Edmund Berger in his essay Underground Streams speaking of various tactics used by the Situationists, Autonomia, and the Carnivalesque:
“Like the Situationists the Autonomia would engage with the tradition of the Carnivalesque alongside a Marxist political analysis. Bakhtin had described the carnival as “political drama without footlights,” where the dividing line between “symbol and reality” was extremely vague, and the Autonomia had embodied this approach through their media-oriented tactics of detournement. But under a regime of emergency laws a great portion of the Autonomia was sent to prison or into exile, leaving its legacy through an extensive network of radical punk and anarchist squats and social centers.”
One of the things we notice is that the Autonomia movement actually struck a nerve at the heart of Power and forced their hand, which obligingly reacted and used their power-over and dominion of the Security System to screen out, lock up, and exclude this threat. That’s the actual problem that will have to be faced by any emancipatory movement in the present and future: How to create a movement that can be subversive of the system, and yet chameleon like not rouse the reactionary forces to the point of invoking annihilation or exclusionary measures?
A movement toward bottom-up world building, hyperstition, and exit from this Statist system will have to do it on the sly utilizing a mirror world strategy that can counter the State and Public Security and Surveillance strategies. Such Counter-Worlds of Exit and Hyperstitional instigation will need to work the shadow climes of the energetic unconscious, triggering a global movement from the shadows rather than in direct opposition.
In many ways as I think we need a politics of distortion, allure, and sincerity, one that invents a hyperstitional hyperobject among the various multidimensional levels of our socio-cultural systems, calling forth the energetic forces at the heart of human desire and intellect, bypassing the State and Corporate filters and Security Systems of power and control. Such a path will entail knowing more about the deep State’s secret Security apparatus and Surveillance methodologies, technologies, and tactics than most thinkers are willing to acknowledge or even apprehend. Like the Hacker movements of the 90’s up to Anonymous one will need to build shadow worlds that mimic the stealth weapons of the State and Corporate Global apparatus and assemblages; but with one caveat – these weapons are non-violent “weapons of the mind”, and go unseen and unrecognized by the State Security Systems at Local and Global levels.
A global system of mass, warrantless, government surveillance now imperils privacy and other civil liberties essential to sustaining the free world. This project to unilaterally, totally control information flow is a product of complex, ongoing interplay between technological, political, legal, corporate, economic, and social factors, including research and development of advanced, digital technologies; an unremitting “war on terror”; relaxed surveillance laws; government alliances with information technology companies; mass media manipulation; and corporate globalism. One might say it as the Googling of the World.
The United Stats internally hosts 17 intelligence agencies under the umbrella known as the Security Industrial Complex. They are also known for redundancy, complexities, mismanagement and waste. This “secret state” occupies 10,000 facilities across the U.S. Over the past five years the total funding budget exceeded half a trillion dollars. The notion of globalization which has its roots in the so called universalist discourses of the Enlightenment had as its goal one thing: to impose a transparent and manageable design over unruly and uncontrollable chaos: to bring the world of humans, hitherto vexingly opaque, bafflingly unpredictable and infuriatingly disobedient and oblivious to human wishes and objectives, into order: a complete, incontestable and unchallenged order. Order under the indomitable rule of Reason.1
This Empire of Reason spreads its tentacles across the known world through networks and statecraft, markets and tradecraft, war and secrecy, drugs and pharmakon. The rise of the shadow state during Truman’s era began a process that had already been a part of the Corporate worldview for decades. The monopoly and regulation of a mass consumption society was and always will be the goal of capitalist market economies. In our time the slow and methodical spread of the American surveillance state and apparatus has shaped the globalist agenda. Because of it the reactionary forces of other state based control systems such as Russia and China are exerting their own power and surveillance systems as counters to Euro-American hegemony.
Surveillance is a growing feature of daily news, reflecting its rapid rise to prominence in many life spheres. But in fact surveillance has been expanding quietly for many decades and is a basic feature of the modern world. As that world has transformed itself through successive generations, so surveillance takes on an ever changing character. Today, modern societies seem so fluid that it makes sense to think of them being in what Bauman terms a ‘liquid’ phase. Always on the move, but often lacking certainty and lasting bonds, today’s citizens, workers, consumers and travelers also find that their movements are monitored, tracked and traced. Surveillance slips into a liquid state.
