Mark Fisher On Anti-Rock as Depressive Philosophy

maxresdefault

RIP – Sadly, Mark Fisher is not with us anymore… my thoughts go out to his wife and child. I wrote of his recent work in passing last year. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, which is part biographical history and a mixture of hyperbolic immiseration and a slow dive into that zero point of nihility from which there is no return. Marx would once describe the immiseration of the proletariat this way:

Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productivity of labour are put into effect at the cost of the individual worker […] All means for the development of production undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become a means of domination and exploitation of the producers; they distort the worker into a fragment of a man, they degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, they destroy the actual content of his labour by turning it into a torment, they alienate from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process […], they transform his life into working-time, and his wife and child beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of capital. But all methods of the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation, and every extension of accumulation becomes, conversely, a means for the development of these methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.

— Karl Marx, Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, 1867

This moment of life turning into the zero time of “working time” is the moment of an event that never happens, a future that evaporates the moment it is revealed, a moment when life at its inhuman core awakens in the mind of those anti-rockers Fisher speaks of as hauntological:

In hauntological music there is an implicit acknowledgement that the hopes created by postwar electronica or by the euphoric dance music of the 1990s have evaporated – not only has the future not arrived, it no longer seems possible. Yet at the same time, the music constitutes a refusal to give up on the desire for the future. This refusal gives the melancholia a political dimension, because it amounts to a failure to accommodate to the closed horizons of capitalist realism.1

Ultimately Mark’s book is a drift through the melancholic mind of Fisher himself: “The kind of melancholia I’m talking about, by contrast, consists not in giving up on desire but in refusing to yield. It consists, that is to say, in a refusal to adjust to what current conditions call ‘reality’ – even if the cost of that refusal is that you feel like an outcast in your own time…” (ibid. KL 432) This sense of being an Outsider in one’s own time, a pariah for whom the world is a vast machine of zombies enslaved to a system of corruption and dark imminserability is at the core of this depressive philosophy. This refusal to yield to the symbolic Order, to the big Other that always seeks to keep us in check, to bind us to the cultural machine, the media-matrix of illusionary capital realism.

Speaking of the history of Rock he will tells us that it grew out of a sense of sadness rather than elation, that in the “case of both the bluesman and the crooner”  (Robert Johnson, Sinatra), there is, at least ostensibly, a reason for the sorrow.”  Speaking of Joy Division (an English rock band formed in 1976 in Salford, Greater Manchester. Originally named Warsaw, the band consisted of singer Ian Curtis, guitarist/keyboardist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris) Fisher will center in on the short life of Curtis himself. Curtis suffered from severe depression and personal difficulties, including a broken marriage and epilepsy. In particular he found it increasingly difficult to perform at live concerts, during which he often suffered seizures. In May 1980, on the eve of the band’s debut American tour, Curtis, aged 23, committed suicide. As Fisher explains it:

Because Joy Division’s bleakness was without any specific cause, they crossed the line from the blue of sadness into the black of depression, passing into the ‘desert and wastelands’ where nothing brings either joy or sorrow. Zero affect.

Fisher will mix his narrative of the history of depressive rock philosophy with his political philosophy of capital realism. Speaking of Curtis he will tell us that as he sang ‘I’ve lost the will to want more’ on ‘Insight’ one gets the feeling that “there was no sense that there had been any such will in the first place.” Instead if one listens closely to their early songs one “could easily mistake their tone for the curled lip of spiky punk outrage, but, already, it is as if Curtis is not railing against injustice or corruption so much as marshalling them as evidence for a thesis that was, even then, firmly established in his mind.” (ibid. KL 919) This evidence is of a depressive philosophy.

Depression is, after all and above all, a theory about the world, about life. The stupidity and venality of politicians (‘ Leaders of Men’), the idiocy and cruelty of war (‘ Walked in Line’) are pointed to as exhibits in a case against the world, against life, that is so overwhelming, so general, that to appeal to any particular instance seems superfluous. (ibid. KL  923-925)

The depressive experiences himself as walled off from the lifeworld, so that his own frozen inner life – or inner death – overwhelms everything; at the same time, he experiences himself as evacuated, totally denuded, a shell: there is nothing except the inside, but the inside is empty. For the depressive, the habits of the former lifeworld now seem to be, precisely, a mode of playacting, a series of pantomime gestures (‘ a circus complete with all fools’), which they are both no longer capable of performing and which they no longer wish to perform – there’s no point, everything is a sham. (ibid. KL 930)

