Neurototalitarianism: Control in the Age of Stupidity

Nowadays digital technology is based on the insertion of neuro-linguistic memes and automatic devices in the sphere of cognition, social psyche and life-forms.

—Franco Berardi, And – Phenomenology of the End

One of the tasks of schizoanalysis has now become the decrypting of the ‘tics’ bequeathed to the human frame by the geotraumatic catastrophe, and ‘ KataoniX’ treats vestigial semantic content as a mere vehicle for code ‘from the outside’: the ‘ tic’ symptoms of geotraumatism manifested in the shape of sub-linguistic clickings and hissings .

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena

In his latest offering And: The Phenomenology of the End Franco Berardi remarks “cognitive wiring” refers to the “capture and submission of life and of mental activity in the sphere of calculation”.1 This capture is occurring at two different levels: at the epistemic level it implies the formatting of mental activity, at the biological level it implies the technical transformation of the processes of life generation. Georges Bataille once said that

‘[A]t the instant where royal politics and intelligence alters, the feudal world no longer exists. Neither intelligence nor calculation is noble. It is not noble to calculate, not even to reflect, and no philosopher has been able to incarnate the essence of nobility’. -Complete Oeuvres

We’d already learned in previous essays and explorations on Bernard Steigler that the Anthropocene era is that of industrial capitalism, an era in which “calculation prevails over every other criteria of decision-making”,2 and where algorithmic and mechanical becoming is concretized and materialized as logical automation and automatism, thereby constituting the advent of completed nihilism, as computational society becomes a society that is automated and remotely controlled.

In Fanged Noumena as the editors of Nick Land’s essays told us “Land regularly chides critique and deconstruction for a latent conservatism that belies their pretensions to radicality. Their critiques of calculation mask an instrumentalisation of epoche – the abyss of unknowing, the enigma of exteriority – designed to perpetuate the inexhaustible dialectic or differance of Logos. Their post-metaphysical caution perpetuates the Socratic ideal of philosophy as a ‘preparation for death’ whereby philosophy lingers at the brink of the unknown while hoping to domesticate this threshold as a habitus for thought.” As Land himself would say,

Calculation mobilizes a thinking that is directly and effectively exterior, indexing the machinic dispersion or anorganic distribution of the number. No sooner in the head than on fingers and pebbles, counting always happens on the outside. A population is already a number, mixed into irreducible hybrids by counting techniques and apparatus (countingboard, abacus, currency tokens, and calendric devices). (FN: 508)

As Berardi affirms we can say that the social brain is undergoing a process of wiring, mediated by immaterial linguistic and numeric (algorithmic) protocols and also by electronic devices. (A: 22) Everytime you pick up that mobile phone, watch the news, watch your favorite video on, or any other number of digital mediatainment systems from Xbox to your sons or daughters MMO, RPG, etc. you are entering the command and control centers of algorithmic governmentality. It is in these very entertainment and information devices that the memes and hyperstitions of tomorrow are being fed moment by moment rewiring the neurocircuitry of you and your children’s lives. The moment you pick up one of these devices your life is calculated, tabulated, indexed, formatted, dividuated, and looped through the positive feedback systems into the additive cycles of a numerically controlled digital environment, where digial agents supervene and decide your next move by rewiring your neuralcircuits – ubiquitously and blindly. As Berardi informs us,

As generative algorithms become crucial in the formation of the social body, the construction of social power shifts from the political level of consciousness and will, to the technical level of automatisms located in the process of generation of the linguistic exchange and in the process of formation of the psychic and organic body as well. (A: 22)

