The Task: Thought of the Day!

Most of us live in a pre-critical universe, accept that the world is given, that the objects of our senses are actual; we never challenge this state of affairs. The philosopher, unlike us, begins by questioning and rejecting the world of the given, believing that what our senses present as given are the objects of illusion and deception. Plato would offer us his myth of the Cave, Descartes the myth of a Demon, and in our time we have the myth of ‘suspension’ (aufhebung):

“Through aufhebung, the positive immediacy of the self-reflexive I is cancelled, while the determinate negativity that accounts for the difference between immediate and its mediation … is preserved. In other words, the identity of what appears to be immediate is abolished or taken out of action, whereas the difference between the immediate and its mediation (the opposition) is preserved. (Reza Negarestani p. 7 Intelligence and Spirit).”

It’s this difference that makes a difference, this distance between what we perceive as the given (immediate) and its mediation. In our age when most of what we take as reality is mediated by technics and technological artifacts, we have closed down this distance and difference to the point that we must ask: Can such a suspension remain possible in an immersive environment such as ours, where reality is mediated and re-ontologized as information? Have we all become technological objects mediated by vast conglomerates of technics and technology? Is a critique of this state of affairs even possible, anymore? How does the philosopher break through this tissue of lies, this infosphere of mediated illusion and reach the sleepwalker of pre-critical worlds? How awaken the sleeper from her fall into the darkness of technological mediation, this collective mindedness of our sociocultural trap? We who have created languages to share in the collective enterprise of culture across time have become enmeshed and enslaved to its autonomous power to re-invent and shape, command and control who and what we are. How escape its mesh, distance ourselves from its hold on our minds? Is this not the task of our time? Exit the sociocultural death machine that is leading us all into a final terminus?

Nick Land: Crypto-Current (New Book)

Like the creatures of Jurassic Park, bitcoin is the project of a possibly mad scientist that has escaped from the lab. Like T’Rain, bitcoin is now overflowing its “banks” and is about to flood the streets of your world. Perhaps someone should be building an ark. Or perhaps bitcoin is our ark—a new monetary covenant containing the seeds of a new system of the world.

—George Gilder, Life After Google

Nick Land is publishing a draft version of his upcoming Bitcoin Book Crypto-Current online. Decided to create a table-of-contents for referencing easier (look below).

What is blockchain technology?

Blockchains are, in many ways, the “tamper-proof boxes” envisioned  nearly thirty years ago. They blend together several existing technologies, including peer-to-peer networks, public-private key cryptography, and consensus mechanisms, to create what can be thought of as a highly resilient and tamper-resistant database where people can store data in a transparent and nonrepudiable manner and engage in a variety of economic transactions pseudonymously. Blockchains are enabling the transfer of digital currencies and other valuable assets, managing title to property and sensitive records, and—perhaps most profoundly—facilitating the creation of computer processes known as smart contracts, which can execute autonomously.

Blockchain technology constitutes a new infrastructure for the storage of data and the management of software applications, decreasing the need for centralized middlemen. While databases often sit invisibly behind the scenes, their significance cannot be understated. Databases serve as a backbone for every platform, website, app, or other online service. Up to this point, databases have for the most part been maintained by centralized intermediaries, such as large Internet companies or cloud computing operators such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. Blockchains are changing this dynamic, powering a new generation of disintermediated peer-to-peer applications, which are less dependent on centralized control.

“Thus at the heart of bitcoin is a process that combines the irreversible passage of time with the exponential advance of technology through Moore’s Law: the ever increasing number of cycles per second of computation. Without Moore’s Law, bitcoin would be swamped by its own data, and the blockchain would grind to a halt. The genius behind bitcoin comes from a dynamic vision in which computer resources—storage and processing—always grow faster than the blockchain. It is the epitome of value creation in a world of abundant goods and services and a scarcity of time. Linear time reflects the span of life—the time domain. The frequency domain is bounded by the speed of light. Together they can represent the sources of value in the world.”1

The most modest plausible interpretation of Bitcoin is that its tacit perspective replaces (a lost) absolute time. A stronger proposal is that absolute time is, with the blockchain, inaugurated. To articulate the thesis (more informatively) in reverse: The philosophy of absolute time anticipates the blockchain. In still other words, it retro-chronically depends upon it. Only in the blockchain does geometrically-irreducible arithmetic series find instantiation. Primordial time synthesis is henceforth something the technosphere knows how to do.

—Nick Land, Crypto-Current  


Crypto-Current (Table of Contents):

  1. 000
  2. 001
  3. 002
  4. 003
  5. 004
  6. 005
  7. 006
  8. 007
  9. 008
  10. 009
  11. 010
  12. 011
  13. 012
  14. 013
  15. 014
  16. 015
  17. 015b
  18. 016-a
  19. 016-b
  20. 016-c
  21. 016-d
  22. 016-e
  23. 016-f
  24. 016-g
  25. 016-f
  26. 017
  27. 018
  28. 019
  29. 020
  30. 021
  31. 022
  32. 023
  33. 024
  34. 025
  35. 026
  36. 027
  37. 028
  38. 029
  39. 030
  40. 031
  41. 032
  42. 033
  43. 034
  44. 035
  45. 036
  46. 037
  47. 038
  48. 039
  49. 040
  50. 041
  51. 042
  52. 043
  53. 044

  1. George Gilder. Life After Google (Kindle Locations 2143-2148). Gateway Editions. Kindle Edition.

Bao jingyan: Neither Lord Nor Subject

THE CONFUCIAN LITERATI SAY: “Heaven gave birth to the people and then set rulers over them.” But how can High Heaven have said this in so many words? Is it not rather that interested parties make this their pretext? The fact is that the strong oppressed the weak and the weak submitted to them; the cunning tricked the innocent and the innocent served them. It was because there was submission that the relation of lord and subject arose, and because there was servitude that the people, being powerless, could be kept under control. Thus servitude and mastery result from the struggle between the strong and the weak and the contrast between the cunning and the innocent, and Blue Heaven has nothing whatsoever to do with it.

—Bao jingyan (Daoist), whose motto was “Neither Lord Nor Subject,” wrote during the Wei’Jin period, or Period of Disunity, when China was divided into several warring states.

 

Mencius: Why Speak of Profit?

Mencius met with King Hui of Liang.

