The Epoch of Care: Transindividuation and Technical Individuals

Truly total automatization is impossible: it could occur only by destroying the conditions of its own functioning, namely, in this instance, the psychic individuals and social individuals without which some purely automatic functioning could do nothing other than turn the earth into a desert – that is, entropize it.

—Bernard Stiegler, The Automatic Society

In our moment of transition, this phase shift between the ages, from entropic to a possible negentropic, Anthropocene to Negenthropocene civilization we’ve seen a tendency toward advanced technologies and the software that run them to become more and more intelligent as if combined with human ingenuity (technics) and the proclivities of time and processes repeated through computational complexity to a point that many believe in a supposed or hypothetical boundary zone in which machinic life will suddenly and in a great epochal shift displace humanity in intelligence on planet earth. Stiegler mentions the work of Gilbert Simondon and his notion of technical individual becoming autonomous from us as we fall away into stupidity and forget ourselves.. As Stiegler emphasizes,

At the start of the becoming that is totally computational capitalism, no strategies are involved, neither to deceive the masses through the use of algorithmic machines, nor to ‘neutralize and inactivate’ them by these means. This occurs de facto. But this fact is an outcome of the appropriation of diffracted universal technical tendencies, tendencies that precede all such strategies.

This sense that there is no human purpose involved in these pre-individual tendencies within technologies, no purpose or plan but that these tendencies have been there from the beginning, de facto. Yet, he will emphasize as well that these tendencies to become law rather than just natural facts among facts  can only do this through the rational, that is, neganthropic, appropriation of these tendencies, and by collective individuations instituting a process of transindividuation, and thereby constituting psychic individuals, that the outcome can be a state of law.1

But what is transindividuation? For Stiegler, the concept of “transindividuation” is one that does not rest with the individuated “I” or with the interindividuated “We,” but is the process of co-individuation within a preindividuated milieu and in which both the “I” and the “We” are transformed through one another. Transindividuation, then, is the basis for all social transformation and is therefore a way of addressing what happens within education. As Stiegler will expound in Technics and Time,

Attention is the reality of individuation in Gilbert Simondon’s sense of the terms: insofar as it is always both psychical and collective. Attention, which is the mental faculty of concentrating on an object, that is, of giving oneself an object, is also the social faculty of taking care of this object – as of another, or as the representative of another, as the object of the other: attention is also the name of civility as it is founded on philia, that is, on socialised libidinal energy. This is why the destruction of attention is both the destruction of the psychical apparatus and the destruction of the social apparatus (formed by collective individuation) to the extent that the later constitutes of system of care, given that to pay attention is also to take care.

As he’d say it in an interview available on e-flus journal: My thought was much influenced by the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon, who was an important thinker of individuation. Simondon says that if you want to understand the individual, you need to inscribe the individual in a process of which he is only a phase. As such, the individual has no interests. The individual is only an aspect, or phase of a process, but the process is what is important. So what is this process? It is the process of individuation, that is of transformation, and for Simondon, everything is a caught up in and brought into a process of individuation. For example, the passages of life are a process of individuation, but “technics” are also processes of individuations.

This process has passed from humans who are being de-individualized and displaced by the very technical objects and artifacts that are becoming more and more intelligent and independent of the human. Yet, as Stiegler will tell us there is a tendency in all things toward transindividuation,

It is because critical theory – this term often referring in America and the Anglophone world today more or less to political thought – is yet to elaborate a theory of the technicity of all noetic life (that is, its own technicity) that this becoming in which 24/7 capitalism and algorithmic governmentality encloses us, absurd and without future as it may be, can become hegemonic – and suicidal.  (AS, KL 4004)

For Stiegler digital machines, algorithms and infrastructures participate after the fact in strategies that aim in the first place not at mass-deception, nor at ‘neutralizing or inactivating’ the masses, but at exploiting them as resources of which they take no care, and, from this perspective, exploiting them without any biopolitics, inasmuch as biopower also consists, to an extent at least, in ‘taking care’ of life so as to be able to exploit it.(AS, 4036)

In its carelessness Neoliberalism in its ultra-rationalism and decision making computational capitalism has ended in utter irrationalism. 24/7 capitalism to appropriate digital artefactuality attempts to integrate the older forms of an analogue society and consumerist model that is based on the functional pair ‘production/consumption’, itself founded on the redistribution of purchasing power. To concretize the technical tendencies borne by automatization by utilizing such factual strategies (conducted without any care to establish a state of law) is, however, to make this redistribution and therefore this functional pair strictly impossible. (AS, KL 44456) As Stiegler tells us,

Here it is a question not of anticipating desire, but of destroying it by anticipating it, and short-circuiting it by automatically triggering drive-based behaviour, channelled through the self-fulfilling protentions induced by the feedback loops that constitute the fundamental basis of totally computational 24/7 capitalism. This transdividual trafficking of data, operating as a kind of trafficking of ‘dividuated’ psychic organs… (AS, 4748) [my italics]

