The Artificial Crowd

Since at least the Upper Palaeolithic age, the noetic souls that are psychic individuals have expressed their expectations by tertiarizing them, that is, by projecting their retentions and their protentions outside themselves, between themselves and other psychic individuals, and in the form of traces through which they spatialize what they are living through or have lived through temporally (temporally meaning psychically, in the past, present or future). These traces are the hypomnesic tertiary retentions with which and through which these psychic individuals transindividuate themselves according to specific modalities – modalities specified by the characteristics of the tertiary retentions thereby engendered.1

For those of us not schooled in the French cultural elite rhetorical strategies of Stiegler’s audience what he is saying is simply this: Homo Sapiens at least since the so called Stone Ages has built up certain maps of reality through both individual and cultural collective memory and perception that it has externalized in myths, songs, dance, gesture, sign, writing, art, etc. that allows for the transmission of certain norms, modalities, regulatory functions for that society or culture that could be temporalized and past on from generation to generation through processes at once that carried the past and mapped a possible future. In our age the various civilizations and cultures that up to this point have lived separate and coeval lives encircled and inscribed within their domains have suddenly been faced with the reality systems of other cultures and civilizations. The norms and value systems of these various cultures and civilizations since at least Nietzsche’s time have begun to fray around the edges, their once powerful and empowered authority and vision that regulated these vast assemblages of peoples across the earth as truth has fallen into disrepute, lost its power over these peoples hearts and minds.

The Secular Age that sponsored Atheism and the Critique of the Religious Worldview is in turn gazing upon its own heritage and dismantling its own authority and theoretical underpinnings. That this new redoubling of the critique the world that our Enlightenment forbears invented is in turn dismantling itself. That something new is coming our way is all around us, and yet the forces that have kept the powers of the Outside at bay are in themselves powerless against this destruction of their own house. We are in the apocalypse so long dreamed as nightmare, so long believed to be a figment of religious imagination it has become at the hands of its critics the veritable engine of destruction that is brining Western Civilization to its knees and the earth upon which all humanity relies to the point of cataclysmic and environmental degradation and demise.

We’ve lived this out since the Enlightenment Age in the West. Other cultures because of the influx of globalization and the electronic age of global communications: all the analogue and now digital technics and technologies: telegraph, television, radio, etc. and now the internet… all this has broken down the codes and programs that have encircled and kept each cultural enclave a specific and secure space of being. The great philosophies of the past were based upon a vision of Being and Time, of certain fixities and ontological and epistemic verities that bound a cultures thoughts to its goals. Those have begun to fracture and splinter into our modern eras completed nihilism where the central myth of Nature or Environment that has been the main force against which human for millennia built up their civilizations as Security Zones against the chaos and destructive powers of the natural order. In doing this these civilizations created metafictional systems of governance and regulation to guide the common life of each through time to sustain an equitable existence against the destructive force of Nature and Others (not of our culture).

These great systems that in the 19th Century began to be explored by early sociologists and anthropologists, etc. fell into various open and closed forms designed to create societies based on war or peace, sword or plough. I simplify. One could cite authority after authority and their critics on all these facets. That in itself became part of the vast literature of our current culture industries that have formulated and abstracted out all the elements of these ancient systems, codified them, analyzed them, theorized them, bound them to new conceptualities to the point that one would be hard put to find anything left of the original world out of which they originated. This too is part of our current malaise for we have lost the thread of the human relation, of any pattern in the vast temporal sea of human time that could guide us through our contemporary moment. Why? Because nothing in that great past prepared us for what we are now going through.

We truly are at the beginning of something new and yet old and uncanny. For we are faced with the breakdown of one age (call it the Anthropocene – the Age of Humanity) and the birth of another which has yet to be named or fully understood. Yet, the outlines of this world are not assured, things can go wrong and the world composed of negentropic creativity and transformation could fall into utter chaos and oblivion along with the human world of that past. Humans are driven animals whose very make up is patterned by both memory and desire. The various social forces of the collective elites have for millennia channeled these forces into the wider cultural worlds of work and play that have kept the psychic life of most humans tamed and civilized.

At least here in the West as Stiegler remarks “Automatic society is now attempting to channel, control and exploit these dangerous automatisms that are the drives, by subordinating them to new retentional systems that are themselves automatic, which capture drive-based automatisms by outstripping and overtaking them: formalized by applied mathematics, concretized by algorithms designed to capture and exploit the traces generated by individual and collective behavior, reticular interactive automatisms are systems for capturing behavioral expressions.” (AS, KL 1449)

Terms such as Civil, Citizen, Civilized, etc. all pertain to a process of cultural indoctrination and subordination of the individual to the norms and regulatory functions (Law, Justice, Mores…) that make up the codes of that world. Deleuze and Guattari in their history and philosophical speculations of capitalism would uncover aspects of this process in the West as humans moved from the early Paleolithic worlds of hunters and gatherers to the City States, to the Feudal empires, to the modern technological age in which we live. Deleuze in later life bounded by some of Michel Foucault’s notions of biopolitics and power/knowledge structures would term them societies of control. The controls set in place during the early Industrial era of the 19th Century bourgeoisie have eroded through the very technological explosion of the simple world of that era.

No longer living in a circumscribed and orderly world of values, and in fact living in an time where all values have become suspect, even the great theoretical underpinnings of that authority of authorities, the Sciences and Philosophy we realize that even this Secular Age is circumscribed and closing. The atheistic world that sought since the enlightenment to dismantle the ancient codes and norms of the religious worldview has by so doing brought about its own veritable demise.  The Age of Theory that gave us the tools to recon with the dark hinterlands of the collective and social psychic life of Western Civilization are now useless as we face the new and unbounded completion of that process (i.e., the completed nihilism of Nietzsche).

