In forging the concepts of mechanology, functional integration, concretization, associated milieu and transductive amplification, Simondon provided a theoretical apparatus singularly pregnant for an understanding of automatic society.1
Spoofy as my title for this article is there are those who believe technics and technology in our time is becoming autonomous from its human makers, that it is taking on an originary life of its own separate and distinct from its progenitors. Bernard Stiegler tells us this is an erroneous conclusion and one that is allowing humans to fall into some of the age old dualism traps that have always led us into false infinities. We have since the rise of the global economic war of nations – otherwise known as neoliberalism been led to believe that we are living in an age of transition, an age when the grand old narratives (storytellings) that have guided humans (and I’ll localize it in the West for the moment) have controlled their appetitive self – their desires. As Stiegler in his own abstruse vocabulary remarks,
The neoconservative and ultra-liberal turn creates an industry of bad dreams and nightmares by systematically exploiting the drives – and the destructive drives – which can no longer be bound by desire. Then, starting in 1993 with digital reticulation, and after the final collapse of the Eastern bloc, the ‘old-fashioned’ conservative revolution makes way for an ultra-liberal libertarianism that exploits mimetism, exhibitionism and voyeurism via a digital media that forms new artificial crowds, but that also constitutes a laboratory of new forms of individuation, which arise as alternatives to disindividuating consumerism and which make the critique of new conservatism highly complex. (AS, KL 3318)
This notion that neoliberal economics exploits the drives and hooks itself to the elaborate worlds of collective dream therapy which has entranced millions of humans within this nightmare world through the use first during the early 1920’s by way of radio, then 1950’s through television, cinema and other image making machines, and now in our computational wonderland of the internet (of things!) in which humans are immersed in the electronic void of consumer capitalism 24/7 (Crary).
For some time, the frontier of cyberspace has been the human– machine interface. For this reason, we have often regarded ourselves as lying outside cyberspace. In his famous test, Turing (1950) posited a keyboard/ screen interface to blanket human and computer. Half a century later, that very interface has become part of our everyday reality. Helped perhaps by the ubiquitous television and the part it has played in informing and entertaining us, we now rely on interfaces as our second skins for communication, information, business, entertainment, socialization, and so forth. We use our mobiles 24/7 for work or play, and seem so cut off from the natural world and immersed in our electronic gazes that we have become oblivious to the fact that we are already in the virtual relays of a worldwide dream. We have moved inside the infosphere, the all-pervading nature of which also depends on the extent to which we accept its interface as integral to our reality and transparent to us (in the sense of no longer perceived as present). What matters is not so much moving bits instead of atoms— this is an outdated, communication-based interpretation of the information society that owes too much to mass-media sociology— as the far more radical fact that our understanding and conceptualization of the very essence and fabric of reality is changing. Indeed, we have begun to accept the virtual as reality. So the information society is better seen as a neo-manufacturing society in which raw materials and energy have been superseded by data and information, the new digital gold and the real source of added value. Not just communication and transactions then, but the creation, design, and management of information are the keys to the proper understanding of our hyperhistorical predicament.2
Someday one will walk down a street in a smart city and the overlays mapped from one’s eyeware or neurotransplants will activate sensors that will merge with the natural surroundings offering one an animated world of electronic and surreal interactions. One will begin to believe this is the way it has always been, that this is natural and that living in such a false world of controlled and normalized imagery is just the way it is: that is, that it is has move beyond fact, and become – law. One will no longer need to think, critical thought, interpretation, books, separate and individual being will vanish as we become one in a hyperworld of immediacy.
