Subterranean Utopia: The Destruction of Reality

Escape is never more exciting than when it spills out into the streets, where trust in appearances, trust in words, trust in each other, and trust in this world all disintegrate in a mobile zone of indiscernibility. It is in these moments of opacity, insufficiency, and breakdown that darkness most threatens the ties that bind us to this world.

—Andrew Culp,  Dark Deleuze 

Karl Mannheim in his classic Ideology and Utopia defines the utopian imaginal in its ideal form as no-place, the place beyond our world, a “state of mind,” a psychological world rather than a real political possibility that one is seeking to realize against the current state of the world:

A state of mind is utopian when it is incongruous with the state of reality within which it occurs. This incongruence is always evident in the fact that such a state of mind in experience, in thought, and in practice, is oriented towards objects which do not exist in the actual situation. However, we should not regard as utopian every state of mind which is incongruous with and transcends the immediate situation (and in this sense, ” departs from reality “). Only those orientations transcending reality will be referred to by us as utopian which, when they pass over into conduct, tend to shatter, either partially or wholly, the order of things prevailing at the time.

The last sentence is the thrust of his argument, and should be attended too in that there is a whole tradition of revolutionary thought that underlies this need to transcend the current state of affairs of one’s political age. And, yet, against Mannheim’s notion of transcendence, I’d turn it toward a more immanent and subterranean need not to seek a beyond, but to uncover what is already hidden, the occult world of obscure forces that exist in the interstices of the political and socio-cultural strata, the gaps and cracks where a secret order of the world is situated not in some absolute Outside but in the very fabric of the world itself.

In my inversion of the old Gnostic mythos of the world controlled by evil archons and dark masters behind the façade of the noumenal I’ve learned over time that its not the Real that is ‘evil’, which implies an ontology of the world itself, but rather it’s the social and cultural fold of our ideological worlds bound to the exoteric or outer forms of media, academic, political, social, and cultural simulations and simulacra that permeate our minds, the epistemic categories of thought and technology that trap us in false worlds constructed by world system of economics and social control both secular and religious. In stead of ontologizing fate and destiny as ‘out there’ , external to us in the universe itself where in the noumenal folds of some metaphysical realm we are controlled by invisible and malignant forces as the Gnostics thought. No. Instead its the political masters of our global world view, the vast open secret of both the outer everyday theatre of the Mediatainment Industrial Complex that feeds our conscious mind with its ideological vision of the Good Life. And, on the other hand there is the notion of a hidden occult world of obscure forces below the façade of exoteric politics, a deep state that pervades the maleficent substrates of political, military, economic, and social control mechanisms that are never visible to the public sphere of most peoples awareness.

As Mannheim suggests most utopian thought has been a part of the metaphysical oasis of Western political imaginal for centuries, and the usual reaction to such thought by those worldly political powers has not always been hostile, rather “they have always aimed to control those situationally transcendent ideas and interests which are not realizable within the bounds of the present order, and thereby to render them socially impotent, so that such ideas would be confined to a world beyond history and society, where they could not affect the status quo (205).” Because most utopian thought has been bound to the Platonic two-world theories of transcendence and Ideals the cynical and material forces of political and social powers have not felt threatened by them but rather incorporated them into the imaginal traditions of art and literature where they could remain as edifying other worldly visions that could never be made real.

Lyman Tower Sargent reminds us that ideologies and utopia are closely related. There is a utopia at the heart of every ideology, a positive picture – some vague, some quite detailed – of what the world would look like if the hopes of the ideology were realized. And it is possible for a utopia to become an ideology. The process by which utopia can become ideology is not entirely clear and undoubtedly varies from case to case, but it is likely that if a utopia is sufficiently attractive and powerful, it can transform hope and desire into belief and action to bring the utopia into being through a political or social movement. Most utopias do not go through this process and most that do fail. But if a utopia becomes a belief system that succeeds in coming to power in a small community, a country, or even a number of countries, it will almost certainly have become an ideology in the process. At that point, it will be challenged by one or more utopias, which may, but probably will not, succeed in overthrowing the ideology, but, as both Mannheim and Ricoeur argue, utopias are the way in which ideologies are challenged.2

In America we’ve had plenty of failed utopian experimental communities. The very notion of the American dream as a utopian experiment in democracy and individualism, success and economic triumph has been a guiding vision at the heart of late capitalism for a century or more. But the realization that all that is over, that the American empire is a fading glory, a world slowly coming to and end in our time has haunted us as well. The split between the haves and have nots has grown a gap so wide that the top .o1% own 99% of the wealth while the rest wander in the dark cage of paranoia and fear in the horror zones of decline and fall. As Jameson once put it:

It is easier, someone once said, to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism: and with that the idea of a revolution overthrowing capitalism seems to have vanished. Well, let’s be fair: the left did have another political strategy, whatever you think about it, and that was reformism— sometimes, in contradistinction to revolutionary communism, called “socialism.” But I’m afraid no one believes in that any longer either.3

It’s this feeling of utter desolation, that all our former hopes and dreams of the Good Life have vanished, that for whatever reason we’ve lost the old world of hope, of progress, or a first chance to discover a life worth living. And now we are all doomed to a slow and methodical decay of our dreams into nightmare. Even our contemporary inscapes of the cinema and theatre are replete with war, famine, pestilences: disasters both real and imagined. It’s as if we had all entered some dark place of the collective mind, a place where time had stopped, the engine of the world reversing course and wheeling into some sidereal zone of no-time: a dystopian zone rather than utopian, a state of mind that is at once and end game and realization that nothing we do or say will ever change again.

The late Mark Fisher called this ‘capitalist realism’, a state of mind in which “not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but one can no longer even imagine an alternative.”4 This is where the dark side comes in: Why? Why are we no longer able to imagine an alternative, what dark power or powers is controlling our thoughts, our minds, shaping and manipulating our imaginations? The public-exoteric sphere for some is to be thought of as a Cathedral, a temple within which the surface glitter of global capitalism exists, the dream worlds of its ideological core driving thought and technological progress, a realm in which the media, academia, foundations, think-tanks, military-industrial-complex, the socio-cultural forces of the outer image of the word that we are all a part of in our common sense everyday lives seems to enact for us the age old myth of samsara – the maya world of illusion and delusion that entertains us, captures our desires, keeps us asleep in the veil of delusion that is our immediate world. And, yet, below the façade of this surface world lies another realm, subterranean realm and shadow world of nefarious forces of political and social control that manipulates us in ways we are never aware of because they bypass our reasoning and hit home in the core of our passional being, the irrational and unconscious realm of Dionysian forces.

