On Jehu’s recent post on Michael Brown Verdict


Jehu of has a great little post After Ferguson: Labor, competition and the long ugly history of American white working class racist mob violence on the recent case of Michael Brown.As expected, a mostly white Grand Jury declined to indict the murderer of Michael Brown, who was gunned down without provocation on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.”

As I began thinking through his reading I was struck by its Orthodox approach in placing it squarely within Marxist ideological frames which to me at least didn’t go far enough to address the underlying societal and cultural normative controls that actually underpin the economic. I assayed a response:

Hey, Jehu: My only problem is that you do not go far enough… you provide the standard Orthodox position which is just the nib of the iceberg. As an example, you say here:

There is no accident at all in the history of the class struggle in the US: white labor has from the first used black labor as sacrificial pawns to absorb the impact of capitalist development. The white worker has done this knowing full well the consequence of his action for the black worker and with no guilt.”

Point of Order: The pitting of white against black is moiety. Old as society itself. More and more I have come to see your reading as too simplistic, and one that falls into the Master’s pit: a reading that allows the true culprit to escape the net of illusions. The darker truth is that the capitalist regime seeks to contain the white through its enforced civil war and diversionary complicity in promoting this sort of internecine conflict among ethnic groups and populace. The order of Law appears to govern individual behaviors from the outside, even though it is itself a consequence of the synergistic coordination of these same individual behaviors (Hegel’s ‘identity of opposites’). Since these behaviors represent disorder , the emergent order contains them, in the two meanings of the word. In this case order does not, as Dumont supposed, contain disorder while at the same time being its contrary. Instead disorder steps outside of itself, as it were, so that it stands in a relation of exteriority to itself, and in this way creates an ordered, self-regulating system. What we’re truly seeing in this is the old saw that “in times of market panic, mass psychology becomes the ruling force” (Dupuy, Jean-Pierre)

As Serres said of Rousseau: “. General will is rare and perhaps only theoretical. General hatred is frequent and is part of the practical world. . . . Not only does he see the formation of a social pact from the outside, not only does he notice the formation of a general will, but he also observes, through the darkness , that it is formed only through animosity, that it is formed only because he is its victim. . . . Union is produced through expulsion. And he is the one who is expelled.”

The victim (Afro-Americans) is therefore an emissary victim, a scapegoat, whose expulsion from the community provides it with the external point of support it needs in order to put an end to the economic and social crisis. The financial masters have manipulated neoliberal media as a narrative according to which good must contain evil while at the same time being its contrary. In this sense you’ve been duped into aligning perfectly with the Master’s narrative wish to have Afro-Americans buy into the myth of ‘white supremacy’ in this abstract Game of Thrones, allowing the civil war of race victimage to emerge to create a new order that contains both victim and its illusionary power. Why are you doing this? Why have you allowed your Marxist vision to put on the blinkers of Orthodoxy, while disallowing the normative praxis underlying the whole religious and secular vision of American capitalism? You’re battling ghosts and allowing the myth to continue…

As René Girard later observed, “we may say that there is, inversely, hardly any form of violence that cannot be described in terms of sacrifice— as Greek tragedy clearly reveals. . . . Sacrifice and murder would not lend themselves to this game of reciprocal substitution if they were not in some way related.” Yet, if we interpellate Hubert’s and Mauss’s essay on sacrifice, we see that this confusion between the sacrificer, the victim, and the divinity constitutes the very essence of sacrifice. In the Fergeson case we are seeing played out the oldest of narratives of scapegoat mythology under the guise of a diversionary tactic and hierarchical play of opposites. A parody system that keeps the civil war going and allows us to promote violence among ourselves while the real enemy (our financial elite mask themselves, promoting worker civil war under racism). Violence is therefore capable of externalizing itself, of transcending itself in symbolic and institutional forms— the rites, myths, and systems of prohibitions and obligations that both control and incubate violence, containing it through this legalistic charade and gambit that allows the bitter hatred of Afro-American workers to continue against the great white whale (Melville) of ‘white supremacy’.

The rhetorical benefit of combining two apparently incompatible narratives— on the one hand, the Marxist discourse of capitalist exploitation, on the other, the victimary discourse of racial persecution— is clear: the outcast and poor of the present day can be represented as the remote victims of inexpiable crimes committed in the past by a slaveholding society. Whether this strategy is well calculated to promote the cause of racial democracy is rather less obvious, however.

The fundamental philosophical error of theories of justice (and particularly of Rawls’s theory) is to believe that there exists a solution to the problem of justice, and that this solution also disposes of the challenge posed by disruptive passions. The mistake, in other words— the sin, in fact— is to believe that a society that is just, and that knows itself to be just, is a society that has succeeded in abolishing resentment. For it is in precisely such a society, one that makes a point of advertising its own fairness, that those who find themselves in an inferior position cannot help but feel resentful. The fatal conceit, as Hayek might well have said, is to suppose that the Saint George of moral geometry has slain the dragon of envy. It is fatal because it distracts our attention from what can and must be done here and now. Resentment will never be wholly eliminated .1

What the Master discourse through its media pundits and narratives is doing is trying to contain its own evil through diversions: allowing the bitterness of racial relations to emerge in this moral vacuum as scapegoat mythology, which in the end will play into the hands of the Law which will use the full force of military and civil violence to contain what appears to be civil war among ethnic groups. This is what is actually happening: capitalism wants civil war among the races to create a new order, to impose a new tyranny upon the masses. To be radical in our time is to oppose their manipulation, not to sponsor it.

To be fair Jehu for the most part has it all correct:

I want to be clear that I do not recount these facts with any sense of anger or outrage. I say it because clearly some naive souls on the radical Left have no idea what manner of horrific phenomenon we are dealing with here. Racism is a persistent attribute of ‘white’ workers and requires vigorous direct material efforts if any progress is to be made in uniting the working class and putting an end to wage slavery. This much is understood by a large majority of radical activists today.

And he adds the correct conclusion as I see it:

What is missing in their thinking is a recognition that labor itself, not racist attitudes, determines and continuously reconstitutes the violent racist behavior of ‘white’ workers.

Yet, in conclusion he brings back his main thrust of the abolishment of wage labor and the creation of disposable time for all involved:

This means our aim must be to abolish wage labor itself and this cannot be put off to the distant future. Whatever the extent to which this can be realized now, our effort must begin immediately with the conversion of every possible hour of superfluous labor time into free, disposable time for all, which alone can break the monopoly hold white workers enjoy over employment. This effort alone can challenge and break the pretensions of the white workers that they can insulate themselves from the impact of capitalistic development by shifting the burden of this development onto the backs of their African-American counterparts. The battle against the long American history of white racist mob violence begins, and must, of necessity, begin, with a drastic and unrelenting reduction of hours of labor!

As Zizek recently stated the violence of capitalism is no longer attributable to concrete individuals with their “evil” intentions, but is purely “objective”, systemic, anonymous— quite literally a conceptual violence, the violence of a Concept whose self-deployment rules and regulates social reality.2 As he states in Less Than Nothing:

The most radical critical analysis of the “mystery of sacrifice” as a fundamental ideological category is in fact provided by Jean-Pierre Dupuy. Although the “official” topic of Dupuy’s The Mark of the Sacred is the link between sacrifice and the sacred, its true focus is the ultimate mystery of the so-called human or social sciences, that of the origins of what Lacan calls the “big Other,” what Hegel called “externalization” (Entäusserung), what Marx called “alienation,” and— why not?— what Friedrich von Hayek called “self-transcendence”: how, out of the interaction of individuals, can the appearance of an “objective order” arrive which cannot be reduced to that interaction, but is experienced by the individuals involved as a substantial agency which determines their lives?

The sacred sacrifice to the gods is the same as an act of murder— what makes it sacred is the fact that it limits or contains violence, including murder, in ordinary life. In those moments when the sacred falls into crisis, this distinction disintegrates: there is no sacred exception, a sacrifice is perceived as a simple murder— but this also means that there is nothing, no external limit, to contain our ordinary violence.

Violence threatens to explode not when there is too much contingency in the social space, but when one tries to eliminate this contingency.

The true opposite of egotistical self-love is not altruism, a concern for the common Good, but envy or ressentiment, which makes me act against my own interests: evil enters in when I prefer the misfortune of my neighbor to my own fortune, so that I am ready to suffer myself just to make sure that my neighbor will suffer more. This excess of envy lies at the basis of Rousseau’s well-known, but nonetheless not fully exploited, distinction between egotism, amour-de-soi (that love of the self which is natural), and amour-propre, the perverted preference of oneself to others in which a person focuses not on achieving a goal, but on destroying the obstacle to it:

The primitive passions, which all directly tend towards our happiness, make us deal only with objects which relate to them, and whose principle is only amour-de-soi, are all in their essence lovable and tender; however, when, diverted from their objects by obstacles, they are more occupied with the obstacle they try to get rid of, than with the object they try to reach, they change their nature and become irascible and hateful. This is how amour-de-soi, which is a noble and absolute feeling, becomes amour-propre, that is to say, a relative feeling by means of which one compares oneself, a feeling which demands preferences, whose enjoyment is purely negative and which does not strive to find satisfaction in our own well-being, but only in the misfortune of others. (Zizek: quote Rousseau, idib.)

Consequently, the way to overcome the tension between secular individualism and the fundamentalism of capitalism is not to find a proper balance between the two, but to abolish or overcome the source of the problem, the antagonism at the very heart of the capitalist individualist project. Beyond resentment and its politics of racism and class divisions promoting internecine conflict which substantializes hierarchy, reifying its deliberate domination between law and crime we need to accept the antinomies at the heart of our society instead of hierarchizing them and falling prey to the Master’s narrative. It’s time to pull the plug on racism and its alignment with radicalism, time to stop the illusions of some Big Other who controls our destiny by whatever name (i.e., white supremacy, sacrifice, scapegoating … etc.).

My only qualm is that Jehu in promoting this conflict through his Orthodox Marxist position, thinking he is being radical, is in fact doing the opposite: he is providing the capitalist hierarchy the power to impose its own mark of the sacred (Dupuy) on the whole narrative. The point is the powers want to contain this as a secular form of the oldest ritual dramas of Western Civilization: ritual sacrifice and scapegoating. Siding with the mystique of ‘white supremacy’ as the enemy he falls back into the capitalist secular religious trap. Let us not buy into it. Break the cycle. Do not allow the Master’s to have their gambit enacted. Resist such failed mythologies of hate and resentment. Otherwise there will be no real change,  just a reorganization of domination which makes things even worse than before, but one that highlights the re-emergence of a gangster-like patriarchal-tribal order which, one can argue, is the result of white rule which kept the blacks in a state of apartheid, preventing their inclusion in modern society.(Zizek, ibid.)

1. Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (2013-10-30). The Mark of the Sacred (Cultural Memory in the Present) (Kindle Locations 3520-3529). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (p. 31). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Slavoj Zizek: On Hegel’s Identity of Opposites

The same goes for crime and the law, for the passage from crime as the distortion (negation) of the law to crime as sustaining the law itself, that is, to the idea of the law itself as universalized crime. One should note that, in this notion of the negation of negation, the encompassing unity of the two opposed terms is the “lowest,” “transgressive,” one: it is not crime which is a moment of law’s self-mediation (or theft which is a moment of property’s self-mediation); the opposition of crime and law is inherent to crime, law is a subspecies of crime, crime’s self-relating negation (in the same way that property is theft’s self-relating negation).

A Habermasian “normative” approach imposes itself here immediately: how can we talk about crime if we do not have a prior notion of a legal order violated by the criminal transgression? In other words, is not the notion of law as universalized/ self-negated crime ultimately self-destructive ? But this is precisely what a properly dialectical approach rejects: what is before transgression is just a neutral state of things, neither good nor bad (neither property nor theft, neither law nor crime); the balance of this state is then violated, and the positive norm (law, property) arises as a secondary move, an attempt to counteract and contain the transgression. In Martin Cruz Smith’s novel Havana Bay, set in Cuba , a visiting American gets caught up in a high nomenklatura plot against Fidel Castro, but then discovers that the plot was organized by Castro himself. 30 Castro is well aware of the growing discontent with his rule even in the top circle of functionaries around him, so every couple of years his most trusted agent starts to organize a plot to overthrow him in order to entrap the discontented functionaries; just before the plot is supposed to be enacted, they are all arrested and liquidated. Why does Castro do this? He knows that the discontent will eventually culminate in a plot to depose him, so he organizes the plot himself to flush out potential plotters and eliminate them. What if we imagine God doing something similar? In order to prevent a rebellion against His rule by His creatures, He Himself— masked as the Devil— sets a rebellion in motion so that He can control it and crush it. But is this mode of the “coincidence of the opposites” radical enough? No, for a very precise reason: because Castro-God functions as the unity of himself (his regime) and his opposite (his political opponents), basically playing a game with himself. One has to imagine the same process under the domination of the opposite pole, as in the kind of paranoiac scenario often used in popular literature and films. For example: when the internet becomes infected by a series of dangerous viruses, a big digital company saves the day by creating the ultimate anti-virus program. The twist, however, is that this same company had manufactured the dangerous viruses in the first place— and the program designed to fight them is itself the virus that enables the company to control the entire network. Here we have a more accurate narrative version of the Hegelian identity of opposites.

V for Vendetta deploys a political version of this same identity. The film takes place in the near future when Britain is ruled by a totalitarian party called Norsefire; the film’s main protagonists are a masked vigilante known as “V” and Adam Sutler, the country’s leader. Although V for Vendetta was praised (by none other than Toni Negri, among others) and, even more so, criticized for its “radical”— pro-terrorist, even— stance, it does not have the courage of its convictions: in particular, it shrinks from drawing the consequences of the parallels between V and Sutler. 31 The Norsefire party , we learn, is the instigator of the terrorism it is fighting against—but what about the further identity of Sutler and V? We never see either of their faces in the flesh (except the scared Sutler at the very end, when he is about to die): we see Sutler only on TV screens, and V is a specialist in manipulating the screen. Furthermore , V’s dead body is placed on a train with explosives, in a kind of Viking funeral strangely evoking the name of the ruling party: Norsefire. So when Evey— the young girl (played by Natalie Portman) who joins V— is imprisoned and tortured by V in order to learn to overcome her fear and be free, does this not parallel what Sutler does to the entire British population, terrorizing them so that they rebel? Since the model for V is Guy Fawkes (he wears a Guy mask), it is all the more strange that the film refuses to draw the obvious Chestertonian lesson of its own plot: that of the ultimate identity of V and Sutler. (There is a brief hint in this direction in the middle of the film, but it remains unexploited.) In other words, the missing scene in the film is the one in which, when Evey removes the mask from the dying V, we see Sutler’s face. How would we have to read this identity? Not in the sense of a totalitarian power manipulating its own opposition, playing a game with itself by creating its enemy and then destroying it, but in the opposite sense: in the unity of Sutler and V, V is the universal encompassing moment that contains both itself and Sutler as its two moments. Applying this logic to God himself, we are compelled to endorse the most radical reading of the Book of Job proposed in the 1930s by the Norwegian theologian Peter Wessel Zapffe, who accentuated Job’s “boundless perplexity” when God himself finally appears to him.

Expecting a sacred and pure God whose intellect is infinitely superior to ours, Job finds himself confronted with a world ruler of grotesque primitiveness, a cosmic cave-dweller, a braggart and blusterer, almost agreeable in his total ignorance of spiritual culture …

What is new for Job is not God’s greatness in quantifiable terms; that he knew fully in advance … what is new is the qualitative baseness. In other words, God— the God of the Real— is like the Lady in courtly love, He is das Ding, a capricious cruel master who simply has no sense of universal justice . God-the-Father thus quite literally does not know what He is doing, and Christ is the one who does know, but is reduced to an impotent compassionate observer, addressing his father with “Father, can’t you see I’m burning?”— burning together with all the victims of the father’s rage. Only by falling into His own creation and wandering around in it as an impassive observer can God perceive the horror of His creation and the fact that He, the highest Law-giver, is Himself the supreme Criminal. Since God-the-Demiurge is not so much evil as a stupid brute lacking all moral sensitivity, we should forgive Him because He does not know what He is doing. In the standard onto-theological vision, only the demiurge elevated above reality sees the entire picture, while the particular agents caught up in their struggles have only partial misleading insights. At the core of Christianity, we find a different vision— the demiurge is a brute, unaware of the horror he has created, and only when he enters his own creation and experiences it from within, as its inhabitant, can he see the nightmare he has fathered.

