Cryptosociety: The Dark Economy and Technologies of Freedom

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“We will replace insurance companies. We will replace Wall Street. – Joseph Lubin

Under the hood of capitalism flows another world, a dark world of economic counter-insurgents. A realm of noirpreneurs who slip the electronic seeds of an anarchic future of pure freedom beyond the capture systems of global governance. A cryptosociety of dark capitalists who live in the shadow markets outside the global eye. This darker world of the bitcoin and blockchain revolution is unleashing the teeth of a global systemic exit, a techno-secessionism that seeks not only to forget capital’s fractured End Game but to undercut its all too human roots in transparency with utter opaqueness and anonymity.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” says Amir Taaki. “Like a hydra, those of us in the community that push for individual empowerment are in an arms race to equip the people with the tools needed for the next generation of digital black markets.” (from Inside the Dark Market by Andy Greenberg) As the blurb on Consensys site envisions the opening out from bitcoins to the larger framework of the global use of blockchain technologies state it: “Blockchain technology and dApps have the ability to decentralize power from existing authorities in business, law, and technology to a broad set of stakeholders. This shift will disrupt current business, economic and social paradigms. Transaction costs and barriers to entry in various industries will be reduced in these industries. The result will likely be an increase in economic exchange and prosperity.”

Taaki argues that he’s merely distributing a program–not running a criminal conspiracy. “I’m just a humble coder,” he says. “Code is a form of expression. You can’t imprison someone for speaking an idea.” Yet, it can be used to counter your so to speak techno-anarchistic neutrality. This open source vision of expression is nothing more than subterfuge, and less than it seems. What’s ironic is that Taaki and those anarchist of the new economy of black markets and terminal exit from the system through a form of techno-secessionism are already being coopted by the very powers they seek to accelerate beyond. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for this anarchic wave of dissent and techno-secessionism toward alternative sub-cultures and techno-tribalism etc.

Yet, I am seeing the larger picture within which this is but a small fragment. Our blinkered lens so much fed by 40 years of postmodern gibberish of microhistories and cultural materialism and other fragmented visions of the discursive archive etc. have left us without a larger framework within which to see how our very “ideas” are coopted and reintegrated by the very system we seek to escape and elude. Because these techno-anarchists have made their code available, and that means available to even the big boys of the techno-commercial world of the Big Data frontiers like IBM and other fortune 500 companies who have access to these technologies we’re discovering that indeed they are downloading them and building their own proof-of-concepts for their own ventures. As these smaller libertarian coders enter their dark webs to escape the techno-commercialists, the larger entities are not sitting buy idly but are incorporating the same technologies into their own profiteering business models.

This blinkered anarchism and anarcho-communism etc. is itself blinded by its own fragmented vision of the techno-commercialists and their self-reflecting and self-organizing capitalist flows. Capitalists as cognitariats have studied at the courts of Foucault (knowledge and power), Deleuze (lines of flight and consistency, etc.), Baudrillard (hyperreality), Virilio (Speed, Dromoscope), Berardi (Precarity), and a hundred others just like we on the Left have, and they’ve learned to incorporate these very same ideas into capital value for their own initiatives. Our First World educational systems and University develop and produce capitalists and anti-capitalists from the same institutions. The difference is capitalist youth enter the the power regimes while Leftists sit back and bewail their fate and lack of power. It’s no longer a political thing, its become nothing but about global power and economics. Politics is all theatre, a sham – a stage show to keep the Left preoccupied with its own illusions of change and resistance. But the more we feed the academic treadmill, journals, and blogosphere with critique the more we fall into our own mutual delusional pathologies.  The capitalists who run the show left the stage world of politics long ago. All that remains is the media morons, the paid actors, the puppeteers and vice reagents of a mediscape empire that hypnotizes the masses into the belief that they too have an option. Sorry, no options left. Just open your eyes and see techno-slavery in its ultimate guise as the new Europe. We’ve succumbed to our own fictional hype. Time to wake up. The show is over and now the dystopian truth is swallowing you whole.

Am I cynical? You bet I am. I’ve finally admitted to myself that since 1968 the Left has done nothing more than piddle in the wind. With every so to speak little success story we lock ourselves deeper into our own collective hells dreaming of a freedom from rather some actual struggle with the powers around us. We hear of the Left’s refusal to work, and on the far right the techno-secessionist libertarian revolt to escape or exit the Cathedral. Makes you wonder why we can’t just come together and figure this thing out. We love our psychopathologies J.G. Ballard told us too much to give them up. Maybe he’s right after all. We’d rather enjoy our symptom (Zizek) than put ourselves through the pain of a real cure.