That the great worlds of Philosophy bounded within the closed world of Being no longer hold has been attested both in Analytical and Continental thought since the early thinkers of the Enlightenment. The Age of Metaphysics is over and something new but yet to surface is rising among us. We’ve seen in various philosophers and thinkers since at least Heidegger struggle with and against the metaphysical worlds. All of this is for most humans mute.

For most humans caught up in the cycles of birth, growth, maturity, work, old age, and death life is bounded by the ordinary automatisms of work and play. Most never go beyond the base set of beliefs and values by which they were first educated and indoctrinated into the cultures and societies within which they were born. Most never suspect that these norms and behaviors that guide and shape their lives are anything other than the ‘truth’. For the common lot of humans the world of thought is channeled and controlled by automatic scripts that allow them to believe they themselves are the part of something greater than themselves, that their lives have meaning and purpose as part of some group, collective, religion, political party, social club, marriage, etc. All the daily rituals that help the common lot to survive and protect them from the harsh worlds outside their social realms is accepted without any critical of theoretical knowledge otherwise. Most humans are cattle and machines of scripted worlds they themselves never made nor understand, and yet believe they are free and prosperous according to the myths and beliefs of the social systems within which they are prisoners. Even the intelligentsia are imprisoned by these various scripts and algorithms that govern and shape their own critical visions. Thousands of books critical of this or that part of the system are published every month suggesting radical or conservative change in this or that policy or law of the society, etc. Yet, as we all know these books are lost in the millions of pieces of data published each year. The Library of Congress catalogue alone boggles the mind of any scholar approaching a specific theme of study, etc.

We are in an age of information glut where any value or system can be critiqued or defended in a book, article, paper, speech, etc. with the assurance of such an automatic system that such efforts count. Sadly, they don’t. Knowledge is depleted. Critique is dead, the Scholar is replaced by unthinking analytical machines that automatically sort, analyze, organize, and script the world of Big Data day by day 24/7 without any thought of the norms or relations of humans. And do this as part of a system of governance over what humans are becoming: dividuals.  The notion of dividual refers to a term used by Deleuze and Guattari to refer to what Stiegler associates with the network effect:

In automatic society, those digital networks referred to as ‘social’ channel these expressions by subordinating them to mandatory protocols, to which psychic individuals bend because they are drawn to do so through what is referred to as the network effect, which, with the addition of social networking, becomes an automated herd effect, that is, one that is highly mimetic. It therefore amounts to a new form of artificial crowd, in the sense Freud gave to this expression. (AS, KL 1495)

Watching the buzz worlds of Twitter, Face Book, Linked In etc. one realizes this process of the in-crowd vogue of traces and circulations that provide the perfect control mechanism. In a world of blips and bytes the instantaneous reduplication of the cliché has found its perfect match of automatic society. From moment to moment one can see a news story offered by Reuters as fact blipped and transformed through the network effect into the various political filters of Left or Right where truth no longer matters and even ‘fact checks’ are ideological systems of governance that trap people in a blind man’s bluff game of political and social malfeasance.

Our world has become a cliché of itself, a realm depleted of value gains instant notoriety from the most outrageous statements of this or that pundit, politico, are cultural elite. The trivialization of life and the implosion of real culture into this piss-pot sea of inanity has brought the human into a universal deconstruction machine that is eroding the last vestiges of the human mind and intellect and replacing it with trivia and mindless bric-a-brac.

According to Stiegler Freud showed that there are also ‘artificial’ crowds, which he analyses through the examples of the Church and the Army. In the twentieth century, and starting in the 1920s, the audiovisual programme industries, too, also form, every single day, and specifically through the mass broadcast of programmes, such ‘artificial crowds’. The latter become, as masses (and Freud refers precisely to Massenpsychologie), the permanent, everyday mode of life in the industrial democracies, which are at the same time what Stiegler calls industrial tele-cracies. (AS, KL 1512)

The very networks once espoused as the home of freedom for early pundits have become the blind halls of vast conglomerates and interconnected assemblages of hypernormalization, enforcing algorithmic governance so ubiquitous that the governed assume their thoughts and minds are inventing freedom rather than imposing the very mental chains of a worldwide teleocracy. We are the makers of our own prison system, the victims of our own desires, the cause and effect of our own artificialization in a world where the individual is replaced by his datagram: the dividual.

This process of artificialization has been going on from the beginning of those early Paleolithic ancestors. We’ve built and mapped artificial worlds we term culture and civilization as devices to secure and protect us from the encompassing threat of the Universe itself. So this new phase is nothing new but rather a continuing phase and transformation of an age old path we began long ago. All that has changed is that we’ve applied the theoretical gaze upon this vast Anthropocene Era of Humanity.

I’ll continue further tomorrow…

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 1463-1469). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Artificial Human: Digital Life in a Mindless Habitat

Digital tracking technologies are the most advanced stage of a process of grammatization that began at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic age…

—Bernard Stiegler,  Automatic Society: The Future of Work

Education in its etymological context is the process of  drawing out or unfolding the powers of the mind in a child. This notion presupposes that a child is born with certain innate powers and capacities that can be slowly activated and molded by the cultural norms of the society within which it lives. But is this so? Do we come with a set of innate capacities and powers to learn, to know, to feel, to see, to understand, surmise, analyze, reason, think…? In other words is there some fixed and unchallenged thing called ‘human nature’ that can be shaped and formed into a human being or not? Of course the culture/nurture debates are unending and I’m not about to add to that vast literature. Instead let’s begin with our recent history.

