The idea of society has always been linked to a form, with its shape or body made up of humans, earth or other material. This shape has shifted over the centuries depending on which links were accepted as established and which flows of communication were practiced—a central aspect of that what makes a society is communication. We are somehow connected, by a keyboard, an image, a voice, a protocol, the wifi, 4G, a cable, by optical fibre and undersea cables, 2cm thick. The contemporary shape that depicts the bodies of our societies is often linked to a network. But what kind of body is a network? What does its shape say about the state we find ourselves in?
Modern western body politics is based on ghosts, i.e. on the idea that each king or queen is simultaneously a person and an embodiment of the political that never dies. Medieval cadaver tombs show this by displaying two bodies of the same person: the political body in full arms, and the natural one rotting away in a horror show; John Fitz Alan, 14th Earl of Arundel is worth googling. Then two became many: in Hobbes’ Leviathan, the political body is again made up of more than one person. But now its corps is built on the multitude of citizens as Abraham Bosse’s depiction of Hobbes’ Leviathan shows. The king’s upper body rising in front of the land is an artificial one, made up of citizens looking towards his head (or is it their own head?) gazing into the distance like a distracted kid at a toy train table. The body of the king had become many. With parliament becoming even more important, these many soon find themselves in a new shape: instead of having a home in the king’s body they are now sitting in the architecture of the parliament. Houses and not human bodies became the vessel for the political, borders and not kings or queens defined the nation. Society started to have people “upstairs” and “downstairs” carefully controlling what was passing from one floor to another. A class system had become the political body. An image colonialism mirrored.
Today a different body form has become the home of the people: the network. The network does not depict the place or position of humans in a system anymore but suggests movement. The mass that could threaten the political body is now busy being all over the place. All there is, are individual transactions. Money, products, goods, holiday makers and migrants accompanied by smartphones and emails. But the network image is also hiding two political aspects. One is resistance: how to behead the king, or turn the house upside down? There seems to be no outside to this network, i.e. no alternative society or network to choose. The other aspect is inequality. For when depicted as positions, all those movements fall into the shape of a “long tail,” the distribution curve of our time. Its starts high up to steeply come down ending in a long thin tail mirroring the current trend of the rich getting richer; even in Europe 10% of households now own 51.2% of total net wealth according to the ECB. The form we are transforming into is the opposite to the bell curve which has a large middle-class belly in its middle framed by a thin head and tail. The long-tail curve is the real image of the network: things and humans move according to an unfair logic, which cleverly stepped out of the frame leaving us with the need to find its image, and to create a spectre haunting this time not just Europe but earth.