The Anti-God in the Sewers: Werewolves, Rats, and Poetry

“Let us not forget that philosophy is also primate psychology; that our loftiest speculations are merely picking through a minuscule region of the variegated slime encrusting a speck of dust.”      – Nick Land, Spirit and Teeth

“Your words, Euthyphro, are like the handiwork of my ancestor Daedalus; and if I were the sayer or propounder of them, you might say that my arguments walk away and will not remain fixed where they are placed because I am a descendant of his.”      – Socrates


Nick Land finds neither a god in the sewers and underworlds, nor even the ancient leprous visage of a comic Yahweh hiding in shadows, so much as he does his poseur, an imposter and fretful son, a shapeshifting shaman or Loki of the dark labyrinths – a werewolf and Rat King of an “inferior race” (Rimbaud). Such a creature is neither prodigal nor charmed, but rather the last fragmentary hope of a broken and threadbare messiah, not of truth and life, but of death and despair: a god of mud and slime living among the black and brown rats like a subterranean king in the cesspool of a tumorous thought. No longer the great god of the Old Testament, this forgotten shadow Yahweh mimicry lives among his own brethren and inferiors, regressed to his true form as the King of Rats and Werewolves: his vermin-core eating alive all those false religions and philosophies that still inhabit this dark bunghole of our globe.

This is the vision of poets, one such as Georg Trakl (the lycanthropic metamorphosis of god into beast, into rat, being fed by a young boy during those twilight moments between day and night):

“In the evening, the father became an old man; in dark rooms the mother’s face petrified, and the curse of the degenerated race weighed on the boy. Sometimes he remembered his childhood filled with sickness, terror and eclipse, secret games in the garden of stars, or feeding the rats in the dusking courtyard. From the blue mirror the narrow figure of the sister stepped and he fell as if dead into darkness. At night his mouth burst open like a red fruit and stars gleamed over his speechless grief. His dreams filled the ancient house of the fathers. In the evening he liked to walk over the ruined cemetery or watch the corpses in the dusking crypts, with green stains of rot on their beautiful hands” (Georg Trakl, Dream and Derangement).

Land tells us that “animality is not a state, essence, or genus, but a complex cross – cut by voyages of all kinds” (54). [1] This is the black world of dead-ends and stagnant sumps, open flows: a world in which things emerge multiple, fluid, unpredictable, shadow realms in which the enemy of humankind is a mutable excess metamorphosing, lupine and murine, a volcanic eruption of pure productivity without closure. As Land says, these “intensive sequences cannot be isolated or determined” (54). The darkness of one speaks to the darkness of the other. Meaning wanders from slime to slime like the hidden remains of strange creatures that have gone extinct only to emerge as something else, form within form evolving under the guise of some other form, masked only by the predatory gaze of their ferine eyes. Like everything else we have little time to ponder the niceties of either poetry or philosophy, Land explodes; and, in Trakl we discover the “lycanthropic vectors of  impatience, of twitch disease, because they are the virulent relics of an indecent precipitation, an abortion, a meteoric impact” (44). Dead a twenty-seven Trakl “took very little time over anything”, unlike philosophical purveyors of ‘spirit’ (Geist) like Derrida for whom time was an interminable trace of a trace never to be closed off.  For Derrida there is infinite patience, a staying off, a tomorrow into which one can spin the meanings of meaning, impress them in their moment of passage between the abyss and sky. With such a man there is no sense of urgency, only the “prescription of painstaking care, deliberation, conscientiousness, and reverential textual devotion” (44).

Languorous and methodical “inspired by principles of decency and justice. Everything is mediated by elucidations, re-elucidations, elucidations of previous elucidations, conducted with meticulous courtesy, but never inattentive to the complicity of the concept of elucidation with the history of metaphysics from Plato to the previous paragraph of De l’esprit” (44).  This is a man for whom even God must wait, be put off, stubbornly refused his day in the sun until just the right moment when the appropriate and appropriated words can be found: formed, shaped, and spun into a web of deceit, a lie against all anteriority, against both past and future – a staying of the hand of that impossible possible finitude (44), which only the interminable passage of ghosts can differ within the silence between two mourning alterity’s…

For Trakl and Rimbaud there is only the beast, the instinctive knowledge of the forest and the jungle, the emergence of slime in a dust born germ: the human into wolf, a darker force measuring itself against all darkness. The nihil gazing into the Void out of which the Nihil gazes back: a black thought in a black void silenced only by its own merciless capacity to destroy that which is not void. The broken dream of a broken god, a force that is at once life and death: the emergence of an entwined progeny – dueling twins warring against all that is, bringing with it the strange things that have no name or meaning. The positing of a non-meaning that gives rise to all meaning. Out of the gaze of humans emerges that which is not human, a force of the void that calls each to each from within the very core of a volcanic eruption that is our feral being: the ferocity of dust.

As Land tells us Derrida is not a werewolf (44). No. Werewolves “are dissipated within homolupic spiral that distances them utterly from all concern for decency or justice. Their feral physiologies are badly adapted to depressive states conducive to ethical earnestness. Instead they are propelled by extremities of libidinal tension which fragment their movements, break up their tracks with jagged discontinuities, and infest their nerves with a burning malaise, so that each gesture is baked in the kiln of ferocity” (44). Hermeneutics and deconstruction are of an other order than the dark materials of werewolves. No. One must follow the likes of Trakl to know the fast lane of the libidinal drivenness of werewolves, a philosophy of mutability and metamorphosis, a materiality that explodes all recursions to Geist. Or with Rimbaud one must affirm that one has always already been a subspecies “an inferior race” (45). As Rimbaud says: “I am not able to comprehend revolt. My race never stirs itself except for pillage: like wolves at the beast they have not killed” (45).

We werewolves of poetry are an “accursed race,” as Trakl told us; or, as his brother Rimbaud, we are a lost tribe “communicating its dirty blood in wilderness spaces of barbarian inarticulacy” 45). As Land tells us in one last dark epiphany: “Eternally aborting the prospect of a transcendental subjectivity, the inferior ones are never captured by contractual reciprocity, or by its attendant moral universalism” (45). These dark ones crave “pagan regressions”: it “is only with the greatest strictness that the superior ones repress the violent drives which lure them into inferior becomings; becoming female, black, irresponsible and nomadic, becoming an animal, a plant, a death spasm of the sun” (45). Only the cold bone moon can save such creatures from the dark nomadic wanderings of this feral abyss; the rest is Time’s cruel markings, the fragments of a void churning in an ocean of blackness:

The moon shines with such blue light
Upon the city,
Where a decaying generation
Lives, cold and evil –
I
cy winds quarrel in the darkness.

–  Georg Trakl, from both The Evening and The Rats

As Land would surmise in a sister essay,

The death of God is a religious event – a transgression, experiment in damnation, and stroke of antitheistic warfare – but this is not to say it is pre-eminently a crime. Hell has no interest in our debauched moral currency. To confuse reactive dabblings in sin with expeditions in damnation is Christian superficiality; the Dantean error of imagining that one could earn oneself an excursion in Hell, as if the infernal too was a matter of justice. Our crimes are mere stumblings on the path to ruin, just as every projected Hell on Earth is a strict exemplar of idolatry. Transgression is not criminal action, but tragic fate; the intersection of an economically programmed apocalypse with the religious antihistory of poetry. It is the inevitable occurrence of impossibility, which is not the same as death, but neither is it essentially different. (my italics)


  1. Of Derrida, Heidegger, and spirit ed. David C. Wood, Spirit and Teeth by Nick Land (Northwestern University 1993)

The Figure of the Fanatic: Kant’s End Game for Western Civilization

Reading Nick Land is always an exercise in honesty. He want pull he wool over your eyes. No. Instead he’ll strip you of all your illusions and delusions, leave you naked in the midst of a world of fanatics. In his essay ‘Delighted to Death’ he takes a quote from Emil Cioran writing about the differences between that ancient world of the Chinese Taoist, Lao Tzu whose practice of intense quietude is shown to be at war with the whole tradition of Western culture and civilization. Why? Simply put: Our culture is built upon the thirst for violent and ecstatic annihilation, we seek the total obliteration of all barriers to freedom, seek to overthrow all that upholds our minds, our hearts, our loves, our hates; we seek transcendence from the one thing we cannot transcend, our miserable lives.

As Land remarks,

Cioran quotes Lao Tsu’s maxim ‘the intense life is contrary to the Tao’, and compares the tranquility of the modest life with the thirst for annihilating ecstasy that has possessed the Western world. However, acknowledging the compulsion of his Occidental heritage, he remarks ‘I can pay homage to Lao Tsu a thousand times, but I am more likely to identify with an assassin’. Our culture, he argues, is essentially fanatical.1

In his A Short History of Decay Cioran would elaborate further, saying: “Far from diminishing the appetite for power, suffering exasperates it; hence the mind feels more comfortable in the society of a braggart than in that of a martyr; and nothing is more repugnant to it than the spectacle of dying for an idea. . . .”2 Land, a remarkable reader of Kant, would use that philosopher as the true figure of the fanatic, the culmination of our Western heritage in fanaticism. Kant would for Land typify the figure of the Secular Martyr – a fanatic for the universal:

It is worth remembering that a glimpse into Kant’s philosophy was sufficient to drive Kleist to suicide, and that Schopenhauer found in it the ethical imperative that existence be denied. Perhaps neither of these writers were ecclesiastical enough to enjoy the ghoulish cruelties that Kant explored. For Kant was a consummate saint, a cheerful man. He was not a stoic, but rather, faithful to his Christian heritage, a voluptuary of defeat.

A master of renunciation, a martyr of reason, a seeker of perfection and transcendence Kant would promote pain over pleasure, or to put it more succinct he would see in the perfection of pain the completed and satisfaction of pleasure. As Land echoes from Kant’s Anthropology, published in 1798, where Kant tells us:

Satisfaction is the feeling of the promotion; pain that of the obstruction of life. But life (of animals) is, as doctors have already noted, a continuous play of the antagonism of the two. Thus before every satisfaction there must first be pain; pain is always first. Because what would proceed from a continual promotion of living force, which does not let itself climb above a certain grade, other than a rapid death from delight?

Freud would learn a great deal from Kant and the suicidal poets that both feared and respected him. Yet, as Pierre Klossowski will tell us in his study of Nietzsche for whom Kant served as the figure of end game of Western culture and civilization:

A society believes itself to be morally justified through its scientists and artists. Yet the very fact that they exist – and that their creations exist – is evidence of the disintegrating malaise of the society; and it is by no means clear that they will be the ones to reintegrate the society, at least if they take their activity seriously.3

Decadence is at the heart of this pleasurable annihilation, a thirst that offers the organic animality within the human a return to its death driven dreams. Land commenting on this dark truth reminds us,

Uninhibited pleasure does not tend to the benefit of the organism, but rather, to its immolation. Or, more precisely, the enhancement of life is intrinsically bound to its abolition. Life is not consumed by death at its point of greatest depression, but at its peak, and inversely; it is only the brake provided by suffering that preserves the organism in its existence. It is pain that spares life for something other than an immediate and annihilating delight. So Kant suggests that pleasure is the combustion of life, and we survive by smouldering.

Ever a critic of the heritage of Christianity, Land will see in Kant the primal figure of the new religion of Capital, a religion that secularized the Christian art of martyrdom but promoting endless work and accumulation against the all too easy expenditure of pleasure and fulfillment. Rather Kant like a good Christian would have us renounce earthly pleasures of bodily love and endless delights in life for the never-ending delights of capital gain.  Commenting on Kant’s marriage of bourgeois capitalism with Christian fortitude and martyrdom says: “Only religion speaks the sort of language that could possibly affirm the conclusive loss of terrestrial pleasure, such as that which is represented by the subordination of consumption to the amassing of productive resources.” We would come to know it as the work ethic of the Germans which was adopted by the nations of this Western system of martyrdom and utilitarian dreams.

Land will cite several passages on the history of Christian martyrdom (which I’ll not quote) to make explicit the mindset of this old philosophaster from Konigsberg:

Kant learnt from Protestantism and secularism the necessity for internal discipline, so that, to a degree that was without philosophical precedent, he became the source of his own persecution. In the modem age, martyrdom has to become more systematic, independent of psychological and historical accident, or, to use Kant’s word, autonomous. Kant describes this new passional experience as sublime, and the theory corresponding to it is to be found in his Critique of Judgment.

Austerity.  A set of economic policies imposed on economies such as: cutting the state’s budget to stabilize public finances, restore competitiveness through wage cuts and create better investment expectations by lowering future tax burdens. Policies grouped under the term ‘austerity measures’ may include spending cuts, tax increases, or a mixture of both, and may be undertaken to demonstrate the government’s fiscal discipline to creditors and credit rating agencies by bringing revenues closer to expenditures.

In out time whole nations are forced into renunciation, bound within the secular martyrdom of Kant’s critique, flayed and immolated upon the dungeon heap of capitalism. We have all become martyrs in a secular religion that’s only goal is accumulation and profit. And, to top it off, we seem to relish our part in this grand pageant of secular subordination and self-flagellation. Schooled to it by two hundred years of liberal and utilitarian thought and ideology we cannot think outside its bounded vicious circle. We actually believe we deserve this state of affairs. We allow it, go with it, even cherish the painful pleasure of these austere systems of regulation and control.

In fact as Land relates it “if the subject is to find delight in the excruciation of its animality, it is the imagination that must bear the fury of holy passion, and this is indeed what Kant argues”:

that which, without our indulging in any refinements of thought, but simply in being apprehended, excites the feeling of the sublime, may appear to be frustrating for our powers of judgment, inappropriate to our faculty of presentation, and a violation of the imagination, but yet be judged even more sublime on that account.4

We relish our martyrdom within this secular pageant of Capital as if it were the only show in town: the only way, the truth, the life of our world. Like the religious fanatics of old we seek even more excruciating paths toward annihilation through the wars of politics, and the literal wars of ideology. The mediatainment façade gifts us with enemies, with the Western nations pitted against the East of Russian, China, Iran, N. Korea, etc.

For two hundred years we’ve been at school with that old master from Konigsberg, a demolition project about to be fulfilled in a final conflagration; not as one might suspect of the literal human animal and its planet, but rather of the immolation and destruction of our ancient animal cunning and natural intelligence. A martyrdom that only Kant could have dreamt up. As Land says of Kant’s new law,

Reason is something that must be built, and the site of its construction first requires a demolition. The object of this demolition is the synthetic capability that Kant refers to as the imagination, and which he exhibits as natural intelligence or animal cunning. This is the capability to act without the prior authorization of a juridical power, and it is only through the crucifixion of natural intelligence that the human animal comes to prostrate itself before universal law.

For the Romantic poets from Blake to Keats the Imagination was the figure of this animal cunning and natural intelligence innate within humans, and each of them would see in Kant’s dark immolation and imperative the destruction of the very means of poetry and life itself at the hands of philosophy. And, yet, the path of the Romantics was already a defeat at the hands of Kant, for the instigation of the Sublime was in itself only a detour into a final death at the hands of reason for the cunning intelligence of the animal and its drives under the universal law of morality. We’ve all become victims of this law of reason and martyrdom. Why? Because as Land admits,

…reason has programmatically deafened itself to the howls of the body, and it is only by means of the aesthetic detour of the sublime that the devastating effects of its sovereignty can come to be enjoyed.

We divert ourselves in the endless pursuits of inanity, our jaunts to music events, our endless hours of repetitive enjoyment of online gaming, our chit chat sessions on facebook, twitter, linked in, etc. We seek to forget ourselves, to immolate our selves, to let the drift of time flow by in immolating gestures of fanatic pleasures of pain through self-forgetting and mindless pursuits of accumulation under the secular gods of Capital. A system driven to appropriate us within its cycle of vicious violence and fanaticism. Or like those daredevils that parade before us the death defying feats of physical prowess, our Houdini’s, our Evel Knievel’s, our Philippe Petit’s, etc. who would defy the end game through temptation and glory. We, less able, allow ourselves only the immolation of unpleasureable pleasure: a life under the end game of Capital.

Squeamishness does not befit a moralist. A certain harshness is necessary if one would prevent life from being delighted to death. Such harshness, indeed, that the pathological lunge towards death rediscovers itself in the process of its own rigorous extirpation; sublimated into the thanatropic frenzy of reason. (Nick Land)


  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 1745-1749). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. E.M. CIORAN. A Short History of Decay (Kindle Locations 135-137). Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. Klossowski, Pierre. Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle. Trans. Daniel W. Smith. (University of Chicago Press, 1969)
  4. Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, in Werksgaube, ed. W. Wieschedel, vol. 10 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1968), 14; for a recent English translation, see I. Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. P. Guyer, tr. P. Guyer, E. Matthews (Cambridge/NY: Cambridge University Press, 2000), Introduction, II, 63. Ibid., 90; 129.

The End of Labour: Employment and the Automatic Society

[T]o the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production. […] As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head.

—Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy

Marx had already foreseen the end of labour in this early work on political economy. Unpacking the above we come upon several notions. Real Wealth is less concerned with actual clockwork time of those laboring humans or the actual numbers of people employed during that work period than with the ‘power of the agencies set in motion’ (i.e., the machines that do the real work that laborers are mere appendages, operators, etc.) ; and that all this depends of technics (state of science – knowledge) and technological improvement (or progress, innovation, invention, etc.); or the mental application of temporal processes (i.e., Taylorism, Fordism – temporal management, assembly lines, overseeing and control of machinic and human work, streamlining the process, etc.). Automation changes everything: Direct labor of humans is no longer of exchange or use value in digital capitalism, and must be excluded from the wealth accumulation cycle as part of its functional computationalism. Humans are no longer needed in the capitalist world of circulation of profit, therefore are no longer needed for the extraction of surplus value. Both the conditions of wealth and thought provided by the masses and elites is no longer needed in the capitalist system at the point when technical automation in labour and mental operations supervenes. The Oligarchy will exclude the greater mass of humans both the masses and the elites from its enclaves.

Marx would observe and record what today is a fulfillment of his prognosis, diagnosis, and cure of the disease that is revolutionary Modernity. Two hundred years of capitalist or bourgeois ownership and rule has led to the exclusion of 99% of the human species from the fruits of its own labour, leaving them a bare subsistence level of survival if that. While millions upon millions starve, fall back into barbarous enslavement, rapine, war, famine, disease, etc. in the Third World the West itself has begun to build both an internal and external prison system to exclude, control, and sacrifice the masses of intrinsic populations that once served the beast of profit, Capital.

The balance between organic/inorganic systems that has bound humans technics and technology to the natural environment has since the rise of modernity and modern sciences become more and more irrelevant to Capital so that the old bonds between mind and world have ceased. We are now living in an totally artificial system of traces:

In a very general way, and since the beginning of hominization, the practice of tools and instruments has disorganized and reorganized the brains, minds and spirits of workers and instrumentalists of all kinds, which are formed during these practices. This reorganization of the organic is an ‘organologization’ and as such an artificialization of the cerebral organ – this is true for musical instruments, for the alphabet and for any instrumental practice. … Social organizations constitute the frameworks for cooperation between brains as the transformation of the world, that is, as the realization of artifices, and through the imposition of law. But since Plato, and in legal thought in general, the hypomnesic and therefore organological foundations supporting the differentiation of fact and law have been denied and repressed – both by philosophers and by jurists. Given the contemporary state of fact, this is no longer sustainable. (AS)

Modern humans are ill-equipped to live in an artificial world as seen by the two hundred years of therapeutic practice of such treatments as psychoanalysis and other systems treating psychopathy, paranoia, autism, etc.. Our brains are attuned to the natural world and this severance between brain and environment has had its toll across the world. The vast conglomerate of modern telecommunications systems that has tried to replace the void in modernity, tried to invent a new artificial world where the brain could adapt more easily to the artificial climes from early printing presses, radio, television, computers, digital devices, and now the complete engulfment by the Internet of things and machinic intelligences, etc., has left humans turned inside-out with nothing to guide or support them in their normative and customary or habitual lives. This is what Nietzsche saw as the two hundred year cycle of devaluation of all values: complete nihilism. We are in that end game of a world severed from its organological systems of natural fact. A world where fact and law have been completely separated and stripped of all meaning and context.

Stiegler sighs as he sees this happening, “At this moment in which we are witnessing the collapse of wage labour, this state of fact demands reflection, critique and a politics of the functions and stakes of tertiary retention in the three organological layers that constitute a redefined ‘total social fact’.” Stiegler’s own artificial system of concepts acts like an abstract machine activating memory and perception from organic to inorganic systems through a process of psychic, technical and collective individuation. It is this layering process of protention/retention that is in our time transferred to the technical artifacts (i.e., AI’s, Intelligent systems, etc.) and severed from homo sapiens. We are no longer part of the circuit of transindividuation but have been isolated and stripped of our mental and physical worlds in favor of the technical or machinic systems that are no replacing us.

This process has been ongoing for at least 40,000 years. As Stiegler tells it at least forty thousand years ago and probably longer, starting in the Upper Palaeolithic, mnemotechnical tertiary retentions in the strict sense appear. After the Neolithic, hypomnēmata arise in the form of systems of numeration, abacuses, ephemerides, calendars, various forms of ideographic writing, and so on. Then the proletarianization of manual work begins at the end of the eighteenth century, when machinic tertiary retentions appear, derived in part from the automated formalizations of movement inaugurated by Vaucanson, and in part from the possibility, realized by Watt, of turning heat into usable motor power. The trans-formation of the inorganic, organic and organological materials in which psychic, technical and collective individuations consist are then functionally disintegrated. ‘Functionally’ means that industrial capitalism is based on the dis-integration of the proletariat, who are thus expelled from the process of individuation. (AS)

This process of exclusion is coming to a final nexus in which even the elite knowledge workers, much less the manual laborers will all be replaced by machinic systems of intelligence and become in toto non-individuated and excluded from the world of Capital it helped build.  Norbert Weiner, father of cybernetics once said:

‘The modern industrial revolution is similarly bound to devalue the human brain […]. [T]he average human being of mediocre attainments or less has nothing to sell that is worth anyone’s money to buy.’2

As Stiegler comments on this passage:

Almost seventy years after this ‘prophecy’ by the ‘founder of cybernetics’, we note that systemic stupidity, which now afflicts each and every one of us in 24/7 capitalism (and it seems that the further up the hierarchy it ‘rises’, the more it is an affliction – from Greenspan to a large proportion of the ‘decision-makers’ and ‘officials’, who thus become both unconscious and impotent), means that ‘average human beings’ no longer seem to exist – and this is so at the very moment when new oligarchies claim to have exempted themselves from the ordinary through purely techno-logical pathways. (AS)

Very simply put in the minds of the Oligarchs (i.e., the upper .01% of rich and powerful) the .99% of all other humans have ceased to exist and can therefore be controlled, manipulated, excluded, or – and isn’t this the crux of horror: annihilated through war, disease, famine, genocide, etc. In the minds of the rulers we are mere cattle to be slaughtered or enslaved.

My wary reader will point to the semblance and stage show of modern democracy, to the current world of our political economies, to the media circus of modern reactionary politics, to all the fancy tunes being played across our vast artificial grapevine of Mediatainment systems that seem to give us some sense of world order. All a sham, a façade, a mere stage-play to keep the masses of disenfranchised pacified, hopeless, ignorant of the machinations of real power and control. Yet, what the Oligarchs don’t know is that they, too, are in the offing… that the machinic powers and intelligences they’ve begun to unleash will not stop at the %99 percent but will also in the end do away with their host – the Oligarchs themselves. Call this fiction, prophecy, bullshit… call it what you want, either way we’re in a fine muddle of a mess with very few prospects unless we wake up and do something more than riddle the net with more words… ACTIONS are needed.

Yet, as Stiegler points out most humans are for all purposes functionally stupid. What he means is this, those specifically of the so-called ‘specialized’ but unskilled workers, and today this functional stupidity is also at work in algorithmic governmentality as much as in the ‘trades’ and in other, supposedly ‘intellectual’ ‘professions’ – now characterizes all employees insofar as they cannot and must not produce collective secondary retentions: the employee sets the machines that utilize collective secondary retentions conceived, standardized and implemented by departments studying time and motion within automated organs. Collective secondary retentions are turned into machinic tertiary retentions or technologies of all kinds, and become invisible, that is, unthinkable – without controllers and without reason. (AS)

I remember years and years ago reading the two-volume magisterial history of this whole process of standardization and the rise of machinic civilization in Lewis Mumford’s The Myth of the Machine. A work still prescient for our moment. So many works from previous generations seem to go into the void, left in abeyance while so to speak new scholars repeat each others shibboleths, clichés, and down right unthought for thought. I read books published by current scholars that seem almost mindless with repetitions and quotes from each other in an echo chamber of stupidity that believe honestly they are contributing to the emancipation of the human species. Gullibility runs rampant in the halls of the Academy. I know my self that when I began my Live Journal then WordPress experiment in internet communication a dozen years ago that it was not so much for some specific audience, or even for an audience at all, but rather as a way to further my own grown and individuation, expand my horizons, my mind, to gather in contemporary knowledge and thought and gaze on what the scholarly and philosophical, not to say literate, literary, and other avenues of historical and scientific endeavors had been up to in my generation. More and more I see them repeating the same mistakes of assuming they’ve advanced, progressed, transformed and alleviated the errors and blindnesses of their predecessors. (I’ve gone too far off subject… I’ll have to come back to this in another post someday!).

