Fauxist Secessionist State Project #4: “The Nomadic Plastic Nation Spins”
Posted by Regrette Etcetera on May 18, 2010
Fauxist Secessionist State Project #4
“The Nomadic Plastic Nation Spins”
An Interview with crackpot Fauxist genius Noni Mastor, on their plans to congeal the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ using shoes and reverse-engineered plastic-eating micro-organisms, and create a secessionist “Feminist Microtopia”, to house the 4th world and climate change refugees…
Interviewed by Gina PDW, 7/1/2010.
Famous for their critical utopian writings and haughty, obtuse conspiracy theories, Noni Mastors is a refreshing figure in the radical landscape. An auto-didact student in Molecular Engineering and Nanotech, she guest-writes for the News From The Fauxist International. Mastor has to date published little about the Trash island plans, and then only in technical journals. Gina PDW caught up with her to find out more about the technical and political aspects of her work on one of the Fauxist Secessionist States- her plans to create a huge ‘Nomadic Plastic Island’ in the Pacific Ocean.
Gina PDW: So before we get into talking about your plans Noni, and as there is a lot of seeming misinformation out there about it…conjuring up images of a huge floating trash heap…can you tell me what exactly IS the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and give us some idea of its size?
Noni Mastor: Sure.The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also referred to as Garbage Island, or the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a heap of debris, mostly plastic particulate marine litter, that is caught in the middle of the North Pacific Gyre, in the central North Pacific Ocean. Earth has major oceanic currents, called “gyres”, and in the North Pacific, there is a major gyre that is spinning all of the debris into one area, swirling in trash from Southeastern Asia and the Western coast of North America. The Pacific vortex isn’t the only one. The Atlantic and Indian oceans, which have different current patterns, have plastic gyres of their own, though they are smaller. In terms of size, it gets a little more difficult. The Pacific Garbage patch is located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N, and it has been estimated that the size of the “patch” is roughly twice the size of Texas or up to “twice the size of the continental United States”. Estimates on size range from 700,000 km2 to more than 15,000,000 km2- which to give you a clearer idea on the degree of variance, these make up 0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean. Though as I mentioned, in reality, the patch’s size is unknown, as large items readily visible from a boat deck are uncommon, and most debris consists of small plastic particles suspended at or just below the surface, making it impossible to detect by aircraft or satellite. So, firstly the claims of having discovered a large, visible debris field is, however, a mischaracterization of the polluted region overall, since it primarily consists of particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye. Though looking at samples my colleagues have taken, you can really see a visible difference in the water, often like confetti or a lava lamp.
Wow. So it’s a huge mixture- a suspension of degraded plastic? We’ve seen images of the plastic ‘nurdles’ or ‘mermaids tears’ covering beaches in the Pacific…but what kind of effects does it appear to have on the marine environment?
The patch is considered to be the largest landfill in the world, and has been growing, along with ocean debris worldwide, tenfold every decade since the 1950s. It is a major concern for environmentalists because of its effects on wildlife, and it’s ever growing size. In the area known as the Garbage Patch, plastics outweigh plankton at a ratio of six to one, making it nearly impossible for some wildlife to live. It’s predominantly land-based waste.
Image: Map of the Trash Vortex and current cycles
You mentioned earlier in our conversation the shipping accidents that contribute to the Trash Patch, and one of the most famous occurred in 1992, when a shipment of rubber ducks from Hong Kong- does this have anything to do with your mascot/logo (the rubber duck city)?
