Nothing human makes it out of the near-future.
—Nick Land, Meltdown
So entropy is the wrong word to describe the process at work in both The Ultimate City and Hello America. The clock stopped, but the machine is still there.
—J.G. Ballard, Extreme Metaphors
As I’ve read scholars such as Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Bernard Stiegler, and others of late there has emerged in my thinking a sense that homo sapiens sapiens is transitioning and migrating out of its natural environment which has tied its brain and patterns of behavior and thought for tens of thousands of years, and into a new world of artificiality which is fusing and transforming our synesthetic senses from our animalistic cunning intelligence into a abstract form of thought and feeling unbound from the natural world. Of course the literary visionaries of the second half of the twentieth-century such as William S. Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, J.G. Ballard, Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and so many others have all explored this new experimentalism, this neohuman transition we are undergoing from various perspectives, knowing that the human realities constructed by our socio-cultural blinkers and frames of thought and rhetoric were becoming unraveled, unhinged, and unmoored from their age old mythologies and traditions. Nothing new here, and yet it is the power of the new that has and still does pervade the emergence and reemergence of modernity into neomodernity that is bringing us a new vision of neohumanity.
We’ve been going through this process for some time now, and its effects upon our collective and personal psyches has been one of horror and dread. A sense of homelessness, of not belonging, of a disaffiliation with the culture and the world around us pervades many thinkers, writers, and artists since the Enlightenment. Modernism spoke constantly of seeking the new, of becoming other, etc., but in fact was always looking to the past to define its future, holding on to the myths and fictions of that decaying and dying world to shore up its own discomfort at the process it was undergoing. Postmodernists would ironize the process, try to distance themselves from it, make it more abstract and fictional, and even metafictional, playing with the patterns of our ancestral thought forms as if we could just tinker with the past; a cynical ploy that left a mere distaste in one’s mouth. Distance ourselves from our animal heritage and its psychic hooks bounded by a natural mind that would not transcend its mud and slime investments. Such thoughts would lead some to suicide, others to the reactionary worlds of authoritarianism, and still others into a cyberpunk era of street gothic futurism.
Nietzsche in his wisdom named this process of disnaturalizing tendencies nihilism – a form of distancing from our natural environment that was unhooking our minds, our languages, our thoughts and feelings from the enclosure of the natural world that had bound us to our animal and human past. For Nietzsche the socio-cultural command and control systems, the value systems that had guided humans throughout its emergence into the modern industrial era was at an end, bankrupt, and of no use in understanding the blank void of modern culture in transition. A process that was slowly eroding the thought forms that had guided us, our behaviors, our ethics, our religious and philosophical heritage. We were becoming other even as we denied it. For Nietzsche this process of did-inheritance of tradition, of value, of our socio-cultural heritage would take a couple hundred years to complete. We are living in that moment, a moment when the in-between times, the intermittence period between the acts of past and future have entered into the farcical time of re-beginnings and laughter of chaos, tohu-bohu, the changing of the guard of existence.
Berardi speaks of our inclusion in the “neo-human results from a sort of multilayered re-formatting of the individuals who want to be admitted to the new world. It is a cultural, linguistic and emotional process of re-formatting that interweaves with a technological re-formatting and enables the functional integration of individuals into the connective universe”.1 This integration does not take the form of a cultural linguistic and emotional assimilation, but the form of an operational compatibilization with the connective rationale. Expectations and desires are reshaped in this process of operational compliance. (A: 56)
It’s as if we were undergoing a grand experiment, an engineering process in which our mind and body are being upgraded through a process of technics and technology. We’ve used terms like schizophrenia to describe aspects of this unhooking from the reality matrix of our cunning reason, of the erosion of the barriers surrounding and protecting our minds and emotions and the influx of a multiplicity of experiences and happenings that send us reeling under the nexus of this new world. Those undergoing the process are apprehensive and alone in their feelings, as if they were evacuating their historical sensible selves. The heaviness of their living experience becomes unbearable to the point that they undergo at times a reactionary recursion to old thought forms, attacking any and all others for their inhuman and machinic ways of feeling and being. Many fall by the wayside in this grand experiment, locked away in our asylums and prisons, schizoid or psychopathic.