If one cares to look at it we can discern that there are so many fragmented cultures across the planet that no one could in their right mind begin to know or understand each and everyone with any amount of success. The literature of anthropologists has become almost laughable in the sense that what it describes is not the scattered remnants of indigenous populations remaining in the world among us, but rather the mirrored reflections of our own fears and phobias, values and contexts. The very conceptuality we use to understand others is itself tainted by its ubiquitous reliance on hundreds if not thousands of years of clichéd use. Bounded by certain central concepts our thought as pointed out by those masters of irony the post-structuralists is already informed by metaphysical prejudice. We live in a circle of our own thought never able to truly grasp the Other at all. This goes both ways, too. For the Other is an alterity to us and we to her and the world is an endless Tower of Babel.

Of course we love to simplify, to abstract, to fictionalize that matters are other than this, that we can understand each other, that there are certain truths and norms that seem at first Universal everywhere. That even the Mind holds certain universal concepts and ideas that come with us at birth. Plato once believed all that was needed was to remember these Ideas, to educe them from the child and nurture them through a form of dialectic that would teach the young child the powers and capacities he already had within him. But was he right? Do we come with these innate ideas, forms? Are they existing like dormant seeds that need only be watered and nurtured to grow and mature? Or is the mind a clean slate, a sponge into which concepts and ideas are put by those very cultures, imposed from the outside in? Are we but empty vessels that can be slowly adapted and molded by the culture within which we are born and emerge, shaped and modulated by thoughts not innate but imposed? And, if so, does this imply that we are not what we think we are but something other?

This is not the place to debate the extremes of such questions. Instead I’ll limit the discussion only to Bernard Stiegler’s notion of grammatization. What is grammatization? Following the work of Gilbert Simondon whose notions of transindividuation would deeply influence Stielger we can start with the notion of technics. For Stiegler humans, as a species, were not born into the world already equipped with mature cognitive capacities; these capacities developed over time in a transductive relationship with Neolithic technics, and they are still developing today hand in glove through our collective play with contemporary technics. Informed by Simondon, Stiegler routinely defined technics as organized inorganic matter.” The term refers both to the history of fabricated objects (e.g., flint, hammers, pencils, computers) and to the domain of techne: the techniques and practices involved in making (something with) technology. Technics are more than merely a part of the environment humans inhabit; technics constitute—not determine—our experience on every possible level, from retention to anticipation, and from cultural history to genetics.1

I hear many speak of the natural world and environment who say we are now entering a time when our world is becoming severed from its natural context and entering an artificial era. Truth is we’ve been living in artificial environments for millennia. Cultures and civilizations around the globe were since the first Neolithic stone age building artificial landscapes to escape and defend themselves against the natural world. As the verbose and witty if not always accurate cultural theorist and art critic Camille Paglia puts it: “We are hierarchical animals. Sweep one hierarchy away, and another will take its place, perhaps less palatable than the first. There are hierarchies in nature and alternate hierarchies in society. In nature, brute force is the law, a survival of the fittest. In society, there are protections for the weak. Society is our frail barrier against nature.”2

In the great debates surrounding whether humans determine technology, or technology humans, or / and if both co-evolve and determine each other in turn Stiegler would join his progenitor Jaques Derrida in circumventing this debate altogether by seeking the underlying conditions that determine both humans and technology: the constitutive processes, in Stiegler’s lexicon, are called processes of grammatization. (Tinell, p. 4) That Stiegler was influenced by French culture from the 60’s to 80’s with those such as the classicists and historians of writing (Leroi-Gourhan, Havelock, Goody), French philosophers and literati associated with Tel Quel (Derrida, Barthes, Kristeva), and North American media theorists (Ong, McLuhan, Ulmer) should be no surprise. (ibid., p. 5) Almost anyone who lived during this time period would have been versant in the structuralist and post-structuralist scholarship. Today one hardly hears the names of these scholars in current or contemporary radical philosophy, as if they were irrelevant and passé. Just another blip on the long slow demise of philosophy in an age of derivative metaphysics playing out its endgame. (Of course I wonder at times if it is just young thinkers seeking to bypass the rigours and time needed to fully delve into all the textual work it takes to study and learn the full gamut of all the philosophical traditions.)

Either way the scholars of this age according to media theorist Gregory Ulmer ultimately were led into various theoretical trajectories that would lead to grammatology. According to Ulmer, grammatology developed in three phases, all of which remain in progress. First, the historical phase featured a variety of archeological and paleontological investigations into the evolution of writing systems. These historians of writing attempted to account for the actual invention of writing in ancient civilizations, as well as devise elaborate taxonomies for categorizing the world’s writing systems, almost as if taking inventory of different species of plants or animals. Racing to gather new empirical facts surrounding the origins of particular writing systems, early historians of writing rarely paused to consider the theoretical significance of writing, nor did they question inherited assumptions about which activities and artifacts counted as writing. For this reason, Derrida—the first theoretical grammatologist—embarked on a “point-by-point repetition, of the history of writing into a theory of writing” (Ulmer, 1985, p, 17). As he deconstructed the metaphysical opposition of speech and writing, Derrida assembled something of a counter-history, wherein non-phonetic systems like hieroglyphics function as emblems with which he theorizes writing in general (i.e., arche-writing), beyond the limits of phonocentric discourse. (Tinell, p. 5)