For Fisher depression is neither sadness, nor a state of mind, but rather a “(neuro) philosophical (dis) position”. Telling us that what Joy Division saw in the depths of this affectless world is only what all depressives, all mystics, always see: the obscene undead twitching of the Will as it seeks to maintain the illusion that this object, the one it is fixated upon NOW, this one, will satisfy it in a way that all other objects thus far have failed to.” Yet, it is in those moments when we attain our goals, reach out and fulfill our desires that depression in all its bleakness sets in and one feels cheated, emptied out, vacated. This depressive ontology he will iterate is “dangerously seductive because, as the zombie twin of a certain philosophical wisdom, it is half true.”:

As the depressive withdraws from the vacant confections of the lifeworld, he unwittingly finds himself in concordance with the human condition so painstakingly diagrammed by a philosopher like Spinoza: he sees himself as a serial consumer of empty simulations, a junky hooked on every kind of deadening high, a meat puppet of the passions. The depressive cannot even lay claim to the comforts that a paranoiac can enjoy, since he cannot believe that the strings are being pulled by any one. No flow, no connectivity in the depressive’s nervous system. (ibid. KL 961)

This is the point of absolute zero: of time turning on itself, the speed world of the dead going nowhere. The suicide of Curtis reminds Fisher that the male lust for death had always been a subtext in rock, but before Joy Division it had been smuggled into rock under libidinous pretexts, a black dog in wolf’s clothing – Thanatos cloaked as Eros – or else it had worn pantomime panstick.(ibd. KL 977) He will add:

Suicide was a guarantee of authenticity, the most convincing of signs that you were 4 Real. Suicide has the power to transfigure life, with all its quotidian mess, its conflicts, its ambivalences, its disappointments, its unfinished business, its ‘waste and fever and heat’ – into a cold myth, as solid, seamless and permanent as the ‘marble and stone’…(ibid. 979)

The prescient movement of the above statement and its enactment belies the figure of a noble being in Mark Fisher. And there is always the harsh truth beneath the veneer for many that he felt for in his short life: “beneath all the red-nosed downer-fuelled jollity of the past two decades, mental illness has increased some 70% amongst adolescents. Suicide remains one of the most common sources of death for young males.” (ibid. 992)

We’ll miss Mark and his active participation in the intellectual and political world of our time, along with the emotion we feel for his family and friends. Bon Voyage, Mark, as Orwell once said: “Keep the aspidistras flying!”


  1. Fisher, Mark (2014-05-30). Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 395-398). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Gun Crazy Nation: Violence, Crime, and Sociopathy

The trajectory of sociopathic society is toward destruction. It promotes destruction of other nations, of its own citizens, of the natural environment, and, ultimately, societal self-destruction.

-Charles Derber,  Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States

Robert W. McChesney in the preface to Noam Chomsky’s Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order admits that neoliberalism is the defining political economic paradigm of our time— it refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit. Associated initially with Reagan and Thatcher, for the past two decades neoliberalism has been the dominant global political economic trend adopted by political parties of the center and much of the traditional left as well as the right. These parties and the policies they enact represent the immediate interests of extremely wealthy investors and less than one thousand large corporations.2 When people refer to the global establishment, this is what they mean.

One reason I’ve spent time and effort reading pulp fiction: proletariat, science fiction, noir, low-life, apocalyptic narratives, YA novels, dystopian, etc. is that the underlying mythos and ideological aspects that seem to slide away from us in more intellectual and high and late – modernist or post-modernist texts is what Richard Slotkin ages ago in his three-volume cycle on the myth of violence and manifest destiny, frontier and domination, etc. once stipulated this way (The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800–1890:)

“At  the  core  of  the  Myth  is  the  belief  that  economic, moral,  and  spiritual  progress  are  achieved  by  the  heroic  foray  of  civilized society into  the  virgin  wilderness,  and by  the  conquest  and  subjugation  of wild nature  and savage mankind. According  to  this  Myth, the meaning  and direction  of American  history-perhaps  of Western  history as a whole­ is found in  the metaphoric representation of  history as an extended  Indian war.  In  its  original  form,  this  Myth fleshed  out the metaphor  with the imagery  and  personalities  of  agrarian  development;  it equated  the value of the wilderness with land,  identified the savage  opposition  as  Indian,  and envisioned  as  heroes men who  embodied  the  virtues  and  the  liabilities  of  entrepreneurial individualists. (Page 546).”

