enough to reinforce effective autonomous action throughout the social economy. A mooted point is whether a longer period of implementation, uninterrupted by the coup d’état of September 1973, would have supported this requisite learning. Some participants in the project had an appreciation of the need to embody these relationships in the social fabric of the economy but collectively most of us did not see CyberSyn beyond being a powerful theoretical framework and our practice was biased towards a technical implementation at the expense of the values of building up a truly autonomous decentralised industry and furthermore an inclusive democracy. In conclusion, my view is that CyberSyn did not succeed in reconstructing a more humane and just social nature in the Chile of the 1970s.”

However, the safeguard against any technocratic tendency was precisely in the very implementation of CyberSyn, which required a social structure based on autonomy and coordination to make its tools viable. Without a culture of autonomy and resources for coordination these tools were too weak to have any social impact. The control against autocratic tendencies was intrinsic to the design itself. Of course politically it was always possible to use information technologies for coercive purposes however that would have been a different project, certainly not SYNCO; not only its political and conceptual underpinnings were those of a democratic society, but its tools were orders of magnitude less resource consuming than those required for centralised control. With the benefit of hindsight I believe that had the 1973 coup failed, and should the people and its socialist governments had supported the 3rd way offered by the CyberSyn project, Chile would have experienced years of painful development of which it would have emerged as a more equal and just society.

6 comments:

Baradit said...

Raul,
first of all is an honor to me to be mentioned in your blog. While I was writing SYNCO, the novel, I was always thinking "what's going to think Raul or Fernando about this non-sense surrealistic nightmare".
Roswell case was nothing but a failure aerostatic probe accident, but in pop culture ends as a UFO crash with multiple implicances in human history (the development of microcircuits, of course...hahaha). My admiration for proyect Cybersyn (including Cyberfolk, Checo and other stuff) and its developers, you between them, was my inspiration in writing this wild fantasy, with similar "Roswell case" dynamics.
Wounds are still open in my country, some people calls me FILONAZI (for introducing Miguel Serrano in), PROMARXIST another (my evident UP sympathy), and FASCIST (for my evident UP antipathy).
I think the novel contains arguments to acuss me for all of this (it's a fantasy), and readers took for granted sympathetic stuff (don't notice them) and is impacted by the antipathetic stuff. Then raise their fingers (left or right).

I don't comment stuff about SYNCO, the novel, regularly. But I'm a big fan of Beer/Flores/Espejo's work in Chile and I want to give you an explanation.
I don't think Pinochet was a minor evil. I think chilean society was rolling down to an inevitable crash no matter who was in La Moneda palace. Power is evil and SYNCO was a tool for power in my story.

SYNCO, the novel, has been understood as a Fantasy and has been very, VERY useful to spread the real facts about Cybersyn project. I'm very happy of that.

Finally, SORRY about my awful english and I repeat, was an honour.

Hernán Fausto said...

Definitivamente, el proyecto CYBERSYN era totalmente diferente al narrado en la obra de Baradit; y la aplicación de la Cibernética en el gobierno constituye una esperanza para crear sociedades mas justas , libres y democráticas

Graziano Terenzi said...

Dear Raul,
Dear Jorge,

I came across many discussions and presentations of the novel by Baradit in december, and I must confess I found it a good subject for a thriller. Since I am a fan of this genre I'll probably read the novel as soon as I can.

It is a fact that I find it intriguing to try to imagine how things might have gone if history turned to be different. On the other hand, what I have read and seen about SYNCO the novel does not make justice to the real nature and aims of Cybersyn, which on my account is the most ambitious social enterprise ever attempted by Humanity.
I strongly believe that our global society has a lot to learn from those pioneer chileans who attempted to find a way to build a new kind of society.

I really hope that the novel by Baradit will actually not discredit this high level attempt made in Chile when I was about to born, and that the effect of the novel was really to put the real facts about Cybersyn in the right place.

Is this happening?

or_am said...

Estimados,

Este es un comentario de Hakim Bey sobre la condicion web:

“…La Web no depende para su existencia de la tecnología informática.
El boca-a-boca, el correo, la red marginal de fanzines, los árboles telefónicos y cosas de ese tipo ya constituyen una Web de información. La clave no es el tipo o el nivel de la tecnología implicada, sino la apertura y horizontalidad de su estructura…”

En este contexto, obviamente que la tecnologia que se use para cualquier fin no es responsable del resultado final, mas alla tal vez de su nivel de efectividad.
Cybersyn mas que una herramienta, era un protolo de buenas conductas, una interfaz para lograr la transparencia y las metas de una ciencia social efectiva.

De todas formas recomiendo visitar el sitio web http://www.t-h-e-n-e-t.com trabajo realizado por el artista aleman Lutz Dammbeck, basado en el inicio de internet y la historia de Ted Kaczynski.
Excelente puente metaforico entre paranoia y realidad.

rodrigo said...

Para el señor Raul Espejo:

Mi primera aproximación con el Proyecto Synco, fue en la universidad, en un proyecto de investigación (soy un estudiante de sociología). Una idea como Synco, fue excepcional, como lo fueron esos tiempos. Discrepo de Baradit no tanto por su novela, que es solo eso una novela, si no por su visión ingenua sobre la realidad histórica, y actual de nuestro país. En Chile tantas cosas y sucesos de esos años siguen con un velo particularmente difícil de correr, el producto de la dictadura sobre el Chile hijo de pinochet, el análisis de la realidad esta desvirtuado y la memoria histórica trastocada.

A mi parecer tanto el proyecto Synco, como la UP, son ocultos por ese velo, y no existe todavía una voluntad que los ponga en su justo y merecido lugar, como proyectos que tuvieron un alito épico, un proyecto colectivo que condeso lo mejor de una generación entera, con todos sus pro y contras, con todas sus fortalezas y debilidades, en resumen con toda su humanidad. Sin lugar a dudas esto fue algo que no se da todos los días en la historia de la humanidad.

Ted Goertzel said...

The whole Cybersyn story is now available in a book by Eden Medina, Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile. MIT Press, 2011.