The psychogeographer who comes aground in Santa Monica may be shown the ocean – it’s a mighty fine ocean – and the famous pier – it’s an awfully crowded pier – and perhaps 3rd street, an outdoor street mall on European lines, if, that is, Mickey Mouse had designed Europe. But the guide is unlikely to take him to Main street and point out an office building that looks as bland and as soulless as any other office building. Which is a shame, because the psychogeographer, if he is any good, must have felt his fingers burning since he came ashore. Goethe said he wrote the Sorrows of Young Werther with burning fingers, for its only with burning fingers that one can catch hold of the signs and wonders of the age. And as psychogeography is all about intersigns, omens, Gnostic connections, this bland building in a sense towers over the city. Because this is the headquarters of Rand corporation – research and development corporation – that was founded by the Air Force almost in the flicker of the fires of Hiroshima. This is the second Rand building, remodeling the first, where the classic Randites of the forties and fifties gathered. It is Rand that made Santa Monica one of the minor capitals of the apocalypse. The one that never happened. In Anaheim, Disney was busy creating a vector into the child consciousness with which to stuff in Winnie the Pooh and commodity fetishism, preparing us all for our adult life. In Santa Monica, Rand was working another seam. Rand, in a sense, shaped the American sense of vulnerability, and definitely gave it a vocabulary. Counterforce. Second Strike. Deterrence. Mutually Assured Destruction. Failsafe. All terms that came out of the Rand think tank. It was a thinker at Rand who came up with the ICBM, a huge advance in the “delicate balance of terror” – another Rand phrase. And, in the sixties, it was a Rand contractor who came up with the Phoenix Program in South Vietnam. The old death squads, for instance in Indonesia, were sloppy. Here, death squads were targeted and kill ratios were calculated. In a sense, Rand gave birth to the contemporary death squad – from the Argentine generals with their mini-concentration camps in schools and factories to the 2005-2007 American effort in Iraq. A bit of village or urban quartier torture, rape, and massacre, and voila – pacification!
So the properly informed psychogeographer will walk through the streets of Santa Monica and dream of Kenneth Arrow, who invented rational choice at RAND (and haven’t we all lived under the thumb of rational choice since?), or think of Albert Wohlstetter, he of the delicate balance of terror, who would come down from his ace pad on Laurel Canyon of a weekday morning. It was Wohlstetter who mentored Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle.
And in the haze of this past, perhaps our intersigning flycatcher will jot down the prophecies of the graybearded black guy at Seven Eleven or the tourette’s illuminee at the corner of 9th and Wilshire. It takes a maladjusted mind to know the heart of the heart of it all.