The Mortal Machine: Security Regimes and the Symbolic Order

What is a body, and why should there be a line drawn (a distinction made?) between mind and body? More to the point is dualism a tendency intrinsic to the thing we are or not? We’ve seen philosophers come to the conclusion that we do not exist, that this thing we are was a combination of cultural and social praxis, a project if you will. That with the birth of every new child a process begins that as Deleuze and Guattari would describe begins with the family, moves on to the academy ( education, etc.), then is absorbed in the wider frame of culture at large. Others in our time see that these Symbolic Orders are artificial and circumscribed within certain well defined limits, and that over time a society will construct defense mechanisms to disallow new cultures from breaching the barriers of its symbolic terrain.

Each culture is bound to its symbolic framework and references and will literally go to war to protect its systems of meaning. In Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari would show the inner workings of Western culture and civilization, its tendencies and defense systems. They would demarcate the distinctions that had produced the limit concepts and symbolic codes that have tied our mental and physical duality into a knot of protective security regimes that have guided and shaped this culture and its inhabitants for millennia. They were a beginning not an end, they began a process of disturbing the internal systems that hold the symbolic core of this system together and began to dismantle (or deconstruct) its codes from within. Others would carry on this process, both friends and enemies.

We’ve seen this sordid history within the rise of post-modern and post-humanist thought in both the sciences and humanities. We’ve seen the refusal of the human, a concept that has been central to the Western project for two millennia. Along with that was the illusive quest to dismantle the concept of identity, and destroy the individuation of the Subject. A process that came to a head during the critical phase of the late Enlightenment era we now term the Romantic revolt of Idealisms from Kant to Hegel and beyond. One might term this the “Subject’s Last Stand” of which the current shaper of this tradition is the dualistic materialist Slavoj Zizek in his strain of dialectical materialism. We’ve seen this play out within the divide over transcendence and immanence along with various variants in-between based on a battle between reductionist and irreductionist thought and action. I’ve spent years reading and wandering within both camps seeking from within to understand the defining characteristics that shape both stances and their defense systems. Mortals trapped within their systems are machines caught in the nexus of their own productions never seeing anything but their own gaze returning to them in echoes of bastardized thought. One must be strong to enter the abyss Nietzsche once told us, and even he was prone to other illusions. We all are, even I.

Philosophers at least since Plato and his fictional use of Socrates have shown the problematics of language and culture to be at the root of our systems of belief and politics. We are creatures of language above all else and the whole of the postmodern turn was just this counter thrust against the linguistic traps we’ve locked ourselves into over the millennia. Seeking to disturb language from within these thinkers began experiments into deconstructing it from within and like a machine taking it apart into its various components to see how it has produced the being we term the ‘human’.  Why this term has become such a dark anathema in our time can be seen within Deleuze and Guattari’s own bid to develop an “anti-fascist life” as Michel Foucault so aptly described in his preface to that counter-world action theory:

Last but not least, the major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism (whereas Anti-Oedipus’ opposition to the others is more of a tactical engagement). And not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini—which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively—but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us. (AO : p. 11)

Foucault would go so far as to suggest that Anti-Oedipus was an Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life, a manual for everyday life and practice. Foucault would break this down as follows:

  1. Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.
  2. Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.
  3. Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.
  4. Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of  desire to reality (and not its retreat into the forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.
  5. Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.
  6. Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization.
  7. Do not become enamored of power.

All the earmarks are there. The schizophrenizing process over the defensive breakdown and dark fright worlds of the reactionary mind-set of paranoia which sees the enemy everywhere. The war against hierarchy and the pyramidal society of top-down power. The alternate modes of sliding laterally through the rhizomatic mazes, disguised and chameleon like in metamorphosis, shape-shifting into and out of the political spectrum, unwilling to be locked down or defined by type or mold. Against the control mechanisms that trap the mortal into servitude of consumerist ethics and dictates. The slip-shod mass media control systems that weave a false infinity over the gaps in culture, producing false nationalisms over everything like the shadow kingdoms of some illusive dream world where the rich and famous live like the gods of Olympus while the workers gaze on in supposed wonder at these mighty fools playing out their trivial Reality TV world at their expense. A culture and society of competiveness, driven insanely by power-over others, dominion over the remaining resources of the planet, and fearful and paranoid of other fictional entities, States and Ideologies. A world of the insane that has fixated its systems of control over every facet of life and locked everything in an global enclosure of war and commerce.

