Notes | Blockchain Chicken Farm
Xiaowei Wang. Blockchain Chicken Farm And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside. FSG Originals x Logic. 2020.
Jack Halberstam, metronormativity: portmanteua of metropolitan and normative (4).
“To question metronormativity demands a vision of living that serves life itself, and not just life in cities.” (5)
Ghosts in the Machine
Through exploring the countryside with her Great-Uncle and recalling moments of growing up with her grandparents that lived through the Cultural Revolution Wag examines
Quotes and Observations
“As younger generations leave villages, home-towns, even the country itself to chase after careers and jobs, the tightening noose of income inequality squeezes leisure time, the elderly are left to their own devices. This is unusual for a culture so focused on family and filial piety.” (12)
“The past confronted my grandmother constantly in the way she was unable to tell her personal stories without talking about political events. These political events physically shaped her – she lived most of her life on crutches, one leg having been amputated during the Cultural Revolution after faulty medical advice from a young student while the country’s doctors and intellectuals were being “reeducated” in the countryside. (15)
This quote goes on to explain that the author asks their grandmother about their nightmares and their grandmother would merely stare back and say she doesn’t remember them.
hukou: household registration that is part of the government system and incentivizes people to stay in specific geographic regions (17).
“The hukou system reveals the unabashed directness of socialist central planning. There is no dark magic like the American Dream, a sugarcoating that lets you believe in an imagined freedom, when really, the way we have structured our capitalist economy in the United States also relies on distinct labor and class differences. In central planning, rural laborers and peasants must efficiently produce food to feed the nation, to sustain a knowledge based workforce in cities.” (18)
”…freedom will always slip away when grasped too firmly.” (21)
”…always reveals San Francisco as being a kind of urban delusion. Along the I-5 is a procession of Amazon fulfillment warehouses, resource extraction sites, industrial agriculture, communities ravaged by the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, and prisons – one of the biggest industries in the rural United States, and growing ever larger.” (23)
Prisons in rural parts of the US arose as a response to the farm crisis and austerity. The vacant land needed to be put to use and the poor and racialized people left in the wake of these crises needed to be dealt with (24).
“In Shandong Province, I asked one thief why they decided to steal from the government. As if I were missing the obvious, they responded, ‘Well, clearly I would never steal from other villagers and none of the villagers would steal from me. We all know each other. Once in a while, we’ll take vegetables from each other’s gardens. But anything of value, I’d steal from someone I don’t know!’” (25)
“One of the gifts of the free market has been precisely that: the delusion that we are free of the past, expanding ever outward into a startling, wild future abetted by the free market, liberalism, and technology. “
“Rather than trusting the government, people have shifted their trust to the private sector: Hema, Alibaba. This leads to cascading, glaing contradictions. The problems of food safety are the result of privated, free market model of agriculture with global reach – where competitive market behavior drives cost cutting.” (46)
The blockchain chicken project (51-53) requires so much surveillance to make it work. The author believes the project she investigated is authentic, but notes that because these are private, enterprise technologies, it would still be possible for this data to be falsified.
The farmer they tested these projects on is not guaranteed anything outside of the one year of sale he had. The technology is proprietary.
Hardin’s tragedy of the commons were based on the “terrifying assumptions, a world in which human nature and natural resources were static, finite, and fixed” (57) Elinor Ostrom’s work in 1990 would disprove Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons and go on to win a Nobel Prize in Economics for her work.
“Hardin’s original essay in 1968 used the example of the medieval commons, a place where peasants grazed their cows. According to Hardin, the ungoverned nature of the commons led to overgrazing, which is why the commons had to eventually be enclosed and privatized. Yet Hardin was also wrong about history – the commons model had actually thrived in Europe for hundreds of years. The mismanagement of the commons by peasants was a lie, an excuse made up by powerful landowners who wanted to seize and control these spaces.” (60)
When AI Farm Pigs
African Swine Fever (ASF) in domesticated pigs entirely lands at the feet of humans because pig swill contains pigs (71-73).
There are companies in China optimizing a pig’s life to produce the best pork. Optimization often means taking away the parts of life that make it worth living.
“This commitment is a naked pleasure that exists under the ever-shifting, open space of change, palpable against the hungry, narrow world of optimization. It would be impossible to optimize life for these kinds of joy. Such pleasure cannot exist in a fully optimized world.” (79)
“bounded rationality” – individuals are subject to information and time constraints on decision making. Herbert Simon see also “satisficing” (79)
The idea of who or what is human has been a long political project (88).
responsible vs rational being
A rare look into technology creating more jobs than it removes; however, companies want to sell gadgets so they’ll make them useable by farmers and the people performing the drone work now will end up getting shafted down the road.
How to Eat Yourself
Data centers use 2 percent of the world’s energy (114).
After the introduction this chapter serves as a bit of speculation on how DNA based data storage might play out.
Made in China
In its original Latin form “innovate means to renew” (122).
Honestly, this makes sense considering that the ideas coming out of Silicon Valley are always just reinventing things like buses but worse.
The US relies on China’s rare earth minerals and China relies on the US chip sector but the chip engineers are an international community (128).
There’s a section on how innovation and open-source work in China that’s worth revisiting 132 - 135
Would the Rice Harmony Collective be a form of the commons? 136 -137
Shanzai as a verb
No One Can Predict the Future
Real Population Platform – largely only applies to the poorer urban villages (143-145).
Doctorow’s shitty technology adoption curve. This will eventually come for us all.
China’s crime statistics don’t include urban migrant workers who perpetuate and are victims of 80 percent of urban crime (146).
References to Read
Grace Lee Bogs. The Next American Revolution.
Zhang, Xi “Cake Uncles’: Formation of a Criminal Town in Rural China”