Camouflage (and Art)
Camouflage is both a lie and truth, like the imitative arts.
The tactics of aesthetics: hiding, dissembling, and obfuscation are natural survival tactics amplified by the military and politics.
Benjamin Bratton discusses camouflage and the costume that allows you to perform your role. However, as imitative creatures, we mimetically signal affiliation for safety and survival, which can become parasitic, and create a space for predation.
We discuss the early French military camouflage, the WWII Ghost Army, and the current confusion politically around camouflage. We bring up Obama, Trump, AOC, and others to suss out models of disguise, dazzle, and dodge. We also get into Aristotle, Plato, Picasso, Baudrillard, Nietzsche, and of course Rene Girard’s mimetic desire and scapegoating model.
Note: there are references to earlier podcasts on Mimetic Desire and Simulacra
- 2:33 How do we prevent mimetic desire?
- 4:42 What do you do after the revolution?
- 8:54 Fiction is an artifice that becomes truth.
- 11:17 Three ways to hide; camouflage in nature, military and politics.
- 16:02 Dazzle Camouflage.
- 18:53 Obfuscation is Dissembling and dazzle.
- 21:28 Mimicry of the actor, pantomime of the mime.
- 26:15 Camo as a symbol of confusion.
- 28:40 Turning camouflage into a threat.
- 30:44 The seduction by aesthetics and ideology, camo as a tactic for minimal distance
Dispute plan to prevent future luxury constitution, benjamin Bratton
Part 1: camouflage (where we begin)
Interruption: art and camo
Part 2: three ways to hide
Interlude: a story
Part 3: mimicking the mimicker
Step 72: Camouflage (and Art)
Part 1: Camouflage (Where we Begin)
you know how people introduce an odd fact at the beginning of a story? Or in sermons, they tell a lame joke, or at valedictorian speeches they define a word? Let’s imitate that, and camouflage ourselves in tradition.
#camouflage is cryptic coloration; it is a defense or tactic that organisms use to disguise their appearance, usually to blend in with their surroundings.
In 1915, during World War I, the French Army became the first to create a dedicated camouflage unit.
The word ‘camouflage’ came from the French verb meaning ‘to make up for the stage’. Its practitioners, many of whom were artists, were known as camoufleurs. These camofluers were artists on the stage of war, and let us consider artists as artificers, as in “artificial.” as in “art.”
In art, often what most people claim to be ‘good art’, is a style called “trompe l’oeil” which means ‘to fool the eye’ – where artists make paintings so life-like they momentarily trick your brain into believing artifice… or the lie.
So, in this way, a good artist is a great liar, that is a great camoufleur.
Step 72: Camouflage (and Art)
Interruption: Art and Camo
Once a lie is super duper real you believe it, or you so desperately want it to be true, so you work to create it. That fiction, that artifice, becomes the truth. This soon-to-be-truth is modeled for you by the artificer, or cleverly hidden from you by the camofluer, and yet it’s impacts are real and can be deadly.
“Imitation is natural to man from childhood, one of his advantages over the lower animals being this, that he is the most imitative creature in the world.”Aristotle
To paraphrase very badly, #Plato says that imitative arts -to imitate nature- is one step further away from the platonic ideal, the true form. The perfect or ideal is in another plane, like heaven, and it would have to be geometrically precise.
Nature is a degraded copy, all lumpy and stuff, and artists copying nature are by copying liars, and wasting their time. And anyone who likes bad copies of lumpy imperfect landscapes and rotting fruit (that is ‘art’) must be a complete moron.
Yet, Picasso would say
“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.”
declaring that the search for how to make your lies believed comes from understanding the truth… not from seeking out ways to lie.
Camofluers seek the essence of reality, the better to simulate it.
And to complicate this notion, philosophically, [[Nietzsche]] says “we have art in order not to die of the truth.” ~ in that the brutality of the truth vanquishes hope, from which artifice can redirect us toward life.
we have art in order not to die of the truth.Nietzsche
Ah… And in such a way, we enter the fussy, fuzzy paradox of obfuscation, reduction, abstraction, and escapist fantasy as a means of production, perhaps the highest means. The greatest accomplishment is to “work” – to labor- against lies through better lies.
The artist both sees through falsity and offers a new fictive vision, with the best, most calibrated deceits claiming a higher moral ground… probably because they survive to tell to the tale.
This is where camouflage wins over authenticity, truth, freedom, etc…
Camouflage appears as these clothes or costumes, as that authority figure spouting what you expect to hear (hope and the great return. The camouflage artist, the social artificer, is mimicking the actions of the politicians before them while amplifying the current mimetic desires of the people.
And you see this trumpet as virtuous, but he is only playing you back to you.
Step 72: Camouflage (and Art)
Part 2: Inscribed Violence
Let’s break it down, before we re-complicate it.
Camouflage, via nature, has three types with three functions. (Don’t worry, I will repeat these and give examples.)
There are three main purposes: to dissemble (falsely fit in, to be parasitic), predation (getting close to kill), and hiding (to avoid notice altogether).