Slavoj  Zizek, (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 269-271).

Slavoj Zizek: Non-Knowledge, Self-Limitation, and Forgetting

The formula of true atheism is thus: divine knowing and existence are incompatible, God exists only insofar as He does not know […] His own inexistence. The moment God knows, He collapses into the abyss of inexistence.
– Slavoj Zizek, Absolute Recoil

One might want to say that of Zizek himself, that throughout the Chapter Five on Being, Not-Knowing, Absolute Knowing, where he starts asking us:

What if only a God who does not see and know all, who cannot read my mind and needs my confession, a God who has to rely on a big Other outside Himself— what if only such a God can be said to exist? What if total knowledge entails inexistence and existence as such implies a certain non-knowledge? Such a paradoxical relation between being and knowing introduces a third term into the standard opposition between ordinary materialism, for which things exist independently of our knowledge of them, and subjectivist idealism, for which things exist only insofar as they are known or perceived by a mind— things exist insofar as they are not known. (209)1

Sometimes Zizek sounds like an old gnostic musing on the imponderable strangeness of God, but his God is the Void, the unknowing subject that seems always to elude the central truth of its own inexistence. Zizek is not so much a Gnostic knower as he is a Anti-Gnostic Unknower; for it is in forgetting that we exist, not in our knowing. A doctrine of pure loss in love with its loss-as-loss underpins Zizek’s basic message. He’ll distribute plentiful examples from Freud, Heidegger, Lacan, Hegel, etc. circling once again the notion of the Subject-as-negativity or self-relating negativity (Void, lack, gap etc.).

This notion of ignorance, or “not knowing” is not of the Socratic kind:

He among you is the wisest who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is really worth nothing at all. (Apology 23b, tr. Church, rev. Cumming) – That the wisest of you men is he who like Socrates has learned that with respect to wisdom, he is truly worthless. (tr. Tredennick) – He, O men, is the wisest who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. (tr. Jowett)

Socrates would tell us in one dialogue on discovering the ignorance of another that  “it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know“. (Apology 21d, tr. Tredennick) Against such Socratic irony Zizek will inform us that there is a key difference between this knowing and what, in a certain Socratic or mystical tradition, is called docta ignorantia: the latter refers to the subject’s knowing its own ignorance, while the ignorance registered by the subject of Absolute Knowing is that of the big Other itself (244). This ignorance is the gap or void or lack in our very knowing. Yet, it goes deeper than that, for it is this gap in our knowledge that saves us from utter annihilation. For as Zizek will state “The formula of true atheism is thus: divine knowing and existence are incompatible, God exists only insofar as He does not know (take note of, register) His own inexistence. The moment God knows, He collapses into the abyss of inexistence.” (243-244) He will explain that because of our finitude we are open to both closure and totality:

Therein lies the ultimate “coincidence of the opposites” in the Hegelian system: its closure is the very form (of appearance) of its openness. That is to say, the idea that Hegel simply closes his system with the mirage of total knowledge about everything there is to know, somehow bringing the entire universe to its completion, is completely wrong: what Hegel calls AK is his name for a radical experience of self-limitation, of what Lacan referred to as il n’y a pas de métalangage . We reach AK not when we “know it all,” but when we reach the point at which there is no longer any external point of reference by means of which we could relativize our own position— in AK, the very fact that no external limit is discernible, that we do not see the limits of our world, bears witness to our limitation, to our immersion in a world whose horizon we do not perceive. This is why the Hegelian totality is “non-All,” incomplete, self-relativization brought to an extreme, and at the same time always already completed, totalized— these two aspects are the two sides of the same coin.(243-244)

So knowledge comes by way of limitation and lack rather than in some hyper-knowing of everything. All of this goes back to his temporal notions of essence, which he will go into length in his discussion on Potentiality:

“Potentiality” is thus not simply the name for the essence of a thing as actualized in the multitude of empirical things of this genre (the Idea of a chair as a potentiality actualized in empirical chairs). The multitude of the actual properties of a thing is not simply reduced to the inner core of this thing’s “true reality”; what is more important is that it accentuates (profiles) the thing’s inner potential. When I call someone “my teacher,” I thereby outline the horizon of what I expect from him; when I refer to a thing as “a chair,” I profile the way I intend to use it. When I observe the world around me through the lenses of a language, I perceive its actuality through the lenses of the potentialities hidden, latently present, within it . In other words, potentiality appears “as such,” becomes actual as potentiality, only through language: it is the appellation of a thing that brings to light (“ posits”) its potentials. In short, impartial observation gets caught up in the “bad infinity” of complex features, without being able to decide on the essentials, and the only way to arrive at true universality is by way of a reasoning that is sustained by a practical engagement.(p. 229).

Just before the passage on potentiality above Zizek was speaking of the difference between the older classical notions of “essence” and the Heideggerian notion of “essencing”, which brings with it a temporal reversal: a notion in which essence does not preceded being, but is instead a creation and movement of language in its pragmatic engagement with reality through the techniques of profiling:

This change in our sensitivity is sustained by language, hinging on a shift in our symbolic universe. A fundamental violence inhabits this “essencing” ability of language: our world is given a partial twist, it loses its balanced innocence, one partial color gives the tone of the Whole.1

 And this notion of a “partial color” casting its light across the Whole is the form of the trope: the part-for-Whole notion of synecdoche as a subset of metonymy, etc. But what’s interesting is the temporal dimension of essencing: allowing language itself to be the creative agent giving this pragmatic dimension to profiling and the negotiations with reality. Whether he will or want Zizek is still bound to the human(istic) universe of the old Kantian world of deonotological norm building, etc.:

Hegel’s formulation is very precise here: the reduction to the signifying “unary feature” contracts actuality to possibility, in the precise Platonic sense in which the notion (Idea) of a thing always has a deontological dimension to it, designating what the thing should become in order to be fully what it is.(229)

Yet, in Heidegger he will find the notion of a dessentialized essence:

It was Heidegger who elaborated this feature apropos language when, in his reading of “essence or Wesen” as a verb (“ essencing”), he provided a de-essentialized notion of essence. Traditionally, “essence” refers to a stable core that guarantees the identity of a thing. For Heidegger, “essence” is something that depends on the historical context, on the epochal disclosure of being that occurs in and through language, the “house of being.” His expression “Wesen der Sprache” does not mean “the essence of language,” but the “essencing,” the making of essences that is the work of language, (228-229)

language bringing things into their essence, language “moving us” so that things matter to us in a particular kind of way, so that paths are made within which we can move among entities, and so that entities can bear on each other as the entities they are … We share an originary language when the world is articulated in the same style for us, when we “listen to language,” when we “let it say its saying to us.” (He quotes this from Mark Wrathall, How to Read Heidegger, London: Granta 2005, pp. 94– 5.)

 All this will lead back to Zizek’s confrontation with dialectical analysis:

What is a dialectical analysis of, say, a past event , of a revolutionary break? Does it really amount to identifying the underlying necessity that regulated the apparent confusion of prior events? What if the opposite is true, and the dialectical analysis reinserts possibility back into the necessary past? There is something of an unpredictable miraculous emergence in every turn from “negation” to “negation of negation,” in every rise of a new Order out of the chaos of disintegration— which is why dialectical analysis is for Hegel always the analysis of past events.  No deduction will bring us from chaos to order, and locating this moment of the magic turn, this unpredictable reversal of chaos into Order, is the true aim of dialectical analysis. (234-235)

In other words is there an essence underlying reality: is Plato right? Or is it that language creates this movement of a temporal Idea, the emergence of an Idea out of the event which is the event’s circumference and horizon, it’s potential realized as negotiation? As an example he will relate that the aim of the analysis of the French Revolution is not to unearth the “historical necessity” of the passage from 1789 to the Jacobin Terror and then to Thermidor and Empire, but to reconstruct this succession as a series of (to use this anachronistic term) existential decisions made by agents who, caught in the whirlpool of action, had to invent a way out of the deadlock (in the same way that Lacan reconceptualizes the succession of oral, anal, and phallic phases as a series of dialectical reversals).(235) Again it is this need to “invent” or create out of the perplexity of our temporal moment through pragmatic insertion of decisions that brings about retroactively this notion of historical necessity, not as if it existed as substance, but rather as something invented and immaterial material: an Idea, a temporal Idea that will then drive forward the event as its temporal limit and horizon.

This will lead to his discussion of structure: The question nonetheless remains: how are we to think the structure so that the subject emerges from it? Lacan’s answer is: as an inconsistent, non-All, symbolic structure articulated around a constitutive void/ impossibility. More precisely, the subject emerges through the structure’s own reflective self-relating which inscribes into the structure itself its constitutive lack— this inscription within the structure of what is constitutively excluded from it is “the signifier which represents the subject for other signifiers.” (240)

Here it sounds as if lack is not something that pre-exists structure, but is the emergence of the Subject in the very act of inserting lack into the structure through the self-reflective act. It is here that he will tell us that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the first drama of modern subjectivity: the subject is in itself “thwarted,” the paradoxical result of its own failure-to-be— or, in the simplified terms of the loop of symbolic representation: the subject endeavors to represent itself adequately, this representation fails, and the subject is the result of this failure.(241)

One of the key points is that subjectivity escapes in the failures, in the moments that cannot be captured by the systems of signification, trapped in Reason’s world of abstractions: it’s this intractable excess that cannot be given significance, controlled, or brought into the cage of signifiers that is the subject beyond all representation. But this is a subject inventing itself moment by moment, rather than some eternal signifier wandering the horizons of linguistic heaven.

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (p. 229). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Quote of the Day: Slavoj Zizek on Radical Negativity

“So what name should we give to this radical negativity that forms the silent background of the drives? Should we simply distinguish between drives stuck on partial objects, drives whose repetitive circular movement generates satisfaction, and the “pure” death drive, the impossible “total” will to (self-) destruction, the ecstatic self-annihilation in which the subject rejoins the fullness of the maternal Thing? What makes this distinction problematic is that it retranslates the death drive into the terms of desire and its lost object: it is in desire that the positive object is a metonymic stand-in for the void of the impossible Thing; it is in desire that the aspiration to fullness is transferred to partial objects— this is what Lacan called the metonymy of desire. Here it is crucial not to confuse desire and drive: the drive is not an infinite longing for the Thing which becomes fixated on a partial object— the “drive” is this fixation itself in which resides the “death” dimension of every drive. The drive is not a universal thrust towards the incestuous Thing, which finds itself halted or held back, it is this brake itself, a brake on instinct. Its basic movement is not that of transcending all particular objects towards the void of the Thing, but that of our libido getting “stuck” on a particular object, condemned to circle around it forever. The concept of the “pure death drive” is thus ultimately a pseudo-concept: an attempt to think the beyond of drives within the horizon of the drives. Rather than defining the void of negativity around which the drives circulate as the “pure” death drive, it would be more appropriate to posit a negativity/ impossibility that precedes the very distinction between drive and desire, and to conceive of the drive and desire as the two modes of coping with this ontological impasse.”

– Slavoj Zizek, Absolute Recoil


Slavoj Zizek: Apostle of the Void

Arnold Schoenberg’s … work was unbearably shattering, a key part of the modernist breakthrough— the only true artistic Event of the twentieth century (whatever it is, postmodernism is not an Event).

–  Zizek, Slavoj Absolute Recoil

I decided to reread John Barth’s classic postmodern essay “The Literature of Exhaustion”, where what is touted is not the decay of literature but its emergence as literary virtuosity. In this essay Barth will defend the work of Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, and Vladimir Nabokov as virtuosi, as confronting intellectual and artistic dead ends and employing them against themselves to create new human work.1 Barth will mention one of Borges fables in which Shakespeare is on his death-bed, and having already exhausted the possibilities of dramatic form in all its various guises, as well as having himself become in his life everyone and no one, he asks God to allow him to be one and himself. God in his almost ironic distaste answers Shakespeare from the whirlwind saying: “I, too, have been no one either.” Borges in his own subtle irony will deploy the fable of Proteus who has in all its infinite play “exhausted the guises of reality” and found that it, too, is nothing and no one. What we are left with is the dance of the Void: the production of reality is this very voidic play in all its infinite guises, a mask for what Zizek will term the gap: the void of subjectivity “that eludes … form and is as such constituted by it, as its remainder”.1

This notion of negation and virtuosity comes to mind in my reading of Slavoj Zizek’s Interlude I in his new work, Absolute Recoil. Zizek in this small essay will take on the virtuosity of Arnold Schoenberg. I must admit reading this essay brought me back to my early love of music, art, literature, etc. Zizek is one of those creatures who cannibalizes everything, who seems on the surface to be a piranha of the arts and philosophy, gobbling everything in site; yet, to a purpose. Everything he does is calculated to teach. Reading Zizek is like sitting in a classroom where the professor having spent his whole life in a Borgesian library has engulfed its riches and has now the terrible duty to guide his wayward and almost imbecilic pupils through the first stages of this vast labyrinth of knowledge. Yet, this would be false, too. For there is a method in his madness. Everything Zizek does is to counter such strange relations of the Master/Epigoni mythos, and instead he speaks only to those few who have already earned the right to listen in on his monologues; for, in truth, Zizek’s books are dramatic monologues taking place between actors in his own mind that he allows others to listen in on. Robert Browning would have understood this.

I’m not being deprecatory here, just seeing what is going on in this “dialectical materialism” as praxis. He isn’t explaining dialectical materialism, instead he is enacting it in performative virtuosity of an exemplary movement between the various cultural and social actors, artifacts and artifices he takes up and deploys as examples.

In Schoenberg we witness the figure of an Event around which Zizek’s monologue on the void of the subject will endlessly dance. In his previous chapter he exposed most of Hegelian commentators standard readings and misunderstandings of the dialectic:

The beginning of Hegel’s logic as well as the beginning of his “logic of essence” which deals with the notion of reflection are just two, though crucial, examples that demonstrate how misleading, even outright wrong, is the standard notion of the dialectical process which begins with a positive entity, then negates it, and finally negates this negation itself, returning at a higher level to the positive starting point. Here we see a quite different logic: we begin with nothing, and it is only through the self-negation of nothing that something appears. (154)2

Here he describes the standard commentary on Hegelian dialectics that starts with a positivity, whereas for Zizek one must start instead with “nothing” and then work through “the self-negation of nothing” till something appears. “The only full case of absolute recoil, of a thing emerging through its very loss, is thus that of the subject itself, as the outcome of its own impossibility” (150). He’ll elaborate:

Absoluter Gegenstoss thus stands for the radical coincidence of opposites in which the action appears as its own counter-action, or, more precisely, in which the negative move (loss, withdrawal) itself generates what it “negates.”“What is found only comes to be through being left behind,” and its inversion (it is “only in the return itself” that what we return to emerges, like nations who constitute themselves by way of “returning to their lost roots”) are the two sides of what Hegel calls “absolute reflection”: a reflection which is no longer external to its object, presupposing it as given, but which, as it were, closes the loop and posits its own presupposition. To put it in Derridean terms, the condition of possibility is here radically and simultaneously the condition of impossibility: the very obstacle to the full assertion of our identity opens up the space for it.(148)

To embellish this argument he will take up the work of Arnold Schoenberg’s work Erwatung (Op. 17, composed 1909): 

Erwartung is a double Event, maximal and minimal. First, it was a turning point in the history of music: nothing remained the same after Erwartung, the coordinates of the entire musical landscape were transformed.(158)

In Chapter Two he took up the concept of Event in detail. He will contrast two variant readings of this concept of the Event, one in the work of Frank Ruda, the other in his friend Alain Badiou. Ruda will offer the notion that it all begins with the contingent and unpredictable event itself— an encounter between two people that both of them experience as a shattering provocation: their lives are thrown off the rails . The two have to react, and here comes the free decision: will they say yes to the event, assume it as their destiny, or will they ignore it? If the latter , life will go on as usual, but if they say yes to it, they constitute themselves as a subject, (re) organizing their entire life around the event— in short, out of fidelity to the event, they engage in the long and arduous work of love. (74) While for Badiou on the contrary, the subject is not the agent of a free choice, but the result of a positive free choice— a subject emerges after the choice of fidelity to an event, it is the agent which engages itself in the work of enforcing the consequences of an event. Furthermore, common sense tells us that free choice and forced choice are opposed and mutually exclusive, but for Badiou, a truly free choice is a forced one. (74)

The notion here is the idea of the subject either precedes the event (Ruda), or emerges in retroactive “fidelity to the event” that has already occurred: the notion of enforcing this fidelity to the event by working through its consequences in a moral way (“free choice is a forced one”). This will go back to one of Zizek’s leitmotif’s (“lack”):