Oh yes! This is an area of great potential resources for the Island Project! Over 10,000 shipping containers fall overboard each year, spilling their cargo into the ocean. A lot of times, this is the result of storms. To put this in perspective, an average “container” is about 8 feet by 40 feet. These can carry about 58,000 pounds of cargo, which could be 10,000 shoes, 17,000 hockey gloves, or over a million pieces of Lego. So, if 10,000 containers carrying 10,000 shoes spill into the ocean each year, that’s 100,000,000 shoes, or enough to surely shod the world’s population 8 times over! So even if a vanishing proportion of this footwear flotsam/flotilla reaches us- and here’s hoping for some errant Vivianne Westwoods!- we’ll never want for wedges! And indeed, possess what may be a lucrative trading and materials resource…and that’s just shoes. Anyway, as you mentioned, the 1992 shipment of rubber ducks and bath toys from China were overturned in the Pacific Ocean, releasing roughly 30,000 toys- plastic yellow ducks, blue turtles, and green frogs- into the ocean. They were soon known as the “Friendly Floatees”, as they began turning up all around the world, and oceanographers and scientists began to track their paths to better understand ocean currents. (ed. See image below) Interestingly, rubber ducks were also used by scientists in Antarctica to track the flows of water below layers of ice and into the ocean etc. I have thus taken on the rubber ducky as a symbol of the confluence of consumerism- domestic/bathtime play, science, and the microtopia. We have also been paying close attention to such accidents to try to understand how we could benefit from them. Interestingly there are many unintended arrays of consumer items on ocean bottoms- like the 14000 Sony television sets bound for Sydney which crashed overboard on the continental shelf just kilometres off Newcastle, arraying the floor with a unique installation of spooky sets, some having been colonized by an endangered species of giant carnivorous marine worm local only to the area, proving to be a successful housing strategy which has outdone all previous attempts at habitat simulation and creation! Pollution like this has always been a great teacher of environmental functioning and scale- from the acclimatization mistakes in the colonies to the DDT, endocrine disruptors and etc. Anyway, as you asked, the rubber duck keeps cropping up. Australian Eco-feminist warrior Rachael Clime actually collected hundreds of these ducks and created a seaworthy raft as an artwork in 1999, which she successfully sailed from Sydney to Hobart as a publicity campaign to raise awareness about global warming, pollution and millennial fears. Rachael’s an icon to us all! Her raft is currently on a museum tour of England! I still find it engrossing that plastic- generally considered to be symbolic of the wrongness of modernity and the replacement of nature, handicrafts, permanence and aesthetic value, will for us become ‘land’. A new Nature made of waste, Our incoming postal system should be quite interesting, in that messages in bottles end up here. Perhaps we will one day publish a collection of the oldest and most interesting postal arrivals…
Image: Chronological charting of the Friendly Floatees.
What literary or artistic worlds/ideas do you look to?
Islands have always been an experimental space for the West- whether a carceral space, for disciplinary, social experiments, like the Australia penal colony, ecology like Madagascar for Darwin’s work, etc. And the project of creating a new island is particularly interesting in this way- in terms of intentionality, utopianism and secession. Speaking for my own interests or influences, besides the obvious numerous feminist sci-fi utopias of Shulamith Firestone, Marg Attwood, etc. and the mythologies of matriarchal societies, I’d definitely say the Floating islands of (Francois) Rabelais, the Lost continent of Mu or Lemuria- particularly in the James Churchward, Pacific version of the 20’s- John Newbrough’s “Oahspe”- the story of a huge continent called “Pan’ in the pacific that was dictated to him through automatic writing in 1882. And Huxley’s “The Island”. And in terms of film, I hate to say it, but Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld”. In more contemporary terms, ‘Women on Waves’ (the floating legal abortion clinic), and definitely the ‘Seasteading’ Movement and its antecedents like The ‘Republic of Minerva’, The ‘Principality of New Pacific’, ‘New Utopia’, and Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Triton City’.
Most of the societies in the works you mention had particularly utopian social relations…
It’s true. These days, utopian imagination for its own sake has a bad rap, as Fredric Jameson writes about, so generally the utopianists these days seem to feel that some unconvincing instrumental rationale, and at the moment it’s all eco-salvage, must be tacked on to make what would otherwise be a quite divine utopian scheme, boringly morally palatable, tragically unambitious. I’ve been theorizing from island nations throughout history- looking particularly at world colonialism, disease vectors, entropy, etc, I am particularly interested in the new forms of society, of literature that will arise given the space, and the new symbolic potentials of the constructed waste island, assemblage, syncretism, exile, conceptual archipelago etc.