Stiegler would transform and extend the thought of Derrida and other post-structuralist thinkers developing his own media centered notions of grammatization. For him according to Tinnell the term applies to processes by which a material, sensory, or symbolic flux becomes a gramme, which—broadly conceived—can include all manners of technical gestures that maintain their iterability and citationality apart from an origin or any one particular context.For Stiegler, the shift from cuneiform to phonetic symbols is a process of grammatization, the shift from hand-tools to factory machines is a process of grammatization, and so is genetic engineering—cells and organs become replicated and revised like a kind of alphabet. In every case, a continuous flux (e.g., speech, the body, the genome) becomes broken down into a system of discrete elements (e.g., alphabetic characters, mechanical systems, recombinant DNA sequences). And, in every case, the latter’s emergence always disrupts, transforms, and reconfigures the former. (Tinnell, p. 6)

What were seeing here is a theory of influence between human and its technics, the slow process of these material grammes acting like programs computing and activating processes throughout history. In this way Stiegler forces us to think about technologies and techniques not as separate processes but rather as co-sharers and partners in ongoing processes out of which both are conditioned. The key here is that as everyday objects transform into what some glibly term the ‘internet of things’, or a world of smart objects, or as Stiegler would term them: gramme objects, we see a world artificially animated by intelligences that activate and control our habits, intentions, and actions. The environment surrounding us will track us, help us, teach us, enclose us with a grammatical texture of ubiquitous technics designed to operate on us 24/7.

Defining all writing technologies as pharmakon, Stiegler (2011) warned that hyperindustrial investment in digital machines was contributing to a general proletarianization of the consumer’s existence to an even more pervasive extent than the industrial investment of factory machines effected a proletarianization of the worker’s labor. Nevertheless, in addition to this disconcerting ramification, the pervasive networks of gramme and gesture emerging with wearable computers and biotechnologies mark new rhetorical/media ecologies that introduce unusual and, perhaps, promising affordances for multimedia composition. (Tinell, p. 7) The point here is that all these gadgets that seem to optimize our physical and mental processes, help us perform better, become better adapted to the rigors of this 24/7 world are in fact shaping and modulating our lives through a new form of social control (Deleuze).

Without going into the full details of how all this came about Stiegler compresses the main tenets of his oeuvre into an ensemble of theoretical gestures. For Stiegler the movement from the Industrial to Hyperindustrial  era we are now in, or what Nietzsche would term the era of a ‘completed nihilism’ when theory and knowledge itself would become valueless and stupidity would reign everywhere is upon us. We’ve heard repeatedly from my friend R. Scott Bakker that this is so, that philosophy in the traditional sense is dead, mute. That theory is without a project, a future. That humanity is giving way to a process of stupefaction, automatization. That every facet of our lives and thoughts is slowly being governed and manipulated by the ‘trace’ – a world of data and metadata attached to our dividual lives in an electronic world that never sleeps. The a universal city of nightmares is being set loose within the ‘internet of things’ in the sense of a playground for total immersion and calculability. As Stiegler remarks,

After the loss of work-knowledge in the nineteenth century, then of life-knowledge in the twentieth century, there arises in the twenty-first century the age of the loss of theoretical knowledge – as if the cause of our being stunned was an absolutely unthinkable becoming. With the total automatization made possible by digital technology, theories, those most sublime fruits of idealization and identification, are deemed obsolete – and along with them, scientific method itself. We saw in the introduction that this is the conclusion Chris Anderson reaches in ‘The End of Theory’… (AS, KL 1187)3

As Anderson said in that article Google conquered the advertising world with nothing more than applied mathematics. It didn’t pretend to know anything about the culture and conventions of advertising — it just assumed that better data, with better analytical tools, would win the day. And Google was right. As he remarks,

Google’s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough. No semantic or causal analysis is required. That’s why Google can translate languages without actually “knowing” them (given equal corpus data, Google can translate Klingon into Farsi as easily as it can translate French into German). And why it can match ads to content without any knowledge or assumptions about the ads or the content.

This is the world of Big Data and Calculation. The rule of algorithmic governmentality that needs no theory or theoretician, scholar or pundit. It just does all this without human intervention at all. A world run for and by machinic intelligence, optimized by algorithms that chart and navigate the traces we leave in our ordinary everyday lives, attuned to our whims, to our desires, to our unknowing.

Even science and the scientific method is being made obsolete by this world of Big Data. As Anderson continues, “But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete. Consider physics: Newtonian models were crude approximations of the truth (wrong at the atomic level, but still useful). A hundred years ago, statistically based quantum mechanics offered a better picture — but quantum mechanics is yet another model, and as such it, too, is flawed, no doubt a caricature of a more complex underlying reality.” Absolute innovation and revolution in a continuous world of total optimization of code and gramme, control and gesture. Anderson being more optimistic than Stiegler hypes this new world, saying,

The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all.

With the demise of computer simulations and models comes the ousted computer modeler or programmer themselves, and the instigation of self-replicating algorithms and deep learning algorithms that have no need of the human engineer anymore. A world without humans is being martialed before our very eyes, one that will eventually not only replace work but life. Nietzsche once declared that God was Dead. One day a machine may say: “The Human is Dead.” Excluded from our own creation we may discover a civilization we thought to become a utopia has indeed become just that without us.

As Stiegler himself says,

Founded on the self-production of digital traces, and dominated by automatisms that exploit these traces, hyper-industrial societies are undergoing the proletarianization of theoretical knowledge, just as broadcasting analogue traces via television resulted in the proletarianization of life-knowledge, and just as the submission of the body of the labourer to mechanical traces inscribed in machines resulted in the proletarianization of work-knowledge. The decline in ‘spirit value’ thereby reaches its peak: it now strikes all minds and spirits. (AS, KL 1195)

We’ll continue this tomorrow…

  1. Tinnell, John. Grammatization: Bernard Stiegler’s Theory of Writing and Technology. Article in Computers and Composition · September 2015.
  2. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 3). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 1187-1192). Wiley. Kindle Edition.


