The Stack as Alien Intelligence & Governance

For Bratton the insidious and monstrous, even chthonic power of the Stack that has infested and globalized its technical systems over the past century is a system that is inhuman to the core; or, as he suggests – a system of technics and technicity that is collapsing the distinctions between the human and the inhuman, as its “interlacing of land, sea, and air through networks of recombinant flows realizes the simultaneous physicalization of the virtual and the virtualization of physical forces”. Like some viral or technical organism it has entered and spliced the virtual / actual worlds of our planetary existence to the point that we can no longer exit or unplug from its life sustaining systems; for better or worse we are now mere fragile pieces in a systems game that exists only to capture desire, and it has replaced the natural continuum of life on this planet for an anorganic machinic phylum that will outlast its progenitors. As he’ll suggest the “Stack makes space by occupying it; it does so by surveying abstraction, absorbing it, and virtualizing it, which is how it is even possible to consider whether or not it expresses a nomos at all”.

He continues:

…  Practical sovereignty over what its geography becomes is animated and augmented by a drive for a spectrum-dominant position within an integrated totality of enumerable, governable zones, both high and low, visible and invisible. … Inherited political orders are both circumvented and reinforced as the worlds they once described are disenchanted. That is, whereas states may be agents doing the taking and formulating of worlds, they cannot do so without transforming the anatomy of their own sovereignty at the same moment. The Stack space is not an already given vessel into which states intervene or markets mediate or political theologies invest with myths; rather it is generated in the confluence of platform logics that will recalculate the fate of all of these.

Unrestricted by the brakes of proper nomos, the absolute motivation for capture extends up and down from molecular to atmospheric scales. But for The Stack, these terms are not operating on their own untethered; they are instead as bound by their planetary situation as any other form of occupation. Even in the absence of a proper nomos, they congeal layer by layer into a metastructural order of a different governing order: a machine that is a state held together by deciding the spaces of technical exceptions as much as legal ones.1

One of Bratton’s Central Arguments:

“A central argument of this book is that the “political program” is not only to be found in the legal consensus (or dissensus) and policy admonitions of traditional “politics” but also in machines directly. This is where the global-scale arrangement of planetary-scale computing coheres into The Stack, and how the convergence of the architectural and computational design logics of program directly contributes to that system.”1

This is where the work of those like Reza Negarestani and his computational functionalism, pragmatism, and rules based systemization might touch base. Because whether we buy into his neo-rationalist ethicist program or not, his computational functionalism is informing much of current development techniques and ideologies across various Enterprise Systems and Architectures in the Corporate Worlds.

Yet, for Bratton it is far less important how the machine [The Stack] represents a politics than how “politics” physically is that machinic system. The construction of platforms draws in, to varying and contingent degrees, strong connotations of “design” (design as in to “designate,” and to govern through material intervention) and, in this platforms are plots, and (per Singleton) also diagrams that “ensnare” actors in their fatal outcomes (design as in “to have designs on something,” to trap the User just so). (ibid.)

This notion that The Stack is made of a multiplex of platforms at the level of social, political, technical, etc., and that each of these platforms is part of a vaster global technics of entrapment and libidinal economy using “diagrams that “ensnare” actors in their fatal outcomes” seems part and partial for our late capitalist machinism. As he says of Platforms:

Platforms are generative mechanisms—engines that set the terms of participation according to fixed protocols (e.g., technical, discursive, formal protocols). They gain size and strength by mediating unplanned and perhaps even unplannable interactions. This is not to say that a platform’s formal neutrality is not strategic; one platform will give structure to its layers and its Users in one way, and another in another way, and so their polities are made. This is precisely how platforms are not just technical models but institutional models as well. Their drawing and programming of worlds in particular ways are means for political composition as surely as drawing a line on a map.(ibid.)

It’s as if whether on the level of industry, politics, culture, or any other level or domain of the global matrix The Stack made up of these generative engines for capturing desire, whether technical or institutional are decomposing humans into their inhuman compositions at the expense of humanity. Over and over this aligns for me with Nick Land’s notions of Capitalism as an Alien Intelligence sent back into time to develop and coordinate the collapse of the future onto our present moment. What some term the Singularity. As if every aspect of life were being incorporated into a worldwide machinic phylum where everything is automated, efficient, and inhuman; where humans as we’ve known them under the liberal worldview gives way to the inhuman or non-human-centric machinic civilization of robotics and AGI (Artificial General Intelligence).