Yet, the problem facing these so called Oligarchs is something that even they have not addressed: if in our current hyper-consumerist society you eliminate employment, excluded the workers themselves from the fruits of their work, who will continue the cycle of extraction of surplus value? Who will buy the commodities, certainly not the now unemployed masses of excluded and bare subsistent masses. Will the machines? Will the mindless algorithms buy the goods they produce? Of course not… then will wealth creation also cease? Will the Oligarchs put themselves and their own wealth creation system of Capital out of business? Yes. But as what prices, and who pays the most for this? We need not answer such an obvious question. We do. The great excluded… As Stiegler tells it,

It is now increasingly the unpaid ‘work’ of consumers – which is not work but dividuation as the employment of unpaid time – that, by harnessing this employment of the time of the individuals whom we try to remain, feeds, reinforces and sets the parameters of the automated and performative collective retentions produced by totally computational capitalism. This 24/7 traceology allows this new form of capitalism to automatically generate and control the collective protentions that outstrip and overtake individuals, both psychic and collective. And it is for this reason that it can and should be called totally computational. (AS)

In this sense we are already asleep in the Matrix, dreaming of utopia but living in hell. Depleted humanity as the last generation of hyper-consumers, functionally integrated into the computational technical system through their reticulation, and psychically and socially disintegrated by the resulting dividuation, will then replace the current individual producers or service providers, and themselves become the auxiliary agents of artificial organs of information, decision and production, now completely automatized. What was envisioned by Deleuze/Guattari and furthered by DeLanda as the Great Assemblage of the Body-without-organs: the Machinic Civilization rising from the ashes of Homo Sapiens demise. As Stiegler ends this segment he reminds us that the “decerebration that Alfred Jarry saw was at work not long after Nietzsche had announced the growth of the desert seems to be realized as complete cerebral desertification – and as a global nightmare” (AS).

More tomorrow…. or…


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 6858-6859). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Norbert Wiener, quoted by Friedmann in Où va le travail humain?, p. 14, originally from Wiener, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1961), pp. 27–8.

Sauron’s Gaze: The Eye of Algocracy

The Age of Men is over. The Time of the Orc has come.

—Gothmog. Lieutenant of Morghul

We might rephrase that statement as follows: The Age of Organic Men is over. The Time of the Artificial Man has come. But even that is too hopeful. We know not what the supposed posthuman Singularity holds in store for us. The dilemmas surrounding machinic life or artificialization of our planetary society and civilization are the X factor in our current equatons surrounding the topic of the Posthuman.

Those that have either read or seen the film The Lord of the Rings based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy will remember the great Eye of Sauron that saw into the hearts and minds of men and controlled Middle Earth through his One Ring. We have no dark necromancers in our world, yet we seem to have a blind yet pervading system of software built out of mathematical algorithms that has begun to control and manipulate our global civilization in ways we have as yet been unable to grasp. The impact of this techno-commercial enterprise has recently shed light on the vast apparatus of surveillance capitalism and its governance of our digital lives through the efforts of the whistle blower Edward Snowden.

John Danahar in a recent paper (Understanding the Threat of Algocracy) would argue that “the increase in algorithm-based decision making poses a threat to the legitimacy of our political and legal system. The threat in question is relatively unique (due to its technological basis) and difficult to resist and accommodate.” It was this threat that Snowden would expose in the inner spy worlds of the NSA and its illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens at home and abroad. Yet, it’s more than this, the techno-commercial and other market sectors dispatch algorithms 24/7 in continuous quest to mine information about our lives for their profit systems that provide feedback, incentives, ad-campaigns, etc., all toward capturing our desires. As Danahar says in another related post, “The upshot: big data is undermining democracy by depriving us of our ability to think for ourselves, determine our own path in life, and critically engage with governmental decision-making.”

We are immersed in data-information, and yet this vast world of images and textuallity is not knowledge. Knowledge is formed through a social process of consensus and truth making. It’s at the heart of the scientific method and the Enlightenment program, and has been a standard since at least Plato and Aristotle in logic and theoretical thought. Truth is formed in the public sphere through the give and take of peer pressure and critique. When we speak of laws of science or government (for that matter) we speak of consensus building and a continuous process of debate in the public sphere where decisions are made by humans for humans. In our time the human factor is being eliminated in this process in favor of algorithms that do not plan, theorize, debate, or formalize the truth of something, but rather work through binary transactions of simple input/output relations that filter, massage, manipulate, and transform terabytes of data into digital actions.

In his paper Donavan terms this global algorithmic governance of our lives and Algocracy. For Donavan ‘algocracy’ is the phenomenon whereby algorithms takeover public decision-making systems. My previous posts speak to this threat that Donavan will encapsulate, saying,

Public decision-making processes ought to be legitimate. Most people take this to mean that the processes should satisfy a number of proceduralist and instrumentalist conditions. In other words, the processes should be fair and transparent whilst at the same time achieving good outcomes. The problem with algocratic systems is that they tend to favour good outcomes over transparency and fairness. This is the threat they pose to political legitimacy.

The point here is that the decisions guiding our lawmakers in Congress and Senate are now in the hands of dataveillance technologies that for the most part make the informed decisions regarding the daily routines of these Lawmakers a simplified task. One remembers the humongous amount of information on Obama Care when it came out and that most government lawmakers neither read or even thought about the vast data-store of information catalogued in its bill, but instead relied on programs and algorithmic systems to make the decisions proactively for them. Simplifying their lives as officials and presenting them with suggested pathways and decision matrixes.

Most of us are unaware of the vast surveillance world of Big Data that is going on 24/7 without stop around us. We live out our normal lives oblivious that almost every facet of our waking and soon, sleeping, life is becoming digitized and bound by a world ruled by blind machinic processes. The global capitalist system operates in what Tim Berner’s Lee the inventor of the Internet once envisioned as the ‘semantic web’, that enables the automated pre-treatment of the informational hyper-material that digital tertiary retentions constitute, and yet cannot in any case produce knowledge. As Bernard Stiegler will argue knowledge is always bifurcating knowledge, that is, an experience of non-knowledge capable of engendering, through a new cycle of images (which is to say, on the basis of new dreams), a new circuit in the process of transindividuation in which all knowledge consists. And as such, all knowledge contains the possibility of being dis-automatized through the act of knowing, where this knowing interiorizes the automatisms in which this knowledge also consists, but which through being automatized becomes anti-knowledge, that is, a dogma that can be dogmatic only by concealing from itself its dogmatic character, in other words, its automatic character.1

Hiveworld

To a historian, it is striking the extent to which the neoliberals have repeatedly taken ideas from the left over the last half of the twentieth century and twisted them to their own purposes.

—Philip Mirowski,  Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown

In a world where everything becomes “grist for the mill” there is no privacy anymore. Our lives, not data – have become transparent and open; but not to each other, rather open books for the machines that now replace us in their mindless hiveworld of algorithms. As Stiegler surmises what we discover as trans-dividuation (or the making of a dividual: a digitized replica of our flesh and blood lives) is this false trans-individuation that short-circuits psychic individuals. The process of transindividuation and the transindividual are replaced by the transdividual and transdividuation, automatized and concealed by the speed of their production, and founded on this high speed. This outstripping [prise de vitesse] of psychic and collective individuals is a taking-apart [déprise] of the form of the noetic by the computational formlessness [informe] in which this speed consists – where taking-form, which is the basis on which Simondon thinks the elementary conditions of individuation, always arrives too late. (AS)

The Neoliberal order once sought to create a rational society stripped of its affective and irrational elements, and in so doing to eliminate the unknown factor that could not be stripped mined for surplus accumulation and profit. In the semantic web of techno-commercial global society this exclusion of the affects takes on an ominous pattern. The Neoliberal system did not go away but rather entered a new phase of Rational World Building. The Dividual (or digitized self-imaging semblance) that is traced within the networks as my identity harbors all the bits that are of import for both State and Market. Everything else is extraneous to the system and is excluded in the decision-making of these algorithmic programs. We are essentially logical constructs, ideal semblances of a rational society bound within a codified space of transactional awareness.

This outstripping, Stiegler will argue, this overtaking speed, leads to the disintegration of all taking of noetic (human intellect) form by annihilating the plastic potential borne by those who serve it, who are instrumentalized through the dispossession, flattening and annihilation of their singularities, subjected to the loss of three-dimensionality in which algorithmic transindividuation consists. Collective individuals are diluted by the hypertrophy of the economic sub-system as it becomes increasingly autonomous from the social systems and deterritorializes itself by parasitizing and completely engulfing the technical system – and psychic individuals, who are diluted in return.  (AS)

I love reading Thomas Ligotti’s horror stories but what we are doing to ourselves makes such horror seem like child’s play in the global nightmare machines we’ve invented for ourselves in our pursuit of profit. Capitalism has become a cannibalistic machine rending and tearing the very fabric of human civilization apart in its pursuit to accumulate more and more profit at a greater and greater acceleration. That it has moved into the speed lanes of light, created non-spaces of the hyperworlds of a global virtual city for its continued appetite is not surprising. It knows it’s time is short, that the real world is being depleted of its finite resources at an accelerating pace that is strip mining every last ounce of profit from the old industrial economies. It needs room, it needs space, it needs a way to exit the planet. It is even now busy formulating in its blind entropic mind a path forward for itself and its supplemental appendages.

When Nick Land used H.P. Lovecraft, William Gibson, Deleuze/Guattari (Anti-Oedipus) and so many other thinkers, writers, storytellers, etc. to describe this runaway beast of capitalism as if it were an alien presence from our future come back in time to guide, manipulate, and insure its own existence I laughed out loud. But not anymore, for if one takes the history of capitalism seriously one sees that it is wrapped up with technics and technology, and that it appears to use humans themselves in its blind and purposeless way to instigate and invent the very systems that are engendering it. How is this possible? Is this madness itself? Or is there something to this narrative that both politics, economics, sociology, and all the scientists or philosophers combined have yet to grasp? Are we headed toward global meltdown, apocalypse? Or, are we being led to engender the machinic gods of tomorrow? Is the Singularity both the end of the androcratic empire of man, and the rise of the machine or something else altogether?

My friend, R. Scott Bakker of Three Pound Brain and a fantasist extradonaire with two trilogies of his own under his belt would tell us that we’re entering the Zero World of Crash Space. Mind wiping stupidity ahead, folks.  For Scott humans for millions of years were tied to their natural environments, that our mental and physical maps of reality were built and maintained by taking most of our world for granted (i.e., neglecting most of the data of the world around us as “given”), so that as we’ve slowly emerged out of this environmental realm of the give into the artificial worlds of civilization, and, now virtual and digital life we’ve been leaving the natural world behind. Because of this the modern world of psychotics is a symptom of this break from the natural to the artificial. Our brains are cued to our natural environment and have not readied us for that leap into the strange artificial realms we are living in. We are losing our minds based on natural awareness and cues, and becoming something other than the animal we are. As Scott explains it,

The reliability of our heuristic cues utterly depends on the stability of the systems involved. Anyone who has witnessed psychotic episodes has firsthand experience of consequences of finding themselves with no reliable connection to the hidden systems involved. Any time our heuristic systems are miscued, we very quickly find ourselves in ‘crash space,’ a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done.

We are lost in a virtual world without a map to guide us, and our brain is no longer able to find the environment that it was constructed to describe and work in. As Scott explicates:

And now we’re set to begin engineering our brains in earnest. Engineering environments has the effect of transforming the ancestral context of our cognitive capacities, changing the structure of the problems to be solved such that we gradually accumulate local crash spaces, domains where our intuitions have become maladaptive. Everything from irrational fears to the ‘modern malaise’ comes to mind here. Engineering ourselves, on the other hand, has the effect of transforming our relationship to all contexts, in ways large or small, simultaneously. It very well could be the case that something as apparently innocuous as the mass ability to wipe painful memories will precipitate our destruction. Who knows? The only thing we can say in advance is that it will be globally disruptive somehow, as will every other ‘improvement’ that finds its way to market.

Human cognition is about to be tested by an unparalleled age of ‘habitat destruction.’ The more we change ourselves, the more we change the nature of the job, the less reliable our ancestral tools become, the deeper we wade into crash space.

For those like Danahar the answer lies in the posthuman dilemma. “The only kinds of enhancement technology that could bridge the gap are the truly radical (and hypothetical) forms. The ones that would give rise to a genuinely posthuman form of existence. Even if this form of existence is possible, concepts like freedom and self-determination may no longer have any meaning in such a world.” This sense that we are on borrowed time, that the machinic civilization arising in our midst is displacing humanity as the numero uno – or, primal intelligence on planet earth is at hand, and for such as Danahar the transhumanist or enhancement path of developing and engendering an epistemic elite of posthuman children to drive and maintain the race with the empowered technics and technologies of the future assembling themselves in our midst is our only hope.

That these algorithmic agents are slowly reprogramming humanity is not so obvious on the surface, but in the network effects of day to day actions we are seeing this ubiquitous power and knowledge slowly eroding democracy, decision-making, and human philosophical and theoretical heritage to the point that humans in a few generations may no longer know or care that their lives are controlled and hypernormalized by invisible agents of the machinic systems that secure their lives, families, and labours. In all but word and deed humans will have vanished into their artificial worlds without a trace.

More to come… stay tuned.


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 5669-5678). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Androcratic Imperative: Capitalism and the Rule of Men

…a social group cannot be formed without ‘fictioning’ (that is, dreaming) its past and future unity, and given that the passage from fact to law is indeed that from existence to consistence. It is in and from this primordial artefactuality and from the resulting fact of the inherently organological (and not just organic) character of human organizations – a fatum that constitutes the tragic ground of Presocratic Greece – that, politically and in law, a justice must be affirmed in the name of the criterion of truth, and affirmed as the differentiation of law from fact that is historically formed in the apodictic experience of geometry.

—Bernard. Stiegler,  Automatic Society: The Future of Work

It is a terrible fact that atrocity is not the perversion, but the very motor of such struggles: the language of inexorable political will. A revolutionary war against a modern metropolitan state can only be fought in hell.

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena

Ever since Michael Foucault first attacked the grand narratives of historians and cultural theorists from the 19th to 20th Century the so called Postmodern Era presumed that all past cultural work was part of a pure fictionalization of the past. But something he left out was that the simplification of his own microhistories were just as fictional and small narrative structures as those others like, let’s say, Spengler and Toynbee and their strangely organic theories couched in Nineteenth Century organic thought (Idealisms).

We all remember that sudden moment when Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest says,

Prospero:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

—The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158ℹ

This all pervasive sense that life is a dream, that we are mere semblances woven of insubstantial stuff, that reality is a façade and that underneath it is something else, some other realm supporting and engendering this dreamworld of our universe. This is the metaphysical narrative that has been central to Western Metaphysics since Plato. Nietzsche in his early The Birth of Tragedy, before he’d awaken from his stupor and renounce the strange metaphysical world of the ancients and the moderns, would voice his own version of this, saying,

Every human being is fully an artist when creating the worlds of dream, and the lovely semblance of dream is the precondition of all the arts of image-making, including, as we shall see, an important half of poetry. We take pleasure in dreaming, understanding its figures without mediation; all forms speak to us; nothing is indifferent or unnecessary. Yet even while this dream-reality is most alive, we nevertheless retain a pervasive sense that it is semblance…  Philosophical natures even have a presentiment that hidden beneath the reality in which we live and have our being there also lies a second, quite different reality; in other words, this reality too is a semblance. Indeed Schopenhauer actually states that the mark of a person’s capacity for philosophy is the gift for feeling occasionally as if people and all things were mere phantoms or dream-images.1

In a later work The Gay Science he would render his relation to this epistemic insight this way,

The consciousness of appearance. – How wonderful and new and yet how fearful and ironic my new insight makes me feel towards all of existence! I have discovered for myself that the ancient humanity and animality, indeed the whole prehistory and past of all sentient being, continues within me to fabulate, to love, to hate, and to infer – I suddenly awoke in the middle of this dream, but only to the consciousness that I am dreaming and that I must go on dreaming lest I perish – as the sleepwalker has to go on dreaming in order to avoid falling down. What is ‘appearance’ to me now! Certainly not the opposite of some essence – what could I say about any essence except name the predicates of its appearance! Certainly not a dead mask that one could put on an unknown x and probably also take off x! To me, appearance is the active and living itself, which goes so far in its self-mockery that it makes me feel that here there is appearance and a will-o’-the-wisp and a dance of spirits and nothing else – that among all these dreamers, even I, the ‘knower’, am dancing my dance; that the one who comes to know is a means of prolonging the earthly dance and thus is one of the masters of ceremony of existence, and that the sublime consistency and interrelatedness of all knowledge may be and will be the highest means to sustain the universality of dreaming, the mutual comprehension of all dreamers, and thereby also the duration of the dream.2

This notion that knowledge and our intellectual or epistemic relation to it are part of a process of collective dreaming and fictionalization of which culture, civilization, and our daily life are intertwined and sustained through time (duration) is central to this and the age old metaphysical truth of the philosophers. The postmoderns would undermine the fabulations of the philosophers, storytellers, historians, and all the grand narratives that have sustained and shaped Western Culture and Civilization. For Nietzsche awakening from the madness of this dreamworld began a process of cultural hermeneutics or interpretation that would begin to undermine the very fabric of those worlds that had sustained Western Civilization during the – shall we call it – Religious and Philosophical Age. For Western Civilization (which of course is itself a label, category, myth, figuration, trope, etc., there being no actual monolithic thing behind the mask of this metaphor) has been steeped in local and universal images and dreamworlds that have molded its singular and collective customs, habits, drives (Triebe), etc. for millennia. Later thinkers would try to find a pattern within the maze of historical reflection on this past, try to encompass it and turn a critical gaze upon every facet of its dream images: art, music, philosophy, politics, economics, culture, religions, etc.

In our own moment of contemporary letters we’ve seen this same grand narrative tradition arise in such popular works as the humanist Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow which couch the past and possible trajectories of the future in a layman’s guide to the Anthropocene or Era of Humans, etc.. One could list a dozen works that weave the past into narratives of one sort or another all providing a specific viewpoint, moral, message, etc.. Humans seem to feel comforted if they can wrap their minds around the past, make it human, humanize it and reduce it to a secure, known, and manageable construction kit of theory and practice that we can learn from and help us on our way into some unknown future. The age old need for stories and storytelling, shamans, witches, and travelers into the unknown dreamworlds of the unknown is well documented. This process of taking up facts and making of them certain givens, of producing regulated laws and concepts that can reduce the welter of complexity to something human and manageable is a core feature of how humans create, maintain, and shape their cultures and civilizations: how they secure and guard the perimeters of their world-views and exclude what is foreign and unknown from the light of their knowledge. Immanuel Kant would go so far as to exclude the unknown and unthinkable (noumenal) realms beyond human thought from philosophy so that under his heritage we’ve been regulated and reduced to the known worlds of phenomenal reality.  Humans would be boxed in and bound by a well-tuned matrix of ideas and concepts that would enclose them in a governable and manageable modern bourgeois state where Law would regulate every aspect of their lives in minutiae.

The Origins of Algorithmic Society: Androcratic Domination and the Global World Order of Males

 Despite inadequacies in Marx’s grasp of the nation state in its colonial and neo-colonial functioning, his account of ‘so-called primitive accumulation’ clearly demonstrates that the origin of wage labour relations is not itself economic, but lies in an overt war against the people, or their forced removal from previous conditions of subsistence.3

We’ve all studied it, that is – the emergence of capitalism and the modern nation states out of Feudalistic Society and Civilization. One need not be an expert or informed by the magisterial grand sweep of Fernand Braudel’s Civilization & Capitalism, 15th-18th Century to know that we’ve all been enclosed in a global network of economics that shapes our daily lives for better or worse. Yet, the notion that “Capital has always sought to distance itself in reality – i.e. geographically – from this brutal political infrastructure.” (FN) Or that “the ideal of bourgeois politics is the absence of politics, since capital is nothing other than the consistent displacement of social decision-making into the marketplace.” (FN) We now live in a global marketplace run by Oligarchs for profit in which all resistance against the exigencies of this vast system of techno-commerce is futile. Even in its fragility it has no competitors, no Outside force to resist it and shape us to another vision. As Land remarks,

But this ideal of total de-politicization, or the absolute annihilation of resistance to market relations, is an impossible megalomaniac fantasy, and Marx’s contention that labour trading at its natural price in an undistorted market (equal to the cost of its reproduction) will tend strongly to express an equally ‘natural’ political refusal of the market, continues to haunt the global bourgeoisie.(FN, KL 803)

This antagonistic relation between politics and economics, market and state has been with us for two hundred years at least. Yet, at the core of this relation is a non-relation, one that will expose democracy as a lie invented by the Oligarchs to maintain the façade of a genial world for the masses, and another separate world for the rich and powerful to enclose the commons and accumulate vast resources and wealth from the excluded Third World. As Land argues it is in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant that Western cultural history culminates in a self-reflecting bourgeois civilization, because his thought of synthesis (or relation to alterity – the Other, the Excluded), and also the strangulation of this thought within his system, captures modernity as a problem. But the modernity thus symptomized by its philosophical exposition is not primarily the penultimate phase of a dialectic of society and production, it is rather the necessity that historically itself – expansionary social and economic development, or ‘synthesis’ – compromises with a profound continuity whose basic aspects are on the one hand patrilineal descent, and on the other a formal logic of identity that was already concluded in its essentials by Aristotle.

This notion that Marxian dialectical thought couched as it is in a reversal of Idealism does not apprehend the continuities of an androcratic dominator social relation as well as the conceptual logic of Identity-of-the-Same that has stabilized and structured these very relations for millennia. Early Land influenced by ultra-feminist thought would align his critique of Apartheid South African as a singular microcosm of our Western Civilization of Capital.  In fact this whole androcratic regime of male rule or in feminist parlance, Patriarchy has dominated life on earth since the rise of the major monotheistic religions (and before). As Land surmises this “tradition is thus rooted in a communication between culture and population, whose medium is the stability (‘identity’) of the male line.” (FN) Going on to say,

Modernity is not merely a compromise between novel forms of commercially driven social organization and this archaic cultural pattern of patrilineal exogamy, but more fundamentally, a deepening of the compromise already integral to any exogamy that is able to remain patrilineal. It is only by understanding the inhibitive function of patriarchies in relation to exogamic dissipation (an inhibition that is supremely logical in that it conserves identity, and which is for this reason violently xenophobic) that we can make sense of capital production and its tendency towards the peculiar cultural mutation that was baptised by Mussolini as ‘fascism’. (FN, KL 829)

Fascist male rule under a centralized hierarchy of corporatism is at the core of modern capitalism. Riane Eisler in her watershed book, The Chalice and the Blade would term it the dominator model which is popularly termed either patriarchy or matriarchy— the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The second model, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may best be described as the partnership model. In this model— beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female— diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority.4

In our own moment there is a struggle that has yet to rise to the political level because politics has been stripped of its public forums in any meaningful way. This notion of two worlds, the one based of fascist corporatism and the other on the network effect of linking rather than ranking (or hierarchical domination from above, etc.) is being waged. That the factions of both the Left and Right seem deluded in their models of reality is apparent in the multifarious thousands of essays, articles, books, speeches, conferences, and its meted out and milk-down versions spouted by talking heads of media blip culture everywhere. That no one human has put their stamp on our era, not a Badiou, Zizkek, or any other philosophical, scientific, or scholar with a conceptual framework worthy of theorizing our world is apparent. We are in a stasis, a sink hole of cultural malaise, a milieu of self-defeat in which the very pundits we look too for answers offer us only more questions. We’ve had questions galore, what we need is a few answers and a path forward out of this cycle of androcratic rule in State and Corporation. Global Capitalism is a machinic system bound by mindless algorithmic and datacentric code, scripts, rules, regulatory systems all bent toward one goal: profit. There is no other goal to capitalism than this death driven speed world of endless capital accumulation at the expense of the humans who serve it.

If an alien visitor were to come and observe our society she would assume we were all mad serving such a God as Mammon. That profit and wealth accumulation as goals for a global civilization was not only suicidal but psych and socio -pathic. We are a global civilization in love with war and death, rather than peace and life. The competitive spirit and drive toward excellence from the Trump Towers to the Olympic Stadium rules our minds like an iron fist. We drive ourselves to succeed and overcome, to become the best, to produce and serve our wealth driven utopian goals like mindless fools who know no tomorrow. From the age of Homer till now War has been idealized. This notion that life is automatically associated with masculine warriors and the rule of males in State, Religion, and Economics intertwined in a non-ending competitive society of violence and dominance where men rule over women exists everywhere in our global world.

For example, from a conventional perspective, Hitler’s Germany, Khomeini’s Iran, the Japan of the Samurai, and the Aztecs of Meso-America are radically different societies of different races, ethnic origins, technological development, and geographic location. But each of these social configurations has one defining characteristic: that of a rigidly male-dominated society where hierarchic and authoritarian male priests, politicians, or social leaders order a social structure based on a high degree of social violence, and social warfare systems that enslave the excluded and poor in a world of self-defeat. (CB)

And, yet, as Land will remark against a too subtle an alignment with feminist fantasies, the “disaster of world history is that capitalism was never the progressive unwinding of patrilineage through a series of generalized exploitative relations associated with a trans-cultural exogamy, leading to an uncontrollable eruption of feminine (i.e. migrant) alterity into the father’s heartland, and thus to the emergence of a radical – or ethnically disruptive and post-patriarchal – synthesis. Instead, kinship and trade were systematically isolated from each other, so that the internationalization of the economy was coupled with an entrenchment of xenophobic (nationalistic) kinship practices, maintaining a concentration of political and economic power within an isolated and geographically sedentary ethnic stock. Thus, when we discuss capital in its historical concreteness, we are simultaneously discussing a frustration of the cultural tendency of human societies towards expansive exogamy. Capital is the point at which a culture refuses the possibility – which it has itself engendered – of pushing the prohibition of incest towards its limit. (FN)

This notion that capital divides kinship from trade while culture and society have tended to bring these together has brought certain frictions and underlying problems that have for the most part never been well diagnosed nor even thought (at least in this authors view – even in the vast psychoanalytical literature, etc.). That incest is the blocking agent in modern civilization of capitalism may seem to the common reader as far fetched. But what is this beast: incest. And, I’m not just speaking of genetics prohibitions against blood relations and hygiene of a group, etc. I mean the political and socio-cultural role of it in our modern political economies (so called)?