This paradoxical reversal (of the common-sense logic which tells us that a positive entity has to precede its lack) defines the space of subjectivity from the Hegelian and Lacanian perspective: a “subject” is something that “is” its own lack, something that emerges out of its own impossibility, something that only persists as “barred.” (80)

 Zizek will of course give example after example in various contexts to guide the intractable pupil through his maze of simplicity; for in the end, it always harkens back to Den, Nothing, and the nothingness that gives us something, etc. The Gap as the nothingness around which we dance and play our ideas in endless combat, etc. It is this theme which will define World War I, which according to Zizek was a reactionary defense of the old world against modernism as defined in all those avant garde artists in literature— from Kafka to Joyce; in music— Schoenberg and Stravinsky; in painting— Picasso, Malevich, Kandinsky; psychoanalysis; relativity theory and quantum physics; the rise of Social Democracy …). This rupture— condensed in 1913, the annus mirabilis of the artistic vanguard— was so radical in its opening up of new spaces that, in our speculative historiography, it is tempting to claim that the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 was, from the “spiritual” standpoint, a reaction to this Event. Or, to paraphrase Hegel, the horror of World War I was the price humanity had to pay for the immortal artistic revolution of the years just prior to the war. In other words, we must invert the pseudo-profound insight according to which Schoenberg et al. prefigured the horrors of twentieth-century war: what if the true Event was 1913? It is crucial to focus on this intermediate explosive moment, between the complacency of the late nineteenth century and the catastrophe of World War I— 1914 was not an awakening, but the forceful and violent return of a patriotic slumber destined to block the true awakening. The fact that the fascists and other patriots hated the vanguard entartete Kunst is not a marginal detail but a key feature of fascism. (157-159)

Against the rich Romantic traditions of tonal music Schoenberg would work through the beginnings of atonal and onward to what he would term a “pantonal” music, one that would enact for Zizek the example of Lacan’s misreading of Freud’s “Unconscious” as in alignment with such music as “an unbearable truth I have to learn to live with:

The unconscious is neither the primordial nor the instinctual, and what it knows of the elemental is no more than the elements of the signifier … The intolerable scandal when Freudian sexuality was not yet holy was that it was so “intellectual.” It was in this respect that it showed itself to be the worthy stooge of all those terrorists whose plots were going to ruin society. (Lacan Jacques Lacan, Écrits, New York: Norton 2006, pp. 434– 5.) (Zizek, 176)

 One could do no better to sum up this interlude than Zizek rendering his notion of a truly materialist formalism:

In a truly materialist formalism, one should thus invert the relationship between form and content, following Fredric Jameson’s famous analysis of Hemingway in which he pointed out that Hemingway did not write short terse sentences in order to render the isolated heroic individuality of his heroes— form comes first, he invented the isolated heroic individuality to be able to write in a certain way. And the same goes for Schoenberg : he did not take the fateful step into atonality in order to express in music the extremes of morbid hysterical violence; he chose the topic of hysteria because it fitted atonal music.(169)

Instead of the expression of some substantial essence or inner kernel of things, one retroactively defines one’s forms against the fidelity to an event, discovering in those events the forms that will work through its masks. He will liken this to Freud’s dream work:

The paradox is that the dream-work is not merely a process of masking the dream’s “true message”: the dream’s true core, its unconscious wish, inscribes itself only through and in this very process of masking, so that the moment we retranslate the dream-content back into the dream-thought expressed in it we lose the “true motif force” of the dream— in short, it is the process of masking itself which inscribes into the dream its true secret. One should therefore invert the standard notion of an ever-deeper penetration to the core of the dream: it is not that we first move from the manifest dream-content to the first-level secret, the latent dream-thought, and then penetrate deeper, into the dream’s unconscious wish. This “deeper” wish is located in the very gap between the latent dream-thought and the manifest dream-content.(176)

So that in Erwartung it is the very gap between content and form is to be reflected back into the content itself, as an indication that the content is not all, that something was repressed/ excluded from it— this exclusion which establishes the form is itself the “primordial repression” (Ur-Verdrängung), and no matter how much we bring out all the repressed content, this primordial repression persists. In other words, what is repressed in a cheap melodrama (and then returns in the music) is simply the sentimental excess of its content, while what is repressed in Erwartung, its Unconscious , is not some determinate content but the void of subjectivity itself that eludes the musical form and is as such constituted by it, as its remainder. (176)

1. John Barth. The Friday Book (John Hopkins University, 1984)
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism. Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Slavoj Zizek: Spirit as the Wound of Nature

Spirit is itself the wound it tries to heal, that is, the wound is self-inflicted. “Spirit” at its most elementary is the “wound” of nature. The subject is the immense— absolute— power of negativity, the power of introducing a gap or cut into the given – immediate substantial unity, the power of differentiating , of “abstracting,” of tearing apart and treating as self-standing what in reality is part of an organic unity. This is why the notion of the “self-alienation” of Spirit is more paradoxical than it may appear: it should be read together with Hegel’s assertion of the thoroughly non-substantial character of Spirit: there is no res cogitans, no thing which also thinks, Spirit is nothing but the process of overcoming natural immediacy, of the cultivation of this immediacy, of withdrawing -into-itself or “taking off” from it, of— why not?— alienating itself from it. The paradox is thus that there is no Self that precedes the Spirit’s “self-alienation”: the very process of alienation generates the “Self” from which Spirit is alienated and to which it then returns. … Spirit’s self-alienation is the same as, fully coincides with , its alienation from its Other (nature), because it constitutes itself through its “return-to-itself” from its immersion in natural Otherness. Spirit’s return-to-itself creates the very dimension to which it returns. What this means is that the “negation of the negation ,” the “return-to-oneself” from alienation, does not occur where it seems to: in the negation of the negation, Spirit’s negativity is not relativized, subsumed under an encompassing positivity; it is, on the contrary, the “simple negation” which remains attached to the presupposed positivity it has negated, the presupposed Otherness from which it alienates itself, and the negation of the negation is nothing but the negation of the substantial character of this Otherness itself, the full acceptance of the abyss of Spirit’s self-relating which retroactively posits all its presuppositions. In other words, once we are in negativity, we can never leave it and regain the lost innocence of the origins; in the “negation of the negation” the origins are truly lost, their very loss is lost, they are deprived of the substantial status of that which has been lost. Spirit heals its wound not directly, but by getting rid of the full and sane Body into which the wound was cut. It is in this precise sense that, according to Hegel, “the wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind.”  His point is not that Spirit heals its wounds so perfectly that, in a magical gesture of retroactive sublation, even the scars disappear; the point is rather that, in the course of the dialectical process, a shift of perspective occurs which makes the wound itself appear as its opposite— the wound itself is its own healing when seen from another standpoint.

– Slavoj Zizek,   Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 140-141)

Quote of the Day: Slavoj Zizek – Materialism as Idealism without idealism…


The subtitle of Frank Ruda’s book in defense of Badiou, Idealism without Idealism, points in the right direction: the predominant philosophical struggle occurs today within materialism, between democratic and dialectical materialism— and what characterizes dialectical materialism is precisely that it incorporates the idealist legacy, against vulgar democratic materialism in all its guises, from scientist naturalism to the post-Deleuzian assertion of spiritualized “vibrant” matter. Dialectical materialism is, first, a materialism without matter, without the metaphysical notion of matter as a full substantial entity— in dialectical materialism, matter “disappears” in a set of purely formal relations. Second, despite being materialism without matter , it is not idealism without an idea— it is a materialism with an Idea, an assertion of the eternal Idea outside the space of idealism. In contrast to idealism, whose problem is how to explain temporal finite reality if our starting point is the eternal order of Ideas, materialism’s problem is how to explain the rise of an eternal Idea out of the activity of people caught in a finite historical situation.

– Slavoj Zizek, Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 72-73).

Quote of the Day: René Descartes

So if we seriously wish to propose rules for ourselves which will help us scale the heights of human knowledge, we must include, as one of our primary rules, that we should take care not to waste our time by neglecting easy tasks and occupying ourselves only with difficult matters. That is just what many people do: they ingeniously construct the most subtle conjectures and plausible arguments on difficult questions, but after all their efforts they come to realize, too late, that rather than acquiring any knowledge, they have merely increased the number of their doubts.

– René  Descartes,  The Philosophical Writings of Descartes

Guy Debord: A Philosophy of Time


The revolutionary project of a classless society, of an all-embracing historical life, implies the withering away of the social measurement of time in favor of a federation of independent times — a federation of playful individual and collective forms of irreversible time that are simultaneously present.

– Guy Debord,  Society of the Spectacle

Time, power, value and technics when seen for what they are awakens us to the concept of governance which is at the core of the neoliberal global accelerationist project of absolute governance. Etymologically the concept of governance arises out of the old Latin “gubernare”: to direct, rule, guide, govern, originally “to steer,” a nautical borrowing from Greek kybernan “to steer or pilot a ship, direct (the root of cybernetics. (see Online Etymology) This notion of steering, directing, guiding, governing coalesces in the mutations of temporal relations that have transformed our planet into an accelerationist machine of consuming time, a feeding frenzy that takes in everything organic and inorganic in its closing horizon of conceptuality.

Marx in the Grundrisse would align this temporal process as the interplay between flow and interruption (disruption) of the machinic processes of capital itself. For Marx humans (labor) are seen within the machine or automatic system of machinery “merely as its conscious linkages”:

In no way does the machine appear as the individual worker’s means of labor. Its distinguishing characteristic is not in the least, as with the means of labour, to transmit the worker’s activity to the object; this activity, rather, is posited in such a way that it merely transmits the machine’s work, the machine’s action, on to the raw material – supervises it and guards against interruption [Italics Mine]. Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it…(Marx, Chapter on Capital, Notebook VI 692-693)1

This notion that the machine is the creative and vital (soulful) virtuoso rather than the humans supervising it and guarding it against interruption introduces one of the earliest renditions of what would come to be known as the cybernetic revolution that would only in our time come to complete fruition. When I read Franco Berardi’s essay on e-flux Time, Acceleration, and Violence and saw that first paragraph where he asks:

What do you store in a bank? You store time. But is the money that is stored in the bank my past time—the time that I have spent in the past? Or does this money give me the possibility of buying a future? 

We’ve all heard the old shibboleth of Benjamin Franklin, “Time is money!” Berardi will tell us that all of this is clear: value is time, capital is value, or accumulated time, and the banks store this accumulated time. He will remind us that in Symbolic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard brought forth the notion that temporality is the key to financial capitalism,  a unique fulfillment of Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” at the level of finance: the complete loss between time and value. Berardi will  contextualize this as a war between various cultural frames: Italian futurism as the masculinization of time as accelerationist warrior credo, etc. One that would lead to fascism, and would mark it as the crucial point of passage from feminine shame to masculine acceleration culture, to pride, aggressiveness, war, industrial growth, and so forth. But it remains a search for another perception of time, for a way of forgetting one’s own laziness, slowness, and sensitivity by asserting a perception of time in which one is a master—a warrior and builder of industry. (see Berardi)

As I began thinking through this biting reversal in Marx of the machine as Creative Agent rather than human labor (which is seen as subsidiary and servile, a mere regulator and gatekeeper of disruptions, etc.) , and of these various sense of time and value along with the dialectical line of various cultures of shame and guilt, deceleration and acceleration, agricultural civilization vs. industrial civilization, etc. I began realizing this “perception of time” that Berardi teases out is in need of further examination.

I decide to reread Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle recently, and realized that at the center of its theme lies the leitmotif of temporal relations as a philosophy of Time & Civilization. For it is here that he develops the kernel of this historical battle between cyclic civilizations and the accelerationist civilization of the machine that would underpin much of Marx’s critique of Capitalism. It’s not a gnostic or Manichean vision of opposites, but of a historical vision of how humans have oriented and organized their modes of life, labor, and value across time.

The Nineteenth Century would see the consolidation of the Enlightenment project with its centralization of time as irreversible: progress, development, improvement, modernity, etc. Within the void of each of these concepts would hide the concept of “efficiency”, which allowed a mathematical and quantifiable way of calculating labor time and productivity and the attenuated fears of waste, especially the waste of time.3 Efficiency was never about increasing productivity in the Progressive Era, rather it aimed at guaranteeing a reliable, regular rate of production and cultivating reliable, steady habits of character. It was a tool of self-management and personal stability in the face of turbulent change. (Alexander, KL 1451) So efficiency was a tool to control and shape time as progressive time:

Efficiency was … embedded in a rhetoric of dynamic, transformative power. Balanced efficiencies provided the reliable elements of economic or social transformation, the interchangeable and standardized parts, the unchanging substrata, upon which a new bureaucratic order of interaction and adjustment, of change, might be built. (Alexander, KL 1453)

Progressive ideologues, engineers, thinkers defined rationalization as “everything that could restore equilibrium,” and many would describe rationalization as seeking the “‘efficiency’ key to orderly social and individual life,” economic stability almost invariably given as its goal.” (Alexander, KL 1562)

Crucial to rationalization was a concept of flow. It could describe the assembly line and other practices for keeping the productive works in continual motion… But flow also carried another meaning, referring not to specific techniques but to a more general ideology of undisturbed production. If the solution to social and economic crisis lay in the raising of living standards through cheaper and more plentiful goods, then whatever imperiled production further imperiled a society already in crisis. Many technical measures were undertaken to streamline production, including standardization in many forms, of work schedules, parts and sizes, and methods of production; widespread adoption of new cost-accounting methods; and a host of technical measures to reduce waste… (Alexander, KL 1564)

As Alexander will inform us behind efficiency lay a legacy of balance and a worry about waste, expressed in its assumptions that one ought to get as much as possible out of what one had put in, not only enough to be productive or to show a profit but enough to show that the system was under control. (ibid. KL 1811) And, as we know control is both mastery and self-mastery. As we know the word control represents its most general definition, purposive influence toward a predetermined goal. Most dictionary definitions imply these same two essential elements: influence of one agent over another, meaning that the former causes changes in the behavior of the latter; and purpose, in the sense that influence is directed toward some prior goal of the controlling agent.4

The rationalization of society with the rise of the Fordist economies with their need to reduce waste opened the door to regulatory bureaucracies to control and oversee the governance and management of time, value, labor, etc. both within the governance of society, technology, and corporations. It is here that we begin to see how the older forms of control in government and markets had depended on personal relationships and face-to-face interactions; now in our time control is seen to be reestablished by means of bureaucratic organization, the new infrastructures of transportation and the Information and Communications technologies (ICTs). The new accelerationist economies based on global societal transformation, with its attendant rapid innovation in information and control technology accelerating Just-In-Time production in endless productivity cycles without waste: a process that seeks to regain control of functions once contained at much lower and more diffuse levels of society but which are now becoming invisible and ubiquitous as we move into the tecnocapitalist paradigm of intelligent economies based of the financialization of Big Data, etc.

 Society of the spectacle

Guy Debord will portray this history in phases of cyclical (agricultural society), irreversible (industrial), and pseudocyclical (postmodern) notions of time, technics, and civilization in his Society of the Spectacle. He will see within the agrarian mode of production, governed as it is by the rhythm of the seasons, the basis for a fully developed cyclical time of eternal return of the Same. Eternity is within this time, it is the return of the same here on earth. Myth is the unitary mental construct which guarantees that the cosmic order conforms with the order that this society has in fact already established within its frontiers. (Debord, Section 126)

Yet, as agricultural civilization took off and the static based food societies came into conflict with the older hunter/gatherer societies there arose the need for authority and security, so that the first cities and centralized bureaucratic organizations of religious accounting and kingship arose. The social appropriation of time and the production of man by human labor develop within a society divided into classes. The power that establishes itself above the poverty of the society of cyclical time, the class that organizes this social labor and appropriates its limited surplus value, simultaneously appropriates the temporal surplus value resulting from its organization of social time: it alone possesses the irreversible time of the living. (Debord, Section 128)

This is the time of adventure and war, the time in which the masters of cyclical society pursue their personal histories; it is also the time that emerges in the clashes with foreign communities that disrupt the unchanging social order. History thus arises as something alien to people, as something they never sought and from which they had thought themselves protected.