Can you explain that point a little more? I mean many of the utopian urban and indeed island plans that come to mind are quite utilitarian, even rigorously functional, often in a seeming reaction to waste, entropy or human folly…
Yes, it’s true. For me, Utopianism has always had two, usually though not always contradictory aesthetic and avant-gardist gravitational pulls. One is toward a hallucinatory baroque, the other toward a post-Corbusier functionalism of the scientistic ‘blueprint’ utopias like you mention… For example, perhaps the wildest of the libertarian Seasteaders I mentioned before, ‘New Utopia’, tries to cross-pollinate its drab Miami-ism with just enough candyfloss gloss Las Vegaries to keep a crippled kind of utopian baroque very distantly in sight, while Freedom Ship is only utopian if your idea of rapture is living in a gated-community shopping mall with other rich people and a private CIA police force, which I guess in terms of bourgeois secession would cover quite a few people.
You mean they’re aiming for a kind of Gated-community nation-state!
In a sense these island or ship projects are the ultimate gated communities. And they differ from those in land cities, where the bourgeoisie’s reluctance to secede completely from relatively generous urban services- I mean mass transit, health care, schools etc- puts a brake on their schemes, whereas at least conceptually, the seasteading communities would necessarily secede almost completely.
Would you categorise ‘Seasteading’ as a social movement?
It’s hard to say. Seasteading is largely the brainchild of Patri Friedman, a libertarian activist and the grandson of famous right-wing economist Milton Friedman! So, finding that his grandfather’s policies and influences around the globe generally caused mass death and oppression, maybe Patri wanted to ‘drop out’ of the reality of policy economics? Who knows. Anyway seasteading is generally populated a fringe brand of libertarians who have been planning to escape the iron fist of democracy, and more importantly, taxes, by founding a new country in the middle of the ocean.
So, Rich American Libertarians are planning to live on huge metal platforms out on the ocean. Which is good news. Now if only all of our problems could be got rid of so easily…
While their affection for seasteading has varying origins, the broadest theme is to allow people to escape overreaching governments and replace conventional political systems with something of their own creation. A section of their Web site is titled: “Land = Crappy Government” and says that terrestrial governments do a “terrible and sometimes horrific job” at serving the taxpayers that are their customers.
Shades of the pilgrims?
Yes. One way to look at the prospect of colonizing the oceans is that it represents the continuation of a westward trend that began with Greece and continued through Rome, Gaul, Britain, and the North American continent. When people got to California that was as far west as they could go, this is a revival that search for a frontier…
‘Freedom Ship’ Freedom Ship’ side elevation
Reminds me of that old joke about California falling into the ocean…
Yes. Especially the California of the Governator, the economic crisis. Although seasteading is very clearly a pie-in-the-sea project, it attracts a lot of funding and support. The guy who founded PayPal (Peter Thiel), whose enthusiasm for seasteads derives from his belief that freedom and democracy are “no longer compatible” donated $500,000 to Freidman’s Seasteading Institute. Thiel thinks democracy in the United States has been a dead end since the 1920s, and thinks welfare and the equal rights movement are responsible. While Thiel never explicitly states that women would not be allowed to vote on his seastead, you can surmise from his attitude that their chances for achieving equality on his concrete platform are very slim. Why Thiel expects any woman would willingly give up her right to vote to join him on his oceanic dorktopia is puzzling… So, normally when a minority of people want to break off from their homeland to form a new country it’s because of genuine oppression such as religious persecution, ethnic cleansing or taxation without representation. Thiel, on the other hand, lives in a society whose promotion of capitalism has let him grow rich enough to blow $500,000 founding his own personal no-girls-allowed treehouse in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
What legal precedents exist? How would you protect yourselves from invasion or exploitation? what jurisdiction exists?
