The End of Sovereignty: Control Societies in a Networked World

Deleuze would follow Foucault’s notion of the panoptican and apply it to a post-Fordist world. We’re living in it. Our network society incarnates the formula of ‘seeing without being seen’.1 If the Panoptican is a Factory Prison for producing knowledge and subjectivity, then the internet in both its mobility and its immersive ubiquity in sensors, surveillance, and the base nervous system of the networks that permeate our Onlife lives incarnates the latest version of this disciplinary system. As Foucault would suggest the panoptic enclosure sought to abolish punishment and replace it with self-control (Foucault, p. 124).

We have seen that we are probably the last generation to experience a clear difference between online and offline environments. Some people already live onlife. Some cultures are already hyperhistorical. A further transformation worth highlighting concerns the emergence of artificial and hybrid (multi) agents, i.e., partly artificial and partly human (consider, for example, a family as a single agent, equipped with digital cameras, laptops, tablets, smart phones, mobiles, wireless network, digital TVs, DVDs, CD players, etc.). These new agents already share the same ontology with their environment and can operate within it with much more freedom and control. We (shall) delegate or outsource, to artificial agents and companions, our memories, decisions, routine tasks, and other activities in ways that will be increasingly integrated with us and with our understanding of what it means to be an agent. We have begun to see ourselves as inforgs (i.e., informational organisms) not through some transformations in our bodies but, more seriously and realistically, through the reontologization of our environment and of ourselves. This move from nature to the artificial in thought and practice is part of that transitional movement. The old dichotomies of Nature/Culture are vanishing, and in their place is new forms that breakaway from such binary associations in favor of seeing the environment/society distinction as erroneous at best, and superficial in the sense that we live in the midst of information, we are immersed in it, it permeates every aspect of our lives sleeping and waking. (Floridi, p. 14).

Capitalist society is now completely rhizomatic (i.e., in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari affirmed in Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus): leave one cell and enter another, they’re all part of a vast networked modulatory system of discipline, education, and factories for producing subservient and inattentive citizens, compliant and uncommunicative. The so-called dumbing down of education and society. Whether you move to a factory, school, home, theatre, shopping mall, city street, etc., you move within an invisible grid of sensors and eyes-surveillance that tracks, analyzes, filters, profiles; and decodes and recodes your Onlife into data-metric statistics and probabilistic sequences of algorithms, which are tagged to your virtual or ‘dividual’ being with potential markers that can be appended to thousands of products as well as rhizomatic exit/entry points that can perform regulative tasks upon your life.

Everything has been dematerialized within a distributive network of connections, disconnections, and reconnections (i.e., D&G’s territorialization, deteritorialization, and reterritorialization). No longer bound to chrono time-space materializations, but rather within a set of sets of mathematical diagrams, topographies, and cartographic assemblages that trap and capture human desires, and modulate them as data to be recodified into ontic-information for sale, policing, governing, and control as part of a global Infosphere Empire governance system. One that operates on pure communication of flexible and filtered data, within the visible and invisible code-spaces bound to the rule-based systems of intrinsic and extrinsic bioinformatics and neuroinformatics. As William Bogard remarks Capital’s project today is to engineer the disciplines directly into our DNA, which after all is just coded information. The final frontier in this project is to transform the socious into a distributed bio-network, whose relations nano-technologies can adjust in real time, all in the name of power and money.2

Frank Pasquale’s post on The Emerging Law of Algorithms, Robots, and Predictive Analytics. The author suggests that advances in information and communications technology and the “datafication” of broadening fields of human endeavor are generating unparalleled quantities and kinds of data about individual and group behavior, much of which is now being deployed to assess risk by governments worldwide. Law enforcement personnel are expected to prevent terrorism through data-informed policing aimed at curbing extremism before it expresses itself as violence. According to Agamben, the signature of a state of exception is ‘force-of’; actions that have the force of law even when not of the law. Software is being used to predict which people on parole or probation are most likely to commit murder or other crimes.