The Negative – the great tradition of the dialectic in all its transcendence of the world, all the dualisms of religious or philosophical two-world theorists who would play the hierarchic game of self-transcension, seeking the stable and fixed world of forms and substantive reality that will not change. All ending in the mundane world of numbers and stock worlds of our own time, the control worlds of Big Data and the digital self or dividual:

The factory constituted individuals as a single body to the double advantage of the boss who surveyed each element within the mass and the unions who mobilized a mass resistance; but the corporation constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each, dividing each within… We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become “dividuals,” and masses, samples, data, markets, or “banks.” (Deleuze, 1992)

In this Information world the body has already been left behind, the apocalypse happened, the after-life attained in a false realm of pure infinity: the network. In this realm of numbers one can be tracked and manipulated to the point that the body attached to the information is no longer binding. A process that began with the cutting of language from reality since Kant which can be discovered in the structuralist and post-structuralist discourses have now returned to bite us. The individual who was once defined by a self and body is now a tabulated and calculated commodity on the market of the superhighway of globalism.  One’s brand counts more than one’s life. Even the use of the term branding is telling. One remembers that cattle were once branded. Have we seen the underlying connection here? Who is the owner? Do we care to admit such knowledge?

Even back in 1992 Deleuze would describe the societies of control, which are in “the process of replacing disciplinary societies” that Foucault’s works analyzed and documented. As Deleuze would say, “Control” is the name Burroughs proposes as a term for the new monster, one that Foucault recognizes as our immediate future. Paul Virilio also is continually analyzing the ultra rapid forms of free-floating control that replaced the old disciplines operating in the time frame of a closed system”. (Postscript on the Societies of Control – Gilles Deleuze)

This notion of speed and acceleration within which the societies of control would modulate rather than mold individuals into dividuals is part of this great transition underway. Bernard Stiegler in his works has shown it from another tact, that of the slow but methodical exteriorization of tertiary memory over thousands of years. The interweaving of the story of technics and society shaping and being shaped by each other in a dialectic of lack and prosthesis. And, yet, one knows this too, is caught in the trap of the Negative: the dialectic of lack. This system of geometric formalism is the core of that tradition of transcendence or the objectification of spirit (intellect). Or, to put it another way we’ve been ridding ourselves of the physical body for millennia, seeking under the guises of religion an immortal existence outside time and change. The computer based systems of data input/extraction are nothing but this old story materialized under the auspices of the total control society. As Deleuze describes it: “Enclosures are molds, distinct castings, but controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point.” (ibid.)

Global Capitalism is a 24/7 world where the time barriers and speed meet in an accelerating enclosure that seeks to oust the mortal for the immortal life. In the process of this transition we are seeing as Deleuze said at that time the use of the modulating principle:

The modulating principle of “salary according to merit” has not failed to tempt national education itself. Indeed, just as the corporation replaces the factory, perpetual training tends to replace the school, and continuous control to replace the examination. Which is the surest way of delivering the school over to the corporation. (ibid.)

The attack on the academy as a fixed State controlled entity that defines and shapes the individual is giving way to the corporate socious of the dividual who is modulated 24/7 by design and is educated continuously to comply with the regulated tabulation of impossible schedules of inane meetings, life-styles, escapades.  Jonathan Crary in 24/7 Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep tells us that at the advanced research division of the Pentagon (DARPA), scientists in various labs are conducting experimental trials of sleeplessness techniques, including neurochemicals, gene therapy, and transcranial magnetic stimulation. The near-term goal is the development of methods to allow a combatant to go for a minimum of seven days without sleep, and in the longer term perhaps at least double that time frame, while preserving high levels of mental and physical performance.1 This insomniac society of sleeplessness has yet to be fully unveiled in all its ramifications. One imagines the next-gen clone world of genetic hybrids that will further this machinic transition, and when flesh and blood are unable to excel the required performance quota then the world will truly give way to the robotic realms of transcension altogether. Crary will go on to imply the corporate appeal:

It is only recently that the elaboration, the modeling of one’s personal and social identity, has been reorganized to conform to the uninterrupted operation of markets, information networks, and other systems. A 24/7 environment has the semblance of a social world, but it is actually a non-social model of machinic performance and a suspension of living that does not disclose the human cost required to sustain its effectiveness. (ibid.)

Ultimately as he’ll put it sleep poses the idea of a human need and interval of time that cannot be colonized and harnessed to a massive engine of profitability, and thus remains an incongruous anomaly and site of crisis in the global present. It is the one thing from which the corporate capitalist cannot extract a surplus.  But give them time, I’m sure that that too will become a commodity in the future. One imagines dream schemes to make money off neural systems yet to be devised that will work the brain even as the body hibernates.