The Smart World a Prison of Comfort

I remember watching Adam Curtis’s documentary on Hypernormalisation which I’ve spoken of before. Bernard Stiegler from another angle brings in the whole gamut of the new “data economy” that is invading every aspect of our technocommercial sector. In this world of consumer gadgets  it is the consumer herself who is becoming the focal point of a total control system that is both ubiquitous and seemingly normal. Stiegler mentions Michel Price, Jérémie Zimmermann, Evgeny Morozov among others who all have forebodings about this techno-optimistic future that is emerging out of the old advertising and behemoth mediatainment empires. The notion of being connected 24/7, of having ones life – body and mind, tracked, traced, fed into the vast algorithmic enclaves to be tapped, analyzed, processed, and modulated to sway one’s already desiring tendencies toward a new hypernormalized sociality is in the offing.

Not to be put off one is also seeing all the old myths and rational toolsets of the ancients put into play. Plato’s two-world’s is not the realm of the included/excluded masses who will become the benefactors or inmates of these new non-monetary regimes. That’s right the whole monetization standard that has for a few hundred years produced first the gold or silver standard, then the fake worlds of paper and dollar, stocks and bonds will vanish into the new digital empires based on digital pricing and regulatory systems bound by fast paced AI systems that will bind the world into a new economic structure. Smart phones, smart cities, smart clothing… all the aspects of one’s daily life will be monitored, traced, and infiltrated in this new world from the moment one wakes, and even during one’s sleep cycles. The transition will be so supple that the older generations who seemed at first a little leery of such things will die off and the young will see it but not see it. Or as Stiegler tells it we are entering a time when true knowledge is obliterated in favor of the standardized and controlled data flows of a 24/7 AI scripted world.

Yet, to become a part of that elite society of well controlled beings of mindless technocommercial bliss they will have to conform to the technics of that world. All others will be excluded outside the world of these elites, going by either unnoticed or in the parlance of other cultures as “untouchables” (i.e., non-persons without citizen rights or powers). A total control society that doesn’t even know it is controlled will arise as the education and seamlessly instilled and people lives are more and more hypernormalised by these new regulatory functions.  As Stiegler remarks digital tertiary retention rests on the structural elimination of conflicts, disagreements and controversies: ‘[A]lgorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.’1

Transhumanism and other fake sciences will be more and more centralized under various forms and agendas. Google, which along with NASA supports the Singularity University, has invested heavily in ‘medical’ digital technologies based on the application of high-performance computing to genetic and also epigenetic data – and with an explicitly eugenic goal. (AS, KL 762)

All of this leads Stigler to the goal of his new work: the goal of this work is to contribute to establishing the conditions of such a politics through its two volumes on the neganthropic future of work and of knowledge as the conditions of entry into the Neganthropocene – where this is also a matter of redesigning the digital architecture and in particular the digital architecture of the web, with the goal of creating a digital hermeneutics that gives to controversies and conflicts of interpretation their negentropic value, and constitutes on this basis an economy of work and knowledge founded on intermittence, for which the model must be the French system designed to support those occasional workers in the entertainments industry called ‘intermittents du spectacle’. (AS, KL 781)

Stiegler still shaped and localized by his French cultural heritage is bound by a hermeneutic vision of interpretive power and coopting of the system through a leftwing hacking of the algorithmic systems in favor of humanity. Yet, such dreams of technological takeover from the left seem a little tepid, and his stance within the dated philosophical perspectives of his age leave us wondering how effective such a stance can be against the juggernaut of the vast global economic forces that seem to have no center or circumference but rather a blind driveness toward optimization of intelligence. In many ways the Left seems antiquated in its platform over the past few years, stumbling into the technocommercial global matrix with tools from a bygone era that just do not provide either the questions or the answers to this hyperreal world of the new data economy.

I’ll continue with his diagnosis and cure as I navigate his proposals in the next post…. stay tuned.

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 755-759). Wiley. Kindle Edition.


On a personal note…

Over the next few months my family and I will be slowly transitioning back to Wyoming. Found some good property outside Cody, WY. Sold my old place up in the hills, and will be fixing this small place in Phoenix ups and selling it. Figure to spend my remaining days close to Yellowstone and the river basins up and that neck of the woods. So I’ll be slowing down a little over the next few months, and may take a short leave of absence in May when we expect to move and build our place. Going to do most of the work ourselves to save the proverbial dollar. A lot to do… but once done it’s going to be the place I’ll hang my hat for the rest of whatever I have left on this green earth.

Working on that continued series on Stiegler… but will be sporadic. Stay tuned…

The Epoch of the Neganthropocene: Exiting the Toxic Wastelands of Modernity

The Anthropocene is a singular organological epoch inasmuch as it engendered the organological question itself. It is in this way retroactively constituted through its own recognition, where the question this period poses is how to make an exit from its own toxicity in order to enter the curative and care-ful – and in this sense economizing – epoch of the Neganthropocene. What this means in practical terms is that in the Neganthropocene, and on the economic plane, the accumulation of value must exclusively involve those investments that we shall call neganthropic.1

Opening the future again to a sense of newness, to a sense of hope beyond the depredations of our era of death and apocalyptic forebodings is at the heart of Bernard Stiegler’s work. I doubt he would consider himself an optimist, but rather a realist and thereby a cautious pessimist in the sense that gazing toward what is coming at us is not at all clear but closer to that proverbial gesture of Saint Paul: “I see through a mirror darkly…”. That our era has been debt driven, bound to a entropic machine of accumulation and entropic dissipation is assured. Look around you and see the cracks in the seeming reality of this global civilization and one finds not hope but the oldest of fears and horrors: war, famine, disease, corruption, and a planetary civilization on the peak of utter chaos and ruination of the very basis of all life itself. We are marked and stained by our inaction, by out inability to face the universe without us. We live in our local defense leagues (Nations) castigating the rest of the world, fearing its demise, roping and chaining off our artificial borders with security walls of barbed wire or steel cages, dogs and armed soldiers. A bunker civilization that is withdrawing into its shell trying to stave off a nightmare it has itself created through its own economic and social mastery.

