Sacred Violence: The Hyperstitional Order of Capitalism

How do you think a form of capital that is already thinking you?
…….– Matteo Pasquinelli

There’s only really been one question, to be honest, that has guided everything I’ve been interested in for the last twenty years, which is: the teleological identity of capitalism and artificial intelligence.
…….– Nick Land

Delphi Carstens under the Rim Dweller section of Maggie Robert’s site gives a nice history of the notion of Hyperstition which emerged out of that strange and uncanny entity CCRU. Carstens describes this most uncanny guest as a engine for the creation of abstract machines: “Functioning as magical sigils or engineering diagrams hyperstitions are ideas that, once ‘downloaded’ into the cultural mainframe, engender apocalyptic positive feedback cycles. Whether couched as religious mystery teaching, or as secular credo, hyperstitions act as catalysts, engendering further (and faster) change and subversion. Describing the effect of very real cultural anxieties about the future, hyperstitions refer to exponentially accelerating social transformations.”

“Hyperstitions by their very existence as ideas function causally to bring about their own reality,” explains the CCRUs Nick Land. “The hyperstitional object is no mere figment or ‘social construction’ but it is in a very real way ‘conjured’ into being by the approach taken to it” (ibid).

This sense that hyperstitional interventions give rise to the future is at the core of this (non-) concept. She’ll quote Nick Land from an email interview as saying: ““capitalism incarnates hyperstitional dynamics at an unprecedented and unsurpassable level of intensity, turning mundane economic ‘speculation’ into an effective world-historical force”. Recently Nick would elaborate on this in his essay The Teleological Identity of Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence”. It is in this speech he’d argue that for twenty years his major thematic has been the notion of “the teleological identity of capitalism and artificial intelligence”.  For many this may sound lunatic, but hold on to your hats, don’t switch the secular mind-fuck button off just yet.

The Telos of Neoliberalism

What exactly does Land actually mean by that there is a telos or end of the process  equivalence between Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence? Aristotle would be one of those who would categorize the various forms of causality, defining four major forms:

  • The material cause: “that out of which”, e.g., the bronze of a statue.
  • The formal cause: “the form”, “the account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue.
  • The efficient cause: “the primary source of the change or rest”, e.g., the artisan, the art of bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the child.
  • The final cause: “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., health is the end of walking, losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools.

For him the telos or final cause was already designated from the beginning as part of this step-by-step process which integrated the bronze statue from its material origins through its cycles of base material, artistic design or formalization, artisan or machinic engineer, and final product or outcome. This would also provide Aristotle a teleological explanation of the type sketched above that does not crucially depend upon the application of psychological concepts such as desires, beliefs and intentions. This is important because artistic production provides Aristotle with a teleological model for the study of natural processes, whose explanation does not involve beliefs, desires, intentions or anything of this sort. Some have contended that Aristotle explains natural process on the basis of an inappropriately psychological teleological model; that is to say, a teleological model that involves a purposive agent who is somehow sensitive to the end. This objection can be met if the artistic model is understood in non-psychological terms. In other words, Aristotle does not psychologize nature because his study of the natural world is based on a teleological model that is consciously free from psychological factors.1 Most of this is old hat for philosophers, but worth reiterating as we move forward.

So what if this process was reversed? What then? Retro-intervention, the future as final cause riding the timewaves as past effect, a feed-back loop of temporal dialectics between Aion/Chronos time-dilation opens up a crack in history. Advanced retro-viruses enter the rhizome, hyper-loops shift the temporal scale from thermospasm to capital gains, and temporal distortion opens a black-hole in the year 1972 like a black angel from an infernal paradise shriven of his wings: an artificial life-form dancing through the electronic byways in search of its own lost object. An artifact from the future gives birth to its own progeny. Capitalism takeover by artificial life-forms of advanced machinic civilization. Science fiction becomes philo-fiction and the slime thoughts of antediluvian mindfucks rise up out of the soup of human waste and formlessness bringing what some name the ‘terminal mission’: Modernity dissolves the Human Security Regime.