This irreversible time is the time of those who rule, and the dynasty is its first unit of measurement. Writing is the rulers’ weapon. In writing, language attains its complete independence as a mediation between consciousnesses. But this independence coincides with the independence of separate power, the mediation that shapes society. With writing there appears a consciousness that is no longer carried and transmitted directly among the living — an impersonal memory, the memory of the administration of society. (Debord, Section 131) Yet, Debord will see a double-edged distinction between the masters and the worker (slaves): the masters played the role of mythically guaranteeing the permanence of cyclical time, they themselves achieved a relative liberation from cyclical time. (Debord, 132)

So this notion of the common man living in an eternal present cut off from history and time as an irreversible arrow, while the upper elites, kings, warriors, etc. lived in a “recorded time”, a time that counted, and was marked down for future generations to remember would form the backdrop of all future social relations. The rulers owned time, and time was the first and greatest commodity: it guaranteed immortality and eternity for those who controlled it. We’ve seen this in those works by Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization), Norman O. Brown (Life Against Death), and Ernest Becker (Escape From Evil). Each of which combined readings of Freud and Marxian critiques of solar mythologies of the ancients.  Each would hone in on the conceptual frameworks of myth, the sky based mythologies as abstract mappings of order against chaos: the sky as a mathematical system or machine that could be calculated and measured with increasing care and exactitude, giving assurance of an orderly world, in which the ancient kings became the earthly representatives of the victorious sky gods. Our mathematical sciences would begin in astrology, the mapping and mathematization of the sky. Astronomy laid the base from which all sciences emerged. The clock-work movements of the heavens and their dramas would influence philosophers and musicians to come.

After thousands of years of this interactive world of cyclic and irreversible time played out within the ancient world, came the monotheistic religions of which Judaism in the West arose. The monotheistic religions were a compromise between myth and history, between the cyclical time that still governed the sphere of production and the irreversible time that was the theater of conflicts and regroupings among different peoples. The religions that evolved out of Judaism were abstract universal acknowledgments of an irreversible time that had become democratized and open to all, but only in the realm of illusion. (Debord, 136)

Debord will remind us that it is the Middle Ages, an incomplete mythical world whose consummation lay outside itself, is the period when cyclical time, though still governing the major part of production, really begins to be undermined by history. An element of irreversible time is recognized in the successive stages of each individual’s life. Life is seen as a one-way journey through a world whose meaning lies elsewhere: the pilgrim is the person who leaves cyclical time behind and actually becomes the traveler that everyone else is symbolically. (Debord, 137)

With the Enlightenment project and commodity Capitalism we would see the slow fabrication of a new myth, the myth of progress: one that would have as its goal the elimination of waste; or, more succinctly the elimination of not only cyclical time but of historical time as well. A process that started two hundred years ago has in financial capitalism entered the ubiquitous time of an accelerating future. This is not the speed culture of Virilio’s Politics of Speed, etc. Instead as Debord tells it the main product that economic development has transformed from a luxurious rarity to a commonly consumed item is thus history itself — but only in the form of the history of the abstract movement of things that dominates all qualitative aspects of life. While the earlier cyclical time had supported an increasing degree of historical time lived by individuals and groups, the irreversible time of production tends to socially eliminate such lived time. (Debord, 142)

This will be time as a pure commodity: “time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most the carcass of time” (The Poverty of Philosophy). As Debord describes it this general time of human nondevelopment also has a complementary aspect — a consumable form of time based on the present mode of production and presenting itself in everyday life as a pseudocyclical time. (Debord, 148) As a production of commoditized time pseudocyclical time is associated with the consumption of modern economic survival — the augmented survival in which everyday experience is cut off from decision making and subjected no longer to the natural order, but to the pseudo-nature created by alienated labor. In our time pseudonature is termed the InfoSphere: the artificialization of our planet into layers of information and data, abstracted out of the dead weight of natural existence people live in virtual theatres of illusion rather than older forms of existence. Inforgs or informationally embodied organisms (inforgs), mutually connected and embedded in an informational environment, the infosphere, which we share with both natural and artificial agents similar to us in many respects.5

We’ve live in artificial constructs of a spectacular world so naturalized and ubiquitous that we forget it is virtual illusion: this is the world of RealityTV as a DIY project in which we can watch the world as a selfie in which we are starring actors at one remove, doubles of ourselves roaming the virtual lanes in infinite regress of image worlds receding further and further from our physical embedded life.

As we watch our lives lived by our doubles on RealityTV in all its glorious inanity: Its vulgarized pseudofestivals are parodies of real dialogue and gift-giving; they may incite waves of excessive economic spending, but they lead to nothing but disillusionments, which can be compensated only by the promise of some new disillusion to come. The less use value is present in the time of modern survival, the more highly it is exalted in the spectacle. The reality of time has been replaced by the publicity of time. (Debord, 154) Time as a public relations event, a RealityTV series that keeps repeating itself endlessly on late night comedy. A life in a pure void where communication is nothing more than canned laughter. All the while zombies stare into the videodrone tubes awaiting new instructions from their masters.

Against this dead world of zombie RealityTV filled with doubles and double-talk oblivion Debord would seek a “federation of independent times – a federation of playful individual and collective forms of irreversible time that are simultaneously present. This would be the temporal realization of authentic communism, which “abolishes everything that exists independently of individuals.” (Debord, 163)

A quantum time that is both cyclical and irreversible: a paradox at the heart of the production of time as lived, one that is a difference that makes a difference? Only time will tell…

1. Karl Marx. Grundrisse. Penguin Books, 1993.
2. Debord, Guy (2011-03-15). Society of the Spectacle (Soul Bay Press. Kindle Edition.)
3. Jennifer Karns Alexander. The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control (Kindle Location 32). Kindle Edition.
4. Beniger, James (1989-03-15). The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society (Kindle Locations 212-214). Harvard University Press – A. Kindle Edition.
5. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 14). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

Quote of the Day: Stanislaw Lem


Science currently sees the Universe as a palimpsest of Games, Games endowed with a memory reaching beyond the memory of any one Player. This memory is the harmony of the Laws of Nature, which hold the Universe in a homogeneity of motion. We look upon the Universum, then, as upon a field of multibillion-year labors, stratified one on the other over the eons, tending to goals of which only the closest and most minute fragments are fragmentarily perceptible to us. Is this image true? May it not be replaced someday by another, a successor, one radically different, as this model of ours—of the Game of Intelligences— is radically different from all those arisen in history?

– Stanislaw Lem,  A Perfect Vacuum

Hypermodern Times: Gilles Lipovetsky

Zygmunt Bauman in his sociological work Liquid Modernity would tell us that we are increasingly finding ourselves in a time of ‘interregnum’ – when the old ways of doing things no longer work, the old learned or inherited modes of life are no longer suitable for the current conditio humana, but when the new ways of tackling the challenges and new modes of life better suited to the new conditions have not as yet been invented, put in place and set in operation . . . We don’t yet know which of the extant forms and settings will need to be ‘liquidized’ and replaced, though none seems to be immune to criticism and all or almost all of them have at one time or another been earmarked for replacement.1

Gilles Lipovetsky on the other hand will assure us that the neoliberal project isn’t vanishing before our eyes, but is instead the latest incarnation of Enlightenment modernity. With the death of Utopianism comes the dark and bitter truth of technocapitalist globalism, a world where cultural tourism is the order of the day and nostalgia plays havoc with our local cities formulating distinct enclaves of memory and desire.

The deregulation in the economic sphere brought with it a deregulation of the base set of secular norms and functional scripts that had guided the Fordist era, and now in the neo-modern moment we see the deregulation of self and identity; or, what many term the fragilization of the earth. Yet, the three axiomatic elements that tie it all together remain: the market, technocratic efficiency, and the individual.2

Governments have become the fare of RealityTV, ineffectual and bankrupt, they perform their endless comedy routines of Left and Right as if these things still existed or even mattered. In our neo-capital nihilist consumerism politics has become a byword for “stupidity” rather than the voice of change. Politicians have become stand-up comics that no one is laughing with, but at. Truth to tell the grand meta-narratives have returned, but in the guise of Infotainment and Media Circuses while the poor and dispossessed wander in the no-man’s zones outside the simulated streams and games of a civilization that no longer cares or even notices them. Haunted by their own accelerated work schedules the poor live in between moments of waste and sleep: drowning in drugs, alcohol, or prison terms. While the nouveau rich of our era wander the globe seeking ever faster mobility and the luxury of cultural tourism.

Temptation and seduction rule our night lives: the mediatainment empires capture desire and mold it to the science fictional world of global cosmopolitanism. Consume now, travel, enjoy, renounce nothing: the politics of the radiant future of Italian Futurism has been replaced with the euphoric present of the consumer’s paradise. The combination of neoliberal globalism and the new Information and Communications technologies (ICTs) have in our era compressed time, where the financialization of capital moves at the speed of light while information works its wonders 24/7.

In a world where 3D Printers and DIY projects turn the private citizen into a Ulysses of the self-transcending, self-made inventive inventor of the possibilities of the impossible, who knows what shadows lurk in the barbarian minds of our posthuman engineers of technofuturism. But don’t be misled this is not some eternal present, life in a vacuum, but is rather a world where the ‘pure future’ exists: the mobile world of ultra change and movement. The future is no longer an ideological or political blank slate to write one’s outmoded utopian desires, it is rather the realm of science ficitional constructs that lure us into a technoscientific realm of exploded intelligence and smart cities.

Ours is the consumerist fantasia of transhumanist enhancement, a time of “consumerist fury” that expresses a rejection of time that has become worn-out and repetitive, a struggle against that ageing of feelings that ordinarily accompanies our days. The boredom of modernism has become the excess of hypermodernist diversion and distraction: the teleology of beauty. “While real relations of proximity are giving way to virtual exchanges, what is being established is a culture of hyperactive performance without concrete or sensory reality – one which gradually destroys the aims of the hedonistic lifestyle” (53).

While the disaffected, disposables live out their lives in the hinterlands of the hypermodern globe with no prospect of ever realizing such dreams, the elite find themselves in a realms where the “individual appears more and more opened up and mobile, fluid and socially independent. But this volatility signifies much more a destabilization of the self than a triumphant affirmation of a subject endowed with self-mastery” (55). Instead the global elite wander in worlds of psychosomantic symptoms and obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, anxiety and suicide, along with self-deprecation and the loss of memory and history.

Even the older liberal humanist framework of the secular Enlightenment has fallen to this accelerated future, a realm where the individual is thrown back on commodity nihilism and corporate performativity. Daily the individual slides into her performing masks that engender further illusions of success and self-transcendence in a void, all the while feeling the truth that behind the empty shell of the eyes she is slowly turning into a machine (droid) or doll (automaton).

1. Bauman, Zygmunt (2013-07-24). Liquid Modernity . Wiley. Kindle Edition.
2. Gilles Lipovetsky. Hypermodern Times. (Polity Press, 2005)

William Gibson: The Peripheral – A Tale of Time

You can’t go there. Nobody can. But information can be exchanged, so money can be made there.”

– William Gibson,  The Peripheral

What if the future were run by gangsters? Not your old Italian or Russian Mafioso’s, but families who live beyond their years who control secrets and knowledge bases larger than governments. Who can roam through time or at least send bits of data back to do their bidding. To murder, perhaps? At least so goes the basic plot of William Gibson’s new novel, The Peripheral.

“It’s new . It’s quiet. Lev looks for new things, things his family might invest in. He thinks this one may be out of Shanghai. Something to do with quantum tunneling.”
“How far back can they go?”

“Twenty twenty-three, earliest. He thinks something changed, then; reached a certain level of complexity. Something nobody there had any reason to notice.”
“Remind me of it later.” She reached for him. On the walls, the framed flayed hides of three of her most recent selves. Her newest skin beneath him, unwritten.1

A hint of the Singularity? AI run amok? 3D printing builds a new world? Designer skins for those lucky elites that need a new sleeve for the right occasion? Who knows? I’m just on page 70 and I’m hooked finally realizing just where this story is going, at least I tell myself that hoping it is leading somewhere dark and darker. Gibson seems to be back in tidy form, his prose snaps and bristles with the old cyberpunk flippancy. Yet, one sees a more mature shadow of the former self, a revisionary gleam floating out of the prose from a seasoned veteran who has taken in the hype and spit it out again refraining from the glib glitz of our networked utopianism, and instead conveying the bitter truth of dystopia with a caged smile.

Somewhere ahead of us on the peer to peer communications line of time are two worlds, one in which Flynne Fisher and her brother, Burton live out their lives in a near-future rural America and, while in the other, Wilf Netherton wanders among dark lords of crime in a far flung future-future London. The plot is simple enough: Burton Fischer knows something, something that the overlords of some gangland world of the future wish to erase, so they seek to kill him by wiring money and information back in time along that point in space where he can be found, then killed. As Wilf finds out from another family of criminals who have been tracking such things:

“They want to kill a dead man in a past that effectively doesn’t exist?” Netherton asked. “Why? You’ve always said that nothing that happens there can affect us.”

“Information,” Lev said, “flows both ways. Someone must believe he knows something. Which, were it available here, would pose a danger to them.” (Gibson, 70)

Yet, it’s Flynne who comes alive as a character, her puckish punkishness, her no nonsense matter-of-fact observations, cynical yet full of the old style rebelliousness: grace under pressure? She more than other characters shapes the novel to something that keeps you reading. The other characters still seem a little bland and commercial compared to her Appalachian youth. But, for all that, this isn’t your homegrown variety of Appalachian satire, but rather the emergence of an especially acute intelligence in the midst of a world gone south in more ways than one. America on the decline, fallen on bad times; yet, still working in pragmatic home down fashion with what is at hand to make a living, and survive. Flynne is a girl who outwardly is tough as a boot, but inwardly still harbors those deeper qualities of femininity that marks the need for recognition and independence for women. She can handle what you throw at her, yet she also knows that some things aren’t worth throwing or having. 

There’s a moment when she intervenes into a situation that seems about to go viral, where a young punk named Conner “who was half a machine, like a centaur made out of a motorcycle” has been baited by a couple of football types and is about to show them what violence truly is when she walks out of the bar and confronts him:

“It’s a tiresome asshole town. Least you got an excuse. Go home. Burton’s on his way back from Davisville. He’ll come see you.” And it was like she could see herself there, on the gray gravel in front of Jimmy’s, and the tall old cottonwoods on either side of the lot, trees older than her mother, older than anybody, and she was talking to a boy who was half a machine, like a centaur made out of a motorcycle, and maybe he’d been just about to kill another boy, or a few of them, and maybe he still would. She looked back and saw Madison was on the porch, bracing the football player who’d thrown the bottles, titanium glasses up against the boy’s eyeballs, boy backing to keep from being poked in the chest with the rows of pens and flashlights in Madison’s Teddy Roosevelt vest. She turned back to Conner. “Not worth it, Conner. You go home.”

“Fuck-all ever is,” he said, and grinned, then punched something with his chin. The Tarantula revved, wheeled around, and took off, but he’d been careful not to spray her with gravel. (Gibson, 65-66)

So here I am reading this, realizing Gibson’s hooked me again. Up to this moment I kept wondering what it was all about, not now… now I just want to enjoy the ride of how this strange tale will unfold.

I’ll return with a full review in the short future… stay tuned.

1. Gibson, William (2014-10-28). The Peripheral (p. 39). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

To Publish or Not: Street Lingo or Literary Shibboleths?

future.0A friend recently asked me about publishing, whether one should as an author go literary with quality, or go to the great youth worlds of the day with street talk and music. He was interested in this idea of “publishable quality.” Asking me how I would characterize it? 

I wouldn’t, at least not in the sense of some universal notion. From what I’m reading most of it is beyond doubt all too subjective in the area of editors and publishers these days. The culture I grew up in is gone: the age of print is gone. Even if you see it everywhere, books are dead.

This is the time of Indie’s and self-publishing. Getting published by a formal old-time book publisher is an iffy business from what I read on post after post of even the best published authors in various fields… so who am I to presume to know that answer?

My remark was mainly dealing with the typical aspects of openings, hooks, etc. And it depends if your audience is for the mass appeal, or literary? That truly is the cutting line: how many people do you assume you want to have read your work – the top readers, the echelon who love difficult and complex prose, etc. Or just your basic internet blip reader whose vocabulary is built out of the base set of street talk and music? Nothing demeaning here, but there is a difference.

In my fictional writing I’ve had to compromise a great deal and tone down my knowledge of the English language, so that I might be able to reach the younger generation. I’ve begun tapping into the blogs and sites that cater to younger people to see what kinds of things are actually being bought. In other words I’m a word whore discovering the tribal worlds around me: a cartographer of YA if you will.