R. Scott Bakker has been pounding away at the intentionalist world (read: Phenonmenologists) for years, telling us that all our descriptions, all our concern, all our knowledge is heading into that zero intensity zone of no return. That in essence we are entering a “crash space” of neurosemantic apocalypse. For Scott the matter comes down to this: the brain was wired to the natural environment through a process not of knowledge acquisition, but rather of filtering out and neglecting all but the essential elements of our environment except those things that promoted sex and survival. We are animals that must reproduce and survive and propagate generation after generation, everything else that is in excess of  that natural program of propagation and survival is non-essential and is for the most part “neglected” by the decision making systems of our brain’s neurocircuitry. Because of this tying of brain to its natural environment our generations during the past two hundred years of the Industrial Era and its several transitional phase shifts has left us in a world severed from the old brain/environment nexus. We call this severing: nihilism. Nihilism is the severing of the brain from its value-systems: the intensive replication of sex and survival decisions that have guided our religious, social, political, and personal and collective life during the long reach of our natural and evolutionary existence as earth born animals. We now live in artificial worlds and environments that no longer hold the same pact as our natural neurocircuits have adapted too for millennia. For two hundred years philosophers and social critics have labeled this process one of the eclipse of thought and world, the severing of the relations of meaning: signifier and sign, mind and world. We are now cut off from what used to be termed Nature: the Outside / Inside of thought at its anti-podes.

A further issue arises according to Scott,

The problem is basically that the machinery of the brain has no way of tracking its own astronomical dimensionality; it can at best track problem-specific correlational activity, various heuristic hacks. We lack not only the metacognitive bandwidth, but the metacognitive access required to formulate the explananda of neuroscientific investigation.3

In other words we do not have the brains nor the Archimedean distance from our own neurocircuitry to explain to ourselves why we are the way we are. The tool (our brain) we’d use to describe and explore this issue is the one and same device. One cannot step outside one’s brain to describe its processes, the best we can do is to explore it through mediated devices: Neuroimaging systems that record and represent the moment to moment transactions of billions of neurocircuits as they fire. But even then we are bound by testability, repetition, and the interpretive (hermeneutic) protocols of intentionalism (phenomenology) to describe these images. We are part of the loop we would describe. One is forever blind to the very processes of one’s brain because it is what we are and we cannot reach some transcendental ground outside it to explore it. Impossible. Or, as Scott puts it,

A curious consequence of the neuroscientific explananda problem is the glaring way it reveals our blindness to ourselves, our medial neglect. The mystery has always been one of understanding constraints, the question of what comes before we do. Plans? Divinity? Nature? Desires? Conditions of possibility? Fate? Mind? We’ve always been grasping for ourselves, I sometimes think, such was the strategic value of metacognitive capacity in linguistic social ecologies. The thing to realize is that grasping, the process of developing the capacity to report on our experience, was bootstapped out of nothing and so comprised the sum of all there was to the ‘experience of experience’ at any given stage of our evolution. Our ancestors had to be both implicitly obvious, and explicitly impenetrable to themselves past various degrees of questioning. (ibid.)

Yet, a curious fact is that scientists and engineers are not concerned with explaining the brain, they are concerned with the pragmatic application of its working, its doing, not with how we know (epistemic) but how it works and does what it does. It’s in this sense of understanding the keys to decision making in the brain, how it works and does what it does rather than what it is (i.e., it’s ontic and/or ontological explanada) that interests not only scientists but engineers who have hopes of engineering intelligence (i.e., AI’s, etc.).

Engineering Reality: The Production of Stupidity

Oligarchs and politicos also have hopes of this engineering of decision making as well. As Berardi reminds us the automation of the behaviour of many individuals traversed and concatenated by techno-linguistic interfaces results in the effect of Swarm. Man is the animal who shapes the artificial techno-environments that shapes his/her own brain, the swarm effect therefore is the outcome of human transformation of the technical environment leading to automation of mental behavior. (A: 24) With such knowledge we do not need explain consciousness, only to pragmatically program the brain like an application to be manipulated and constrained to conform to the decision making powers of an elite tehcnocommercium. This is the nightmare of our future.