As Land once said in Meltdown:

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

As one person once commented on this passage: The earth (both literally & figuratively) is under the spell of a vast, almost oceanic technological renaissance in which technology assembles, disassembles, adjusts, modifies itself to any change. Its ability to disrupt societal norms and order, is due to its own success.  (here) Humans as individuals will disappear and be replaced through a process of denormalization, and deconditioning over a period of time. This process has been going on for sometime in our academies, but is taking on a greater and greater accelerating effect in the next few decades as the Singularity approaches. (The notion of the ‘machinic’, as used here, comes from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, as well as the sequel A Thousand Plateaus and Guattari’s later work including Chaosmosis and Chaosophy.) Rather than seeing humans as subjects, this approach sees them as machines alongside other machines, collections of active objects both human and non-human (institutional, mechanical, animal, geological…) These different machines work together, hence a synthesis…

As automation takes effect more and more, with companies like Foxconn that recently laid off 60,000 workers with robotics workers. Most of the Third World manufacturers  are following suit. In the coming decades most of the menial labor intensive jobs will be done by robotics workers leaving the humans in a no-work zone of less than adequate subsistence. As capitalism cycles faster and faster; and this revolving economic speed creates disorder. Deregulation is becoming one of Capitalism’s primary goals. Free trade! The struggle of freedom over the control/order of the state goes on and on into cyberspace.

The Techno-Commercium is the ancient Roman right to participate in financial contracts. A Planetary Commercium would be a system that facilitates a lot of these contracts, i.e. Capitalism. Emergent refers to its novelty, but also to its unpredictable mutability – see the concept of ‘Emergence’ in game theory, wherein simple rule systems lead to incredibly complex metastable states and systems. Most of our current systems are based on Game Theory pragmatics that enforces a rules-based system of “give and take” that is working by a method of subtraction and replacement of humans by engineered environments. The vast resources of corporate and governmental systems that own the global networks are slowly putting into plan initiatives designed to transform the remaining resources of the planet into off-world platforms and Stacks.

Franco Berardi will tell us that one of the tasks of the philosopher in our times is to “To map the territory of the mutation, and to forge conceptual tools for orientation in its ever-changing, deterritorializing territory.” Berardi maps out mutations in capitalism, literature, neuroscience and psychology. In each of these fields and others, he finds landmark transformations: from industrial capitalism to finance capitalism; from a language of affection to one of intellection; from sensibility to sensitivity; from governing to governance.  Following those like Nietzsche, Bataille, Foucault, Deleuze/Guattari and, even Baudrillard, Berardi sees “the will to abstraction” at the core of this new accelerating capitalism. As he saying in his book And: Phenomenology of the End,

“Digital abstraction virtualizes the physical act of meeting and the manipulation of things. These new levels of abstraction concern not only the labor process, but they tend to encompass all spaces of social life. Digitalization and financialization are transforming the very fabric of the social body, and inducing mutations within it.”

But the effect of every mutation is unique, and “takes different forms and coheres in different ways according to different cultural environments.” So humanity is undergoing a mutation into non-liberal forms of political, social, and global machinic and non-human forms of thought, belief, and, even – religious systems. Such notions as Transhumanism are becoming the ideology of this new religious turn mixing science and philosophical temperament toward belief systems of mortal immortality, health, purity, and almost biogenetic paradises of longevity and luxury. At the heart of this is a new eugenics system disguising itself within medical, pharmacological, mythic, scientific, political, and other regimes.

As the climate presses the world into a greater and greater heat-death scenario these ideologies and belief systems will only gain greater foothold on peoples minds. The other recent avenue has been the investment in off-world technologies. The accelerating pace of moving to off-world colonies, Mars, and other systems of exploration, resource hunting, etc. are taking hold and gaining a wide acceptance in the cultural drift. We can expect more of this as the year proceed.


  1. Benjamin H. Bratton. The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (Software Studies) (Kindle Locations 1056-1059). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

Age of Abstraction 2.0?

 

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“I always decide in favor of feeling rather than calculation.”

           – Kandinsky

As Hilton Kramer suggested in his rendition of the those modernist artists after 1913:

For both Mondrian and Kandinsky, the artistic base from which they made their fateful leap into abstraction was landscape painting, but their respective approaches to landscape were, again, very different. Whereas Mondrian’s was that of an ascetic determined to strip nature of its mutable attributes, Kandinsky’s was that of a mystical lyricist for whom nature is an enchanted realm of poetry and symbolism. Yet for both, the leap into abstraction was at once guided and sanctioned by their faith in the metaphysics of the occult, which in the end emancipated them from the mundanity of the observable world.1

This notion of the disappearance of Nature, the natural as introduced by Enlightenment philosophe’s and the rationalists before them as the mechanistic, and observable, objective res extensa – the extensive world out there of naïve realism and naturalism had always had its enemies. In the 19th Century the Romantic Poets, the Decadents, the Symbolists, the Aesthetes had all called into question this naïve physicalism/materialism of the world. I sometimes wonder how the natural sciences ever came to power in our world, except that, oh yes – they produced a knowledge that could actually effect change upon matter in the world. Whether this matter was substantive and solid, or fluid and dynamic was always open to question for scientists.