Yet, this neoliberal dreamware is an illusion for something else is transpiring, something not foreseen in the computational logic of these masters of illusion:
It is starting from this question that we must critique the ‘storytelling’ of the permanent transition. This story assumes that the model of creative destruction could continue to infinity, which is absolutely false, not only because the finitude of resources clearly constrains ‘growth’ (which is the current name for ‘creative destruction’)… (AS, 3299)
This narrative of transition, of continuous economic growth, of the Schumpterian ‘creative destruction’ that is the core leitmotif of capitalism as it mercilessly like some Juggernaut or Titanic of the oceans of time rolls ever faster toward the Iceberg of some inevitable disaster has entrapped us all within a global nightmare from which it seems almost impossible to extract ourselves or even discover an exit. But is this, too, just another tale, a tale of woe, a market ploy? As Stiegler will comment,
The fable of permanent transition would have us believe that a constant, accelerated transformation of the world by technological innovation, itself controlled by speculative marketing, is unavoidable. It would have us believe that there is no alternative. To oppose this fable is to affirm that we are indeed living through a transition – which can be understood on the basis of the metaphor of ‘metamorphosis’ as the appearance of new somatopsychic, technical and social forms and organizations – but that this is not merely a technological transition (firstly because nothing is ever merely technological), and is instead an organological chrysalis in three dimensions constituting three correlated individuations, that is, occurring through a process of psychic, technical and social transindividuation, even though there are conflicts between and within these three dimensions. (AS, KL 3357)
For Stiegler there is a transition going on, but not guided by the neoliberal narrative of ‘transition’ one sees marketed by media and elite pundits of the academic and journalists. No. Instead we are seeing a war or struggle being played out between two industrial models: first, consumerism, founded on Taylorism, the culture industries (as described by Adorno) and the welfare state designed to directly and indirectly redistribute productivity gains in the form of the wages of employees who are not just producers but consumers, that is, equipped with purchasing power; and, secondly, a fully automatized society where employment has disappeared, and hence where wages are no longer the source of purchasing power, in turn implying the disappearance of the producer/consumer, which clearly requires the institution of a new process of redistribution – redistributing not purchasing power, but time: the time to constitute forms of knowledge (including purchasing knowledge, that is, knowledge of social practices governing use values and exchange values according to practical values and societal values). (AS, KL 3371)
With the end of work through automation comes a dilemma. Who will receive the benefits of such a transition? What will come of the workers no dislocated and unemployed? Now that they will be unpaid, without work, with no hopes for monetary remuneration how shall they support their families and loved ones? And, above all with all this ‘free time’ what will they do in this hyperworld of automatization? In fact as Stiegler testifies what is at stake in the new social organization that we must dream, conceive and realize – that is, establish and institute as the therapeia of the new pharmakon – is the time of knowledge that can and must be gained by and through automatization, time that it is a question of redistributing. To do so we must make an exit from Taylorism, Keynesianism and consumerism by organizing the economy and society differently, including the elaboration and transmission of knowledge itself. And achieving this requires a supplementary invention leading to a categorial invention, that is, to a fundamental epistemic change itself opening onto a reinvention of academic institutions as well as the editorial and publishing industry. (AS, KL 3399)
His notion is that we will need re-education, and a new pharmakon – a therapy and a change in our epistemic knowledges based not on the old systems which were tied to the natural order of the Anthropocene, but to negentropic processes that will transform us from automated dividuals into transindivduated singularities (Simondon/Guattari). If we do not anticipate and transform ourselves in this manner we will face dire consequences on a global scale unseen from the beginnings of human kind. The mutation of the conditions of production currently underway means that the exit from the industrial world founded on employment and redistribution via wages is going to occur no matter what. Failure to anticipate and negotiate this change will only provoke an explosion of violence. (AS, KL 341)
The neoliberal agenda is one of total global economic control. Stigler in his abstruse and stylistically grotesquerie tells us: The algorithmic governmentality imposed by computational 24/7 capitalism will become an automatic society (rather than a ‘dis-society’) only if it makes technics serve arrangements between the times of intermittence and the times submitted to subsistence, between automatisms and their dis-automatization, the latter projecting consistences. In a society where knowledge becomes the primary productive function (and the first if not the only one to have seen this was Marx), the new value that will re-found the economy and politics will no longer be the time of employment, but the time of knowledge, that is, negentropy, constituting a neganthropy and opening the age of the Neganthropocene. (AS, KL 3425)
In other words what is needed is an epistemic shift on a grand scale, a new poltical economy based on knowledge rather than work, one that will reindividualize rather than automate humans as mindless robots in the service of the machine. A knowledge economy that brings with it true innovation and anticipates a real future rather than the closed world of simulated reality time. Dataveillance and hypercontrol algorithmic governmentality is leading humans away from their natural order into total control systems that empty us of dreams, flesh, and thought. It is the path of madness. As Stiegler reminds us,
It leads to madness because it is based on an automated repression of what, in the noetic soul – that is, the desiring and idealizing soul, trans-forming its drives into investments – individuates potentials for individuation concealed in preindividual funds in the form of traumatypes, that is, of defaults and accidents engendered from wounds awaiting liberation via an individuation capable of becoming a quasi-cause. (AS, KL 34712)
We are like the hylics of ancient Gnosticism, sleepwalkers being led to the slaughter by the very electronic dreams that we now envision as helpmates, timesavers, conveniences. We are becoming so immersed in this automated world that we are supplely being shaped and modulated by the very mechanisms that we use everyday: the mobile phones that offer thousands of apps, the smart refrigerator that organizes one’s menu, one’s eating habits, orders food when it is needed, etc. We are becoming slowly enmeshed in a world of external memory devices to the point we no longer need brain power, brain memories for we have instant access to wiki, Google or other systems of information/knowledge that can do the thinking for us. As AI’s take over much of the decision making in private and corporate work and life this process will eliminate the need for education or academia itself. Humans will be guided and shaped by a these technics and technologies in ways that will deplete us and remove our humanity and replace our minds with the hypernormalized patterns of the coming Smart Society. We are opening a wound that will leave us soulless artificial beings who no longer will know what it once meant to be human. We will in essence have lost our humanity and joined the machines in some nightmare world of 24/7 processes churning away till there are no planetary resources left to churn…
And, yet, Stiegler says their is a way out of this quagmire…
Continuing this series in a few days… stay tuned.
- Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 3299-3301). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
- Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (p. 17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.