To keep us occupied and entertained we are allowed to satirize and demean a cartoon President or other world leaders as part of the Roman Circus of our modern age of mediatainment. As long as you are just passively or actively protesting a non-player on the world stage the real evil can continue on its way doing what it does behind the scenes: ripping and stripping the world of its last remaining resources, enclosing the minds and hearts of the world social in a new enclosure of the commons, putting them so far in debt that they’ll be working for the masters of hundreds of years and passively accepting this as the ‘state of affairs’. Modern slavery has no bars, it’s name is Freedom. All you need to do is conform, bend to the popular will of the elite, the masters of our economic systems who hide their own ignorance within a couched rational and mathematical world of fictions.

The word ‘Neoliberalism’, a cliché that has no meaning anymore, overly used by pundits to the point that its intent is a target that no longer exists in reality but rather in a autonomous mythic world of economics. Book after book speaks of the causes and effects of this supposed system that has brought us into this era of chaotic and planetary collapse. Yet, one reads book after book and discovers no where a vision of how to exit this era and its toxicity.

Bernard Stiegler will offer a vision of a transition from the toxic wastelands of the Anthropocene, an era of entropic decay and waste, dissipation and horror in his latest work Automatic Society: The Future of Work. This notion of the Anthropocene which was first used by Soviet environmentalists in the 1960’s was popularized by Paul J. Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch. As Stiegler tells it the  question of the Anthropocene, which bears within it its own overcoming, and bears the structure of a promise, is emerging at the very moment when, on the other hand, we are witnessing the establishment of that complete and general automatization made possible by the industry of reticulated digital traces, even though the latter seems to make this promise untenable. To hold fast, that is, to hold good to this promise, means beginning, precisely, from those neganthropic possibilities opened up by automation itself: it is to think this industry of reticulation as a new epoch of work, and as the end of the epoch of ‘employment’, given that the latter is ultimately and permanently compromised by complete and general automatization. And it is to think this industry as the ‘transvaluation’ of value, whereby ‘labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value’, and where the value of value becomes neganthropy. Only in this way can and must the passage from the Anthropocene to the Neganthropocene be accomplished. (AS, KL 678)

This old Marxian dream of the end of work is at the heart of both the toxic theorists of modern capitalism, and also of those like Stiegler who would harness its energies not in the name of entropic accumulation and dissipation but rather in a new creative society based on neganthropic principles. To envision such a post-Nietzschean world of transition into a true transvaluation of values would indeed be a feat of stupendous effort and imagination, reason and a logic of radical labour and love (caring). Is it possible?

Jehu of The Real Movement blog spells out much of this in his hypothesis that describes what happens when capitalism finally collapses premised on the assumption that this collapse can occur in two separate and distinct phases: a lower phase, which we can refer to as the collapse of production based on exchange value; and a higher phase, which I will call the collapse of production based on wage labor. These two phases more or less reflect the dual character of capitalist commodity production: that capital is a form of commodity production which specifically aims to produce surplus value. (Read: Towards a hypothesis of the final collapse of capitalism). What’s interesting as Jehu points out that Marx himself in all fifty or so volumes of his collected works never predicts the collapse of capitalism, only the specific “collapse of production based on exchange value, i.e., the conditions of simple commodity production” (Jehu).

He’ll point out another passage in Das Capital Vol 1, Chapter 32 where Marx predicts the demise of capitalist private property, and yet as Jehu maintains “Marx never actually says the proletariat expropriates capitalist private property; instead, he limits his prediction to the expropriation of capitalist private property by some unnamed subject”. As Jehu in another section explains it,

In Capital, (v1, c32), Marx is looking ahead to a major event that had two possible outcomes. The first, more familiar outcome for us is a proletarian socialist revolution that overthrows the existing state. The second, less well understood and almost never discussed outcome is that the state is forced by events to expropriate capitalist private property and undertake the direction of production, to function as the national capitalist, the direct exploiter of the proletarians. This second possible outcome is what Luxemburg labeled barbarism.

We’ve all heard about the first of these two outcomes, but very little about the second in Marxist literature. For me as I see what is happening in the world today it makes more and more sense that the plundering of market capitalism and its degradation of the ecological and social fabric of our planet will force the governing powers of nations to put an end to this exploitative corruption. We know this will go under the banner of saving the planet, etc., a new marketed environmental horror story will be driven into the psyche of the mass minds of all citizens who will in seeking security from the coming devastation gladly allow their lives to become enmeshed in the local and global tyrannies of the State to come.

Jehu for his part explains that his “hypothesis depends on the claim that production based on exchange value, what is commonly referred to as simple commodity production, can collapse without necessarily leading to the collapse of what I have here called production based on wage labor, i.e., capital proper”. As we see in the movement of capitalist technocrats of our era and their bid to oust workers from production and replace them over the coming decades with automation and intelligent machines that a new form of capitalist takeover is in the offing. That humanity itself as surplus labour and value is no longer a factor in this future. The vast underemployed mass of humans will no longer be needed, and will be excluded from the world of these capitalist schemes. The end of wage labor is assured, but does that not also mean the end of the wage laborer as well. Are we as workers becoming expendable? If so is it in their future a world cleansed and purified of the vast majority of the human population? Are these fascistic tendencies about to produce the very apocalyptic dreams of ancient monotheisms at the behest of the very powers who would exclude us from our jobs?