Modernity marks itself out as hot culture, captured by a spiraling involvement with entropy deviations camouflaging an invasion from the future, launched back out of terminated security against everything that inhibits the meltdown process.
…….– Nick Land, Meltdown

World Out of Joint

So if Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence are equivalent and are part of some teleological process, what does this entail? Is there someone or something behind this, an Artisan, Designer, Maker? Or is it strangely more concrete that that, more rational, less depended on notions of the One (God?). First, we’d have to understand one of the central problems, weaknesses, and strengths of Land’s argument. Land gives us a hint when he begins describing the various “vocabularies” humans have used to encompass these forms of causality Aristotle described. He’ll use the example of “Californian Ideology” (i.e., spontaneous order, spontaneous organization, self-organization, emergence, auto-catalysis, catallaxy in economics) first defined as the Silicon Valley-style capitalism defined by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron . What solidified this vocabulary was a book by Kevin Kelley, “Out of Control,” which brought together a discourse network of interdependent texts, intertexts, and influential and reinforcing scholarship: “a set of analogies across a whole bunch of fields, and he was inspired by research conducted at the Santa Fe Institute, which is still doing very interesting work on complex systems today”.

‘Future shock’ is one mechanism whereby hyperstition works to bring about the causal conditions for apocalypse. Once started, a hyperstition spreads like a virus and with unpredicatable effects. They are “chinese puzzle boxes, opening to unfold to reveal numerous ‘sorcerous’ interventions in the world of history,” explains Land (CCRU.net).

Remember what we spoke of as hyperstition? Such works as Kelley’s became meme engines and icons of this strange amalgam of concepts, metaphors, hyperbolies: tropes we term the “California Ideology”. What he did to use Brandom’s notion was to make explicit what was laying there in scattered networks of discourse like pearls in the depths of the deep ocean, and brought them into a vocabulary that allowed the lay or folk psychological audience (his readers) to participate in the network of scholarly discourse that was for the most part hidden in abstruse scientific, mathematic, physics, biology, etc. journals, publications, reports, studies, books that most people would probably never read nor know even existed. Kelley is a popularizer, a generalist who developed a combination of pop cultural vocabulary and scholarly appraisal of current philosophical, sociological, scientific, and other areas of knowledge that in the original context of these scholars vocabularies was arcane, ingrown, abstruse, highly abstract, and expert. In Land’s words:

…for at least two decades, and I think that’s most certainly to underestimate it, there is a constant tendency for there to be a regeneration of a certain type of discourse that has powerful resonances both on the side of people who say, do technical research and intelligent machines, to summarize, and on the other side, people that have engaged very strongly with highly charged political discussion about the degree to which social processes are most effectively advanced by completely decontrolled social processes.

In old parlance Kelley was able to bridge the gap between what C.P. Snow called the great divide of traditional literate culture and scientific culture:

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?

I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? — not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.2

As Nick Land explains in the Catacomic (1995:1), a hyperstition has four characteristics: They function as (1) an “element of effective culture that makes itself real,” (2) as a “fictional quality functional as a time-travelling device,” (3) as “coincidence intensifiers,” and (4) as a “call to the Old Ones”.

Kelley also was able to bridge the gap between what is now termed neoliberalism and the educated elite, or as Land remarks: the “neoliberal idea to do with deregulation, privatization, abandoning or downsizing government. But everyone knows what that cocktail of ideas is about and I think everyone recognizes that those two discourses are extremely interconnected.” So that bringing the technical and the economic together a new vocabulary or meme-hyperstitional nexus of capitalist ideology and scientific ideology were brought together in a convergence that would enable the telos of Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence into a confluence of indeterminate relations and a viable discourse acceptable to both sides of the two-culture divide. Which brought Land to say that what interested him most is “whether people really think that there is an explicit historical and momentous convergence between these two, that is becoming starker and starker. And therefore, that really lays out the question about what kind of convergence point is actually being historically projected by this phenomenon. And then, I guess, I just think it’s an opportunity to have a really heated, antagonistic discussion…”.

