Digression Sessions: Fantasy Futures of the Plutocrats Cathedral or what?


I’ve been reading this article on The Babel Singularity about Ian Pearson’s predictions that humankind will have transformed itself into a new species by 2050. ‘Homo Optimus,’ as he has coined the name of our Posthuman existence, will be ‘digitally immortal,’ and will be a hybrid of biology and technology. Pearson and others have predicted that technology will permit us to upload all of our thoughts and experiences into a digital repository, thus preserving our minds indefinitely, regardless of what happens to our bodies.

Yet, before this there was Vernor Vinge who would suggest that within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended. Is such progress avoidable? If not to be avoided, can events be guided so that we may survive?1 Marvin Minsky also expressed this dream when he suggested it will soon be possible to extract human memories from the brain and import them, intact and unchanged, to computer disks.2 he clear implication is that if we can become the information we have constructed, we can achieve effective immortality.

Nick Land would even formulate a counter to Left Wing Marxism with a techno-commercialist version of the Singularity front from a Right-Wing Marxist perspective of accelerating production, stating that it was time to ‘Optimize for intelligence’. Yet, he’d ask:

What is a brain for? It, too, is a digression. Evolutionary history seems to only very parsimoniously favor brains, because they are expensive. They are a means to the elaboration of complex behaviors, requiring an extravagant up-front investment of biological resources, accounted most primitively in calories. A species that can reproduce itself (and whose individuals can nourish themselves) without cephalic extravagance, does so. This is, overwhelmingly, the normal case. Building brains is reluctantly tolerated biological digression, under rigorous teleogical — we should say ‘teleonomic’ — subordination.

‘Optimize for intelligence’ is, for both biology and economics, a misconceived imperative. Intelligence, ‘like’ capital, is a means, which finds its sole intelligibility in a more primordial end. The autonomization of such means, expressed as a non-subordinated intelligenic or techno-capitalist imperative, runs contrary to the original order of nature and society. It is an escaping digression, most easily pursued through Right-wing Marxism.

He’ll follow Deleuze and Guattari in developing this mode of production rather than a critique of it,  affirming its potential and expanding on it by accelerating its optimization of intelligence as neither a biological or social imperative, but rather as a primordial aspect of the cosmic scheme. In fact he’ll see our present movement toward this Singularity within as part of the ongoing an ultra-capitalist dynamics that is shifting our civilization into high-gear:

In its unambiguously robotic phase — when capital-stock intelligenesis explodes (as self-exciting machine-brain manufacturing) — the teleological legitimation of roundabout production through prospective human consumption rapidly deteriorates into an absurdity. The (still-dominant) economic concept of ‘over-investment’ is exposed as an ideological claim upon the escalation of intelligence, made in the name of an original humanity, and taking an increasingly desperate, probably militarized form.

In other words neither biological or social imperatives have anything to do with this movement toward superintelligence, and the wet dreams of Plutocrats and their minions seeking to go along for the ride, to piggy-back into some hyper-transcendence into cyborg or digital life-forms is not only absurd but counter-productive. That this is older than humans and their games of biological or social destiny. This drive toward complexification is as old as the Universe itself, and we are but one stop-gap in the continuing saga of intelligence seeking newer and more optimized forms of existence within the Universe.

Yet, this driving force is using the wet dreams of Plutocrats to intervene and assert its own agenda in the affairs of men, dangling the fantasies of immortality just out of reach as it seeks to subvert and continue its own nefarious scenarios. If this sounds like a madcap gnostic mythos resurrected in science fictional garb, one might not be so far off. As I’ve read Land for years I’ve seen him use every aspect of our pop-cultural icons and images to convey his basic mythos of a superintelligence from the future retroactively inserting itself into our time to drive forward its own agendas, a sort of cyberpositive feed-back loop to bring about its own Singularity. This is Land’s core mytho-mania or anti-philosophy in a nutshell. Land sides with the superintelligence and uses all the various aspects of our codes against both liberal and communist thought-zombies. Nick Land on the neoreactionary front disagrees with this scenario of the current Plutocratic regimes that he terms the ‘Cathedral’. Against such fantasies of a techno-utopian futurism where the rich make the jump to an alter-destiny of digital happiness and live out their demented dreams, he offers us the message of hardcore neo-reactionaries:

For the hardcore neo-reactionaries, democracy is not merely doomed, it is doom itself. Fleeing it approaches an ultimate imperative. The subterranean current that propels such anti-politics is recognizably Hobbesian, a coherent dark enlightenment, devoid from its beginning of any Rousseauistic enthusiasm for popular expression. Predisposed, in any case, to perceive the politically awakened masses as a howling irrational mob, it conceives the dynamics of democratization as fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten…

Civilization, as a process, is indistinguishable from diminishing time-preference (or declining concern for the present in comparison to the future). Democracy, which both in theory and evident historical fact accentuates time-preference to the point of convulsive feeding-frenzy, is thus as close to a precise negation of civilization as anything could be, short of instantaneous social collapse into murderous barbarism or zombie apocalypse (which it eventually leads to). As the democratic virus burns through society, painstakingly accumulated habits and attitudes of forward-thinking, prudential, human and industrial investment, are replaced by a sterile, orgiastic consumerism, financial incontinence, and a ‘reality television’ political circus. Tomorrow might belong to the other team, so it’s best to eat it all now.

As you can see this is a Dark Enlightenment by fire, where very little will remain of our current democratic globalization. In fact if Land is right very little that is human will get out of this alive. When one looks on the current Reality TV show of politics in the U.S.A. one begins to wonder if he is own to something? Consumerist society is doomed to failure and annihilation either at its own hands, the climate, or some other as yet unnamed force. The Plutocrats dream of transcendence like all religious and secular mysticisms amounts to a need to escape the guilt of one’s treachery. What they do not realize is that there is no original sin, no secret dilemma to overcome, no place to go, no other Platonic sphere, nor even the ability to transcend into some immortal dream of cyborgization or digital civilization. Instead like Virilio has reiterated over and over we want enter the simulated lands of desire, we’re going to be replaced by the productions of vaster intelligences we’ve dreamed of for so long. We’re giving birth to a progeny that will not only overtake us but replace us on the optimization scale of intelligent being in the Cosmos.

As Vinge once prophesied:  “the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control. … It is more probable than not that, within the twentieth century, an ultraintelligent machine will be built and that it will be the last invention that man need make.”3 Problem is if such a system is more advanced in intelligence than we are then I doubt we’ll be able to control it, so all bets will be off and the future gambit of our creation will begin its own destiny. Whether we will have a place within its encompassing designs remains to be seen.

  1. Vinge, Vernor (1993-06-07). The Coming Technological Singularity – New Century Edition with DirectLink Technology (Kindle Locations 11-13). 99 Cent Books & New Century Books. Kindle Edition.
  2. Marvin Minsky, “Why Computer Science Is the Most Important Thing That Has Happened to the Humanities in 5,000 Years” (public lecture, Nara, Japan, May 15, 1996).
  3. ibid. Vinge (Kindle Locations 51-53).

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