I think the Left sometimes sits in a blind hole of a dark ship of mythologies of the past, rather than living and looking at what is going on around them in the present. Study the literature of the advanced capitalists and their business agendas for Management, Corporations, and Society for the past forty years rather than our continued diagnosis of the mythical neoliberalism that seems to be the only mode of critique the Left can muster at the moment. The left lives in a hyperreality of its own making and out of it has built a dystopian matrix of thought that for the most part has nothing to do with what capitalists are actually doing. Even as I listen to these naïve techno-anarchists I keep asking myself: “Do they think they truly can keep ahead of the machine of big business, while at the same time feeding it their open code and technologies?”

Many new ventures such as Ethereum are building these platforms for developers and companies alike to build proof-of-concept ideas to gain ground in the techno-commercial sector. As the company site tells us Ethereum is a decentralized platform that runs smart contracts: applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third party interference.

Yet, as I began researching this post this morning, reading through subjects as various as bitcoin, blockchains, dark markets, dark wallets, etc. I also began to see the trail leading back out of the darkness and into the treadmill of advanced capital itself. Already the signs of larger corporate initiatives are under proof-of-concept to integrate many of the new technologies of these global anarchic techno-commercialists into the mainstream.  Below I use IBM as a case study of the new global Infospheric Economy hype that is taking both the Internet of things (IoT) and the libertarian technologies of the new anarchic coders and combining it to form a new business model that encompasses everything virtual and actual into a total system of capital based on the spurious notion of the Democracy of Devices.

This Orwellian vision of democracy, a world to keep the masses happy and smiling, a Brave New World of transhuman and posthuman disconnection from our former realities, and the enclosure of the commons of intensive/extensive virtual and actual worlds into a data system of global proportions: an Infosphere or Internet of things bound to capital flows of surplus value is just a new pattern in an old monopoly system that has only decentered its self from the center to periphery. We’re not seeing the disappearance of capitalism, we’re seeing it migrate into its own devices while at the same time providing the masses with the illusion of an ideology of freedom and device democracy. Make no mistake – the game is what it has always been – profit and surplus value.

Large companies such as IBM and Samsung are hyping Device Democracy and the Internet of things to create new markets in which homes and businesses will alleviate the human equation while integrating the self-organization and maintenance of machines, thereby creating a sense of autonomy and freedom as pure illusion, but in fact producing the opposite in value and profitability controlled by ubiquitous computing and invisible agents outside the control of the human prosumer.

The Adept demo shows the incorporation of the various underlying technologies as blockchains, bittorrent, and smart contracts as viable for a new decentralized platforms to move current devices out of centralized Clouds and into a peer-to-peer self-organized and self-maintaining Internet-of-things. Washing machines that can reorder detergent when needed, search for a local vendor for replacement parts as well as contact a service provider for installation of the part, all done peer-to-peer, trustless, and encrypted – with each transaction handled on the blockchain which insures secure, private, and anonymity. The point here being to shift the power from the center (Clouds) to the device themselves which they describe as Device Democracy.

The hype factor of the techno-commercial vision is based on a need for profitability. As their tech report (pdf) suggests the next revolution, a network of billions of intelligent devices known as the “Internet of Things (IoT),” will, in some ways, be predictable and similar to past expansions of the computing world. In other aspects, however, it represents an entirely new approach. Computing is already widespread in many devices from kitchens to cars, but it is a particular kind of computing that is cheap and scalable, yet inherently limited: application-specific, embedded computing. What is new, and what will power the IoT, is the shift from special purpose computing – often the minimum necessary for device control – to general purpose computing. Thanks to Moore’s Law, it is now cheaper and easier to make a device with a powerful general purpose computer than create a customized embedded device. Very soon, devices from doorknobs to light bulbs will carry as much compute power and connectivity as the first smartphones.

In their bid to business executives to buy into the hype they speak about the need to change the current business models of the knowledge systems that have now become obsolete: “Most IoT business models also hinge on the use of analytics to sell user data or targeted advertising. These expectations are also unrealistic. Both advertising and marketing data are affected by the unique quality of markets in information: the marginal cost of additional capacity (advertising) or incremental supply (user data) is zero. So wherever there is competition, market-clearing prices trend toward zero, with the real revenue opportunity going to aggregators and integrators. A further impediment to extracting value from user data is that while consumers may be open to sharing data, enterprises are not.” The point is that those making the money are the ones aggregating and analyzing the data, not the collectors of data – and the techno-commercialists buy data that has already been messaged and filtered specifically or tailor designed to meet their needs and profitability margins, etc. All these Big Data Combines we see being installed around the planet to gather and aggregate the dividual flows of surplus value are being encoded for use by both the commercial and industrial-military industrial complex. Big Data means profit, at the end of the day that’s what matters for these elite financiers and their bankers.