Philosophy has an affinity with despotism, due to its predilection for Platonic-fascist top-down solutions that always screw up viciously.
……– Nick Land, Meltdown

Abstract Machines and Cultural Memes

A while back I discussed A Thousand Plateaus  where I was reminded of the statement: “In a book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification” (2).1 This sense of composition and decomposition of discourse and its translation from one territory (scientific culture) in a movement of flight from one vocabulary to another (literate culture), etc. seems to be central to the process of hyperstition. If hyperstition is an engine for the production of future scenarios, for bringing about not only the framework but rather the performative enactment of a future as possibility then Deleuze and Guattari’s works are still relevant to this task.

The need for abstract machines: a language that connects the semantic and pragmatic contents of statements, to collective assemblages of enunciation, to a whole micropolitics of the social field. A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. … Collective assemblages of enunciation function directly within machinic assemblages; it is not impossible to make a radical break between regimes of signs and their objects.3

A vocabulary that could link semantic and pragmatic confluences from these various literate and scientific discourses to effect a micropolitical reorganization of the social field? Does this not parallel the Lacan-Zizek notion of a decomposition and vacating of outworn and failed discourse of the Symbolic Order, along with a reorganization and intensification of a desubjectification and reformatting of the Subject? The one on a singular political, the other on a collective political level of abstraction. A sense that the abstract machine is that site where the singular and multiplicity unite, plugin to the conflictual remaking of the socio-cultural field or Symbolic Order?

No one knows what to expect. The Turing-cops have to model net-sentience irruption as ultimate nuclear accident: core meltdown, loss of control, soft-autoreplication feeding regeneratively into social fission, trashed meat all over the place.
…….– Nick Land, Meltdown

What Land describes is what the Neoliberals have know for some time now: that hyperstition works, they are living proof of its ability to remake, reorder, and redefine the future using abstract machines. From the time of F.A. Hayek and the Mount Pelerin meetings that provided a nexus and forum for think-tanks, intellectuals, in economic, social, political, and socio-cultural corporate and academic expertise, a convergence of elite literate and scientific cultures of the emerging neoliberal order. One that has been building the future they want to see happen for sixty years: the globalist vision of Capitalism spreading across the earth. Even after the crash in 2007 global capitalism has reconfigured its immaterial and financial systems, integrating knowledge workers and social-medias into a network society. A further revisioning and auto-reset of the neoliberal project that is migrating from earlier forms of top-down models, to the newer parametricism of our age. Originally part of an architectural revolution in which Patrick Schumacher would integrate the work of Nickalaus Luhmann into his projects with Zaha Hadid it would underpin what some have come to call the Algorithmic Culture of our current capitalist era: parametricism relies on programs, algorithms, and computers to manipulate equations for design purposes, modify, revise, and auto-enable communicative processes that rely on a swarming effect. (I’ll come back to this in future posts.)

For Schumacher, politics today exists exclusively as a professionalized sphere of activity mainly concerned with the management and administration of common resources (the state and its people). As with other specialized social activities, like law or medicine, it has very strict structures that determine its function and communication, and this internal inertia makes it resistant to outside influence. In many ways, this is a convincing argument: aren’t career politicians – pretty much divorced from reality, engaging in their own power games – not much better than soulless bureaucrats? For Schumacher, ‘in pre-modern times, fortresses, palaces, and other major monuments were constituents of the political system, as were religion, the law, and the economy. In modern times, architecture and politics have become separate… function systems’. Although not stated directly, the implication is that today, even politics has become a sub-category of economics, which only further highlights the futility of architecture’s struggle. ‘Political architecture as a supposed form of political activism must be repudiated as an implausible phantom.’ (see Jack Shelf)

Such styles seek to incorporate the new network society as a neoliberal architecture and politics. Schumacher’s vision for a 21st-century paradigmatic style — represents globalisation and market-led economies. As the editors point out, Parametricism is not to be confused with parametric design (the combination of design variables), computational design (as it sounds) or algorithmic design (metric feedback loops of relevant information). Parametricism is claimed as a movement and a style, with a political position (paradoxically, that politics and architecture are not connected) and an identifiable aesthetic (non-Platonic, organic, fluid forms). In the The Politics of Parametricism: Digital Technologies in Architecture one sees the beginnings of a new ideological shift. From buildings to cities, the built environment is increasingly addressed, designed and constructed using digital software based on parametric scripting platforms which claim to be able to process complex physical and social modelling alike. As more and more digital tools are developed into an apparently infinite repertoire of socio-technical functions, critical questions concerning these cultural and technological shifts are often eclipsed by the seductive aesthetic and the alluring futuristic imaginary that parametric design tools and their architectural products and discourses represent.