The king said, “Venerable sir, you have not considered a thousand li too far to come. Surely you have some means to profit our state?” Mencius replied: “Why must the king speak of profit? I have only teachings concerning humaneness and rightness. If the king says, ‘How can I profit my state?’ the officers will say, ‘How can I profit my house?’ and the gentlemen and the common people will say, ‘How can I profit myself?’ Those above and those below will compete with one another for profit, and the state will be imperiled. One who murders the ruler over a state of ten thousand chariots surely will be from a house of a thousand chariots; one who murders the ruler over a state of a thousand chariots surely will be from a house of a hundred chariots.A share of a thousand in ten thousand or a hundred in a thousand is hardly negligible; yet, when rightness is subordinated to profit the urge to lay claim to more becomes irresistible. It has never happened that one given to humaneness abandons his parents, nor that one given to rightness subordinates the interests of his lord. Let the king speak only of humaneness and rightness. What need has he to speak of profit?”

Sayings of Mencius

Quote of the Day!

If we are to think the Anthropocene as giving rise to the devaluation of all values, then we must think it with Nietzsche: the vital task for all noetic knowledge in the Anthropocene is the transvaluation of all values, in an age when the noetic soul’s calling itself into question occurs as the completion of nihilism. … This is something that in fact began long before either the Anthropocene or capitalism, as the pharmacological condition of thinking itself, but today there is no escape from this ordeal, which is that of nihilism.

—Bernard Stiegler, The Neganthropocene

It’s a Gonzo World: A Year of Living Stupidly

Here you come upon the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed.

—George Orwell, Thoughts in a Time of Darkness

Capitalist Realism: the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.

—Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism

If nothing else, I take a certain pride in knowing that I helped spare the nation four years of President Hilary Clinton  — an Administration that would have been equally corrupt and wrongheaded as Donald Trump’s, far more devious, and probably just competent enough to keep the ship of state from sinking until 2020. Then with the boiler about to explode from four years of blather and neglect, Hilary’s post-truth liberals could have fled down the ratlines and left the disaster to whoever inherited it.

Trump, at least, is blessed with a mixture of arrogance and stupidity that causes him to blow the boilers almost immediately after taking command. By bringing in hundreds of thugs, fixers and fascists to run the Government, he was able to crank almost every problem he touched into a mindbending crisis. About the only disaster he hasn’t brought down on us yet is a nuclear war with either Russia or China or both (but wait. . . he isn’t finished yet, is he?), but he still has time, and the odds on his actually doing it are not all that long. But we will get to that point in a moment.

For now, we should make every effort to look at the bright side of the Trump Administration. It has been a failure of such monumental proportions that political apathy is no longer considered fashionable, or even safe, among millions of people who only two years ago thought that anybody who disagreed openly with “the Government” was either paranoid or subversive. Political candidates in 2020, at least, are going to have to deal with an angry, disillusioned electorate that is not likely to settle for flag-waving and pompous bullshit. Bullshit flies, and truth is nothing but a media ad on a Sunday night football session.

One of the strangest things about these downhill years of the Trump Presidency is that despite all the savage excesses committed by the people he chose to run the country, no real opposition or realistic alternative to Donald Trump’s cheap and cynical-hearted view of the American Dream has ever developed. It is almost as if that sour 2016 election rang down the curtain on career politicians.

This is the horror of American politics today — not that Donald Trump and his fixers have been crippled, convicted, indicted, disgraced and even jailed as of yet (although things seem to be heading that way…) — but that the only available alternatives are not much better; the same dim collection of burned-out Democratic hacks who have been fouling our air with their gibberish for the last twenty years.

It’s hard not to be a cynic in this time of madness, when politics has become just another Reality TV show on a B-rated channel that’s slowly taking down the economics of entertainment to a new low. If Reagan were alive even he would kick Trump in the nuts for being so fake and flimsy. Power? Authoritarianism? Fascism? Trump’s more like Charlie Chaplin’s comedic take on a fool for President than a satire on the perils of democracy we’re all supposedly facing.

As Mark Fisher once admonished one of the “left’s vices is its endless rehearsal of historical debates, its tendency to keep going over Kronsdadt or the New Economic Policy rather than planning and organizing for a future it really believes in. The failure of previous forms of anti-capitalist political organization should not be a cause for despair, but what needs to be left behind is a certain romantic attachment to the politics of failure, to the comfortable position of a defeated marginality”. (Fisher, p. 78)

The Left is more like a deflated rubber ducky left out to dry than a ‘defeated marginality’ these days. It uses it’s Plutocrats like Bloomberg to capitalize on the message of the day:  ‘Impeach Trump’. Which seems feasible now that Trump’s lawyer Cohen is headed for the clink. Trump’s not only a deflated duck like those across the aisle, but has become the target of the new New York AT who seems bent on jailing not only Trump but his entire family. Letitia James: “We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well…”. Political corruption is like a nighttime sitcom, the canned laughter of three-stooges runaway skit in which Pelosi slaps Trump slaps Schuman and the papers twist and turn in the updraft of flaming tribute to a dying democracy.

After kicking Pelosi and Schuman out he told reporters: “The Democrats are really looking at something that could be very dangerous for our country,” Trump said. “They are looking at shutting down. They want to have illegal immigrants, in many cases people that we don’t want in our country, they want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime.”

Too bad the late Mark Fisher isn’t here to see the Trump balloon burst and the Theresa May clown patrol Brexit brigade stumble into the new year:

The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible. (Fisher, p. 80)

When the cold eye of history looks back on Donald Trump’s  years of unrestrained power in the White House, it will show that he had the same effect on conservative/Republican politics as Charles Manson and the Hells Angels had on hippies and flower power during the Nixon era. . . and the ultimate damage, on both fronts, will prove out to be just about equal.

This is the horror of American politics today — not that Donald Trump and his fixers have been crippled, convicted, indicted, disgraced and even jailed — but that the only available alternatives are not much better; the same dim collection of burned-out hacks on both sides of the aisle who have been in the moneyed pockets of the .01% for decades seem to switch sides from time to time in an effort to keep the Reality Studio going.

The crisis of politics is manifested in the crisis of the individual, as whose agency it has developed. The illusion that traditional politics has cherished about the individual and free-will and about reason—the illusion of their eternity—is being dispelled. The individual once conceived of reason exclusively as an instrument of the self. Now he experiences the reverse of this self-deification. The machine has dropped the driver; it is racing blindly into space. Or, scooting along in a driverless auto-da-fé where at the moment of consummation, politics has become irrational and stultified, broken in ruins wherein even Humpty Dumpty’s new social engineers and fantasists can’t begin to piece the world back together again.

 


 

  1. Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Zero Books, Nov, 27, 2009) (p. 78).

 

The Digital Leviathan: Power, Enslavement and Autonomization

 

…this system does indeed give every appearance of being a gigantic technical individual, a digital Leviathan exerting its power over the entire earth through its ability to continually outstrip and overtake, and to do so on behalf of a decadent, uncultivated and self-destructive oligarchy an oligarchy that is absolutely venal, that is, perlectly nihilistic.