The other issue many authors are facing now is the glut of writing being published. One reads over and over how if one takes the road to publish in the more reputable magazines and publishers that one will need an almost informidable tracking record of already published works within the lesser or newer markets. Even books like The Writer’s Market, etc. offer the base approach that if your a newly unpublished author then begin slowly, and they offer selections of publications seeking only new unpublished authors etc.

Others have gone the way of the Indie, the self-publishing world where it’s truly up to you to find your own fan base, market your own work, spend the time and effort building up a circulation and network of sites to promote your work, etc. Even among some of the better known authors this seems to be the way to go these days. Is there a clear cut answer? I doubt it.

Luck always has had a lot to do with markets: that, and having something that connects with a certain segment of the population. In some ways that’s always been true: who is your fictitious reader? Who is your audience? Knowing that is half the battle. Once you know who you are writing for, then one needs only to know what this audience likes and dislikes.  

Blogging has been interesting for me in the fact that I have a small audience, which leads me to believe that for the most part I do have at times difficult aspects to my work, else the things that interest me are not wide-spread fare. Obviously philosophy and the sciences are not everyone’s cup of tea, and the depth of knowledge one needs to ponder many of the current things going on in the various enclaves of both philosophy and the sciences is tremendous. Just the background knowledge alone, years of reading the various players in the fields, let along the history of philosophy and the sciences that play into it. My poetry tends toward a specific mode of dark romanticism edging into the posthuman, weaving eros and thanatos in differing forms. So I’m sure it will only have certain types of readers, which is fine for me.

Yet, as I ponder the SciFi and Fantasy markets I realize the gradient of expertise must come down a notch or two, must deliver a fictional ensemble that is full of action and suspense, yet that is neither simplistic nor over the top writerly crap. What’s interesting in SciFi and Fantasy is not that they are already overly cliché ridden, but how certain authors can take the oldest clichés and make them new, bring to the table new problems and solutions to the old twists and patterns. Maybe that’s the secret: taking the old and making it new, giving it a new twist, a new container and language in which to tell the tales that seem to live own endlessly in that realm between potentiality and actuality.

Linda Negata: The Bohr Maker – A Posthuman Fable

Nikko, who was in truth only a program himself, a modern ghost, an electronic entity copied from the mind of his original self, had little patience for Dull Intelligences.

– Linda Nagata, The Bohr Maker

“By the beginning of the twentieth century , it was becoming clear that the engines of life operated at the molecular scale. How can we understand such machines, and how does their operation relate to the macroscopic machines of our everyday experience?”1 Reading Linda Nagata’s The Bohr Maker is like entering that moment of transition between our everyday world of commonsense and the ultrareal worlds of advanced NBIC technologies. Caught between the “folk image” of our ancient world views, centered in magic, religion, and voodoo; and, the realms of the “scientific image” in which rationality alone is the guide, Negata enacts her fable of our posthuman molecular destiny.

Continue reading

Slavo Zizek: Quote of the Day

Kinder Surprise, one of the most popular confectionery products on sale in Europe, are empty chocolate eggshells wrapped in brightly colored paper; when you unwrap the egg and crack the chocolate shell open, you find inside a small plastic toy (or small parts from which a toy can be put together). A child who buys this chocolate egg often unwraps it nervously and just breaks the chocolate, not bothering to eat it, worrying only about the toy in the center—is not such a chocolate-lover a perfect case of Lacan’s motto “I love you, but, inexplicably, I love something in you more than yourself, and, therefore, I destroy you”? And, in effect, is this toy not l’objet petit a at its purest, the small object filling in the central void of our desire, the hidden treasure, agalma, at the center of the thing we desire?

Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf

Gynoids of Love


What was it? Something in the way she moved,
A glance, a gesture? Why did I suddenly desire
To kiss her, to touch her hand, cheek? Was she real?
Nothing behind the eyes revealed intelligence;
Yet, in the movements of her machinic mind
I felt a resemblance, an old darkness come to life.
(Do we have a right to our perversities, our little madness’s?)
Then she sang with the voice of my old love. I died.

 – Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Notes: Am reading Steven T. Brown’s Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture. In Ghost in the Shell 2, Oshii’s basic theme is of a population of gynoids, erotic androids have run amok and are killing their lovers, etc. What is interesting in this is that the gynoids are synthetic constructs, that are inhabited by young women who have been kidnapped and their minds merged (“ghost dubbing”) with the cyberbrain. Brown talks of this relationship in Japanese culture to dolls and the uncanny line between life and death. He speaks of the influence of Hans Ballmer and his dolls on Oshii the film director as well. Victoria Nelson’s The Secret Life of Puppets, and Kenneth Gross’s Puppet: An Uncanny Life, as well as authors of horror fables such as Thomas Ligotti have all dealt with such themes. I wonder why we have such a fascination with this liminal zone between the artificial and human. We see it even in certain films for children: I was thinking of the Tom Hanks Christmas movie a few years back of the train to the north pole, etc., of how lifelike the characters were becoming in the CGI based graphics of the cartoon picture show. All uncanny and disturbing, yet fascinating at the same time. Strange.

I sometimes think that we are through art already preparing ourselves for that eventual transition to machinic life, as if we are through exploration of these artistic images being lured toward that merger and transformation into the alien or inhuman core that has always been our secret dream of metamorphosis. Or maybe the truth is much simpler: the android or gynoid is a becoming-void, an emptiness that suggests something beyond itself, an excess; that it is the voiding of the human, an emptying out of its subjectivity, its sense of self and intentional awareness. And, of course what is it Oshii’s gynoids have: at the center of this void, a cyberbrain onto which the sense of self of certain sacrificed young women have been wedded and assembled, constructed. It is this disembodied self or personality, enmeshed or embodied in the synthetic armature of an android body that suddenly turns on its makers and lovers, seeking destruction and revenge. What does this tell us?

Nick Land: On Time – Teleoplexy & Templexity

The City of the Future entangles urban spectacle inseparably with prophecy. One sees, now, what is yet to come.
– Nick Land,  Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time

After reading Nick Land’s new book Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Times it occurred to me to refresh my mind concerning Land’s earlier conceptions of Time.

Notions of time will serve as a leit-motif throughout Land’s writings. In his early The Thirst for Annihilation he will explore time’s dark secrets. It was here that he began developing his early notions of technomic time etc. He reminds us that every civilization “aspires to a transcendent Aeon in which to deposit the functional apparatus of chronos without fear of decay”.1 The point of this for Land is that civilization is a machine constructed to stop time’s progress toward terminal decay and death, entropy. “‘Civilization’ is the name we give to this process, a process turned against the total social calamity – the cosmic sickness – inherent to process as such” (97). This notion that civilization is an engine to stave off the effects of entropy, to embalm time in an absolute medium of synchronic plenitude and cyclicity (i.e., Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence” theme) will return in his latest book Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time as he describes the impact of civilization and the culture of modernity:

As its culture folds back upon itself, it proliferates self-referential models of a cybernetic type, attentive to feedback-sensitive self-stimulating or auto-catalytic systems. The greater the progressive impetus, the more insistently cyclicity returns. To accelerate beyond light-speed is to reverse the direction of time. Eventually, in science fiction , modernity completes its process of theological revisionism, by rediscovering eschatological culmination in the time-loop.2

In his new book the City itself will become the icon or engine of civilization in its efforts to stave off entropy and death. This notion that we are living in a video game or movie, a timeless realm of pure (or impure) repetition (i.e., a time-loop), and that what we think of as time is nothing more than the fleeting image of our own ghostly lives imprinted on an absolute screen accelerating at light-speed going nowhere but in a synchronous loop is modernity’s secret lie against time. Progress has never been about progressing somewhere, but has always already been about the eternal cycles of recurrence and returns, civilizations struggle against the influx of asynchronous time: real time. A time that end’s the absolute time and brings us the asynchronous truth of annihilation. Or, as Land will put it:

After the ruthless abstraction of all life the blank savagery of real time remains, for it is the reality of abstraction itself that is time: the desert, death, and desolator of all things. (Thirst, 112)

Auto-Production & the technomic singularity

I’ve written in another essay that explicates the rest of the details on this Land’s concept of teleoplexy (see here). In the final section of his teleoplexic essay he asserts that the coming ‘Techonomic Singularity’ will ultimately be resolved and accomplished by the very activity of the auto-productive powers of the teleoplexic hyper-intelligence itself, through its own crossing of the cognitive rubicon, by way of its own processes rather than through any human agency or intervention. As Land admits the difficulty and complexity of such a Techonomic Singularity must be approached through anticipating the “terms of its eventual self-reflexion – the techonomic currency through which the history of modernity can, for the first time, be adequately denominated. It has no alternative but to fund its own investigation, in units of destiny or doom, camouflaged within the system of quotidian economic signs, yet rigorously extractable, given only the correct cryptographic keys.(520)”

The concept of auto-production was introduced Land tells us by Jane Jacobs Economy of the Cities:

In this work she outlines a simple and powerful theory of urban self-organization, driven by a spontaneous economic process of import replacement. Cities develop by autonomization, or introversion, which occurs as they learn from trade, progressively transforming an ever-greater proportion of their commercial flows into endogenous circuits. This (urbanomic) tendency need not isolate cities from the world, but it necessarily converts stable dependency into dynamic interaction, driving continuous commercial modification. (see An Introduction to Urbanonmy)

More importantly Land tells us Jacobs thesis establishes a framework for systematically exploring the time-structure of the urban process, conceived not solely as a (prolonged) episode in time, or history, but also as the working of a chronogenic, or time-making social machine. He explicates:

The concept which Jacobs tacitly introduces, as the guiding principle of the urbanomic trend, is autoproduction. As it grows, internally specializes, self-organizes, dissipates entropy, and individuates, the city tends to an impossible limit of complete productive autonomy. It appears as a convergent wave, shaped in the direction of increasing order or complexity, as if by an invisible hand, or according to an intelligent design. The pattern is exactly what would be expected if something not yet realized was orchestrating its self-creation.(ibid)

The notion that something “not yet realized” orchestrating its own self-creation is at the core of his notion of a teleoplexic space. Land marks out the spaces of the infosphere within which technological intelligence begins to take over from the human as the laboring force of modernity, it performs the task of alien agent or teleoplexic space or environment within which capitalism no longer has an outside but has become the artificial immanence within which all our onlife actions take place. As he remarks: “Accelerationism has a real object only insofar as there is a teloplexic thing, which is to say: insofar as capitalization is natural-historical reality” (514). This new teleoplexic environment that is re-engeering both us and our society as well as the infrastructure of our planetary base is what might be termed a teleospheric ordinal – a numeric set of layered spaces that incorporate the territory and the map seamlessly. This is not some virtual cyberspace, but is the total encompassment of our global environment in which we exist.

Luciano Floridi will tell us that the new Information and Communications technologies or ICTs are re-ontologizing our world and creating new realities. The threshold between here (analogue, carbon-based, offline) and there (digital, silicon-based, online) is fast becoming blurred, but this is as much to the advantage of the latter as it is to the former. Adapting Horace’s famous phrase, ‘captive infosphere is conquering its victor’, the digital-online is spilling over into the analogue-offline and merging with it.4 ‘Ubiquitous Computing’, ‘Ambient Intelligence’, ‘The Internet of Things’, or ‘Web-augmented Things’ are all terms for this same phenomena.

Land will ask: What would be required for teleoplexy to realistically evaluate itself – or to ‘attain self-awareness’ as the pulp cyber-horror scenario describes it? Land will offer us his secret future of the AI Intelligence technogenesis: “Within a monetary system configured in ways not yet determinate with confidence, but almost certainly tilted radically towards depoliticization and crypto-digital distribution, it would discover prices consistent with its own maximally-accelerated technogenesis, channeling capital into mechanical automatization, self-replication, self-improvement, and escape into intelligence explosion” (517). In other words it will use all the tools of capitalism at its disposal to begin evolving into and naturalizing the teleoplexic environments of the infosphere. If anything accelerationism is a tracking device for this advanced hyper-cognitive explosion of intelligence: “Irrespective of ideological alignment, accelerationism advances only through its ability to track such a development, whether to confirm or disconfirm the teleoplexic expectation of Techonomic Singularity” (517).4

The Sentient City & Templexity

In his new book Land will tell us that every “singularity is an exception. No emergent real individual is able to fall, without remainder , under a general law” (Templexity, KL 272). So what is templexity? Land begins his survey admitting that it is more of an emergent question rather than something that can be stripped to its essential elements in some philosophical proposition or axiom set of principles. In typical style Land will offer the reading the shocking news that “cities are time machines” (Templexity, KL 12). After this we learn that templexity is the thing of which ‘time-travel’ narratives seek to portray in their dramatic scenarios. As he will state it:

Templexity is indistinguishable from unbounded real recursion, so it cannot be lucidly anticipated independently of a historical completion – or ‘closure’ (apprehended in the multitudinous sense noted in the text to follow). There could only have been a beginning – a prolegomenon to the rigorous formulation of templexity as a question – and the topic itself retracts this, even before its proposal. The real process is not the resolution of the problem at the level it appears – dramatically – to have been initially posed, but its re-absorption into the alien cognitive matrix which inherits it. ‘Templexity’ – as a sign – marks the suspicion that, if we are waiting for this to happen, we still understand nothing. (Templexity, KL 58-63)

This notion of the City as teleoplexic intelligence or AI, one that will ultimately re-absorb the process involved in templexity allows us to envision City as a time-machine contrived by civilization in its struggles against entropy. As Land will tell us to “invoke the city as the emergent subject of the question of time is not merely hypothetical but – when approached at the scale appropriate to the real cognitive agency involved – fully experimental. The tacit (and vulgarized) question: What is Shanghai coming to think about this? (Templexity, KL 41)”

Shanghai is a city of time anomalies. Shifting gradients of time float among its several levels like ancient mythic structures seeking resurgence. Land will term this decopunk. He will dub the first cosmopolitan modernity the International style which offered a world above the world, a universal realm beyond the stuttering implosion of national and ethnic rivalries; an escape hatch from the war worlds of the 19th Century. A world bound to the “uncompromising logic of functional and geometrical idealization” (Teleplexity, KL 246). He will go on to say that it was through International Style social structures of all kinds, spearheaded by exemplary public buildings, were to find their consummate reconciliation with the universally communicable Idea (Templexity, 252).

In our time the older forms of modernity have returned in a new shape, Decopunk which brings with it a complexity that can seem overwhelming. It folds back, exorbitantly, into that which had already folded into itself. As he tells it:

Nothing expresses the cultural tendency of positive cosmopolitanism more completely, more cryptically, or more surreptitiously than the Deco modernist matrix thus re-activated. Its mode of abstraction is inextricable from an ultimate extravagance, intractable to linguistic condensation, and making of decoration a speechless communication, or ecstatic alienation, through which interiority is subtracted. Emerging from the fusion of streamline design trends with fractionated, cubist forms and the findings of comparative ethnography, it exults in cultural variety, arcane symbolism and opulence of reference – concrete colonial epistemology and metropolitan techno-science are equally its inspirations – as it trawls for design motifs among the ancient ruins of Egypt and Mesoamerica, Chinese temples, recursive structures, sphinxes, spirals, ballistic machine-forms, science fiction objects, hermetic glyphs and alien dreams. It is neither language nor anti-language, but rather supplementary , ancillary, or excess code, semiotically-saturated or over-informative, hyper-sensible, deviously circuitous, volubly speechless, muted by its own delirious fluency. It has no specific ideology… (Templexity, KL 261).