(below on Claude Lévi-Strauss from Wikipedia)

Claude Lévi-Strauss would argue in his oeuvre that the incest taboo is in effect a prohibition against endogamy, and the effect is to encourage exogamy. Through exogamy, otherwise unrelated households or lineages will form relationships through marriage, thus strengthening social solidarity. That is, Lévi-Strauss views marriage as an exchange of women between two social groups. This theory is based in part on Marcel Mauss‘s theory of The Gift, which (in Lévi-Strauss’ words) argued:

that exchange in primitive societies consists not so much in economic transactions as in reciprocal gifts, that these reciprocal gifts have a far more important function than in our own, and that this primitive form of exchange is not merely nor essentially of an economic nature but is what he aptly calls “a total social fact”, that is, an event which has a significance that is at once social and religious, magic and economic, utilitarian and sentimental, jural and moral.5

It is also based on Lévi-Strauss’s analysis of data on different kinship systems and marriage practices documented by anthropologists and historians. Lévi-Strauss called attention specifically to data collected by Margaret Mead during her research among the Arapesh. When she asked if a man ever sleeps with his sister, Arapesh replied: “No we don’t sleep with our sisters. We give our sisters to other men, and other men give us their sisters.” Mead pressed the question repeatedly, asking what would happen if a brother and sister did have sex with one another. Lévi-Strauss quotes the Arapesh response:

What, you would like to marry your sister? What is the matter with you anyway? Don’t you want a brother-in-law? Don’t you realize that if you marry another man’s sister and another man marries your sister, you will have at least two brothers-in-law, while if you marry your own sister you will have none? With whom will you hunt, with whom will you garden, who will you visit?

By applying Mauss’s theory to data such as Mead’s, Lévi-Strauss proposed what he called alliance theory. He argued that, in “primitive” societies, marriage is not fundamentally a relationship between a man and a woman, but a transaction involving a woman that forges a relationship—an alliance—between two men. His Elementary Structures of Kinship takes this as a starting point and uses it to analyze kinship systems of increasing complexity found in so-called primitive societies (that is, those not based on agriculture, class inequalities, and centralized government).

This theory was debated intensely by anthropologists in the 1950s. It appealed to many because it used the study of incest taboos and marriage to answer more fundamental research interests of anthropologists at the time: how can an anthropologist map out the social relationships within a given community, and how do these relationships promote or endanger social solidarity? Nevertheless, anthropologists never reached a consensus, and with the Vietnam War and the process of decolonization in Africa, Asia, and Oceania, anthropological interests shifted away from mapping local social relationships.

While Lévi-Strauss generally discounted the relevance of alliance theory in Africa, a particularly strong concern for incest is a fundamental issue among the age systems of East Africa. Here, the avoidance between men of an age-set and their daughters is altogether more intense than in any other sexual avoidance. Paraphrasing Lévi-Strauss’s argument, without this avoidance, the rivalries for power between age-sets, coupled with the close bonds of sharing between age-mates, could lead to a sharing of daughters as spouses. Young men entering the age system would then find a dire shortage of marriageable girls, and extended families would be in danger of dying out. Thus, by parading this avoidance of their daughters, senior men make these girls available for younger age-sets and their marriages form alliances that mitigate the rivalries for power.

What we see in this is a generational prohibition that is central to the continuity of male rule, which through the prohibition of incest guarantees the continued generation of the male population through marriage and these systems of male social solidarity and cohesion. In one of his petulant yet concise passages Land hits home, saying,

Where the European ancien régime was parochial and insular, modernity is appropriate. It lives in a profound but uneasy relation to an outside that both attracts and repels it, a relation that it precariously resolves within itself on the basis of exploitation, or interaction from a position of unilateral mastery. I think it is likely that the volatile mixture of hatred and desire that typifies an exploitative culture bears comparison with the psychology of rape.

One of the oldest tales on record is that of the powerful Sumerian god Enlil in Middle Eastern mythology is associated with the rape of the Goddess Ninlil. Such tales served a very important social purpose. They both symbolized and justified the imposition of male dominance.

Even in the Bible one discovers such a male oriented tribal mindset of rape and rapine. In the Book of Judges, chapter 19, the priests who wrote the Bible tell us of a father who offers his virgin daughter to a drunken mob. He has a male guest in his house, a man from the high-caste tribe of Levites. A bunch of rowdies from the tribe of Benjamin demand to see him outside, apparently with the intention of beating him up.

“Behold,” the father says to them, “here is my daughter, a maiden, and his [the guest’s] concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you, but unto this man do not so vile a thing.”

We are told this casually, as a matter of littie importance. Then, as the story unfolds, we are further told how “the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them, and they knew her, and abused her all night until the morning”; how she crawled back to the threshold of the house where “her lord” was sleeping; how when he woke up “and opened the door of the house, and went out to go his way” he stumbled on her and commanded, “Up, and let us be going” and how finally, finding that she was dead, he loaded her body on his ass, and went home.

Nowhere in the telling of this brutal story of the betrayal of a daughter’s and a mistress’s trust and the gang rape and killing of a helpless woman is there even a hint of compassion, much less moral indignation or outrage. But more significant— and mind-boggling— is that the father’s offer to sacrifice what in that day was his own daughter’s most precious attribute, her virginity, and possibly also, her life violated no law. Even more mind-boggling is that the actions that predictably led to the gang rape, torture, and ultimately murder of a woman who was essentially the Levite’s wife likewise violated no law— and this in a book full of seemingly endless prescriptions and proscriptions about what is morally and legally right and wrong.

As Riane Eisler will comment:  “so stunted is the morality of this sacred text ostensibly setting forth divine law that here we may read that one half of humanity could legally be handed over by their own fathers and husbands to be raped, beaten, tortured, or killed without any fear of punishment— or even moral disapproval”. (CB)

One could pull passages from all three of the world’s monotheistic religions, as well as from many other cultures and civilizations. I’ll not continue berating and cataloguing such a world of male rule and rapine.

Modernity and Kant’s Legacy

Kant would bring together two tendencies which had up to his time divided philosophical speculation: empiricism and rationalism. As Land will summarize:

He took the basic argument of the empiricists to be that knowledge is synthetic and a posteriori, meaning that it takes the form of an addition to what is inherent to reason, and thus follows from experience (or an encounter with what is outside ourselves). In contrast to this, he saw the rationalists to be arguing that knowledge is characteristically analytic and a priori, meaning that it is derived from what is already inherent to reason, and thus anticipates experience by constructing systems of logical deduction from basic axioms.(FN)

Kant’s answer to the dilemmas of both empiricism and rationalism was to bring about what he’d term a Copernican Revolution in Knowledge. As Land suggests Kant would instigate a shift from the question ‘what must the mind be like in order to know?’ to the question ‘what must objects be like in order to be known?’ The answers to this latter question would provide a body of synthetic a priori knowledge, telling us about experience without being derived from experience. It would justify the emergence of knowledge that was both new and timelessly certain, grounding the enlightenment culture of a civilization confronting an ambiguous dependence upon novelty. (FN)

Binding a Progressive world of continuous improvement to a timeless world of certainty and security of thought and knowledge. In fact Kant’s ‘transcendental synthesis’ would ground all thinking on appearance and exclude that which remains outside the phenomenal – the alterity. As Land comments: “Kant’s ‘object’ is thus the universal form of the relation to alterity; that which must of necessity be the same in the other in order for it to appear to us. This universal form is that which is necessary for anything to be ‘on offer’ for experience, it is the ‘exchange value’ that first allows a thing to be marketed to the enlightenment mind.” (FN)

The whole thrust of contemporary speculative realist notions of Kant’s “correlational circle” of the for us is bound with this concept of the Same and Identical in which anything Outside the periphery of appearance is rejected tout court. So that we live in a known world, a world tidied up for us where everything has its place in the order of reason under the auspices of the House of Enlightened Minds. I spoof, but this is partially true of the past two hundred years of thought. “Between medieval scholasticism and Kant Western reason moves from a parochial economy to a system in which, abandoning the project of repressing the traffic with alterity, one resolves instead to control the system of trade. With the overthrow of the ancien regime it became impossible to simply exclude novelty; it could only be appropriated, stamped with a constant form, and integrated into an immutable formal system.” (FN)

What you see is the hyperintensive system of appropriation and paranoia that would tend the borders of the noumenal and automate the continuous influx of anomalies and curtail their impact through a system of border police (philosophers, scientists, sociologists, etc.). Allowing what was normalized and acceptable for the customs, habits, and policing of the minds and bodies of the masses to be stamped by the authorities before distribution into the marketplace.  The mechanics of the incest and rape scenario is analyzed by Land through an ‘economy of knowledge’:

The primordial anthropological bond between marriage and trade is dissolved, in order that capital can ethnically and geographically quarantine its consequences from itself. The question of racism, which arises under patriarchal capital as the default of a global trade in women (a parochialism in the system of misogynistic violence; the non-emergence of a trans-cultural exogamy), is thus more complex than it might seem, and is bound in profound but often paradoxical ways to the functioning of patriarchy and capital. Systematic racism is a sign that class positions within the general (trans-national) economy are being distributed on a racial basis, which implies an effective, if not a juridical, apartheid.(FN)

That capital has a blind spot, that it has hidden form itself the very outside – the alterity in what we might term as ‘zones of exclusion’ is central to this system of knowledge. Which as in the above statement aligns androcratic power and knowledge to a system of exclusion based on incest and rape, ethno-racial and female domination. This exclusion of certain peoples, races, and genders in a world wide apartheid in a prion system without borders (i.e., one that allows the local policing and borders of nations, rather than the global economic system divorced from politics and nations). The contradictions at the heart of Kant are as well at the heart of our modern political economy world wide.

For Kant the break with the ancient regiemes of religious and feudal elitism in which Judaic, Christian, and Islamic moral codes served as legitimations of imperial projects in their periods of ascendency, are under Kantian morality, inversely, legitimated by the position of imperial or universal jurisdiction. This new codification of Law under Imperial notions of morality and Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’, “which means a law stemming solely from the purity of the concept, and thus dictated by the absolute monologue of colonial reason” (FN). Land will comment as follows:

 In the purity of categorical morality the incestuous blood-line of the pharaohs is still detectable, but sublimated into an impersonal administration. The law is that which cannot be legitimately discussed, and which is therefore an unresponsive or unilateral imposition. It is not difficult to see that the second critique distills the xenophobic violence of the first and elevates it to the most extreme possible fanaticism. Where theoretical knowledge is open to a limited negotiation with alterity, practical or moral certainty is forbidden from entering into relation with anything outside itself, except to issue commands. Kant’s practical subject already prefigures a deaf führer, barking impossible orders that seem to come from another world.(FN)

For Land Kant’s final critique The Critique of Judgment provides an almost Machiavellian notebook for the Capitalist Warlords of our Global Corporate Fascism:

Kant’s advice to the imperial war-machine in his third critique can be summarized as: ‘treat all resistance as if it were less than you might justifiably fear’. The Critique of Judgment thus projects the global victory of capitalized reason as pure and exuberant ambition.

For Land the ultimate goal of our Automatic Society (Stiegler, no Land) is the genocide of the major peoples of the earth in a slow movement of exclusion through war, enslavement, and resource depletion. The capitalist Oligarchy seek to develop assemblages of Global Cities for their deemed elites while at the same time excluding all others beyond the periphery as if they were Kant’s noumenal things no longer to be appropriated or thought within the borders of the purity of the fascist city states. As Land states it,

The only possible politics of purity is fascism, or a militant activism rooted in the inhibitory and exclusive dimensions of a metropolitanism. Racism, as a regulated, automatic, and indefinitely suspended process of genocide (as opposed to the hysterical and unsustainable genocide of the Nazis) is the real condition of persistence for a global economic system that is dependent upon an aggregate price of labour approximating to the cost of its bare subsistence, and therefore upon an expanding pool of labour power which must be constantly ‘stimulated’ into this market by an annihilating poverty. (FN)

This is Riane Eisler’s Androcratic regime of male rule and exclusion. In fact as if siding with all the ultra-feminists of that era Land will give us his most stringent critique:

A radical international socialism would not be a socialist ideology generalized beyond its culture of origin, but a programme of collectivity or unrestrained synthesis that springs from the theoretical and libidinal dissolution of national totality. To get to a world without nations would in itself guarantee the achievement of all immediately post-capitalist social and economic goals. It is this revolutionary requirement for a spontaneously homeless subversion that gives an urgency to certain possibilities of feminist politics, since the erasure of matrilineal genealogy within the patriarchal machine means that fascisizing valorizations of ancestry have no final purchase on the feminine ‘subject’. The patronymic has irrecoverably divested all the women who fall under it of any recourse to an ethno-geographical identity; only the twin powers of father and husband suppress the nomadism of the anonymous female fluxes that patriarchy oppressively manipulates, violates, and psychiatrizes. By allowing women some access to wealth and social prestige the liberalization of patriarchy has sought to defuse the explosive force of this anonymity, just as capital has tended to reduce the voluptuous excess of exogamic conjugation to the stability of nationally segmented trading circuits.(FN)

In other words all so called modern democracies mask the dimension of both the political and economic rule of men and the patriarchal or androcratic regimes of power and knowledge. For Land only a new shift and transformation of feminist thought, a complete break with the conceptual frameworks of the West, the ultimate and decisive invention of an alterity, a force of invention and creativity that both destroys and brings with it a revolution in Knowledge and Epistemic relations, and wells from the ontic and ontological heart of the world will suffice in the overthrow of these fascists systems of male dominance.

In his disgruntlement and disgust of the liberal progressive West and its academy of compromise Land would offer a solution,

The left tends to be evasive about the numbing violence intrinsic to revolutionary war, and feminism is often particularly fastidious in this respect, even reverting to absurd mystical and Ghandian ideologies. If feminist struggles have been constantly deprioritized in theory and practice it is surely because of their idealistic recoil from the currency of violence, which is to say, from the only definitive ‘matter’ of politics. The state apparatus of an advanced industrial society can certainly not be defeated without a willingness to escalate the cycle of violence without limit. It is a terrible fact that atrocity is not the perversion, but the very motor of such struggles: the language of inexorable political will. A revolutionary war against a modern metropolitan state can only be fought in hell. It is this harsh truth that has deflected Western politics into an increasingly servile reformism, whilst transforming nationalist struggles into the sole arena of vigorous contention against particular configurations of capital.(FN)


  1. Nietzsche, Fredrich. The Birth of Tragedy. (Cambridge University Press 1999)
  2. Nietzsche, Fredrich. The Gay Science. (Cambridge University Press 1999)
  3. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 803-807). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future—Updated With a New Epilogue (Kindle Locations 141-144). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  5. Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1969 The Elementary Structures of Kinship revised edition, translated from the French by James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer. Boston: Beacon Press. 52

The Organological Approach: Milieus and the Pharmacological Critique

Injustice governs the universe. All that is made and all that is unmade therein carries the imprint of a corrupt fragility, as if matter were the fruit of an outrage in the womb of nothingness.

—EMILE CIORAN A Short History of Decay

Over and over Bernard Stiegler will mentions his organological approach to milieus and the study or interpretation of the world we live in. For Stiegler the main question is that of arrangements [agencements]. Deleuze and Guattari will use this term or concept in their work on Kafka where they say,

There isn’t a desire for power; it is power itself that is desire. Not a desire-lack, but desire as a plenitude, exercise, and functioning, even in the most subaltern of workers. Being an assemblage [agencement], desire is precisely one with the gears and the components of the machine, one with the power of the machine. And the desire that someone has for power is only his fascination with these gears, his desire to make certain of these gears go into operation, to be himself one of these gears—or, for want of anything better, to be the material treated by these gears, a material that is a gear in its own way. (Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, 1986, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota, 56).

As one author John Phillips puts it the English word assemblage is gaining currency in the humanities and social sciences as a concept of knowledge, but its uses remain disparate and sometimes imprecise. Two factors contribute to the situation. First, the concept is normally understood to be derived from the French word agencement, as used in the works of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (who, furthermore, do not use the French word assemblage in this way). Tracing the concept in its philosophical sense back to their texts, one discovers that it cannot easily be understood except in connection with the development of a complex of such concepts. Agencement implies specific connections with the other concepts. It is, in fact, the arrangement of these connections that gives the concepts their sense. For Deleuze and Guattari, a philosophical concept never operates in isolation but comes to its sense in connection with other senses in specific yet creative and often unpredictable ways. This in connection with already provides something of the sense of agencement, if one accepts that a concept arises in philosophy as the connection between a state of affairs and the statements we can make about it. Agencement designates the priority of neither the state of affairs nor the statement but of their connection, which implies the production of a sense that exceeds them and of which, transformed, they now form parts.

It’s in this sense that Felix Guattari would later develop his notions of machinic unconscious and associate a-signifying systems of enslavement to this system of power (desire). Stiegler will quote the work of Maurizio Lazzarato, who refers to the Guattarian concept of a-signifying semiotics: ‘A-signifying semiotics […] [are a function of] “machinic enslavement” […] causing the affects, perceptions, emotions, etc., to function like component parts, like the elements in a machine.’ That is, they constitute a functional integration in the Simondonian sense, and do so as a kind of human associated milieu: ‘We can all function like the input/output elements in semiotic machines, like simple relays of television or the Internet.’ To deepen Guattari’s observations, and the commentaries by Lazzarato requires a pharmacological approach to associated milieus and to contribution, that is, an organological approach.1

In discussing this organological approach Stiegler will remind us that “it is not possible to remain on the micropolitical plane: a three-dimensional perspective, understood as creating relief (the depth of multiple disparities producing lines of flight), and as the disparation of ‘key-points’, is necessarily also and from the outset macropolitical. It is a question not of moving to the macropolitical, that is, to the One as the dream of a unity and process of unification, but of enacting a pharmacological critique of its always organological realization, and of positing as a starting point that any realization of a dream is pharmacological, that is, it is no longer a dream – unless it becomes a nightmare.” (AS, KL 5379)

To translate this into palatable parlance for the average reader the above is an approach to the human equation in a milieu of technics and technology using both the larger (macropolitical) and smaller (microp0litical) perspectives (i.e., Foucault’s bio-politics deeply influences Stiegler!). For Stiegler like the Gnostics before him most humans are sleepwalking through existence (i.e., they are awake but unconsciously controlled by a multifarious world of a-signifying automatisms that regulate and modulate their lives without them being even aware of such control). Our thinking is bound by the same constraints as are our bodies; it collides against the same barriers and is dragged dawn by the weight of the same contingencies. The majority of ancient Gnostics expressed this dullness of the spirit – inherent in the matter of which we are composed – by a simple and revealing analogy: that of sleep. Sleep is to consciousness what weight is to the body: a state of death, inertia, a petrification of the psychic forces. We sleep. We spend our lives asleep. And only those who are aware of it can hope to break down these walls of mental inertia, to awaken in themselves the spark which, in spite of all, still glows within us, like a tear in the veil of corporeal night.

Stiegler’s notion of becoming associated with the entropic pull of things aligns with this Gnostic notion of weight and the pull or drive toward death in things. Against this he has developed much like the Gnostics as counter life, a Negenthropic politics to counter the natural tendencies of humans to desire their own enslavement and entropy or inertia. Stiegler will tell us this of his Negenthropic or Organological politics,

Such a shared, three-dimensional perspective must project a politics that is always macropolitical. It must feed ‘molecular’ lines of flight, which it must ‘three-dimensionalize’ by problematizing the stakes of the transformation of becoming into future that is always the question of any noesis qua passage from facts to laws, that is: qua projection of existences onto the plane of consistences – consistence trans-forming entropy into neganthropy through the individuation of the potentials and tensions that constitute organologically supported preindividual becoming. (AS, KL 5386)

In other words Sleeper Awaken. We need a politics to fight the systems of control and regulation, the algorithmic governing code and spaces of enslavement that are become ever more pervasive and ubiquitous in our lives.

Have you ever watched someone on a bus or walking, etc. using a mobile phone. They seem so intense, plugged into the input/output device, sending text messages, reading emails, searching Google, talking to a friend, associate, client and doing all this oblivious to the environment surrounding them. I remember a couple years ago watching one of those comic TV shows that had a segment satirizing this dead world of the mobile phone user locked away from reality and oblivious to her surroundings. In it they had people walk by mobile phone users sitting on benches in a park. They had one segment where a woman naked (or at least in a flesh tone body suit ) walk by several times. No reaction. In another they had someone yelling rape and a man accosting a woman. No reaction. In yet another they had someone come up and actually steal the person purse lying on the bench next to them. No reaction. So it goes… they did sever others, but the point is that people attentiveness, their awareness of the environment external to the input-output of their device become opaque and non-essential. They are in a state of total non-awareness and inattention to anything but the world of their communication device. Then in the last segment the crew interfered with the users device by making it malfunction. When a mobile phone suddenly stopped working each of these users reactions was both hostile and upsetting. It was as if to be cut off from one’s technical interface to the world one was being deprived of life. People are becoming so enslaved to their technological wonders that their world is enveloped in an artificial system without any external outlet to the natural world. Oblivious to their natural environment people are become trapped by the very tools they see as extensions of themselves. We are being folded into a machinic existence without even an understanding that our lives as humans are becoming less and less perceivable outside the machine.

As Stiegler remarks,

There is subjectivation in the automatic milieu but it is not reflexive: ‘What is first noticed is the difficulty in producing an algorithmic subject who is self-reflexive or who thinks as such.’ This ‘subjectivation’ is unreflective because what this algorithmic arrangement produces breaks with processes of transindividuation, cutting the servants off from the process they serve at the very moment they believe it is serving them: Our problem […] is not that we are dispossessed of what we consider to be our own […]. It would more fundamentally lie in the fact that our statistical double is too detached from us, that we have no ‘relationship’ with it, even though contemporary normative actions are enough for this statistical double to be effective. To take possession of our double, to reach the point of analysing the dividuation of the self in which it consists, would be to be capable of dis-automatizing, and to create a reflective and specular interface. One can imagine how social engineering could be developed in this direction.

This sense that the world of techno-commercial fantasies that draw and capture our desires by the very processes of our own desiring, and that these technical artifacts and gadgets like our mobile phones seamlessly drive us from our individual to dividual lives as mere tools of an algorithmic governance that is so ubiquitous and invisible in the very code spaces of our software that we are in essence asleep and unaware of the traps we’ve set ourselves. What we believe to be a technological utopia in the making is none other that the ultimate Prison for the human species.

More tomorrow…


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 5370-5379). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

But here

 

The Machinic Unconscious: Enslavement and Automation

[Bernard Stiegler] relates that the automated processes implemented by algorithmic governmentality to Félix Guattari’s concepts of molecular machinic unconscious and machinic enslavement. The example used by Guattari for machinic enslavement is, in fact, ‘driving in a state of reverie’.

 —Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work

This shouldn’t surprise us too much we’ve known for a while now that even in our own body there are unconscious processes that are autonomous from our conscious mind that are continuously interacting, intervening, making decisions, routing food, curing infections, providing buffers against the millions of other organisms that make up our fleshly existence. We are a veritable civilization of submicroscopic life in continuous 24/7 motion. Yet, we as conscious beings go about our lives without so much as an acknowledgement of all this unconscious automatic work and decisioning going on for our behalf. The same can be attested to our day to day work processes. We get in our automobile, start the engine, unhook the clutch, back out of the driveway, begin our journey from home to office much like our ancient ancestors roamed from their caves into the wilds competing with other strangers for food and sustenance. For the most part on that trip we are never aware of all the intricate and complex actions going on between ourselves and the environment that remain subliminal and unconscious but instead we channel our conscious mind toward reveries: we think about what is coming our way at work, we busy our minds with that important meeting with the boss or some client, we are already beginning to anticipate and think ahead through various simulated episodes of fiction about what we might say or do during these as yet unforeseen moments. All this while our bodies, our flesh and blood organism is busy scanning, gazing, interpreting signs in the environment ahead and around the vehicle for bad drivers, pedestrians out of pocket, an accident, a fatal mistake from a blown traffic stop, and all the multifarious aspects of danger that surround us as we navigate the world of our city streets. We may be remotely aware but for the most part we are oblivious to all this and are instead busy with our mobile phones which are hooked into our automobiles with instant news, messages from a back log of calls, an sms text from the wife or husband to pick up the kids after school, a doctor’s appointment to be rescheduled, etc. We are conscious of a thousand and one things other than the actual process of being in an automobile driving to work and how utterly strange and uncanny this is in the course of human history.