Is there a possibility of overturning, rotating, revolting, revolutionizing and turning the very processes of entrapment, capture, and enslavement against the elite and their minions? Poetry? As Berardi tells us it is better to conceive of aesthetics as the science of revolution, a semiotic emanation in its interaction with sensibility that causes surprise, estrangement, and the weird excess that cannot be captured by calculation and algorithmic necessity. Sensibility and Aesthetics he tells us should return to its etymon and should refer to sensibility as experience of the object, rather than to beauty (a quality of the object in itself). A return to objects…

Recently was watching Slavoj Zizek and Graham Harman discussing their approaches to philosophy, their agreements and disagreements on flat ontology, objects, etc. (see below):

Žižek & Harman debate Object-Oriented Ontology. Debate took place at Southern California Institute of Architecture on March 1st 2017. (A nod to dmf for the link…)

I’ve written and compared both philosophers in previous essays, especially in Zizek and Harman: Strange Bedfellows, noting that both Zizek and Harman are moving philosophy back into the ‘things-themselves’, where everything is on the same footing and no one stance or observer (Big Other/Master Signifier) reigns. Of course it is by way of physics that both philosopher’s share and also suffer their differences. In Zizek the main thrust is that the universe is a messy place, unfinished, incomplete and that science and scientists will never discover an end to it because at the extremes everything breaks down and becomes fuzzy as if the universe needed us to complete it. Or as if the universe is a vast simulation that never provided the necessary solution to a program discovering the edge of the simulation. Much like those of us who have played MMO’s or RPG’s and tried to reach the edge of some ocean or mountain or forest or jungle only to realize that the programming gives way to numbers, sequences, binary code at the extreme point where the image and the code touch. As Zizek says: “Therein resides the strength of decoherence theory: it endeavours to articulate the purely immanent way a quantum process engenders the mechanism of its ‘observation’ (registration). Does it succeed? It is up to the science itself to provide an answer.” The point being that philosophers don’t provide solutions are answers, only more questions, etc. Whereas for Harman “if we push the tool-analysis to its limit, we actually find that all relations in the cosmos, whether it be the perceptual clearing between humans and world, the corrosive effect of acid on limestone, or a slap-fight between orangutans in Borneo, are on precisely the same philosophical footing”. The point for Harman is that any object-oriented philosophy is at base non-relational. He’ll ask “Given that objects never seem to enter into relations, what does enter into relations? If objects cannot affect one another directly, then perhaps they do so by means of qualities.” But how? He tells us: “We inhabit a sensual space in which, strictly speaking, objects cannot be present. Yet there are objects everywhere, like black holes or vacuums hidden from sight. By following the tension between these two moments of human perception, it may be possible to unlock the tensions found in the universe as a whole.”4

So for Zizek the problem is in the objects themselves: their incompleteness, their excess energetic power which cannot be reduced to signs or descriptions. For Harman its not in the objects themselves, but in the tension between objects, in the movement between relation and non-relation in the medium of appearance (sensual realm) that glues and makes visible (phenomenal) that which is invisible (non-apparent).

It’s at this point that Berardi would ask both philosophers:

Should we think that in the human mind there is a neuro-physiological predisposition, an innate program of sensuous reception of the world, a bio-grammar of aesthesia and eroticism? Or should we think that the conditions of harmony are exclusively cultural? (A: 32)

Is reality of these objects, the creation and invention of reality of appearances, etc. a natural disposition of the brain fitted and adapted to its environment, or is it a effect of the conditioning of our cultural educement, education, and programming? And with the modern nihilist severance of brain and natural environment with its substitution of an artificial one what happens to the neuroplasticity of the brain itself: Can it adapt to this new environment without repercussions or if our bio-grammatical brain functions are so ingrained and tied to the natural world environment, what happens in this transitional phase space of the artificial? Psychopathology and Sociopathology? Schizophrenia under its extreme forms?