—Bernard Stiegler, The Automatic Society

Every morning many of us in the West wake up to the buzz of various electronic devices: alarm clocks, radios, TV’s, and laptops or mobile devices that connect us to a world wide grid of data: the Internet. Some of us have even begun investing in digital devices that can supposedly give our lives more leeway, refrigerators that can either remind us we’re out of milk or some other staple, or even order it for us through the production of preprogrammed applications connected to our favorite grocery outlet through the Internet. For the most part we are beginning to take this all for granted, as if the complexity of the technology involved had always already been there in our lives, something that is given and goes without saying. Our connected multitasked lives are bound to a world of technological gadgets that also connect us to our loved one’s, our friends, our businesses, healthcare, legal and other systems in ways that seem to make our lives more secure, protected, and cared for. As if the world’s storehouse of communications were at our beck and call, and we were at the center of a multiverse of technical objects that cared about us and our welfare. But are we?

I grew up in a world without such connections, an analogue world where gathered information about one’s day through a slow process of inconvenient gadgets. One’s news came at specified times from radio, television, or newspapers;  and, for the most part the information was already out of date, historical, and unreliable. We did not have the convenience of mobile phones with thousands of useful apps that could align our day and offer us decisioning processes or digital secretaries/agents to do our bidding for us while we sat back and sip our coffee, listen to our children, or walk our dogs while our avatars gathered the daily quota of email, news, and business assignments. No, we had to navigate the day ourselves, make our own phone calls, go out to a physical mail box and check or send mail the old fashioned way of hand delivered envelopes or packages, etc. We had to use various inconvenient and old fashioned ways of doing things that our children, and even ourselves in this day and age couldn’t imagine living without. We’ve become so attached to our electronic and digital multiverse of technical objects that if someone came along and took them all away from us we’d be at a complete loss as what to do next.

We’ve become dependent and subservient to the technical world surrounding us, this digital Leviathan we’ve all seen emerging for the past thirty years has hooked us into a machinic society of conveniences and contrivances that we no longer even think about it; it’s become ubiquitous, invisible, given. “This contemporary Leviathan is global, and it is the result of the reticular and interactive traceability of 24/7 capitalism, which has now become a part of common awareness.”1 Our lives are immersed in data, information overload. Not only are we immersed in a glut of information, we ourselves have become data to a universe of machines that capture our lives and process them as if we, too, were electronic devices that could be modulated and scraped clean for a machinic Leviathan hungry for our digital souls. For most of us all this goes without saying, it’s become habitual: “Through habits users become their machines: they stream, update, capture, upload, share, grind, link, verify, map, save, trash, and troll. Repetition breeds expertise, even as it breeds boredom.”2

Bored but happy, we carry our mobile devices throughout the day, take pictures, share information, update our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts or any number of other social media systems, speak with our children, our clients, our partners, etc., and never think about how this same information is being captured by anonymous and ubiquitous systems just below the threshold of our gadgets without our awareness or consent. Our lives have for the most part become absolutely transparent and open to a machinic society that may or may not have our best interest at heart. We barely acknowledge such a world, much less worry about it. Should we?

With the exposure of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks we discovered just how deep it goes, how our government and commercial systems have slowly been accumulating the digital traces of our lives and mapping them to data clouds to be scraped for purposes other than the security and welfare of our daily living. “Technology has now enabled a type of ubiquitous surveillance that had previously been the province of only the most imaginative science fiction writers.”3 Glenn Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide would document the case of Snowden and expose the depths of corruption to which our government has gone in collusion with corporatism and the dark corners of a fascist system that seeks not the protection of its citizens, but rather seeks to secure itself from its citizens. The Fourth Amendment would be tossed aside in the wake of 9/11 and the unlawful surveillance and gathering of data by the NSA would become part and partial of a corrupt system of governance and secrecy that has wiped away the very system that was meant to safeguard us. Fourth Amendment would state it clearly:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In 2010 WikiLeaks engaged in its most famous publications to date, revealing systematic abuse of official secrecy within the US military and government. These publications are known as Collateral Murder, the War Logs, and Cablegate.  The response has been a concerted and ongoing effort to destroy WikiLeaks by the US government and its allies.4

As a direct consequence of WikiLeaks’ publications the US government launched a multi-agency criminal investigation into Julian Assange and WikiLeaks staff, supporters and alleged associates. A Grand Jury was convened in Alexandria, Virginia, with the support of the Department of Justice and the FBI to look into the possibility of bringing charges, including conspiracy charges under the Espionage Act 1917, against Julian Assange and others. US officials have said that the investigation is of “unprecedented scale and nature.” In Grand Jury proceedings no judge or defense counsel is present. Congressional committee hearings have since heard the suggestion from members of the US Congress that the Espionage Act could be used as a tool to target journalists who “knowingly publish leaked information,” suggesting that the approach is being normalized in the US justice system. (ibid.)

That our government has gone to such lengths to cover up and criminalize those who exposed its own illegal and criminal actions is telling. What we’ve learned more than anything is that we can no longer trust our government to protect its citizens. Why? Because it fears us and is aligned with the commercium (i.e., the oligarchs, plutocrats, etc.) that it seeks to protect from the vast majority in favor of a small, rich, and powerful elite. Because of this it has aligned itself with the very tools of social media where we leave our digital traces each and every day: the system social governance of self-production of traces,  the network effect and high-performance computing applied to data’, and with the formation of artificial crowds that is the basis of ‘crowdsourcing’ (that of the data economy), the digital stage of grammatization* is leading psychic individuals throughout the world to grammatize their own behaviour by interacting with computer systems operating in real time. (Stiegler, 138) The point here is that each of us leaves a digital footprint, a double, an electronic file of data-traces that can be used by powerful algorithms to nefarious purposes. As Stiegler will put it if ‘our statistical double is too detached from us’, it is because the data automatized production and exploitation of traces, dispossesses us of the possibility of interpreting our retentions and protentions – both psychic and collective. (Stiegler, 139). In other words our stand in, our digital identity – as it were – becomes an electronic node that can be scanned by automatic processes without our knowledge or consent, and it is these electronic traces our online-onlife selves that becomes the placeholder for our virtual/actual lives.