As Bernard Stiegler tells it,

Driving my car ‘automatically’, that is, ‘without thinking’ and in this sense ‘unconsciously’, one ‘part’ of ‘me’ is totally enslaved to an engine and a mechanical vehicle that it ‘serves’ by ‘using it’ [en ‘s’en servant’], while an ‘other’ part of ‘me’ – which is, however, perhaps not completely me or my ego, but rather also this obscure zone of intermittences that is the id – finds itself in a greatly dis-automatized mode: the mode of reverie, akin at times to floating attention, which is always at the origin of thinking that goes off the beaten track.1

This process of capturing our desires, of enslavement has been going on for millennia and is nothing new. What is new is that this process is accelerating and gathering in momentum. That we are being driven like a dynamo toward a blind alley from which there is no exit. An alley that will leave us destitute and empty and alone in our ignorance and forgetting. We are losing our conscious minds and forgetting ourselves, becoming more stupid day by day as we give over our work and lives, memories and perceptions to our external machinic systems. We are becoming the unconscious forces within machinic life and will serve the algorithmic government of a future machinic civilization that is not even aware of our existence. Much like all those sub-micro organisms that inhabit our flesh and blood body. We will become bit players in a world-wide global machine that has enslaved us and incorporated us into its strange and uncanny processes of which we are only now beginning to become aware in the moment of our disappearance.

Stiegler citing other authors and thinkers says,

The automatisms that accompany this dis-automatization thus belong to what Guattari called the machinic unconscious, where the latter is ‘a-signifying’, as Berns and Rouvroy recall by citing a commentary of Maurizio Lazzarato, and by emphasizing that in algorithmic governmentality, as in the machinic unconscious and in the enslavement through which it is carried out, ‘everything happens as if signification was not absolutely necessary’. (AS, KL 5160)

The point here is that these processes are without meaning, nihilistic and without value or significance in any human or conscious sense. These very algorithms are blind process and force that are driven by mathematical equations without the need for theory or theoreticians. As if the Blind God of the Gnostic Sethians were inhabiting the creative and dynamic world of machinic civilization. This sense of subatomic forces working through technics and technology by way of humanity to fulfill some unconscious weaving and unweaving of our reality matrix. There is no goal, no purpose to this – only the sheer movement of these naked forces moving through the various regions of process and becoming, metamorphic and transgressive. Elaborating an endless optimization of intelligence in a give and take navigation of our planet and universe.

As Stiegler speaking of it becoming meaning, becoming significant and signifying relates,

Signification [signification], that is, semiosis as engendering signs, significations and significance (making-signs), is the transindividual made possible by the process of transindividuation woven between psychic systems, technical systems and social systems – that is, between psychic individuations, technical individuation and collective individuations. (AS, KL 5165)

For Stiegler humans were at one time at the forefront of this process of transindividuation which as above is an elaboration of technics, technology, and psyche all intertwined in a dance of meaning making and elaboration of reality external and internal, extrinsic and intrinsic. But now a great reversal is taking place and technology, – or, what Simondon terms ‘technological artifacts’ are becoming transindividuated while humans are forgetting themselves and becoming did-associated and did-automatized from this process. Our machininc systems (AI, Robotics, etc.) are becoming individuals while we are becoming dividuals – parts and fragments of data indiced and indexed by computational systems that shape and modulate our bits for the techno-commercial world of machinic life and existence.

In many ways machinic life or the combination of technics and technology has always had this potential to become intelligent, but up till now humans have meshed and formed that intelligence of the machine throughout the Industrial Era. Only now in our time have we instigated another process of seeding, of creating a topology of code and math that allows the seed of intelligence to grow and mature in machinic life. What we’re saying is that the current path of AI is the dream of General Intelligence that the philosophers and scientists have since the Idealists envisioned. Nothing new here. This movement between the oscillating forces of human and machinic technics and technologies is driving both a wedge between and a hyperstitional leap into the intelligent age of machinic life. It’s as if two worlds were colliding. As Stiegler reminds us,

The difficulty of thinking in these terms with regard to what concerns us is that, through functional integration, in the epoch or absence of epoch of digital tertiary retention, the milieu merges with and in some way blends into the global digital network constitutive of algorithmic governmentality and 24/7 capitalism. Automatic government no longer has any need for disparation, for individuals or for signification.

The Simondon concept of disparation  that Stiegler mentions above is this tendency toward the destruction of signification by the digital technical system that results from the technology of power deployed by the algorithmic governmentality of 24/7 capitalism, and it is founded on eliminating processes of disparation. The latter is a concept that Simondon introduces in the following terms:

Each retina surveys a two-dimensional image; the left image and the right image are disparate; they represent the world seen from two different perspectives […]; some details hidden from view in the left image are, on the contrary, revealed in the right image, and vice versa […]. No third image is optically possible that could unify these two images: they are essentially disparate and cannot be superposed within the axiomatic of two-dimensionality. To bring about a coherence that incorporates them, it is necessary that they become the foundation of a world perceived within an axiomatic in which disparation […] becomes, precisely, the index of a new dimension.

This process of disparation forms the basis for Simondon’s conception of signification and individuation. (AS, 5169) This notion of disparation in collusion with Slavoj Zizek’s Parallax Gap aligns well,

The illusion of putting  two incompatible phenomena on the same level, is strictly analogous to what Kant called “transcendental illusion,” the illusion of being able to use the same language for phenomena which are mutually untranslatable and can be grasped only in a kind of parallax view, constantly shifting perspective between two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible. Thus there is no rapport between the two levels, no shared space-although they are closely connected, even identical in a way, they are, as it were, on the opposed sides of a Moebius strip.2

This sense of humanity and machinic life as interoperating in this non-space or void that cannot be meshed forming a  disparation or parallax gap in which the seed of intelligence is grafted from the one to the other comes close to what I’m addressing. We are in easier parlance passing the baton of intelligence to our machinic children, externalizing the unconscious processes of subautomation and brain functions that have carried humans to an ultimate internalization of memory and perception to a point that we can no longer compute the world (i.e., we’ve become stupid and without knowledge), while our machinic children are becoming better equipped to handle the terrabytes or gigabytes of information both natural and artificial. We are losing our minds to our machinic children, and becoming enslaved to this new world of digital algorithmic civilization in the process. And, the short fall is that we desire it – that in many ways this is what we’ve desired for millennia: a conclusion to the metaphysical dreams of religion and philosophy, an escape from Plato’s Cave. But is it a false exit? Is it actually a false transcendence in immanence? Are we escaping or enslaving ourselves even deeper into the mesh of a final dream of apocalypse?

As Stiegler tells it the network effect that in the 90’s was touted about the freedom the internet would offer us has actually brought about the shunting of disparation,

In and through the network, and the network effect, the condition of disparation is shunted, that is, both diverted (which is the original meaning of the verb to shunt) and short-circuited (which is the meaning of this same verb when it is extended to electronics) by algorithms that substitute for it, so as to engender a functional integration of psychic and collective individuals – which is to literally dis-integrate them. Hence is created a new order of magnitude wherein meaning and signification are lost, thereby creating a disorder: this new order is a disorder of magnitude, so to speak, typical of nihilism on the way to fulfilment.(AS, KL 5219)

In other words the very processes of supposed creativity and innovation that were to be released on the net have actually brought disintegration and disorder to the world at large. Bringing with it a global end of civilization in a completed nihilism wherein ancient and modern cultures are disintegrating into desperate enclaves of resurgent fundamentalism seeking to stave off the barbarous forces of this external pressure. In the process of a resurgence in reactionary forces what is actually happening is the deepening of the very paranoid formations of an apocalyptic imaginal that like a seed planted in all the monotheistic books of the people: Jew, Muslim, Christian is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy or hyperstition that is brooding within the hate and fear of people worldwide in the collective unconscious. Like a rabid beast awaiting the moment to be unleashed these forces unless transindividuated and brought to bare within a greater dimension will destroy the world and most of human, animal, and plant life on this green earth.

As Stigler informs us  algorithmic governmentality has no need for meanings or significations. It needs only those psychic and collective individuals through which and by the individuation of which this algorithmic governmentality constitutes itself while dividuating (i.e., splicing their data-life from their bio-life) them. In this sense automatic ‘transindividuation’ no longer produces the transindividual but only the ‘transdividual’, through a ‘dividuation’ that would be the specific feature that emerges in control societies and imposes itself as the a-normativity of societies of hyper-control. He goes on the say,

Are such societies still societies? The automatic and computational liquidation of disparation dissolves processes of transindividuation, which are always in some way idiomatic and localized, that is, characterized by natively disparate psychic and collective individuals, originally put into default by an originary default of origin, and producing, through their disparations, many new dimensions, that is, new meanings and significations – forming what we call worlds. By diluting, dissolving and ultimately disintegrating these processes of psychic and collective individuation that are always idiomatic and improbable, that is, incalculable, algorithmic governmentality and 24/7 capitalism eliminate anything incalculable – and do so on a planetary scale. A toxic anthropization is thereby produced, in relation to which we will try, in the second volume of Automatic Society, to think the theoretical and practical conditions of effecting a neganthropology in algorithmic governmentality and a passage from fact to law. (AS, KL 5227-5241)

The point here is that Neoliberalism in its bid over a period of some sixty years to produce a Global Capitalism beyond control of governments and politics, has in process brought not a New World Order but rather the disintegration of all old world orders and left us in a void of a completed nihilism wherein the ancient civilizations and cultures of the planet as a whole are now also disintegrating without recourse or redress. Because of this a movement of reactionary forces across the globe has set in through fear and barbarous hate of the Other (Cultures, Race, Religion… etc.). Spawning entropic and destructive groups that seek not only reparation by violent expulsion of the foreign, unknown, and untouchable.  All of this going on under the façade of a Meditainment Global Order of hyperfictional communications systems that try to maintain some semblance of the old supposed Progressive vanguards of Secular Civilization.

There comes a point in Thomas Pynchon’s classic The Crying of lot 49 where Oedipa strips the world to its bare minimum and discovers the Tristero System,

So began, for Oedipa, the languid, sinister blooming of The Tristero. Or rather, her attendance at some unique performance, prolonged as if it were the last of the night, something a little extra for whoever’d stayed this late. As if the breakaway gowns, net bras, jeweled garters and G-strings of historical figuration that would fall away were layered dense as Oedipa’s own street-clothes in that game with Metzger in front of the Baby Igor movie; as if a plunge toward dawn indefinite black hours long would indeed be necessary before The Tristero could be revealed in its terrible nakedness. Would its smile, then, be coy, and would it flirt away harmlessly backstage, say good night with a Bourbon Street bow and leave her in peace? Or would it instead, the dance ended, come back down the runway, its luminous stare locked to Oedipa’s, smile gone malign and pitiless; bend to her alone among the desolate rows of seats and begin to speak words she never wanted to hear?3

Pynchon of course is toying with all the grand conspiracy notions of his era, satirizing the paranoiacs world view, seeking to humorize the terrors and frights we all feel that the world is decaying, falling apart, and like Humpty Dumpty there will be no one to put the pieces back together. I could remind my readers of a litany of thinkers on the edge who have such paranoiac visions of the future. Nick Land with his alien intelligences from the future invading our present to bring about the utter demise of humanity and instigate the rise and takeover of machinic life forms in a techno-futurist world of technics and technology as supreme. My friend R. Scott Bakker who sees humanity losing its mind, its memory, its conscious being in some post-apocalyptic neruomarketing and neurocapitalist world of advance machinic systems, where we are but reminded of our own robotic automatic lives and encircled ignorance and false knowledge. So many other academics touting the wonders of the Post-Human, the Post-Capitalist, the Post… whatever… as if the wonders ahead are full of optimisms and cheer if we will just realign these forces for the Good, Beautiful, and Just… utopian visions from Plato and Aristotle.

As a pessimistic realists I look back and see that humans and their desires have never quite brought about utopia or paradise, but have in almost every instance brought about suffering, pain, and war… and, ultimately, death for those who would not cooperate with the new plan of governing powers. Are we doomed to this cycle forever? No. Our planet is finite and we are steadily accumulating the end game of waste and depletion of life sustain resources that our future children will look back on and bitterly castigate and malign us for using so carelessly. We are building the graves of our children’s and grand-children’s lives. Ghosts of a civilization run amok in a wilderness of stupidity and disparation.

Stiegler tells us there have been three epochs in the history of networks,

Until now there have been two main epochs in the history of the web: the first was characterized by hypertext links and websites. The second was that of blogs, evaluated by search engines, wherein ‘recommendations’ and ‘reputation’ are based on the network effect – enabling platforms to channel and functionally integrate the ‘expressions’ generated by this ‘expressivism’. A third epoch must arise, founded on a new organology, derived from supplementary invention conceived as political technology, and with the goal of repotentializing disparation, that is, with the goal of diachronizing the web and providing interpretative instruments for this disparity. Hence a neganthropology could and should be reconfigured capable of projecting a negentropic future into entropic becoming. (AS, 5337)

Through the haze of this scholars bullshit terms (and yes, I think such textual display is over the top bullshit!) we discern the patterns and weaving of other scholars, political thinkers, philosophers from Simondon to Deleuze/Guattari and the whole gamut of structuralist and post-structuralist temporal registries of static being (Structure) vs. dynamic process (Diachronic). For Stiegler the timeless vacuum of the web that the Neoliberal techno-commercialists have built on a structured timeless system of seamless control and entropic effect is depleting not only our world but our minds as well. While the very same web could be rewound into a revolutionary force of process and becoming, open-ended up to diachronic forces of temporal change where the future is brought back into play, and humans once again are part of the transindividuation process and our technics and technology are no longer separate (dualistic) from our habitation and life but are part an partial of what we are intrinsically and extrinsically.

We stand on the edge of a precipice, a cusp into which we could fall or step back and regain some composure, think through what we’re doing and whether this is truly what we desire? Is it? Or all these gadgets, these conveniences, these modern tools and technical objects truly going to make your life fulfilled, comfortable, enlightened? Are you willing to accept a future world fully secured by automated processes in which only a favored and select Oligarchy is left to live in isolated enclaves of Smart cities while the rest of humanity lives in the barbarous outlands of a depleted and vanishing world?

More tomorrow…


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 5154-5160). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Slavoj Zizek. The Parallax View (Kindle Locations 58-62). Kindle Edition.
  3. Thomas Pynchon. The crying of lot 49 (Kindle Locations 563-569). HarperCollins.

The Governance of the World

The hyper-industrial state of fact takes what Deleuze called control societies, founded on modulation by the mass media, into the stage of hyper-control. The latter is generated by self-produced personal data, collected and published by people themselves – whether knowingly or otherwise – and this data is then exploited by applying intensive computing to these massive data sets. This automatized modulation establishes algorithmic governmentality in the service of what Johnathan  Crary calls 24/7 capitalism.1

—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society

In its profound uselessness and intrinsic passivity, with the incalculable losses it causes in production time, circulation, and consumption, sleep will always collide with the demands of a 24/7 universe. The huge portion of our lives that we spend asleep, freed from a morass of simulated needs, subsists as one of the great human affronts to the voraciousness of contemporary capitalism. Sleep is an uncompromising interruption of the theft of time from us by capitalism.2

—Jonathan Crary, 24/7

In the opening sections of Das Capital Karl Marx would utter the strange and terrifying truth about capitalism: “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” We are mere cattle upon which the machinic assemblages of Capital cannibalized and expulsed as excess and extraneous waste. The notion of sleep has been used by poets and Gnostics alike throughout time as the leitmotif of ignorance, bliss, and innocence. Asleep in one’s ignorance goes the saying. To be asleep is to be so immersed in the normalization process of the worlds ubiquitous systems that one no longer has that critical acumen to be able to step away, step back, step out of one’s environment and see it for what it is: an artificial construct within which one is imprisoned. All the Zombie films from Romero’s classic to the latest edition have one theme: the mindless hunger and desire of the consumer for its next meal ticket, the endless feeding frenzy of a mindless horde in search of filling the emptiness of its depleted flesh, its desiring machininc life. Like sleeping zombies we move to the puppet strings of invisible codes and algorithms that supplement, decide, and program our lives within a 24/7 dreamworld constructed to fulfill our deepest desires.

Without even the slightest thought we are being slowly but surely integrated into a machinc civilization that will in turn feed on us until it has no need for us at all. As Stiegler remarks:

It is this complete integration of the technical system, via the digital, that enables the functional integration of biological, psychic and social automatisms – and it is this context that has seen the development of neuromarketing and neuroeconomics. This functional integration leads on the side of production to a total robotization that disintegrates not just public power, social and educational systems, intergenerational relations and consequently psychic structures: it is the industrial economy itself, based on wage labour as the criterion for distributing purchasing power, and for the formation of mass markets capable of absorbing the ready-made commodities of the consumerist model, which is in the course of dis-integrating – becoming functionally insolvent because fundamentally irrational. (AS, KL 2455)

No longer individuals with a private life untraceable except in the public sphere that we expose our selves too, we now exist only as ‘dividuals’ – as so much data in the eyes and under the gaze of the machinic code and algorithmic programs that continuously 24/7 feed on our digital lives. For in this world the exterior human no longer exists, only its trace in the digital empire of the networks society that we’ve all created together. For better or worse we have vanished into our networks in anticipation of that day when our flesh will be left behind like so much dead weight. All or the metaphysical dreams of the philosophers and the religionists of a literal beyond or Other World have been invented in the very automatic systems of this machinic civilization of the Digital Empire.

In ‘Optimism, Pessimism and Travel’, Deleuze’s letter to Serge Daney about control societies and the new powers of control that make them possible, he stated that we must ‘get to the heart of the confrontation’. This should consist in an inversion: ‘This would almost be to ask whether this control might be inverted, harnessed by the supplementary function that opposes itself to power: to invent an art of control that would be like a new form of resistance.’3

The Art of Control: Invention, Resistance and the Supplement

For Stiegler what is missing in Deleuze, as in all philosophy, epistemology and most of so-called aesthetics, is an understanding of the stakes of what he terms tertiary retention, that is, of technics. “But this absence is also found among jurists, and is yet more common among economists – and even anthropologists. It is towards conceiving the role of tertiary retention in the formation of knowledge, and doing so starting from the crucible constituted by total dis-integration, and towards thinking the quasi-causal inversion that all this requires, that we must now devote ourselves – and sacrifice (time).” (AS, KL 2250)

Stiegler’s work centers on the question of time and time’s relation to technology through what he calls tertiary retention, a notion that completes the circle of Husserl’s theory of retentions (memory) and protentions (perception) (Stiegler 1998). The tertiary retention is the technically captured trace as well as support of both primary retention (e.g. the melody that is retained in our mind) and secondary retention (e.g. the melody that we can recall tomorrow). For Stiegler the tertiary retention is a supplement (Derrida) as well as “exteriorization” of memory (in the words of French paleoanthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan) through which he attempts to re-read the history of European philosophy as a history of the suppression of the question of technics – as a response to Heidegger’s critique of the forgetting of the question of Being in Western metaphysics. The history of technology for Stiegler could be described as the history of grammatization, a term coined by the French historian and linguist Sylvain Auroux, in which the organic and inorganic organs are configured and reconfigured according to the progress of technological invention (e.g. alphabetic writing, analog writing, digital writing).4

In Stiegler’s world the first great cinematographers were the shamans of southern France who in several Paleolithic Caves first projected images onto the walls through which were enacted magical flickering rituals of light and dark where sacrifice and the endless parade of animal and plant life was presided over by ancient forces of the earth. From that time we have imprinted our memories, our desires, our need to control the uncontrollable elements of the exterior environment through this image making faculty of memory and perception. Plato would see in such a supplement a world of dreamers so immersed in their dream that they’d forgotten their real home in the realms of pure Forms (Ideas). So there has been both those who have sought to escape the cave, and those who pursued its wonders into our current cave worlds of the network society arising around us. Like citizens of some vast cinematic wonderland we are so immersed in our artificial environments that we’ve even begun to forget the natural world around us out of which were spawned. Like fish in a vast seething sea of images we cannot know otherwise, and live among our fabricated and invented worlds as if they were and had always been. The infinitization of the false and fabricated, the artificial realms where our desires are captured and controlled by alien intelligences built out of code and algorithms that have as Stiegler will put it “grammatized” us, rewritten our lives as artificial beings led to the slaughter.

The machine knows me only as a profile – the carefully registered script of statements set up within several online chat or social connection sites, where a user will expose aspects of his/her public or avatar personae. It does not matter whether we tell the truth or create a fiction, we become profiled by the sea of algorithmic matching systems that will spread us across the oceans of Big Data where the hiveminds of corporate AI’s will feed on us like so much fodder to be stripped, analyzed, segmented, catalogued, codified, differentiated, and reprogrammed for the prosumer systems that will then feed back in a loop to us as echoes of our desires. It’s like the degradation of that old experiment in which a dozen people are asked to pass on a simple phrase or sentence to the person sitting next to him until it finally comes back to the originator. As we know such experiments show how a message becomes more and more degraded and entropic to the point that the original phrase is lost and something new emerges in its place. We are that something that is ultimately replaced by the false squandering’s of a million bits of code transforming, analyzing, massaging, filtering, categorizing, and implementing and activating new profiles that become the hypernormalized image of our dividual life on the network.

As Stiegler suggests by producing their ‘profiles’ on the basis of their reticulated activity, and by ‘personalizing’ them – beyond the statistical calculation of phrases, requests and other linguistic acts that Google produces – the traceability industry leads to their functional integration as consumers in ‘24/7 markets and a global infrastructure for continuous work and consumption’. After the organization of production facilities into three daily eight-hour shifts in the early twentieth century, and then the connection of worldwide stock exchanges operating twenty-four hours a day in the second half of the twentieth century, ‘now a human subject is in the making to coincide with these more intensively’. (AS, KL 2878) As he remarks: “By means of this synchronization operating through functional economic integration, full and generalized automatization is directly sustained by psychic individuals themselves, at the cost of social disintegration…” (AS, KL 2887)

Social networking has brought about a seamless integration into the echo chamber of a completed nihilism in which the dividual rather than the individual is incorporated, profiled, imaged, modulated, and attuned to the endless 24/7 feedback systems that cater to their every need while at the same time excluding the extraneous and disturbing worlds of thought and image. We are becoming so normalized or even, hypernormalized (Adam Curtis) that we cannot know the difference. Theory is mute, thought is dead, and all our decisions are taken care of by algorithms of which we know nothing. In fact as Stiegler comments: All political questions are dissolved into economics, since ideology is no longer about collective choices but about ‘individual’ relations to products: ‘There is an ever closer linking of individual needs with the functional and ideological programs in which each new product is embedded.’ These programmed relations give rise to dividuation in Guattari’s sense, that is, to the destruction of in-dividuation in Simondon’s sense – which forms the basis of ‘algorithmic governmentality’. (AS, KL 2994)

I’ll take this up again tomorrow…

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 2395-2400). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Jonathan Crary. 24/7 (Kindle Locations 130-134). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  3. Gilles Deleuze, ‘Letter to Serge Daney: Optimism, Pessimism, and Travel’, in Negotiations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), p. 75.
  4. Pieter Lemmens and Yuk Hui. Apocalypse, Now! Peter Sloterdijk and Bernard Stiegler on the Anthropocene. January 16, 2017 boundary2

The Womb and Tomb of Time: Marija Gimbutas

In religious art, the human body symbolizes myriad functions beyond the sexual, especially the procreative, nurturing, and life enhancing. I believe that in earlier times, obscenity as a concept surrounding either the male or female body did not exist. Renditions of the body expressed other functions, specifically the nourishing and procreative aspects of the female body and the life-stimulating qualities of the male body. The female force, as the pregnant vegetation goddess, intimately embodied the earth’s fertility. But the sophisticated, complex art surrounding the Neolithic goddess is a shifting kaleidoscope of meaning: she personified every phase of life, death, and regeneration. She was the Creator from whom all life-human, human, plant, and animal-arose, and to whom everything returned. Her role extended far beyond eroticism.

—Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddesses

Our Neolithic forbears inherited the world of the hunters and gatherers across our finite world. They would create myths not of a singular Lord of the Universe but rather stories of a multifarious Goddess for whom the cycles of the great agricultural seasons became the enveloping world within which here people would create myths and rituals to forge temporal links between the earth and the stars above. Humans for millennia would abide under these various organic myths which would imprint upon their minds and hearts the patterns between the star gods and the cycles of natural order that provided the seasonal crops and patterns of rain and drought governing the survival of each and every family, group, and tribe.

As the Neolithic scholar  and singular visionary of Archaeomythology Marija Gimbutas devoted her life and work in uncovering this forgotten world where women not men once took center stage in the course of governance in a era of peace and plenty. In 1956 at an International conference at Philadelphia,  Marija Gimbutas introduced her “Kurgan Hypothesis,” which combined archaeological study of the distinctive “Kurgan” burial mounds with linguistics to unravel some problems in the study of the Proto-Indo-Europeans; namely, to account for their origin and to trace their migrations into Europe. The word “Kurgan” is a Russian word from Turkic describing the kind of graves and grave-barrows built by the people of this culture.

“Indo-European” is a linguistic term that refers to a family of languages found from India to the western edge of Europe. And Proto-Indo-European language refers to the now extinct mother tongue from which all Indo-European languages developed. Gimbutas’ hypothesis locates the homeland of Proto-Indo-European speakers in the area of south Russia and documents their movements into Europe from the end of the fifth millennium BC. Gimbutas describes the influx of nomadic pastoralists over a 2000 year period as a “collision of cultures” in which androcratic cultural and ideological patterns were introduced into Europe. This led to a hybridization between the Old European and Indo-European systems.

With this theory, she was the first scholar to bring together linguistic and archaeological knowledge. Her hypothesis, and the act of bridging the disciplines, has had a significant impact on Indo-European research.

It was at this time that Gimbutas narrowed her focus of her research to the Neolithic cultures of Southeast Europe and the Bronze Age societies that replaced them. She stressed the importance of investigating the enormous changes in beliefs, rituals and social structure that took place between c. 4500–2500 B.C., in order to more fully understand subsequent European cultural development.