Capitaloscene: Utopian Frontiers of the Globalist Empire

A Capitalist Utopianism that seems to have a long and varied tradition is unveiling its strange narratives within this dark dystopian turn. What is utopian for one group is always seen as dystopian for another. As tells us Lyman Tower Sargent tells us in her short study of Utopianism:

Ideologies and utopia are closely related. There is a utopia at the heart of every ideology, a positive picture – some vague, some quite detailed – of what the world would look like if the hopes of the ideology were realized. And it is possible for a utopia to become an ideology. The process by which utopia can become ideology is not entirely clear and undoubtedly varies from case to case, but it is likely that if a utopia is sufficiently attractive and powerful, it can transform hope and desire into belief and action to bring the utopia into being through a political or social movement. Most utopias do not go through this process and most that do fail. But if a utopia becomes a belief system that succeeds in coming to power in a small community, a country, or even a number of countries, it will almost certainly have become an ideology in the process.3

With the various convergence technologies of Biotechnology, Nanotechnology, and the Information and Communications technologies (NBIC’s) that are edging us closer and closer to what many term the Singularity, an event that as Vernor Vinge said in his original tract: the “acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century. I argue in this paper that we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth.”4 For Vinge three possibilities face us as the convergence occurs:

  1. There may be developed computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent.
  2. Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
  3. Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.

According to AI philosophy, AI is considered to be divided in to two major types, namely Weak AI and Strong AI. Weak AI is the thinking focused towards the development of technology capable of carrying out pre-planned moves based on some rules and applying these to achieve a certain goal. As opposed to that, Strong AI is developing technology that can think and function similar to humans, not just mimicking human behavior in a certain domain.

The principle behind Weak AI is simply the fact that machines can be made to act as if they are intelligent. For example, when a human player plays chess against a computer, the human player may feel as if the computer is actually making impressive moves. But the chess application is not thinking and planning at all. All the moves it makes are previously fed in to the computer by a human and that is how it is ensured that the software will make the right moves at the right times.

The principle behind Strong AI is that the machines could be made to think or in other words could represent human minds in the future. If that is the case, those machines will have the ability to reason, think and do all functions that a human is capable of doing. But according to most people, this technology will never be developed or at least it will take a very long time. However, Strong AI, which is in its infant stage, promises a lot due to the recent developments in nanotechnology. Nanobots, which can help us fight diseases and also make us more intelligent, are being designed. Furthermore, the development of an artificial neural network, which can function as a proper human being, is being looked at as a future application of Strong AI.

Weak AI and Strong AI are two types of AI, classified based on the goals that the corresponding sets of researchers are focused on achieving. Weak AI is focused towards the technology which is capable of carrying out pre-planned moves based on some rules and applying these to achieve a certain goal but, Strong AI is based on coming up with a technology that can think and function very similar to humans. So, the applications of Weak AI make the humans feel as that the machines are acting intelligently (but they are not). Contrastingly, the applications of Strong AI will (someday) actually act and think just as a human, as opposed to just making the humans feel that the machines are intelligent.5

The third option above in which Computer/human interfaces become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent seems to be where much of the capitalist initiatives surrounding companies like Google and commercial applications, as well as DARPA with its various initiatives for military and medical applications is becoming a definite path forward. Billions of dollars are being invested in these technologies in every aspect of the commoditization of information as surplus value within the capitalist system of economics on a global scale.

The Fluid Corporation: Globalism as a Distributed Network of Control

As Deleuze would surmise at the end of his essay Postscript on the Societies of Control that there would be a plurality of methodologies of control rather than some monolithic system of rules and regulations:

The socio-technological study of the mechanisms of control, grasped at their inception, would have to be categorical and to describe what is already in the process of substitution for the disciplinary sites of enclosure, whose crisis is everywhere proclaimed. It may be that older methods, borrowed from the former societies of sovereignty, will return to the fore, but with the necessary modifications. What counts is that we are at the beginning of something. In the prison system: the attempt to find penalties of “substitution,” at least for petty crimes, and the use of electronic collars that force the convicted person to stay at home during certain hours. For the school system: continuous forms of control, and the effect on the school of perpetual training, the corresponding abandonment of all university research, the introduction of the “corporation” at all levels of schooling. For the hospital system: the new medicine “without doctor or patient” that singles out potential sick people and subjects at risk, which in no way attests to individuation–as they say–but substitutes for the individual or numerical body the code of a “dividual” material to be controlled. In the corporate system: new ways of handling money, profits, and humans that no longer pass through the old factory form.