There are three ways, or techniques, the first 2 are from Thayers Law: blending (which is hiding), and dazzling (confusion through contrast). The third is obfuscating (misdirection, overwrought display, or squirting a cloud of ink out of your butt).
Let’s take a walk through each looking at nature, the military, and a politician.
First, let’s cover ‘blending’ or hiding, most easily thought of as the camo worn by hunters or military Gili suits.
the most common understanding is to mimic your surroundings, to marginally hide yourself, allowing you to “blend”. We tend to think of hiding as a defensive strategy for survival: A stick bug, or certain frogs, iguanas, sea horses, and chameleons appear as plants, so as not to be eaten. A rabbit doesn’t look like grass, but disguises it’s form through ‘countershading’ – rabbits have a brown back and white belly. When the sun hits the top reads visually as lighter, while the under shadow darkens the white belly, creating an overall ‘flat’ effect. So you don’t see a rabbit-like shadow, you see an overall beige formless nothing.
In the military, in 1915, the camofluers initially hid tanks and equipment by craftily mimicking nature, hiding snipers in what appeared to be logs, or cannons as shrubs. Even disguising entire towns and encampments, even making areas look bombed already.
In politics, this hiding to avoid conflict or position yourself better can be called “dissembling.” Appearing to fit in, for survival, while perhaps having an alternative agenda from the appearance.
My first thought on this is Obama, who despite passing gay marriage and appearing to be the consummate democratic president, increased drone strikes and deported more immigrants (3.2 million) than Bush (2 million) or Trump’s four years with (800,000) . The ‘hope and change’ progressive language of the campaign, wrapped in Ivy League intellectual confidence was a perfect means of hiding within the party, while increasing militarization and deportation, classically republican promises.
Onto ‘dazzle’ – everyone’s favorite camo, because it does the opposite of blending.
In the animal kingdom, dazzle is mostly used by snakes, giraffes, and zebras: it is high-contrast camo, such as stark stripes, which confuses the overall shape: optically your eye has trouble. Interestingly, this shift of contrast works on facial recognition software. The best way to fool the software is to paint your face like a Juggalo – who are fans of the band Insane Clown Posse- because the dark stripe across the jaw reads as a shadow, which makes the surveillance software read your face as squished.
Dazzle is used by the navy on ships and even airplanes. It looks wild, like the guy who paints pylons was given some acid and told to paint a whole ship. It is arguably art inspired through cubism, where the harsh lines and shading break apart a singular mass into chunks, sort of flattening while pretending depth. Why does this attention gettting device work? B disrupting the shape the ship is hard to accurately range find or determine direction, hence torpedos are more likely to fail in their targeting.
In the political realm, Trump is an easy enough dazzler, but let’s talk about him more as an obfuscator. Let’s try someone like AOC as a dazzler, there is so much action you don’t know where to begin. How about Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, or Justin Treaudeu? There is something about appearing strong, but being evasive or slippery, where the form just won’t solidify but equally it is so active you can’t stop trying to figure it out.
Finally, we have obfuscation, which really dissembles and dazzles at the same time, but is slightly different.
In nature there are animals like the squid or skunk, who obfuscate and annoy as a defense to survive. But more dazzly, is the frilled lizard, who looks like he has an Elizabethan collar on to scare off the plebes. And what about the angler fish? A bit of dazzle, a bit of obfuscation, and a lot of predation.
In politics, let’s look at Trump. While he dazzles, like any good reality television disaster should, he also spins and wags the dog. In December 2016 he was tweeting about Boeing being overpriced, while bringing up a Nuclear arms race, saying he doesn’t need daily briefings, screwing up talks with China, and pointing to immigration when he still won’t release his taxes. So this seems to be dazzle, but it works as obfuscation, because while nuclear war is being discussed and things are on edge with China, who cares about his taxes?
This type of obfuscation is inflationary. And speaking of, the military had an entire unit, the Ghost Army. in the 40’s, dedicated to running behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany, inflating these forms that looked like tanks and laying out canvases that looked like roads or tents. The nazi scouting plane would fly by, look down and say ‘oh shietze’ assuming we snuck an entire army in behind them. But of course, when they returned there would be nothing there.
One key point I have not driven home: #camouflage is typically thought of as DEFENSIVE, but it is very often OFFENSIVE.
While we consider hiding or bullshitting to manifest from fear or perceive them as childish tactics that are relatively harmless, they provide the proximity from which tolerated parasitic action creates a blind spot for predation.
But we can get into that later. for now…
Step 72: Camouflage (and Art)
A dumb story
Because repetition helps concepts stick lets make up a dumb story:
To dissemble is to be false to endear yourself with someone unlike you. This is a spy’s craft or courtesan’s trade. It is basic mimicry. You fit in to collect the paycheck or make your life easier. This isn’t always for predation; sometimes, it is just parasitic.
What if you combine tactics? You dissemble and blend by pretending to be a macho man wearing a leather vest, you dazzle with the throaty roar of your mighty motorcycle, but unfortunately you need to obfuscate when asked questions about the size of your engine (I mean, what the hell is a “cc” and why do you need thousands of them?).
