Skip to Content

Theory of Hypercompetition

Release Date: 
03 - 1998
Tim Boykett

Theory of Hypercompetition

Theory of Hypercompetition

Hypercompetition, the Red Queen race of evolutionary biology, where speed cannot be sacrificed for even a moment lest the opponent pull ahead, relativity in its most elementary form. It doesn't matter how well you do as long as you're doing better than the next pleb. Run as fast as you can just to stay in place.

The evolutionary pressure that has resulted in the impractical overdevelopment of the peacock's tail or NFL standard body padding is possibly the only known method of maintaining the crash-warp speed of late 20th century culture. If you can't keep ahead in the stock-market ratings game or the XYZ Cup rankings then you may as well move to Berlin and become an entrenched public servant or grow subsistence crops in the Kalahari.

The education of corporate megamerger moguls started with the locker- room power-plays of the little league, all those weedy intellectuals who derided their pathetic macho posing are now grovelling to build their websites or eternally proclaiming the imminent death of too-late capitalism. Is the solution to follow in their path, to take up the Stairmaster at age 33 after being fired from the seventeenth burger-flipping job your mother warned you against? Or a further development of the stative concentration that got you through some college degree and left you on a seat in a well- airconditioned office having orders barked at you by a commerce graduate you despised for four years of college hell? No, the path to enlightenment is not the meditation of the fatman, the guru who within twenty four hours marries, procreates and enters a trance that his wife must physically maintain for the rest of his living days, the gnostic upload. Methods to reappropriate sporting activity, contextualised for the nonjock, moving away from brutal pounding macho-esque body building are needed. The objective is everything, the biomechanics of existence need to be rediscovered for all and sundry, perceptions and hand-eye coordination on scales other than holding a pen or touchtyping or tetris, control dis-covered, de-covered and expropriated for general consumption.


Stasis is death and if you think family values means anything less than a BMW and suburban housewife angst then just clear your slate and get out of the way because the only people who understand class dynamics are failed revolutionaries and successful businessfolk. McKenna's theories have been recontextualised and commandeered by the free market felon with the AOL account. I see a nineties Elvoid making it big with "Ah'm on the web, huh, Ah'm all linked up", smirking knowingly and ever so cynically whilst raking cash from amongst the knickers raining down on stage, retiring to a backstage room to chew on whatever the hip junk-food of multimedia nerd-magnates is this week. Withdrawing into an enclave might bring you piece of mind but the 'burbs wont stop 'til they've got enough and the surface feeding krill factory that is Big Sperm Blue is still way hungry. We are attempting to crawl back from a position that we chose for all the wrong reasons, or perhaps it was an inevitable conclusion from the axioms we weren't even sure that we agreed upon. Somehow we as individuals have arrived at some point, we as a civilisation have arrived and so have we as a counter culture, all arrived at something other than that which we would have chosen. Our objective is rescue, escape and redirection, the tool that we have found is biomechanics. Rather this is a block of flint that we need to bash against rocks for a while until it becomes a tool, but beat we will and this essay is a first attempt, a flanking manoeuvre, a scouting movement, a skirmish on the flanks.

Essence 1(title in progress)

The situation is grim. There is no oppositional culture, we all work more than we should need to, no dreams drive our moves, our health is going to the dogs, the objectives we thought that we had have become distractions and we toy with things rather than involve ourselves to our experiential limits. We cannot ignore the possibilities that a biomechanical theory offers as solutions to these and other problems as we perceive them. The beginnings of this theory as a form of theatre in post-revolutionary Russia were brave and ambitious, but successes outside the limited confines of the stage or whatever could be passed off as a stage were not to be expected. Developments in both the bio- and -mechanical aspects referred to in the name had not yet reached levels of complexity and depth that would allow a coherent and applicable theory. In the three score and ten years that have passed since then such developments in our knowledge such as the structure of DNA, the possibilities and limitations of computability and the development of culture inspired by Dadaists has led to a situation where biomechanical theory can properly begin to make a comeback. Even now we have only the framework of applicable theories and practices, but it is much denser and well- presented than the scratchy sketch available to those brave and ambitious eyes in the 1920s.

Biomechanics as an area of active research has its most longstanding basis in the practice of sports; witness the muscalature differences in a mere fifty years of boxing development or the increases in efficiency of the field movements of soccer umpires. Sport is perhaps the canonical starting place for such an investigation, much as that might displease us aesthetically or otherwise. But even more, sport as a field of knowledge, a culture and hive mind that we almost all have contributed to and learnt from, sport as a major part of life, sport as something outside of locker rooms and muscle tone, sport as something other than the monstrous thing we have come to view it as.