Like the old Gnositcs who believed it was some absolute world of evil that was hidden from us and controlled us through mediators, dark archons or fallen angelic beings, etc., we too live in such a world, but one that is no longer bound to the ontological real but rather to a mirror world of epistemic command and control where thought and technology have replaced the transcendent world of spiritual entities. The members of the Cathedral will tell you this is a conspiracy theory, that such things do not exist, and yet the notion of conspiracy theory is itself not an invention of outsiders and madmen but rather was first used by the CIA in 1967 in its campaign of disinformation to discredit all those who were finding gaps and cracks in the narrative presented in the death of both John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy his brother. As Richard Belzer and Wayne David tell us in Corporate Conspiracies: How Wall Street Took Over Washington:

We kid you not. CIA Document 1035– 960 was dated April 1, 1967, regarding the Agency’s concern about the “reputation of the American government.” That document also suggested various tactics for countering “conspiratorial” arguments which confronted the gaping holes critics observed in the findings of the Warren Commission which “investigated” (they did no such thing, in reality) the assassination of President Kennedy. “The agency also directed its members ‘[ t] o employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics.”  So, as you can see, and as the Freedom of Information Act release of that CIA document clearly reveals, the use of the term “conspiracy theorist” is actually a conspiracy itself. But if you believe (rightly) that Julius Caesar and hundreds of other leaders were the victims of conspirators (as they were), then you’re an evil “conspiracy theorist,” right? Well, if anybody actually believes that, then you’d better read up on your history, boys ’n girls. Because conspiracies are an ongoing and very common occurrence in human conduct.5

There’s a sense that what the exoteric world of social control, the so called Cathedral gives us as the normative everyday world of common sense: the realm of social media, TV, Cinema, schools, shopping malls, religious or social institutions, sports, vacations, etc., that all this is where we conduct our real lives in the public realm. And, then there is that ‘other world’, the subterranean one we are never aware of populated by shadow personages that have nefarious and manipulative, maleficent designs upon our lives. It’s this two-world vision that was once derived from Plato’s realm of pure forms (Ideas) and this simulated world of simulacrum and delusion; one that unlike Plato has become inverted and shaped no longer by spiritual forms, ideas, or entities, but by the real and actual political and socio-cultural manipulations of very material systems of thought and technology. A technocracy of experts who use propaganda, media, pharmaceuticals, mind-control techniques, and technological systems of military and civilian design and use to bypass our reason and manipulate our desires, our passional being. Paranoia? Or, reality? Who should one believe? Some would ask the simple question: Where is the proof? Where is the scientific evidence of such a state of affairs? Isn’t this but a mere fantasy fiction dreamed up by conspiracists who can never back up their statements with anything more than innuendo, surmise, and conjecture? Isn’t this after all just a paranoids insane smoke and mirrors world of shadows chasing shadows?

Dr. Steven Novella, in an article for the New England Skeptical Society (NESS), explained that conspiracy theories exist because “humans have a well-documented propensity for pattern recognition. We seek out patterns as a way of making sense of the complex world around us. Sometimes we see patterns that are not there. Humans also have a natural, and evolutionarily adaptive, paranoia.”6  Robert Burton published his Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621 and aligned melancholy and paranoia as two faces of one temperament:

He [the depressed person] dares not venture alone, for fear he should meet the devil, a thief, be sick; fears all old women as witches, and every black dog or cat he sees he suspecteth to be a devil, every person comes near him is maleficiated, every creature, all intend to hurt him. … Suspicion and jealousy are general symptoms. . . .If they speak in jest, he takes it in good earnest. If they not be saluted, invited, consulted with . . . they think themselves neglected and contemned; for a time that tortures them. If two talk together . . . he thinks presently they mean him . . . Or if they talk with him, he is ready to misconster every word they speak, and to interpret it to the worst; he cannot endure any man to look steadily at him, speak to him almost . . . He thinks they laugh or point at him . . .7

In the late 1980s the psychologists Jerry Mitchell and Arlyn Vierkant discovered a battered cardboard box in a store room of Rusk State hospital in east Texas. The cardboard box turned out to contain details of more than 500 people who had been admitted to the hospital in the 1930s. Around 150 of those 500 were suffering from severe mental illness.

Mitchell and Vierkant decided to compare the stories of those 150 patients from the 1930s with the stories of 150 patients with similar problems from the 1980s. In so doing, they were exploiting a rare and fascinating opportunity to compare paranoid thoughts across half a century.

What they found was that, to some degree at least, people’s paranoid fears reflected the times they lived in. So patients from the 1980s believed they were under threat from the Secret Service, the Mafia, the Soviets, or—a little bafflingly—from feminists. Telephones and houses were bugged. Radar and computers were being used to control people from afar.8

But then comes the dark and dirty secret: some of the strange and disquieting things the conspiracy theorists and paranoids feared were true. In the eighties many of dirty swept under the rug truths about the CIA, NSA, and other organizations began to surface from those subterranean regions not of some netherworld of the occult, but from the depths of a shadow world of what many now term the Deep State.

Deep State Rising: The Empire of Shadows

As Thomas Gaist in CIA document details cover-up of drug trafficking by Contras the journalist Gary Webb documenting relationships between the CIA and US-backed Contra rebels would uncover a trail of drugs, mayhem, and illegal para-military black-ops programs dating back to the early 80’s. And this was just the beginning, for Webb’s articles revealed that the US government continued to support Contra elements even with the knowledge that the latter were engaged in trafficking cocaine into major US cities and using the proceeds to finance their war against the Sandinista (FSLN) government of Nicaragua. Webb’s investigation showed that representatives of the US-backed right-wing militias worked with gangs in Los Angeles to sell tons of cocaine, leading to speculation from other commentators that the CIA directed the flow of drugs to target black neighborhoods.

As the article puts it Webb after revealing these dark secrets would become the target of a disinformation and discrediting program by both Deep State and Cathedral forces:

“Managing a Nightmare” makes clear that the CIA utilized its extensive network of relations with the US media to discredit Webb’s reporting by promoting the publication of stories in major news outlets attacking Webb’s research. The paper’s author, a CIA employee, concluded that the media relations campaign by the agency succeeded in containing the fallout from Webb’s revelations.

Webb’s research was suppressed because it began to tear away the veil from this underworld of covert operations in which America’s government, media and major banks function as a permanent conspiracy against the working class in all countries. He would be hounded by the Big Three newspapers – New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times – who paid the scandal little heed, mostly accepting the denials of Reagan administration insiders.

So, when Webb shed new light on the scandal in 1996, the same newspapers subjected Webb to a merciless assault and rejoiced when Webb’s editors caved in to the pressure and forced Webb to quit in disgrace.

Nevertheless, Webb’s series prompted an internal CIA investigation by Inspector General Frederick Hitz who issued two reports in 1998 containing devastating admissions about the CIA’s knowledge and protection of contras known to be active in the cocaine trade.

The Big Three newspapers’ response was mostly to downplay or ignore Hitz’s findings, rather than to correct the record.

Because of this misused power of the Big Three – in this case, to protect the reputation of the Reagan administration and their own failings – Webb’s reputation was never rehabilitated. He was unable to find decent-paying work in his profession; his marriage fell apart; he struggled to pay bills; and he was faced with a move out of a modest rental house near Sacramento.

So, on Dec. 9, 2004, the 49-year-old Webb typed out suicide notes to his ex-wife and his three children; he laid out a certificate for his cremation; he taped a note on the door telling movers – who were coming the next morning – to instead call 911.

Webb then took out his father’s pistol and shot himself in the head. The first shot was not lethal, so he fired once more.