Epoch of Care

To combat this state of fact and establish a state of law is to oppose to this economic irrationality an integrated rationality, that is, to invent a new epoch of care, at a moment when the earth and earthlings have need of this as never before, a care that could only be a new epoch of and therefore a redefinition of rationality, in such a way that it would not be limited to calculability and scientific apodicticity: taking care above all of the improbable. (AS, KL 4139)

From Descartes and Leibniz’s age till now rationality has been under the sign of calculus and calculability: a computational reason based on numeric and algorithmic re-duplication and tracking of data, traces, lives, investments, etc. At the core of capitalism is this spirit of cold calculation grinding everything in its path for profit. If it were allowed to persist it would grind every last resource on this planet into profit and leave a totalized wasteland of uninhabited life, a dustbowl and planet of ashes.

Calculation and the digital empires arising around us do not need human truth only results:

that ‘the new regime of digital truth is embodied in a multitude of new automated systems modeling the “social” ’,14 is a promise, or a potential law, more than a reality. The reality is the state of fact, and this, on the contrary, amounts to the denial of this promise: this is to say in effect that this state of fact no longer has any need for the ‘truth’. It just needs ‘results’ – and they are performative. But this is not openly declared, still less (AS, KL 4048-4054)

Google boasts that it doesn’t need theory or theorists, analysts nor any of the old human interventions in the new digital empire of its consumer/production model for it is bound to algorithmic governmentality: to the deep computational dataveillance systems that continuously 24/7 gather, analyze, collate, filter, trace, decide etc. without any plan or strategy behind them – only the sheer decisioning processes of what works which need no theory. As Stiegler puts it,

Within algorithmic governmentality, there is no longer any time to dream because the oneiric soul, which the psychic and noetic individual had hitherto been, is now always preceded by its digital double, derived from the industrial traceology that is the data economy. This digital double in effect functionally short-circuits the desires in which dreams consist – and replaces them with individual and collective interactive operating sequences. And we will see that these operating sequences amount to what, fashioning an allegory, we may call digital pheromones.

As dividuals rather than individuals humans are mere databanks of information to be programmed in a 24/7 capitalist economy that has no time left for the dreams of fleshly creatures to imagine or think. In this world the machines will do the thinking for us, and we can live in an utter world of stupid innocence, activated on demand like any other mindless commodity at the behest of some event call within the algorithmic systems. The early promise that the internet would make us free has turned south and brought instead a new global prison for the human animal. As Stiegler remarks the “algorithmic destruction of the promise is an annihilation, which leads back to the fact that we live in the epoch of the completion of nihilism, if not of fully accomplished nihilism: we are living through the phase in which the nihilistic katastrophē is in the course of unfolding. Katastrophē here refers to the moment of a turn or an outcome, a denouement, that may indeed, as in the structure of the stories of the Scheherazade, revive the desire for history and for stories (that is, desire tout court), rather than lead to the fulfilment of the death drive.”(AS, KL 4399)

Yet, at the still point of the turning world we could go either way: we could become totally enslaved in a algorithmic world of machinic life that has no human purpose or intent, a world that would grow more and more destitute as it consumes every last resource on the planet for its own technical individuation; or, we could begin to dream again, to envision a life-world that renews the age old contract with time and process, of the intelligence of humans caring and shaping a world worth living in rather than one devoid of all human life. What remains of humanity will be those enclosed in ultra-smart cities based on hypercontrol algorithmic governmentality that has become a  totally integrated environment made ‘reactive and intelligent systems that displace all human decisions by the proliferation of sensors in order to adapt constantly to specific needs and dangers’. These humans in their search for higher standards of living and security will enclose themselves in these protected enclaves where they will become so hypernormalized and bound by this new technical intelligent assemblage that truth will no longer matter, only the constant dream of innocence: that is, stupidity. As Stiegler remarks,

 This 24/7 capitalism constituted by the functional integration of consumers precisely realizes what Deleuze anticipated in 1990 when he distinguished the moulds of disciplinary societies from the modulations of control societies: ‘Confinements are molds, distinct moldings, but controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the next, or like a sieve whose mesh will change from one point to another.’ Deleuze is here taking up concepts both from Foucault (for example, the mesh) and from Simondon (modulation). (AS, KL 4377)

 Already our mobile devices are becoming standardized, controlled, and modulated by algorithmic governmentality through security, access, and consumer regulation of our habits, customs, mores, and day to day cycles to the point that living without these instant gratifiers and constant flow of text messages that are catalogued, filtered, analyzed, and appropriated by a hidden world of programs that are massaged and datafied for reassembly and recomposition to promote your every dream and wish that we have lost the distance necessary to extract ourselves or exit from this digital hell. We are now locking ourselves in a cage without a key or bars. The perfect prison of the mind.