As you see most current business models are moving into a downward spiral to zero profitability, while the data driven society may be open and democratic for prosumers, the corporations are not and therefore their need to extract surplus value from data is almost nil in the current economy and no longer viable for most online commercial systems going forward. “So while technology propels the IoT forward, the lack of compelling and sustainably profitable business models is, at the same time, holding it back. If the business models of the future don’t follow the current business of hardware and software platforms, what will they resemble?”

So IBM sets itself up as the Savior who will rescue businesses through a new business model that guides them and provides them solutions that must embrace highly efficient digital economies and create collaborative value, all while creating improved products and user experiences. How? They tell us by adopting peer-to-peer computing to process the hundreds of billions of IoT transactions can significantly reduce costs associated with installing and maintaining large centralized data centers. It’s time for the cloud to move from the data center to your doorknob.  Successful decentralization of the IoT, however, will lie not just in being peer-to-peer, but also in being trustless: an environment in which there is no need for participants to be trusted and no centralized, single point of failure.”

As if Zygmunt Bauman had written the blurb for them IBM offers the new liquid economy of the new Internet of things. Instead of the old web where people wander from link to link in a commercial zoo like window shoppers in a global arena the new IoT “will enable a similar set of transformations, making the physical world as liquid, personalized and efficient as the digital one. Based on historical case studies of digital disruption, we see five compelling vectors of disruption emerging. They will shift the IoT from technical curiosity to compelling business strategy.” Below is the chart:

Screen Shot 08-19-15 at 06.43 AM

The Infosphere of Economic capacity is integrating the internal virtual economy and the external resource extensive economy into a total unified system of capital profitability. The vision of IBM’s model which is probably a test pilot for Global Capitalism is “to make the physical world every bit as easy to search, utilize and engage with as the virtual world. We describe this emerging transformation as the liquification of the physical world. Just as large financial marketplaces create liquidity in securities, currencies and cash, the IoT can liquify whole industries, squeezing greater productivity and profitability out of them than anyone ever imagined possible.” One imagines people being squeezed like so many oranges in a spinning ginny till everything on the planet is liquefied and pooled in a giant vat of surplus value from which Global Capital can then suck it dry. Goo City here we come!

This hype of a decentralization and democracy of devices almost seems a parody of speculative realisms Democracy of Objects by Levi R. Bryant, but whereas he envisions an egalitarian society of devices our techno-commercialists see a profitable realm of surplus value arising out of the internal/external relations among autonomous objects devoid of the human players except as bits in the dataflows of the future economy.

Ultimately IBM and its partners envision a world where anonymous devices are continuously and ubiquitously connected and intelligent, while at the same time integrating their human cohorts into the machinic phylum of communication that is invisible and highly interactive. As they end the vision becomes clear, as “this process unfolds, conventional design thinking will expand. Simple, transparent digital interfaces will need to seamlessly replace existing physical interactions. And as our dependence on smart devices increases, it will be essential that these devices are designed not to fail.” The keyword here is ‘dependence’. This sense that we are becoming so enamored and dependent, enslaved, entangled, and knotted into the system of gadgets and devices that we will no longer be able to exist without them. At that point we’re under their total control, no longer consumers but rather the consumed – sheer surplus value to be drained of every last vital sign remaining. Digital Zombies who don’t even realize their dead.

Even now they want the new digital natives being born today to wander in a ubiquitous world of data, a ubiquitous matrix of interconnected and surround systems of data forming and cocooning them on all sides: – enveloped in communications systems that will secure, protect, and serve their every need while at the same time entangling them in the techno-commercial empires of profitability from which they will never again escape. This is the true dark side of our future cryptosociety, a realm where humans serve the machines as companion species, organizing the world to meet the strategies and goals of an emerging technological singularity of inhuman intelligence all under the guise of democracy. A benign tyranny of smart contracts and infotainment based on pleasure and jouissance from which the very thought of escape or exit is to become disloyal to the machine you serve so willingly. The only escape from such a world will be disconnection, and that means only one thing: suicide or madness, else mass murder on a scale we’ve only begun to notice at the heart of our theatres, schools, and corporate enclaves.

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