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.

3 thoughts on “The Artificial Crowd

    “How will our cities look and feel, and what will life be like in the transformed cities of the future?
    Current forecasts indicate that as many as 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030, up from around 55% today. FutureProofing examines the big shifts in our societies that may follow from the rapid growth in urban living, and what the digital revolution will bring to the way cities are designed and governed. The programme visits Singapore to experience some of the features which cities of the 21st century may adopt, such as self-driving vehicles and ubiquitous data monitoring of all residents’ movements. Will this reduce or enhance the freedom of citizens in future?”

    Liked by 1 person

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