The flat image that these traces of our online lives leave become disconnected from our actual lives, and become a part of an algorithmic world that is mapped and shriven of our emotional attachments and worldly outer lives. This digital self, a dividual (Deleuze), is calculable and can be instrumentalised by automatic processes that can be rerouted to military, police, commercial or other agents of this darker world of the Digital Leviathan. We see aspects of this when we log on in the morning and sipping coffee pull up our favorite social media site and suddenly have personalized  ads for books or gadgets splashed across the screen that seem like magic to know what we want before we ourselves are aware of it. We’ve been profiled and segmented into silos of various commercial and governmental systems that can utilize the traces of our online lives to know more than we ourselves know about our hopes and dreams, our fears and nightmares. Cannibalized by a Leviathan who never sleeps we’ve become enslaved in a data based systems of traces that moves as we moves, thinks as we think, knows as we know in an uncanny and frightening parody of our actual lives of flesh and blood. We’ve all become Golem’s in an electronic prison that shapes us more than we shape it.


*For digital rhetoricians, Stiegler’s notion of “grammatization” is particularly striking in that it suggests the beginnings of a theoretical framework for orienting rhetorical inquiry amid the interminable sea-change of new devices, software packages, and product features. Grammatization cultivates a perspective that is complimentary to and ultimately distinct from those associated with electracy, augmentation, remediation, and other canonical terms that rhetoricians and compositionists often borrow from media studies in order to frame their analyses of digital writing technologies.

“How can you remain autonomous in a world where you are under constant surveillance and are constantly prodded by algorithms run by some of the richest corporations in history, which have no way of making money except by being paid to manipulate your behavior?” asks Jaran Lanier in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.5 His answer is simple: just delete your social media accounts, begin freeing your lives from the digital Leviathan. As Wendy Hui Kyong Chun tells us

Rather than “consent once, circulate forever,” we need to find ways to loiter in public without being attacked. We need a politics of fore-giving that combats the politics of memory as storage, that fights for the ephemeral and fights not only for the right to be forgotten but also the right not to be stored in the first place. This reengagement with memory also entails a change in our habits of using—and our refusal of designs that undermine habituation by turning habits into forms of addiction, a refusal of undead information that renders us into zombies.(ibid.)

This notion that we should have the right to our memories, our data-files, our traces is at the core of the legalities of these issues of privacy and concern in the digital kingdom of Leviathan. Is it too late? Can we change things? Is disconnecting a way to begin while we sort out the misuses to which our profiled traces have so far been put? What is to be done?


  1. Stiegler, Bernard.Automatic Society: The Future of Work.  Polity; 1 edition (January 30, 2017) (Page 139).
  2. Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media. The MIT Press (May 27, 2016)
  3. Greenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide (Kindle Locations 55-56). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  4. Assange, Julian; Appelbaum, Jacob; Müller-Maguhn, Andy; Zimmermann, Jérémie. Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet (Kindle Locations 153-155). OR Books. Kindle Edition.
  5. Jaron Lanier. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Kindle Locations 35-36). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Bernard Stiegler: Fascism with a Machinic Smile

What is at stake in the new social organization that we must dream, conceive and realize – that is, establish and institute as the therapeia of the new pharmakon – is the time of knowledge…

—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society

In this sense Bernard Stiegler envisions our exit from the industrial age as a foregone conclusion, exiting from the Fordist and Post-Fordist paradigms, exiting from Taylorism, Keynesianism and the consumerist capitalism which has underpinned our society for decades.  We must organize the economy and society differently, including the elaboration and transmission of knowledge itself. But to get there he sees our need for an epistemic sea change as we enter an age when the end of employment becomes a reality rather than a hype story. The shock of this age will be brutal and deadly for many as we pass through the shock of “generalized automation and therefore robotization” of life, work and society. Stiegler sees this end game being played out even now, and how we anticipate and negotiate this transitional period over the coming decades will decide the fate not only of humanity but of the earth itself. Rather than adapting to the capitalist scenario and its coming explosion of violence we need to adopt a more inventive approach through a restructuring of our academic and political institutions.

Those in power are slowly converging toward a 24/7 computational capitalism that seeks to modulate and control our lives through the information and communications technologies of everyday life: the internet of things. This new form of governance has been termed ‘algorithmic governance’: it seeks through deep machine learning, Big Data, and powerful forms of predictive and analytical search and capture to manipulate our affective lives, capturing our desires and modulating our dreams and aspirations. Playing on our ancient propensity for the irrational, for religious and utopian expectations and dreams this new for of calculated society will provide both a secular and religious ideology of transhumanist immortalism. Offering those who comply and conform to the nomos of its globalized system of algorithmic governance a world of security and plenty. Fascism with a machinic smile.

Short circuiting the political processes that have underpinned the illusion of democratic societies for two hundred years, the new form of global governance through technics and algorithmic prediction unbound from any sovereign nation will enslave us to a system that offers nothing but our loyalty in exchange for total conformity. From birth to death one will become part of a machinic civilization in which implants meant as bio-metric health monitors will track and upload/download data and services into our physical lives 24/7. The shock of such a world system will arrive only after the traumatic conclusion of a staged event that will force humanity to conform to the new nomos (law) of the global society of the future. At least this is the capitalist dream…

Obviously such a world is a dystopic nightmare that only the insane would seek to inhabit, and yet as many in my own generation die off and the new children arising are molded to the integral and systematic infusion of social-media and systems of algorithmic governance by way of mobile phones, apps, and decisioning software that is based on smart systems: AGI, Cloud computing, Big Data, Deep Machine Learning, etc. These young people will not have access to the knowledge base of those like us who lived before the digital age. Those born within the horizon of the digital world will accept at face value that this is the way the world works without questioning it because they will no longer be educated to think for themselves, but rather to rely on intelligent devices to do that for them.

Of course Stiegler as a humanist harbors hope that we can turn this all around, that we can reinvent a more equitable future, that we can reshape technics and technology to guide humanity out of such a scenario rather than being enslaved to it. For Stiegler we are living in a world in which massive data flows of petabytes of information are shaped and governed by both private and governmental agencies to the benefit of a small elite of oligarchs, plutocrats, and transnational corporations who have built a nomos outside the sovereignty of any one nation to curtail or crush. In a sense our future is being programmed for us by machinic intelligences that know us better than we know ourselves.

Sometimes I think: Is this all a fantasy? Are we really living in an age when superintelligent machines will shape and guide the future of human society and civilization? Is this madness? It’s like a nightmare from which I would hope to awaken, and yet there are hundreds of books contesting this very possibility on the Left and Right sides of the fence. It’s not a dream, but a strange and bewildering world that the generation born today will have to understand and change or suffer the consequences. Sadly.

