…with automation comes a progressive increase in the proportion of constant capital; we then see a new kind of enslavement: at the same time the work regime changes, surplus value becomes machinic, and the framework expands to all of society.
—Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
To know our true condition, to realize that we are condemned to live under a fantastic mass of darkness, beneath oceans and successive circles; to know that man, atrophied and infirm, vegetates in submarine lairs like the proteus, that blind eel-like creature that lives in subterranean waters, naked and transparent … to know this is the first step in Gnostic thought.
—Jacques Lacarrier, The Gnostics
Isn’t it true, our fear of Artificial General Intelligence – AGI, otherwise known as Superintelligence, – these radical creatures of our imaginal dreamtime and machinic futures – isn’t it true that they mask the undeniable truth of our inhuman core? Our fear of losing jobs to the machines, of being obsolesced by the new conditions of automatic society, being not only replaced but condemned to exclusion and utter annihilation at the hands of forces we cannot master – isn’t this to acknowledge our hidden collusion with corruption? Haven’t we begun to realize the thing we fear most is the buried truth of our own insignificance in the universal scheme of things? That Homo sapiens is not the center of exceptionalism in the Universe – much less on planet earth, and that we of the West – and, let us be clear – what we mean by the West is the White man’s West, this patriarchal androcracy of progressive globalism, with its pretensions to global mastery and enslavement of all other cultures under the universal enlightenment of democracy and profit? This age old male dominated society and civilization has in its bid to Universalize all others, democratize the world – impose upon all those Others the rule of Law and Tolerance – Other’s who would not yield or condone our ways! – to enslave the complexity of the earth under the monocultural Western image of Man. Hasn’t this supposed dream of democracy and capitalism instead unleashed the monstrous underbelly of the universal darkness and disparity of things, brought forward the impossible truth at the core of our Western heritage: the truth of our inhuman telos and trajectory – the temporal engagements of our annihilating fires?
Even now as we face the revenge of the machines, an incestual world of self-replicating clones and artificial life proliferating across the planet, isn’t it true that we secretly desire this embrasure? The slight opening in-between two impossibilities? Isn’t it possible that the impossible dreams of escape and exit, transcendence and our universal desire to be elsewhere and Other – caught in the gaze of our own cloning processes, forever bound to the narcissistic bodies of our own beleaguered infidelity and shame – is forcing us to deface the Other we’ve always been? We who have never accepted the truth of our inhumanity we’ll be condemned to the inhuman mutation at the core of our Western deliriums and nightmares. Becoming monstrous is our destiny, one forged in the necessitous delusions of our forgotten mythologies, our collective dreams of madness.
This reversal is a worldwide phenomenon. It is now becoming clear that everything we once thought dead and buried, everything we thought left behind for ever by the ineluctable march of universal progress, is not dead at all, but on the contrary likely to return – not as some archaic or nostalgic vestige (all our indefatigable museumification notwithstanding), but with a vehemence and a virulence that are modern in every sense – and to reach the very heart of our ultrasophisticated but ultra-vulnerable systems, which it will easily convulse from within without mounting a frontal attack. Such is the destiny of radical otherness – a destiny that no homily of reconciliation and no apologia for difference is going to alter.1
But it’s not the past that we’ve repressed, forgotten, buried under the dark hinterlands of our superstitions, our religious and sacrificial heritage; oh, no, it’s our future that is invading us with its virus, its infestation of machinic intelligence. “In machinic enslavement, there is nothing but transformations and exchanges of information, some of which are mechanical, others human.”2 The erasure of the boundaries between machine and human entails the disappearance of the terms as well. Crash Space. (R. Scott Bakker) The transitional space in-between two worlds, a no-man’s land or topsy-turvy realm of pure reversibility. “We cannot project more order or disorder into the world than there is. We cannot transform it more than it transforms itself. This is the weakness of our historical radicality. All the philosophies of change, the revolutionary, nihilistic, futurist utopias, all this poetics of subversion and transgression so characteristic of modernity, will appear naïve when compared with the instability and natural reversibility of the world. Not only transgression, but even destruction is beyond our reach. We shall never, by an act of destruction, achieve the equivalent of the world’s accidental destruction.” 3
In our bid to bring the world under one cultural complex, to universalize democracy across the planet we’ve only conquered ourselves, allowed ourselves to become the victims of our own mystification. It seems, in fact, that though the illusion of the universal world has been lost, the irony of the world, for its part, has passed into machines. It seems that technology has taken into itself all the illusion it has caused us to lose, and that what we have in return for the loss of illusion is the emergence of an objective irony of this universalism. The automation of society is the universal irony of man’s mastery of the earth, which in turn no longer needs his ingenuity, his cunning, his reasoning powers of decision. “Irony as universal form of disillusionment, but also as the universal form of the stratagem by which the world hides behind the radical illusion of technology, and by which the mystery conceals itself beneath the universal banality of information.” (Baudrillard, PC: 42) Heidegger:
`When we look into the ambiguous essence of technology, we behold the constellation, the stellar course of the mystery.’