While you might delay if you say, “It’s the kind of engine that gets me laid,” but they might press you, because now they all want one of those engines.
Your best bet for obfuscation is by mimicking a skunk, fart a couple times, then burp a lot. Perhaps mention China. Be sure to eat beef jerky beforehand, or they will smell your fear.
And, we must ask o’ crafty pseudo-man, what is your goal, your prey or predation as it were? Well… Free beer, of course.
Step 72: Camouflage (and Art)
Part 3: Mimicry of the mimicker
This is where we begin to get into the philosophy, but I will also give you a real-life example: Mimicry, once of blending with nature, has become mimicry of the mimicker, a pantomime of the mime in which the actor refuses to be silent.
On one level, we have seen a change since Reagan and rap music arrived: The obvious actor is no longer the faker but the “player” of the game. Or maybe it happened before that, as Shakespeare said: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” And by this acceptance, the artifice once only acceptable on stage is applauded everywhere, and distinction draws thin, the costume and act are real in the sense that they have entered reality, have been dis-simulated from the image-form into the simulation itself.
All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely playersShakespeare
What if, in a reversal, the best actors have no artifice, no parody or pantomime, only a genuine and boring character we want on repeat? More Keanu Reeves, por favor.
What if, as Camus says, “no artist ever expressed more than one thing under different aspects,” and that is the true artists have only one desire they monotonously repeat? It makes sense that when they attempt to deviate, to be ‘creative’ or try on a new costume, they become false. In this case, art is not about creativity or reinvention but about staying the course, even if that course is a thief or jokester.
no artist ever expressed more than one thing under different aspectsAlbert Camus
Meanwhile, the “player/actor” has no content, just desire, and they change their costume at will, or simply maintain their previous desires beneath new camouflage.
The difficulty in all of this is aesthetics as purveyors of truth, or some version of what to expect next… some form of stability.
once upon a time, when a man wore a camo jacket or pants into town, you knew he had been out hunting that morning and hadn’t had time to change yet. It was a utilitarian tool to aid him in his task, which could arguably be said to derive from survival or at least a desire to blend with nature for the sake of expedited predation.
Today, camo is seen more often in town than in nature. In town it’s purpose is reversed: to stand out, you wear camo. You wear camo as warpaint, signaling your allegiance to gun ownership, the political right, and aggression against lefty-progressivism.
And let’s say it is odd to adopt a symbol of confusion (dissembling or hiding) as a demarcating symbol to establish a political binary. But it is also co-opted from “in the field” military gear and the civilian right’s alignment with military values remains strong.
But back to camo in the city, if you wanted to pretend inclusion to the right, to being a real man, to pass as one who maintains traditional values, such as gender roles correlating to sex, or recognizing the role of some necessary brutality in authority, one need only camouflage yourself in camouflage.
In such a way, the reversal of utility (using camo to blend with nature) moved into symbolic signaling (camo in the city as gun support or traditional manliness), which also presented ‘dazzle’ as a threat. This is also a form of deterrence: don’t engage with me, parasite; I am a predator.
And yet “camo” just as swiftly becomes a means of “dissembling” and “obfuscating” once a lefty photographer or journalist can don the garb and gain access. But even on a lesser level, wearing camo can mean “leave me alone.” Or it can mean I just got done hunting, but I am oddly a progressive lefty.
This. This is the ever-tightening, densely packed spiral of signals and motivations in which we attempt to parse our place in the world.
what do people desire? Are they only pretending, subverting, and dissembling it to get close to me? what if they don’t even know what they are doing and are mimetically donning the most convenient camouflage?
Genet’s play suggests all people are sort of angry puppets who take comfort in enacting and receiving torment. We just shape them into their role. Yet, we don’t want this to be true: that we intentionally choose idiot, sadist leaders, because we are enacting reality television. And yet we did it.
This is Baudrillard’s prescriptive plot we dumbly follow, confusing symbols for meaning and reenacting a degraded pantomime. It is Bratton’s dis-simulation of our reflexive ideas into reality. and the seduction by aesthetics into ideology is Walter Benjamin’s warning that we are sliding into fascism.
However… The power of aesthetics has been used by nature to warn, to tempt, and to hide. To propogate us forward as a species.
Our imitative capacity suggests that we are not simply shaped into a single role, no matter how socially predicated, but that we can adopt many strategies to evade, dissemble, and shock. ~ Yes, perhaps we wear the enforced costume, but this is merely a tactic. –
These tactics are a means to establish space. This space, this gap, even if it is a minimal distance, is a means to seek or establish some fractional notion of authenticity: to twist on Plato’s determinism that we act as we are, and use the Aristotelian capacity for change, even though it begins shallowly… aesthetically… and we are back to camouflage.
Up next we will look at camouflage as dispersal, related to media and sexual desire, and how the ubiquity of camo erodes trust.
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“Wanting: Memetic desire in everyday life” by Luke Burgis
Freud, Rene Girard, Shakespeare
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