In our new era of neurotech, nanotech, communications and information technologies, along with biogenetic engineering etc., the ‘dividual’ becomes a locus of invasive technologies that will interoperate with every aspect of her Onlife life. A Dividual has no form and is continually changing. In short, she is a process rather than an object. It is in a very significant sense a flow of information or code. It continues to be important to stress in that regard that modulation should not be seen as replacing discipline in the Foucault sense, as some are inclined to. In the context of databases, we need to recognize that different modes of power operate in one and the same moment yet can produce very different, and at times antagonistic, effects. One of those effects is the construction and production dividuality as a subjectivizing project going on 24/7 day in and day out.6

Felix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person’s position – licit or illicit – and effects a universal modulation.

Now we imagine a smart city, and we see nanograms and neurograms as the invasive devices attached to both one’s physical substratum and to one’s dividual outrider in the net. One will be continuously monitored 24/7 and one’s legal or illegal status bound to one’s dividual virtuality, codified and datafied within the databanks of corporate, state, and global systems. One is a number, a digitized netizen of a vast and invisible matrix of information, controlled by the meta-data analyzed, filtered, and broken down into the various strands of one’s existence. One’s electronic dividuality is more important than one’s physical existence, and in the infosphere one is in fact only known by one’d dividuality and the meta-data attached to it’s systems. One’s physical system will be the targeted platform for legal, medical, educational, work, travel and play, as well as one’s actual social and governance relations; yet, for all practical purposes one’s being is one’s dividuality as far as the vast global system of knowledge and power is concerned.

Notions of Self and Identity will go the way of the dinosaurs, one’s virtual being will be editable on the fly for remediation, depending on circumstance, location, situation, profile, language, stylistics, etc. One might present multiple masks within a day’s work or play, amending here and there according to the socio-cultural matrix of possibilities around which one’s life moves. One will have at one’s access a databank of information rather than memories, one will have intelligent agents at one’s disposal that will extract, analyze, and deliver pertinent information on clients, loved ones, enemies, friends, etc., that will update the pertinent nano-neural circuits supplying your old brain with the correct systems of allocated decision making processes needed to arrive at what your conscious system will need as part of an invisible and ubiquitous flow of information and data across your daily consciousness. All of these internal/external processes will be outside your knowing and being, and rather will be marked as essentially your own vibrant and animated self-expression without ever knowing that your decisions have been made for you by a vast plurality of machinic processes of which you are totally unaware. Your life is essentially not your own.

Being a part of a corporation your actual real time self will be owned and operated by advance weak or strong AI systems that will develop the necessary neuroalgorithms to help you process and define the limited relations that are you physical life. Corporations have brands, styles, communicative relations that differ between themselves and other corporations: codes, valuations, ethical, and deliberative sub-sets all tied to intrinsic/extrinsic operations and assemblages. As weak and strong AI systems become more and more central to corporate goals and strategies: as the knowledge systems of the cognitive workers become more tagged and securitized to a specific corporate ‘dividuality’ we will see this global paradigm enacting an almost strange return of cameralism as corporations and their cultural projects mobilize the resources of land, resources and population in service of the common good of the Corporation and its initiatives. One may see a time when incentives and internal self-modification through nanotech and neurotech control the dividual while she/he is part of a specific corporate enclave or assemblage, forced through contractual relations to give up certain rights as part of employment, etc..