Our transitional cultures and societies have tried up to now to project a stabilizing structure through this ongoing process of transition, but in recent times the thin line between the old world realities and the new virtualization of actuality have slowly eroded to the point that war, mayhem, and chaos have ensued as reactionary forces across the globe both religious and secular have become entrenched in archaic forms of thought and being, tried to stay the execution of this programmatic rewiring the human genome and mental apparatuses of our personal and collective lives, cultures, and societies.
Becoming Neohumans is a process Berardi comments that has been undertaken by the planetary population since the Second World War, thanks to the adhesion, mostly willful, to the mythology propagated by the Hollywood production, the global advertising industry and the political machine of the human rights. Becoming Neohumans means first of all being part of the global circulation of goods and images, then it implies the possibility of getting free from the heaviness of tradition, belonging, subjection and tribal rules of women’s oppression. But simultaneously it implies losing contact with the concrete experience of affective singularity, purifying the social existence of everything that may obstruct the perfect integration in the productive cycle. (A: 80-84)
This sense that we are undergoing a purification ritual, or being purified in the refining fires of forgetfulness, unhinging us from our histories, our traditions, our past is all pervasive. Many of the current wars across the globe are reactions to this process, and will continue even for some time as certain humans refuse to move forward and seek to freeze reality under their present conditions. Yet, reality will not stay the same, and we will not either.
Even as we undergo this geotraumatic event of self-transformation through immigration into new zones of becoming, many are reeling under a series of broken identities that have left them unanchored in time and space. The loss of identity can result in the discovery of a wide range of never before imagined possibilities, but for many it seems a nightmare realm filled with spectral madness and psychosis. This passage to the sphere of the neo-human, many resist this process of purification from the residuals of identity and belonging. In the process of disaffiliation from our histories, our pasts, what we are undergoing is not exactly the erasure of memory, rather a sort of re-coding and re-semiotization of the contents of memory. (A: 58)
As Berardi puts it,
Only those who are able to comply with the digital mind that is embedded and objectified in the techno-economic universe can be fully integrated in the neo-human sphere. This second modernity at large, incorporated in the techno-economic compatibility infiltrates every fragment of life of people who are free from the traditional and colonial constraints, and are shaping and concatenating the cognitive response of individuals, nevertheless preserving at some extent their cultural differences. (A: 59)
It’s as if some alien intelligence was reprogramming humanity through the immanent transforms of our own socio-cultural matrix of possibilities. Those like Nick Land on the extreme edge of philosophical speculation, or those like R. Scott Bakker from within the naturalist scientific paradigm both agree we are undergoing and entering a crash space that is rewiring our physical and mental systems to the point of no return. That all our connections to the human meaning systems and realities that have guided us during the great Agricultural phases of civilization and kept us connected to the rhythms of the natural world and the phases of the cycles of moon and stars is at an end. We are becoming machininc and artificial, bifurcating our cunning intelligence from its natural roots and entering the digital civilization of a new connectionism that is undermining the human and replacing it with the inhuman or neohuman.
Many will see this as pure fantasy and literary humbug. Many will continue to resist such as tomfoolery and madness. Many will refuse the great transition and will try to stabilize and remain in their traditional worlds, bound to the old ways of earth and the natural. And, yet, they will be few and far between, creatures of a subworld that will not become other, transcend their human heritage and will be left behind in a world of dying embers. Traditionalists and reactionaries of every stripe hold onto the old sovereign mythologies of power, control, kingship, Great Leaders, and the power of tyranny and authoritarian monarchical thought and regulation.
As Nicholas Foxe in his study of the Luddite tradition reminds us “resistance to technology does exist, and it is not new. It emerged simultaneously with the machine itself, increased as the industrial revolutiontion gained strength, and has remained a persistent, if underrecognized, presence even as the world has become a highly technical place. It endures for one reason: we are not the people we pretend to be. There has been no time to adapt in the evolutionary sense. We struggle in the twenty-first century with first-century bodies and minds and wonder why it is a challenge, and we assume that the problem is individual, personal, and fixable. We blame ourselves for our failure to keep up, for our failure to adapt.”3
Growing up under the threat of Cold War era and nuclear holocaust the tendencies against the System were great. With Viet Nam and the Civil Rights movement all the tensions of the American Psych came unraveled and a new psychedelic generation unleashed the strangeness of the noumenal worlds surrounding us that had been blocked, repressed, and controlled by the socio-cultural policing of government and corporate culture. Even then we knew something was in the offing, that humans were at both the end and beginning of something. But we were naïve and childish and pushed on the erotic and visionary romance of that world. At the same time the cultural and religious authorities of the reaction began coalescing and closing the doors through both Law and Media to shut off this realm of metamorphic power.