As Bauman relates it liquid surveillance helps us grasp what is happening in the world of monitoring, tracking, tracing, sorting, checking and systematic watching that we call surveillance. Such a state of affairs engages with both historical debates over the panopticon design for surveillance as well as contemporary developments in a globalized gaze that seems to leave nowhere to hide, and simultaneously is welcomed as such. But it also stretches outwards to touch large questions sometimes unreached by debates over surveillance. It is a conversation in which each participant contributes more or less equally to the whole. (Bauman)
Our network society has installed its own “superpanopticon” (Mark Poster). Such a system is ubiquitous and invisible to the mass of users. As Poster states it “The unwanted surveillance of one’s personal choice becomes a discursive reality through the willing participation of the surveilled individual. In this instance the play of power and discourse is uniquely configured. The one being surveilled provides the information necessary.” For Poster, this supply of self-surveillance is provided through consumer transactions stored and immediately retrievable via databases in their constitution of the subject as a “sum of the information in the fields of the record that applies to that name.” The database compiles the subject as a composite of his or her online choices and activities as tracked by IFS. This compilation is fixed on media objects (images, text, MP3s, Web pages, IPs, URLs) across the deluge of code that can be intercepted through keyword pattern recognition and private lists of “threatening” URLs.2
Our so called neoliberal society has erased the Public Sphere for the atomized world of total competition in a self-regulated market economy devoid of politics except as stage-craft. As authors in the Italian autonomist movements have argued for the past fifty and more years, this “total subsumption” of capital upon the life-sphere has been accomplished through “material” and “immaterial” means. According to these authors, capital in late capitalism and neoliberalism has attempted to progressively colonize the entire life-sphere. Resistance, they argue, comes through the “reserves” to capital that remain as the social and intellectual foundation from which capital draws, including through “immaterial labor” using digital means. Gradually during modernity, such theorists have argued, life itself has been taken as a target for capitalist subsumption, through the cooptation of communication, sexual and familial relationships (Fortunati 1995), education, and every other sphere of human activity, with economic exchange and survival as the ultimate justification for all relationships.3
Capital’s “apparatus of capture” has become increasingly efficient and broad in its appropriation of selves as subjects of its political economy through the combination of appropriating governmental functions such as: buying off political actors and agencies, cutting public funding to modernist institutions and infrastructures, redefining the agenda of education and other cultural institutions toward capitalist values, owning and narrowing the focus of the media, forcing family structures and individuals to adapt to scarcity economies, and using government police and surveillance forces and economic pressures to crush resistance. In short, it is said that neoliberalism has advanced by the totalitarian institutionalization of national and international capitalism, one nation after another, using domestic means to force compliance in domestic markets and using international pressures (economic, military, cultural) to do the same to other countries, cultures, and peoples. (Day, pp. 126-127)
The increased accuracy (or believed accuracy) of increased surveillance and feedback targeting through the collection of social big data and its analyses and social and political uses (ranging from drone predators to state surveillance in both democratic and communist/ authoritarian governments to consumer targeting— for example, the targeting done by Target Corporation, as described in a 2012 New York Times article [Duhigg 2012])— belong to a conjoined mechanism of cybernetic and neoliberal governmentality, which crosses governmental and corporate databases and organizations. Social big data seeks to demarcate trends, which then directly or indirectly act as norms, which further consolidate individual and group action within market-determined norms (Rouvroy 2013). People are forced into competition, into a “freedom” that is monitored and checked within systems of feedback control. As Norbert Weiner suggested in the Cold War period (Wiener 1954, 1961), communicative control can be used toward a discourse of “rationality”; a rationality that is seen as proper to a given political economy. The documentary indexing of the subject provides the codes for the subject’s social positioning and expressions by others and by itself. Thanks to networked, mobile devices, the subject can attempt to continuously propose him- or herself to the world as the subject of documentary representation. (Day, pp. 132-133)
Those of us in the West who use mobile devices are becoming hooked into an elaborate datasociety in which every aspect of our lives is conditioned to enforce a self-regulatory system of choices and taboos. The surveillance is done at the level of individuals, who are monitored and whose actions are predicted throughout key moments of their consumption or production, marking changes in trends and phase states, and recalculating the trajectory of entities according to these new parameters and relationships. Our algorithmic society is splicing us all into a grid of total control systems from which it will become increasingly difficult to extricate ourselves.