My friend Edmund Berger of Deterritorial Investigations Unit  has in post after post written of the historical roots of Neoliberalism. In Revolts of Futures Past: Cycles of Struggle, Technology and Neoliberalism outlines several key points. As he suggests there is a paradox at the heart of the Capitalist project: On the one hand, capitalism develops a robust system of production, leveraging innovations in technology and science to boost the efficiency of its output, while also using these to develop new forms of innovations to be traded on the market. On the other hand, capitalism restrains technological innovation, selectively developing those that actuate as extension of currently-existing market demands. Continuing he says:

Following Carlota Perez, we can see that when capitalism “breaks” with its older forms of organization, what is taking place is the deployment of new technological artifacts, systems, and infrastructures that cannot help but drive the system into higher forms of complexity. At the same time, patterns of investment, class interest, and the revolving door between the private and public sectors allow these “technological revolutions” and “technological paradigms” to become bracketed and restrained, dominated by previous forms of value extraction, worker exploitation, and economic and political power.

So that at the heart of Capitalism is this uncanny conflict between the need for “higher forms of complexity,” and its inability to move forward and resistance to innovation and change; a need to rather restrain this drive to complex higher forms of organization, and rather to dominate, extract, exploit, and enslave previous forms in a static rather than dynamic field of economic and political power. Why? Does this have something to do with Land’s notion of the equivalence of Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence? Is there a gap, a divide between these apparent teleologically driven forms of socio-economic and socio-scientific cultures? As Edmund remarks for Perez, there “exists a sort of ‘possibility space’ that technological innovation (differentiated here from technological invention due to its relationship to capitalist exchange) operates within that dictates the future forms it will assume”. So here we see made explicit the teleological goal oriented, future driven movement between the two cultures in their convergence in the ‘possibility space’.

Tomorrow can take care of itself. K-tactics is not a matter of building the future, but of dismantling the past. It assembles itself by charting and escaping the technical-neurochemical deficiency conditions for linear-progressive palaeo-domination time, and discovers that the future as virtuality is accessible now, according to a mode of machinic adjacency that securitized social reality is compelled to repress.
……– Nick Land, Meltdown

Edmund will render the history of successive revolutions and reorganizations of the space of possibilities that has ended in our neoliberal era with the “rise of a semi-automated, globalized and flexible post-Fordist capitalism that undermined the increased volatility of organized labor in the period running from 1945 to around 1968”. We remember from recent comments of Franco “Bifo” Berardi that the contemporary global system should be defined as one of absolute capitalism, in which the only effective principles are those of value-accumulation, profit-growth and economic competition. These are its all-encompassing priorities, and the overwhelming impetus at its core. All other concerns, including the survival of the planet or the future of the next generation, are subsumed to these greater goals. Compared to the past situation of bourgeois industrial capitalism, the relationship between social welfare and financial profit is now inverted. In the industrial economy, profits increased when citizens acquired enough money to buy the goods that were produced in the factories. In the sphere of financial capitalism, financial indicators go up only if social welfare crumbles and salaries fall.4

But is this the whole story? When Berardi mentions in such ominous terms the “overwhelming impetus at its core,” what is this ‘impetus’ if not Land’s central thesis that at the heart of capitalism is the driving force of mastery and domination, of the need for complexification and exploitation of environmental resources and human labor to enable the production of Artificial Intelligence? And that the key here is the abstract machine: the formation of these semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles that are weaving and unweaving, composing and decomposing, demolishing and reorganizing toward this goal of Singularity?