Every last mythology and religious system always sought both a new world and a transcension of this one, but they did it under the auspices of transcending the body, the flesh, this life, this universe for some other spiritual world. From Plato to the gamut of monotheism this dream of escape, of being elsewhere has guided the metaphysical heritage of humanity. And, yet, when it comes in a fleshly form, when it is seen as not transcending this world for another, but rather of a transformation immanent to the very truth of this world they will not have it.
I’m not speaking of those transhumanists either, for their path is still to carry over the ego-bound structures of identity and naturalism into some immortal vision of self and same. They’d keep the same cunning animal intelligence, the same myths and metaphysical systems only displacing them into a new mythology of immortality. This is not what it means to be neohuman, not at all. Whatever we are we will not save the appearances, save our identities, our selves: there is no redeemer, not keeping of one’s self into some temporal futurism. To become neohuman is to divest one’s self of its human heritage completely, which entails undermining and leaving our human meanings forever.
Many feel this as a state of pure panic which doctors define as a new sort of pathology whose symptoms are heartbeat acceleration, intense perspiration, shortness of breath, mind confusion, anxiety and trembling. Berardi will see this in the light of our transitional phase shift from natural to artificial modes of becoming, saying, the dilemma of conjunction/connection, the historical shift from the conjunctive mode to the connective mode of social communication and of epistemic approach to the experience is part of the philosophical and aesthetic shift of the collective and personal psyche on our planet at this time. (A: 65)
The whole process of modernization was one of pure abstraction, of a de-sensitizing and de-synesthesia of the senses from the natural environment, and a recasting of our senses onto a digitalization of the senses through layers of abstraction and machinism. Many critics of that era spoke of the dehumanizing processes many were undergoing, of the disaffection and collapse of human feeling and modes of being that had supported humanity for tens of thousands of years. As Berardi tells it,
After the sensuousness of Symbolism, after the precipitation into the historical abyss of violence, the sentiment of sublime moved towards the frigid regions of digital disembodiment. In the process of late modern Abstraction, the body is denied and turned into a sanitized object. Sex is replaced by pornography and happiness by psychopharmacological maintenance. The abstract perfection of the digital world is the arrival point of this late modern trajectory: abstraction of finance from production, abstraction of work from activity, abstraction of goods from usefulness, abstraction of time from sensuousness. (A: 69)
For Berardi the cyberpunk culture of the 80’s and 90’s typified the extreme aspects of this transitional phase. With its fear of nuclear destruction and the sexually transmitted immunodeficiency syndrome, the cyberpunk culture prepared the jump in the hyper-world of abstraction. In the cyberpunk imagination the body is perceived as the heavy painful residual of the organic past. Cyberculture replaces the body with the sanitized clean smooth surface of the screen. A sort of masculine hysteria is hidden in the digital culture of the ‘80s and of the ‘90s. The late nineteenth century Decadence was originated by the spread of sexual infectious diseases like syphilis, the techno-glamour aesthetics of the late twentieth century flourishes in the aftermath of the sexuo-viral epidemics of AIDS. (A: 69)
In fact as he attests the prosthetic-aesthetics of the cyborg, imaginary organism enhanced by digital prosthesis can be seen as the arrival point of the romantic male hysteria that wants to escape the dangerous ambiguity of sensuousness. When the Romantic sublimity meets the frigid surface of the digital experience, panic and depression are the outcomes. Panic crisis is a symptom that spreads widely in the experience of the connective generation. (A: 70) From Land to Harraway, Gibson to Stephanson the cyborgization of humanity is well underway, and for them this process is a source of irony or inhuman exuberance.