Even with Webb’s death, the big newspapers that had played key roles in his destruction couldn’t bring themselves to show Webb any mercy.9

Top Secret America: Algorithmic Governance and Surveillance Capitalism

After Dana Priest and William M. Arkin’s three-part series, “Top-Secret America,” appeared in the Washington Post, pundits and academics began falling all over themselves in a rush to quantify the post-9/11 “counterterrorism” apparatus. Although few of them had seen fit to even notice the elephant in the room before, they all swooned at its $75 billion price tag, as well as the implications such a monstrous surveillance and covert action apparatus has for a “free” society.10

With 9/11 the Deep State would kick into high gear constructing Intelligence in the global terror hunt as part of its arsenal of surveillance and black-ops programs. The NSA alone as an agency could monitor individual phone numbers or e-mail addresses in real time, but it could not take an expansive view of an entire communications network and know, at any moment, what was happening everywhere. It could not see all the patterns forming in the noisy ocean of metadata. In that sense, the NSA did not truly have a real-time system for detecting terrorists, at least not before it knew who the terrorists were. The agency wasn’t the only large organization looking to crunch data in real time. Banks wanted that power to detect fraud. Hedge funds dreamed of capitalizing on minute movements of the stock market. And energy companies building seismic models to discover new sources of energy needed this kind of hypercomputing. Throughout the entire history of computers, the answer to dealing with big sets of data was to build very big databases to hold them all, and then to go to work with sophisticated tools. Luckily, mass storage was relatively cheap, and there was no shortage of it. But this approach didn’t help information mammoths like the NSA achieve their real-time ambitions.11

Without going into the full details the NSA had everything but an ability to watch everything in real-time. So they came up with a solution: in-memory databases. The result was chilling. As a former exec Ray Lane of Oracle states it the volume and velocity of today’s data is increasing rapidly, especially when you factor in the Internet of Things. He says that legacy database technology used to dealing with transactional data coming from customers and suppliers is having a hard time keeping up with today’s increasing volume. He goes on:

“Today’s challenge is what I call ‘external’ data, which is magnitudes larger in volume, unstructured in nature, and streamed in real time. Imagine high-velocity data streaming from sensors and smart devices, overhead imagery from drones and social media feeds. Kinetica is purpose-built for real-time analysis and visualization of this diverse data environment,” Lane said.

In-memory databases were the NSA’s best shot at real-time analysis. So how to build the system? Simple enough. Just construct a computer with lots and lots and lots of RAM. Or harness together many computers with the same attributes. But the in-memory system had another flaw. One that the BAG and all other terrorist-hunting devices shared. It lacked what data engineers called a logic layer, a kind of vocabulary that told a computer what the cacophony of phone records and e-mails, words and numbers running through its brain actually meant, and more important, what they meant in relation to one another.

In the human world objects had names, and names had meaning. There was something called a plate. It sat on a table, and a person ate food off it. One could teach a computer to recognize “plate.” It was flat, often white, usually round. Its edges were slightly curved. But how did a computer know that “plate” had a relationship with something called “silverware” that was actually a set of dissimilar-looking objects that for some reason seemed to pop up next to plate all the time, and always in a group? And what was this thing that looked like “plate” but was called “platter”?

Humans understood why those distinctions mattered. But a computer had to be taught all of this. It could not learn on its own. A machine had no experience, no residual memories. So the NSA would have to create them. Computers needed this human logic layer. Without it the NSA could never achieve the kinds of early-warning insights Hayden had dreamed of, or Poindexter for that matter. The switch to in-memory computing was a legitimate breakthrough. But on its own it could not produce better analysis. The NSA might be able to swallow the ocean. But what good was that if it could never digest it? (Harris)

Ultimately humans had discovered a secret that machines-software had yet to master: a logic layer, the connection between two distinct objects.  At the most basic level, this was the NSA’s quest. This was the end state of total information awareness. A set of rules, a pattern, that defined human behavior. The NSA engineers knew they had a slim chance of success. How could one account for the variances of human behavior? People were logical creatures—most of the time. But they often behaved illogically, and in ways that confounded explanation. Was there really a model for terrorism like there was for a hurricane, or a cold front, or the sales of beer and diapers? Detecting terrorism wasn’t purely science. It was also an art. Even without a logic layer, NSA’s technological breakthrough meant the agency could see an entire network, and everything moving on it, in real time. They were one step closer to total information awareness.

Total Information Awareness: Poindexter’s Curse

Admiral John Poindexter referred to it as a “Manhattan Project for Counter-Terrorism”. As William Safire said at the time, “If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you:

“Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ‘a virtual, centralized grand database.’

“To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you — passport application, driver’s license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance — and you have the supersnoop’s dream: a “Total Information Awareness” about every U.S. citizen.

“This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks if John Poindexter gets the unprecedented power he seeks.”12

Like anything else once the hands were in the cookie jar it was too late to take  them back out and the public outcry put a supposed quick end to the project, but in truth it just went down into those – yes, subterranean chambers of the Deep State where the public sphere of fixed and loaded media narratives and the great spectacle could no turn its prying eyes.  As Shane Harris would tell an interviewer the public face of this behemoth was dismantled but the actual and real components lived on:

“What components are living on? Yeah, essentially there are two main pieces, the first being the most important. It was something called the Information Awareness Prototype System, which is, essentially, a long name for the heart of TIA. It was the hardware, if you will, the architecture that was going to tie together what Bill Safire is really describing there in his piece, this thing that would sit at the center and collect them all. That piece lives on. It was renamed “Basketball,” a rather innocuous-seeming name. My reporting could find no indication of why “Basketball” was chosen as the name for this. That continued at the NSA research office under the direction of a SAIC Corporation, which is an intelligence and defense contractor, which was working on the original prototype system.

The second piece that I found that continued was something called Genoa II. This was not TIA, per se; it was a connected program trying to build analysis tools, software, all kinds of different things that would eventually feed into TIA. So it was really sort of a key component in tandem with it. That was continued under the name Topsail, also at the same place where Basketball went. Research continued on that with, as well, some of the same contractors, and apparently new contractors were brought in, as well.

So what you have here is sort of the heart or core architecture of TIA and one of the biggest, most important application or tool pieces. When you put these two together, you really would have the bulk of what TIA was, before Congress effectively killed it or thought they had killed it. Nothing stays dead, not even God.

Whistleblowers and Secrecy Files: Edward Snowden

“I don’t want to live in a world where everything I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity and love or friendship is recorded.”

—Edward Snowden

Jeremy Bentham, in his Proposal for a New and Less Expensive Mode of Employing and Reforming Convicts (London, 1798) once described a total information system for his day, the Panopticon:

A building circular . . . The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference—The officers in the centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the Inspectors concealed . . . from the observation of the prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence—The whole circuit reviewable with little, or . . . without any, change of place. One station in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every cell.13

As Michael Foucault would describe it this surveillance is based on a system of permanent registration: reports from the syndics to the intendants, from the intendants to the magistrates or mayor At the beginning of the ‘lock up’, the role of each of the inhabitants present in the town is laid down, one by one; this document bears ‘the name, age, sex of everyone, notwithstanding his condition’: a copy is sent to the intendant of the quarter, another to the office of the town hall, another to enable the syndic to make his daily roll call. Everything that may be observed during the course of the visits – deaths, illnesses, complaints, irregularities is noted down and transmitted to the intendants and magistrates. The magistrates have complete control over medical treatment; they have appointed a physician in charge; no other practitioner may treat, no apothecary prepare medicine, no confessor visit a sick person without having received from him a written note ‘to prevent anyone from concealing and dealing with those sick of the contagion, unknown to the magistrates’. The registration of the pathological must be constantly centralized. The relation of each individual to his disease and to his death passes through the representatives of power, the registration they make of it, the decisions they take on it. He’d go on to say:

The practice of placing individuals under ‘observation’ is a natural extension of a justice imbued with disciplinary methods and examination procedures. Is it surprising that the cellular prison, with its regular chronologies, forced labour, its authorities of surveillance and registration, its experts in normality, who continue and multiply the functions of the judge, should have become the modern instrument of penality? Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?14

What is interesting is the term “cellular” which in out own time speaks to us of another prison, one we carry with us 24/7: the mobil phone, the tablet, the Internet of things… the global network of smart devices that are all connected to satellites and to the uninterrupted onworld life of machinic existence. We no longer need to be confined to a literal cell, we carry our cell with us across the globe. Total surveillance society is ubiquitous and invisible to the public eye, it lives in the electronic virtual zones of our global network where the watchers, listeners, agents of the nefarious underworlds of government and corporate power can modulate our desires, normalize our habits, and provide us a world governed by algorithms and software rather than human agents.