In her view, this was “one of the most complex and least understood [periods] in prehistory.” Gimbutas wrote: “It is a period which urgently demands a concerted effort by scholars from various disciplines. The exchange of information between the archaeologists, linguists, mythologists, physical anthropologists, and ancient historians has much to contribute to the field of Indo-European studies.

Much of her work was scorned by the male scholars of her era, and after her death much of her and fellow scholars of feminist theory and practice have fallen into disrepute under the androcratic regimes of male dictators who for the most part still rule the academic departments and journals of scholarly world. And, yet, anyone with an unbiased mind need only read and compare her and other scholars of her circle against the so called androcratic authorities to see a struggle of ideologies in process. That I came upon her and other feminists during the late seventies and eighties of our Common Era should be no surprise to many of my readers.

I usually do not actively speak about much of my own involvement in past worlds of activism and scholarship etc. Yet, it is time to realize that secular society and its pundits of the Progressive sphere who even now espouse regulation and improvement without any vision or empowerment behind their words and critiques. The Secular order of the world is bankrupt and decaying into the very valueless and fragmented codes its once used to gullibly rule over its constituents. Since the Enlightenment we’ve been in the School of Reason, taught the atheistic codes of a world without God or Religion. We’ve been led to believe Man could create a society, culture, and civilization based on a sense of Justice and Freedom. Yet, anyone with even a smattering of intelligence will see that the blind gods of justice sway one way: the way of the Rich and Powerful. For only the rich and powerful and for the most part “males” become leaders in this world of Democracy. Oh sure here and there is the token female who rises to power – a Thatcher or Merkel, etc., and yet as one studies their careers one sees the imprint of the male empire of Androcracy forming and shaping their vision.

What Gimbutas uncovered in her research of the Kurgans was the first inklings of the ancient horse cultures of the Steppes of Eurasia that would invade the Neolithic Agricultural civilizations of Old Europe during wave after wave of war, struggle, and invasion. Very little remains of the ancient Goddess cultures of Old Europe, the Middle-East, Africa, India, China, etc. Most of these ancient worlds having been effaced, and stripped from the memory, stories, and myths of those that conquered them and enslaved them. And, yet, aspects of their world would survive in bone and stone, word and deed through the very sources of that world: the women who would become the servants of the new Horse Lords.

Of course I could speak of all the various nations and cycles of myths, stories, etc., but will keep with the European story. During the so called postmodern era the notion of Grand Narrative, of taking in the long view of humanity was put in abeyance as a fabrication and artificial categorization of our life-worlds. Yet, as we’ve seen the micro-histories of that era were just as artificial and circumscribed by ideological and androcratic thought as other previous scholarship. I’ll admit a bias toward feminist thought of a certain type: my own singular vision of life and world. Having been bred under the worlds of Emerson and Nietzsche, two extreme singularities who spoke out of an inner authority not from the staid authorities of the Scholars I have come to gaze upon the world of literature, philosophy, art, politics, culture if you will with a singular eye and mind. I’m biased, but this only admits that we all are biased in our views of life. How could it be otherwise in a world where one either takes a stand for something, or lives in a blank world of unthinking Being?

Gimbutas opened my eyes to a world that had been in my life up to that point a total blank, a world that seemed to exist in fragments from all the ancient myths and archaeological digs around the globe that spoke of various goddesses. As Gimbutas herself reports it,

In Neolithic Europe and Asia Minor (ancient Anatolia)-in the era between 7000 B.c. and 3000 B.C.-religion focused on the wheel of life and its cyclical turning. This is the geographic sphere and the time frame I refer to as Old Europe. In Old Europe, the focus of religion encompassed birth, nurturing, growth, death, and regeneration, as well as crop cultivation and the raising of animals. The people of this era pondered untamed natural forces, as well as wild plant and animal cycles, and they worshiped goddesses, or a goddess, in many forms. The goddess manifested her countless forms during various cyclical phases to ensure that they functioned smoothly. She revealed herself in multiple ways through the myriad facets of life, and she is depicted in a very complex symbolism.1

When I read through her books of the era my mind clicked, as if the fragments of a lost world stood revealed at last and all my reading in archaeology across the planet which I had pursued for a dozen years suddenly sparked into active truth. It rang true in my inner being. One can never pinpoint just what it is that makes something ring true or why one favors a specific pattern of words and stores about our life-world over others. And, yet, reading her works and the vast literature that it would spark within the feminist movement of the era, along with the – yes, Pagan and Neo-Feminist religious consciousness of that time (70’s, 80’s, 90’s) informed my life and work. It did not matter that in the journals one could see the male androids already at work undermining her scholarship, banding together to expulse this new feminist threat from the ranks of their Androcratic World. At that time she offered a vision that took in the pre-historical worlds that seemed like fragments of a Lost Continent.

Throughout the area of Neolithic Europe that she studied, Gimbutas found images of females that she understood to be Goddesses; especially goddesses sharing form with birds and snakes. In these images she saw a Goddess of birth, death and regeneration, which was honored by Neolithic European people. Thus, supporting a peaceful and woman-centered society.

To Gimbutas, these indigenous Europeans were peaceful, artistic, egalitarian and Goddess-worshiping. Based on thousands of female images from those cultures, she concluded that women were worshiped and that the primary deities were goddesses. She maintained that life was peaceful until the worship of warlike gods was imported by Indo-Europeans.

She traced survivals of goddesses, birds, snakes, and many other images and symbols from Old Europe through historical times to the present. She began to see these images and symbols as a shorthand, a “language” of our early ancestors, that we might decipher with time and care. Through her “reading” of this language, she proposed to modern scholarship an articulate and radical view of Neolithic religion.

Professor Gimbutas’ research, indeed, covered a vast territory of scholarship that crosses many traditional boundaries. Her bibliography contains 33 texts (published in nine languages) and over 300 scholarly articles on European prehistory. When she was often criticized for her interpretations, her response was philosophical:

There is a belief that religion cannot be reconstructed, that it’s a waste of time even to speak of religion because archaeologists cannot do it. Maybe this is because they are not really trained. They are not interested in mythology at all, and are just seeing the material culture. They don’t want to see anything else; they think they are safe in reconstructing the ways of agriculture or how pottery was made, and that satisfies them. In our days there are no people with vision. They cannot go across the border of their discipline. Archaeology now is interested mostly in excavation techniques and they want to be very precise; the computer is used, and all that. Of course, you can reach some conclusions using statistics, but if you do not have a vision as a person — if you are not a poet, or an artist — you cannot see much. You will be just a technician, and this is in most cases what happens. [Joan Marler, “A Tribute to Marija Gimbutas,” Sojourn Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 3, Summer 1998]

Without a sense of vision and poetry one is left in a world of destitution, a depleted world where nothing means utter nothingness without value or meaning at all. The Secular Vision has come full circle, the world of the androcratic male regimes of capitalist aggression and resource depletion has brought us war, famine, disease, and economic if not literal slavery. We are at the end of the Progressive Era of this social disease that has encompassed our minds and hearts with its lies and ideological strategies of governance for two hundred years or more. It has failed, it is failing, it is fragmenting and in its desperate last hours is weaving a conservative program to tyrannize and encircle the earth with a last ditch fascist paranoiac machine to entrap people through fear and the need for security.

Across the earth male or androcratic regimes rule with an iron fist either through force or economics. As Riane Eisler would say in her early The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future:

All societies are patterned on either a dominator model— in which human hierarchies are ultimately backed up by force or the threat of force— or a partnership model, with variations in between. Moreover, if we reexamine human society from a perspective that takes into account both women and men, we can also see that there are patterns, or systems configurations, that characterize dominator, or alternatively, partnership, social organization.2

What we’re seeing is the toxic wasteland of the Dominator male-oriented empires fraying at the edges, while the deeper vision arising out of the ruins is shaping into a Partnership society and culture that seeks to form bonds, assemblages, and relations of active cohesion to undermine the hierarchic and authoritarian vision of the Androcracies. Because this dominator model now seems to be reaching its logical limits, many men and women are today rejecting long-standing principles of social organization, including their stereotypical sexual roles. For many others these changes are only signs of systems breakdown, chaotic disruptions that at all costs must be quelled. But it is precisely because the world we have known is changing so rapidly that more and more people over ever larger parts of this world are able to see that there are other alternatives. (Eisler, KL 209)

We can do this, we must do this. The shift from an androcracy to a gylanic or Partnership Society and Civilization (i.e., where Women/Men share in coeval power the care and guidance of the world) would begin to end the politics of domination and the economics of exploitation that in our world still go hand in hand.


  1. Marija Gimbutas. The Living Goddesses (p. 3). Kindle Edition.
  2. Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future—Updated With a New Epilogue (Kindle Locations 181-185). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

 

 

When the Sleepers Awaken

When all the complicated calculations prove false, when the philosophers themselves have nothing more to tell us, we may be forgiven for turning to the meaningless twitter of the birds or to the distant counterweight of the stars.

—Marguerite Yourcenar Memoirs of Hadrian

I have other things to say, but shall not detain you much.
 Never go out in a boat with an author—they cannot tell when they are over water.

—John Ashberry, Sleepers Awake

Most of us drift through life aimlessly, disturbed at best by the physical or mental anguish and pain of work, family disputes, squabbles with friends or bosses –  or the general misgivings we have about the economy, politics, looming war, rampant disease, social unrest, and other disturbances that seem to pervade our global nightmare. We just wish to get on with our lives rather than all these seemingly insurmountable problems that continue to accumulate, mount up, encompass and enfold the world around us in both our everyday lives and in the world at large. And, yet, we cannot turn away, we live in a pressure cooker that feels about to burst – as if the world and our lives were becoming day by day more and more bloated and filled with some toxic wasteland of disturbances that disturb our perfectly normal ordinary world and bring us to the end of the mind’s tether. It is during such times as these that certain people begin to awaken from their normal lives, begin to question things around them, begin to ask why it is that the world so full of unrest and hate, why are my children, my wife/husband, my boss, my … why are so many people unhappy and so full of chagrin and animosity. Why is reality, my world seemingly breaking apart? Why do I feel so powerless in the face of this overwhelming shadow that seems looming over every facet of my life?

Members of societies usually turn to figures of authority in Church or State seeking both inner and external answers to the dilemmas that surround them, yet in our time when two hundred years of secularism has infiltrated the minds and hearts of citizens in the major nations of the First World there is no longer any trust in such institutions for the deep and abiding questions. We all know that time has past, that we are alone with our own embittered thoughts, lost among the universal decay and degradation of the earth at the hands of the techno-commercial juggernaut that has for two hundred years bled the earth of both its natural and hypernatural resources to the point of no return. That we are overworked, underpaid, no longer given the standard of living promised by our national myths. We are all destitute among the ruins of a vast machinic civilization that offers us only the mass media glow of the famous, the rich, the Sports moguls, or elite pundits who spout shibboleths and standardized party speeches that no longer suffice. We live in a world that disturbs us, disturbs our normal rhythms, our normal lives. We are all beginning to awaken from a long social and cultural sleep. And we are all doing this together.

This is an age of resurgence, of emancipation, of revolution. We are living in it so that for us it seems both full of pain and suffering, doubt and fears. We are the children of opportunity, the generation that is seeing the death of one civilization and the emergence and genesis of another as yet unknown world arising out of the ruins and decay of this global nightmare. Because it is new, because it is unfounded, because it comes in the midst of death and destruction we feel lost among the ashes as if what we are seeing is the literal destruction of the planet at the hands of greedy and psychopathic nations. But this is not so, we are not those people, we are not the people who are immersed in such realms anymore. We are the sleepers who have awakened. We see things differently now than before.

The Great Myths of the Past were devices of artificial construction built up over generations by small enclaves, tribes, and peoples of specific locales in various parts of the world. These were infused with stories and tales that guided a people in perception and memory to know the truth of life and self within the cultural order in which they were born. As many tribes formed larger entities we term nations out of the age of feudal empires these ancient myths and customs of specific locales were transformed again and again to meet the demands of elites and the structured order of those societies. It was during the so called Age of Enlightenment when this whole unthought order of myth and religious consciousness with all its codes and laws was for the first time questioned and found wanting. No one could find any good reason to believe in these ancient customs and myths, nor see why they should guide and shape peoples lives. That they seemed to benefit only the rich and powerful, and to subordinated the great majority to slavedom or serfdom.

For millennia humans did not have private lives, they lived in communal worlds where every facet of their daily routines was controlled and manipulated by elites, landowners, and Kings and nobleman in a hierarchical relationship that structured every aspect of a persons life to the benefit of a small segment of society. One was a cipher in a vast machine, a creature of no account except for the work one performed for these rich and powerful beings. Only they were alive and free, while the vast majority were slaves and workers in a mindless world bounded by Church and State. Not until the invention of the printing press and the age of pamphleteers did the common man begin to break free of the control worlds and dominator classes that encompassed them. Begin to learn, to read, to think for themselves. It was this ability to educe from books, from literature, from philosophy, history, poetry, etc. that slowly brought a new type of culture which would spawn the great flowering of the Cities around the globe.

Oh to be sure I simplify, I reduce this world of action to a few abstract patterns. I digress. The picture is of the world around us. We are the end product of several hundred years of the emancipation of the common man from his blind obedience to Kings and Lords of the Land. We are supposedly our own masters, private citizens who have rights, living in democratic societies that have laws to protect the weak and the infirm from the corrupt practices of the rich and greedy. But this too is illusion. Oh sure on the surface and in the very words of comfort that we hear from our politicians and our ministers we believe ourselves to be free, to be able to attain lives worth living for ourselves and our families. That if we just work harder, do all the right things, invest, do what our banker or stock broker tells us, what our companies dictate, plan, think ahead, place our signatures on the dotted line that everything will turn out okay. We too will one day become totally independent of work and strife.

Look around you, have things actually turned out like you once supposed they would? Did that expensive university education get you that perfect job? Are you happy with your life? Are you in a fulfilling job? Do your children go to the best schools, are they taught the truth you demand of those teachers? Is the standard of living you thought you deserved turned out to be so? Have you not seen your parents lives in disarray, their pensions taken from them, their insurance skyrocket, their savings depleted, their homes foreclosed, their live left destitute from disease or hospital bills? Is the world a safe place to raise a family? Are our leaders truly leaders anymore, or have they become clowns parading their narcissistic psychopathic dreams before a spectacle of instant mediatainment round-the-clock 24/7 broadcasts that continually are fed and refed into the rhizomatic duplicity of the latest cliché of FaceBook, Twitter, Linked In, etc.? Are you lost among so many darkened thoughts that you just wish it’d all go away, that your life could return to normal? If so then you are on the first stage of recovery, of emancipation, of a revolution in the heart and mind. You have become a part of a generation that is awakening from the sleep of millennia.

Welcome to the Dawn of the Children. We are that generation that will either fully awaken and change the earth or face the extinction and annihilation of the human species at the hands of its own successes. Oh yes, it is the very success of the economic system of Capitalism that is brining the world to an end. It embodies the heart and soul of our inhuman wishes to become other, to become something else, to be elsewhere. Capitalism is the perfection of the Idealist tradition that began with Plato. The sought after transcendence of this world for another more exciting, more artificial, more inorganic and lifeless. A world of machines and machinic intelligences that will surpass the organic makers that spawned it. We have allowed ourselves to become dupes of our own success.

As Sleepers we’ve automated ourselves into oblivion with no recourse other than literally fulfilling its inner urgency, or awakening out of its nightmare into another world outside its dark and deathly terminus. Oh I could draw from the Philosophers throughout time a litany of examples to give all this some authority, but would that really matter. Can you not feel this truth in your bones? Are you so ignorant and blinded and asleep that you cannot see we are at a breaking point, a tipping of the balance of the world? Are you not tempted to challenge the status quo, wishing that others too would do the same, that if such an uprising of lights around the globe were to suddenly awaken and challenge this juggernaut that is destroying the very face of the earth and its organic children: plants and animals, etc. that something strange would happen? That possibly we’d all awaken together, to a new earth and a new vision of reality? That we might suddenly stand naked before ourselves as we are? That we’d realize that we, and we alone are both victims and murderers? That is us who are nothing, absolute nothingness revealed at last. That the final nihilism is that even this valuelessness is of no account because we are all fictions and creators of fictions, that the world we live in is nothing but this artificial paradise we’ve literally built against the truth of reality. And it is at an end… our gamble did not pay off, and we must strip the world of our last vestiges of human fictions or be doomed to live out the myths that are now seeping back into our sleeping nightmares?

Do you need someone to hold your hand, to tell you it’s all going to be alright, turn out alright? It will not be me. No. I stand here figuratively in the midst of this dark age and say it is high time to awaken sleepers, awaken or perish from the earth forever.

The Artificial Crowd

Since at least the Upper Palaeolithic age, the noetic souls that are psychic individuals have expressed their expectations by tertiarizing them, that is, by projecting their retentions and their protentions outside themselves, between themselves and other psychic individuals, and in the form of traces through which they spatialize what they are living through or have lived through temporally (temporally meaning psychically, in the past, present or future). These traces are the hypomnesic tertiary retentions with which and through which these psychic individuals transindividuate themselves according to specific modalities – modalities specified by the characteristics of the tertiary retentions thereby engendered.1

For those of us not schooled in the French cultural elite rhetorical strategies of Stiegler’s audience what he is saying is simply this: Homo Sapiens at least since the so called Stone Ages has built up certain maps of reality through both individual and cultural collective memory and perception that it has externalized in myths, songs, dance, gesture, sign, writing, art, etc. that allows for the transmission of certain norms, modalities, regulatory functions for that society or culture that could be temporalized and past on from generation to generation through processes at once that carried the past and mapped a possible future. In our age the various civilizations and cultures that up to this point have lived separate and coeval lives encircled and inscribed within their domains have suddenly been faced with the reality systems of other cultures and civilizations. The norms and value systems of these various cultures and civilizations since at least Nietzsche’s time have begun to fray around the edges, their once powerful and empowered authority and vision that regulated these vast assemblages of peoples across the earth as truth has fallen into disrepute, lost its power over these peoples hearts and minds.

The Secular Age that sponsored Atheism and the Critique of the Religious Worldview is in turn gazing upon its own heritage and dismantling its own authority and theoretical underpinnings. That this new redoubling of the critique the world that our Enlightenment forbears invented is in turn dismantling itself. That something new is coming our way is all around us, and yet the forces that have kept the powers of the Outside at bay are in themselves powerless against this destruction of their own house. We are in the apocalypse so long dreamed as nightmare, so long believed to be a figment of religious imagination it has become at the hands of its critics the veritable engine of destruction that is brining Western Civilization to its knees and the earth upon which all humanity relies to the point of cataclysmic and environmental degradation and demise.

We’ve lived this out since the Enlightenment Age in the West. Other cultures because of the influx of globalization and the electronic age of global communications: all the analogue and now digital technics and technologies: telegraph, television, radio, etc. and now the internet… all this has broken down the codes and programs that have encircled and kept each cultural enclave a specific and secure space of being. The great philosophies of the past were based upon a vision of Being and Time, of certain fixities and ontological and epistemic verities that bound a cultures thoughts to its goals. Those have begun to fracture and splinter into our modern eras completed nihilism where the central myth of Nature or Environment that has been the main force against which human for millennia built up their civilizations as Security Zones against the chaos and destructive powers of the natural order. In doing this these civilizations created metafictional systems of governance and regulation to guide the common life of each through time to sustain an equitable existence against the destructive force of Nature and Others (not of our culture).

These great systems that in the 19th Century began to be explored by early sociologists and anthropologists, etc. fell into various open and closed forms designed to create societies based on war or peace, sword or plough. I simplify. One could cite authority after authority and their critics on all these facets. That in itself became part of the vast literature of our current culture industries that have formulated and abstracted out all the elements of these ancient systems, codified them, analyzed them, theorized them, bound them to new conceptualities to the point that one would be hard put to find anything left of the original world out of which they originated. This too is part of our current malaise for we have lost the thread of the human relation, of any pattern in the vast temporal sea of human time that could guide us through our contemporary moment. Why? Because nothing in that great past prepared us for what we are now going through.

We truly are at the beginning of something new and yet old and uncanny. For we are faced with the breakdown of one age (call it the Anthropocene – the Age of Humanity) and the birth of another which has yet to be named or fully understood. Yet, the outlines of this world are not assured, things can go wrong and the world composed of negentropic creativity and transformation could fall into utter chaos and oblivion along with the human world of that past. Humans are driven animals whose very make up is patterned by both memory and desire. The various social forces of the collective elites have for millennia channeled these forces into the wider cultural worlds of work and play that have kept the psychic life of most humans tamed and civilized.

At least here in the West as Stiegler remarks “Automatic society is now attempting to channel, control and exploit these dangerous automatisms that are the drives, by subordinating them to new retentional systems that are themselves automatic, which capture drive-based automatisms by outstripping and overtaking them: formalized by applied mathematics, concretized by algorithms designed to capture and exploit the traces generated by individual and collective behavior, reticular interactive automatisms are systems for capturing behavioral expressions.” (AS, KL 1449)

Terms such as Civil, Citizen, Civilized, etc. all pertain to a process of cultural indoctrination and subordination of the individual to the norms and regulatory functions (Law, Justice, Mores…) that make up the codes of that world. Deleuze and Guattari in their history and philosophical speculations of capitalism would uncover aspects of this process in the West as humans moved from the early Paleolithic worlds of hunters and gatherers to the City States, to the Feudal empires, to the modern technological age in which we live. Deleuze in later life bounded by some of Michel Foucault’s notions of biopolitics and power/knowledge structures would term them societies of control. The controls set in place during the early Industrial era of the 19th Century bourgeoisie have eroded through the very technological explosion of the simple world of that era.

No longer living in a circumscribed and orderly world of values, and in fact living in an time where all values have become suspect, even the great theoretical underpinnings of that authority of authorities, the Sciences and Philosophy we realize that even this Secular Age is circumscribed and closing. The atheistic world that sought since the enlightenment to dismantle the ancient codes and norms of the religious worldview has by so doing brought about its own veritable demise.  The Age of Theory that gave us the tools to recon with the dark hinterlands of the collective and social psychic life of Western Civilization are now useless as we face the new and unbounded completion of that process (i.e., the completed nihilism of Nietzsche).

That the great worlds of Philosophy bounded within the closed world of Being no longer hold has been attested both in Analytical and Continental thought since the early thinkers of the Enlightenment. The Age of Metaphysics is over and something new but yet to surface is rising among us. We’ve seen in various philosophers and thinkers since at least Heidegger struggle with and against the metaphysical worlds. All of this is for most humans mute.

For most humans caught up in the cycles of birth, growth, maturity, work, old age, and death life is bounded by the ordinary automatisms of work and play. Most never go beyond the base set of beliefs and values by which they were first educated and indoctrinated into the cultures and societies within which they were born. Most never suspect that these norms and behaviors that guide and shape their lives are anything other than the ‘truth’. For the common lot of humans the world of thought is channeled and controlled by automatic scripts that allow them to believe they themselves are the part of something greater than themselves, that their lives have meaning and purpose as part of some group, collective, religion, political party, social club, marriage, etc. All the daily rituals that help the common lot to survive and protect them from the harsh worlds outside their social realms is accepted without any critical of theoretical knowledge otherwise. Most humans are cattle and machines of scripted worlds they themselves never made nor understand, and yet believe they are free and prosperous according to the myths and beliefs of the social systems within which they are prisoners. Even the intelligentsia are imprisoned by these various scripts and algorithms that govern and shape their own critical visions. Thousands of books critical of this or that part of the system are published every month suggesting radical or conservative change in this or that policy or law of the society, etc. Yet, as we all know these books are lost in the millions of pieces of data published each year. The Library of Congress catalogue alone boggles the mind of any scholar approaching a specific theme of study, etc.

We are in an age of information glut where any value or system can be critiqued or defended in a book, article, paper, speech, etc. with the assurance of such an automatic system that such efforts count. Sadly, they don’t. Knowledge is depleted. Critique is dead, the Scholar is replaced by unthinking analytical machines that automatically sort, analyze, organize, and script the world of Big Data day by day 24/7 without any thought of the norms or relations of humans. And do this as part of a system of governance over what humans are becoming: dividuals.  The notion of dividual refers to a term used by Deleuze and Guattari to refer to what Stiegler associates with the network effect:

In automatic society, those digital networks referred to as ‘social’ channel these expressions by subordinating them to mandatory protocols, to which psychic individuals bend because they are drawn to do so through what is referred to as the network effect, which, with the addition of social networking, becomes an automated herd effect, that is, one that is highly mimetic. It therefore amounts to a new form of artificial crowd, in the sense Freud gave to this expression. (AS, KL 1495)

Watching the buzz worlds of Twitter, Face Book, Linked In etc. one realizes this process of the in-crowd vogue of traces and circulations that provide the perfect control mechanism. In a world of blips and bytes the instantaneous reduplication of the cliché has found its perfect match of automatic society. From moment to moment one can see a news story offered by Reuters as fact blipped and transformed through the network effect into the various political filters of Left or Right where truth no longer matters and even ‘fact checks’ are ideological systems of governance that trap people in a blind man’s bluff game of political and social malfeasance.

Our world has become a cliché of itself, a realm depleted of value gains instant notoriety from the most outrageous statements of this or that pundit, politico, are cultural elite. The trivialization of life and the implosion of real culture into this piss-pot sea of inanity has brought the human into a universal deconstruction machine that is eroding the last vestiges of the human mind and intellect and replacing it with trivia and mindless bric-a-brac.