When I read of Elon Musk and of others spouting frontier talk of space and Mars, Moon, or Asteroids … the wilderness of Space Exploration, the taming of the Solar System, etc. I remember this work… Even all the gun violence and NRA etc. seem to devolve into this old habitual form within the American psyche as a sociopathic reminder of our roots in violence, domination, and manifest destiny ideology that justified slavery, takeover of the Indian nations, etc. Many now just turn a blind eye to the terrible deeds of our Anglo-Saxon, French, Irish, German … Continental heritage …

Even now as our California entrepreneurs develop technical know-how to expand into the cosmos we should be reminded of the old mythologies of the Western Expansion of Manifest Destiny. Back then it was talk of opening a “virgin land” while now we speak of a “resource Frontier”; a realm of vast resources available for planet earth, etc. All this while spawning a myth of darkening prospects for earth’s populations: depletion of resources, climate change, viral outbreaks, war, dwindling water, food, seeds, etc. It’s as if the ideological campaign supports both a positive and a negative trope, a mythology of escape and exit; and, one of pessimism and despair on the home world, etc. We love our media-dreams, our cinematic utopia-dystopias, our apocalyptic and survivalist crazies, our decadent Hollywood Reality-TV, our elaborate rituals of Country music, Rock-n-Roll, the Hip-Hop, or Ecstasy culture clubs. Our leaders turn into cartoon jokes, our society frames itself as an ideological war between the Left and Right which keeps the narrative going, the war among the people, the masses, who love a good fight against the bad guys: the Wall-Street, Bankers, elite Oligarchy, etc.; all the sponsored infowars, the conspiracy advocates that keep things stirred up by CIA, NSA, disinformation nexus… We seem to riddle ourselves with trivia games of culture and oblivion trying to forget our actual lives of humdrum servitude.

We’ve known for ages that the consumerist imperative is unsustainable and both socially and environmentally destructive.1 Yet, it is still one of the key drivers of media, advertising, and the governmental and corporate initiatives to keep a healthy economy going: buy, buy, buy… new cars, gadgets, homes… the great obsolescence of things. Our lives are built around impermanence and trash. The bleak landscapes and unremitting poverty of many of our nation’s cities is due not to the pressure of class warfare as much as it is to corporate abandonment. Detroit is probably one of the great cities that typifies the downturn and ruination of many cities due to globalism. With the breakup of the old industrialist systems and export of industry to third world nations we’ve seen the decline of many American cities into both political and social turmoil: the persistence of housing and workplace discrimination, poverty, and racial tensions, crime and drugs.

Thomas J. Sugrue The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit tells us that Detroit, like many Rustbelt cities, is plagued by joblessness, concentrated poverty, physical decay, and racial isolation. Since 1950, Detroit has lost nearly a million people and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Vast areas of the city, once teeming with life, now stand abandoned. Factories  that once provided  tens  of thousands  of jobs  now  stand  as  hollow  shells, windows broken,  mute  testimony  to  a  lost  industrial  pas t.  Whole  rows  of  small  shops  and  stores   are  boarded  up  or  burned out .  Over  ten thousand houses are  uninhabited; over  sixty thousand lots  lie  empty,  marring almost  every  city neighborhood.  Whole  sections  of the  city are eerily  apocalyptic.  Over  a  third  of  the city’s residents live beneath the poverty line, many concentrated  in neighborhoods where  a ma­jority  of  their  neighbors  are· also  poor. A  vis it  to  the  city’s  welfare  offices ,  hospitals,  and  jails   provides  abundant  evidence  of  the  terrible  costs  of the city’s  persistent unemployment  and poverty.3

But it’s not just the older industrial cities, we see this in small town U.S.A. as well. It’s as if America is becoming a great ghost town ridden wasteland, a place of ruin and decay. Oh, sure there are the gems and hives of the dense hyper-cities: New York City, San Francisco, L.A., Miami, Atlanta, Austin, Seattle, etc. where people are forced between the elite rich who own the vast high-rise monopolies, and the workers who live on the fringe in rentier infested subhuman realms, marginalized at the periphery. Yet, many try to white-wash this, try to downplay it, try to hide it, sweep it under the rug or just plain silence it in media, press, and governmental outlays. As Charlie Leduff recently said of Detroit:

General Motors and Chrysler continue to make cars thanks in large part to the American taxpayer, who bailed them out (and are stilled owed billions of dollars), and their creditors, who took it in the shorts and received almost nothing for their investment. Ford too is profitable again. And for the first time ever, more cars were sold in China than in the United States. American Axle moved much of the remainder of its Detroit jobs out of state and country. The stock moved up. Detroit, I am sure, will continue to be. Just as Rome does. What it will be and who will be here, I cannot say. The unnecessary human beings will have to find some other place to go and something else to do. The Great Remigration south, maybe.4

This sense of “unnecessary human beings” of humanity itself being abandoned, expulsed, disposable is become more and more prevalent across the planet, not just here in the U.S.. As Saskia Sassen reports we are confronting a formidable problem in our global political economy: the emergence of new logics of expulsion. The past two decades have seen a sharp growth in the number of people, enterprises, and places expelled from the core social and economic orders of our time. This tipping into radical expulsion was enabled by elementary decisions in some cases, but in others by some of our most advanced economic and technical achievements. The notion of expulsions takes us beyond the more familiar idea of growing inequality as a way of capturing the pathologies of today’s global capitalism. Further, it brings to the fore the fact that forms of knowledge and intelligence we respect and admire are often at the origin of long transaction chains that can end in simple expulsions.5 As Kevin Bales in Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy says it point blank

Slavery is a booming business and the number of slaves is increasing. People get rich by using slaves. And when they’ve finished with their slaves, they just throw these people away. This is the new slavery, which focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning people in the traditional sense of the old slavery, but about controlling them completely. People become completely disposable tools for making money.6

This is our world. Henry A Giroux and Brad Evans will tell us that disposability or the notion of intolerable violence and suffering in the twenty-first century would be recast by the very regimes that claimed to defeat ideological fascism. “We are not in any way suggesting a uniform history here.”7 The spectacle of violence is neither a universal nor a transcendental force haunting social relations. It emerges in different forms under distinct social formations, and signals in different ways how cultural politics works necessarily as a pedagogical force. The spectacle of violence takes on a kind of doubling, both in the production of subjects willing to serve the political and economic power represented by the spectacle and increasingly in the production of political and economic power willing to serve the spectacle itself. In this instance, the spectacle of violence exceeds its own pedagogical aims by bypassing even the minimalist democratic gesture of gaining consent from the subjects whose interests are supposed to be served by state power.(ibid., p. 7)

This notion of the “production of subjects” of those willing to serve this system of violence and corruption as being part of a globalist system of pedagogy and enslavement, ideology and disenfranchisement, incorporation and transformation that has tranmorgaphied the older external authoritarian fascists systems into more subtle or inverted forms of democratic tyranny that since the end of the Cold War have turned inward rather than extrinsically. As Sheldin S. Wolin in Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism reports the new imaginary, too, depicted a foe global, without contours or boundaries, shrouded in secrecy. And like the Cold War imaginary, not only would the new form seek imperial dominion; it would turn inwards, applying totalitarian practices, such as sanctioning torture, holding individuals for years without charging them or allowing access to due process, transporting suspects to unknown locations, and conducting warrantless searches into private communications. The system of inverted totalitarianism being formed is not the result of a premeditated plot. It has no Mein Kampf as an inspiration. It is, instead, a set of effects produced by actions or practices undertaken in ignorance of their lasting consequences. This is the achievement of a nation that gave pragmatism, the philosophy of consequences, to the world.8

What we’ve seen is American consumerist society slowly made obsolete as a profitable system in a globalist market, and now what we’re seeing is a system where absolute profits over people is the imperial mandate of the rich and powerful nations and transnational corporations across the globe. If Hobbes’s Leviathan has any pertinence today it is that this global behemoth is eating the planet alive, humans have become a commodity within a system of production: knowledge-workers are the engine of this new world of automation that is abandoning the pretense of a goods and services economy for a hyperaccelerating finance based system of immaterial goods and trading that no longer needs humans for its profitability. Rather this is a realm of pure and absolute Capital devoid of any pretense to human or natural subsistence and affordance. We are slowly being disposed of through various avenues of toxic infestation, viral apocalypse, war, civil and racial strife, migrant and refugee systems of civil-war all brought to bare in widening the gap between various ethnic and social sectors across the globe based on race, religion, and ethnicity. The elite promote strife across the planet in hopes we may doom ourselves. Like some Orwellian tripartite system of bloodletting the world of strife is being internalized toward each nation in hopes of ridding and expulsing the “unnecessary people,” the disposable people, the masses and unwanted, untrainable, the sacrificial. Isn’t this it, a secular Sacrifice? A ritualized immersion in the oldest form of bloodletting known to humanity?