Yet, not everything is rosy in this new world. According to the World Health Organization suicide has increased impressively, particularly among young people. Depression and panic are spreading in the same generational area. (A: 70) In a pure image culture new pathologies arise, such as the repetitive aberration of replicated porn on the net that has become an obsessional and ritual force for many. As Berardi puts it the current proliferation of pornography is linked to an emotional pathology, highlighted by the mediatisation, and especially by the net-proliferation of the porn. The prevailing perception of the body in the saturated info sphere is simulation of pleasure and reduction of the other to a mind projection. Since image is separated from touch, the pornographic act, which is essentially an act of vision, does not produce the promised synesthetic pleasure, so we repeat the act of vision again and again. Net is the place of endless replication, therefore it is the ideal place of pornography. Hypertrophic stimulation and simulation of pleasure are generating obsession. (A: 71)
Other diseases of the mind such as information overload are on the rise. Again Berardi remarks that the dimension of info-proliferation, the saturation of the Info-sphere provokes a stimulus overload, and this has an obvious cognitive effect: time for attention decreases. Affective attention takes time, and cannot be shortened or fastened. Hyper-stimulation and visual overload are leading to a disorder in the emotional elaboration of meaning. The affective attention suffers a sort of contraction, and it is forced to find ways of adaptation: the organism adopts tools for simplification, and it tends to smooth out the living psychic response, to repackage the affective behaviour in a contracted and fastened framework. (A: 72)
That Western religious and philosophical frameworks are a thing of the past, and that the whole metaphysical underpinning of these traditions are being undermined and challenged by these new modes of being and becoming is obvious to anyone who takes the time to study such matters. That new patterns and behaviors are emerging goes without saying, and yet nothing is clear or precise in the context of this great transition. No one can foresee the outcome of these processes or what they will entail in our religious or secular sensibilities. Chaos reigns in the matters of mind and spirit.
In our time the systematic cancellation of the memory, and the rewriting of collective identity, the smooth surface of social life is becoming perfectly suited for increasing productivity and ever-growing consumption which is at the heart of the global capitalist vision. Social language is purified from historical incrustations, and from the impurities of emotional life, so that the economy becomes the universal language. (A: 83) As Berardi comments,
Once more the puritanical denial of the past acts as an introduction to the process of virtualization. Cleared from the superfluous hair of cultural identity and psychic emotions, the smooth surface of social life becomes perfectly compatible with the digital system of exchange. Posthuman mutation deploys more efficiently where dusty memories are cancelled. (A: 83)
I’ve already written of Bernard Stiegler’s notions of disindividuation and other concepts that are bringing about this disaffection within our current malaise so will not go over that territory again. Only to remind you of this process that Stiegler terms the disaffection of disindividutaion:
the hyper-industrial epoch disaffects individuals: this disaffection, which is inevitably also a demotivation and therefore a ‘de-reasoning’, given that reason is a motive and as such an affect, is the highly disturbing outcome of a massive process of disindividuation – that is, of the loss of both psychic and collective individuation, through which it is the very collective itself that is annihilated.2
This annihilation of our collective past: our traditions, our philosophies, our religions, our politics, etc. is not without repercussions. The dreams of apocalypse of many religions and even in the secular literature of our era (i.e.., all the post-apocalyptic literature being published documenting the decay and demise of global civilization.). Conspiracies, fear, horror, panic seem to pervade our era of unrest and social disintegration. As technics and technology accelerate us into a global digital future where AI’s, robotics, and automation seem to loom over our lives like memories of a dark and somber future we fill our minds with explosive content to assuage the daily grind of survival and the modes of economic desperation that surround us.
Speaking of Japan as one of the nations accelerating this transition Berardi comments that “suicide epidemic seems to grip this country” (A: 83). Berardi reminds us of a new story from 1983,
In 1983, a group of students in a secondary school murdered some old and homeless people in a park in Yokohama. When questioned, the children offered no explanation other than that the homeless people they killed were obutsu, dirty and impure things. As in manga comics, which achieved mass readership precisely in the second half of the seventies, the enemy is not evil, but dirtiness. Cleanliness, ridding the world of the ‘waste products’ of the indefinite, the confused, the hairy or the dusty, prepares the way for the digital, smoothing surfaces without asperities. Erotic seduction is progressively disconnected from sexual contact until it becomes sheer aesthetic stimulation. It is in Japan that the first symptoms of this trend can be spotted. (A: 83-84)
Another trend in Japan is a move in the young toward total isolation from the outside world known as hikikomori. They are so many that they are officially labeled hikikomori and the Japanese State administration is obliged to take account of their figure, and to provide social aid for those of them who need assistance. In fact, According to the estimates of the Ministry of Health of Japan, in 2010 700.000 persons were living as hikikomori with an average age of 31, and 1.5 million people are estimated by the government as being on the verge of becoming hikikomori. (A: 84) One is reminded of the ancient monastic life of medieval Christians or Buddhists, or any number of cultures that would live in isolation performing rituals and purifications through abstinence and yogic techniques to promote visions or virtual and almost shamanic exercises in mind exploration.