Nick Land in Fanged Noumena would add even more radically that what we need is a Geotraumatics. According to Ray Brassier and Robin Mackay in their introduction to Nick’s essays Geotraumatics radicalises Deleuze-Guattari’s insistence that schizoanalysis should extend further than the terrain of personal or familial drama, to invest the social and political realms, and pushes beyond history and biology to incorporate the geological and the cosmological within the purview of the transcendental unconscious. (FN) He would go on to say: “What is noteworthy here is a certain deepening of pessimism: repression extends ‘all the way down’ to the cells of the body, the rocks of the earth, inhering in organised structure as such. All things, not just the living, yearn for escape; all things seek release from their organisation, which however induces further labyrinthine complications. Nothing short of the complete liquidation of biological order and the dissolution of physical structure can suffice to discharge the aboriginal trauma that mars terrestrial existence.” (FN: 41)

The Death of the Left: Floundering in the Anthropocene

In book after book Berardi has chronicled the dark demise of the Left and its ineffectuality since May of 1968. Even in the past years since the first Anti-Capitalist movement every form of protest has ended in failure. Why? As he tells us there are two main reasons, the first is that each of these movements begins “strong in the streets but unable to attack the economic interests of corporations, because the precarization of labour has destroyed solidarity at the level of production, and solidarity is the only material force that can oppose the material force of corporate interest. Secondly, the abstract feature of financial capitalism is unattainable by the concrete forms of social action.” (A: 236) In both modes the very forms of revolutionary intent have been undermined by the modes of production and abstraction which are the final form of a completed nihilism we term Capitalism. Just as the brain is divorced from its natural environment, social activism is divorced from the abstract realms of the virtual reality become actual of present Capitalism.

Berardi citing Steven Shaviro’s Accelerationist Aesthetics: Necessary Inefficiency in Times of Real Subsumption, where Shaviro makes the argument that any accelerationist “aesthetics exists in a special relationship to political economy, precisely because aesthetics is the one thing that cannot be reduced to political economy.” (A: 239) Commenting on Shaviro’s passage, Berarid says,

 Aesthetics and the Economy converge and collide: as long as the social body will be unable to get rid of the process of ever expanding abstraction, aesthetic research will border with psychopathology, and will be concerned with stress, acceleration and suffering. (A: 239)

For Berarid we live in an artificial world already, a world programmed and controlled by the vast telecommunications mediatainment complex that encompasses the planet and its socio-cultural inhabitants. He states it this way:

We live in the multilayered dimension of technomaya. Digital technology has given to the media a power that is directly acting on the mind, so the Mediasphere casts a spell that wraps the Psychosphere. Technomaya captures flows that proceed from the mind-activity, and sends them back to the mental receptors as a mirror, as a template for future imagination, as a cage for future action, and for future forms of life. (A: 240)

Another Italian philosopher Luciano Floridi puts it this way, “we are probably the last generation to experience a clear difference between online and offline environments”.5 Some people already live onlife. Some cultures are already hyperhistorical. A further transformation worth highlighting concerns the emergence of artificial and hybrid (multi) agents, i.e., partly artificial and partly human (consider, for example, a family as a single agent, equipped with digital cameras, laptops, tablets, smart phones, mobiles, wireless network, digital TVs, DVDs, CD players, etc.). These new agents already share the same ontology with their environment and can operate within it with much more freedom and control. We (shall) delegate or outsource, to artificial agents and companions, our memories, decisions, routine tasks, and other activities in ways that will be increasingly integrated with us and with our understanding of what it means to be an agent. Yet all this is rather well known, and it is not what I am referring to when I talk about inforgs. (EI: 15)

In fact, for Floridi the whole transhumanist and post-human SF scenario of terminators, robots, AI, etc. taking over the world is an extreme and hypothetical reaction to the unknown surrounding us in the technosphere. What he has in mind is a “quieter, less sensational, and yet more crucial and profound change in our conception of what it means to be an agent. We have begun to see ourselves as inforgs not through some transformations in our bodies but, more seriously and realistically, through the reontologization of our environment and of ourselves. It is our world and our metaphysical interpretation of it that is changing.”(EI: 15)

The severance of the brain/mind from its natural / evolutionary environment and its sudden transitional shift to the artificialization of the world in our modern technocommercium is as he puts it “reontologizing our environment and ourselves” (15). We are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick. (EI: 16)

