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)

 

3 thoughts on “Bernard Stiegler: Fascism with a Machinic Smile

  1. Reading the citation with which you begin and thinking about most of the words in it I am taken aback by how technical they all are. Words like “social oraganizing”, “dreaming”, “conceiving”, “instituting”, “therapeutic care”, “pharmaka”, and the “know-how” of “free time”. It is like a collection of organic tools of an emancipatory workshop used to bring about the dream of a future place or Thing which in a way already I sense it/them moving me. Moving me in the sense that it and the transitional supports of the tools, the pharmaka, already are forming habits of thinking which are mending a shattered capacity to function because my proletarization that I am always struggling against destroys any know-how that I can use during my free time. Proletarization is also destroying my capacity to dream the dream I find I share with Stiegler of a futuristic mature emancipatory social network. If it destroys dreaming it destroys the desire that underlies the understanding of my know-how. It destroys my ability to care because my noetic, intellectual, or spiritual life becomes full of unclear and confused thoughts that are dysfunctional.

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    • I understand. Yes, Stiegler’s Ars Industrialis is such an experimental institute for such praxis. And, yet, one wonders how effective it will be? I read his material for a Society of Care as well and realize like many before him such an idea is beautiful but impractical for the larger mass of humans who are always already being incorporated through inclusion/exclusion ary practices into this atomized world of end game capitalism. Without a social movement that speaks across borders, that speaks to the average prole in the street, rather than as in Stiegler to an educated and sophisticated audience nothing will change. Short of a spiritual revolution across the planet (and, by that, I don’t mean… religious!) in our ethos and forms of reason our hope for a different future, an alternative to the neoliberal bullshit above seems almost mute. Most of the transhuman crapology is for the few and rich, while as usual the rest of humanity will be sacrificed in spurious wars, famines, and pestilence… I don’t have any answers, only more questions.

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      • I have only a quick answer right now which I am sure I will think otherwise later since your question addresses a process always under formation, deformation, reformation and so on. An elliptical reference by Stiegler this morning to Bateson’s famous essay on the cybernetic self and alcoholism lead to me to read it today and there I found an example of that which is not an “idea” or Ars Industrialis understood as a static something or noun but that which already engages me today that helps me express the story of how I came to terms with my powerlessness and started learning to withdraw or run away and hide. My concern is with the tools of this skillset or process of withdrawing exit. This is a work in progress but today I definitely understand that the effect of proletarianization on me results in a variety of repetitive compulsive disorders characteristic of addiction that also takes over my attention span. I think this is not just a problem of abject situations of poverty and powerlessness but speaks to all even the 1%. I am part of the lunchbucket crowd actually people at my job bring lunches to work sometimes in a grocery bag like me but I guess I can put on a t-shirt like Zizek and do a good impression of someone who has conformed to elitist academic jargonology and write books that mostly have near zero emancipatory capacity or therapeutic effect. My concern that I take from reading elite literature is practical as it is for any amateur I would say. Why would anyone not concerned with making a profession of academia be concerned about anything else than what, in my case, gives me freedom from repetitive compulsive disorders and attention deficit disorders? I read books and blogs and browse for which help me in the care of myself and try to balance that with frivolous entertainment that sometimes becomes addictive.

        I am not discussing something or an interactive self that is already there in front of me like this computer that I took a moment to look at as I paused and gathered my thoughts together and left them dangling in a kind open space without objects, most of the words in your starting citation are not objects and their meaning is not pointing to the construction of an object that can attract my attention and activate my understanding into doing more thinking than is necessary right now. Sometimes it is better to just take care that attention doesn’t get involved in anything expansive and let it dangle… in order to make room for the process of the tool(s) of the workshop and give them a chance to leave an impression and through constant repetition begin let them form a new memory and a new habit that is not unhealthy and destructive like addictive behaviours of a false enslaved self. So there is this story-process that is larger than me and mostly comes from the outside of the birth of a free self that oddly has freedom because it no longer puts up a fight against the enslaved self that it is but begins to see the silver lining in an inability to fight heroically against who one is. Call it the authentic self but self as an ongoing process of formation, deformation, and reformation. Bateson describes this self in process when he tells us to “consider a blindman with a stick. Where does the blindman’s self begin? At the tip of the stick? At the handle of the stick? Or at some point halfway up the stick? These questions are nonsense, because the stick is a pathway along which differences are transmitted under transformation, so that to draw a delimiting line across this pathway is to cut off a part of the systemic circuit which determines the blindman’s locomotion.” Another example he gives us is that of taking an axe to a tree: “Consider a man felling a tree with an axe. Each stroke of the axe is modified or corrected, according to the shape of the cut face of the tree left by the previous stroke. This self-corrective (i.e., mental) process is brought about by a total system, tree-eyes-brain-muscles-axe-stroke-tree; and it is this total system that has the characteristics of immanent mind.”

        His conclusion is this: “the average Occidental sees the event-sequence of tree-felling. He says, “I cut down the tree” and he even believes that there is a delimited agent, the “self,” which performed a delimited “purposive” action upon a delimited object. It is all very well to say that “billiard ball A hit billiard ball B and sent it into the pocket”; and it would perhaps be all right (if we could do it) to give a complete hard science account of the events all around the circuit containing the man and the tree. But popular parlance includes mind in its utterance by invoking the personal pronoun, and then achieves a mixture of mentalism and physicalism by restricting mind within the man and reifying the tree. Finally the mind itself becomes reified by the notion that, since the “self’ acted upon the axe which acted upon the tree, the “self’ must also be a “thing.” The parallelism of syntax between “I hit the billiard ball” and “the ball hit another ball” is totally misleading. ”

        What kind of effect are you looking for?

        I think it is helpful to identify real problems like addiction and lack of an attention span that we all suffer from to some extent and trust the process found in solutions that have and are proving effective. Raising again the signs of a future emancipatory social network that as a dream is yet to come and as I keep trying to say has no proper name, is not a noun or static entity out there to look at and to adapt to but rather we adopt through individuated interiorization;– one such sign is that it has people who can tell a story of struggling with some kind of effect* of proletarianization mostly in vain in my case until I saw it was less a case of struggling against or opposing but accepting and finding the guys with the exit lights who had all the experience in running away and hiding.

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