Not only does sport offer a fertile breeding ground for biomechanical theory, but this theory must lead to certain conclusions, to hypotheses that will be testable in the practice of sports. The use of testable hypotheses to support or discredit a theory is the most well- founded method of western science, this tradition will not be overcome easily, and neither should it be, if we are to have a theory that can hold water these days where homemaker magazines are filled with astrological advice phone numbers and dietary plans based on equal parts pathetic hope, lies and self-denial.

With sport we naturally receive, as a part of the whole package, competition in all its forms thrown in as a part of the deal. This rounds out the theory to an extent that is not possible in a biomechanical theory of theatre because the latter lacks any concept of competition whatsoever. Theatre is a form based upon cooperation; between the actors, stagehands, direction and audience, the suspension of disbelief, the removal of the Occam's razor of cynicism and the switching off of certain critical facilities. A modern theory of biomechanical theatre would replace the suspension of disbelief, the shutting off of mental capabilities with the application of comprehension and extrapolation, the augmentation and extension of mental facilities.

(HUH, nasty jump)
Taking this theory along the trajectory that is suggested by this change, a change that is only slightly more than one of semantics, one sees a conclusion where the actors become irrelevant as anything more than the suggestors of the necessary concepts, they move away from the stage (which necessarily dissolves in their absence) and become the facilitators of an experience, the cogs in a machine, the interrupts in a distributed architecture of meaning computation, the laws of physics of a world that exists only for those perceiving, the audience if you will, the spectators, if you must, the clients if you please. It is only a small extra push for the audience to become participants . .. . but wait, this is now the banality of an "interactive installation", the Theremin of Lev Sergievitch Termen (aka Professor Leon Theremin) that was so radical in its day becomes the broken down tube radio in my kitchen that changes channel as I fidget and make coffee, we somehow fail to find the presentation of this radio (or a high-tech computer-facilitated version thereof) in a theatre or other gallery space as an act of creation worthy of mention let alone respect. No, more is needed, and for this we need to refer to the developments in the understandings of the theory of biomechanics and to apply these theories in a more interesting way than the positioning of apparently interactive light or sound generating devices in public or semi-public spaces.

Biomechanics and the Code of Sport (a sketch)

The biomechanical theatre in its implementation as a sporting hall offers a laboratory for the decoding of intuitive, intrinsic and emergent knowledge that is embedded in the current Gestalt of sporting culture. All the hours and effort spent must have led to some result; biomechanical theory and controlled experiments will lead us to methods for code-cracking, the Enigma machine that is the sportsman's mind will be opened by modern follow-ups to Turing's code breaking machinery of WWII, developments in the theory of biomechanics and cryptobiology will spill forth a wealth of knowledge.

Like the Drummers, the subaquatic techno-hedonistic tribe of Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age", whose bodies carried an ongoing distributed computation performed by virus-like agents mixing and matching via exchanges of bodily fluids, the meme pool of sport has been under a continuous and unrelenting hard pressure towards evolutionary development. Rival news broadcasters competing for a virulent but capricious audience, theories of fitness, diet and survivability in a Red Queen race to nowhere, efficiency concerns in motor sports and land speed records, weight reduction in the sky, factoid memory feats rivalling the record-breaking root calculations of autistic mathematicians. As in the bodies, the lymphatic and circulatory systems of the Drummers, the hours of talkshows, expert panels, highly paid sponsoring exhibitions and months of training and couch potatoing must have evolved a knowledge base that it is our responsibility to attempt to decode using any and all available means.

High Brow / Low Brow

Somewhere in the dim recesses of recent history there was a clear differentiation between high and low culture, a well-defined difference with little interplay or even interrelation. This distinction still exists today, although the border is more porous with such things as pop musicians becoming sound artists and the avante garde of visual techniques being poached daily for advertising.

The distinction carries over from Gnostic reasoning about the soul-mind and the dirt-body, the idea that we are higher, our souls / minds / cognitive facilities can be uploaded into vast computational devices, the heaven or promised land of the transhumanists, the (irrelevant) meat being left behind. That this is not pure hocus-pocus is evidenced by the revolutionary fervour of the insurrectionist taking her through trials and tribulations, that as our bodies degenerate and we lose control to Parkinson's, our minds are still whole and complete. But this does not let us claim that we are nought but the meme complexes that have taken up leases or semipermanent residence in our mind spaces.

Not only is this inviolateness of the mind a misunderstanding, witness the effects of mere chemicals upon the visual and other perceptions of this monolithic soul, but it is possibly straight out inverted.