The networked infrastructure of the internet, with its technological capacity to track user movements across different web sites and servers, has given rise to an industry of web analytics firms that are actively amassing information on individuals and fine-tuning computer algorithms to make sense of that data. The product of many of these firms is a ‘new algorithmic identity’, an identity formation that works through mathematical algorithms to infer categories of identity on otherwise anonymous beings. It uses statistical commonality models to determine one’s gender, class, or race in an automatic manner at the same time as it defines the actual meaning of gender, class, or race themselves. Ultimately, it moves the practice of identification into an entirely digital, and thus measureable, plane.

Algorithmic governmentality, by its perfect ‘real time’ adaptation, its ‘virality’ and its plasticity, makes the very notion of ‘failure’ meaningless…

—Desrosières, The Politics of Large Numbers

With the advent of the Digital Age time has been out of joint, “the symptoms of a sort of dissonance and of temporal unbalance are multiplying in the sphere of aesthetic sensibility”.15 The rhythm of life is haunted by a sense of acceleration that fragments living experience and sensory perception itself. Time is out of joint—disjointed. As more and more humans in the past twenty years have become netizens, joining with hundreds of millions of others across the planet in the virtual environments of our networks the power of the mind, the cognitive activity coupled to the linguistic machines (i.e., interfaces, computers, mobile devices, etc.) has brought about a disjunction between our natural and artificial environments, allowing us to mutate and metamorphically decouple ourselves from our animal heritage and reliance of age old mental categories that over tens of thousands of years naturalized the mind. Whereas we for thousands of years developed mimetic techniques of memory to internalize information for recall, we now rely more and more on external devices and artificial intelligence to do our memory work, gather our information, search and index the world of knowledge that our ancestors used to do at the pace of attention.

Attention is the key.

“My experience is what I agree to attend to,” as my epigraph from William James suggests, attention serves as a gatekeeper for consciousness. It determines what one is conscious of. Our brains only ever give us what it needs to survive or reproduce the organism within which it is housed. So that most of what we term reality is blurred, excluded, and ill-defined for us. We come upon reality by way of accidents, stumbling upon aspects of this unruly world and cosmos as it acts upon us. And, yet, we do not know it, it is not an aspect of our attention, our awareness, our visible knowledge, our memories or experience stored or datafied. Reality is the excess that escapes our tools, our lives, our minds. All we have is the reflections grafted from this cosmic stream that our brain has forged for us over eons of evolutionary trial and error: our sex and survival depended on it, our natural environment as a hostile force that put pressure on us to block out everything but what was essential. Reality became essentialized, reduced to the bare minimum of sex and survival. Later the early philosophers would codify this process without every fully understanding the underlying mechanisms, nor realizing that what we think we know and the wider spectrum of the unknown within which we are encompassed is something of which we are blind.

One might say we are wired for deception.

Apollo Robbins, self-described “gentleman thief” and public speaker, describes his technique as a pick-pocket this way,

It’s all about the choreography of people’s attention. Attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way . . . I use framing the way a movie director or a cinematographer would. If I lean my face close in to someone’s . . . it’s like a closeup. All their attention is on my face, and their pockets, especially the ones on their lower body, are out of the frame. Or if I want to move their attention off their jacket pocket, I can say, “You had a wallet in your back pocket—is it still there?” Now their focus is on their back pocket . . . and I’m free to steal from their jacket.16

This sense of framing and focus is attention, and the span of our attention and focus on something distracts us from everything outside the frame of our mind’s eye. Deception is the rule, rather than the exception.

Watching one of those spoofy television shows about people’s involvement with their mobile devices and how it is eating up our attention was a humorous reminder of how humans have suddenly shifted focus and become enmeshed in their technological and artificial environments to the point of distraction. Because of this they no longer are in touch with the natural world around them. The television crew set up situations where people were busily texting, or talking to someone on their mobile phones while a group of actors walked around them doing crazy and humorous to distract them from their involvement with the closed circuit of their attention: it being locked in a eye/machine, or face/interface closed frame. In one segment they had a woman walk past a man in a very tight skin colored suit that otherwise reminded one of nakedness. While other people gawked on and on at this charade of the woman rubbing up against the seated man speaking and texting, he barely even noticed her or her antics. Even after rubbing up against him in obscene ways he never disconnected from his digital device, never once stopped and put it down and looked at the woman to see what was going on. His mind was hooked to his machine and all his attention, his focus was on it at the expense of everything outside the frame of that interaction.

As Sebastian Waltz informs us, petty tricksters and light entertainment, of course, are only the beginning. Attention framing and misdirection pervade the very big and very real world. Spin doctors work hard to ensure that some aspects of reality are shoved into our faces, while others are swept under the rug. Our world is attentionally engineered—quite literally so. Channels for attention are carved into the fabric of our homes, the news we watch, the social media we consume, and into the urban landscapes around us. By creating channels of attention, agendas are generated and policies are framed.16 Truth is our brain is the great deceiver, it has wired us to accept a reduced vision of reality so that we can propagate and survive. So we are already wired for deception.

All of us succumb to distractions all the time. As a product of the texting and Facebook generation, we find it impossible to avoid Reddit, Gmail, and Netflix or other systems of attention capture like Twitter, Linked In, or any number of online gathering places. Before retiring I sometimes at work would have no fewer than fifteen windows and twenty-five tabs open on two monitors at any time. I’d track tech, entertainment, media, and science news across six Twitter accounts in a desktop app called TweetDeck. It whizzes by with a constant stream of updates like a trader’s Bloomberg Terminal.
William James once spoke of attention this way,

[Attention] is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German.

Distraction might be the key term in our quest to understand inattention which is the unfocused or deceptive trick of those agents of the con, whether it is a pick-pocket seeking to refocus out attention or an advertisement pop-up on the net. Dominic Pettman in Infinite Distraction disparagingly reminds us that there is certainly no shortage of polemics out there, pleading with us to stop “clicking ourselves to death,” to stop using the unprecedented reach and power of the Internet to distract ourselves from the late capitalist conspiracy to suck what’s left of our souls, our bodies, our bank accounts, and everything of value in the environment, whether it be the interactions we have online or the minerals that are mined in order to make our communications gadgets in the first place. Every new technology brings with it a new McLuhan, a new Toffler, a new Postman, or a new Turkle, warning us against the dangers of the reflex adoption of new cybernetic arrangements, which themselves form the contours of new modes of cultural and political compliance.17

As Matthew B. Crawford in World Beyond Your Head : On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction admonishes us intrusive advertising is just the tip of a larger cultural iceberg; some of the positive attractions of our attentional environment are no less troubling than the unwanted aspects. It’s hard to open a newspaper or magazine these days without reading a complaint about our fractured mental lives, diminished attention spans, and a widespread sense of distraction. Often the occasion for such a story is some new neuroscience finding about how our brains are being rewired by our habits of information grazing and electronic stimulation. Though it is in the first place a faculty of individual minds, it is clear that attention has also become an acute collective problem of modern life—a cultural problem.18