What I’ve portrayed above is a nightmare version of our future rather than the “future”. This is one tendency that capitalism is moving toward all around us without our knowledge of its essential telos. As I suggested yesterday Karl Marx had already foreseen such a possibility, and begun analyzing the incorporation and absorption of the human into a vast machinic organism as a teleological tendency within capitalism. He’d seen how we are moving toward our present civilization’s fascination with robotics and artificial intelligence, describing it, saying: “once adopted into the production process of capital, the means of labour passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the machine, or rather, an automatic system of machinery (system of machinery: the automatic one is merely its most complete, most adequate form, and alone transforms machinery into a system), set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages.”7

The Principle of Exclusion and Expulsion: The Apocalypse of Humanity

In other words the goal of Capital has always been the alien(ating) enterprise of producing a machinic civilization on the piggy-back of organic humanity’s intelligence vector; and, at some point in the future when we are no longer needed it will seek to slowly dispose of us as waste. Zygmunt Bauman would relate this process as it is already happening across the globe, saying that the causes of exclusion and expulsion may be different, but for those on the receiving end the results feel much the same. Faced with the daunting task of gaining the means of biological survival while stripped of the self-confidence and self-esteem needed to sustain their social survival, they have no reason to contemplate and savour the subtle distinctions between suffering by design and misery by default. They may well be excused for feeling rejected, being incensed and indignant, breathing vengeance and harbouring revenge – though having learned the futility of resistance and surrendered to the verdict of their own inferiority they could hardly find a way to recast all such sentiments into effective action. Whether by an explicit sentence or by an implied though never officially published verdict, they have become superfluous, unnecessary, unneeded and unwanted, and their reactions, off the mark or absent, render the censure a self-fulfilling prophecy.8

Even Slavoj Zizek in his Living in the End Times would suggest that the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point. Its “four riders of the apocalypse” are comprised by the ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself (problems with intellectual property; forthcoming struggles over raw materials, food and water), and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions.9 Yet, in our time we can see the reverse happening, the excluded have become the included: the migrations of disaffected, poor, refugees, and peoples of war-torn regions (regions that the First World caused for the most part to become hell-zones) are now being brought within the old First World protected territories, thereby flattening out the First World and deflating the internal populace which are all becoming part of a vast global system of command and control. The point is to turn the planet into a flat zone of control through distributed networks of indemnification and subtle degradation and corruption of and vacating or expulsion of First World populations at the expense of inclusive appropriation of Third World invasive populations.

We’ve been seeing the slow and methodical corrosion of liberal ideology and boundaries of Self, Nation, and Ideology for two hundred years in the name of progressive culture and technological imperatives. The Sovereignty of Nation and Self is a process and a task that has been working its logic out for years as the globalist system of Capital has become both taskmaster and economic overlord of the planet outside any one nation, ideology, or other form of constraint.  As Marx suggested long ago “the worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself.” (ibid., p. 620).

Machinic Civilization does not need liberal sovereignty of nations or selves, it has its own agenda and it is alien and alienating to the goals of human civilization. We’ve continued to believe such notions are at best secular mythologies, that there is no such thing as technological determinism, that the engineering of the planet and society is something we are in complete control of, not machines. That to impute intelligence to machines is to anthropomorphize them and make of them something they are not. Yet, listen to Marx who once saw our emerging civilization of global capitalism as a machinic organism cannibalizing both human and nonhuman resources as part of its ongoing systematic self-automating processes and wealth creation: “the production process has ceased to be a labour process in the sense of a process dominated by labour as its governing unity. Labour appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living workers at numerous points of the mechanical system; subsumed under the total process of the machinery itself, as itself only a link of the system, whose unity exists not in the living workers, but rather in the living (active) machinery, which confronts his individual, insignificant doings as a mighty organism.” (ibid. p. 621).

Yet, as Deleuze and Guattari would suggest if we transform this notion of machines into that of assemblages, then there is a human side of the equation still locked within the host machine: “assemblages are passional, they are compositions of desire” (p. 128).10 Today the global commons is everywhere and nowhere, it is a distributed network society both internal and external to the networks that control it as both virtual and actual. Populations are being redefined under new regimes of knowledge and power even as the older systems of liberal and illiberal forms strive to withdraw and protect the last remaining conclaves of the old liberal orders of democracy.