As Douglas Rushkoff said recently digital technology is programmed. This makes it biased toward those with the capacity to write the code. In a digital age, we must learn how to make the software, or risk becoming the software. It is not too difficult or too late to learn the code behind the things we use—or at least to understand that there is code behind their interfaces. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of those who do the programming, the people paying them, or even the technology itself.4 More and more our mass society is being programmed through an immaterial grid of datafied compliance and surveillance that captures our desires and regulates our choices. In some ways we’ve become the mindless generation, unable to stand back from the immersive worlds of our technosphere in which we live and breath. We’ve become enamored with our Mediatainment Industrial Complex that encompasses us to the point that those being born now will not know there ever was a word without gadgets. In fact we’ve all become gadgets in a market world of science fiction, our desires captured by the very gadgets we once thought would free us from the drudgery of time. Instead we’ve been locked within a world without time, a timeless realm in which the very truth of history has been sucked out of it and instead we live in a mythic time of no time, prisoners of a cartoon world of endless entertainment and false desires. In such a world the virtual has become actual, we wander through life caught in the mesh of a fake world of commodity cartoons, citizens of a dreamland turned nightmare. Shall we ever wake up?
Modern radical thought has always seen subjectivation as an energetic process: mobilization, social desire and political activism, expression, participation have been the modes of conscious collective subjectivation in the age of the revolutions. But in our age, energy is running out and desire, which has given modern social dynamics their soul, is absorbed in the black hole of virtualization and financial games, as Jean Baudrillard argues in his 1976 book, Symbolic Exchange and Death. In this book, Baudrillard analyzes the hyperrealistic stage of capitalism, and the instauration of the logic of simulation.
The end of the spectacle brings with it the collapse of reality into hyperrealism, the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another reproductive medium such as advertising or photography. Through reproduction from one medium into another the real becomes volatile, it becomes the allegory of death, but it also draws strength from its own destruction, becoming the real for its own sake, a fetishism of the lost object which is no longer the object of representation, but the ecstasy of denegation and its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal. […]
The reality principle corresponds to a certain stage of the law of value. Today the whole system is swamped by indeterminacy, and every reality is absorbed by the hyperreality of the code and simulation. The principle of simulation governs us now, rather that the outdated reality principle. We feed on those forms whose finalities have disappeared. No more ideology, only simulacra. We must therefore reconstruct the entire genealogy of the law of value and its simulacra in order to grasp the hegemony and the enchantment of the current system. A structural revolution of value. This genealogy must cover political economy, where it will appear as a second-order simulacrum, just like all those that stake everything on the real: the real of production, the real of signification, whether conscious or unconscious.
Capital no longer belongs to the order of political economy: it operates with political economy as its simulated model. The entire apparatus of the commodity law of value is absorbed and recycled in the larger apparatus of the structural law of value, this becoming part of the third order of simulacra. Political economy is thus assured a second life, an eternity, within the confines of an apparatus in which it has lost all its strict determinacy, but maintains an effective presence as a system of reference for simulation. (Baudrillard 1993a: 71-72, 2).5
We’ve all become simulations now. It’s not our bodies that matter in this digital universe of data, but rather the dividual traces we leave across the virtualized world that can be manipulated to produce profit. In the sphere of semiocapitalism, financial signs are not only signifiers pointing to particular referents. The distinction between sign and referent is over. The sign is the thing, the product, the process. The “real” economy and financial expectations are no longer distinct spheres. In the past, when riches were created in the sphere of industrial production, when finance was only a tool for the mobilization of capital investment in the field of material production, recovery could not be limited to the financial sphere. It also took employment and demand. Industrial capitalism could not grow if society did not grow. Nowadays, we must accept the idea that financial capitalism can recover and thrive without social recovery. Social life has become residual, redundant, irrelevant. (Bifo)
Those of us of an older generation still remember what existed the other side of the virtual screen, but the mass of young being born now will not have that luxury and their minds will be completely immersed in this new virtual actuality with no sense of the Outside.