Nietzsche forecast this as the age of completed nihilism, an age when humans have externalized their cultural memory in machines to the point that they had forgotten its meaning. An age when the history of the earth and humanity would be forgotten by the vast masses who had become so enamored of their technological gadgets that reading a book or gazing on a forest had been displaced by the momentary text message binding the human gaze to an electronic world of machinic intelligence. What my friend R. Scott Bakker termed the ‘crash space‘ of our end game is upon us all. That we’ve always worked with very little information about ourselves or our environment is a part of our evolutionary heritage which gave us only enough information to survive and propagate our species. We neglect most of the world around us through eons of evolutionary processes we are barely coming to understand in our own time. Those who are seeking to reverse engineer the brain to build superintelligent systems work within a naturalized and empirical world of scientific know-how that precludes our ethical and moral dilemmas. Guided by the almighty need to know, and the money of vast conglomerates that support these new convergent technologies thousands of engineers and scientists, skilled workers in this digital economy are inventing the very machinic world that might someday replace us. One wonders if all the effort being expended on such projects were spent to develop ways of surviving the coming disastrous results of the Anthropocene what kind of world our children would inherit rather than the one the neoliberal engine of capital seems bent of inventing. Who knows?


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work. Polity; 1 edition (January 30, 2017)

 

Marx vs. Bawerk: Labor Theory of Prices

As early as 1847, Marx wrote that prices were determined on a microeconomic scale by the everyday interaction of supply and demand. Böhm von Bawerk criticized Marx’s analysis on the grounds that products cannot exchange in proportion to their values if there is such a thing as a general rate of profit.  He was right, but this was exactly the point that Marx was making. The brilliance of Marx’s model consisted in showing how an advanced system based on production for exchange would inevitably diverge from the premises of simple commodity production. “The transformation of values into prices of production serves to obscure the basis for determining value itself,” as he wrote. Marx did not predict that individual prices would express labor values, but that individual prices would diverge further and further from labor values as capitalism developed. The purpose of labor theory is not to allow us to predict the prices of individual commodities, but to understand how a system of value production inevitably collapses.1


  1. Reynolds, Ben. The Coming Revolution: Capitalism in the 21st Century (Kindle Locations 1510-1520). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Karl Marx: Prelude to the Automatic Society

 

In machinery, knowledge appears as alien, external to him; and living labour [as] subsumed under self-activating objectified labour.

—Karl Marx, Grundrisse 

Karl Marx in the Grundrisse would offer us a vision of the machinic society, a vision in which self-motivated intelligent machines would come to realize the actual and real movement of capital itself. He would speak of the incorporation of labor into the process of capital whose ultimate “culmination is the machine”*, or – as he’d put it: an automatic system of machinery (system of machinery: the automatic one is merely its most complete, most adequate form, and alone transforms machinery into a system), set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages. He would see a point in time when human labor would be superseded by the automatic machines driven by their own mechanical laws. He would describe this automated world of intelligent machines saying,

Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it…

 In an evolutionary insight he would see the replacement of human labor in the workplace as a momentary aspect of a longer and more evolving system of machinic capital, and as the outcome of the capital process which was tending in ever accelerating modalities toward Autonomization:

The transformation of the means of labour into machinery, and of living labour into a mere living accessory of this machinery, as the means of its action, also posits the absorption of the labour process in its material character as a mere moment of the realization process of capital.

He would already envision the technoscientific community under the guidance of capital investment and control as underwriting this fully automated intelligent society that capital was evolving toward:

The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself.

This sense that the machine was an alien and alienating power fully autonomous and outside the human, and in fact already acting upon humanity and transforming and shaping it into its own ends rather than those of humanity itself is at the core of his diagnosis. This inhuman turn toward capital autonomy in a machinic society fully automated in which humans were mere agents and parasitic hosts to be used by capital toward its own ends comes out clearly in this passage:

Machinery appears, then, as the most adequate form of fixed capital, and fixed capital, in so far as capital’s relations with itself are concerned, appears as the most adequate form of capital as such.


* Linking the full passage from the Grundrisse:

As long as the means of labour remains a means of labour in the proper sense of the term, such as it is directly, historically, adopted by capital and included in its realization process, it undergoes a merely formal modification, by appearing now as a means of labour not only in regard to its material side, but also at the same time as a particular mode of the presence of capital, determined by its total process – as fixed capital. But, once adopted into the production process of capital, the means of labour passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the machine, or rather, an automatic system of machinery (system of machinery: the automatic one is merely its most complete, most adequate form, and alone transforms machinery into a system), set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages. In the machine, and even more in machinery as an automatic system, the use value, i.e. the material quality of the means of labour, is transformed into an existence adequate to fixed capital and to capital as such; and the form in which it was adopted into the production process of capital, the direct means of labour, is superseded by a form posited by capital itself and corresponding to it. In no way does the machine appear as the individual worker’s means of labour. Its distinguishing characteristic is not in the least, as with the means of labour, to transmit the worker’s activity to the object; this activity, rather, is posited in such a way that it merely transmits the machine’s work, the machine’s action, on to the raw material – supervises it and guards against interruptions. Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it; and it consumes coal, oil etc. (matières instrumentales), just as the worker consumes food, to keep up its perpetual motion. The worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself. The appropriation of living labour by objectified labour – of the power or activity which creates value by value existing for-itself – which lies in the concept of capital, is posited, in production resting on machinery, as the character of the production process itself, including its material elements and its material motion. The production process has ceased to be a labour process in the sense of a process dominated by labour as its governing unity. Labour appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living workers at numerous points of the mechanical system; subsumed under the total process of the machinery itself, as itself only a link of the system, whose unity exists not in the living workers, but rather in the living (active) machinery, which confronts his individual, insignificant doings as a mighty organism. In machinery, objectified labour confronts living labour within the labour process itself as the power which rules it; a power which, as the appropriation of living labour, is the form of capital. The transformation of the means of labour into machinery, and of living labour into a mere living accessory of this machinery, as the means of its action, also posits the absorption of the labour process in its material character as a mere moment of the realization process of capital. The increase of the productive force of labour and the greatest possible negation of necessary labour is the necessary tendency of capital, as we have seen. The transformation of the means of labour into machinery is the realization of this tendency. In machinery, objectified labour materially confronts living labour as a ruling power and as an active subsumption of the latter under itself, not only by appropriating it, but in the real production process itself; the relation of capital as value which appropriates value-creating activity is, in fixed capital existing as machinery, posited at the same time as the relation of the use value of capital to the use value of labour capacity; further, the value objectified in machinery appears as a presupposition against which the value-creating power of the individual labour capacity is an infinitesimal, vanishing magnitude; the production in enormous mass quantities which is posited with machinery destroys every connection of the product with the direct need of the producer, and hence with direct use value; it is already posited in the form of the product’s production and in the relations in which it is produced that it is produced only as a conveyor of value, and its use value only as condition to that end. In machinery, objectified labour itself appears not only in the form of product or of the product employed as means of labour, but in the form of the force of production itself. The development of the means of labour into machinery is not an accidental moment of capital, but is rather the historical reshaping of the traditional, inherited means of labour into a form adequate to capital. The accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital, in so far as it enters into the production process as a means of production proper. Machinery appears, then, as the most adequate form of fixed capital, and fixed capital, in so far as capital’s relations with itself are concerned, appears as the most adequate form of capital as such. In another respect, however, in so far as fixed capital is condemned to an existence within the confines of a specific use value, it does not correspond to the concept of capital, which, as value, is indifferent to every specific form of use value, and can adopt or shed any of them as equivalent incarnations. In this respect, as regards capital’s external relations, it is circulating capital which appears as the adequate form of capital, and not fixed capital.