Much of our thinking in this area is based on James Lee’s “Castles In The Sea: A Survey of Artificial Islands and Floating Utopias”. Also Bates’ ‘Sealand’ occupation and sovereign nation, which was the centre of international law disputes. Essentially, since these massive hoards of plastic come to float in international waters- and the vortices are far from land- no government has legislative power, nor are any willing to take on the expense and difficulty of cleaning it up! Thus if we were able to form an island therein, and assert or status as a state-like entity, we would legally ‘exude’ a radius of water which we controlled. Also, microtopias like this have the potential benefit of creating a government on an a priori basis. With no past history or cultural tradition, microtopias have the ability to develop dramatically new and different forms of self-governance. The best defense for us may be to stay as inoffensive as possible. Keeping a low profile, avoiding negative publicity, and respecting local laws may keep us off the radar screen from local neighboring officials. Another alternative strategy is to stay on the move.
You’ve written about the labour practices of utopias, and also that the 4th world would populate your projects,..
This is one of the most common criticisms of the plan. A number of critics have jokingly proposed that it’ll ease the work of people smugglers, in that boat-borne refugees will just have to float and will eventually reach the centre of the system. And whilst the Australian government has expressed interest in using the island as a location for illegal refugees, as the pacific solution and island like Nauru etc become more and more untenable, Our ideas are somewhat different and more encompassing. A new notion of indigeneity is being theorized… I have written about the labour and resource requirements to build such an island, the border issues, accessibility and exclusion etc. Most of the seasteading projects require huge unseen (and unmentioned) workforces, and indeed forced evictions have already taken place for Freedom Ship’s potential factories, and I say potential because they are yet to have even be built! Smith’s work “Freedom Ship Is Not About Freedom; or, How To Live On A Floating Police State” is an important investigation of the politics of exclusion in this regard too.
When you describe the island as “Nomadic”, what in fact are you describing?
Some critics have portrayed the island with huge sails, like some pirate ship… but they fail to understand much of the science. Following received projections of climate scientists around global warming and the effects upon ocean currents- and specifically the gyre itself, and the way it shifts with the El Nino/La Nina cycle…the island will actually cover a large swathe of the Pacific. In the distant future, propulsion devices could conceivably come into play, but propulsion strategies would actually use the latent heat differentials in the upper layers of the ocean, concentration gradients of salts and metals in the water, the diurnal expansion/contraction cycle of the island itself, as it will span a large enough area to express a significant differential.
Your proposal details the use of nanotechnology, micro-organisms and advanced polymer work, … can you outline the science behind it in something resembling the argot of the masses a little more?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has one of the highest levels known of plastic particulate suspended in the upper water column. As a result, it is one of several oceanic regions where researchers have studied the effects and impact of plastic photodegradation in the neustonic layer of water. Unlike debris which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level. So essentially, we plan to use a mix of Nanotechnology and micro-organisms to bind the concentrated polymers into a relatively solid matrix, a mass. By adding advanced polymer binders and fixers to the soupy mix, and organisms from what Gines has dubbed ‘The Synthetic Kingdom’- organisms that assemble and dissemble synthetic products like the plastic eating micro-organisms discovered by a 16 year old student – the island will coalesce over time. Other possible devices/aids we are investigating include a plastic static attractor that runs on latent heat stored in water and on passive solar energy- and wind, thus able to be left to build the initial stages and platforms. So I guess in laypersons terms, I plan to use tiny bugs to glue together the plastic particle soup into a solid island? And remembering the garbage patch is the size of continental US- so with condensation, my research predicts that it’ll be about 1/20th of the US, which is a huge area. And as I mentioned earlier, with steady inflow of materials, and exponential (tenfold) growth rate, it will grow significantly into the future.