As Ben Parr explains it in Captivology part of the reason for this rise in consumption is due to how easy it is today to create content. In 1986, there were no blog posts, status updates, YouTube channels, or Instagrams. If you wanted people to read your opinion piece, you had to send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. If you wanted to share a photo with your friends, you had to take the film to the camera store, get it developed, print multiple copies, and physically hand the photos to your friends. Today, the only thing you need to share any content is a keyboard or a touch screen. Our attention just can’t keep up with all this information. The more data available to us, the more our attention has to be divided to consume it. As a result, attention has become a scarce resource. We have the same 1,440 minutes per day our ancestors had but far more information and distractions to fill that time. There are clear limits to how much and how long humans can pay attention. The combination of increased information and our brain’s limits has changed our habits—and not necessarily for the better. Many of us have turned to multitasking as a way to keep up.19

Tim Wu in The Attention Merchants describes how companies capture our desires, our attentions. Describing one private firm that offered a failing school district of a small town a way to end its monetary problems stepping in with the perfect solution. As he explains,

Acting as broker, the firm promised that it could bring the district as much as $500,000 in private money per year. And, EFP stressed, its services would cost nothing. “EFP is paid solely out of corporate contributions,” the pitch explained, “essentially providing a free service to districts.”

To gain this free bounty, the board didn’t actually have to do anything. It needed only to understand something: that the schools were already holding an asset more lucrative than any bake sale. That asset, simply stated, was their students, who by the very nature of compulsory education were a captive audience. If the schools could seize their attention for the purpose of educating them, why not sell off a bit of it for the sake of improving the educational experience? Specifically, EFP was proposing that Twin Rivers allow corporate advertising within the schools. Moreover, EFP explained, it would bundle students from Twin Rivers with those in other school districts around the nation so as to appeal to bigger brands—the Fortune 500 companies—with deeper pockets.
If EFP was promising the district free money, its pitch to corporate advertisers was no less seductive: “Open the schoolhouse doors,” it said, promising “authentic access and deep engagement with audiences in the school environment.” Advertisers have long coveted direct access to the young, who are impressionable and easier to influence. Establishing a warm association with Coca-Cola or McDonald’s at an early age can yield payoffs that last a lifetime—or, in the lingo, “drive purchase decisions and build brand awareness.” That in essence is what EFP offered its clients: “an unparalleled system for engagement in the K–12 market”—a chance to mold the consumers of the future.20

Capturing Desire: Attention and its Dark Side

Philosophy is no longer synthetic judgment; it is like a thought synthesizer functioning to make thought travel, make it mobile, make it a force of the Cosmos (in the same way as one makes sound travel).

—Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

In A Thousand Plateaus the duet of these two thinkers will describe how our attention, our focus, our desires are captured in Strata:
Professor Challenger who made the Earth scream with his pain machine, as described by Arthur Conan Doyle, gave a lecture after mixing several textbooks on geology and biology in a fashion befitting his simian disposition. He explained that the Earth — the Deterritorialized, the Glacial, the giant Molecule — is a body without organs. This body without organs is permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles. That, however, was not the question at hand. For there simultaneously occurs upon the earth a very important, inevitable phenomenon that is beneficial in many respects and unfortunate in many others: stratification. Strata are Layers, Belts. They consist of giving form to matters, of imprisoning intensities or locking singularities into systems of resonance and redundancy, of producing upon the body of the earth molecules large and small and organizing them into molar aggregates. Strata are acts of capture, they are like “black holes” or occlusions striving to seize whatever comes within their reach. They operate by coding and territorialization upon the earth; they proceed simultaneously by code and by territoriality.21

One could say that our mobile devices, televisions, CD or listening devices, Movies, etc. are all strata devices for capturing our attention and our desires. In another statement D & G remark: “Matters of expression are superseded by a material of capture. The forces to be captured are no longer those of the earth, which still constitute a great expressive Form, but the forces of an immaterial, nonformal, and energetic Cosmos.” (TP) One might equate the material substrate of networks that give rise to the immaterial and electronic environments based on digital and binary codes of capture we term the Internet – and, even now, the Internet of Things (i.e., all those smart devices that are begin installed in everything from Security Systems, Refrigerators, Microwave Ovens to Lawnmowers, Automobiles, etc.).

In fact, D&G would as if proselytizing for a future arising and emerging out of this global transformation tell us: “We thus leave behind the assemblages to enter the age of the Machine, the immense mechanosphere, the plane of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed.” (TP) For D&G the ultimate capturing machine or apparatus is capitalism itself:

Capitalism arises as a worldwide enterprise of subjectification by constituting an axiomatic of decoded flows. Social subjection, as the correlate of subjectification, appears much more in the axiomatic’s models of realization than in the axiomatic itself. It is within the framework of the nation-State, or of national subjectivities, that processes of subjectification and the corresponding subjections are manifested. The axiomatic itself, of which the States are models of realization, restores or reinvents, in new and now technical forms, an entire system of machinic enslavement. (TP)

D&G will speak of the first apparatus of capture as the Urstaat: “We shall call the first pole of capture imperial or despotic. It corresponds to Marx’s Asiatic formation. Archaeology discovers it everywhere, often lost in oblivion, at the horizon of all systems or States — not only in Asia, but also in Africa, America, Greece, Rome. Immemorial Urstaat, dating as far back as Neolithic times, and perhaps farther still.” (TP) Following Marx they align the State apparatus upon this mythical system of agricultural communities stretching across the Neolithic Age. The Ursaat becomes the model of the first “system of machinic enslavement: the first “megamachine” in the strict sense, to use Lewis Mumford’s term.” (TP)

They will differentiate machinic enslavement and social subjection under two separate concepts (and I quote at length):

There is enslavement when human beings themselves are constituent pieces of a machine that they compose among themselves and with other things (animals, tools), under the control and direction of a higher unity. But there is subjection when the higher unity constitutes the human being as a subject linked to a now exterior object, which can be an animal, a tool, or even a machine. The human being is no longer a component of the machine but a worker, a user. He or she is subjected to the machine and no longer enslaved by the machine. This is not to say that the second regime is more human. But the first regime does seem to have a special relation to the archaic imperial formation: human beings are not subjects but pieces of a machine that overcodes the aggregate (this has been called “generalized slavery,” as opposed to the private slavery of antiquity, or feudal serfdom). We believe that Lewis Mumford is right in designating the archaic empires megamachines, and in pointing out that, once again, it is not a question of a metaphor: “If a machine can be defined more or less in accord with the classic definition of Reuleaux, as a combination of resistant parts, each specialized in function, operating under human control to transmit motion and to perform work, then the human machine was a real machine.” (Mumford) Of course, it was the modern State and capitalism that brought the triumph of machines, in particular of motorized machines (whereas the archaic State had simple machines at best); but what we are referring to now are technical machines, which are definable extrinsically. One is not enslaved by the technical machine but rather subjected to it.

