Harper Shalloe is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. Their research examines contemporary wellness culture’s romance with complexity theory and its production of an ethics of self-optimization. Their work has appeared in Transgender Studies Quarterly and the forthcoming anthology Refocus: The Films of Doris Wishman.
Swarming has recently emerged as a harbinger of post-humanism and a snake oil for strategy consultants; as a watchword for revolution and a resource for biomimetic innovation; as an organizing principle and a military venture. Compounding this political promiscuity, genealogies of swarm robotics and of swarming as an organizational schema never fail to mention ants and bees, but consistently omit segregation, despite the fact that economist Thomas Schelling’s 1971 segregation models were central to the development of computational agent-based modeling, the lynchpin of artificial swarm intelligence. Rather than chart a technical trajectory from segregation models to drone swarms, this paper plumbs Schelling’s 1971 article and its revision in his 1978 book Micromotives and Macrobeaviors to excavate the dynamics of exclusion and privation at the heart of historical and contemporary theorizations of holism. Schelling’s understanding of segregation as the unforeseeable offshoot of an organic self-organizing swarm inadvertently divulges system thinking’s epistemic indebtedness to U.S. anti-Black racism, and this naturalization of white supremacy scaffolds the current enthusiasm for swarming within the Department of Defense, which works to recast empire as ecology and render the U.S. killing of “extremists’” evolutionarily ordained.