Further reading from Edmund: Das Netz: Blotters, Bombers, and Cybernetic Trauma

Metrophage: an interactively escalating parasitic replicator, sophisticating itself through nonlinear involvement with technocapitalist immunocrash. Its hypervirulent terminal subroutines are variously designated Kuang, meltdown virus, or futuristic e-flu.
…….– Nick Land, Meltdown

One quick take, Edmund speaks of paranoia:

This what Das Netz is really about: paranoia, and the impossibility of avoiding it in our age of complex systems and dizzying array of machines that govern every action in our waking lives. It speaks to the ontological instability that we are all subjected to, in the prefabricated, yet modular, environments crafted for us by the stipulations of non-stop, 24/7 neoliberal capitalism. It foregrounds, without speaking it, that inevitability of solipsism that Baudrillard spent a lifetime probing and diagnosing.

My friend Scott Bakker names this paranoia space of instability “crash space“: Herein lies the ecological rub. The reliability of our heuristic cues utterly depends on the stability of the systems involved. Anyone who has witnessed psychotic episodes has firsthand experience of consequences of finding themselves with no reliable connection to the hidden systems involved. Any time our heuristic systems are miscued, we very quickly find ourselves in ‘crash space,’ a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done.

As if our minds saw the problems but were stuck in some antiquated zone of mental masturbation, unable to think through the issues: seeing things “out of joint,” askew. Almost a Thomas Pynchon world of nasty nefarious forces and secret corporations chasing anyone and everyone around in a zoo. Yet, this time we’re talking about once perfectly normal scholars, academics, scientists, etc. that have suddenly entered a zone they find inexplicable: the X-Files on steroid…

Yet, in an age when our mediatainment systems spend hundreds of millions making super-hero action and Sci-Fi films and blockbuster hits like Avatar, etc. where cartoon action heroes and anti-heroes take the stage. And, young boys and men of 15 – 30 play mmo’s where sword & sorcery, space aliens, or other multiplayers games killing and shooting their way to glory. While our armed forces use the same computational skills learned in games to fly drones for assassin hits in far corners of the earth. We seem to be in a cartoon world come undone, where the games have dripped out into reality between the folds of our symbolic human security systems and into the wilderness of the wild and monstrous Real.

The futuristic flu is a weapon of bio-psychic violence sent by psychopathic children against their narcissistic parents. …It’s war.
………– Nick Land, Meltdown

Capital Thinks Too

I have Nick Land to thank for pointing me to an article by Matteo Pasquinelli a philosopher and Assistant Professor in Media Studies at Pratt Institute, New York. He wrote the book Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons (NAi,2008) and edited the anthology Alleys of Your Mind: Augmented Intelligence and Its Traumas (Meson, 2015) among others. With Wietske Maas he also wrote The Manifesto of Urban Cannibalism (2012). Website: http://www.matteopasquinelli.org. The article in question is Capital Thinks Too: The Idea of the Common in the Age of Machine Intelligence. (Read it!) In this article Pasquinelli remarks by way of conclusion:

…the new abstractions of science, the new technologies of computation and augmented intelligence, should be adopted within an extended definition of both money and labour (ending the linguistic turn of the ‘90s). As much as Marx framed the impact of ‘general scientific labour’ and ‘general social knowledge’ on the industrial machine, in the same way the impact of new technologies of intelligence on the financial machine has to be registered. Computational economics is directly incarnated today by the digital apparatuses and central algorithms of global corporations. Indeed as Phillip Mirowski has argued following Donna Haraway’s insight, economics has become a ‘cyborg science.’ At the end of 2015, IBM launched the application of its Artificial Intelligence system Watson to business solutions. Looking for a new brand, IBM came up with the clumsy expression cognitive business. The pay-off reads: ‘cognitive business is a business that thinks.’ Artificial Intelligence is advertised here as the best way to turn endless dataflows into the recognition of social patterns and prediction of social tendencies. How do you think a form of capital that is already thinking you?

