If bad faith is “the need not to see what one sees,” how can the philosopher, without deceiving himself, not accept the challenge presented by the world of techniques, a world that is regarded as meaningful?
—Pierre Ducassé, The Philosopher among Artists and Technicians
Protagoras was the first humanist, saying: “Man is the measure of all things.” But since his time we’ve come to another conclusion, the inhuman truth: “It is not man but technology that is the measure of all things.” By this we mean that the inhuman core of Man is and has always been the condition of his own technicity, not as originary but rather as the non-dialectical affirmation of difference by which he has constructed himself through technics and technology. There is no opposition here, no dualism; rather the differential affirmation of a hybrid becoming, a productive becoming other immanent to the technicity of his being.
In Gesture and Speech (Le geste et la parole, 1964), the paleoanthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan advanced a theory of the codevelopment of manual articulation (i.e., tool-based existence) and symbol-making that determined that the species homo comes into being precisely because of its technicity. If we began speaking not of the human condition but rather of the technological condition a new and surprising non-human philosophy emerges, one that shifts our perspective from the human to non-human relations as primary.
Becoming conscious of his technicity humanity confronts the violence and conflict at the heart of existence. There is no great practical transformation that does not lead to conflict: conflict between men, conflict between man and his aspirations, and conflict between the means and the ends, but more pointedly conflict between the means themselves as they imply radical differences in scale and perspective.1 As Gilbert Simondon suggests “Culture has become a system of defense designed to safeguard man from technics”. Technics in Simondon’s view is the inhuman in us, and that this duality between man and technics was brought about in the rupture of the figure/ground of a once unified magical reality: “The magical universe is made of a network of access points to each domain of reality: thresholds, summits, limits, and crossing points, attached to one another through their singularity and their exceptional character.“3
In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze/Guattari remind us that in Simondon’s view the matter-form model otherwise known as the hylomorphic model (Aristotle) “leaves many things, active and affective, by the wayside”.4 Continuing they say,
what Simondon criticizes the hylomorphic model for is taking form and matter to be two terms defined separately, like the ends of two half-chains whose connection can no longer be seen, like a simple relation of molding behind which there is a perpetually variable, continuous modulation that it is no longer possible to grasp. (ATP)
The same can be said of Simondon’s view of technics and humanity, these should not be defined separately but as part of a unified whole within which continuous modulation occurs but allows for no direct access but rather the indirect relations of a reunified figure/ground. In this sense Simondon’s view of technical objects aligns well with the Object-Oriented Ontology of Graham Harman and other speculative realists. In this sense when Deleuze/Guattari tell us that what “metal and metallurgy bring to light is a life proper to matter, a vital state of matter as such, a material vitalism that doubtless exists everywhere but is ordinarily hidden or covered, rendered unrecognizable, dissociated by the hylomorphic model….” (ATP), we begin to understand Simondon’s magical universe of technical objects.
In fact for Simondon it is humanism itself that divides man from machine, culture from nature. Humanism is dualist through and through providing all the dichotomies that have underpinned the language of domination and mastery that is at the core of the scientific man. As Simondon states it:
Culture behaves towards the technical object much in the same way as a man caught up in primitive xenophobia behaves towards a stranger. This kind of misoneism directed against machines does not so much represent a hatred of the new as a refusal to come to terms with an unfamiliar reality. Now, however strange this reality may be, it is still human, and a complete culture is one that enables us to discover that this stranger is indeed human. (METO, p. 13)
This notion that the thing we fear is actually a part of our own inhuman being has been central to most idealisms since the Enlightenment. In fact Marx only had it partially right in his understanding of alienation when he said,
The concept of alienation is deeply embedded in all the great religions and social and political theories of the civilised epoch, namely, the idea that some time in the past people lived in harmony, and then there was some kind of rupture which left people feeling like foreigners in the world, but some time in the future this alienation would be overcome and humanity would again live in harmony with itself and Nature.5
The basic notion here in Marx is that if humans related to their product as an expression of their own essence and recognized themselves in their product and were recognized by others in their activities, then this was not the basis for alienation; on the contrary, this was the only genuinely human relation. If this were true then production would be the fulfilment of human life: “Our products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature.” (Comment on James Mill) But sadly this isn’t the way things turned out. As Simondon puts it,
The most powerful cause of alienation in the world of today is based on misunderstanding of the machine. The alienation in question is not caused by the machine but by a failure to come to an understanding of the nature and essence of the machine, by the absence of the machine from the world of meanings, and by its omission from the table of values and concepts that are an integral part of culture. (METO, p. 13)
Rather than realizing that the machine is the central core of our inhuman being, we’ve exteriorized it producing autonomous agents and metalloid gods who are beginning to take over human work and production. In fact in our current quest for superintelligence and the perfection of immoral machines and robots we’ve abdicated our humanity and given it to the machinic. This leads Simondon to the realization that our “culture thus entertains two contradictory attitudes to technical objects. On the one hand, it treats them as pure and simple assemblies of material that are quite without true meaning and that only provide utility. On the other hand, it assumes that these objects are also robots, and that they harbour intentions hostile to man, or that they represent for man a constant threat of aggression or insurrection.” (METO, p. 14)