As  René Girard said humanity results from sacrifice; we are thus the children of religion. What I call after Freud the founding murder, in other words, the immolation of a sacrificial victim that is both guilty of disorder and able to restore order, is constantly re-enacted in the rituals at the origin of our institutions. Since the dawn of humanity, millions of innocent victims have been killed in this way in order to enable their fellow humans to live together, or at least not to destroy one another. This is the implacable logic of the sacred, which myths dissimulate less and less as humans become increasingly self-aware.9 This sense that we are to do the work of sacrificing ourselves at our own expense, that the underlying initiative of the elites is simple strategy of stirring the pot of ethnic, racial, and economic hatred, allowing the uneducated and poverty stricken to murder and kill off each other and the those around them in a blood bath of sacrifice. While the rich and powerful assume safety nets, create city-states of neoliberal surveillance capitalism to protect themselves against the new barbarism.

It’s not that this is being done consciously, but that as part of the world of late capitalism this is the truth of its self-evolving perimeters, the logic of violence and economic pressure that is working within and through the very logics of capital to bring about this strange and twisted system of violence already well marked out by the notions of Manifest Destiny in previous eras. There is no grand conspiracy in place, not secret organization behind the scenes; that is all bunk, disinformation. No, the logics of capital are pragmatic and non-dialectical, demarcated within the history of our actual systems across the globe. The logics of profit. Girard makes an interesting observation about the notion of gift:

This is why a present is always poisoned (the German word Gift means “poison” but also “present”) because it does not presuppose monetary neutrality. It brings two people into play, and there is always the potential that they will come to blows. In a way, a gift is always an object that we try to dispose of by exchanging it for something that our neighbor also wants to get rid of. Here we are touching on the ambivalence of the sacred. What makes our life intolerable is expelled, less to poison the life of the other than to make our own tolerable. We get rid of what poisons us like a “hot potato” that is tossed from hand to hand. This is the primitive law of exchange, and it is highly regulated. For conjugal peace we must choose partners born in families far from our own domestic conflicts. (ibid. p. 60)

This is where the age old logics of scapegoating, etc. come into play. Again Girard: “The fetters put in place by the founding murder but unshackled by the Passion, are now liberating planet-wide violence, and we cannot refasten the bindings because we now know that scapegoats are innocent. The Passion unveiled the sacrificial origin of humanity once and for all. It dismantled the sacred and revealed its violence.” (ibid.)

This is the slaughter of the innocents… we have entered the age of sacrificial violence. But should we allow it to happen? Should we become victims of our own tendencies to violence? Charles Derber says no, as he states it:

The situation reminds me of the film Pleasantville, where everyone is living in a 1950s world of living death, without any color in their conformist, doomed universe (filmed in grainy black and white). But a few people, including a time traveler from the future, rise up against this dead world and start to break the lifeless, authoritarian rules. They begin to see and paint colors— orange and red and, yes, green— and then they themselves begin to turn from pale white to the vibrant flesh color of truly living beings. All of Pleasantville eventually blossoms into radiant color.(ibid.)

Isn’t that it? Isn’t it time to break free of the Symbolic Order imposed on us? To dismantle the world of fake symbols and propaganda? To destroy the very underpinnings of this myth of neoliberal manifest destiny once and for all? Thing about revolt and revolution is that we need not turn it into a violent bloodletting – which is exactly what the neoliberal system is hoping for, so that it can alleviate and remove the disposable among us; no, the revolution can be in just remaking ourselves, remaking our lives, developing local and global systems of support, depending on crossing the barriers that divide us – whether of ethnic, religious, or economic… our leaders have abandoned us to our own devices and hope we will destroy ourselves in the process. We must not give in to such inept designs.