According to Stiegler Freud showed that there are also ‘artificial’ crowds, which he analyses through the examples of the Church and the Army. In the twentieth century, and starting in the 1920s, the audiovisual programme industries, too, also form, every single day, and specifically through the mass broadcast of programmes, such ‘artificial crowds’. The latter become, as masses (and Freud refers precisely to Massenpsychologie), the permanent, everyday mode of life in the industrial democracies, which are at the same time what Stiegler calls industrial tele-cracies. (AS, KL 1512)

The very networks once espoused as the home of freedom for early pundits have become the blind halls of vast conglomerates and interconnected assemblages of hypernormalization, enforcing algorithmic governance so ubiquitous that the governed assume their thoughts and minds are inventing freedom rather than imposing the very mental chains of a worldwide teleocracy. We are the makers of our own prison system, the victims of our own desires, the cause and effect of our own artificialization in a world where the individual is replaced by his datagram: the dividual.

This process of artificialization has been going on from the beginning of those early Paleolithic ancestors. We’ve built and mapped artificial worlds we term culture and civilization as devices to secure and protect us from the encompassing threat of the Universe itself. So this new phase is nothing new but rather a continuing phase and transformation of an age old path we began long ago. All that has changed is that we’ve applied the theoretical gaze upon this vast Anthropocene Era of Humanity.

I’ll continue further tomorrow…


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 1463-1469). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Artificial Human: Digital Life in a Mindless Habitat

Digital tracking technologies are the most advanced stage of a process of grammatization that began at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic age…

—Bernard Stiegler,  Automatic Society: The Future of Work

Education in its etymological context is the process of  drawing out or unfolding the powers of the mind in a child. This notion presupposes that a child is born with certain innate powers and capacities that can be slowly activated and molded by the cultural norms of the society within which it lives. But is this so? Do we come with a set of innate capacities and powers to learn, to know, to feel, to see, to understand, surmise, analyze, reason, think…? In other words is there some fixed and unchallenged thing called ‘human nature’ that can be shaped and formed into a human being or not? Of course the culture/nurture debates are unending and I’m not about to add to that vast literature. Instead let’s begin with our recent history.

If one cares to look at it we can discern that there are so many fragmented cultures across the planet that no one could in their right mind begin to know or understand each and everyone with any amount of success. The literature of anthropologists has become almost laughable in the sense that what it describes is not the scattered remnants of indigenous populations remaining in the world among us, but rather the mirrored reflections of our own fears and phobias, values and contexts. The very conceptuality we use to understand others is itself tainted by its ubiquitous reliance on hundreds if not thousands of years of clichéd use. Bounded by certain central concepts our thought as pointed out by those masters of irony the post-structuralists is already informed by metaphysical prejudice. We live in a circle of our own thought never able to truly grasp the Other at all. This goes both ways, too. For the Other is an alterity to us and we to her and the world is an endless Tower of Babel.

Of course we love to simplify, to abstract, to fictionalize that matters are other than this, that we can understand each other, that there are certain truths and norms that seem at first Universal everywhere. That even the Mind holds certain universal concepts and ideas that come with us at birth. Plato once believed all that was needed was to remember these Ideas, to educe them from the child and nurture them through a form of dialectic that would teach the young child the powers and capacities he already had within him. But was he right? Do we come with these innate ideas, forms? Are they existing like dormant seeds that need only be watered and nurtured to grow and mature? Or is the mind a clean slate, a sponge into which concepts and ideas are put by those very cultures, imposed from the outside in? Are we but empty vessels that can be slowly adapted and molded by the culture within which we are born and emerge, shaped and modulated by thoughts not innate but imposed? And, if so, does this imply that we are not what we think we are but something other?

This is not the place to debate the extremes of such questions. Instead I’ll limit the discussion only to Bernard Stiegler’s notion of grammatization. What is grammatization? Following the work of Gilbert Simondon whose notions of transindividuation would deeply influence Stielger we can start with the notion of technics. For Stiegler humans, as a species, were not born into the world already equipped with mature cognitive capacities; these capacities developed over time in a transductive relationship with Neolithic technics, and they are still developing today hand in glove through our collective play with contemporary technics. Informed by Simondon, Stiegler routinely defined technics as organized inorganic matter.” The term refers both to the history of fabricated objects (e.g., flint, hammers, pencils, computers) and to the domain of techne: the techniques and practices involved in making (something with) technology. Technics are more than merely a part of the environment humans inhabit; technics constitute—not determine—our experience on every possible level, from retention to anticipation, and from cultural history to genetics.1

I hear many speak of the natural world and environment who say we are now entering a time when our world is becoming severed from its natural context and entering an artificial era. Truth is we’ve been living in artificial environments for millennia. Cultures and civilizations around the globe were since the first Neolithic stone age building artificial landscapes to escape and defend themselves against the natural world. As the verbose and witty if not always accurate cultural theorist and art critic Camille Paglia puts it: “We are hierarchical animals. Sweep one hierarchy away, and another will take its place, perhaps less palatable than the first. There are hierarchies in nature and alternate hierarchies in society. In nature, brute force is the law, a survival of the fittest. In society, there are protections for the weak. Society is our frail barrier against nature.”2

In the great debates surrounding whether humans determine technology, or technology humans, or / and if both co-evolve and determine each other in turn Stiegler would join his progenitor Jaques Derrida in circumventing this debate altogether by seeking the underlying conditions that determine both humans and technology: the constitutive processes, in Stiegler’s lexicon, are called processes of grammatization. (Tinell, p. 4) That Stiegler was influenced by French culture from the 60’s to 80’s with those such as the classicists and historians of writing (Leroi-Gourhan, Havelock, Goody), French philosophers and literati associated with Tel Quel (Derrida, Barthes, Kristeva), and North American media theorists (Ong, McLuhan, Ulmer) should be no surprise. (ibid., p. 5) Almost anyone who lived during this time period would have been versant in the structuralist and post-structuralist scholarship. Today one hardly hears the names of these scholars in current or contemporary radical philosophy, as if they were irrelevant and passé. Just another blip on the long slow demise of philosophy in an age of derivative metaphysics playing out its endgame. (Of course I wonder at times if it is just young thinkers seeking to bypass the rigours and time needed to fully delve into all the textual work it takes to study and learn the full gamut of all the philosophical traditions.)

Either way the scholars of this age according to media theorist Gregory Ulmer ultimately were led into various theoretical trajectories that would lead to grammatology. According to Ulmer, grammatology developed in three phases, all of which remain in progress. First, the historical phase featured a variety of archeological and paleontological investigations into the evolution of writing systems. These historians of writing attempted to account for the actual invention of writing in ancient civilizations, as well as devise elaborate taxonomies for categorizing the world’s writing systems, almost as if taking inventory of different species of plants or animals. Racing to gather new empirical facts surrounding the origins of particular writing systems, early historians of writing rarely paused to consider the theoretical significance of writing, nor did they question inherited assumptions about which activities and artifacts counted as writing. For this reason, Derrida—the first theoretical grammatologist—embarked on a “point-by-point repetition, of the history of writing into a theory of writing” (Ulmer, 1985, p, 17). As he deconstructed the metaphysical opposition of speech and writing, Derrida assembled something of a counter-history, wherein non-phonetic systems like hieroglyphics function as emblems with which he theorizes writing in general (i.e., arche-writing), beyond the limits of phonocentric discourse. (Tinell, p. 5)

Stiegler would transform and extend the thought of Derrida and other post-structuralist thinkers developing his own media centered notions of grammatization. For him according to Tinnell the term applies to processes by which a material, sensory, or symbolic flux becomes a gramme, which—broadly conceived—can include all manners of technical gestures that maintain their iterability and citationality apart from an origin or any one particular context.For Stiegler, the shift from cuneiform to phonetic symbols is a process of grammatization, the shift from hand-tools to factory machines is a process of grammatization, and so is genetic engineering—cells and organs become replicated and revised like a kind of alphabet. In every case, a continuous flux (e.g., speech, the body, the genome) becomes broken down into a system of discrete elements (e.g., alphabetic characters, mechanical systems, recombinant DNA sequences). And, in every case, the latter’s emergence always disrupts, transforms, and reconfigures the former. (Tinnell, p. 6)

What were seeing here is a theory of influence between human and its technics, the slow process of these material grammes acting like programs computing and activating processes throughout history. In this way Stiegler forces us to think about technologies and techniques not as separate processes but rather as co-sharers and partners in ongoing processes out of which both are conditioned. The key here is that as everyday objects transform into what some glibly term the ‘internet of things’, or a world of smart objects, or as Stiegler would term them: gramme objects, we see a world artificially animated by intelligences that activate and control our habits, intentions, and actions. The environment surrounding us will track us, help us, teach us, enclose us with a grammatical texture of ubiquitous technics designed to operate on us 24/7.

Defining all writing technologies as pharmakon, Stiegler (2011) warned that hyperindustrial investment in digital machines was contributing to a general proletarianization of the consumer’s existence to an even more pervasive extent than the industrial investment of factory machines effected a proletarianization of the worker’s labor. Nevertheless, in addition to this disconcerting ramification, the pervasive networks of gramme and gesture emerging with wearable computers and biotechnologies mark new rhetorical/media ecologies that introduce unusual and, perhaps, promising affordances for multimedia composition. (Tinell, p. 7) The point here is that all these gadgets that seem to optimize our physical and mental processes, help us perform better, become better adapted to the rigors of this 24/7 world are in fact shaping and modulating our lives through a new form of social control (Deleuze).

Without going into the full details of how all this came about Stiegler compresses the main tenets of his oeuvre into an ensemble of theoretical gestures. For Stiegler the movement from the Industrial to Hyperindustrial  era we are now in, or what Nietzsche would term the era of a ‘completed nihilism’ when theory and knowledge itself would become valueless and stupidity would reign everywhere is upon us. We’ve heard repeatedly from my friend R. Scott Bakker that this is so, that philosophy in the traditional sense is dead, mute. That theory is without a project, a future. That humanity is giving way to a process of stupefaction, automatization. That every facet of our lives and thoughts is slowly being governed and manipulated by the ‘trace’ – a world of data and metadata attached to our dividual lives in an electronic world that never sleeps. The a universal city of nightmares is being set loose within the ‘internet of things’ in the sense of a playground for total immersion and calculability. As Stiegler remarks,

After the loss of work-knowledge in the nineteenth century, then of life-knowledge in the twentieth century, there arises in the twenty-first century the age of the loss of theoretical knowledge – as if the cause of our being stunned was an absolutely unthinkable becoming. With the total automatization made possible by digital technology, theories, those most sublime fruits of idealization and identification, are deemed obsolete – and along with them, scientific method itself. We saw in the introduction that this is the conclusion Chris Anderson reaches in ‘The End of Theory’… (AS, KL 1187)3

As Anderson said in that article Google conquered the advertising world with nothing more than applied mathematics. It didn’t pretend to know anything about the culture and conventions of advertising — it just assumed that better data, with better analytical tools, would win the day. And Google was right. As he remarks,

Google’s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough. No semantic or causal analysis is required. That’s why Google can translate languages without actually “knowing” them (given equal corpus data, Google can translate Klingon into Farsi as easily as it can translate French into German). And why it can match ads to content without any knowledge or assumptions about the ads or the content.

This is the world of Big Data and Calculation. The rule of algorithmic governmentality that needs no theory or theoretician, scholar or pundit. It just does all this without human intervention at all. A world run for and by machinic intelligence, optimized by algorithms that chart and navigate the traces we leave in our ordinary everyday lives, attuned to our whims, to our desires, to our unknowing.

Even science and the scientific method is being made obsolete by this world of Big Data. As Anderson continues, “But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete. Consider physics: Newtonian models were crude approximations of the truth (wrong at the atomic level, but still useful). A hundred years ago, statistically based quantum mechanics offered a better picture — but quantum mechanics is yet another model, and as such it, too, is flawed, no doubt a caricature of a more complex underlying reality.” Absolute innovation and revolution in a continuous world of total optimization of code and gramme, control and gesture. Anderson being more optimistic than Stiegler hypes this new world, saying,

The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all.

With the demise of computer simulations and models comes the ousted computer modeler or programmer themselves, and the instigation of self-replicating algorithms and deep learning algorithms that have no need of the human engineer anymore. A world without humans is being martialed before our very eyes, one that will eventually not only replace work but life. Nietzsche once declared that God was Dead. One day a machine may say: “The Human is Dead.” Excluded from our own creation we may discover a civilization we thought to become a utopia has indeed become just that without us.

As Stiegler himself says,

Founded on the self-production of digital traces, and dominated by automatisms that exploit these traces, hyper-industrial societies are undergoing the proletarianization of theoretical knowledge, just as broadcasting analogue traces via television resulted in the proletarianization of life-knowledge, and just as the submission of the body of the labourer to mechanical traces inscribed in machines resulted in the proletarianization of work-knowledge. The decline in ‘spirit value’ thereby reaches its peak: it now strikes all minds and spirits. (AS, KL 1195)

We’ll continue this tomorrow…


  1. Tinnell, John. Grammatization: Bernard Stiegler’s Theory of Writing and Technology. Article in Computers and Composition · September 2015.
  2. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 3). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 1187-1192). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

 

The Smart World a Prison of Comfort

I remember watching Adam Curtis’s documentary on Hypernormalisation which I’ve spoken of before. Bernard Stiegler from another angle brings in the whole gamut of the new “data economy” that is invading every aspect of our technocommercial sector. In this world of consumer gadgets  it is the consumer herself who is becoming the focal point of a total control system that is both ubiquitous and seemingly normal. Stiegler mentions Michel Price, Jérémie Zimmermann, Evgeny Morozov among others who all have forebodings about this techno-optimistic future that is emerging out of the old advertising and behemoth mediatainment empires. The notion of being connected 24/7, of having ones life – body and mind, tracked, traced, fed into the vast algorithmic enclaves to be tapped, analyzed, processed, and modulated to sway one’s already desiring tendencies toward a new hypernormalized sociality is in the offing.

Not to be put off one is also seeing all the old myths and rational toolsets of the ancients put into play. Plato’s two-world’s is not the realm of the included/excluded masses who will become the benefactors or inmates of these new non-monetary regimes. That’s right the whole monetization standard that has for a few hundred years produced first the gold or silver standard, then the fake worlds of paper and dollar, stocks and bonds will vanish into the new digital empires based on digital pricing and regulatory systems bound by fast paced AI systems that will bind the world into a new economic structure. Smart phones, smart cities, smart clothing… all the aspects of one’s daily life will be monitored, traced, and infiltrated in this new world from the moment one wakes, and even during one’s sleep cycles. The transition will be so supple that the older generations who seemed at first a little leery of such things will die off and the young will see it but not see it. Or as Stiegler tells it we are entering a time when true knowledge is obliterated in favor of the standardized and controlled data flows of a 24/7 AI scripted world.

Yet, to become a part of that elite society of well controlled beings of mindless technocommercial bliss they will have to conform to the technics of that world. All others will be excluded outside the world of these elites, going by either unnoticed or in the parlance of other cultures as “untouchables” (i.e., non-persons without citizen rights or powers). A total control society that doesn’t even know it is controlled will arise as the education and seamlessly instilled and people lives are more and more hypernormalised by these new regulatory functions.  As Stiegler remarks digital tertiary retention rests on the structural elimination of conflicts, disagreements and controversies: ‘[A]lgorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.’1

Transhumanism and other fake sciences will be more and more centralized under various forms and agendas. Google, which along with NASA supports the Singularity University, has invested heavily in ‘medical’ digital technologies based on the application of high-performance computing to genetic and also epigenetic data – and with an explicitly eugenic goal. (AS, KL 762)

All of this leads Stigler to the goal of his new work: the goal of this work is to contribute to establishing the conditions of such a politics through its two volumes on the neganthropic future of work and of knowledge as the conditions of entry into the Neganthropocene – where this is also a matter of redesigning the digital architecture and in particular the digital architecture of the web, with the goal of creating a digital hermeneutics that gives to controversies and conflicts of interpretation their negentropic value, and constitutes on this basis an economy of work and knowledge founded on intermittence, for which the model must be the French system designed to support those occasional workers in the entertainments industry called ‘intermittents du spectacle’. (AS, KL 781)

Stiegler still shaped and localized by his French cultural heritage is bound by a hermeneutic vision of interpretive power and coopting of the system through a leftwing hacking of the algorithmic systems in favor of humanity. Yet, such dreams of technological takeover from the left seem a little tepid, and his stance within the dated philosophical perspectives of his age leave us wondering how effective such a stance can be against the juggernaut of the vast global economic forces that seem to have no center or circumference but rather a blind driveness toward optimization of intelligence. In many ways the Left seems antiquated in its platform over the past few years, stumbling into the technocommercial global matrix with tools from a bygone era that just do not provide either the questions or the answers to this hyperreal world of the new data economy.

I’ll continue with his diagnosis and cure as I navigate his proposals in the next post…. stay tuned.


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 755-759). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

 

The Epoch of the Neganthropocene: Exiting the Toxic Wastelands of Modernity

The Anthropocene is a singular organological epoch inasmuch as it engendered the organological question itself. It is in this way retroactively constituted through its own recognition, where the question this period poses is how to make an exit from its own toxicity in order to enter the curative and care-ful – and in this sense economizing – epoch of the Neganthropocene. What this means in practical terms is that in the Neganthropocene, and on the economic plane, the accumulation of value must exclusively involve those investments that we shall call neganthropic.1

Opening the future again to a sense of newness, to a sense of hope beyond the depredations of our era of death and apocalyptic forebodings is at the heart of Bernard Stiegler’s work. I doubt he would consider himself an optimist, but rather a realist and thereby a cautious pessimist in the sense that gazing toward what is coming at us is not at all clear but closer to that proverbial gesture of Saint Paul: “I see through a mirror darkly…”. That our era has been debt driven, bound to a entropic machine of accumulation and entropic dissipation is assured. Look around you and see the cracks in the seeming reality of this global civilization and one finds not hope but the oldest of fears and horrors: war, famine, disease, corruption, and a planetary civilization on the peak of utter chaos and ruination of the very basis of all life itself. We are marked and stained by our inaction, by out inability to face the universe without us. We live in our local defense leagues (Nations) castigating the rest of the world, fearing its demise, roping and chaining off our artificial borders with security walls of barbed wire or steel cages, dogs and armed soldiers. A bunker civilization that is withdrawing into its shell trying to stave off a nightmare it has itself created through its own economic and social mastery.

To keep us occupied and entertained we are allowed to satirize and demean a cartoon President or other world leaders as part of the Roman Circus of our modern age of mediatainment. As long as you are just passively or actively protesting a non-player on the world stage the real evil can continue on its way doing what it does behind the scenes: ripping and stripping the world of its last remaining resources, enclosing the minds and hearts of the world social in a new enclosure of the commons, putting them so far in debt that they’ll be working for the masters of hundreds of years and passively accepting this as the ‘state of affairs’. Modern slavery has no bars, it’s name is Freedom. All you need to do is conform, bend to the popular will of the elite, the masters of our economic systems who hide their own ignorance within a couched rational and mathematical world of fictions.

The word ‘Neoliberalism’, a cliché that has no meaning anymore, overly used by pundits to the point that its intent is a target that no longer exists in reality but rather in a autonomous mythic world of economics. Book after book speaks of the causes and effects of this supposed system that has brought us into this era of chaotic and planetary collapse. Yet, one reads book after book and discovers no where a vision of how to exit this era and its toxicity.

Bernard Stiegler will offer a vision of a transition from the toxic wastelands of the Anthropocene, an era of entropic decay and waste, dissipation and horror in his latest work Automatic Society: The Future of Work. This notion of the Anthropocene which was first used by Soviet environmentalists in the 1960’s was popularized by Paul J. Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch. As Stiegler tells it the  question of the Anthropocene, which bears within it its own overcoming, and bears the structure of a promise, is emerging at the very moment when, on the other hand, we are witnessing the establishment of that complete and general automatization made possible by the industry of reticulated digital traces, even though the latter seems to make this promise untenable. To hold fast, that is, to hold good to this promise, means beginning, precisely, from those neganthropic possibilities opened up by automation itself: it is to think this industry of reticulation as a new epoch of work, and as the end of the epoch of ‘employment’, given that the latter is ultimately and permanently compromised by complete and general automatization. And it is to think this industry as the ‘transvaluation’ of value, whereby ‘labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value’, and where the value of value becomes neganthropy. Only in this way can and must the passage from the Anthropocene to the Neganthropocene be accomplished. (AS, KL 678)

This old Marxian dream of the end of work is at the heart of both the toxic theorists of modern capitalism, and also of those like Stiegler who would harness its energies not in the name of entropic accumulation and dissipation but rather in a new creative society based on neganthropic principles. To envision such a post-Nietzschean world of transition into a true transvaluation of values would indeed be a feat of stupendous effort and imagination, reason and a logic of radical labour and love (caring). Is it possible?

Jehu of The Real Movement blog spells out much of this in his hypothesis that describes what happens when capitalism finally collapses premised on the assumption that this collapse can occur in two separate and distinct phases: a lower phase, which we can refer to as the collapse of production based on exchange value; and a higher phase, which I will call the collapse of production based on wage labor. These two phases more or less reflect the dual character of capitalist commodity production: that capital is a form of commodity production which specifically aims to produce surplus value. (Read: Towards a hypothesis of the final collapse of capitalism). What’s interesting as Jehu points out that Marx himself in all fifty or so volumes of his collected works never predicts the collapse of capitalism, only the specific “collapse of production based on exchange value, i.e., the conditions of simple commodity production” (Jehu).

He’ll point out another passage in Das Capital Vol 1, Chapter 32 where Marx predicts the demise of capitalist private property, and yet as Jehu maintains “Marx never actually says the proletariat expropriates capitalist private property; instead, he limits his prediction to the expropriation of capitalist private property by some unnamed subject”. As Jehu in another section explains it,

In Capital, (v1, c32), Marx is looking ahead to a major event that had two possible outcomes. The first, more familiar outcome for us is a proletarian socialist revolution that overthrows the existing state. The second, less well understood and almost never discussed outcome is that the state is forced by events to expropriate capitalist private property and undertake the direction of production, to function as the national capitalist, the direct exploiter of the proletarians. This second possible outcome is what Luxemburg labeled barbarism.

We’ve all heard about the first of these two outcomes, but very little about the second in Marxist literature. For me as I see what is happening in the world today it makes more and more sense that the plundering of market capitalism and its degradation of the ecological and social fabric of our planet will force the governing powers of nations to put an end to this exploitative corruption. We know this will go under the banner of saving the planet, etc., a new marketed environmental horror story will be driven into the psyche of the mass minds of all citizens who will in seeking security from the coming devastation gladly allow their lives to become enmeshed in the local and global tyrannies of the State to come.

Jehu for his part explains that his “hypothesis depends on the claim that production based on exchange value, what is commonly referred to as simple commodity production, can collapse without necessarily leading to the collapse of what I have here called production based on wage labor, i.e., capital proper”. As we see in the movement of capitalist technocrats of our era and their bid to oust workers from production and replace them over the coming decades with automation and intelligent machines that a new form of capitalist takeover is in the offing. That humanity itself as surplus labour and value is no longer a factor in this future. The vast underemployed mass of humans will no longer be needed, and will be excluded from the world of these capitalist schemes. The end of wage labor is assured, but does that not also mean the end of the wage laborer as well. Are we as workers becoming expendable? If so is it in their future a world cleansed and purified of the vast majority of the human population? Are these fascistic tendencies about to produce the very apocalyptic dreams of ancient monotheisms at the behest of the very powers who would exclude us from our jobs?

Either way the aspect left out of Marx is the collapse of the environment itself as one of the very retroactive forces that will bring about the State takeover of private property. As the environment (if you accept the Sixth Extinction and Environmental collapse theories of scientists around the world) begins to show more and more extreme collapse through deforestation, ice cap melting, gases rising from the ocean floors, the ocean conveyor belt slowing, the threat of so many shortages of rain…. etc., one will be offered solutions and security from the State. At this time humanity will either take on its own revolution and take the bull by the horns, or it will go passive and allow dictators and tyrants to enact martial law and impose dark legislation of social and political control over the planet and its resources. The future is uncertain and we see a crisis blooming all around us on this late great planet earth. Stiegler says there is an alternative…

As he explains it since 1993, a new global technical system has been put in place. It is based on digital tertiary retention and it constitutes the infrastructure of an automatic society to come. We are told that the data economy, which seems to be concretizing itself as the economic dynamic generated by this infrastructure, is the inevitable destiny of this society. We shall show, however, that the ‘destiny’ of this society of hyper-control is not a destination: it leads nowhere other than to nihilism, that is, to the negation of knowledge itself. And he will show, first with Jonathan Crary (24/7 Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep), then with Thomas Berns and Antoinette Rouvroy (Human Genes and Neoliberal Governance), why this automatic society to come will be able to constitute a future – that is, a destiny of which the negentropic destination is the Neganthropocene – only on the condition of overcoming this ‘data economy’, which is in reality the diseconomy of a ‘dis-society’. (AS, KL 690)

I’ll continue this series in another essay tomorrow. Stay tuned.


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 668-673). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Intelligence of Capital?