  1. Karl Marx. Grundrisse. Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (November 7, 1993)

General Intellect: Social Control and Abstract Culture

But machinery does not just act as a superior competitor to the worker, always on the point of making him superfluous. It is a power inimical to him, and capital proclaims this fact loudly and deliberately, as well as making use of it. It is the most powerful weapon for suppressing strikes, those periodic revolts of the working class against the autocracy of capital.

—Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1

How things turn fascist or revolutionary is the problem of the universal delirium about which everyone is silent…

—Deleuze/Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

Ominously as if he’d already seen the tendency within capitalism to strip itself of the human worker, to replicate its substance-as-virtual entity, replace it with a more efficient, uniform, controlled, and automated world of never-ending production, Marx in a section of the first volume of Das Kapital would state:

It would be possible to write a whole history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of providing capital with weapons against working-class revolt. We would mention, above all, the self-acting mule*, because it opened up a new epoch in the automatic system.1

One could argue that at its core capitalism is machinic through and through, that its inherent tendency has always been toward automation and Autonomization. That its inherent mode of production and being is machinic self-organization, the complex operative program of becoming autonomous and independent of its parasitic relations with its progenitors – humanity.  Marx as if reading the current news on our coming fully automated society in which workers – both manual and knowledge workers, are displaced by the advanced systems of synthetic intelligence whose expertise in calculable decision making will shape the financial and governmental algorithmic control society we are entering:

The instrument of labour, when it takes the form of a machine, immediately becomes a competitor of the worker himself. The self-valorization of capital by means of the machine is related directly to the number of workers whose conditions of existence have been destroyed by it. The whole system of capitalist production is based on the worker’s sale of his labour-power as a commodity. The division of labour develops this labour-power in a one-sided way, by reducing it to the highly particularized skill of handling a special tool. When it becomes the job of the machine to handle this tool, the use-value of the worker’s labour-power vanishes, and with it its exchange-value. The worker becomes unsaleable, like paper money thrown out of currency by legal enactment. The section of the working class thus rendered superfluous by machinery, i.e. converted into a part of the population no longer directly necessary for the self-valorization of capital… (ibid.) [emphasis mine]

Marx himself will produce examples of such displacement during the first industrial revolution in which in England when the power-loom was replaced by automation 800,000 weavers were tossed onto the streets where they lived in papery and squalor. He’ll also mention colonial India where the English cotton machinery produced an acute effect. The Governor General reported as follows in 1834–5: ‘The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce. The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India.’ (ibid.)

Commenting on this Automatic System and the Society that promotes it Marx states:

Whenever a process requires peculiar dexterity and steadiness of hand, it is withdrawn, as soon as possible, from the cunning workman, who is prone to irregularities of many kinds, and it is placed in charge of a peculiar mechanism, so self-regulating that a child can superintend it. (ibid.)

Martin Ford documenting the rise of advanced technologies in our own time reminds us that as machines take on that routine, predictable work, workers will face an unprecedented challenge as they attempt to adapt. In the past, automation technology has tended to be relatively specialized and to disrupt one employment sector at a time, with workers then switching to a new emerging industry. The situation today is quite different. Information technology is a truly general-purpose technology, and its impact will occur across the board. Virtually every industry in existence is likely to become less labor-intensive as new technology is assimilated into business models—and that transition could happen quite rapidly. At the same time, the new industries that emerge will nearly always incorporate powerful labor-saving technology right from their inception.2

In fact as he states it our situation could even be more dire: “the frightening reality is that if we don’t recognize and adapt to the implications of advancing technology, we may face the prospect of a “perfect storm” where the impacts from soaring inequality, technological unemployment, and climate change unfold roughly in parallel, and in some ways amplify and reinforce each other” (ibid.). As Marx would say in an earlier tract, Grundrisse:

Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it.3

This notion that society has “come under the control of the general intellect” pervades Marx’s conception of capital and knowledge. As Paul Virno stipulates Marx’s notion of the ‘general intellect’ “claims that, due to its autonomy from it, abstract knowledge – primarily yet not only of a scientific nature – is in the process of becoming no less than the main force of production and will soon relegate the repetitious labour of the assembly line to the fringes. This is the knowledge objectified in fixed capital and embedded in the automated system of machinery.”4 Virno will explicate, saying,

Because it organizes the productive process and the ‘lifeworld’, the general intellect is indeed an abstraction, but it is a real abstraction, endowed with a material and operative character. Nevertheless, since it consists of knowledges, informations, and epistemological paradigms, the general intellect distinguishes itself in the most peremptory manner from the ‘real abstractions’ which were typical of modernity: those, that is, which give rise to the principle of equivalence. While money, i.e. the ‘universal equivalent’ embodies in its independent existence the commensurability of products, labor, subjects, the general intellect establishes instead the analytical premises for every kind of praxis. The models of social knowledge do not equate the various laboring activities, but present themselves as ‘immediate productive force’. They are not a unit of measurement but constitute the immeasurable presupposition for heterogeneous operative possibilities. This mutation in the nature of ‘real abstractions’/the fact, that is, that it is abstract knowledge rather than the exchange of equivalents which orders social relations*/has important effects at the level of affects … it is the basis of contemporary cynicism [since it] occludes the possibility of a synthesis [and] does not offer the unit of measurement for a comparison, it frustrates every unitary representation. (Virno 2002, 149/150; Virno 2004, 63/6)

Alberto Toscano commenting on the above passage tells us that “by turning our attention to the informational praxis that has become inseparable from the production of values in a supposedly knowledge- and affect centered economy, Virno is suggesting that the ‘general intellect’ (the collective potential for thought embodied in a cooperative multitude) qua real abstraction constitutes a directly politicized form of abstraction, which is now beyond equivalence and beyond measure, directly addressing the cooperative and socialized character of abstract knowledge. In other words, what is posited here is a real abstraction beyond the commodity form: a real abstraction that is driven not by the fetishized reality of commodity-exchange, but by the cognitive and intellectual cooperation within a ‘multitude’.”5

Marx claimed that, due to its autonomy from it, abstract knowledge – primarily yet not only of a scientific nature – is in the process of becoming no less than the main force of production and will soon relegate the repetitious labour of the assembly line to the fringes. This is the knowledge objectified in fixed capital and embedded in the automated system of machinery such as advanced search and capture programs of Google, the analytic engines of FaceBook, etc., and the surveillance systems of advanced NSA algorithms that track and index behavior of terror abroad and domestic. Marx uses an attractive metaphor to refer to the knowledges that make up the epicentre of social production and preordain all areas of life: general intellect. ‘The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it’. (ibid.)