Such work as the Kawato Dynamic Brain Project where the motor centres, also known as the reptile brain or cerebellum ("little brain", diminuitive form of cerebrum) is studied and it is being found that to a larger and larger extent, the cerebrum is not the most important part, but may in fact just be an inflated adjunct to the cerebellum. Mark Tilden's work at Waterloo and LANL has shown that walking robots, devices that previously had been monstrously expensive, difficult to move and usually didn't even work, could be made to work by using only the peripheral nervous system, completely ignoring the nerve-end centre that is the brain.

Upon such evidence the theory of biomechanics can lay hope for its relevance and success beyong the frontal-lobe centred history of cognitive science. Beyond the head, the body is filled with interacting autonomous and semi-autonomous systems. Tke, for instance, Varela and Coutinho's theory of immunoknowledge, where the varying populations of immune system cells in our bodies have a much greater effect than just blindly fighting disease. The population of lymphocytes in the human body is a diverse collection of species, generating diversity at a level far greater than any other system in the body. An ecology, an evolving, learning complex of interactions exists there. Competition and reward are fundamental, successful antigens are rewarded with increases in population, the finiteness of the human body then implies a definite competition for space if not resources. Through this the system learns, it is another mind in our bodies, one not controlled directly by our frontal lobes. It is arguable that this immunoknowledge mind is in partial control of our frontal lobes. Such understanding will bring us, in the words of Varela and Coutinho, to "think with our entire body", to remove the frontal lobe, the director, the spectacle, from our lives.

It is this recoil from the large-foreheaded high brow attitude that underlies our search for a theory more distributed, that includes emergent properties of freely interacting individuals. We also want to repeal the approach that attempts this recoil by becoming the deepest of the lowbrow, inspiration via a return to the suburbs, hotted-up cars, the drags, trash-culture pop music or even the drastic return to the era when remote control was when you chucked a spear at someone rather than just sticking it in them. We want a body of knowledge more intricate than that of "live in a cave and rut like a dog", one that accepts the forebrain as an equal, a partner, but not a dictatorial director.


With Bey's Millenium we see the arrival of revolutionary fervour in the writings of one who had so long acted as the memetic strange attractor for trajectories outside the either/or of the eighties. He pushes a logic that since the fall of the wall and the breakdown of east-west rivalries their is no oppositional pair that we can distinguish ourselves from to be the inhabitants of the fissures. To remain as other we must now set ourselves up in opposition to the monolithic monstrosity that is dominant capital/culture.

Voices broadcasting the plight of Leonard Peltier or questioning the status quo of race relations have been reappropriated into the music business that accepts no outside, no underground. So with all of so-called oppositional culture. Either we enter into an evolutionary arms race with dominant culture or we sneak off into the (now even rarer) fissures, either our attack leads to yet more enhanced evolutionary forces acting upon that memepool or we opt out and let it learn and evolve by itself. Bey's analysis (in TAZ) still holds, that control society is but a simulation, a spectacle towards which we cannot aim any weapon, but the Robin Hood in our memetic makeup still wants us to revolt against the hegemony that will not budge.

Is this the koan of nineties' oppositional culture, the damned if you do, damned if you don't playoff, another win-win game for them in all cases? Is the capture of a renegade Red Army unit in a desert valley the final straw, a marker for the end of this epoch? Is the term oppositional culture an oxymoron or a tautology?


This shotgun approach leaves up with a taste in the mouth that there is something rather astray, but that something is hard to pin down. Are we just too old, have all the youthful indulgences worn off and left us wearing the eggs, are we losing our critical eye? I doubt it, this is no old-age cynicism creeping in, it's a cynicism that crawls across the face of everyone who thinks just a little more than not at all, the feeling of uselessness that this civilisation, this culture, leaves us with. Punk cashed in its teeth almost as vigourously as Kommune 1 or the whole Hippy movement. Somehow a theory of biomechanics, a correctly interpreted sociobiology, a decent, respectful mix of the above sciences with a distant look in the eye, such a mix might give us the tools with which we can begin to see the flaws in the surface, the escape routes that remain open, the conduits through which the dominant culture usurps our energies and uses them to reinvigorate itself, its overweight floundering beastly body. Given this knowledge, we might be able to redirect energies in a way that does not simply reinforce these status quii.

That the lines are more hazy than ever before, that there are no signs to determine the appropriate socialisations and reactions, these are things that we have to merely accept.

As someone once said, "There's nothing so practical as a good theory." And someone else said, "It's pure research, which is about creating more problems than you solve." Well, that just about sums it all up anyway. I think I'll go do some research.