Either way the aspect left out of Marx is the collapse of the environment itself as one of the very retroactive forces that will bring about the State takeover of private property. As the environment (if you accept the Sixth Extinction and Environmental collapse theories of scientists around the world) begins to show more and more extreme collapse through deforestation, ice cap melting, gases rising from the ocean floors, the ocean conveyor belt slowing, the threat of so many shortages of rain…. etc., one will be offered solutions and security from the State. At this time humanity will either take on its own revolution and take the bull by the horns, or it will go passive and allow dictators and tyrants to enact martial law and impose dark legislation of social and political control over the planet and its resources. The future is uncertain and we see a crisis blooming all around us on this late great planet earth. Stiegler says there is an alternative…

As he explains it since 1993, a new global technical system has been put in place. It is based on digital tertiary retention and it constitutes the infrastructure of an automatic society to come. We are told that the data economy, which seems to be concretizing itself as the economic dynamic generated by this infrastructure, is the inevitable destiny of this society. We shall show, however, that the ‘destiny’ of this society of hyper-control is not a destination: it leads nowhere other than to nihilism, that is, to the negation of knowledge itself. And he will show, first with Jonathan Crary (24/7 Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep), then with Thomas Berns and Antoinette Rouvroy (Human Genes and Neoliberal Governance), why this automatic society to come will be able to constitute a future – that is, a destiny of which the negentropic destination is the Neganthropocene – only on the condition of overcoming this ‘data economy’, which is in reality the diseconomy of a ‘dis-society’. (AS, KL 690)

I’ll continue this series in another essay tomorrow. Stay tuned.

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 668-673). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Intelligence of Capital?

The development of the means of labour into machinery is not an accidental moment of capital, but is rather the historical reshaping of the traditional, inherited means of labour into a form adequate to capital. The accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital…

—Karl Marx, Fragment on Machines: Grundrisse

I remember during the 90’s so many works predicting a time vortex, an invasion of the future into our contemporary world. So many films would follow the same line such as the Terminator series where the intelligent machines would battle it out with humans for a world of ashes. Or the Matrix series where humanity was but a pawn in an elaborate system of metafictional world making for the machines who needed them like vampires sucking the electrical currents from our living dream. But now we are in the midst of such a world where the great narratives and culture industries that have built the artificial palaces of our multifarious cultures across the globe are coming apart at the seams. In the process of this the great backlash of the old guard, the conservative wing of the human equation seeks to reestablish the old order of things with every last ounce of its wagging power in the face of a planetary crisis such as the world has never seen.

Even as Marx predicated in such an early work as the Grundrisse humans are not important to Capital, they are but means to an end: the automation of the world. Humans are replaceable and non-essential to Capital. Always have been. As Marx would say,

In no way does the machine appear as the individual worker’s means of labour. Its distinguishing characteristic is not in the least, as with the means of labour, to transmit the worker’s activity to the object; this activity, rather, is posited in such a way that it merely transmits the machine’s work, the machine’s action, on to the raw material — supervises it and guards against interruptions. Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it; and it consumes coal, oil etc. (matières instrumentales), just as the worker consumes food, to keep up its perpetual motion. 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. (Grundrisse, p. 621) [My Italics]

It’s in this passage that we see a supple transition from the organic (human) craftiness and art (technics) to that of the artificial (machinic) intelligence with its own laws and energy needs ( humans needing food, while the machine needs other planetary anorganic resources). This sense that the human worker is within this process and transition a mere appendage and necessary part of the ongoing processuality of this automatization, and that the human is no longer the master in his own house but rather the one controlled by those very machinic processes. This great reversal between organic and inorganic in our time, with the rise of machinic civilization and its artificial autonomization and independence from the human is for Stiegler the displacement of entropy and negentropy in the new dispensation of machinic civilization,

In the Anthropocene epoch, from which it is a matter of escaping as quickly as possible, the questions of life and negentropy arising with Darwin and Schrödinger must be redefined from the organological perspective defended here, according to which: (1) natural selection makes way for artificial selection; and (2) the passage from the organic to the organological displaces the play of entropy and negentropy. (AS, KL 659)

Bernard Stiegler: Automatic Society

The next Industrial Revolution, a third one, eh? In a way, I guess the third one’s been going on for some time, if you mean thinking machines. That would be the third revolution, I guess—machines that devaluate human thinking.

 —Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano

Like many professional scholars Bernard Stiegler’s gaze has been turned toward the culture industries that have shaped our global era. Seeking in ancient Greek thought he’s transposed many of that cultures conceptuality into a set of tools to expose some of the darker corners of our era’s pathologies. Like many others he sees this replacement of humanity by the machinic powers of an automated society as a two-horned prodigy. On the one hand the predictions of such luminaries as Norbert Weiner, John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx and so many others predicted a coming time when there would be an end of wage labour. But with the end of work the true challenge for Stiegler facing humanity is what to do with all those out of work and surplus humans? As he says it:

…the time liberated by the end of work must be put at the service of an automated culture, but one capable of producing new value and of reinventing work. Such a culture of dis-automatization, made possible by automatization, is what can and must produce negentropic value – and this in turn requires what I have previously referred to as the otium of the people.1

Let’s chew on this for a few minutes. Stiegler accepts the fact that automation and the replacement of millions of workers in various aspects of our present global capitalist system is inevitable, but that we must discover against the Consumerist Culture that has driven our global society for a hundred years a new culture. The Culture of Disautomatization. One that produces negentropic value based on what he termed at one point the “otium of the people”.