In our age of Big Data, Cloud computing, and the embarkation of ‘cognitive capitalism’ as it merges with algorithmic governmentality and social control of scientific and cultural knowledge as part of a machinic ‘general intellect’ (AGI) “abstraction enters into the very materiality of the production process and does not just concern the form of exchange” (Toscano, 13). With the rise of ICT’s (Information and Communications Technologies) and the migration of human knowledge into the tertiary storage systems of the trace (data) the synthetic intelligences emerging along with the interfaces that capture human attention and abstract it into the dividuum (Infosphere) in which abstractions operate on abstractions we are seeing the inhuman core of capitalist Autonomization.

In such a society of traces in which our desires and thoughts are captured as raw data and filtered through systems of high-speed computing that expose us not as flesh and blood humans, but rather as dividuals – digital avatars to whose electronic body (datafile) information can be inscribed and bound we’ve been incorporated into an automatic society of hyper-control founded on the hyperindustrial, systemic and systematic exploitation of our externalized digital memories. As Bernard Stiegler we’ll say of it: “All aspects of behaviour thereby come to generate traces (data), and all traces become objects of calculation” to be massaged within an abstract system of pure abstractions.6

For Marx the general intellect poses the question of knowledge by what we call tertiary retention (our exteriorized cultural and personal memories marked, inscripted, indexed, filtered, and analyzed in technological systems). Machinic retention therefore amounts to knowledge materialized for  production, but no longer by it: conception is separated from production. The materialization of knowledge thus conceived and concretized then constitutes the heart of the hyperindustrial economic dynamic, and ultimately leads us to Marx’s question of automatization as such. That these algorithmic entities or synthetic intelligences are not concerned with us as external flesh and blood creatures, but rather with our traces and externalized/formalized features as electronic-digitized products of capitalist production; as such, our tertiary memories can be objectified, mapped, and abstracted into cognitive capitalist organizational flows to be used by the techno-commercium for further profit and exploitation is central the inhuman process of automatization of knowledge in our time. What is left outside the technocommercium of the datafied matrix is the stupefied flesh of the human death machine of sociality we conceive under the sign of the Anthropocene.


*The spinning mule was invented in 1779 by Samuel Compton after the invention of the spinning jenny and the water frame. The spinning mule was used to spin different types of fibers. The way it works is the following: a sliver or a roving of wool passes between a set of rollers. The roller draws a part the wool fibers achieving a finer and smoother sliver. The roving then spurns on bare spindles which are mounted on a moving carriage. The moving spindles draw and spin the yarn but still without any tension and therefore achieving a strong yarn that can be spurned without being broken in the process. In 1834 Richard Roberts added a camshaft, quadrant and winding chain to the regular mule in order to produce a self-acting mule. The self acting mule was considered a huge invention because human assistance was not required and therefore became the most important machine in the textile industry in the nineteenth century. The self – acting mule could spin all type of yarns; very fine yarns as well as very coarse yarns.


  1. Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 (Classics) (Kindle Locations 7999-8002). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  2. Martin Ford. Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (Kindle Locations 175-180). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
  3. Karl Marx. Grundrisse (Kindle Locations 12143-12147). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  4. Paolo Virno, “General Intellect” in Lessico Postfordista, Milano: Feltrinelli, 2001.
  5. Toscano, Alberto. Rethinking Marxism: The Open Secret of Real Abstraction. Online Publication Date: 01 April 2008
  6. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work. Polity; 1 edition (January 30, 2017)

Techno-Optimism: A Future Worth Living In?

 

Techno-optimism is an ideology that embodies the pessimism and the optimism above: the concern that technology could be used to make the world worse, the hope that it can be steered to make the world better.

—Cory Doctorow, Techno-Optimism

I’m a pessimist trying to turn himself into an optimist.

Neal Stephenson, Project Hieroglph

The wavering  oscillation between pessimism and optimism has always been a part of the literature of technology, a sort of eternal battle between two modes of life and thought. And, yet, at times there is this crossing of the rift in-between as if the two enemies might have something to offer each other that could at least spell a momentary truce. Such is our moment that some have begun labeling the Anthropocene.  A wake up call from the edge of thought that would have us understand just how ill-equipped we are in the face of our own impact on civilization and the environment upon which we all depend. Some of hose who affirm that technology always holds the power to be used for good or ill, and yet beyond the Luddite fringe who would do away with our technological supplements altogether there are those who see this duplicity, the two-handed sword that is technology for what it is: the necessary and reciprocal core of the inhuman we all bare as our ancestral mark. For as those who advocate orginary technicity would have it: the “who” of humanity and the “what” of technology, to use Stiegler’s well-known formula, are bound together in an insoluble, aporetic relation. Our relation to technology has always had this since of insoluble questioning associated with it and its place in our lives. Techno-pessimist will tend to see it under the critical eye of technological determinism, portraying our love affair with technology as dangerous and wrongheaded. While techno-optimists will understand this double-edged sword, but see beyond the dangers the possible reward in turning technology to human uses that allow for transformation in the optative mood.

Nicholas Agar believes that techno-optimism is dangerous, that those who harbor a view that technology should become a part of the answer not the problem in this transitional world in-between utopia and dystopia that pervades our future prospects:

I think that this techno-optimism is mistaken. It significantly exaggerates the power of technological progress to boost well-being. Suppose that it’s true that many new technologies bring considerable benefits to the individuals who acquire or experience them. We err in translating improvements in individual well-being into predictions about the long-term effects of technological progress on society. Predictably happier individuals don’t necessarily make a predictably happier society.

Of course the notion of progress both in the techno-scientific and socio-cultural milieux led to a deep rift in the 1950’s between the literary crowd and those of the scientific community.  C.P. Snow would sum it up this way:

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?