Just to backtrack a little… a 16 year old boy has discovered a microbe that eats plastic?
That’s right. It’s quite simple really. It takes plastic 1,000 years to decompose, but decompose it does, which means there must be microorganisms out there to do the decomposing. There have been several successful bacteria-based solutions developed at the Department of Biotechnology in Tottori, Japan as well as the Department of Microbiology at the National University of Ireland, but both apply only to styrene compounds. So, yes, a 16 year old from Canada did a school science experiment which essentially asked: Could those microorganisms be bred to do the job faster? So he put to the test with a very simple and clever process of immersing ground plastic in a yeast solution that encourages microbial growth, and then isolating the most productive organisms. Apparently the preliminary results were encouraging, he kept at it, selecting out the most effective strains and interbreeding them. After several weeks of tweaking the temperatures and etcetera, he achieved something like a 43% degradation of plastic in six weeks, an almost inconceivable accomplishment! But whether or not this achievement is good news for Trash Island is another question altogether. Whilst such a low-cost and non-toxic method for degrading plastic is the stuff of environmentalists’ and Luddites wettest dreams and, I would hazard a guess, a pretty good start-up company as well. Nevertheless, there are known to be agglunctative micro-organisms etc which bind plastic, and research into producing them in sufficient quantities is all that’s needed…
This is quite involved and intense science. How do you convince people of its usefulness? And how will you avoid the ‘mad scientist’ label, especially as a woman, and a revolutionary?
Oh I’ve faced the ‘Mad Scientist’ accusation many times in the last few years. (Laughs- less than maniacally), from all political persuasions. I think this is mainly linked to popular alienation from Science or high levels of scientific illiteracy, and the suspicion of many ‘radicals’ of technology- though market forces frequently exacerbate their negative traits. It’s a huge cultural meme. I’ve been labeled as a number of variants on the Frankenstein theme, which is increasingly common these days. For example, both proponents and opponents of in vitro fertilization used references to Frankenstein to make their cases. More recently, genetically modified foodstuffs have been branded by the moniker Frankenfoods. Eco-radicals often try to further the image of science and the scientist as detached from society, unconcerned with or even antagonistic to addressing societal issues, and, therefore, portraying science as an unattractive field (or indeed career path) for those who wish to better society or create or promote revolutionary aims.
Nanotech seems to particularly intimidate people?
Yes, it’s quite interesting. Some of my colleagues have also struggled with this fear- the Grey Goo scenarios etc. First, Since it is a new research field, its disciplinary definition is still coalescing, Leading to confusion about what exactly qualifies as nanotechnology. For some of the more conspiratorial Fauxists, the paranoiac invasiveness of nanotech is a particularly fertile metaphoric regime. For example, up to the present, it has been possible to hide cameras; but cameras were in principle visible, existing on the meso scale of human perception. With nanotechnology we will never know when we are under surveillance–or whether we have a GPS chip embedded in our skin or lungs. So the possibilities for paranoia are endless. Of course, we have been moving in this direction for quite some time. This radical miniaturization also raises possibilities of cyborg existence both more far- reaching and more subtle than any current technology. Biomolecular motors made of inorganic nickel propellers and powered by an ATPase enzyme already exist, as do nanoparticle carriers able to cross the blood–brain barrier to deliver chemotherapy to treat tumors. In general, nanotechnology forms part of a general trend where our technoscientific prowess has become so great as to transcend older definitional divides between science and technology, which intimidates people. It is not that nanotechnology isn’t potentially as far reaching as advertised; but rather that it is merely the latest example of what is occurring throughout science and technology. In other words, what was traditionally held as the opposite of and the repudiation of metaphysics, science and technology today have become metaphysical events in their own right, raising fundamental questions about what it means to be human and the nature of the good life. Science and technology has become real world experiments in metaphysics and theology. Nanotech is at approximately the same stage of development today as information technology was in the early 60’s, or biotechnology was at the beginning of the 80’s. The ascription to nanotechnology of being an innovation and hence a competitive advantage gives rise to an enormous global nanotechnology race among the industrialised nations. Apparently, the race is on to win monopoly control of the expected huge nanotechnology market and a share of the 2-20 million nanotechnology workers that are said to be required by the nanotechnology industry.