Semiocapitalism: “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

Under the auspices of semiocapitalism we are becoming wired into an algorithmic world of total surveillance and control where every aspect of our lives as “dividual” (Stiegler/Deleuze) rather than individuals is being programmed, manipulated, and developed by Reality Engineers. Within a few generations this will become so ubiquitous that those of us analogue residence of the transitional phase shift will have disappeared and only our children and their children will remain not knowing or understanding the difference between the old ontology of natural and non-artificial worlds of earth and the one in which hey live as inforgs (i.e., informational organisms and agents). For Berardi we are encompassed already in the technomaya of an artificial world of control where our “experience is subjected to the power of simulation and of standardization” (A: 240).

Lewis Mumford in his two volume The Myth of the Machine long ago saw that our current cultural nihilism, which began as a “reaction against regimentation, has become in turn a mode of counter-regimentation, with its ritualized destruction and its denial of all the cultural processes that have sublimated man’s irrational impulses and released his constructive energies”.6 Lewis in his studies would uncover this movement from natural to artificial simulation and standardization. As he termed it, the fact is that organic models yielded to mechanical models in interpreting living phenomena mainly for two reasons: organisms could not be connected to the power complex until they were reduced, in thought even more than in practice, to purely mechanical units; and it was only through their attachment to the power system, which, as Comte noted, came in with the employment of the engineers as the key figures in advanced industries, that the physical sciences had, from the sixteenth century on, flourished. (PP: 430)

The Engineer as designer, developer, programmer, modeler, maker, tinkerer, mechanical and software specialist etc. is still with us. Even our architectural environments have become enmeshed in artificialization to the point that simulated and modeled replicas and 3D Printing have overtaken the older forms of design. As Patrick Schumacher an anarcho-capitalist and libertarian architect puts it the world is drifting toward a parametric society:

‘Parametricism’ implies that all elements of architecture are becoming parametrically malleable and thus adaptive to each other and to the context. Instead of aggregating a few platonic solids (cubes, cylinders etc.) into simple compositions – like all other architectural styles did for 5000 years – we are now working with inherently variable, adaptive forms that aggregate into continuously differentiated fields or systems. Multiple systems are correlated with each other and with the environment.  All spaces should resonate with each other because within Postfordist network society all activities need to be networked and stay in continuous communication with each other. (On Parametricism)

This notion of the Smart City of the future that communicates continuously with both machinic and human agents in a technocommercium or technical environment of continuous virtual/actual transactions which slide in-between the intensities at a vibrational level of realties shaping and shaped by decisional processes in a 24/7 informational matrix.

The ‘tics’ From the Outside…

In such a realm as Berardi reminds us the digital footprint of the experience, with its increasing speed and intensity, affects the psycho reaction to info-stimula, affects the empathic relation between conscious and sensitive organisms, and affects also cognition: memory, imagination and language. Experience, as attention and as intention is subjected to an intense stress that results into a mutation of the cognitive organism. (A: 242) The only hold back to this ultracapitalism is Sleep, which Jonathan Crary in his book 24/7 suggested “Sleep is the only remaining barrier, the only enduring natural condition that capitalism cannot eliminate.” (24/7: 74)7 As Berardi will tell it we are already sleepwalkers in a semiocapitalist empire, sleepless migrants who are at the beck and call of a 24/7 continuum that know no sleep and enforces an algorithmic punchcard in our neurowiring to comply or else… that, or else is “suicide”. As he tells us,

The Google Empire has been essentially built on the capture of the user’s experience in order to increase value and productivity. During the creation of the attention draining machine, the personal computer has been bypassed by the release of the last generation of cellular phones labeled as smart-phones, so the access to the network has gone mobile, pervading every moment of the day and of the night. The mobilization of the access to the net has obviously expanded the captured time of attention and submitted new dimensions of personal life to the all pervading search for semio-profits. (A: 247)

Intentionalism or the time of thought is gone, becoming a part of the blip culture of microseconds that never stop long enough to think or react. We are for the most part programs in a programmed environment, pegged to be called out by machinic agents who will make our decisions, answer our questions, live our lives for us as surrogates and avatars, dividual existence as a digital citizen in an artificial world where the barriers between virtual / actual, mind/world, matter/energy have become continuous and non-relational only in the sense that all is flat and suborned to a world of object-object relations.