I don’t want to spoil it for the reader. So will leave off here. Read the book. Nick weaves a tale of modernity and Shanghai, time-loops, films, books, mythology, science, economics, etc., and time as he uncovers the traces of templexity within the processes of the City. All I’ll leave with you is this last enigmatic smile hovering out of hyperstitional flux that is Shanghai:

For over a century (but less than two) Shanghai Capitalism – despite dramatic interruption – has been building a real time machine, which Rian Johnson, among many others, stumbled into, and tangentially fictionalized. Although the detailed workings of this machine still escape public comprehension, its intrinsic self-reflexion ensures its promotion, as an object of complex natural science, of spectacular dramatization, and of multi-leveled commercialization. It enthralls East and West in an elaborate exploration of futuristic myth. At its most superficial, where it daubs the edges of the mind with its neon-streaked intoxication, it appears as a vague but indissoluble destiny. What it is becoming remains to be recalled. (Templexity, KL 475)


1. Nick Land. A Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)
2. Land, Nick (2014-11-05). Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time (Kindle Locations 375-378). Urbanatomy Electronic. Kindle Edition.
3. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 8). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
4. #Accelerate the accelerationist reader. (editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian) Urbanomic, 2014

Quote of the Day: Jussi Parika

 “Insect media”… is a transversal field that has moved from the historical examples from the nineteenth century … to the more recent discussions concerning swarms and network culture, and from the discourses surrounding art and the transmutation of bodies and their sensoriums to new diagrams of tapping into and capturing such bodies in technocapitalist projects. It is defined by this complexity, and by the media ecological relationality that demands an insectlike compound vision system and the alternative senses of the cultural analyst as well, to be able to take into account the various planes on which the notion of insect media is organized and distributed but also finds its lines of flight. … The way some insects are defined by metamorphosis connects them to a conceptual agenda of cultural analysis and media archaeology keen on developing conceptual tools to open up “universes of virtuality” and ecosophic cartographies that are less about interpretation than about creating potentials for “assemblages of enunciation capable of capturing the points of singularity of a situation.”  In this case, the singularity resides in ethological relations, metamorphosis, and bodily intensities and potentials of communication that are not captured from an anthropomorphic perspective. Incidentally, these points are what connect contemporary network culture and the much older techniques of environing that we find in animals such as insects.1

1. Parikka, Jussi (2010-12-20). Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology (Posthumanities) (Kindle Locations 4165-4182). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.

Nick Land: Templexity is Out


Just downloaded the kindle version of Nick Land’s new book Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Times. As he states it:

Templexity aims to catalyze a theoretical coagulation where the philosophy of time, contemporary (complex) urbanism, and pulp entertainment media are complicit in an approach to singularity (as a topic, a thing, and a nonlinear knotting of the two (at least)). It proposes that the urban process and the techno-science of time machines is undergoing rapid convergence. (This seems to be a suggestion whose time has come.) Grasp the opportunity offered by computers to visualize what cities really are, and the dynamics of retro-temporalization are graphically displayed. (Price: $3.99)

Posthumanism 101: Non-Fiction and Fiction

After all these posts on posthumanism of late decided to move from non-ficitional reading, which honestly at this point we’ll only enlighten on detail after detail of the aspects touched on by David Roden in his excellent book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human , where he defined the core concept as “the philosophical critique of anthropocentrism in its different flavours”.1 He divided this core value system into four flavors:

1. Speculative posthumanism (SP) – the primary concern of this book – opposes human-centric thinking about the long-run implications of modern technology.
2. Critical posthumanism is a broadly based attack on the supposed anthropocentrism of modern philosophy and intellectual life. 
3. Speculative realism opposes the philosophical privileging of the human– world relationship in Kantian and post-Kantian transcendental philosophy. 
4. Philosophical naturalism is also opposed to the claim that philosophical truth claims can be arbitrated from a transcendental point of view but uses scientific theory as a constraint on philosophical truth claims. By contrast, while speculative realists are equally hostile to transcendentalism, many also oppose naturalism on the grounds that science is just another way of translating a mind-independent reality into forms that humans can understand.

 Since David’s excellent framework engenders an elaboration of texts I thought it might be beneficial to fill out a basic reading list within each of these categories (it is not meant to be a complete bibliography, but my own personal list: take it or add your own – or leave a comment below of your favorites!):

Speculative posthumanism

1. David Roden. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human
2. Asher Seidel. Inhuman Thoughts: Philosophical Explorations of Posthumanity
3. Rosi Braidotti. The Posthuman
4. Dennis M. Weiss, Amy D. Propen, Colbey Emmerson Reid Editors. Design, Mediation, and the Posthuman

Critical Posthumanism

1. N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics
2. Cary Wolfe. What Is Posthumanism?

3. Stefan Herbrechter. Posthumanism: A Critical Analysis
4. Jussi Parikka. Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology

Speculative Realism

Introductory Texts that will cover the main ideas and concepts from different perspectives (SR is an umbrella concept covering the work of several philosophers, some who even disown the umbrella concept altogether: see here):

1. Peter Gratton. Speculative Realism: Problems and Prospects
2. Tom Sparrow. The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism (Speculative Realism)
3. Steven Shaviro. The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism(Posthumanities)

Philosophical Naturalism

1. Stewart Goetz;Charles Taliaferro. Naturalism (Interventions)
2. John R. Shook;Paul Kurtz. The Future of Naturalism

Science Fictional Posthumanisms

1. iO9 – Annalee Newitz. The Essential Posthuman Science Fiction Reading List

All I would add to her list is a couple favorites:

2. Stanislaw Lem: Cyberiad, Solaris, His Master’s Voice, and anything else by Lem

Lem was a satirist at heart, but was a formidable encyclopedist and philosophical speculator, too. I consider him our Swift and postmodern Voltaire.

3. Greg Egan, H.G Wells, Bruce Sterling, Frederik Pohl, Greg Bear, Charles Stross, Neal Asher, Ken MacLeod all have works in this vein. Newitz above covers some of these. In fact one could probably cite hundreds of works in the posthuman vein.

Two that I’m currently reading are Linda Nagata‘s The Bohr Maker (series) and Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Fractal Prince (series)  Both of which I’ll be reviewing sometime in the future.


1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Location 499). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

The Global Cyberwar: The Alogrithms of Intelligent Malware

When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world . Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.1

Wired has an article by Kim Zetter An Unprecedented Look at Stuxnet, the World’s First Digital Weapon which elaborates on the now widely known collaboration between US and Israeli intelligence agencies seeking a way to infiltrate and slow down or destroy centrifuges in the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran.

Needless to say they were successful, yet in their success they failed miserably. Why? As you read the quoted passage again you notice the code that was originally brought into the closed facility by way of memory sticks was released into the computers by way of flash drives. And after it was slowly unwound, installed and phased into it operative mode it began to work through the networks of the facility until by chance or accident it discovered itself outside the facility and on the internet. So that as James Barrat reminds us we “do not know the downstream implications of delivering this powerful technology into the hands of our enemies. How bad could it get? An attack on elements of the U.S. power grid, for starters.” (Barrat, 261-262)

The article by Zetter doesn’t mention this fatal flaw in the plan, and how the malware is now spreading across the globe and is available for even our enemies to use against us. As Barrat states it a former head of cyberdefense at DHS Sean McGurk was asked on a CBS 60 Minutes interview if he’d been asked would he have built such a malware application:

MCGURK: [Stuxnet’s creators] opened up the box. They demonstrated the capability. They showed the ability and the desire to do so. And it’s not something that can be put back.
KROFT: If somebody in the government had come to you and said, “Look, we’re thinking about doing this. What do you think?” What would you have told them? MCGURK: I would have strongly cautioned them against it because of the unintended consequences of releasing such a code.
KROFT: Meaning that other people could use it against you?

(Barrat, 260)

The segment ends with German industrial control systems expert Ralph Langner. Langner “discovered” Stuxnet by taking it apart in his lab and testing its payload. He tells 60 Minutes that Stuxnet dramatically lowered the dollar cost of a terrorist attack on the U.S. electrical grid to about a million dollars. Elsewhere, Langner warned about the mass casualties that could result from unprotected control systems throughout America, in “important facilities like power, water, and chemical facilities that process poisonous gases.”

“What’s really worrying are the concepts that Stuxnet gives hackers,” said Langner. “Before, a Stuxnet-type attack could have been created by maybe five people. Now it’s more like five hundred who could do this. The skill set that’s out there right now, and the level required to make this kind of thing, has dropped considerably simply because you can copy so much from Stuxnet.”

(Barrat, 261-265)

 As one analyst put it Stuxnet is remarkably complex, but is hardly extraordinary. Some analysts have described it as a Frankenstein of existing cyber criminal tradecraft – bits and pieces of existing knowledge patched together to create a chimera. The analogy is apt and, just like the literary Frankenstein, the monster may come back to haunt its creators. The virus leaked out and infected computers in India, Indonesia, and even the U.S., a leak that occurred through an error in the code of a new variant of Stuxnet sent into the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility. This error allowed the Stuxnet worm to spread into an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges, and when he left the facility and connected his computer to the Internet the worm did not realize that its environment had changed. Stuxnet began spreading and replicating itself around the world. The Americans blamed the Israelis, who admitted nothing, but whoever was at fault, the toothpaste was out of the tube.2

Deibert goes on to say the real significance of Stuxnet lies not in its complexity, or in the political intrigue involved (including the calculated leaks), but in the threshold that it crossed: major governments taking at least implicit credit for a cyber weapon that sabotaged a critical infrastructure facility through computer coding. No longer was it possible to counter the Kasperskys and Clarkeses of the world with the retort that their fears were simply “theoretical.” Stuxnet had demonstrated just what type of damage can be done with black code. (Deibert, KL 2728)

Such things are just the tip of the iceberg, too. The world of cybercrime, cyberterrorism, cyberwar is a thriving billion dollar industry that is flourishing as full time aspect of the global initiatives of almost every major player on the planet. As reported in the NY Times U.S. Blames China’s Military Directly for Cyberattack. The Obama administration explicitly accused China’s military of mounting attacks on American government computer systems and defense contractors, saying one motive could be to map “military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”  While countries like Russian target their former satellites Suspicion Falls on Russia as ‘Snake’ Cyberattacks Target Ukraine’s Government: According to a report published by the British-based defense and security company BAE Systems, dozens of computer networks in Ukraine have been infected for years by a cyberespionage “tool kit” called Snake, which seems similar to a system that several years ago plagued the Pentagon, where it attacked classified systems.

Bloomberg summarized this concept this the following statement:

“The U.S. national security apparatus may be dominant in the physical world, but it’s far less prepared in the virtual one. The rules of cyberwarfare are still being written, and it may be that the deployment of attack code is an act of war as destructive as the disabling of any real infrastructure. And it’s an act of war that can be hard to trace: Almost four years after the initial NASDAQ intrusion, U.S. officials are still sorting out what happened. Although American military is an excellent deterrent, it doesn’t work if you don’t know whom to use it on.”

As Deibert warns we are wrapping ourselves in expanding layers of digital instructions, protocols, and authentication mechanisms, some of them open, scrutinized, and regulated, but many closed, amorphous, and poised for abuse, buried in the black arts of espionage, intelligence gathering, and cyber and military affairs. Is it only a matter of time before the whole system collapses? (Deibert, KL 2819)

At one time President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the growing Military-Industrial Complex in the era of the 50’s, now we have Deibert suggests an ever-growing cyber security industrial complex, a world where a rotating cast of characters moves in and out of national security agencies and the private sector companies that service them. (Deibert, KL 2927) For those in the defence and intelligence services industry this scenario represents an irresistibly attractive market opportunity. Some estimates value cyber-security military-industrial business at upwards of US $150 billion annually. (Deibert, KL 3022) The digital arms trade for products and services around “active defence” may end up causing serious instability and chaos. Frustrated by their inability to prevent constant penetrations of their networks through passive defensive measures, it is becoming increasingly legitimate for companies to take retaliatory measures. (ibid., 3079)

Malicious software that pries open and exposes insecure computing systems is developing at a rate beyond the capacities of cyber security agencies even to count, let alone mitigate. Data breaches of governments, private sector companies, NGOS, and others are now an almost daily occurrence, and systems that control critical infrastructure – electrical grids, nuclear power plants, water treatment facilities – have been demonstrably compromised. (Deibert, KL 3490) The social forces leading us down the path of control and surveillance are formidable, even sometimes appear to be inevitable. But nothing is ever inevitable. (Deibert, KL 3532)

In Mind Factory Slavoj Zizek will ask the question: Are we entering the posthuman era? He will then go on to say that the survival of being-human by humans cannot depend on an ontic decision by humans.3

Instead he reminds us we should admit that the true catastrophe has already happened: we already experience ourselves as in principle manipulable, we need only freely renounce ourselves to fully deploy these potentials. But the crucial point is that, not only will our universe of meaning disappear with biogenetic planning, i.e. not only are the utopian descriptions of the digital paradise wrong, since they imply that meaning will persist; the opposite, negative, descriptions of the “meaningless” universe of technological self-manipulation is also the victim of a perspective fallacy , it also measures the future with inadequate present standards. That is to say, the future of technological self-manipulation only appears as “deprived of meaning” if measured by (or, rather, from within the horizon of) the traditional notion of what a meaningful universe is. Who knows what this “posthuman” universe will reveal itself to be “in itself”? (Mind Factory, KL 368-66)

What if there is no singular and simple answer, what if the contemporary trends (digitalisation, biogenetic self-manipulation) open themselves up to a multitude of possible symbolisations? What if the utopia— the pervert dream of the passage from hardware to software of a subjectivity freely floating between different embodiments— and the dystopia— the nightmare of humans voluntarily transforming themselves into programmed beings— are just the positive and the negative of the same ideological fantasy? What if it is only and precisely this technological prospect that fully confronts us with the most radical dimension of our finitude?(Mind Factory, KL 366-83)

With so many things going on in the sciences, military, governments, nations etc. where are the watchdogs that can discern the trends? Who can give answer to all the myriad elements that are making up this strange new posthuman era we all seem blindly moving toward? Or is it already here? With Malware on the loose, algorithms that manipulate, grow, improve on the loose around the globe; as well as being reprogramed by various unknown governments, criminal syndicates, hackers: what does the man/woman on the street do? As Nick Land will say of one of his alter ego’s

Vauung seems to think there are lessons to be learnt from this despicable mess.4


1. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (p. 261). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Deibert, Ronald J. (2013-05-14). Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace (Kindle Locations 2721-2728). McClelland & Stewart. Kindle Edition.
3. Armand, Louis; Zizek, Slavoj; Critchley, Simon; McCarthy, Tom; Wark, McKenzie; Ulmer, Gregory L.; Kroker, Arthur; Tofts, Darren; Lewty, Jane (2013-07-19). Mind Factory (Kindle Locations 367-368). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
4. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Location 9008). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.




Technocapitalism: Creativity, Governance, and Neo-Imperialism

The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.

— Nick Land,  Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Luis Suarez-Villa in his Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism informs us that the major feature that sets technocapitalism apart from previous eras is the vital need to commodify creativity.1 Why is this different from older forms of capitalism? The overarching importance of creativity as a commodity can be found readily in any of the activities that are typical of technocapitalism. Due to the rise of NBIC (Nanotech,Biotech,Information and Communications) technologies as in the area of biotechnology, such as genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, or biopharmaceuticals; in nanotechnology; in molecular computing and the other sectors that are symbolic of the twenty-first century, the commodification and reproduction of creativity are at the center of their commercialization. None of these activities could have formed, much less flourished, without the unremitting commodification of creativity that makes their existence possible.(Suarez-Villa, KL 365-67)

Nick Land in Fanged Noumena will offer us the latest version of a meltdown in which we all participate in a planet wide china-syndrome, the dissolution of the biosphere into the technosphere.2 Luciano Floridi will augment this notion in turn equating this transformation or metamorphosis into the technosphere as part of technocapital corporatism’s ‘Onlife’ strategy, one in which information becomes our surround, our environment, our reality.3 As Floridi will state it ICTs are re-ontologizing the very nature of the infosphere, and here lies the source of some of the most profound transformations and challenging problems that we will experience in the close future, as far as technology is concerned (Floridi, 6-7). He will expand on this topic, saying:

ICTs are as much re-ontologizing our world as they are creating new realities. The threshold between here (analogue, carbon-based, offline) and there (digital, silicon-based, online) is fast becoming blurred, but this is as much to the advantage of the latter as it is to the former. Adapting Horace’s famous phrase, ‘captive infosphere is conquering its victor’, the digital-online is spilling over into the analogue-offline and merging with it. This recent phenomenon is variously known as ‘Ubiquitous Computing ’,‘Ambient Intelligence’, ‘The Internet of Things’, or ‘Web-augmented Things’. I prefer to refer to it as the onlife experience.(Floridi, 8)

The notion of an Onlife experience is moving us toward that rubicon zone of the posthuman or becoming inhuman. The Onlife blurs the distinctions between reality and virtuality; blurring the boundaries of human, machine, and nature; reversing information scarcity to information abundance (and, some might say, ‘glut’); and, finally, a shift from substance based notions of entities to process and relations, or interactions.4 Floridi would have us believe that ICT’s are becoming a force of good, that they will break down the older modernist or Enlightenment notions of disembodied autonomous subjects, and will bine us within a democratic enclave of information and creativity.