I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.1

Facing the future of climate change many techno-pessimists paint a bleak picture of devastation, ruin, and the end of civilization as we’ve come to know it. Using climate change as a weapon against the techno-optimistic vision they will advocate a dystopian world of decay without end. As Roy Scranton will put it:

Global warming is not the latest version of a hoary fable of annihilation. It is not hysteria. It is a fact. And we have likely already passed the point where we could have done anything about it. From the perspective of many policy experts, climate scientists, and national security officials, the concern is not whether global warming exists or how we might prevent it, but how we are going to adapt to life in the hot, volatile world we’ve created.2

There is a name for this new world: the Anthropocene. The word comes from ancient Greek. All the epochs of the most recent geological era (the Cenozoic) end in the suffix “-cene,” from kainós, meaning new. Anthropos means human. The idea behind the term “Anthropocene” is that we have entered a new epoch in Earth’s geological history, one characterized by the advent of the human species as a geological force. 16 The biologist Eugene F. Stoermer and the Nobel-winning chemist Paul Crutzen advanced the term in 2000, and it has gained acceptance as evidence has grown that the changes wrought by global warming will affect not only the world’s climate and biodiversity, but its very geological structure, and not just for centuries, but for millennia.(ibid.)

Even the famed father of socio-biology and entomologist Edward O. Wilson has joined the dark riders of techno-pessimism. For him we are moving toward absolute catastrophe unless we are willing to take drastic measures:

For the first time in history a conviction has developed among those who can actually think more than a decade ahead that we are playing a global endgame. Humanity’s grasp on the planet is not strong. It is growing weaker. Our population is too large for safety and comfort. Fresh water is growing short, the atmosphere and the seas are increasingly polluted as a result of what has transpired on the land. The climate is changing in ways unfavorable to life, except for microbes, jellyfish, and fungi. For many species it is already fatal. Because the problems created by humanity are global and progressive, because the prospect of a point of no return is fast approaching, the problems can’t be solved piecemeal. There is just so much water left for fracking, so much rain forest cover available for soybeans and oil palms, so much room left in the atmosphere to store excess carbon.3

In Wilson’s recent book he would even advocate the drastic notion that the only way we can overcome the immediate impact of human degradation on the biodiversity of the planet is a quarantine, stating that by setting “aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival (ibid.).”

Some like Peter Townsand believe there is a way out of this quagmire, that we “can overcome many of these future difficulties if we have sufficient information, data, knowledge, and understanding, but knowledge and data now vanish ever more quickly in new storage formats”.4 This loss of knowledge in its exteriorization has been documented repeatedly by Bernard Stiegler as the reduction of humanity to a set of calculable ciphers in the mathematical world of algorithmic governmentality in the data-driven economy:

Such mathematics is applied twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week: everyday life is thereby subjected to reticular standards and calculations, while at the same time consumer markets are ‘personalized’. According to Johnathan Crary (24/7), this economy of personal data aims “to reduce decision-making time and to eliminate the useless time of reflection and contemplation”. Digital automatons short-circuit the deliberative functions of the mind, and systemic stupidity, which has been installed across the board from consumers to speculators, becomes functionally drive-based as soon as ultra-liberalism begins to privilege speculation and discourage investment, thereby crossing a threshold of ‘functional stupidity’. 5

This is the era of completed nihilism in which humans rely on external (tertiary) systems and artificial intelligence to make decisions and think for them. Humans in a few generations will lose the ability to reflect and think, make choices on their own without turning to their avatar agents and robotic intelligences for answers to the most pressing problems of their lives. In the automatic society that Deleuze was never to know, but which with Félix Guattari he anticipated, in particular when they referred to dividuals, control passes through the mechanical liquidation of descernment, the liquidation of what Aristotle called krion – from krino, a verb that has the same root as krisis, ‘decision’. The discernment that Kant called understanding (Verstand) has been automatized as the analytical (algorithmic) power delegated to algorithms executed through sensors and actuators operating according to formalized instructions that lie outside any intuition in the Kantian sense – that is, outside experience. (Stiegler) In such as society as ours we are being shaped by social media which is data driven and proactive in promoting absolute control through automated decision making processes from censorship to segmentation of silos and echo chambers for the digital stupefaction of the masses. In such a world freedom is another word for absolute blindness without insight. Our blindness to the ubiquitous world of code that rules our lives has made us apathetic and conforming toward its movement to regulate and modulate our minds and lives. Can we change this around? Do we have the courage to disconnect from the dark side of algorithmic control? Can we turn technology to other ends than those of the Oligarchs and Silicon billionaires who seem bent on shaping our desires to their ends rather than our own? Is there any reason to be optimistic?

 

On a personal note I, too, have become a techno-optimist in the sense that Corey Doctorow and Neal Stephenson advocate, this sense that yes technology can be used by nefarious and unscrupulous individuals, corporations, and nations to enslave, imprison, and control their societies and cultures. We see this in the academic sphere where funding more and more has become privatized and large corporations dictate the direction of education in these institutions. We see it in corporations, banking institutions, and other transnational entities as they seek to bend the global world to their own profiteering ends in the form of big pharma, insurance, food and seed monopolies, as well as financial enslavement of poor countries to the point of environmental degradation and resource wars. And, yet, we’ve also seen over the past few hundred years the use of technology for human and non-human advocacy in overcoming many of the issues of famine, war, and disease that have plagued humankind and the environment for tens of thousands of years. So there will continue this dangerous side of technology if placed in the hands of the profiteers at the expense of the environment and human civilization. No only will the impact on non-human plant and animal life become degraded and depleted in biodiversity, but if not curtailed it will spell the ruination of our human shared future. Yet, the optimistic side pulls me to believe that we are also on the brink of a bright tomorrow if we can curb the dark and sinister forces toward other ends. It’s this political side of technology that interests me at the moment. We cannot afford the Luddite smashing of the machines in our time. We need technology. No, it doesn’t have all the fixes, only humans do – and those other non-humans we share the planet with. But unless we begin to work together nothing … absolutely nothing will save us from this dire prognosis outlined by so many factual prognosticators from both the scientific and humanitarian divide. We must act now or never. For me the answer is simple: technology can and should be part of the solution rather than the obstacle.

 

 


  1. Across the Great Divide“. Nature Physics. 5 (5): 309. 2009. doi:10.1038/nphys1258.
  2. Scranton, Roy. Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 115-118). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition
  3. Edward O. Wilson. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (Kindle Locations 54-60). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
  4. Peter Townsend. The Dark Side of Technology. OUP Oxford; 1 edition (January 19, 2017)
  5. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work. Polity; 1 edition (January 30, 2017)