Now the concept and phrase “negative entropy” was introduced by Erwin Schrödinger in his 1944 popular-science book What is Life? Later, Léon Brillouin shortened the phrase to negentropy, to express it in a more “positive” way: a living system imports negentropy and stores. In the Decadence of Industrial Democracies Stiegler will describe otium this way:

Otium is that which constitutes the practice of retentional systems through which collective secondary retentions are elaborated, selected and transmitted, 20 and through which, in turn, protentions are formed. The formation of these protentions always puts into play the singularity of the one who is taking aim with these protentions, since this process is always equally informed by the singularity of their secondary retentions, which are precisely not collective. (DID, p. 61)

Of course Otium, a Latin abstract term, has a variety of meanings, including leisure time in which a person can enjoy eating, playing, resting, contemplation and academic endeavors. It sometimes, but not always, relates to a time in a person’s retirement after previous service to the public or private sector, opposing “active public life”. Otium can be a temporary time of leisure, that is sporadic. It can have intellectual, virtuous or immoral implications. It originally had the idea of withdrawing from one’s daily business (negotium) or affairs to engage in activities that were considered to be artistically valuable or enlightening (i.e. speaking, writing, philosophy). It had particular meaning to businessmen, diplomats, philosophers and poets.2

For Stiegler we are losing our cultural memory and inheritance, and in the process the otium of the people that has guided and shaped its mind and body for hundreds if not thousands of years. We are living in that in-between-time of transition from one age to another, an unscripted and for the most part a topsy-turvy time of apocalyptic and chaotic struggles between various world cultures and otiums that are now failing their people due to the total completion of nihilism in our moment. The mis-trust and of culture, of books, of the elites, of the past is now at a high point. The young no longer bred on the world of either the religious or secular inheritance of cultural memory are living through a temporal vacuum. The Age of the Book is over. An age when the young were educated and instructed in the cultural inheritance of our multifarious past works of religious and secular arts and philosophies. Rather ours is a digital age of sound bytes and fragments that can no longer sustain the reading habits and solitary practices of the Book. As Stiegler confesses,

…no society has ever existed that did not contain practices comparable to what the Roman nobility called otium. No such society exists, ?Xcept in the West of the industrial democracies which, taking themselves for post-industrial societies, are submitted to the ‘leisure’ industries, industries that are in fact the very negation of leisure, that is, of otium as practice, since these industries are constituted through the hegemony of imperatives arising from negotium. Such is their decadence. (DID, p. 62)

The slow erosion of language in the course of a hundred years at the hands of scholars who would end in the post-structuralist black hole and aporia of meaning has left us in a world where words and things no longer touch, a world depleted of meaning is no world at all, an empty world full of forces and nightmares. A world in which mass-media systems produce reality for us, guide and shape our opinions. As Henry A. Giroux remarks,

With meaning utterly privatized, words are reduced to signifiers that mimic spectacles of violence, designed to provide entertainment rather than thoughtful analysis. Sentiments circulating in the dominant culture parade either idiocy or a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, while anti-public rhetoric strips society of the knowledge and values necessary for the development of a democratically engaged and socially responsible public.3

Many pundits and scientists dub ours the Anthropocene Age in which humans become conscious of their role in the destruction and ruination of the earth. The Anthropocene era is that of industrial capitalism, an era in which calculation prevails over every other criteria of decision-making, and where algorithmic and mechanical becoming is concretized and materialized as logical automation and automatism, thereby constituting the advent of nihilism, as computational society becomes a society that is automated and remotely controlled. (Stiegler)

At the very moment that humanity becomes conscious of itself is the moment that it loses its memory, falls away into fragmented systems of control that squander both the mental and physical resources of the planet and replace them with the algorithmic culture of machinic intelligence. For Stiegler this is the moment of Nietzsche’s transvaluation of all values,

We must think the Anthropocene with Nietzsche, as the geological era that consists in the devaluation of all values: it is in the Anthropocene, and as its vital issue, that the task of all noetic knowledge becomes the transvaluation of values. And this occurs at the moment when the noetic soul is confronted, through its own, organological putting-itself-in-question, with the completion of nihilism, which amounts to the very ordeal of our age – in an Anthropocene concretized as the age of planetarizing capitalism.(AS, KL 548)

In a world where culture is in disarray, the people mistrust both leadership and the mediatainment systems of cultural production we have entered that phase where nothing is true, everything is possible. So that for Stiegler a return to Marx and Nietzsche is imperative.Reading Marx and Nietzsche together in the service of a new critique of political economy, where the economy has become a cosmic factor on a local scale (a dimension of the cosmos) and therefore an ecology, must lead to a process of transvaluation, such that both economic values and those moral devaluations that result when nihilism is set loose as consumerism are ‘transvaluated’ by a new value of all values, that is, by negentropy – or negative entropy, or anti-entropy. (AS, KL 557)

The point of negentropy is to fight against the dissolution into total eclipse, to martial the unconscious energies on tap in the geospherical psyche of collective humankind, to bring about a resurgence in creative and empowered transformation against the forces that are taking us into a dark moment of death driven psychopathic madness.

All fine and dandy, but how? How enact such a scheme? Another pipe-dream from a scholar’s arsenal of wishful ideas? Or does Stiegler have something up his sleeve? I’ll return to this in the next post….

stay tuned!

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 485-490). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Otium, Wikipedia.
  3. Giroux, Henry  A.. Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (p. 6). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.