It would appear, then, that the modern State, through technological development, has substituted an increasingly powerful social subjection for machinic enslavement. Ancient slavery and feudal serfdom were already procedures of subjection. But the naked or “free” worker of capitalism takes subjection to its most radical expression, since the processes of subjectification no longer even enter into partial conjunctions that interrupt the flow. In effect, capital acts as the point of subjectification that constitutes all human beings as subjects; but some, the “capitalists,” are subjects of enunciation that form the private subjectivity of capital, while the others, the “proletarians,” are subjects of the statement, subjected to the technical machines in which constant capital is effectuated. (TP)

Anyone who has noticed the movement from the desktop computer as a tool of choice to the mobile device which now has tens of thousands of apps to capture our attention will understand what D&G are describing above. The mobile device which accesses our email, our news, our offices and homes, our lives in a 24/7 online environment will know of what they speak. We are all enslaved by machinic processes of which for most of us have been presented a convinces, time-savers, entertainment, part of the ritual of our daily lives and communications online. We do not think of this as being enslaved. And, yet, we are being controlled, manipulated, modulated by advertising hooks and other invasive and invisible for the most part systems of capture (i.e., FBI surveillance, Corporate tracing and feed-back loops promoting, tempting, shaping our desires for gadgets, things; and, of course all the little aspects of government, corporation, and sale off of our dividual lives online (i.e., tracing everything we do as we move through the virtual infosphere, leaving traces of our likes, dislikes, textual messages, thoughts on blogs, FaceBook, Twitter, etc., that are then fed back into anonymous systems to be looped back into the swarm mind of the net itself).

Luciano Floridi an information philosopher tells us in The Ethics of Information that our increasing re-ontologization of artefacts (ie., the Internet of things, etc.) and of whole (social) environments suggests that it is becoming difficult to understand what life was like in pre-digital times, and, in the near future, the very distinction between online and offline will become blurred and then disappear. To someone who was born in 2000 the world will always have been wireless, for example. To her and any other member of what Janna Quitney Anderson calls Generation AO, the Always-On Generation, the peculiar clicking and whooshing sounds made by conventional modems while handshaking, also known as the whale song, will be as alien as the sounds made by a telegraph’s Morse signals are to us. To put it dramatically, the infosphere is progressively absorbing any other ontological space.22

In this sense the natural world is being absorbed into the virtual in a great ontological twist and reversal. Rather than the virtual becoming actual, the actual is becoming virtualized. In the coming century our homes, our cities, our world will take on more and more the outward appearance of the digital environments within which we work and play. Already signs of this have become apparent with such online games as Pokémon Go a free-to-play, location-based augmented reality game developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. This augmentation of actual real world through the invasive influence of the virtual is just the start of a process that will lock us into a pre-fab modeled and modulated virtual world that will be based on an Algorithmic Governmentality.

Algorithmic Government: The Enslavement of Desire and Attention

There is a machinic enslavement, about which it could be said in each case that it presupposes itself, that it appears as preaccomplished; this machinic enslavement is no more “voluntary” than it is “forced.”

—Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Of late one of the new ploys companies are using to enforce our compliance to use mobile devices is Security. I’ve noticed that banks, MMO’s, Online Stores, Government access to Social Security etc. are all requiring one have a mobile phone that they can text a security code to as a handshake to insure your access to information remains private. Because of online hacking by private or governmental agencies this has been presented as a necessary step in protecting your information. And, yet, for many of us who have kept attached to our land lines, to our old analog systems this seems a coercion to buy into the newer digital tools. Even my local cable company took analog offline, and only provides digital signals and protocols to its customers now (except for emergency broadcasts which must be analog for Federal Regulations, etc.).
In another generation all this will seem passé, as our children and their children grow up in a fully augmented virtual world. Our governments and corporations are banking on it.

We learn from Bernard Stiegler in Automatic Society: The Future of Work that a new regime of truth is in town,

Algorithmic governmentality is based on ‘ubiquitous’, territorial and environmental spatial technologies, through which the programs of ‘smart cities’ are today being designed, based on ‘autonomic computing’ and ‘ambient computing’, on technologies whose invisibility just makes them all the more active and efficient, as Mark Weiser states: ‘The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.’8
The new regime of truth ‘is embodied in a multitude of new automated systems modelling the “social”, both remotely and in real time, highlighting the automatic contextualization and personalization of interactions to do with security, health, administration and business’.(AS)

As our daily lives become more enmeshed in augmentation we will begin to see our Cities take on this algorithmic governmentality. Computational urbanism is promoted by large equipment manufacturing firms who become at the same time its service providers, and they are currently designing the new infrastructure that will be built and managed regionally. Algorithmic governmentality will thus be exploited and managed on a regional scale and in a systemic and systematic way at all levels of space and time.

According to Saskia Sassen:

The best known example of an instant smart city is Songdo International Business District, an intelligent city near Seoul that’s equipped with advanced sensors and monitors from Cisco Systems, features that are humorously described by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay in the new book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. The city’s multitasking devices are able to open and close, turn on and off, or stop and start everything from the toaster to the videoconference with your boss to the video camera view of your child at play. All of this can be done from both your home and your office, though the distinction between the two becomes increasingly fuzzy in a fully ‘sensored’ city. Songdo is also about recycling and greening. It is built on reclaimed land and deploys all the latest green technologies.25

As Stiegler puts it algorithmic governmentality operates via ‘three moments [that] feed into each other’ and through the automatized confusion that calculation outstrips, and in the form of automatized understanding. This is an automatized understanding not just of reason in its scientific forms, but also will, law and the administration of decision-making in general – in the most basic dimensions of everyday life as well as in the military field. (AS)

Algorithmic governmentality is based on calculation and statistics. But unlike the earlier forms of statistical analysis as one might see in Bayes or Quételet, the new forms continuously traced and collected statistics constitute and mobilize an ‘(a)normative and (a)political rationality based on the harvesting, aggregation and automatic analysing of data in massive quantities in order to model, anticipate and affect in advance possible behaviours’. (TP) As we saw above in Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of systems of capture, what is being harvested by this newer machinic and algorithmic processes of code are our online life, our desires, our attention and focus. And, as Stiegler explains it, this affecting in advance – which is, it should be emphasized, a new regime of affect within this ‘new regime of truth’ – affects all ‘powers to act’ as the automatic production of the possible reduced to the probable. It is based on a ‘passage from statistical government to algorithmic government’, which is also the passage from a public governmentality of the state – statistics is the science of the state and of governmentality strictly conceived as the administration of the public thing, of the res publica – to governmentality as governance by generalized privatization, which is the destruction, by a ‘hypertrophied private sphere’, of ‘private life’ as well as of the public thing. (AS)

For the most part we are blind to these processes which go on anonymously in the networks we are attached too. While we think we are just chatting with  friends, or buying a new purse, or seeing a new movie, youtube, or doing Pokémon Go or any number of activities on the network behind the scenes everything you do is being tracked, analyzed, traced into a data enclave where both corporations, governments, and even more disreputable crime syndicates etc. can through high-speed algorithmic systems – soon to be AI based, etc. – can splice and dice your dividual online life for their nefarious reasons. All of this done without either our approval or for the most part, knowledge, attention, awareness. Just as we are blind to many of the brain’s processes, so are we becoming blind to many of the social brain’s (read: General Intellect) processes of the net itself.

As Saskia Sassen, Stiegler and others have suggested the colonization of public space by major players of the ‘private sector’ passes through the promotion of digital regions based on the infrastructures of this algorithmic governmentality, from ‘smart cities’ to the management of household and domestic space by home automation and ambient computing, but more generally the ‘internet of things’ as a totally integrated environment of hyper-control, made ‘reactive and intelligent […] by the proliferation of sensors […] in order to adapt constantly to specific needs and dangers’.26

As a part of this process we are being de-individualized, de-personalized, and universalized and standardized as dividuals of algorithmic citizens whose online life as avatars becomes the signature of our becoming in the world. Rather than the liberal subject, there is now this binary encoded and traceable system of code attached to dataclaves (i.e., Big Data) that can be manipulated, massaged, fed into endless commercial or governmental agencies for analysis, modulation, and decisioning processes then looped back through the system to alter the behavior of our buying, relationships, or any number of aspects of our fake lives online. Digitized and reformatted for machinic consumption our online life is part of an never ending 24/7 system of capture, regulation, and enslavement. One that we believe gives us freedom, power, and possibilities undreamed of before. The discrepancy between our personal investment in the network and the actual systems of capture roaming within its hidden streams goes without saying. We are oblivious to these algorithmic measures that are affecting and effecting changes in our lives and behaviors in subtle ways we are totally blind too.