While those on the Left still ponder outmoded political worlds the world of capital has abandoned both the political and the social. It’s time to wake up … I wanted to say, “before it’s too late”. My problem, my despair is that it is already too late. And, yet, I continue throwing out my little posts in hopes that someone is listening, that someone will awaken from their dogmatic slumber and act… is that you?
At the end of his essay, Edmund Berger tells us:
“Capitalism, as a game of desire coupled with perpetually shifting technological terrains, embodies the becoming-real of nonexistent forms; it captures the powers of imagination to power cycles of consumption and production. What delirium or intoxication can the myth of revolution offer us that capital is not already willing to provide, at least to those in the so-called developed world? This is a profound danger in these water…s, where the libidinal explosion of being-against becomes an end in itself, and dissent becomes the simple buying of temporary carnivals. The stakes are high, on social, economic, ecological, and subjective scales; if hyperstition is to be used, it must be pragmatic, designed with a horizon in mind and an expression of something beyond simple games. Instead of cataloging, let us read these things as a search for tools and weapons.”
My problem with such a reading is its return to a normative agenda, a telos (horizon), it’s pragmatist stance, and its inability to see games not as pure fantasy, but as the imaginative need needed to spur on inventive and creative capacities rather than in some self-proclaimed and planned endeavor which seems to be what is implied by Edmund. It cannot be about desire, since capitalism is already tyrannized that domain of human behavior. No. It must be about that which desire is only the energetic outgrowth and manifestation, it must be about the unconscious agency within which desire is both homunculus and appendage-prosthesis. We’ve concentrated our political thoughts on desire for so long since Spinoza to Deleuze that we’ve locked ourselves into a systematic system of failure, since at every turn Capital is predictive of its capture systems of desire, and its ability to direct desire, modulate it, and modify it to serve its ends. Instead we must ask: What is it in the unconscious that produces desire? Two problems arise: 1) the Lacanian unconscious as “lack” structured like a language; or, the Deleuzean unconscious as “production” producing desire. Following Lacan desire is for the object that will fill our lack, while for Deleuze desire is the engine of creativity which allows us to produce the new and possible. Most of consumer capitalism with its advertising, media domination, and tantalization of the capture of desire has relied on the Freud/Lacan paradigm of lack, seeking to offer the consumer-individual the object of its deepest desires in thing-commodities or good old Marxian commodity-fetishism. While Deleuzeguattari seek to overthrow this oppressive system of lack/desire/object for a productive unconscious that is at once emancipatory and creative, in which desire seeks not some commodity to fill its needs, but rather produces out of its own imaginative and energetic unconscious the Real of its actual not virtual needs. So, again, Lacan or Deleuze?
Addendum: From Edmund Berger…
Just wanted to pop in and comment that the essay of mine above is quite old (3+ years!) and as such contains views that I’m pretty firmly opposed to at this point. I completely agree with you on the problem of suggesting a “return to a normative agenda” and pragmatist approaches rooted in myths of human mastery and control. Much of what I’m doing at the moment (under the u/acc moniker) emphatically rejects those positions (as I talked about in my “Unconditional Accelerationism and the Question of Praxis” piece).
- Bauman, Zygmunt; Lyon, David. Liquid Surveillance: A Conversation (PCVS-Polity Conversations Series) (pp. 79-80). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
- Raiford Guins. Edited Clean Version: Technology and the Culture of Control (Kindle Locations 1304-1308). Kindle Edition.
- Day, Ronald E.. Indexing It All: The Subject in the Age of Documentation, Information, and Data (History and Foundations of Information Science) (p. 126). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
- Douglas Rushkoff. Program or Be Programmed (Kindle Locations 1363-1367). Kindle Edition.
- Berardi, Franco Bifo. After the Future (Kindle Locations 2276-2294). AK Press. Kindle Edition.