Battles over our views of reality seem to crop up over and over again as either atheism or religious visions take hold of the common vision of the age. We in our own time hear of a opening into some new ‘religious turn’ as if all the apostles of skepticism, cynicism, postmodernism had been quelled, smashed under the falsity of there corruptions, etc…. but I wonder, is it more likely that the other party, the reverent and speculative religious mythographers, the sophists of our present era are trying through the power of rhetoric to reestablish their old place in the sun?

All this talk of realism in our time seems more about invisibility, indirect access, the darkness, the abyss of the Real, the Void of Voids…. suddenly the stable world of Platonic and Aristotelian substantive formalism of essences and eidos give way to the fluidic dynamics of processes. But haven’t we seen this battle before? Most of our present lot of philosophers seem to be updating what was already previously tried with Abstraction 1.0… the moderns… hmmm or we not then moving into Modernity 2.0? Is this what is happening, after a devolvement through postmodern deconstructions we are reentering the troposphere of a new formalist purity of abstraction… but on a different plateau? Immaterialism? Even our so called materialists talk from within radicalized Idealisms: Badiou (Plato), Zizek (Hegel), Negarestani (Stoic, Confucian, Kantian)… not to mention all the various flat ontologies under the OOO appellation, which is itself a pure abstraction of force withdrawn into the volcanic dynamism of a new substantive formalism.

Those who speak of affects, sensations, empiricism seem to be on the downswing today… condemned as – oh the bad word: “vitalist”. What of them? Rereading Kandinsky there is this movement of abstraction alright, but one that takes the effects of affective relations seriously, while wary of the calculative work of those ascetics like Mondrian. In our age of algorithms and calculation, computational functionalism and the supremacy of modeling, simulation, forecasting… should we retake a look at that other abstraction in such thought as Kandinsky? Affective relations vs. Calculative and computational functionalism? Or, better yet, no more oppositions, but rather a parallelism without boundaries, an openness that is inclusive rather than exclusionary?


  1.  Kramer, Hilton. The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1987–2005 (Kindle Locations 92-96). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Reading Derek Raymond

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Derek Raymond’s (Robin Cook) Factory Novels were part of the flow of works meant for the working class, novels that actually carried on the acts of social critique at the street level, a bleak world of shadow lives where the erotic and the sacrificial disturbed the night like angelic whispers from the halls of Pandemonium. Here’s one of Raymond’s main characters talking about unjust laws and police power that on the surface looked perfectly legal, but down below where power hides itself was another world of nefarious truth. He’s speaking a particular Law that had just passed parliament:

It was what I thought of as banana laws – the law of a society in the process of breaking down. Once properly tightened up, it would have meant that I could stop and arrest a man in the street simply because I didn’t like the look on his face, or the way his pockets bulged. It would have synchronized nicely with the plastic ID cards that every citizen would be required to carry by then, and before long we would have turned the country into a birdcage.1

Sadly in our time the planet has become more of a ratcage with no where to run, we all squirm in the secret places of darkness waiting for the axe.

Robin Cook who would use the pseudonym to write five novels in the series would say of the fourth – I Was Dora Suarez, which many see as one of the greatest noir novels of the 20th Century:

Writing Suarez broke me; I see that now. I don’t mean that it broke me physically or mentally, although it came near to doing both. But it changed me; it separated out for ever what was living and what was dead. I realised it was doing so at the time, but not fully, and not how, and not at once. […] I asked for it, though. If you go down into the darkness, you must expect it to leave traces on you coming up — if you do come up. It’s like working in a mine; you hope that hands you can’t see know what they’re doing and will pull you through. I know I wondered half way through Suarez if I would get through — I mean, if my reason would get through. For the trouble with an experience like Suarez is that you become what you’re writing, passing like Alice through the language into the situation. (The Hidden Files, pp. 132–133.)


  1. Raymond, Derek. The Devil’s Home on Leave (Factory 2) (pp. 25-26). Random House Inc Clients. Kindle Edition.