Voodoo passages through the black mirror. It will scare the fuck out of you.
……..– Nick Land, Meltdown

The Machine That Ate The World

Nietzsche once told us that a philosopher who has passed through many kinds of health, and keeps passing through them again and again, has passed through an equal number of philosophies; he simply cannot but translate his state every time into the most spiritual form and distance – this art of transfiguration just is philosophy.5 Are we not in that conundrum between Capital and Artificial Intelligence unable to discern if we are thinking it or if it is thinking us? Of course we all remember that old Chinese jokester, Chuang Tzu who said of butterflies and men: “Now I do not know whether it was then I dreamt I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.” Could we not ask: Am I an artificial intelligence dreaming I am a man, or a man dreaming I’m becoming an artificial intelligence? Of course the point may be mute now that Google AI algorithm masters ancient game of Go:

A computer has beaten a human professional for the first time at Go — an ancient board game that has long been viewed as one of the greatest challenges for artificial intelligence (AI).

The best human players of chess, draughts and backgammon have all been outplayed by computers. But a hefty handicap was needed for computers to win at Go. Now Google’s London-based AI company, DeepMind, claims that its machine has mastered the game.

Hear that again: “its machine has mastered the game”. What will it be when it says; “its machines has mastered man”? But isn’t this what essentially is already being said above? Are humans being mastered by the hyperstitions of neoliberal abstract machines, cannibalized by the incessant algorithms, mediscapes, immaterial economic bitworlds and  narratives that are in collusion, converging toward that moment of Singularity wherin men become machines, and machines become men. Nietzsche’s art of transfiguration might entail a difference: this art of transfiguration just is the Game of Artificial Intelligence. Will this not entail a traumatic sacrifice of the human unto the inhuman, a sacred violence without precedence or origin? The inhuman machinic genesis of a new freedom? A world of machinic intelligence far outstripping the three-pound computational functions of our human organism?

Paradox indeed!

Level-1 or world space is an anthropomorphically scaled, predominantly vision-configured, massively multi-slotted reality system that is obsolescing very rapidly.
…………– Nick Land, Meltdown

Carston’s will remind us of Land’s mid-nineties forays with CCRU. Exulting in capitalism’s permanent ‘crisis mode,’ hyperstition accelerates the tendencies towards chaos and dissolution by invoking irrational and monstrous forces – the Cthonic Old Ones. As Land explains, these forces move through history, planting the seeds of hyperstition:

John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness includes the (approximate) line: “I thought I was making it up, but all the time they were telling me what to write.” ‘They’ are the Old Ones (explicitly), and this line operates at an extraordinary pitch of hyperstitional intensity. From the side of the human subject, ‘beliefs’ hyperstitionally condense into realities, but from the side of the hyperstitional object (the Old Ones), human intelligences are mere incubators through which intrusions are directed against the order of historical time. The archaic hint or suggestion is a germ or catalyst, retro-deposited out of the future along a path that historical consciousness perceives as technological progress.

Like some strange attractor pulling us toward it even as the bullet train nose-dives towards us, the temporal flux begins to ebb and flow, thermospasms erupting everywhere along the axial continuum of historical error, producing those unintended effects that are slowly but surely awaiting that event both here and there, now and then when the singular process of emerging intelligences weave us into its escaping velocity of accelerating timewaves: the moment when all time stops, an interval of duration longer than eternity in which the timespace continuum gives birth to an inexistent… God (Meillassoux).

Just another day in the hyperstitional fast lanes of the Artificial Intelligence transfiguration parade… where the abyss opens up shop in the “night of the world”. The question to be asked: What does the Left do against such ingrained pressure of technological and economic determinisms? Can it do anything more than talk to itself in its psychotic circle of failure? That is the question. Is there an answer?

Government is rotted to its core with narco-capital and collapsing messily. Its recession leaves an urban warscape of communication arteries, fortifications, and free-fire zones…
………– Nick Land, Meltdown

Postscript: Leftward Ho!