As Stiegler remarks,

Algorithmic government is an automatic government that claims to be able to function on autopilot, that is, without pilots or thinking. It ‘dispenses with institutions and public debate; it replaces prevention (in favour only of preemption)’. In short, it installs an automatic society – in which there develops a computational, technological performativity, itself supposedly totally autonomized. (AS)
Human kind is in our age being reformatted by processes of a machinic civilization that are subtly recoding and reontologizing our lives, de-naturing our minds and brains, grafting our psyches onto digital environments that are reversing the age old metaphysical categories (i.e., virtual > actual becomes actual > virtual: Plato’s Cave is no longer projection but a metamodel of the labyrinth rewiring the Outside in) and rewiring our neuroplasticity to the point that we are becoming neohumans in a world captured by the mechanosphere.

Mechanosphere: Gateway to Exit

Deleuze and Guattari once stated that what “we call the mechanosphere is the set of all abstract machines and machinic assemblages outside the strata, on the strata, or between strata”. (TP) It would be at this point that D&G left off with Professor Challenger:
Challenger muttered that he was taking the earth with him, that he was leaving for the mysterious world, his poison garden. He whispered something else: it is by headlong flight that things progress and signs proliferate. Panic is creation. A young woman cried out, her face “convulsed with a wilder, deeper, and more hideous epilepsy of stark panic than they had seen on human countenance before.” No one had heard the summary, and no one tried to keep Challenger from leaving. Challenger, or what remained of him, slowly hurried toward the plane of consistency, following a bizarre trajectory with nothing relative left about it. He tried to slip into an assemblage serving as a drum-gate, the particle Clock with its intensive clicking and conjugated rhythms hammering out the absolute: “The figure slumped oddly into a posture scarcely human, and began a curious, fascinated sort of shuffle toward the coffin-shaped clock The figure had now reached the abnormal clock, and the watchers saw through the dense fumes a blurred black claw fumbling with the tall, hieroglyphed door. The fumbling made a queer, clicking sound. Then the figure entered the coffin-shaped case and pulled the door shut after it…. The abnormal clicking went on, beating out the dark, cosmic rhythm which underlies all mystical gate-openings” — the Mechanosphere, or rhizosphere. (TP)

Like all diagrams it cannot be represented, only programmed. Everything becomes imperceptible, everything is becoming-imperceptible on the plane of consistency, which is nevertheless precisely where the imperceptible is seen and heard. It is the Planomenon, or the Rhizosphere, the Criterium (and still other names, as the number of dimensions increases. At n dimensions, it is called the Hypersphere, the Mechanosphere. It is the abstract Figure, or rather, since it has no form itself, the abstract Machine of which each concrete assemblage is a multiplicity, a becoming, a segment, a vibration. And the abstract machine is the intersection of them all. (TP)

Or,  “Let us recall Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return as a little ditty, a refrain, but which captures the mute and unthinkable forces of the Cosmos. We thus leave behind the assemblages to enter the age of the Machine, the immense mechanosphere, the plane of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed” (TP). It is the place outside the capture systems, the zero point of intensity.  Else in the final analysis:

We have seen in particular that if abstract machines open assemblages they also close them. An order-word machine overcodes language, a faciality machine and overcodes the body and even the head, a machine of enslavement overcodes or axiomatizes the earth: these are in no way illusions, but real machinic effects. We can no longer place the assemblages on a quantitative scale measuring how close or far they are from the plane of consistency. There are different types of abstract machines that overlap in their operations and qualify the assemblages: abstract machines of consistency, singular and mutant, with multiplied connections; abstract machines of stratification that surround the plane of consistency with another plane; and axiomatic or overcoding and abstract machines that perform totalizations, homogenizations, conjunctions of closure. Every abstract machine is linked to other abstract machines, not only because they are inseparably political, economic, scientific, artistic, ecological, cosmic — perceptive, affective, active, thinking, physical, and semiotic — but because their various types are as intertwined as their operations are convergent. Mechanosphere. (TP)

We have reached the exit point of the capture system: “The plane of consistency is the abolition of all metaphor; all that consists is Real. These are electrons in person, veritable black holes, actual organites, authentic sign sequences. It’s just that they have been uprooted from their strata, destratified, decoded, deterritorialized, and that is what makes their proximity and interpenetration in the plane of consistency possible. A silent dance. The plane of consistency knows nothing of differences in level, orders of magnitude, or distances. It knows nothing of the difference between the artificial and the natural. It knows nothing of the distinction between contents and expressions, or that between forms and formed substances; these things exist only by means of and in relation to the strata.” (TP)

One might also say: Thermospasm – the place of no place, the transcendental unconscious: the energetic and creative realm of our hyperstitional vectors emerging from their darkness. As Nick Land would in his dark Deleuzeguattarian reflections say,
The thermospasm is reality as undilute chaos. It is where we all came from. The deathdrive is the longing to return there (‘it’ itself), just as salmon would return upstream to perish at the origin. Thermospasm is howl, annihilating intensity, a peak of improbability. Energetic matter has a tendency, a Todestrieb. The current scientific sense of this movement is a perpetual degradation of energy or dissipation of difference. Upstream is the reservoir of negentropy, uneven distribution, thermic disequilibrium. Downstream is Tohu Bohu, statistical disorder, indifference, Wärmetod. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that disorder must increase, that regional increases in negentropy still imply an aggregate increase in entropy. Life is able to deviate from death only because it also propagates it, and the propagation of disorder is always more successful than the deviation. Degradation ‘profits’ out of life. Any process of organization is necessarily aberrational within the general economy, a mere complexity or detour in the inexorable death-flow, a current in the informational motor, energy cascading downstream, dissipation. There are no closed systems, no stable codes, no recuperable origins. There is only the thermospasmic shock wave, tendential energy flux, degradation of energy. A receipt of information—of intensity—carried downstream.27 (TA: 30)

That which cannot be captured, controlled, molded, modulated: the Outside. This is the pre-ontological realm of quantum physics. Libidinal materialism (Nietzsche) is not, however, a thermodynamics. This is because it does not distinguish between power and energy, or between negentropy and energy. It no longer conceives the level of entropy as a predicate of any substantial or subsistent being. In contrast to the energy of physical thermodynamics, libidinal energy is chaotic, or pre-ontological. Thus Nietzsche’s devastating attacks of the notions of ‘being’, ‘thing-in-itself’, of a substratum separable from its effects, etc. Where thermodynamics begins with an ontology of energy, of particles (Boltzmann), of space/time, and then interprets distributions and entropy levels as attributes of energy, libidinal materialism accepts only chaos and composition. (TA: 30)

It is in chaos and composition that we may find a way out, an exit. Yet, to enter the abyss is to destroy a world. Subterranean Utopia seems to require nothing less that the decomposition of our current world.

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  24. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (p. 8). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
  25. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 4202-4207). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  26. Saskia Sassen, ‘Talking Back to Your Intelligent City’, available at:
    Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 4897-4899). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  27. Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation. Routledge, 1991.