The only mystery is ourselves, the inhuman we are is this mystery. The only thing universal is our infamy. We who have sought to capture the stars, voyage into the great unknown, quantify the solar system in diamond ring of light, have succeeded only in universalizing our own corruption and ruin. “All that seeks to be singular and incomparable, and does not enter into the play of difference, must be exterminated. Either physically or by integration into the differential game where all singularities vanish into the universal field. So it is with primitive cultures, for example: their myths have become comparable under the aegis of structural analysis. Their signs have become exchangeable under the umbrella of a universal culture, in exchange for their right to difference. Whether denied by racism or neutralized by differential culturalism, those cultures were faced, at any event, with a final solution. This reconciliation of all antagonistic forms in the name of consensus and conviviality is the worst thing we can do. We must reconcile nothing. We must keep open the otherness of forms, the disparity between terms; we must keep alive the forms of the irreducible.” (Perfect Crime: 65)
In the end is was not humanity who would universalize the globe, rather it was the machine. The computer became in the end the gateway to universalizing the globe, of bringing to all cultures a universal tool through which all forms of knowledge and events could be networked, shared, and consensually included or excluded, else contested. In the end our dream of universal culture was the nightmare of becoming machinic. This we are accomplishing in our contemporary moment. This sense that machines are becoming autonomous, not only simulating life but in fact realizing it, is for man troublesome to accept. Machinic life can be said to inhabit, or “live,” in a strange, newly animated realm, where the biosphere and artifacts from the human world touch and pass into each other, in effect constituting a “machinic phylum.”‘ (TP) Deleuze and Guattari,
We may speak of a machinic phylum, or technological lineage, wherever we find a constellation of singularities, prolongable by certain operations, which converge, and make the operations converge, upon one or several assignable traits of expression. If the singularities or operations diverge, in different materials or in the same material, we must distinguish two different phyla: this is precisely the case for the iron sword, descended from the dagger, and the steel saber, descended from the knife. Each phylum has its own singularities and operations, its own qualities and traits, which determine the relation of desire to the technical element (the affects the saber “has” are not the same as those of the sword). But it is always possible to situate the analysis on the level of singularities that are prolongable from one phylum to another, and to tie the two phyla together. At the limit, there is a single phylogenetic lineage, a single machinic phylum, ideally continuous:
the flow of matter-movement, the flow of matter in continuous variation, conveying singularities and traits of expression. This operative and expressive flow is as much artificial as natural: it is like the unity of human beings and Nature. But at the same time, it is not realized in the here and now without dividing, differentiating. We will call an assemblage every constellation of singularities and traits deducted from the flow — selected, organized, stratified — in such a way as to converge (consistency) artificially and naturally; an assemblage, in this sense, is a veritable invention. Assemblages may group themselves into extremely vast constellations constituting “cultures,” or even “ages”; within these constellations, the assemblages still differentiate the phyla or the flow, dividing it into so many different phylas, of a given order, on a given level, and introducing selective discontinuities in the ideal continuity of matter-movement. The assemblages cut the phylum up into distinct, differentiated lineages, at the same time as the machinic phylum cuts across them all, taking leave of one to pick up again in another, or making them coexist. (TP, KL 8519-8526)
Instead of genus/species as in Homo sapiens we must begin speaking of phylum/phyla. This sense that we are being integrated into an alien form of becoming, that the machinic phylum is incorporating us into its larger enframing is at the heart of our fears and concerns. And, yet, we are at the same time fascinated by the prospects of this transformation. As D&G would ask, “So how are we to define this matter-movement, this matter-energy, this matter-flow, this matter in variation that enters assemblages and leaves them?” It is a destratified, deterritorialized matter. In this way they will describe it as an “ambulant coupling” – an in-between or transitional phase space of interactions and events, an events-affects: “it is only “intermediary” to the extent that what is intermediary is autonomous, initially stretching itself between things, and between thoughts, to establish a whole new relation between thoughts and things, a vague identity between the two.” (TP: KL 8561) In this sense the annihilation of the human is the universalization of the machinic, a crossing in-between two worlds, an assemblage decomposing one world, and recomposing another.
Becoming other, becoming metalloid. “Metal is the conductor of all matter. The machinic phylum is metallurgical, or at least has a metallic head, as its itinerant probe-head or guidance device. And thought is born more from metal than from stone: metallurgy is minor science in person, “vague” science or the phenomenology of matter. The prodigious idea of Nonorganic Life — the very same idea Worringer considered the barbarian idea par excellence95 — was the invention, the intuition of metallurgy. Metal is neither a thing nor an organism, but a body without organs. The “Northern, or Gothic, line” is above all a mining or metallic line delimiting this body. The relation between metallurgy and alchemy reposes not, as Jung believed, on the symbolic value of metal and its correspondence with an organic soul but on the immanent power of corporeality in all matter, and on the esprit de corps accompanying it.” (TP: KL 8631-9839)
Isn’t this sense of belonging, the pride in our fellow creatures, our brothers, our sisters the truth of our humanity? Isn’t the true irony here that in all the ages of man, the Anthropocene gesture of culture and intelligence, emotion and sense was the thought of seeking peace and belonging? And, that in all our struggles and conflicts, our wars, our barbarisms we were never able to find it? And, that only in this mutant transition into the machinic phylum will that dream, that impossible dream realize itself? Just in the moment of its universal aspirations to find a sense of belonging and peace it is to be annihilated and conjoined and merged into its own inhuman invention: the universal machine? The irony is that just as humans finally attain humanity they will cease to be as a collective project and will enter into the machinic phylum as bit players in the optimization of machinic intelligence…
- Baudrillard, Jean. The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena (Radical Thinkers). Verso (June 9, 2009) (p. 138).
- Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press; 1St Edition edition (December 21, 1987)
- Baudrillard, Jean. The Perfect Crime. Verso (January 17, 2008) (p. 11)