As Andrew Culp in his recent Dark Deleuze suggests, the Neoliberals philosophically have developed a system of world-wide connectivity, which is about “world-building. The goal of connectivity is to make everyone and everything part of a single world.”10 The notion of homogenization of the world market has been going on for two or more centuries, but now with the advent of global logistics and just-in-time supply-side demand the actual ability to do it has finally equaled the technics and technological program. In his book Andrew seeks redress this by teasing out those various concepts and abstract engines a critical apparatus that might help bring about the “death of the World” by which he does not mean the physical annihilation of the earth so much as the destruction of our false Image of a certain kind of Thought that has captured Deleuze’s conceptuality, hijacking it into capitalist modes of affirmation and joy that have twisted and corrupted the very power of his war machines. Instead Andrew seeks to critique “connectivity and positivity, a theory of contraries, the exercise of intolerance, and the conspiracy of communism” (66).

In fact, what seeks is to promote not the Deleuzian bandwagon of joy and positivity, connectionism has built, one based on notions of “rhizomes, assemblages, networks, material systems, or dispositifs” (67). For Andrew this World of the Light, the Deleuzean world of Joy has worked in apposition to Deleuze’s intent, and instead has been easily hijacked by the Neoliberal’s modes of productivism, accumulation, and reproduction. Against this he proposes to attack what he terms the “greatest crime” – that of the joyousness of tolerance. Following Wendy Brown he sees this regulatory ethic of political correctness as part of the “grammar of empire,” a discourse of ethnic, racial, and sexual regulation, and as “an international discourse of Western imperialism on the other” (67).

Ultimately this new intolerance is not about becoming “obstinate,” rather it is about finding “new ways to end our suffocating perpetual present” (69). We have been cut off in an eternal present without future for some time now: what some term “presentism”: the notion of using or abusing past to validate ones own political beliefs. We heard this from the Neoliberals starting with the demise of Socialism in the old regimes of Soviet Russia and Maoist China. The notion of the End of History, no other alternative to capitalism, etc. This notion that we are now living in a totalistic or global civilization where there is no escape, no exit, etc. It’s against this false presentism that Andrew offers “escape,” saying:

“Escape need not be dreary, even if they are negative. Escape is never more exciting than when it spills out into the streets, where trust in appearances, trust in words, trust in each other, and trust in this world all disintegrate in a mobile zone of indiscernibility. It is in these moments of opacity, insufficiency, and breakdown that darkness most threatens the ties that bind us to this world. (70)”

Ultimately we must “all live double lives” (69): “The struggle is to keep one’s cover identity from taking over.” By which he means one’s life with one foot in the old world of neoliberal fakery and compromise, and the other foot moving into the flight path of escape, crafting “new weapons while withdrawing from the demands of the world” (69). I put is this way: We must build a new world out of the ruins of the old, dismantle the empire of the neoliberal symbolic order from within, and dissolve its profit making system of toxic waste and disposability, violence and sacrifice; and, in its place construct, day by day, a world worthy of trust, respect, and care. A world where the natural and artificial, abstract and material labors of life promote sustenance, courage, and exacting tribute to the earth and animals we share this realm of life with.


  1. Chomsky, Noam. Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order (Kindle Locations 28-32). Seven Stories Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Derber, Charles. Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States (Kindle Location 477). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  3. Sugrue, Thomas J.  The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton University Press, 2014)
  4. Charlie Leduff. Detroit: An American Autopsy (Kindle Locations 3215-3220). Penguin Press HC, The. Kindle Edition.
  5. Sassen, Saskia. Expulsions (Kindle Locations 39-44). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.
  6. Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (p. 4). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
  7. Giroux, Henry A.; Evans, Brad. Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 84-91). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  8. Wolin, Sheldon S.. Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Kindle Locations 1102-1107). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
  9. Girard, René. Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoit Chantre (Studies in Violence, Mimesis, & Culture) . Michigan State University Press. Kindle Edition.
  10. Read Dark Deleuze: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/dark-deleuze

Slavoj Zizek: This is not a Humanitarian Crisis

zizek

Zizek in his latest video has caused a stir of FB, so I thought I’d try to transcribe what he says and then close read it. (I neither support nor attack, but have tried to inform and relay the message for those interested.) I embedded it below as well.