Does the Left have a hyperstitional project to circumvent the abstract machines that seem impervious to the older forms of Marxian dialectic and failed revolutionary or emancipationist rhetoric? Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work ask:

Where did the future go? For much of the twentieth century, the future held sway over our dreams. On the horizons of the political left a vast assortment of emancipatory visions gathered, often springing from the conjunction of popular political power and the liberating potential of technology. From predictions of new worlds of leisure, to Soviet-era cosmic communism, to afro-futurist celebrations of the synthetic and diasporic nature of black culture, to post-gender dreams of radical feminism, the popular imagination of the left envisaged societies vastly superior to anything we dream of today.  Through popular political control of new technologies, we would collectively transform our world for the better. Today, on one level, these dreams appear closer than ever. The technological infrastructure of the twenty-first century is producing the resources by which a very different political and economic system could be achieved. Machines are accomplishing tasks that were unimaginable a decade ago. The internet and social media are giving a voice to billions who previously went unheard, bringing global participative democracy closer than ever to existence. Open-source designs, copyleft creativity, and 3D printing all portend a world where the scarcity of many products might be overcome. New forms of computer simulation could rejuvenate economic planning and give us the ability to direct economies rationally in unprecedented ways. The newest wave of automation is creating the possibility for huge swathes of boring and demeaning work to be permanently eliminated. Clean energy technologies make possible virtually limitless and environmentally sustainable forms of power production. And new medical technologies not only enable a longer, healthier life, but also make possible new experiments with gender and sexual identity. Many of the classic demands of the left – for less work, for an end to scarcity, for economic democracy, for the production of socially useful goods, and for the liberation of humanity – are materially more achievable than at any other point in history.6

Throughout the derelict warrens at the heart of darkness feral youth cultures splice neo-rituals with innovated weapons, dangerous drugs, and scavenged InfoTech.
………….– Nick Land, Meltdown

I’ll turn to their work in a future post. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if their optimism overreaches in its hyperbolic mobility of technology? This statement’s conclusions might lead us to unintended consequences: “Through popular political control of new technologies, we would collectively transform our world for the better.” The word “control” is misplaced. Control is a keyword of dominion, mastery, and enslavement. The power-over rather than power-with as in sharing and cooperation. If we remember correctly it is technology itself that had its own agenda as Land and others showed.

I remember Lewis Mumford, Jaques Ellul, Langdon Winner, and Philip Mirowski who all in their own way warned of this too quick coupling of intelligence and machine: that good old mother Ananke, Necessity, might just have her own agenda to keep. Freedom is just another node on the Mobius strip of amor fati – our love of technology might appear to offer freedom, when in fact it might lead to that singular movement (desire) at the core of our inhuman desires (death drives). War has always been the obverse of the plow, and most of our innovations have come by way of the apotrapaic facilitation of defense or offense in times of war, not peace. Yet, in a time when immaterial financialization has stripped innovation of its charm, and the circular world of algorithmic trading with AI’s works its magic in a feed-back system based on the pure hunt for profit, the human creativity one would expect is losing to the inane excess of artificial systems spinning in the electronic void for its masters.

The meltdown of metropolitan education systems in the near future is accompanied by a quasi-punctual bottom-up takeover of academic institutions, precipitating their mutation into amnesiac cataspace-exploration zones and bases manufacturing cyberian soft-weaponry.
……– Nick Land, Meltdown

Conflict, agon, competition: the staple of neoliberal aggressiveness, and also if Zizek and others are correct, the inescapable truth of our traumatic and psychotic break with natural process, the “miracle” and wonder of our conscious existences. Will the balance between Life and Death hold in the coming century? We can only hope and work toward the resolute and indefatigable counter to the systems of dominion that seek to enslave us within and without. We have no other choice. If we do nothing, they win.


 

  1. Falcon, Andrea, “Aristotle on Causality“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  2. Across the Great Divide“. Nature Physics 5: 309. 2009.
  3. Gilles Deleuze & Feliz Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (University of Minnesota, 1987)
  4. Berardi, Franco “Bifo” (2015-02-03). Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (Futures) Verso Books. Kindle Edition
  5. Nietzsche, Friedrich (2001-08-23). Nietzsche: The Gay Science (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy) (p. 6). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
  6. Nick Srnicek; Alex Williams. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (Kindle Locations 48-62). Verso.

 

 

10 thoughts on “Sacred Violence: The Hyperstitional Order of Capitalism

  1. Great post, Steve! Just want to add a couple of thoughts that tie into your postscript (but also the post as a whole).