Humans used to map their world, orient themselves to their external environments. Orientation is the cognitive ability to recognize the physical features of the surrounding environment and to build an inner map making possible finalized displacements in the world. The process of internal mapping that precedes orientation implies a highly singular relation with the environment: visual elaboration and emotional selection of places, signs, and also lights, flares, and scents. Orientation can be seen as the singularization of the landscape, the process that makes the world my own world. (A: 245).

With the slow erosion and disconnection or withdrawal from our natural environments into the transitional phase spaces of our modernity, where architecture became functionalist and abstract and cutting us from our affect and emotional heritage of care and humane sensuality, we have become desensitized and shaped to the artificial and functional environments of a world of flows and algorithms, digital decisions at speeds beyond human comprehension. As Berardi informs us the experience of getting lost in our cities, also the experience of recognizing a specific place will fade or at least be quite dulled, and the fading of the faculty of orientation can be viewed as a step in the process of connective reshaping of the experience as a whole. (A: 247) Many have already felt this in traveling from Airport to airport, the standardization of the technocommercium where everything seems like the same city over and over no matter where one steps off a plane one is always in the same city, intelligent or not.

With the advent of virtual interfaces even our environments will be additive and virtual overlays as the technology adapts and engineers begin to build devices that mediate our smart environments for us. As Berardi states it “reality is the point of intersection of our projections, and experience is singular access to the world of life and creation of meaning to share with others, the techno-mutation is affecting reality itself. The world, as experience and projection, is finally evacuated, and replaced by the access to the uniformed simulated experience, the experience of the swarm.” (A: 249)

Beraridi says we are fast moving into a neurototalitarianism in which our cognitive environments are simulated and uniform, programmed by Reality Engineers in which our perception and behaviour is based on the inscription of techno-linguistic automatisms in human communication and therefore in the connective mind. This is a form of techno-totalitarianism that results from three consecutive steps. (A: 249) The first step is the total invasion and replacement of our cultural signatures, our linguistic systems and traces through cellularization or “the connection of every enunciation agent in the Network—is the general framework of the subsumption (or capture) of social communication into electronic swarm” (A: 250). The second motif is the current “replacement of living experience and its simulation with recorded standardized stimulations,  referring to the automation of the sense of orientation” (A: 250). And the third form is the “direction of the implementation of the swarm is directly aimed at modifying the neural hardware itself: insertion of technodevices for neural programming, nano-prosthesis, enhancers, transformers of the neurological system” (A: 250). Each of these will bring about a nerutotalitarian empire under the auspices of the Technocommercium.

For Berardi this process is well under way, resistance is futile, the best we can do is to counter it with imaginative and poetic resources. As he states it techno-linguistic interfaces are linking the organism with the bio-info super-organism of the Net, and language is subjected to the automated wiring. Cognition is taken in the inescapable loop of this endless self-confirmation. Only the excess of imagination can find the way for a conscious and consciously managed neuroplasticity, but we cannot know if the imagination excess still functions when cognitive wiring is set. “This is the question that we are going to deal with in the coming decades, this is the next game, the neo-human game that we can barely sense beyond the apparently unstoppable and irreversible catastrophe of the human civilization that is underway.” (A: 256)

  1. Berardi, Franco. And: The Phenomenology of the End. (Aalto ARTS Books, 2014)
  2. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 524-527). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  3. see: Bakker, R. Scott. Intentional Philosophy as the Neuroscientific Explananda Problem (here)
  4. Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things. Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  5. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (pp. 14-15). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition (EI)
  6. Mumford, Lewis. Pentagon Of Power: The Myth Of The Machine, Vol. II. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich; 1 edition (March 20, 1974) (PP)
  7. Crary, Johnathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso; 1 edition (June 4, 2013)