All of this is leading us to that conclusion that the Global Civilization we live in hates the body and seeks to overcome the organic limits it sets on the mortal being we’ve termed the human for so long. As Deleuze will state it in the societies of control, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password, while on the other hand disciplinary societies are regulated by watchwords (as much from the point of view of integration as from that of resistance). The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become “dividuals,” and masses, samples, data, markets, or “banks.” (Postscript)

In a realm where the body no longer counts the code is bound only to what is traceable and marked in the cybertraces of commodity capitalism. In this realm of switches where the binary truly comes into its own there is only on / off, open / closed, access / exclusion, etc. One is data, nothing more. We’ve heard the tales of identity theft or the declaration by the State of Death when the actual body shows up and claims it is alive and well. The years of frustration by the body seeking to clear its identity and regain its life from the clutches of the network enclosures that have trapped it in a false identity. Deleuze well describes this enclosure as a third type of machine: computers, whose passive danger is jamming and whose active one is piracy or the introduction of viruses. “This technological evolution must be, even more profoundly, a mutation of capitalism, an already well-known or familiar mutation that can be summed up as follows: nineteenth-century capitalism is a capitalism of concentration, for production and for property. It therefore erects a factory as a space of enclosure, the capitalist being the owner of the means of production but also, progressively, the owner of other spaces conceived through analogy…” (ibid.)

So the body is being left behind and replaced by its informational datagram, enclosed in a new control frame, a world of electronic modulation of binary codes and algorithms that can be manipulated, hacked, and pirated. Rather than bodies passing through familial, academic, and socio-cultural systems we’ve given way to the convergence of coded figures, both “deformable and transformable – of a single corporation that now has only stockholders” (Postscript). Ultimately as Deleuze defines it:

Man is no longer man enclosed, but man in debt. It is true that capitalism has retained as a constant the extreme poverty of three-quarters of humanity, too poor for debt, too numerous for confinement: control will not only have to deal with erosions of frontiers but with the explosions within shanty towns or ghettos. (Postscript)

With the demise of the Fordist Factory model of society and its discipline society came the world of precariots, the continuous precariousness, hyperexploitation, mobility, and hierarchy that are the most obvious characteristics of metropolitan immaterial labor. Behind the label of the independent “self-employed” worker, what we actually find is an intellectual proletarian, but one who is recognized as such only by the employers who exploit her. As Maurizio Lazzarato remarks “immaterial labor produces first and foremost a “social relationship” (a relationship of innovation, production, and consumption). Only if it succeeds in this production does its activity have an economic value”.2 So that the social media circus is actually extracting from the knowledge worker a surplus of “social relations”. Consumption is then first of all a consumption of information. Consumption is no longer only the “realization” of a product, but a real and proper social process that for the moment is defined with the term communication. (Lazzarato, p. 9)

What we discover is the control society is one of information bounded by communicative needs or products. As Lazzarato stipulates for economics there remains only the possibility of managing and regulating the activity of immaterial labor and creating some devices for the control and creation of the public/consumer by means of the control of communication and information technologies and their organizational processes. (ibid. p. 14) As Stiegler demonstrates originally objectified and exteriorized, memory which is constantly expanding technically, and extending the knowledge of mankind and its power, simultaneously escapes their grasp and surpasses them, calling into question their psychical as well as social organisations, and this is particularly sensible with the passage of mnemotechnics into mnemotechnologies (i.e., think of the clay tablet that was marked with hieroglyphs, that then became alphabetic/numeric sequences in later societies, each a way of placing memory onto an external surface for later remembrance, learning, transmission, economics, tracability…). For today, memory has become the major element in industrial development, and quotidian objects are more and more the supports of objective memory, that is, also forms of knowledge. (see: Anamnesis and Hypomnesis)

Stiegler’s point is that we’ve become so reliant on our external memory tools that we’ve lost the ability to retain knowledge ourselves, and this loss of knowledge comes at the very moment one begins speaking of “knowledge societies” and “knowledge industries” and “cognitive” or “cultural” capitalism. (ibid.) He will go on to say,

And here one must ask if the industrial and massive development of mnemotechnologies does not represent a structural loss of memory, or, more precisely, a displacement of this memory: a displacement whereby it can become the object of a control of knowledge, and constitute the essentially mnemotechnological basis of these control societies that Gilles Deleuze began to theorize toward the end of his life. (ibid.)