Some will see in this a flattening out of both affect and thought into abstract modes of feeling and behavior that have overtaken humans in the accelerated and decadent age of our late capitalism. The frantic hyperindustrialisation of production into financial capital with its virtualization of the economy into a speed vector of instant profits handled by high-speed algorithms and dataclaves of analyst systems that work at lightspeeds in transactional time rather than human or natural temporalities. Time diseases have become the new watchword in the psychopharmakon. Temporal distortions and disorders are beginning to pervade the collective and personal psyches of the masses during this transitional phase shift.
It is in South Korea, though, rather than in Japan that Berardi discovers the next phase in this transition. Here is a country arising out of the destruction of war and the threat of nuclear war with its northern neighbor and ancestral haunts. A world where social relations are mediated by hyperconnectionism, its rules and procedures (algorithmic governality) are hidden in the technical format of the net. Perfectly insulated and perfectly wired, the organism is a smooth interface of the flow. In order to get access to the interaction, the individual has to adapt to the format, and his/her enunciations have to be compatible with the code. (A: 88) And, yet, with its success comes a downside. South Korea has not only the highest rate of connectivity, but also the highest suicide rate in the world. Korea leads the gloomy contest with 28,4 per 100.000. Second comes Hungary with 17, then Finland, and Japan.(A: 89)
During twenty years of research on the matter Berardi asks: “Is there a link between high connectivity and suicide?” His answer: “As a result of my research on the psychological effects of the technological evolution I have to answer: yes, there is a link between connectivity and social proxemics, there is a link between connectivity and dis-empathy, there is a link between connectivity precarization of labour and de-solidarization. There is a link between connectivity and suicide.” (A: 89)
As he states it in the span of a two generations South Koreans have gone from paupers and poor farmers and outcasts of war to one of the richest nations on the planet. Their living condition certainly improved by the point of view of revenue, nutrition, freedom and the possibility of travelling abroad. But the price of this improvement has been the desertification of daily life, the hyper-acceleration of rhythms, extreme individualization of biographies, ferocious competition in the school and in the labour market, and work precariousness that also means unbridled competition. Here probably lies the explanation of the extraordinary propensity of Koreans (both young and middle aged) to commit suicide. (A: 89-90) As he’ll suggest High tech capitalism implies an improvement in revenue and consumption, but also implies ever increasing productivity, constant competition and ceaseless intensification of the rhythms of work. (A: 90)
So this hypercapitalist era or technics and technology in creating a Global Technocommercium is reformatting the very prospects of what it means to be human ridding it of the waste of cultures, purifying its body and minds of the past, and shaping it into a neohuman future that is having dire repercussions on those who are unable or unwilling to accelerate the process. It is process without a plan or planner, an immanent and intelligent staging of an almost genetic reprogramming of the human genonme into something other that is leaving casualties in its wake. To resist it is to fall away into abject horror or suicide, to accept it is to enter into an inhuman temporality of accelerating forces that our minds and psyches are having trouble keeping pace. Where the future leads us in anyone’s guess, and some even surmise that Time itself is the greatest puzzle and mystery of this whole process. That our temporal destination is a resurgence of the past in the future, and the future in the past; and that we are entering neither past, nor future but an Absolute Time without precedent.
- Berardi, Franco “Bifo”. And: Phenomenology of the End. Semiotext(e) (November 6, 2015) (A)
- Stiegler, Bernard. Decadence of Industrial Democracies. Polity; 1 edition (September 19, 2011)
- Nicolas Fox. Against the Machine: The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art, and Individual Lives (Kindle Locations 61-64). Kindle Edition.