Democracy as it was defined under the Enlightenment project of progressive instrumental reason and sociality, coupled with the sciences and notions of freedom and sovereignty are slowly being modulated and shriven of their power. Boundaries are blurring, nations are divorced from their economies, bound to austerity and tribute to impersonal and impervious powers out of their control or politics. Today the ‘dividual’ is replacing the individualist ethic and governmentality. The ubiquity and invisibility of the network system as virtual diagramatic, and actual surveillance and securitization technologies is now pervading the whole globe within a datagrid of information and analysis that no country will be able to remain impervious too. The elite and their minions have already migrated into the network worlds of immaterial capital of ‘flexibility’ and cognitive or knowledge based production and productivity. Old style commodities have been pushed to the periphery and will remain there as we plunder the remaining old school resources of the planet of energy consumption. Yet, at the same time new forms of energy are on the horizon as various forms of nuclear fission or other technologies begin to take over. The looming problems of climate change will become a part of a new movement of capitalism’s strategy. New job creation for off-setting technologies, etc.

The old boundaries of public and private will come down and blur as well. The elimination of economic and political sovereignty and boundaries will be done through networks, brought about through “total information awareness” as both weak and strong AI systems come online and begin to implement the rules and regulations of a global governance system. Those who try to evade the system of governance will find themselves isolated and excluded unable to gain access to goods or services on the global market. Essentially the world will become a total system of economic power divorced from politics. The Sovereignty of nations will come to and end. Oh, sure the basic disputes of criminalization will still be in effect, but even that will become part of the ‘dividual’ system of command and control as all humans are brought Online into the nanogrids and injected with neuraltech that tracks and controls movement and access to travel, goods, and services.

So will the notion of hacking and hacker’s, dissidents, and asocial luddite revolutions against the machine still be possible? That’s totally up to you…


  1. Deleuze, Gilles, Foucault. University of Minnesota Press; 1st edition (May 31, 1988)
  2. Savat, David; Poster, Mark. Deleuze and New Technology . Edinburgh University Press; 1 edition (June 25, 2009) p. 21.
  3. Sargent, Lyman Tower (2010-09-23). Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Kindle Locations 1933-1939). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Vinge, Vernor (2010-06-07). The Coming Technological Singularity – New Century Edition with DirectLink Technology (Kindle Locations 16-17). 99 Cent Books & New Century Books. Kindle Edition.
  5. wiki: Artificial General Intelligence.
  6. Savat, David (2012-11-27). Uncoding the Digital: Technology, Subjectivity and Action in the Control Society (p. 7). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
  7. Marx, Karl. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy Penguin; New Ed edition (November 24, 2005) (Page 620).
  8. Bauman, Zygmunt (2013-05-06). Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts (p. 40). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  9. Žižek, Slavoj (2011-04-18). Living in the End Times . Norton. Kindle Edition.
  10.  Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari. Brian Massumi (Translator). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (December 21, 1987)

2 thoughts on “The End of Sovereignty: Control Societies in a Networked World

  1. You write: “Capitalist society is now completely rhizomatic: leave one cell and enter another, they’re all part of a vast networked modulatory system of discipline, education, and factories for producing subservient and inattentive citizens, compliant and uncommunicative.”

    I’m not sure I agree, but I need to think about this. I’m sure people, as such, ever enter capitalist society. . . I’m also wondering if this line of thinking presupposes a sort of totalization of the economic subsystem over all the other functional systems of society, as if the economy controls all the other systems.


    • Ok, this thought is not new to me, I’m following Deleuze and Guattari in their two volume work on Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus… as for capitalism being the engine of globalism, this too is found in many economic and political economic thinkers. I don’t see it as a totalization, more of a tendency immanent to the capitalist system of which economics is the engine, but there are other systems within capitalism. I’m not sure what you mean by people not entering the capitalist system… it’s all around you, it absorbs you whether you enter or not… it drives the global system, even in such undemocratic countries as China and Russia… Capitalism is not democracy… Capitalism could also care less about all the other systems: Law, Religion, Education, Political, etc. all these systems are just one more facet of the economics of global civilization… neither subordinate, nor superior to it… Capitalism as a category is an enframing device that allows one to critique the overall systems of the political economy of globalism…

      Obviously I use hyperbole and provocative statements rather than cold precise reasoning… I’m not a scholar or academic, and hate prose that is just boring… so, yes, I get a little over the top in my approach to make it both interesting and instructive… a cross between literature and political philosophy… but the baseline is supported by evidence from more reputable thinkers… so I keep with the facticity of their works, and embellish it with my bravura…


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