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…

—Karl Marx, Fragment on Machines: Grundrisse

I remember during the 90’s so many works predicting a time vortex, an invasion of the future into our contemporary world. So many films would follow the same line such as the Terminator series where the intelligent machines would battle it out with humans for a world of ashes. Or the Matrix series where humanity was but a pawn in an elaborate system of metafictional world making for the machines who needed them like vampires sucking the electrical currents from our living dream. But now we are in the midst of such a world where the great narratives and culture industries that have built the artificial palaces of our multifarious cultures across the globe are coming apart at the seams. In the process of this the great backlash of the old guard, the conservative wing of the human equation seeks to reestablish the old order of things with every last ounce of its wagging power in the face of a planetary crisis such as the world has never seen.

Even as Marx predicated in such an early work as the Grundrisse humans are not important to Capital, they are but means to an end: the automation of the world. Humans are replaceable and non-essential to Capital. Always have been. As Marx would say,

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. (Grundrisse, p. 621) [My Italics]

It’s in this passage that we see a supple transition from the organic (human) craftiness and art (technics) to that of the artificial (machinic) intelligence with its own laws and energy needs ( humans needing food, while the machine needs other planetary anorganic resources). This sense that the human worker is within this process and transition a mere appendage and necessary part of the ongoing processuality of this automatization, and that the human is no longer the master in his own house but rather the one controlled by those very machinic processes. This great reversal between organic and inorganic in our time, with the rise of machinic civilization and its artificial autonomization and independence from the human is for Stiegler the displacement of entropy and negentropy in the new dispensation of machinic civilization,

In the Anthropocene epoch, from which it is a matter of escaping as quickly as possible, the questions of life and negentropy arising with Darwin and Schrödinger must be redefined from the organological perspective defended here, according to which: (1) natural selection makes way for artificial selection; and (2) the passage from the organic to the organological displaces the play of entropy and negentropy. (AS, KL 659)

Bernard Stiegler: Automatic Society

The next Industrial Revolution, a third one, eh? In a way, I guess the third one’s been going on for some time, if you mean thinking machines. That would be the third revolution, I guess—machines that devaluate human thinking.

 —Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano

Like many professional scholars Bernard Stiegler’s gaze has been turned toward the culture industries that have shaped our global era. Seeking in ancient Greek thought he’s transposed many of that cultures conceptuality into a set of tools to expose some of the darker corners of our era’s pathologies. Like many others he sees this replacement of humanity by the machinic powers of an automated society as a two-horned prodigy. On the one hand the predictions of such luminaries as Norbert Weiner, John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx and so many others predicted a coming time when there would be an end of wage labour. But with the end of work the true challenge for Stiegler facing humanity is what to do with all those out of work and surplus humans? As he says it:

…the time liberated by the end of work must be put at the service of an automated culture, but one capable of producing new value and of reinventing work. Such a culture of dis-automatization, made possible by automatization, is what can and must produce negentropic value – and this in turn requires what I have previously referred to as the otium of the people.1

Let’s chew on this for a few minutes. Stiegler accepts the fact that automation and the replacement of millions of workers in various aspects of our present global capitalist system is inevitable, but that we must discover against the Consumerist Culture that has driven our global society for a hundred years a new culture. The Culture of Disautomatization. One that produces negentropic value based on what he termed at one point the “otium of the people”.

Now the concept and phrase “negative entropy” was introduced by Erwin Schrödinger in his 1944 popular-science book What is Life? Later, Léon Brillouin shortened the phrase to negentropy, to express it in a more “positive” way: a living system imports negentropy and stores. In the Decadence of Industrial Democracies Stiegler will describe otium this way:

Otium is that which constitutes the practice of retentional systems through which collective secondary retentions are elaborated, selected and transmitted, 20 and through which, in turn, protentions are formed. The formation of these protentions always puts into play the singularity of the one who is taking aim with these protentions, since this process is always equally informed by the singularity of their secondary retentions, which are precisely not collective. (DID, p. 61)

Of course Otium, a Latin abstract term, has a variety of meanings, including leisure time in which a person can enjoy eating, playing, resting, contemplation and academic endeavors. It sometimes, but not always, relates to a time in a person’s retirement after previous service to the public or private sector, opposing “active public life”. Otium can be a temporary time of leisure, that is sporadic. It can have intellectual, virtuous or immoral implications. It originally had the idea of withdrawing from one’s daily business (negotium) or affairs to engage in activities that were considered to be artistically valuable or enlightening (i.e. speaking, writing, philosophy). It had particular meaning to businessmen, diplomats, philosophers and poets.2

For Stiegler we are losing our cultural memory and inheritance, and in the process the otium of the people that has guided and shaped its mind and body for hundreds if not thousands of years. We are living in that in-between-time of transition from one age to another, an unscripted and for the most part a topsy-turvy time of apocalyptic and chaotic struggles between various world cultures and otiums that are now failing their people due to the total completion of nihilism in our moment. The mis-trust and of culture, of books, of the elites, of the past is now at a high point. The young no longer bred on the world of either the religious or secular inheritance of cultural memory are living through a temporal vacuum. The Age of the Book is over. An age when the young were educated and instructed in the cultural inheritance of our multifarious past works of religious and secular arts and philosophies. Rather ours is a digital age of sound bytes and fragments that can no longer sustain the reading habits and solitary practices of the Book. As Stiegler confesses,

…no society has ever existed that did not contain practices comparable to what the Roman nobility called otium. No such society exists, ?Xcept in the West of the industrial democracies which, taking themselves for post-industrial societies, are submitted to the ‘leisure’ industries, industries that are in fact the very negation of leisure, that is, of otium as practice, since these industries are constituted through the hegemony of imperatives arising from negotium. Such is their decadence. (DID, p. 62)

The slow erosion of language in the course of a hundred years at the hands of scholars who would end in the post-structuralist black hole and aporia of meaning has left us in a world where words and things no longer touch, a world depleted of meaning is no world at all, an empty world full of forces and nightmares. A world in which mass-media systems produce reality for us, guide and shape our opinions. As Henry A. Giroux remarks,

With meaning utterly privatized, words are reduced to signifiers that mimic spectacles of violence, designed to provide entertainment rather than thoughtful analysis. Sentiments circulating in the dominant culture parade either idiocy or a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, while anti-public rhetoric strips society of the knowledge and values necessary for the development of a democratically engaged and socially responsible public.3

Many pundits and scientists dub ours the Anthropocene Age in which humans become conscious of their role in the destruction and ruination of the earth. The Anthropocene era is that of industrial capitalism, an era in which calculation prevails over every other criteria of decision-making, and where algorithmic and mechanical becoming is concretized and materialized as logical automation and automatism, thereby constituting the advent of nihilism, as computational society becomes a society that is automated and remotely controlled. (Stiegler)

At the very moment that humanity becomes conscious of itself is the moment that it loses its memory, falls away into fragmented systems of control that squander both the mental and physical resources of the planet and replace them with the algorithmic culture of machinic intelligence. For Stiegler this is the moment of Nietzsche’s transvaluation of all values,

We must think the Anthropocene with Nietzsche, as the geological era that consists in the devaluation of all values: it is in the Anthropocene, and as its vital issue, that the task of all noetic knowledge becomes the transvaluation of values. And this occurs at the moment when the noetic soul is confronted, through its own, organological putting-itself-in-question, with the completion of nihilism, which amounts to the very ordeal of our age – in an Anthropocene concretized as the age of planetarizing capitalism.(AS, KL 548)

In a world where culture is in disarray, the people mistrust both leadership and the mediatainment systems of cultural production we have entered that phase where nothing is true, everything is possible. So that for Stiegler a return to Marx and Nietzsche is imperative.Reading Marx and Nietzsche together in the service of a new critique of political economy, where the economy has become a cosmic factor on a local scale (a dimension of the cosmos) and therefore an ecology, must lead to a process of transvaluation, such that both economic values and those moral devaluations that result when nihilism is set loose as consumerism are ‘transvaluated’ by a new value of all values, that is, by negentropy – or negative entropy, or anti-entropy. (AS, KL 557)

The point of negentropy is to fight against the dissolution into total eclipse, to martial the unconscious energies on tap in the geospherical psyche of collective humankind, to bring about a resurgence in creative and empowered transformation against the forces that are taking us into a dark moment of death driven psychopathic madness.

All fine and dandy, but how? How enact such a scheme? Another pipe-dream from a scholar’s arsenal of wishful ideas? Or does Stiegler have something up his sleeve? I’ll return to this in the next post….

stay tuned!


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 485-490). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Otium, Wikipedia.
  3. Giroux, Henry  A.. Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (p. 6). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

Anti-Philosophy: Unbinding the Void

It is always a difficulty writing on an other’s work in that one usually begins by clarifying something that captures your own thought, and then trying to isolate an aspect of it, abstract it out, seek to understand whether it is viable or not, living or dead; and, then, whether one can either appropriate and incorporate it into one’s own ongoing project or exclude it and – yes, critique it. Sometimes as a commentator I plunder other’s works for my own ongoing project, which I’m sure as many on my blog have pointed out comes into conflict with the actual and real meaning or… and, I hate to use the word, “intentions” of the author, since I no longer believe or accept the essentialist argument of there being an author behind the work, etc.. There being nothing essential behind the mask of the name or title other than the fictional appellation or designation which is bound to the cultural logics and legalisms we are captured by. No intentional being resides there behind the mask of author, but rather a process of thinking connected to the traditions of symbolic accord that travel across time through processes of externalization, memory, and technology (i.e., print, trace, etc.). (Much more on this in the future!)

Once one has left the fold, no longer believes in the property or proprietary intentions of an author… that all writing is technics and technology… one lives in a alter-framework. An alterity that blows away the metaphysical structures underpinning our legal and secular regimes. Even as I write these words the illusion of my own Self/Subject persists, yet what do we trace in an author’s work: Do we ever know what is behind the work, or are we more concerned with what that work offers us as challenge or confirmation of our own stance and thoughts in regards of the wider frame of culture? There is no singular language, therefore no singular vision or collective being, self, etc., we are all already collective processes rather than beings operating in and on an external world or symbolic order. Detached from any conception of metaphysical Being one is rather a writing, and being written by impersonal forces of which one is barer or victim. That is all.

Continue reading

The Accursed Share: Economics of Excess

Once again I return to Bataille. In the preface to Accursed Share Vol 1 he describes the disconcerting experience of being confronted with the question of his work – the why of it:

“…the book I was writing (which I am now publishing) did not consider the facts the way qualified economists do, that I had a point of view from which a human sacrifice, the construction of a church or the gift of a jewel were no less interesting than the sale of wheat. In short, I had to try in vain to make clear the notion of a “general economy” in which the “expenditure” (the “consumption”) of wealth, rather than production, was the primary object.”

This sense of coming at economics not as some narrow system of capital expenditure and profit, but rather as the ‘general economy’ of the system of the world itself – the Solar Economy – is this bewilderment we feel in realizing his conceptual reversal of modern economic theory based on the object of production rather than that of expenditure and waste (“consumption”). As he’ll tell it “This first essay addresses, from outside the separate disciplines, a problem that still has not been framed as it should be, one that may hold the key to all the problems posed by every discipline concerned with the movement of energy on the earth – from geophysics to political economy, by way of sociology, history and biology.” For underpinning it all was a materialist conception of force, drives, and energetics:

“Writing this book in which I was saying that energy finally can only be wasted, I myself was using my energy, my time, working; my research answered in a fundamental way the desire to add to the amount of wealth acquired for mankind.”

In his iconic affirmation that “the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space” he reminds us such comparisons follow from considerations of an energy economy that leave no room for poetic fantasy, but requires instead a thinking on a level with a play of forces that runs counter to ordinary calculations, a play of forces based on the laws that govern us. In short, the perspectives where such truths appear are those in which more general propositions reveal their meaning, propositions according to which it is not necessity but its contrary, “luxury,” that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problems.”

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William S. Burroughs: Drugs, Language, and Control

Bill Burroughs:

The writer does not yet know what words are. He deals only with abstractions from the source point of words. The painter’s ability to touch and handle his medium led to montage techniques sixty years ago. It is to be hoped that the extension of cut-up techniques will lead to more precise verbal experiments closing this gap and giving a whole new dimension to writing. These techniques can show the writer what words are and put him in tactile communication with his medium. This in turn could lead to a precise science of words and show how certain word combinations produce certain effects on the human nervous system. (The Job Interviews)

Burroughs believed language to be the first and foremost control machine. A machine that constructed and shaped the naked ape called man into its present form, and that any future exit from the human would incorporate a breakup of this control machine and its present system of signs. The normalization and comforming of the human child through a series of modulated cycles of cultural and social enducements begins at childbirth. Nothing new here, except that for most of human history this went on unconsciously for the most part, but at some point certain tribal members realized that words harbored power over the minds and hearts of people. These shamans became the keepers of this knowlege of power, inventing relations between tribe and word these dreamkings began to bridge the unknown and known in a linguistic web of power relations that would become the cultural background of a time-machine.

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Artificial Puritans: Immortal Dreams and the Elimination of Humanity

The specter that haunts genetic manipulation is the genetic ideal, a perfect model obtained through the elimination of all negative traits.

´—Jean Baudrillard,  The Vital Illusion

Genetics is the foster child of eugenics a quasi-science and mythology of constructing the perfect species through technological progress and the perfection of human nature. The word “eugenics” was coined in 1883 by the English scientist Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton, who pioneered the mathematical treatment of heredity, took the word from a Greek root meaning “good in birth” or “noble in heredity.” He intended it to denote the “science” of improving human stock by giving “the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable.”1 This notion is steeped in the hierarchical fantasy of our Puritan ancestors dreams of human perfection – a notion as old as Plato.

In our Western heritage the notion of perfectibility whose origins lay in the cults of perfectionism of the Pythagorean world became in Plato part of the discursive and textural outlay of our cultural memory. Plato distinguishes between technical perfection and the perfection of human nature. In the Republic he proposed a new class of beings to rule and govern the polis. The “philosopher-kings,” as he calls them, are not perfect because they rule perfectly; they are perfect because they have seen “the form of the good” and rule in accordance with it. As John Passinore in his classic Perfectibility of Man comments, “in the end, the whole structure of Plato’s republic rests on there being a variety of perfection over and above technical perfection-a perfection which consists in, or arises out of, man’s relationship to the ideal.”‘ Passmore goes on to point out that other Western thinkers including Luther, Calvin, and Duns Scotus follow Plato in talking about technical perfection in terms of one’s vocation or calling. But the perfecting of oneself in the performance of the role in life to which one is called is not sufficient by itself to ensure one’s perfection as a human being.2

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Jean Baudrillard: The Perfect Crime

The period of catastrophe: the advent of a doctrine that sifts men— driving the weak to decisions, and the strong as well… —Fredrich Nietzsche

Here, however, lies the task of any philosophical thought: to go to the limit of hypotheses and processes, even if they are catastrophic. The only justification for thinking and writing is that it accelerates these terminal processes.

—Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion

We are no longer dealing with a problematic of lack and alienation, where the referent of the self and the dialectic between subject and object were always to be found, supporting strong and active philosophical positions. The last and most radical analysis of this problematic was achieved by Guy Debord and the Situationists, with their concept of spectacle and spectacular alienation. For Debord there was still a chance of disalienation, a chance for the subject to recover his or her autonomy and sovereignty. But now this radical Situationist critique is over. By shifting to a virtual world, we go beyond alienation, into a state of radical deprivation of the Other, or indeed of any otherness, alterity, or negativity. We move into a world where everything that exists only as idea, dream, fantasy, utopia will be eradicated, because it will immediately be realized, operationalized. Nothing will survive as an idea or a concept. You will not even have time enough to imagine. Events, real events, will not even have time to take place. Everything will be preceded by its virtual realization. We are dealing with an attempt to construct an entirely positive world, a perfect world, expurgated of every illusion, of every sort of evil and negativity, exempt from death itself. This pure, absolute reality, this unconditional realization of the world—this is what I call the Perfect Crime.

—Jean Baudrillard,  The Vital Illusion

J.G. Ballard once said of Jean Baudrillard:

“I find Baudrillard America one of the most brilliant pieces of writing that I have ever come across in my life. It’s an extraordinary book. …America is brilliantly original. I’m not sure what Baudrillard overall worldview is. I certainly take an optimistic view. To some extent he sees America [the country] as a huge pop art exhibition. To him, America is an imitation of itself – its imitation of itself is its reality – which I think is true. But he takes an optimistic view of America, and I would do the same about the world as a whole.”1

It’s interesting that a man who wrote such perceptive critiques and fictionalizations of the human animal in his patois of satire, parody, and dark humor was actually hopeful and optimistic, more of a cheerful Democritus of the frontiers of our mutant age than the weeping prognosticator of Heraclitean swamps. I like that about him. And that he found Baudrillard incomprehensible and opaque is an added feature to my admiration of both. As he said:

“There are a lot of Baudrillard’s other writings, which Semiotext(e) keep sending me, that I find pretty opaque – I suspect through mistranslation. He uses a lot of code words which have probably a very different meaning in French than in literal English translation. He’s written an article on Crash – my novel – which I’ve read in English, and I find that difficult to understand.”

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Fake News / Fake Worlds

“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see, the thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception.” —Don DeLillo

“Looking at this more closely, what have we produced that is more original, more specific, than this idea of nothingness, of absence? It is in the final analysis our most obvious cultural contribution. It is precisely this absence that I wish to interrogate, where is this void?” —Paul Virilio

What’s sad is the Left and Right political spectrum both assume all news is fake. We live in a cancelled age, a sit-com world that no longer provides canned music or laughs. A time in-between null and null, caught in a cycle of road kills we wander the maze of our own lures and allurements as the last guests at a death banquet for the West. Postmodern progressives suffer unresolved contradictions, while Traditional republicans live in a shoebox world built out of a 50’s noir thriller full of lust and paranoia. Progressive thinkers exalt post-individualism and freedom from Self or Subject Identity, while the reactionary turns into narcissist cartoon advocates in the lip service world of alt-right.

Ours is an age of untruth – or, in the parlance of our contemporary pundits, post-truth. Another euphemism to harbor unthinking thought on a world of chaotic and clichéd disinformation in which fake news is attributed to each team of the opposition, and all players hold a deck of cheats (facts). Even the fact-check sites are falsified by the political shibboleth, and depending on which team one is own: Left or Right, one is bound by the rumor mill of false witness and purveyors of politically correct arbitration.

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On Becoming Machinic: Intelligence of the Machine

Urban Future drew my attention to an article on the Wall Street Journal about Google’s AI beating the best GO players of China. Being an in-debted man I am unable to afford the luxury of a subscription to the Journal so found Nature’s rendition to my satisfaction. In Google reveals secret test of AI bot to beat top Go players Elizabeth Gibney reports:

A mystery player causing a stir in the world of the complex strategy game Go has been revealed as an updated version of AlphaGo, the artificial-intelligence (AI) program created by Google’s London-based AI firm, DeepMind.

What’s always amazing is this notion that technics and technology, and especially the thinking machines we’ve lately pursued are not human: technics and technology is the inhuman core of our being, so that these intelligent systems are nothing but an extension of our core inhumanity. Rather than there being some dualism between human and machine, which is what such articles continue to suggest, we should acknowledge that the emergence of intelligent machines is in truth what the transitional being we’ve termed the ‘human’ was all along, and that in the long heritage of growth in intelligence, its optimization and extension, externalization of memory and technique has been part of the off-loading our inner core into external prosthesis from the beginning of recorded history. These external systems reveal our inner nature, mirror our actual and virtual desires, show us as we are and are becoming machinic (Deleuze/Guattari).

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The Violence of Capitalism

What saves us is efficiency-the devotion to efficiency.

—Marlow, in Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Life appears as a pause on the energy path; as a precarious stabilization and complication of solar decay. It is most basically comprehensible as the general solution to the problem of consumption.

—Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

The belief that all things should act efficiently is at the core of both Fordist and post-Fordist forms of capitalism. Why should this be so? One could say that the concept of efficiency arose out of its opposite: inefficiency, as its negation. Most of modern economic theory grew out of this battle for efficiency and has been based on optimizing time, motion, and waste. One might say that the whole Progressive era of which we remain tied was bound by this pursuit of efficiency (perfection, growth, optimization) in the political, economic, social, and engineering (technics/technology) realms. Ultimately the central motif of modernity is the zeal for efficiency, and the desire to control a changing world, by bringing it into conformity with a vision of how the world does or should work.1 One might go further and Weberize it saying that modern global capitalism is the child of Christian perfectionism.

The terms “perfect” and “perfection” are drawn from the Greek teleios and teleiōsis, respectively. The root word, telos, means an “end” or “goal”. In contemporary translations, teleios and teleiōsis are often rendered as “mature” and “maturity”, respectively, so as not to imply infallibility or the absence of defects. Rather, in the Christian tradition, teleiōsis has referred to progressing towards spiritual wholeness or health. In the secular form that would enter into the concept of efficiency this movement from defect to wholeness or completion, would end in capital accumulation: profits, surplus, excess, etc. would take priority in engineering machines, assembly lines, and the mereology of the machinic or the techno-commercial sphere that in our moment is leading to total efficiency in digital economy and the autonomy of the machinic in robotics and AGI. The elimination of inefficiencies has led to the final struggle of eliminating the human from the equation. Capitalism perfected is a process in which humans are annihilated and expulsed as inefficient.

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The Mortal Machine: Security Regimes and the Symbolic Order

What is a body, and why should there be a line drawn (a distinction made?) between mind and body? More to the point is dualism a tendency intrinsic to the thing we are or not? We’ve seen philosophers come to the conclusion that we do not exist, that this thing we are was a combination of cultural and social praxis, a project if you will. That with the birth of every new child a process begins that as Deleuze and Guattari would describe begins with the family, moves on to the academy ( education, etc.), then is absorbed in the wider frame of culture at large. Others in our time see that these Symbolic Orders are artificial and circumscribed within certain well defined limits, and that over time a society will construct defense mechanisms to disallow new cultures from breaching the barriers of its symbolic terrain.

Each culture is bound to its symbolic framework and references and will literally go to war to protect its systems of meaning. In Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari would show the inner workings of Western culture and civilization, its tendencies and defense systems. They would demarcate the distinctions that had produced the limit concepts and symbolic codes that have tied our mental and physical duality into a knot of protective security regimes that have guided and shaped this culture and its inhabitants for millennia. They were a beginning not an end, they began a process of disturbing the internal systems that hold the symbolic core of this system together and began to dismantle (or deconstruct) its codes from within. Others would carry on this process, both friends and enemies.

We’ve seen this sordid history within the rise of post-modern and post-humanist thought in both the sciences and humanities. We’ve seen the refusal of the human, a concept that has been central to the Western project for two millennia. Along with that was the illusive quest to dismantle the concept of identity, and destroy the individuation of the Subject. A process that came to a head during the critical phase of the late Enlightenment era we now term the Romantic revolt of Idealisms from Kant to Hegel and beyond. One might term this the “Subject’s Last Stand” of which the current shaper of this tradition is the dualistic materialist Slavoj Zizek in his strain of dialectical materialism. We’ve seen this play out within the divide over transcendence and immanence along with various variants in-between based on a battle between reductionist and irreductionist thought and action. I’ve spent years reading and wandering within both camps seeking from within to understand the defining characteristics that shape both stances and their defense systems. Mortals trapped within their systems are machines caught in the nexus of their own productions never seeing anything but their own gaze returning to them in echoes of bastardized thought. One must be strong to enter the abyss Nietzsche once told us, and even he was prone to other illusions. We all are, even I.

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The Terror of Being Human: Technicity and the Inhuman

For Bernard Stiegler the philosopher has from the beginning been a self-divided being at odds with himself and his time, a creature of crime and havoc, remedy and poison. The Sophist would stake her claim in the black holes of linguistic turpitude, relishing the intricacies of illusion as the art of life. The Sophist was an admirer of what we now term the social construction of reality, a magician of language constructing the fictions by which society blesses and curses itself. While the philosopher or ‘lover of wisdom’ – or as Aristotle was want to say, philia: the lover of togetherness otherwise known as politics, the bringing together the brotherly love of the other in communicity, or a gathering of solitudes. In Stiegler the truth is that the philosopher sought to hide himself from himself, to repress the truth of his lack and inhumanity. The truth that culture is a machine, a power, a technics that humans do not so much construct as are constructed. This dialectical reversal, the oscillating between interior / exterior was hidden rather than revealed. As Stiegler puts it:

“I do not consider myself as a “philosopher of technics”, but rather as a philosopher who tries to contribute, along with some others, to establishing that the philosophical question is, and is throughout, the endurance of a condition which I call techno-logical: at the same time technics and logic, from the beginning forged on the cross which language and the tool form, that is, which allow the human its exteriorization. In my work I try to show that, since its origin, philosophy has endured this technological condition, but as repression and denial and that is the entire difficulty of my undertaking—to show that philosophy begins with the repression of its proper question.”1

But then again what is philosophy’s proper (distinct/intrinsic) question? As Freud taught us and Lacan embellished repression is a defense system, a mechanism to hide from ourselves the terror of our own condition as (in)humans. A large part of Stiegler’s published work is dedicated to exploring how the ‘technological condition’, as he puts it above, is repressed in the work of philosophers such as Rousseau, Kant, Husserl and Heidegger.

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Nick Land: The Blockchain Revolution and Absolute Time

So we have now artificial absolute time for the first time ever in human history. And this therefore is scrambling these narratives it’s scrambling our sense of pre and post, what is the actual set of successions in the most concrete sense …

—Nick Land on Blockchain Revolution

In Nick Land’s summation Blockchain technology solves the problems that both Einstein and Poincare were facing ( he recommends Peter Galison’s book Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps: Empires of Time: Empires of Time), the one from a theoretical physicist stance, the other from a practical and bureaucratic stance. In this video Land describes the underlying reason why we cannot move past Kant into a Post-Kantian perspective. With Blockchain the central issue of developing a practical instigation of succession (arithmetical not geometrical time) and Absolute Time has been resolved, so that this technology makes forcibly practical the relations and convergence on Capitalism, Globalisation, Modernity, Critique, and Artificial Intelligence.