How does pop-culture play into the public perception of nanotech?
The swathe of apocalyptic portrayals in popular culture, from Michael Crichton’s “Prey”, to the ‘Grey Goo’ fears I mentioned, and a lot of sci-fi like Kim Stanley Robinson etc. Interestingly enough, in the realm of fictional films, the mad female scientist most often uses science to protect Nature rather than dominate it. Dr. Jane Tiptree (the wonderful Dianne Ladd) from my favourite film “Carnosaur” provides a particularly clear example. Tiptree represents societal anxiety when the power of science is placed in a woman’s hands. She seeks to destroy all humans because of humanity’s destruction of nature, and to pay for her own genetic engineering which resulted in the extinction of a grasshopper sub‐species! She engineers a virus that will cause human females to give birth to dinosaur eggs, resulting in the replacement of humans by dinosaurs. The filmmakers are clearly playing with gendered stereotypes—Tiptree is feminized in comparison to the other female characters. For example, she is the only one who wears make‐up. Her femininity is clearly maternal—however, the images of maternity (and of nature) presented in the film are not gentle and nurturing. Rather, they are violent and dangerous, for, as Tiptree explains (quoting Dr. Moreau, whom she identifies as her mentor), “to understand nature, one must become as remorseless as nature herself”. Overall, Tiptree is positioned as a vengeful Mother Nature who will destroy humanity to save the Earth and populate it with her dinosaur progeny.
Do you consider nanotech an inherently gendered technology?
The gendering of the fears of the Nanotech field is quite interesting. Statistically, women are found to be more fearful of Nanotech, and are less likely to understand it. Ironically, women are the primary purchasers of many of the consumer products enhanced with nanotechnology that are already on the market, such as dietary supplements, anti‐aging products, and other cosmetics. Indeed, one of our favoured micro-organisms at the moment is actually sourced from a Loreal Colour-Stay Lipstick product! Nanotech, as a new field, is potentially vulnerable to mad‐science tropes for several reasons,
To contact Noni Mastor, Gina PDW, or for more information on anything mentioned in this interview, do not hesitate to contact the editor of NFTFI, Regrette Etcetera at: email@example.com
Other Secessionist State works and interviews, like the “Fauxist Secessionist State Project #3 Fauxists Open Application for ‘Mainstream Bizarre Secessionist Nation’ in the WORLD FOLKLORE THEME PARK, Guangzhou, China. A callout to cultural workers” are available on the Fauxist weblog.
 (Ed. Here’s links: http://www.mnn.com/technology/research-innovations/blogs/boy-discovers-microbe-that-eats-plastic
 Mastor here refers to Thiel: “the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”
 Here Mastor refers to ‘Sealand’. During the Pacific War, aka Second World War, Great Britain built an artificial island fortress in the North Sea, seven miles from the English coast. During its peak, it was occupied by two hundred servicemen and guarded shipping convoys from the Nazis. After the war, the island was abandoned by the British government and stood empty for nearly two decades. In 1966 the fortress was re-discovered by former English major Paddy Roy Bates, who eventually restored and occupied the island with his family. As the island was technically in international waters, it was not under the jurisdiction of the British government. After obtaining legal counsel, Roy Bates declared that the island constituted a sovereign state. The fortress of Rough’s Tower was renamed the Principality of Sealand and Bates called himself Prince Roy while naming wife Princess Joan. They began issuing coins, passports, and stamps for their new country. During its 35-year history, Sealand has survived armed invasion, financial hardship, and neglect. It has since been given new life as an internet “data haven” and has won several court cases supporting its legal status as an independent entity.