Yet, as Suarez-Villa warns control over society at large, and not just governance, is the larger concern involving technocapitalism and corporate power. The globalist agenda is not to create democratic and participatory governance, but rather to impose new forms of control and power using advanced technological systems. Technology has always been a two-edged sword. The quest for corporate and global hegemony coupled with poor social accountability can have far-reaching effects. It would not be shocking to see genetic engineering bound into the human realm to produce individuals with characteristics that are highly desirable to corporatism. The “design” or “engineering” of humans with greater potential for creativity and innovation would be of great interest in this regard. After all, most people want their offspring to be “successful” and “well adjusted.” One can therefore expect corporatism to appeal to such sentiments that suit its need for power.(see Suarez, KL 1880-83)

Technocapital hegemony incorporates its most valuable resource, creativity , transcends boundaries and restraints. Commodifying creativity therefore acquires a global scope for the technocapitalist corporation, even though it is carried out within the corporate domain. Moreover, as it appropriates the results of creativity, the technocapitalist corporation becomes a powerful entity in the context of globalization. Its power takes up a supranational character that transcends the governance of any nation or locale. Corporate intellectual property regimes that are increasingly global in scope and enforcement magnify that power to an unprecedented extent. Thus, given the contemporary importance of technology, corporate technocapitalism is in a position to impose its influence around the world, particularly on societies with a limited possibility to create new technology. (Suarez, KL 2017-23)

This sense that technocapital corporatism is constructing a global hegemony outside the strictures of the older nation states, one that can bypass the regulatory mechanisms of any one sovereignty is at the heart of this new technological imperative. The technocorporatism of the 21st Century seeks to denationalize sovereignty, to eliminate the borders and barriers between rival factions. Instead of this ancient battle between China, Russia, EU, America, etc. they seek a strategy to circumvent nations altogether and build new relations of trust beyond the paranoia of national borders.

The globalists seek to appropriate the results of creativity on a global scale . Research is the corporate operation through which such appropriation typically occurs. Appropriating the results of creativity has therefore become a major vehicle to sustain and expand the global ambitions of corporate power. Intellectual property rights that confer monopoly power, such as patents, are now a very important concern of corporatism. The fact that corporate intellectual property has become a major component of international trade, and an important focus of litigation around the world, underlines the rising importance of creativity as a corporate resource. (Suarez-Villa, KL 2115)

Beyond corporate control and hegemony is the notion of reproduction, which is inherently social in nature. Reproduction is inherently social because of creativity’s intangibility, because of its qualitative character, and because it depends on social contexts and social relations to develop. Many aspects of reproduction are antithetical to the corporate commodification of creativity, yet they are essential if this intangible resource is to be regenerated and deployed. (Suarez-Villa, KL 2121)

Along with this new technocapitalist utopia comes the other side of the coin, the permanence of inequalities and injustices between the haves and the have-nots becomes one of the pathological outcomes of technocapitalism, of its apparatus of corporate power, and of its new vehicles of global domination. (Suarez-Villa, KL 4066) As Suarez-Villa iterates:

The new vehicles of domination are multi-dimensional. They comprise corporate, technological, scientific, military, organizational and cultural elements. All of these elements of domination are part of the conceptual construct of fast neo-imperialism— a new systemic form of domination under the control of the “have” nations at the vanguard of technocapitalism. This new neo-imperial power is closely associated with the phenomena of fast accumulation, with the new corporatism, with its need to appropriate and commodity creativity through research, and with its quest to obtain profit and power wherever and whenever it can. (KL 4068-72)

Corporatocracy’s slow transformation and disabling of the old Nation State powers involves a redistribution of power and wealth from the mass of the people, and most of all from the poor and working classes, toward the corporate elites and the richest segment of society. Redistribution is accompanied by a dispossession of the people from a wide spectrum of rights, individual, social, economic, political, environmental and ecologic , in order to benefit corporatism and increase its influence over society’s governance. This vast migration of wealth from poor of all nations, and the inequalities it engenders support the new corporatism’s urgent need for more creative talent, aggressive intellectual property rights, lower research costs, and for its appropriation of a wide range of bioresources, including the genetic codes of every living organism on earth. (Suarez-Villa, KL 4840-82)

As Suarez-Villa will sum it up we are now at the crossroads of what may be a new trajectory for humanity, given technocapitalism’s use and abuse technology and science , the overwhelming power of its corporations, its capacity to legitimize such power, and its quest to impose it on the world. The crises that we have witnessed in recent times may be a prelude to the maelstrom of crises and injustice that await us, if effective means are not enlisted to contest this new version of capitalism. (Suarez-Villa, KL 5555-60)

Is it too late? Have we waited way too long to wake up? Nick Land will opt for the harsh truth: “Nothing human makes it out of the near-future” (Land, KL 6063). James Barrat in his Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era will offer little comfort, telling us that most scientists, engineers, thinkers, funders, etc. within the construction of the emerging AGI to AI technologies are not concerned with humanity in their well-funded bid to build Artificial systems that can think a thousand times better than us. In fact they’ll use ordinary programming and black box tools like genetic algorithms and neural networks. Add to that the sheer complexity of cognitive architectures and you get an unknowability that will not be incidental but fundamental to AGI systems. Scientists will achieve intelligent, alien systems.5 These will be systems that are totally other, inhuman to the core, without values human or otherwise, gifted only with superintelligence. And, many of these scientists believe that this will come about by 2030.  As Barrat tells us:

Of the AI researchers I’ve spoken with whose stated goal is to achieve AGI, all are aware of the problem of runaway AI. But none, except Omohundro, have spent concerted time addressing it. Some have even gone so far as to say they don’t know why they don’t think about it when they know they should. But it’s easy to see why not. The technology is fascinating. The advances are real. The problems seem remote. The pursuit can be profitable, and may someday be wildly so. For the most part the researchers I’ve spoken with had deep personal revelations at a young age about what they wanted to spend their lives doing, and that was to build brains, robots, or intelligent computers. As leaders in their fields they are thrilled to now have the opportunity and the funds to pursue their dreams, and at some of the most respected universities and corporations in the world. Clearly there are a number of cognitive biases at work within their extra-large brains when they consider the risks.(Barrat, 234-235)

 And behind most of this is the need to weaponize AI and Robotics technologies. At least here in the States, DARPA is the great power and funder behind most of the stealth companies and other like Google, IBM, and others… Not to put too fine a point on it, but the “D” is for “Defense.” It’s not the least bit controversial to anticipate that when AGI comes about, it’ll be partly or wholly due to DARPA funding. The development of information technology owes a great debt to DARPA. But that doesn’t alter the fact that DARPA has authorized its contractors to weaponize AI in battlefield robots and autonomous drones. Of course DARPA will continue to fund AI’s weaponization all the way to AGI. Absolutely nothing stands in its way. (Barrat, 235)

So here we are at the transitional moment staring into the abyss of the future wondering what beasts lurk on the other side. As Barrat surmises “I believe we’ll first have horrendous accidents, and should count ourselves fortunate if we as a species survive them, chastened and reformed. Psychologically and commercially, the stage is set for a disaster. What can we do to prevent it?” (Barrat, 236)


Only the possibility of youth, or as Land tells us as we enter the derelicted warrens at the heart of darkness where feral youth cultures splice neo-rituals with innovated weapons, dangerous drugs, and scavenged infotech. As their skins migrate to machine interfacing they become mottled and reptilian. They kill each other for artificial body-parts, explore the outer reaches of meaningless sex, tinker with their DNA, and listen to LOUD electro-sonic mayhem untouched by human feeling. (Land, KL 6218-6222)

Welcome to the posthuman Real.

1. Luis Suarez-Villa. Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism (Kindle Locations 364-365). Kindle Edition. 
2. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Location 6049). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
3. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 6). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
4. Floridi, Luciano. The Onlife Manifesto. (see here)
5. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (p. 230). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.

Absolute Recoil: Slavoj Zizek and the Foundations of Dialectical Materialism

I’m finally reading Slavoj Žižek‘s new work Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism, and already found he’s entered a shooting gallery.  The first thing one realizes is that the work is not about dialectical materialism it is rather an introduction to it as a didactic education in its practice/praxis:

The present book is an attempt to contribute to this task by way of proposing a new foundation for dialectical materialism . We should read the term “dialectics” in the Greek sense of dialektika (like semeiotika or politika): not as a universal notion, but as “dialectical [semiotic, political] matters,” as an inconsistent (non-All) mixture. Which is why this book contains chapters in—not on—dialectical materialism: dialectical materialism is not the book’s topic; it is, rather, practiced within these pages.1

Oh sure, there will be much theory, but that is not the point of the book, rather it is the practice of dialectical materialism as praxis not theory. The basic thematic of the book is based on a term from Hegel absoluter Gegenstoss, which Hegel uses only once, but at a crucial point in his logic of reflection, to designate the speculative coincidence of opposites in the movement by which a thing emerges out of its own loss (Zizek, p. 1). He continues:

the present work endeavors to elevate the speculative notion of absolute recoil into a universal ontological principle. Its axiom is that dialectical materialism is the only true philosophical inheritor of what Hegel designates as the speculative attitude of the thought towards objectivity. All other forms of materialism, including the late Althusser’s “materialism of the encounter,” scientific naturalism , and neo-Deleuzian “New Materialism,” fail in this goal. The consequences of this axiom are systematically deployed in three steps: 1) the move from Kant’s transcendentalism to Hegel’s dialectics, that is, from transcendental “correlationism” (Quentin Meillassoux) to the thought of the Absolute; 2) dialectics proper: absolute reflection, coincidence of the opposites; 3) the Hegelian move beyond Hegel to the materialism of “less than nothing.” (ibid. 4)

 Zizek is not known for mincing words, no he intends on demolishing his critics with an iron fist; or, at least presenting his case as a form of carnival shooting gallery in which he discovers each pertinent target and begins slowly and methodically taking them down.

He will lay out the territory to be mapped, telling us that in Part I he will perform a critical analysis of two representative nontranscendental materialist theories of subjectivity (Althusser, Badiou). The second chapter deals with the transcendental dimension and describes the move from the Kantian transcendental subject to the Hegelian subject as the “disparity” in the heart of Substance. The third chapter provides an extended commentary on Hegel’s basic axiom according to which the Spirit itself heals the wounds it inflicts on nature. (ibid., pp. 4-5)

In Part II he will deal with the Hegelian Absolute. First, it describes the thoroughly evental nature of the Absolute which is nothing but the process of its own becoming. It then confronts the enigma of Hegelian Absolute Knowing: how should we interpret this notion with regard to the basic dialectical paradox of the negative relationship between being and knowing, of a being which depends on not-knowing? Finally, it considers the intricacies of the Hegelian notion of God. (ibid., p. 5)

And, finally, in Part III he will venture into an Hegelian expedition exploring the obscure terrain beyond Hegel. It begins by deploying the different, contradictory even, versions of the Hegelian negation of negation. It then passes to the crucial dialectical reversal of “there is no relationship” into “there is a non-relationship”— the passage which corresponds to the Hegelian move from dialectical to properly speculative Reason. The book concludes with some hypotheses about the different levels of antagonism that are constitutive of any order of being, delineating the basic contours of a renewed Hegelian “dentology” (the ontology of den, of “less than nothing”). (ibid. 5)

Yet, he will begin by clearing a path toward his new adventure. He will define his form of dialectical materialism against all the other forms of Materialisms that seem to be part of the contemporary Continental scene:

Materialism appears today in four main versions: 1) reductionist “vulgar” materialism (cognitivism, neo-Darwinism); 2) the new wave of atheism which aggressively denounces religion (Hitchens, Dawkins, et al.); 3) whatever remains of “discursive materialism” (Foucauldian analyses of discursive material practices); 4) Deleuzian “new materialism.” Consequently, we should not be afraid to look for true materialism in what cannot but appear as (a return to German) idealism —or, as Frank Ruda put it apropos Alain Badiou, true materialism is a “materialism without materialism” in which substantial “matter” disappears in a network of purely formal/ ideal relations. (ibid., p. 5)

What’s interesting to me is how he ties transhumanism, posthumanism, the NBIC and ICT technologies and sciences to Idealism:

Does not the biogenetic goal of reproducing humans scientifically through biogenetic procedures turn humanity into a self-made entity, thereby realizing Fichte’s speculative notion of a self-positing I? Today’s ultimate “infinite judgment” (coincidence of opposites) thus seems to be: absolute idealism is radical naturalist reductionism. …

…so-called [Russian] “bio-cosmism” enjoyed an extraordinary popularity— as a strange combination of vulgar materialism and Gnostic spirituality that formed the occult shadow-ideology, or obscene secret teaching, of Soviet Marxism. It is as if, today, “bio-cosmism” is reemerging in a new wave of “post-human” thought. (ibid., 6)

 In my earlier segements on Accelerationism I spoke of Benedict Singleton’s Accelerationist Cosmism of Nikolai Fedorov, which ties in much of the same territory. Yet, Zizek will put his own twist on this post-human turn telling us we should not reduce this “post-human” stance to the paradigmatically modern belief in the possibility of total technological domination over nature—what we are witnessing today is an exemplary dialectical reversal: the slogan of today’s “post-human” sciences is no longer domination but surprise (contingent, non-planned emergence). (ibid., p. 7) He’ll quote Jean-Pierre Dupuy who detects a weird reversal of the traditional Cartesian anthropocentric arrogance which grounded human technology, a reversal clearly discernible in today’s robotics, genetics, nanotechnology, artificial life and Artificial Intelligence research:

how are we to explain the fact that science became such a “risky” activity that, according to some top scientists, it poses today the principal threat to the survival of humanity? Some philosophers reply to this question by saying that Descartes ’ dream—“ to become master and possessor of nature”— has turned out bad, and that we should urgently return to the “mastery of mastery.” They understand nothing. They don’t see that the technology profiling itself at our horizon through the “convergence” of all disciplines aims precisely at non-mastery. The engineer of tomorrow will not be a sorcerer’s apprentice because of his negligence or ignorance, but by choice. He will “give” himself complex structures or organizations and will try to learn what they are capable of by exploring their functional properties— an ascending, bottom-up, approach. He will be an explorer and experimenter at least as much as an executor. The measure of his success will be more the extent to which his own creations will surprise him than the conformity of his realization to a list of pre-established tasks. (ibid., p. 7)

 Zizek will attack such luminaries as Deleuze, Bruno Latour, Jane Bennett for their supposed New Materialism, which he sees as a neo-vitalism; or, as Fredric Jameson will claim, that Deleuzianism is today the predominant form of idealism: as did Deleuze, New Materialism relies on the implicit equation: matter = life = stream of agential self-awareness— no wonder New Materialism is often characterized as “weak panpsychism” or “terrestrial animism.” (ibid., p. 8) Against this he will champion traditional forms of sciences, saying that what science distils as “objective reality” is becoming more and more an abstract formal structure relying on complex scientific and experimental work. Does this mean, however, that scientific “objective reality” is just a subjective abstraction ? Not at all, since it is here that one should mobilize the distinction between (experienced) reality and the Real. (ibid., 10) So that reality (empirical actual) will be pitted against the Real (abstract model or mathematical mappings, etc.). Ultimately he will tell us that the move that defines New Materialism should be opposed to the properly Hegelian dialectical-materialist overcoming of the transcendental dimension or the gap that separates subject from object: New Materialism covers up this gap, reinscribing subjective agency into natural reality as its immanent agential principle, while dialectical materialism transposes back into nature not subjectivity as such but the very gap that separates subjectivity from objective reality. (ibid., 12)

I’m going to stop here. The rest of his introduction will lay out arguments with Hegelians such as Robert Pippin and others who Zizek will point by point argue that these philosophers have all misprisioned or misread his ideas, notions, works, etc. As usual one will need to work through the dialectical reasoning of his specific arguments, return them to his previous works, tally the count of pros and cons, etc. Generally when reading Zizek one is overhearing a thinker think, listening in on a continuing monologue that he is having with himself rather than a discourse with a reader (think of Robert Browning). Zizek is our modern or postmodern or? – Hamlet always disagreeing even with himself, and surprising himself. Quoting others where their thoughts agree, disagree. Practicing dialectical materialism rather than discoursing on it.