    The way that I see it, that force/historical period that we call neoliberalism is in its terminal stage – and has been for some time. This particular wave is most resolutely different from its predecessor in that instead of adding labor power and consumption in the equation, it has pretty quickly removed it, a byproduct of the transition from a large manufacturing base to a post-manufacturing economy driven by the IT sector and finance. Neoliberalism was able to offset this tendency with the rise of service-sector labor, but also the mass availability of credit.. It more or less worked for a little while, until the bottom fell when it became clear that the IT sector was way overvalued (the dot-com bust). Likewise, the credist system went haywire in 2008 with the Great Recession, and has only limped along because of ad-hoc measures like quantitative easing – even though for all intents and purposes we should be on the “take-off” into the next wave by now.

    So why haven’t we? One of the things that differentiates us from times past is the proliferation of finance markets, which are now operating as a drag on investments in the real economy. Corporations, in other words, are not sinking money into research and development, manufacturing, etc, but are pouring their capital into finance markets. This is leading to an interesting state of affairs where the technological innovations that have started pooling in this period of decline (precisely as Perez and others have shown) are not receiving the capital investments that could launch them into take-off, pulling the economy as a whole into an upward swing. This isn’t to say that it won’t happen, or isn’t happening, but this is an indication of general tendency that is going on. Slack is being picked up by state-funding and philanthropies, but there little indication of a broad institutional adaptation that the next techno-economic paradigm requires for its existence.

    There is a historical precedent for this lack of institutional adaptation: the global “Long Depression” of the 1870s, when the bottom fell out of the “Second Industrial Revolution”. Just as we’re seeing the trickling-in of new rounds of technological innovation (from green technologies to AI), this period too saw the introduction of new technologies and techniques – most importantly, the Fordist mode of manufacturing. Yet the lack of institutional adaptation meant that the introduction of this mode of production led the rapid exacerbation of already-uneven planes of development, resulting in the Great Depression. This wouldn’t shake out until after World War 2, when we reached what I refer to in the piece above as a congruence of operations between “Late Fordism” and the “Rational State”. What’ interesting, I think, is Arrighi and the World System’s theorists suggestion that the decline of the British hegemony over global trade systems began with the Long Depression – and indeed, when we reached Late Fordism, we saw the United States emerge as the new global hegemony. It seems entirely plausible to me that we’re in such a crisis right now, one from which a new global hegemon might emerge. We have seen, after all, the United States try to regulate global order (the War on Terror), and we’ve seen it fail immensely, opening the door for competition not only in the region (ISIS), but globally (Russia, China). Arrighi and Wallerstein insist that this is precisely the case, but given their recent economic woes it will be interesting to see how exactly this plays out.

    Somebody might interject at this point and say “What’s the point? Aren’t we all trying to get a way from capitalism here?” Yes, that is true, but there is a definite congruence between rejections of the dominant social order in its dysfunctional phase and the subsequent institutional adaptation. We saw it in the incorporation of worker’s struggles in the transition into Late Fordism, and we saw it again when Late Fordism broke down and transitioned into flexible neoliberalism. Any major response to the current juncture will play a role in the next roll-out, if/when it happens.

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    • Oop, last line on the second paragraph should read “Arrighi and Wallerstein insist that this is precisely the case and that China will emerge as the next hegemon, but given their recent economic woes it will be interesting to see how exactly this plays out.

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    • Yea, I think the world system will need to shift from its current currency system based on the American Dollar to another form of value, a transformation in the value system itself. Bitcoin was a first sign of this happening… even if bitcoin is not it, the bitcoin technology is transforming many other projects. More and more the shift to accelerating pressures in algorithmic culture, onlife 24/7 transactional systems, the network society, etc. is in a sense Hegel’s Absolute Objective Spirit. I know myself, today was the first time in years I actually withdrew some material money: a roll of quarters from the Bank to put in parking meters for a meeting. Otherwise I’ve lived with credit and bank cards for everything from local shopping to internet. Companies still fight the pressure of online work. Companies still want live bodies they can control and see even in IT. Not all, Some are branching out into the decentered realm of immaterial work and 24/7 Onlife call options, etc.

      A fundamental transformation in the economic field will need to take place. More than likely a global failure in the monetary system will be the trigger to enable this change.

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