He tells us the refugee migration out of Syria must be put into perspective, saying: “This is not a humanitarian crisis!” In the video he uses an example from cinema in which a view of refugees being saved in the last moments from boats coming into Greece. He’ll admit this is tragic, but that it misses more than it shows, saying, “What we need to do in cinematic terms is that the shot begins with a close up, but we should then slowly pan out till what we see in the old Marxist terms call the ‘social totality’.

The he asks: “What is going on? We should begin to ask the real question of who is responsible for this crisis? And, I don’t think it is only Western liberalism that is responsible for it. When something happens in a Third World country like Rwanda or others certain leftist think it must be a consequence of neo-colonialism. No, sorry, things like ISIS, things like the expansion of Islam, so on and so on. This is not a passive reaction, this is an active project, they are also active agents.”

The TV host then asks: “What is the solution then? How do you tackle this… what is your solution?”

Zizek: “Now this may shock you, but I think this is the only concept that Leftist – from a truly Leftist position: I don’t think too much integration is good. I think what we need in our multicultural mixed society is a degree of ‘distance’. My ideal today is not to live together with all these rent racist culture – “we all love each other”: No! I admit it openly, there are things about them I don’t understand, and probably there are many things that appear weird to them in what I do. I want to allow ignorance, and then from time to time, of course, its wonderful…”

The TV host then asks: “Then you have polarized communities, and you have a potential rise of extremism? If you have people living in entirely separate enclaves?”

Zizek: “No, actually here comes another problem, I claim that extremists… Look closely at their life stories, they are not truly excluded, they are deeply fascinated by those Western culture, and they kind of side with it deeply. They envy it. If anything, this wave of young people, ready to fight for ISIS and so forth. They react to a certain type of integration that didn’t work.”

The TV host asks: “So if you’re saying you have to respect each other’s differences, and stop trying to integrate, where does that leave Britain with Europe and the European Union… On whether to stay in or leave?”

Zizek: “First let me correct you, I love these marginal spheres where different identities intermingle and so on, this is usually the source of the site where interesting things happen. And let’s say don’t enforce it, it’s a catastrophe…”

TV Host: “So what I want to know is where does it leave the UK’s relationship with the European Union? Or we better off being part of one big happy family… or… – Zizek interrupts…” (She seems more interested in the UK than in the actual issue of the refugees. As if the refugee issue was a side issue, and that the issue of the UK staying or exiting the EU is a more important issue.)

Zizek: “No we’re not happy, we all know… I think the only way to fight the destructive aspect of Global Capital is through transnational connections. The problems we are facing today … intellectual property, ecological problems, and so on… biogenetics… These are problems which can only be properly approached large international operations.”

TV Host: “Stay in and reform is clearly in site?”

Zizek: “I’m a little bit tired of people saying, “Oh Europe is dead, it’s over. Sorry why are there so many people… haha … Because they still have this dream, and it doesn’t matter if it’s an illusion. No! As we know in politics illusions have a certain political efficiency. And this illusion is not a bad one. Europe needs a land, a place where you can combine a certain level of freedom, safety, weak social solidarity, minimum of welfare and so on… This part of the European legacy is worth fighting for.”

Liberal Universalism & Zizek’s Dialectical Critique

What’s always amazing is that Zizek is attacked by Western liberals as not being one of them, and is attacked by Communist hard-liners as not being a true Marxist. Zizek being an agent provocateur of culture and the political arena has always fallen into hyperbolic overstatement and shock appeal.

Zizek is a provocateur, he says shocking things not only to wake people out of their complaisance, but also to make them think and think again. He seeks to make you look not at the obvious statement out of context, but rather to what it reveals in what is concealed. In the old school meaning Zizek inverts the traditional meaning of the agent provocateur, and becomes a secret agent of alternative cultures who encourages people to carry out a political change against the present ideology of Western global capitalism. His method is to incite people out of their lethargy, to awaken them and to as well cause the opponent to do counterproductive or ineffective acts against him (i.e., criticize him, or foster public disdain or provide a pretext for aggression against him, etc.). The agent provocateur activities raise ethical and legal issues in every culture, but in the West they are usually labeled and renounced through the pressure of Press and Media.