13 thoughts on “Subterranean Utopia: The Destruction of Reality

  1. with or without us taking any new roles it’s crumbling, burning, and sinking all around us, witness the built environment and the profit free platform-realms of Uber or Netflix, and the investment bubbles of tech and real-estate, hell Apple is now a phone design/sales company that sits on billions while it borrows practically free govt money to buy its own stocks with so little else worth investing in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, if we don’t invent a new future worth living in we’re doomed to this malaise and embittered world of strife, war, famine, greed, waste, extreme hate on Left and Right, etc. I keep coming back to those like Musk and Bezos who seem in their libertarian entrepreneur spirit to hold out the last frontier spirit of our times seeking to invest in the difficult enterprise of off-world expansion. Otherwise we are doomed to this circle of defeat and destruction in my own opinion.


      • don’t see why (especially given how little regard those two and their ilk have for democratic processes) we wouldn’t do the same elsewhere (if we could manage the engineering which I doubt, the scale of such an operation would need be so large/complex for any genetic diversity) being who/what we are, not sure if there is someway to let it all be what it’s going to be without some sense (as buddhists and stoics tend to have) that there is some sense/order to things that make life ok but I’m left to trying (no real option left for moi). ever onward..


      • Sounds like you’ve fairly well give over to absolute defeat? Yes? … Yea, I get that way sometimes…. but, hey, we have to do something and for me the best bet is to at least work toward challenges that might someday produce another economy. If we go with the same old same old crapology of Left/Right hate-war as now we’ll certainly end in absolute species imbecility or death…


      • I’m all for things that prove to work but any plan that depends largely on us somehow being different critters than we now be seems DOA to me. to quote a noted e-security/privacy agent:
        @Dymaxion 8 May 2014 Repeat after me: all technical problems of sufficient scope or impact are actually political problems first.
        all that said if Elon and co. actually come up with a better battery that would be a wonder in and of itself worth celebrating, time will tell I suppose.


      • I doubt we’ll ever be different, and wouldn’t suggest we will… not sure where you got that notion… we’re human scum, always will be, but we’ve somehow lasted this long, and have at time proved that we can cooperate with some success. At other times, not. Nothing improves, the myth of progress is erroneous. I’m not suggesting that only Elon or Bezos are of worth… they were just examples dmf, not even good ones. Yet, we have to do more than we’re doing unless you suggest we sit back and do nothing?


      • ok, wasn’t sure why we/things would be different on another planet, that aside the what should we do question is what I’m struggling with but always in terms of what we (you, I, whomever) can actually do with the resources/reach we have at hand.


      • That’s the point, if we treat the earth as a closed system and do not expand beyond it where we already know that many of the moons around Saturn and Jupiter have resources we need, as well as our own moon has an almost endless resource of Helium 3, which as energy engineers discovered could replace all our current worries about fossil fuels. “Extracting helium-3 from the moon and returning it to Earth would, of course, be difficult, but the potential rewards would be staggering for those who embarked upon this venture. Helium-3 could help free the United States–and the world–from dependence on fossil fuels.” Plus, they’ve a plan toward making it happen:


      • If we displaced the trillions we spend of war, surveillance, and the stupidity of globalism on a cooperative multinational project to work together for humanity as a whole in such a project what we could accomplish? Is this mad or what? Am I full of shit, or would this offer us an actual solution humans could be made to concretely share in? All I know is that if we continue down the path we’re on we are doomed. Hell yea, it would be difficult, that’s the point… but if we don’t lay the infrastructure of cooperation and provide he know-how and expertise to accomplish this then we are done for as a species within a few centuries of slow degradations as our natural resources are depleted for good. What then? We might actually work non-fossil fuel miracles but this is a big if…. either way then will face problems of water, soil, and agricultural issues not to say issues of discovering something to replace oil for all our electronics, plastics, and pharmaceuticals, etc. We are so dependent of Oil for almost every aspect of our lives in health, clothing, and electronics that once its gone that’s it for the global infrastructure. While if we shift from Oil to H-3 we will have time to secure other paths forward. This isn’t a pipe dream, not some idealist garbage idea but rather a very pragmatic materialist path forward I’m speaking of… one that like the explorer’s of centuries past will open a new age of expansion into our own solar system. This isn’t U.S. Western expansionism writ large, but the human species first steps into the larger circle of galactic process…


      • “If we displaced the trillions we spend of war, surveillance, and the stupidity of globalism on a cooperative multinational project to work together for humanity as a whole in such a project what we could accomplish…. but if we don’t lay the infrastructure of cooperation and provide he know-how and expertise to accomplish this”
        but we don’t have the means (not that I’ve seen, have you?) to “lay the infrastructure of cooperation and provide he know-how and expertise to accomplish this”
        this kind of social engineering know-how means of mass reorientation and organization isn’t us as we are, never has been and short of some serious posthuman engineering isn’t going to be. So even if we can do the physical engineering to get energy from space or sun or such we would need the political/economic will to make the transition, reconfigure our political/governance systems, sacrifice much of the existing economy for some significant period of time, reconstruct major infrastructures and economies (both in our states like Texas and Alaska and abroad) and so on, I just don’t see it.
        so you’re right that it would take some kind of massive overhaul (just as say Jodi Dean, Zizek, or Yanis Varoufakis are right that we need some kind of international governance that supports people not banks/corporations) or we are fucked we just differ on whether or not human-beings are capable of such speedy and comprehensive/coordinated reform. We can certainly just agree to disagree, no harm there and I’ll just chime in on matters where we are closer and so more productive.


      • Well, obviously, one doesn’t see it… real politic ala Kissinger pessimism… or the reorganization of two events: WWII and threat of WMD from Hitler’s Germany = Manhattan Project: hundreds of billions to invent an atomic bomb all secretively reorganizing whole blocs of industrial society; or, Sputnik: cause of J.F. Kennedy and race to moon, reorganization of whole blocs to use science, technology, and politics along with media-tainment system propaganda to put a man on moon…. two moments when such reorganizations took over reality and produced massive inputs…. Yes, it’s happened in the past, it can happen again in future… obviously it would take an actual outer event to begin the process: let’s say China or Russia building platforms on moon or Mars or… asteroid mining… or? it’s not there yet, but it could happen if the event presents itself again to start up such initiatives… think on it: the Bail-Out in 2008 was the piracy of 13 Trillion dollars handed over from taxpayers to the neo-robber barons of our ear under the ruse of a superficial propaganda mythology: To Big To Fail…. one of the great infamies of Public Relations fascism in modern history… and, we fail for it… Look at EU and Austerity of whole Nations stripped of their futures for decades to pad the fat accounts of fucking rip-off Oligarchs and Plutocrats in Europe… so yea, anything is possible if people are conned into it. Only some things promote actual change while others like the piracy by the rich in the past decade promote enslavement and affective disruption for decades…


      • none of those come close to the kinds of factors I mentioned all are highly concentrated and localized with really no changes in the orders/organizations of our governance, lifestyle (except those bombed or who lost their homes, tragic all but still minority affairs that left most of the related mechanisms intact), infrastructures or markets, no worries we have so much common and fertile ground away from this bit of bedrock we’ve hit.


      • And actually all technical problems are economic problems first, politics is the shit hole where corporations bolster their defense systems with public nods. We already live in an inverted totalitarianism, not a democracy. It’s an inverted fascism, too: the corporations own and run the government for their benefit, rather than in Mussolini’s and Hitler’s regimes where government ran the corporations. So yea, we’re fairly well fucked already, because most on the Left and Right still believe in the myth of Democracy.

        Liked by 1 person

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