In fact at the heart of this prognosis is a false notion of both the machine and the human, a culture that seeks to align automation and automatism: a world of machinic enslavement in which everything becomes a “machine made up of machines” (METO, p. 15). Ultimately this closed world of machines bound in endless cycles of production will lead not to economic and efficient systems but rather to a slow entropic effect and depletion. Instead as Simondon suggest what is needed is the hybridity of open systems with the recognition of humans as already machines among machines rather than as something alien and alienated from these assemblages. “Human reality resides in machines as human actions fixed and crystalized in functioning structures. These structures need to be maintained in the course of their functioning, and their maximum perfection coincides with their maximum openness, that is, with their greatest possible freedom in functioning.” (METO, p. 15)
Open systems allow for negentropic energy flows that optimize the very automation processes that bring about disalienation the artifice of human/machine as part of the same machinic phylum. As Deleuze/Guattari say of it: “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.” (ATP, KL 8519) It’s this expressive force between technical objects that brings about the flows or exchange of information between these singularities. Continuing this line of thought D&G tell us,
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. (ATP, KL 8527)
Simondon envisions in a future society the need for mechanologists who like our sociologists and psychologists of today will reacquaint humans with their inhuman machinic modes of existence. Teaching them that these advanced systems of intelligence are neither prosthetic extensions nor autonomous agents but rather the secret life of matter in the universe, thereby providing “an understanding of the nature of machines, of their mutual relationships and their relationships with man, and of the values involved in these relationships” (METO, p. 16). Another aspect of this future time is the transformation of culture form its specialized function and divisive relations between technics on the one hand and nature on the other; instead it will reincorporate the natural and technics in an enlarged framework giving man the means of thinking about his existence and his situation in terms of the reality that surrounds him. The task of enlarging and deepening culture has an especially philosophical function, because it leads to a critique of a certain number of myths and stereotypes, such as the idea of the robot and the notion of automata catering to a lazy and fully satisfied humanity. (METO, p. 17)
Because we have externalized and alienated the technical object from our own humanity it has taken on a life of its own. With the separation of the sciences from their roots in magick the very powers that once inhabited humans have entered into the machinic systems we’ve invented. Because of this the “machine takes the place of man, because man as tool-bearer used to do a machine’s job. To this phase corresponds the dramatic and impassioned idea of progress as the rape of nature, the conquest of the world, the exploitation of energies. The will for power is expressed in the technicist and technocratic excessiveness of the thermodynamic era, which has taken a direction both prophetic and cataclysmal.” (METO, p. 18)
In the future the machinic phylum will do what humans could not due to their divisive and conflictual relations, their false cultural encrustations which have inhibited the inhuman within us to work out its expressive force. Instead the machinic systems are becoming the elements in the technical ensemble shaping themselves as the only effective units which can augment the quantity of information, increasing negentropy, and opposing the degradation of energy in the world system. The machinic phylum is a result of organization and information; it resembles life and cooperates with life in its opposition to disorder and to the levelling out of all things that tend to deprive the world of its powers of change. The machinic phylum is something which fights against the death of the universe; it slows down, as life does, the degradation of energy, and becomes a stabilizer of the world. (METO, p. 18)
In this sense technology rather than the enemy of humanity is seen as the hyperintelligent benefactor of human ingenuity and inventiveness, the very power of human dispostition and will, the energetic force at the heart of our inhuman being suddenly made manifest as the creative and stabilizing force that will reharmonize earth and the forces of the galactic order of which it is a outlying system. Ultimately, Simondon’s future entails a vision in which technical reality has become a force for creativity and inventiveness, a regulatory power that is not oppressive and dominating but becomes the ground of a new earth based culture. Such an integration will have been possible by addition at the time when technicality resides in elements, or by effraction and revolution at a time when technicality resides in new technical individuals. Today, technicality tends to reside in ensembles. For this reason, it can become a foundation for a future techno occulture, to which it will bring a unifying and stabilizing power, reweaving technics and culture while responding to the reality which it expresses and governs. (METO, p. 19)
In the end “all judgements made on the subject of the machine, there is an implicit humanization of the machine which has this role-change as its deepest source. Man had so well learned to be a technical being that he goes to the extent of believing that once the technical being is concrete it wrongly begins to play the role of man.” (METO, p. 72) This is the darkest spark of the humanist error, that man the tool-bearer sought to become machinic and instead gave birth to the future: the humanist fantasia brought forth the technocapitalist project of transhuman, posthuman, and the convergence of NBIC technologies which would transindividuate the machinic civilization of technical beings. Homo Sapiens was always a transitional object moving toward the very thing it has for so long feared, the non-human other at the center of its being: the technical being of a future machinic phylum.
- Ducassé, Pierre. The Philosopher among Artists and Technicians (p. 12). Diacritics, Volume 42, Number 1, 2014.
- Simondon, Gilbert. On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. University of Western Ontario, 1980. (METO)
- Simondon, Gilbert. The Genesis of Technicity. e-flux Journal #82 – May 2017: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/82/133160/the-genesis-of-technicity/
- Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 8566-8567). A&C Black. Kindle Edition.
- Marx, Karl. Alienation. https://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/a/l.htm#alienation