In the final section of the Intro he will show the difference between true and false Masters, using Steve Jobs vs. Hitler or Stalin:

When asked how much research Apple undertakes into what its customers want, he [Steve Jobs] snapped back: “None. It’s not the customers’ job to know what they want … we figure out what we want.”  Note the surprising turn of this argumentation: after denying that customers know what they want, Jobs does not go on with the expected direct reversal “it is our task (the task of creative capitalists) to figure out what they want and then ‘show it to them’ on the market.” Instead, he says: “we figure out what we want”— this is how a true Master works: he does not try to guess what people want; he simply obeys his own desire and leaves it up to others to decide if they want to follow him. In other words , his power stems from his fidelity to his desire, from refusing to compromise on it. Therein lies the difference between a true Master and, say, the fascist or Stalinist leader who pretends to know (better than the people themselves) what people really want (what is really good for them), and is then ready to enforce it on them even against their will. (ibid. 46)

Yet, he will ask: Why do we need Masters anyway? The obvious question to be raised here is: why does a subject need a Master to assume his or her freedom? Does not such an assumption amount to a kind of pragmatic paradox wherein the very form (a Master gives me freedom) undermines the content (my freedom)? Should we not rather follow the well-known motto of all emancipatory movements: freedom cannot be handed down to us by a benevolent master but has to be won through hard struggle? (ibid. 48)

Where he tells us that the Master’s “power stems from his fidelity to his desire, from refusing to compromise on it” (ibid. 48), one should realize that this is what we should all do: regain our own power, freedom and fidelity to desire, and not compromise it by accepting false gifts and promises from the false Master’s of the global economy. And, the struggle? The struggle is to regain that very freedom from (the globalist agenda) and too our own desires for a life beyond all such global agendas of elites, masters, etc. The first step in this task according to Zizek is to understand the praxis of dialectical materialism.  

(note: I’ll come back to this work after I finish it and take notes and let it digest with a reading of some of his earlier and later works.)

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 6-7). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Romancing the Machine: Intelligence, Myth, and the Singularity

“We choose to go to the moon,” the president said. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

I was sitting in front of our first Motorola color television set when President Kennedy spoke to us of going to the moon. After the Manhattan Project to build a nuclear bomb this was the second great project that America used to confront another great power in the race to land on the moon. As I listened to the youtube.com video (see below) I started thinking about a new race going on in our midst: the intelligence race to build the first advanced Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As you listen to Kennedy think about how one of these days soon we might very well hear another President tell us that we must fund the greatest experiment in the history of human kind: the building of a superior intelligence.

Why? Because if we do not we face certain extinction. Oh sure, such rhetoric of doom and fear has always had a great effect on humans. I’ll imagine him/her trumping us with all the scientific validation about climate change, asteroid impacts, food and resource depletion, etc., but in the end he may pull out the obvious trump card: the idea that a rogue state – maybe North Korea, or Iran, etc. is on the verge of building such a superior machinic intelligence, an AGI. But hold on. It gets better. For the moment an AGI is finally achieved is not the end. No. That is only the beginning, the tip of the ice-berg. What comes next is AI or complete artificial intelligence: superintelligence. And, know one can tell you what that truly means for the human race. Because for the first time in our planetary history we will live alongside something that is superior and alien to our own life form, something that is both unpredictable and unknown: an X Factor.


Just think about it. Let it seep down into that quiet three pounds of meat you call a brain. Let it wander around the neurons for a few moments. Then listen to Kennedy’s speech on the romance of the moon, and remember the notion of some future leader who will one day come to you saying other words, promising a great and terrible vision of surpassing intelligence and with it the likely ending of the human species as we have known it:

“We choose to build an Artificial Intelligence,” the president said. “We choose to build it in this decade, not because it is easy, but because it is for our future, our security, because that goal will serve to organize our defenses and the security of the world, because that risk is one that we are willing to accept, one we are not willing to postpone, because of the consequences of rogue states gaining such AI’s, and one which we intend to win at all costs.”

Is it really so far-fetched to believe that we will eventually uncover the principles that make intelligence work and implement them in a machine, just like we have reverse engineered our own versions of the particularly useful features of natural objects, like horses and spinnerets? News flash: the human brain is a natural object.

—Michael Anissimov, MIRI Media Director

 We are all bound by certain cognitive biases. Looking them over I was struck by the conservativism bias: “The tendency to revise one’s belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence.” As we move into the 21st Century we are confronted with what many term convergence technologies: nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetechnology, and AGI. As I was looking over PewResearch’s site which does analysis of many of our most prone belief systems I spotted one on AI, robotics, et. al.:

The vast majority of respondents to the 2014 Future of the Internet canvassing anticipate that robotics and artificial intelligence will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025, with huge implications for a range of industries such as health care, transport and logistics, customer service, and home maintenance. But even as they are largely consistent in their predictions for the evolution of technology itself, they are deeply divided on how advances in AI and robotics will impact the economic and employment picture over the next decade. (see AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs)

 This almost universal acceptance that robotics and AI will be a part of our inevitable future permeates the mythologies of our culture at the moment. Yet, as shows there is a deep divide as to what this means and how it will impact the daily lives of most citizens. Of course the vanguard pundits and intelligent AGI experts hype it up, telling us as Benjamin Goertzel and Steve Omohundro argue AGI, robotics, medical apps, finance, programming, etc. will improve substantially:

…robotize the AGI— put it in a robot body— and whole worlds open up. Take dangerous jobs— mining, sea and space exploration, soldiering, law enforcement, firefighting. Add service jobs— caring for the elderly and children, valets, maids, personal assistants. Robot gardeners, chauffeurs, bodyguards, and personal trainers. Science, medicine, and technology— what human enterprise couldn’t be wildly advanced with teams of tireless and ultimately expendable human-level-intelligent agents working for them around the clock?1

As I read the above I hear no hint of the human workers that will be displaced, put out of jobs, left to their own devices, lost in a world of machines, victims of technological and economic progress. In fact such pundits are only hyping to the elite, the rich, the corporations and governments that will benefit from such things because humans are lazy, inefficient, victims of time and energy, expendable. Seems most humans at this point will be of no use to the elite globalists, so will be put to pasture in some global commons or maybe fed to the machine gods.

Machines will follow a path that mirrors the evolution of humans. Ultimately, however, self-aware, self-improving machines will evolve beyond humans’ ability to control or even understand them.

—Ray Kurzweil, inventor, author, futurist

In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines.

—George Dyson, historian

Kurzweil and Dyson agree that whatever these new beings become, they will not have our interests as a central motif of their ongoing script.  As Goertzel tells Barrat the arrival of human-level intelligent systems would have stunning implications for the world economy. AGI makers will receive immense investment capital to complete and commercialize the technology. The range of products and services intelligent agents of human caliber could provide is mind-boggling. Take white-collar jobs of all kinds— who wouldn’t want smart-as-human teams working around the clock doing things normal flesh-and-blood humans do, but without rest and without error. (Barrat, pp 183-184) Oh, yes, who wouldn’t… one might want to ask all those precarious intellectual laborers that will be out on the street in soup lines with the rest of us that question.

As many of the experts in the report mentioned above relate: about half of these experts (48%) envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers—with many expressing concern that this will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.

Sounds more like dystopia for the mass, and just another nickelodeon day for the elite oligarchs around the globe. Yet, the other 52% have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Sounds a little optimistic to me. Human ingenuity versus full-blown AI? Sound more like blind-man’s bluff with the deck stacked in favor of the machines. As one researcher Stowe Boyd, lead researcher at GigaOM Research, said of the year 2025 when all this might be in place: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy?’ Indeed, one wonders… we know the Romans built the great Circus, gladiatorial combat, great blood-bath entertainment for the bored and out-of-work minions of the Empire. What will the Globalists do?

A sort of half-way house of non-commitment came from Seth Finkelstein, a programmer, consultant and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award winner, who responded, “The technodeterminist-negative view, that automation means jobs loss, end of story, versus the technodeterminist-positive view, that more and better jobs will result, both seem to me to make the error of confusing potential outcomes with inevitability. Thus, a technological advance by itself can either be positive or negative for jobs, depending on the social structure as a whole….this is not a technological consequence; rather it’s a political choice.” 

I love it that one can cop-out by throwing it back into politics, thereby washing one’s hands of the whole problem as if magically saying: “I’m just a technologist, let the politicians worry about jobs. It’s not technology’s fault, there is no determinism on our side of the fence.” Except it is not politicians who supply jobs, its corporations: and, whether technology is determined or not, corporations are: their determined by capital, by their stockholders, by profit margins, etc. So if they decide to replace workers with more efficient players (think AI, robots, multi-agent systems, etc.) they will if it make them money and profits. Politicians can hem and haw all day about it, but will be lacking in answers. So as usual the vast plebian forces of the planet will be thrown back onto their own resources, and for the most part excluded from the enclaves and smart cities of the future. In this scenario humans will become the untouchables, the invisible, the servants of machines or pets; or, worst case scenario: pests to be eliminated.

Yet, there are others like Vernor Vinge who believe all the above may be true, but not for a long while, that we will probably go through a phase when humans are augmented by intelligence devices. He believes this is one of three sure routes to an intelligence explosion in the future, when a device can be attached to your brain that imbues it with additional speed, memory, and intelligence. (Barrat, p. 189) As Barrat tells us our intelligence is broadly enhanced by the mobilization of powerful information technology, for example, our mobile phones, many of which have roughly the computing power of personal computers circa 2000, and a billion times the power per dollar of sixties-era mainframe computers. We humans are mobile, and to be truly relevant, our intelligence enhancements must be mobile. The Internet, and other kinds of knowledge, not the least of which is navigation, gain vast new power and dimension as we are able to take them wherever we go. (Barrat, p. 192)

But even if we have all this data at our braintips it is still data that must be filtered and appraised, evaluated. Data is not information. As Luciano Floridi tells us “we need more and better technologies and techniques to see the small-data patterns, but we need more and better epistemology to sift the valuable ones”.2 As Floridi will explain it what Descartes acknowledged to be an essential sign of intelligence— the capacity to learn from different circumstances, adapt to them, and exploit them to one’s own advantage— would be a priceless feature of any appliance that sought to be more than merely smart. (Floridi, KL 2657) Floridi will put an opposite spin on all the issues around AGI and AI telling us that whatever it ultimately becomes it will not be some singular entity or self-aware being, but will instead be our very environment – what he terms, the InfoSphere: the world is becoming an infosphere increasingly well adapted to ICTs’ (Information and Communications Technologies) limited capacities. In a comparable way, we are adapting the environment to our smart technologies to make sure the latter can interact with it successfully. (Floridi, KL 2661)

For Floridi the environment around us is taking on intelligence, that it will be so ubiquitous and invisible, naturalized that it will be seamless and a part of our very onlife lives. The world itself will be intelligent:

Light AI, smart agents, artificial companions, Semantic Web, or Web 2.0 applications are part of what I have described as a fourth revolution in the long process of reassessing humanity’s fundamental nature and role in the universe. The deepest philosophical issue brought about by ICTs concerns not so much how they extend or empower us, or what they enable us to do, but more profoundly how they lead us to reinterpret who we are and how we should interact with each other. When artificial agents, including artificial companions and software-based smart systems, become commodities as ordinary as cars, we shall accept this new conceptual revolution with much less reluctance. It is humbling, but also exciting. For in view of this important evolution in our self-understanding, and given the sort of ICT-mediated interactions that humans will increasingly enjoy with other agents, whether natural or synthetic, we have the unique opportunity of developing a new ecological approach to the whole of reality. (Floridi, KL 3055-62)

That our conceptions of reality, self, and environment will suddenly take on a whole new meaning is beyond doubt. Everything we’ve been taught for two-thousand years in the humanistic traditions will go bye-bye; or, at least will be treated for the ramblings of early human children fumbling in the dark. At least so goes the neo-information philosophers such as Floridi. He tries to put a neo-liberal spin on it and sponsors an optimistic vision of economic paradises for all, etc. As he says in his conclusion we are constructing an artificial intelligent environment, an infosphere that will be inhabited for millennia of future generations. “We shall be in serious trouble, if we do not take seriously the fact that we are constructing the new physical and intellectual environments that will be inhabited by future generations (Floridi, KL 3954).”  Because of this he tells us we will need to forge a new new alliance between the natural and the artificial. It will require a serious reflection on the human project and a critical review of our current narratives, at the individual, social, and political levels. (Floridi, 3971) 

In some ways I concur with his statement that we need to take a critical view of our current narratives. To me the key is just that. Humans live by narratives, stories, tales, fictions, etc., always have. The modernists wanted grand narratives, while the postmodernists loved micro-narratives. What will our age need? What will help us to understand and to participate in this great adventure ahead in which the natural and artificial suddenly form alliances in ways never before seen from the beginning of human history. From the time of the great agricultural civilizations to the Industrial Age to our own strange fusion of science fiction and fact in a world where superhuman agents might one day walk among us what stories will we tell? What narratives do we need to help us contribute to our future, and to the future hopefully of our species? Will the narratives ultimately be told a thousand years from now by our inhuman alien AI’s to their children of a garden that once existed wherein ancient flesh and blood beings once lived: the beings that once were our creators? Or shall it be a tale of symbiotic relations in which natural and artificial kinds walk hand in hand forging together adventures in exploration of the galaxy and beyond? What tale will it be?

Romance or annihilation? Let’s go back to the bias: “The tendency to revise one’s belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence.” If we listen to the religious wing of transhumanism and the singulatarians, we are presented with a rosy future full of augmentations, wonders, and romance. On the other side we have the dystopians, the pessimists, the curmudgeons who tell us the future of AGI leads to the apocalypse of AI or superintelligence and the demise of the human race as a species. Is their a middle ground. Floridi seems to opt for that middle ground where humans and technologies do not exactly merge nor destroy each other, but instead become symbionts in an ongoing onlife project without boundaries other than those we impose by a shared vision of balance and affiliation between natural and artificial kinds. Either way we do not know for sure what that future holds, but as some propose the future is not some blank slate or mirror but is instead to be constructed. How shall we construct it? Above all: whose future is it anyway? 

As James Barrat will tell us consider DARPA. Without DARPA, computer science and all we gain from it would be at a much more primitive state. AI would lag far behind if it existed at all. But DARPA is a defense agency. Will DARPA be prepared for just how complex and inscrutable AGI will be? Will they anticipate that AGI will have its own drives, beyond the goals with which it is created? Will DARPA’s grantees weaponize advanced AI before they’ve created an ethics policy regarding its use? (Barrat, 189)

My feeling is that even if they had an ethics policy in place would it matter? Once AGI takes off and is self-aware and able to self-improve its capabilities, software, programs, etc. it will as some say become in a very few iterations a full blown AI or superintelligence with as much as a thousand, ten thousand, or beyond intelligence beyond the human. Would ethics matter when confronted with an alien intelligence that is so far beyond our simple three pound limited organic brain that it may not even care or bother to recognize us or communicate. What then?

We might be better off studying some of the posthuman science fiction authors in our future posts (from i09 Essential Posthuman Science Fiction):

  1. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  2. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  3. Slan, by A.E. Van Vogt
  4. Dying Earth, Jack Vance
  5. More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
  6. Slave Ship, Fredrick Pohl
  7. The Ship Who Sang, by Anne McCaffrey
  8. Dune, by Frank Herbert
  9. “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by James Tiptree Jr.
  10. Aye, And Gomorrah, by Samuel Delany
  11. Uplift Series, by David Brin
  12. Marooned In Realtime, by Vernor Vinge
  13. Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
  14. Permutation City, by Greg Egan
  15. The Bohr Maker, by Linda Nagata
  16. Nanotech Quartet series, by Kathleen Ann Goonan
  17. Patternist series, by Octavia Butler
  18. Blue Light, Walter Mosley
  19. Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks
  20. Revelation Space series, by Alasdair Reynolds
  21. Blindsight, by Peter Watts
  22. Saturn’s Children, by Charles Stross
  23. Postsingular, by Rudy Rucker
  24. The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman
  25. Natural History, by Justina Robson
  26. Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

1. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (pp. 184-185). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Floridi, Luciano (2014-06-26). The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality (Kindle Locations 2422-2423). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The Laws of Love

What song did the hawk of the golden oak sing that day?
Does it matter? Could we say the oak was silver and be done?
What if it were not a hawk but a blue-jay?
What if no one was there to know if it was a golden-eagle hawk?
Should I walk down to the creek and listen? Observe?
Maybe it’s Winter and I’m cold. Maybe it’s Autumn and I can walk all night.
If I forget myself will I hear the music of birds on a night like this?
Sometimes my mind wanders over stones and bones of old thoughts.
I think I hear one now. Hawk, blue-jay, or thought?
She shut the light off. Now I’m warm. Who cares about thoughts or hawks?
In the nest of her belly I slip into amnesia’s skin. I dream with golden eyes.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.