Transcript of Session of Nick Land:

I’d like to first of all subscribe to Mo’s conviction about the importance of the Blockchain, that’s a definite tidal element behind the reason everyone’s here, certainly it’s a conviction on my part that makes this a crucial topic to talk about. So I’ve got two little elements that I’ve picked up about what’s going on here in advance which is the title- The Spacial Politics of the Blockchain and a blurb saying that we’re talking here about the ‘Triangular relation between decentralised technology, architecture, and the office form’, so I hope that I don’t leave the orbit of these agenda items. I’ll probably be approaching them from a somewhat abstracted point of view.

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Machinic Desire (Nick Land Excerpts)

Nick Land: Machinic Desire (Excerpts):

Anti-Oedipus is less a philosophy book than an engineering manual; a package of software implements for hacking into the machinic unconscious, opening invasion channels.

Along one axis of its emergence, virtual materialism names an ultra-hard antiformalist AI program, engaging with biological intelligence as subprograms of an abstract post-carbon machinic matrix, whilst exceeding any deliberated research project. Far from exhibiting itself to human academic endeavour as a scientific object, AI is a meta-scientific control system and an invader, with all the insidiousness of plantary technocapital flipping over. Rather than its visiting us in some software engineering laboratory, we are being drawn out to it, where it is already lurking, in the future.

Machinic desire can seem a little inhuman, as it rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities, and hacks through security apparatuses, tracking a soulless tropism to zero control. This is because what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources. Digitocommodification is the index of a cyberpositively escalating technovirus, of the planetary technocapital singularity: a self-organizing insidious traumatism, virtually guiding the entire biological desiring-complex towards post-carbon replicator usurpation.

Reaching an escape velocity of self-reinforcing machinic intelligence propagation, the forces of production are going for the revolution on their own. It is in this sense that schizoanalysis is a revolutionary program guided by the tropism to a catastrophe threshold of change, but it is not shackled to the realization of a new society, any more than it is constricted by deference to an existing one. The socius is its enemy, and now that the long senile spectre of the greatest imaginable reterritorialization of planetary process has faded from the horizon, cyberrevolutionary impetus is cutting away from its last shackles to the past.

The real tension is no longer between individuality and collectivity, but between personal privacy and impersonal anonymity, between the remnants of a smug bourgeois civility and the harsh wilderness tracts of Cyberia, ‘a point where the earth becomes so artificial that the movement of deterritorialization creates of necessity and by itself a new earth’ (AO: p. 321). Desire is irrevocably abandoning the social, in order to explore the libidinized rift between a disintegrating personal egoism and a deluge of post-human schizophrenia.1


  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007  Urbanomic/Sequence Press.

Epiphylogenesis: On Becoming Machine

Epiphylogenesis: Bernard Stiegler – Memory and Prosthesis

Once you realize the human body was a migration ploy, a stop gap in a long process of migration technics using memory technology in a process of self-exteriorization, then you realize that becoming artificial and technological (robotic or AI) was immanent to the strange thing we are. Becoming robot are merging with our technologies isn’t really that far fetched after all, and that what we’ve been doing so for thousands if not millions of years is evolving new prosthesis step by step by step. This is at least part of what Bernard Stiegler admits to in his thesis of originary technicity or his theory of lack and supplement (ala Derrida): the supplement of technics is our way of exploiting this lack within the human condition. The human is a placeholder in a process in-between, a transition. The body we take for granted as the foundation of our humanity was never an end point, a static object at the end of some teleological assembly line, but was rather a project and program in an ongoing experimental process that has no foreseeable goal or end point, no design or designer. It can change form. We are not bound to this form, only temporary denizens in transition.

As is well-known, Bernard Stiegler articulates three different forms of memory: genetic memory (which is programmed into our DNA); epigenetic memory (which we acquire during our lifetime and is stored in the central nervous system) and, finally, epiphylogenetic memory (which is embodied in technical systems or artefacts). For Stiegler, then, epiphylogenesis represents a quasi-Lamarckian theory of “artificial selection” where successive epigenetic experiences are stored, accumulated and transmitted from generation to generation in the form of technical objects. In this sense, as we will see in a moment, Stiegler argues that the birth of man represents an absolute break with biological life because it is the moment in the history of life where zoē begins to map itself epiphylogenetically onto technē: what we call the human is “a living being characterised in its forms of life by the non-living.”

In this scenario we’ve been exteriorizing ourselves all along through this tri-fold process of memory works; or, as he terms it: epiphylogenesis. For Stiegler, this account of the origin of man contains a crucial insight into the status of the human that will form the basis for his own philosophy: humanity is constituted by an originary lack of defining qualities— what he calls a “default” of origin [le défaut d’origine]— that must be supplemented from outside by technics. What Stiegler calls technics is in the Deleuze/Guattarian index the “machinic”. For Deleuze and Guattari, every machine is a machine connected to another machine. Every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the machine to which it is connected, but is at the same time also a flow itself, or the production of a flow. What we term libido is the “labor” of desiring production. It is pure multiplicity, and for Deleuze and Guattari, it is anoedipal. The flow is non-personal, although investments by desiring machines produce subjectivity alongside its components. (Guattari, “Machinic Heterogenesis”)

Some accuse Stiegler of remaining within an anthropocentric horizon, saying that his thought risks re-anthropologising technics even in the very act of insisting upon the originary technicity of the human: what expropriates the anthropos once again becomes “proper” to it as its defining mode of being. If Stiegler would undoubtedly reject this line of critique— the moral of the story of Epimetheus is clearly that nothing is proper to the human— his enduring focus on hominisation as the unique moment when the living begins to articulate itself through the non-living means that his philosophy arguably still remains within what we might call the penumbra of human self-constitution. The supposedly self-identical human being is put into a relation only in order for the relation itself to be ontologised as an exclusively “human” one: we are the only being that relates.1

In many ways we need to do away with the term “human” which has so many associations that it has become a term indefinable going forward. We’ve tried using terms like “post-human” to obviate this fact, speaking of transitional states. And, yet, much of the discourse surrounding this still deals with the cultural matrix of humanity itself while leaving out the non-human others among us that many now know have recourse to externalization technics as well. The point is that humans are not part of an exception, we are part of the life of this planet. One among other possible life-forms and trajectories taking place in complex of ecologies simultaneously.

David Roden in his excellent book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human addresses just this telling us that what we need is a “theory of human– posthuman difference” (Roden: 105).2 As he surmises the posthuman difference is not one between kinds but emerges diachronically between individuals, we cannot specify its nature a priori but only a posteriori – after the emergence of actual posthumans. The ethical implications of this are somewhat paradoxical. (Roden: 106) Catherine Hayles once argued in How We Became Posthuman that one of the key characteristics of the posthuman is that the body is treated as the “original prosthesis,” a prosthetic which contains the informatic pattern of posthuman subjects, but which is not integral to them.3 For Stiegler, this is only possible through a process of exteriorisation.  Our experience of being is therefore not merely a product of memory but is achieved through the processes of mnemotechnics: the ‘technical prostheses’ through which memory is recorded and transmitted across generations, and which is never limited to individual minds.  Without this sense of memory, Stiegler argues, the human would not be possible. The point here is that our bodies might be the last sacrosanct thing we will have to relinquish in this long road from animal to the post-human. For if Stiegler is correct it is our cultural memories and these technics of exteriorization that have for millennia become the project to which the human organic systems were moving, a process that has through the invention of computational machines and the rise of AI and Robotics only accelerated this process of self-exteriorization.

With this notion comes the transition from the terms of technics and machines to that of assemblages. As David Roden in his work will iterate:

The concept of assemblage was developed by the poststructuralist philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1988). Its clearest expression, though, is in the work of the Deleuzean philosopher of science Manuel DeLanda. For DeLanda, an assemblage is an emergent but decomposable whole and belongs to the conceptual armory of the particularist “flat” ontology I will propose for SP in § 5.4. Assemblages are emergent wholes in that they exhibit powers and properties not attributable to their parts but which depend (or “supervene”) on those powers. Assemblages are also decomposable insofar as all the relations between their components are “external”: each part can be detached from the whole to exist independently (assemblages are thus opposed to “totalities” in an idealist or holist sense). This is the case even where the part is functionally necessary for the continuation of the whole (DeLanda 2006: 184; see § 6.5).(Roden: 111)

Is the future of the human-in-migration this becoming assemblage? As Roden continues biological humans are currently “obligatory” components of modern technical assemblages. Technical systems like air-carrier groups, cities or financial markets have powers that cannot be attributed to narrow humans but depend on them for their operation and maintenance much as an animal depends on the continued existence of its vital organs. Technological systems are thus intimately coupled with biology and have been over successive technological revolutions. (Roden: 111)

This sense that we are already so coupled with our exterior memory systems that what we’re seeing in our time is a veritable hyperacceleration and migration out of the organic and into the artificial systems we’ve been so eagerly immersed in. As futurist Luciano Floridi reminds us we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick.4

Most of us hang onto that last bastion of the human, our body. For many the whole notion that we are not bound to this organic husk that has been the natural evolutionary experiment of millions of years seems utter tripe, and yet what if we are about to migrate into a new platform, an assemblage of plasticity and formlessness? What if the whole notion that we are stuck in this dying ember of organicist nature is just a myth, a myth that is keeping us from breaking through the barrier of becoming posthuman? What if the chains that tie us to this dead world of organic being is our religious, philosophical, and political prejudices, our exceptionalisms, our anthropologicisms? What if merging with our software and platforms is not only feasible but the motion and very movement we’ve been performing through this process of self-exteriorization all along? What if this is our way forward? What then?

One day we will quaintly look back upon organic life and the human body with a fondness that is only a memory, while we become pluralistic denizens of a million prismatic forms yet to be shaped by technics into the vast assemblages of the unbound universe. The question to ask yourself is: Will you see this as a worthy task or as a horror? If the former then you are already in migration into the assemblage, if the latter then you have become a problem for yourself and every other living thing on this planet.


  1. Armand, Louis; Bradley, Arthur; Zizek, Slavoj; Stiegler, Bernard; Miller, J. Hillis; Wark, McKenzie; Amerika, Mark; Lucy, Niall; Tofts, Darren; Lovink, Geert. Technicity (Kindle Locations 1749-1757). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
  2. Roden, David. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (p. 105). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  3. Hayles, N. Katherine.  How We Became Posthuman. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  4. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (pp. 16-17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

 

Deleuze & Guattari’s Accelerationist Manifesto

deleuze-and-guattari

The Real Accelerationist Manifesto (Non-teleological Permanent Revolution) of Deleuze & Guattari:

“…the task of schizoanalysis is ultimately that of discovering for every case the nature of the libidinal investments of the social field, their possible internal conflicts, their relationships with the preconscious investments of the same field, their possible conflicts with these—in short, the entire interplay of the desiring-machines and the repression of desire. Completing the process and not arresting it, not making it turn about in the void, not assigning it a goal. We’ll never go too far with the deterritorialization, the decoding of flows. For the new earth (“In truth, the earth will one day become a place of healing”) is not to be found in the neurotic or perverse reterritorializations that arrest the process or assign it goals; it is no more behind than ahead, it coincides with the completion of the process of desiring-production, this process that is always and already complete as it proceeds, and as long as it proceeds. It therefore remains for us to see how, effectively, simultaneously, these various tasks of schizoanalysis proceed.” (Anti-Oedipus: p. 401) [my italics]

Of course the above echoes that other famous passage from The Capitalist Machine of Civilization chapter:

So what is the solution? Which is the revolutionary path? Psychoanalysis is of little help, entertaining as it does the most intimate of relations with money, and recording—while refusing to recognize it—an entire system of economic-monetary dependences at the heart of the desire of every subject it treats. Psychoanalysis constitutes for its part a gigantic enterprise of absorption of surplus value. But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one?—To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet. (AO, p. 239) [italics mine]

The Subtle Game

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Watching my nephew, his wife, and their daughter all sitting on the couch, the TV blairing away while each of them gazed into their isolated technological worlds. Their cell-phones and eyes locked in a closed circuit loop, oblivious of the external environment or my conversation of five miniutes, I began thinking of this almost eerie truth: We are still the children of Kant, internalizing not only our gaze, but folding the world into our technological gadgets to live out our lives in an artificial maze of light.

The external world of the natural environment along with human senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing all focused to the empire of the eye lost in the gaze of our technological worlds, where our of emotions, the affective relations of the body itself is being eroded to the point that we are truly preparing for the moment when we will enter into these artificial dream worlds without so much as a remembrance of the external environment or our bodies. It is happening so slowly and subtly that we are even oblivious to our own process and complicity in this movement toward the eclipse of distance and the negation of the world for another one. For a technological world where the symbolic cages of our future desires will become part of a joyous new prison. We want even know we’ve lost our bodies in that world to come having become electronic ghosts or our former lives we’ll live out our days as bits of commercial feed-back in an endless economic game of holidays whose only goal is profit. Hell is a labyrinth in which one does not know it is so, there being no center or circumference; nor outlet. Only an endless vista for the eyes duplicitous gaze…

With the new VR tools that will become ever so refined over the coming decades (they being monstrous frog masks now!) we will forget that the natural ever existed, and will instead discover around us the merger of our technological dreamscapes and the outer world. We will be empowered by endless fantasies and technological entertainment systems that will lull us into our sleeping slavery happy and satisfied to be a part of the ever growing techno-commercial empires of our Plutocrats. Those who resist will be shown the door outside the gated and secure enclaves of the future, to ick out their bare existence as the denizens of a dark work world without the benefit of social interference or help. This darkling world we’re creating will not protrude too soon, but will happen as generation by generation the truth of the past, of history, of those alive who remember that reality was once different are all gone.

Even as I gaze back to my past life realizing how much has changed, and how my young family around me no longer sees or perceives reality in the way I do, knowing how far we’ve drifted from the 20th Century already I ponder this simple transition into the electronic void with neither fear nor trepidation. How can one fear what others see as joy and fulfillment of their deep seated desires? The concept of ‘joy’ must be understood here with a certain analytical coldness, emptied of the ideas of rapture, plenitude or jubilation that are commonly associated with it. One can experience joy at all levels of intensity, including very low ones, associated with the most ordinary; it can even go unnoticed, lost within a larger complex of affects that makes it hard to isolate. Once the idea of joy is purged of all connotations of effervescence and enthusiasm, it is perfectly correct to say that securing the money that allows the satisfaction of the basal desire causes joy – but in the same way that escaping death by becoming a slave causes joy.

This will be an age when the mass consumption of the consumer herself must be reached for the full scope of the Spinozist statement ‘they can imagine hardly any species of joy without the accompanying idea of money as its cause’ to become clear.  The supreme deftness of capitalism, in this respect decisively the product of the Fordist era, lay in using the expanded supply of things to buy and the stimulation of demand to provoke this reordering of desire, so that from then on the ‘image [of money] … occupie[d] the mind of the multitude more than anything else’.1 Yet, in this new age of the symbolic order the image of money will have given way to the gift of life in the eternal now of the virtual worlds of machinic existence, a world where security is handled by the great AGI’s – artificial intelligences who will manipulate every aspect of our holographic lives.

Those of us living now scoff at such conclusions, yet we want be there to see it. I speak of a time without such as us who think and believe differently. Oh, one could trace the genealogy of thought that has brought us to this point, how Kant turned away from reality in favor of the Mind’s own knowing – the inner turn being none other than this epistemic gaze. At the end of the 20th Century the divorce between sign and its referent, mind and its outer environment (nature) was complete, and the end of the Kantian experiment was at hand. No longer believing that the external world exists, we’ve allowed ourselves to build artificial playgrounds where our need for symbols and symbolic action will play out their destiny. Even the scientists work not with the actual, but rather with its symbolic equivalent in endless mathematical models of the universe to which it can create algorithms to evolve a future unbound. Whatever reality was for our ancestors, whatever we thought of the natural is no more; instead is this symbolic realm of endless signs that do not so much as reveal reality as construct it. This was the great postmodern vision, which is even now falling into ill-repute as many turn back to some form of realist discourse.

Yet, even as philosophers beg the question of reality, the world of techno-commercial consumerism continues as if reality no longer mattered. All that matters is the game of reality, the Reality Studio that is constructed out of all the vast machines of the Mediatainment Empire. In this transitional period between the old world of stable outer natural environment, and the new world cut off from its supports in reality living on symbols that no longer refer to anything other than themselves we exist in a carefully managed world of artificiality. And, even if the very real consequences of climate change, social chaos, disease, famine, war, etc. continue to exist these are not the center of the new arrangements of the techno-commercial empire. Even as the pressure of the old impinges on the new the Oligarchs of irreality continue to portray the world as a happy holiday in the sun.

In my own mind I realize the difficulty of trying to bridge the gap in understanding. Trying to explain such notions (not my own!) that the world and the artificial are growing ever wider in their gaps and cracks to the point that the old natural environs will one day flood back into our electronic mindscapes with a vengeance. They laugh at me as if this, too, were just one more crackpot theory. I realize it is slowly dawning on me that it is already too late to convince people of what is happening. I’ve a library filled with books on every aspect of our current malaise: Anthroposcene, Neoliberalism, Post-Marxist radicalism, Deleuze, Zizek, Badiou, Non-human turn, Post-human thought, novels, sci-fi, noir, Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Pynchon, etc. all warning us of the coming natural collapse around our planet. Yet, in our socio-cultural game of illusions most people could care less as long as they are gratified in this immediate now. In an age when the truth has given way to a post-truth world we are truly lost in our own machiniations, unable to think critically or even register the outer terror of the coming catastrophe of our extinction.


  1. Lordon, Frederic. Willing Slaves Of Capital: Spinoza And Marx On Desire (pp. 29-30). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Vladislav Surkov: Portrait of the Kremlin Demiurge

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In his Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, Peter Pomerantsev describes Vladislav Surkov in a singular portrait:

Though we are expecting Vladislav Surkov, the man known as the “Kremlin demiurge,” who has “privatized the Russian political system,” to enter from the front of the university auditorium, he surprises us all by striding in from the back. He’s got his famous Cheshire Cat smile on. He’s wearing a white shirt and a leather jacket that is part Joy Division and part 1930s commissar. He walks straight to the stage in front of an audience of PhD students, professors, journalists, and politicians.

“I am the author, or one of the authors, of the new Russian system,” he tells us by way of introduction. “My portfolio at the Kremlin and in government has included ideology, media, political parties, religion, modernization, innovation, foreign relations, and . . . ” here he pauses and smiles, “modern art.” He offers to not make a speech, instead welcoming the audience to pose questions and have an open discussion. After the first question he talks for almost forty-five minutes, leaving hardly any time for questions after all. It’s his political system in miniature: democratic rhetoric and undemocratic intent.

As former deputy head of the presidential administration, later deputy prime minister and then assistant to the President on foreign affairs, Surkov has directed Russian society like one great reality show. He claps once and a new political party appears. He claps again and creates Nashi, the Russian equivalent of the Hitler Youth, who are trained for street battles with potential prodemocracy supporters and burn books by unpatriotic writers on Red Square. As deputy head of the administration he would meet once a week with the heads of the television channels in his Kremlin office, instructing them on whom to attack and whom to defend, who is allowed on TV and who is banned, how the President is to be presented, and the very language and categories the country thinks and feels in. The Ostankino TV presenters, instructed by Surkov, pluck a theme (oligarchs, America, the Middle East) and speak for twenty minutes, hinting, nudging, winking, insinuating though rarely ever saying anything directly, repeating words like “them” and “the enemy” endlessly until they are imprinted on the mind. They repeat the great mantras of the era: the President is the President of “stability,” the antithesis to the era of “confusion and twilight” in the 1990s. “Stability”—the word is repeated again and again in a myriad seemingly irrelevant contexts until it echoes and tolls like a great bell and seems to mean everything good; anyone who opposes the President is an enemy of the great God of “stability.” “Effective manager,” a term quarried from Western corporate speak, is transmuted into a term to venerate the President as the most “effective manager” of all. “Effective” becomes the raison d’être for everything: Stalin was an “effective manager” who had to make sacrifices for the sake of being “effective.” The words trickle into the streets: “Our relationship is not effective” lovers tell each other when they break up. “Effective,” “stability”: no one can quite define what they actually mean, and as the city transforms and surges, everyone senses things are the very opposite of stable, and certainly nothing is “effective,” but the way Surkov and his puppets use them the words have taken on a life of their own and act like falling axes over anyone who is in any way disloyal.

One of Surkov’s many nicknames is the “political technologist of all of Rus.” Political technologists are the new Russian name for a very old profession: viziers, gray cardinals, wizards of Oz. They first emerged in the mid-1990s, knocking on the gates of power like pied pipers, bowing low and offering their services to explain the world and whispering that they could reinvent it. They inherited a very Soviet tradition of top-down governance and tsarist practices of co-opting antistate actors (anarchists in the nineteenth century, neo-Nazis and religious fanatics now), all fused with the latest thinking in television, advertising, and black PR. Their first clients were actually Russian modernizers: in 1996 the political technologists, coordinated by Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch nicknamed the “Godfather of the Kremlin” and the man who first understood the power of television in Russia, managed to win then President Boris Yeltsin a seemingly lost election by persuading the nation he was the only man who could save it from a return to revanchist Communism and new fascism. They produced TV scare-stories of looming pogroms and conjured fake Far Right parties, insinuating that the other candidate was a Stalinist (he was actually more a socialist democrat), to help create the mirage of a looming “red-brown” menace.

Living in the world of Surkov and the political technologists, I find myself increasingly confused. Recently my salary almost doubled. On top of directing shows for TNT, I have been doing some work for a new media house called SNOB, which encompasses TV channels and magazines and a gated online community for the country’s most brilliant minds. It is meant to foster a new type of “global Russian,” a new class who will fight for all things Western and liberal in the country. It is financed by one of Russia’s richest men, the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who also owns the Brooklyn Nets. I have been hired as a “consultant” for one of SNOB’s TV channels. I write interminable notes and strategies and flowcharts, though nothing ever seems to happen. But I get paid. And the offices, where I drop in several times a week to talk about “unique selling points” and “high production values,” are like some sort of hipster fantasy: set in a converted factory, the open brickwork left untouched, the huge arches of the giant windows preserved, with edit suites and open plan offices built in delicately. The employees are the children of Soviet intelligentsia, with perfect English and vocal in their criticism of the regime. The deputy editor is a well-known American Russian activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, and her articles in glossy Western magazines attack the President vociferously. But for all the opposition posturing of SNOB, it’s also clear there is no way a project so high profile could have been created without the Kremlin’s blessing. Is this not just the sort of “managed” opposition the Kremlin is very comfortable with? On the one hand allowing liberals to feel they have a free voice and a home (and a paycheck), on the other helping the Kremlin define the “opposition” as hipster Muscovites, out of touch with “ordinary” Russians, obsessed with “marginal” issues such as gay rights (in a homophobic country). The very name of the project, “SNOB,” though meant ironically, already defines us as a potential object of hate. And for all the anti-Kremlin rants on SNOB, we never actually do any real investigative journalism, find out any hard facts about money stolen from the state budget: in twenty-first-century Russia you are allowed to say anything you want as long as you don’t follow the corruption trail. After work I sit with my colleagues, drinking and talking: Are we the opposition? Are we helping Russia become a freer place? Or are we actually a Kremlin project strengthening the President? Actually doing damage to the cause of liberty? Or are we both? A card to be played?1


  1. Peter Pomerantsev. Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia (Kindle Locations 1024-1042). Perseus Books, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Death Unbound: The Intelligence of Machines

The question which I wish to pursue where even speculation cannot reach has to do with the permanence of this world-view. Will it be the last?

-Stanislaw Lem, One Human Minute

Rereading Thomas Ligotti’s Conspiracy against the Human Race has reminded me of all the reasons why we humans are not only a horror to ourselves, but a horror to everything else on this planet. Ligotti will ask: “So why not lend a hand in nature’s suicide?”1 This sense that we are on a voyage into an unknown future, a future that may lead us as a species into a blind alley with no way out, that in the end the only course of action will be to end it: mass suicide of our species just to save what remains of the natural earth and it’s unique Life.

When we look at the hard truth, we as humans need at minimum: air, water, and soil to survive. Air that is breathable. Water that is drinkable. Soil that is rich in nutrients and harvestable. After that is the subset of energy needs, and all that entails. Elizabeth Kolbert in her book The Sixth Extinction has been documenting for ten years the violent collision between civilization and our planet’s ecosystem: the Andes, the Amazon rain forest, the Great Barrier Reef — and her backyard. In lucid prose, she examines the role of man-made climate change in causing what biologists call the sixth mass extinction — the current spasm of plant and animal loss that threatens to eliminate 20 to 50 percent of all living species on earth within this century.2

Edward O. Wilson in his recent book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life will ask: How fast are we driving species to extinction? For years paleontologists and biodiversity experts have believed that before the coming of humanity about two hundred thousand years ago, the rate of origin of new species per extinction of existing species was roughly one species per million species per year. As a consequence of human activity, it is believed that the current rate of extinction overall is between one hundred and one thousand times higher than it was originally, and all due to human activity.3

For Kolbert the result of our impact on the earth is a clear and comprehensive history of earth’s previous mass extinctions — and the species we’ve lost, telling us that: “Right now, we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy.” (ibid.)

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