Our very sense of Self and Subjectivity is becoming unbound from the old liberal worldview of individualism. As Steigler comments,

It is subjectivity and its reflexivity that this affecting in advance of the subject by its double renders obsolete, the ‘subject’ always arriving too late, and never having ‘to take account by itself for what it is or what it could become’. It is therefore legitimacy as well as critique that in fact become ‘obsolete’, just as does theory, according to Anderson, and with it its criteria and categories of experiment, hypothesis, model, and so on: ‘Algorithmic government has no room for and takes no account of any active, consistent or reflexive statistical subject, capable of legitimating it or resisting it.’

The double he speaks of is one’s online presence, the dividual, the statistical dataprint of datatrace of one’s digital self who is captured by all these control systems. The actual human beyond the digital frame has vanished, disappeared without a trace and is no longer of any import. This other self I am is no longer legitimate and cannot resist what happens to my Other online image, my double, my digital avatar… I no longer exist as a singularity, only as data in an algorithmic compuverse. For Stiegler we are entering a moment in which we are faced with an imperturbability that remotely controls every decision by consolidating media driven governmentality, and “algorithmic governmentality, public power has become impotent and incapable – and by public power or Nation states, Europe, international organizations and non-governmental organizations. At the same time, floating cities are being planned on which there would be no state, no police, no justice, nor any social dimension, and an absolute oligarchy composed of a post-human nobility and immortal singularities.

Leaders as we’ve seen are powerless now before the processes that are being let loose by the digital and algorithmic compuverse that now has swallowed the world in its mesh. The digital economy has eliminated the need for laws and lawmakers, governments and their representatives. The vast majority of decisions is taking place in a hypervoid of electronic circuits at speeds that no human could apprehend nor calculate. We’ve already become members of a hyperorganism that is now dispersing its own decisions through a nexus of algorithmics that we do not even understand much less resist. We are prisoners in the house we built for freedom and communication, governed by cold impersonal intelligences that we as of yet do not accept and even deny. Humanity is in denial. We are no longer in control. Paranoia reigns. As Stiegler puts it, the structural incapacitation imposed by full and generalized automatization, of which algorithmic governmentality and 24/7 capitalism are the worldwide and total concretization is a dimension in which no one escapes this incapacitation, not even those who cause and exploit (or who believe they can exploit) this situation: this is the lesson of Alan Greenspan. (AS, KL 4635)

Our inability to act, our feeling of hopelessness, our powerlessness to effect change or change our situation. Unemployment, rising costs of living, taxes, day to day survival, the struggles just to make ends meet while one sees on the media the promotion of vacations, the variety stars of pop culture, sports, and business promoting an ultra elite rich world of fast paced fun in the sun while most ponder the bare paper bread with a slab of fat or butter brings us to the realization that the future does not offer most humans a bright world but rather and end game where they are not in it.

As Stigler in his own words states it we are becoming hiveminded insects in a digital prison house,

The functional integration of psychic individuations by an automatic associated milieu functioning in light-time thereby constitutes a factual naturalization of the technical milieu and, if we can put it like this, an ‘artificial naturalization’ through which psychic and collective individuation becomes a psychic and collective disindividuation that functions like a kind of 24/7 insect society – via ersatz digital pheromones, and where it is a matter of ‘accelerating the flows – wherever possible saving on any “detour” or subjective “reflexive suspension” between the “stimuli” and their “reflex responses” ’. (AS, KL 4769)

The total control of a society that doesn’t even know it is being controlled because it is so immersed in the ubiquitous naturalization of this digital maze of algorithmic governmentality that it assumes it is being given tools of freedom when instead it is being hooked and plugged into a system of enslavement where its desires are captured and modulated and, even channeled according to the dictates of the user’s own deepest desires and cravings.

Continued tomorrow or ahead… I’m taking my time getting to the cure… Stigler spends a great deal of time like man pundits on the diagnosis, laying the ground for his supposed cure. We’ll wait and see… stay tuned. At a future point I want to write an essay on how Academics themselves in their pursuit of dismantling and deconstructing Western metaphysics have contributed to the very undermining of Self, Subject, and Society or civilization in its processes of transindividuation in Simondon’s sense. Our hatred of the previous control and dominion of religious culture and feudalistic systems of governance have produced the exclusionary process of dis-solving the very human dimension itself from the equation, and thereby contributed to the dualistic tendencies of separating out techics and technology that we see in this process of the transindividuation of the technical artifact and objects that are becoming digital… in process of exiting one system we’ve built a prison for ourselves in an other… one that is becoming autonomous and beyond us, and has no need of our kind anymore… we’ve excluded ourselves from the very world we help build.

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 3991-3994). Wiley. Kindle Edition.