We’ve seen the individual give way to the dividual, the cutting of the mind from body (or in the case of Crary of the total control over the body even to the point of complete insomniac society). A world where memory has been exteriorized into the data banks of networks and the modulated society of control begins and ends in the networks, everything else being subsidiary to this actual/virtual realm of financial capitalism. If it isn’t in the network it isn’t. To exist is to have a bran, to be branded, to be a binary code in a numerically calculable dividum or enclosure. As David Savat tells us dividuality is the product of the simultaneous production of discipline and modulation. Indeed, more significant I think is that modulation’s specific product is a type of object that Deleuze in The Fold (1993) refers to as an objectile. This objectile has no form and is continually changing. In short, it 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, 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 of the dividual.3 [italics mine]

The point here is the objectile (dividual) is process not substance, a flow not a stabilized or fixed subject with an defined essence. What we’ve seen is the slow demolition of the liberal Enlightenment Subject as Substance, and its replacement with this porous and mobile formlessness, a non-substantive and unnatural immaterial entity that cannot be trapped in the older metaphysics of presence and identity. Yet, in the process of exteriorizing in contemporary mnemotechnical (i.e., computers, Big Data, AGI) equipment more and more cognitive functions, we are correlatively  losing more and more knowledge which is then delegated to equipment, but also to service industries which can network them, control them, formalize them, model them, and perhaps destroy them – for these knowledges, escaping our grasp, induce an “obsolescence of the human”. (Stiegler:  Anamnesis and Hypomnesis)

What this adds up to is that contrary to Foucault’s admonition above in segment  xix where he tells us “The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization.” What we discover is just the opposite, that late capitalism has coopted this very program and harnessed the Foucaultian paradigm as its own, thereby producing the de-individualized (de-subtantialized) dividual or networked knowledge worker (and all those unnamed and excluded). All displaced and multiplied across the multitude of data systems in the vast enclosure of the global commons we term the network society. One almost wants to laugh at Foucault’s naivety, and yet he probably could not have imagined our current network enslavement and capture of desire in the great global debt society. That for the most part we’ve become de-substantialized immaterial flows as dividuals in a 24/7 system of modulated capital is without doubt, but that our bodies excluded from participation still founder in the insomniac twilight zones of hyperparanoia and accelerated systems of discipline/control is the untold story.

Stiegler diagnoses a cure saying we need to remember what we have lost, to trigger anamnesis: the notion from Plato’s Phaedrus that one perceives to be learning, then, is actually the recovery of what one has forgotten. That we carry internally the knowledge we’ve lost in exteriorizing it into computers and data banks. For Stiegler, more hopeful than I, sees the Internet as an associated hypomnesic milieu where the receivers are placed in a position of being senders. In that respect, it constitutes a new stage of grammatisation, which allows us to envisage a new economy of memory supporting an industrial model no longer based on dissociated milieux, or on disindividuation  (Stiegler argues that “the hypomnesic appears as that which constitutes the condition of the anamnesic” — in other words, externalised time-bound communication is necessary for original creative thought, in part because it is the primordial support of culture.).

At the end of his Postscript Deleuze provides a cautionary note speakong of his friend, Felix Guattari, saying: “Felix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighbourhood, 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.”

One needs to think about that as such societies as Finland proceed to experiment with a base income plan for all. Such a – on the surface, notion could just as easily be the perfect ploy by the corporatist collusion of State and Corporation as Fascism was defined by Mussolini in the 30’s, in which one is made into a dividual, given a universal income card and is only asked to enter into this formless agreement to be tracked in one’s daily life by one’s Smart Card. Controlled without ever knowing we are complicit in our own serfdom. I remember years ago when the RFID tag came out and people became paranoid of implants or chips with this on their person, etc., but now with the notion of Universal Basic Income one sees behind the scenes the very same notion enacted in a Smart Card that will care one’s dividual traces 24/7 with medical, financial, and all other pertinent (i.e., commoditized and corporatized information and data) as one flows through the future smart cities that will invisibly offer you happiness and the optimized dreams of an AI driven society of ultra leisure and communicative pleasure. I should add… at the exclusion of 99% of the rest of those mortals that fall out of the dividual divide.

  1. Jonathan Crary. 24/7 (Kindle Locations 35-39). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  2. from Paolo Virno and Michael Hardy, eds. Radical Thought In Italy: A Potential Politics
  3. Savat, David. Uncoding the Digital: Technology, Subjectivity and Action in the Control Society (p. 7). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.




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