If one has carefully read Zizek over the years he’s always taken the low road, spun tales of disgust and shock against the usual liberal humanist creeds and notions of Universalist discourse which has brought many in the West to both misunderstand and place him against himself. Many even from the communist side see him as the enemy from within and hate him for it. What’s always been strange for me is that many people never dip below the surface texture of his works, but rather accept the media caricature of Zizek the Clown, rather than the actual dialectical arguments he presents. Our culture is losing its traditions in humanistic learning, and because of that we are losing the force of what Marxist dialectical materialism once was: a humanistic enterprise. Of course, that’s the point of many academics in our moment: humanism is the enemy, right? The early Marx, influenced by Feuerbach’s humanistic inversion of Hegelian idealism, articulated a concept of species-being, according to which man’s essential nature is that of a free producer, freely reproducing their own conditions of life. However, under capitalism individuals are alienated from their productive activity insofar as they are compelled to sell their labor-power as a commodity to a capitalist; their sensuous life-activity, or labor, thus appears to them as something objective, a commodity to be bought and sold like any other. To overcome alienation and allow man to realize his species-being, therefore, the wage-labor system itself must be transcended, and the separation of the laborer from the means of labor abolished.

Zizek’s argument in this video is not truly about segregation or integration, etc.. It’s about the Liberal West’s imposition of universalist standards of morality and ethical dilemmas upon a Third World culture who does not share those standards or ethical beliefs. Because of racism and slavery in our own Western liberal heritage we have over time battled for integration and the breaking down of walls and hierarchies separating peoples of all nationalities, race, and culture. But that there are those in the Third World who do not share our Universalist discourse, nor our ethical dilemmas; and, in fact see them from other perspectives and claims. For Zizek our imposition of Liberal Western ideology of integration may not only cause more strife but lead to more terrorist acts when we impose our systems and ideologies upon the refugees against their will. For us this is hard to accept, but what he’s saying is that we have yet to learn to listen to them and what they want. Maybe it’s time to  listen to the refugees rather than imposing our high and mighty liberal ethics of responsibility, etc. upon them without asking them what they want or need.

Zizek is neither for segregation or integration, which for him are part of Western liberalist tradition and politics – and, therefore a problem rather than a solution; instead he sees not only great that divisions are walls against the other, rather than those of solidarity among; and, both sides of the issue need a certain distance and respect, one that seeks a level of interaction rather than Universalist imposition. As he’ll suggest we need neutral sites where people from both sides can intermingle and cohabitate ‘spaces of freedom’ without forcing or enforcing legal or ethnic enclosures. He also sees that this is a question about Global Capitalism rather than the refugees, and that it will take a larger transnational concourse of all earth’s nations to resolve this issue, not just the imposition of Western liberalist ethics and ideology, the so to speak democratic universalism which has been tried and has failed across the globe.

As far as the notion of UK leaving or staying he supports the need for the EU as a larger entity with its ramifications for economic well-being, but that it must do more to actually benefit the member nations rather than as now imposing arbitrary austerity and legal servitude upon them.

Zizek is not so much against Universalism per se, only the form of Western liberalism’s use of it. As he’d say in another interview about communism as he sees it:

Instead of asking the obvious stupid question: what is the idea of communism still pertinent today? Can it still be used as a tool for the analysis and political practice? One should ask, I think, the opposite question: how does our predicament today look from the perspective of the communist idea? This is the dialectic of old and the new. If communism is an eternal idea then it works as a Hegelian concrete universality. It is eternal not in the sense of a series of abstract features which can be applied to every situation, but in the sense that it has the ability, the potential to be reinvented in its new historical situation. So my first conclusion: to be true to what is eternal in communism, that is to say, to this drive towards radical emancipation which persists in the entire history from ancient times of Spartacus and so on, to keep this universal idea alive one has to reinvent it again and again. And this holds especially today. As Lenin put it one should begin from the beginning.

So that his defense of ‘concrete universalism’ over Western liberal Enlightenment forms of abstract universalism becomes the order of the day. The point of this form of ‘concrete universalism’ is that it arises out of concrete historical situations from below, rather than being imposed from above like some absolute law. And, this form of ‘concrete universalism’ is bound to the historical dilemmas of temporality, and because of this are always needing to be reinvented if situations change – as they always do. Or as he says, “this universal idea” must be reinvented “again and again”.

Zizek plays into this history, but has taken his cue from Hegel’s notions of ‘concrete universalism’. Zizek in another interview will say:

Humanism is not enough. In the same way that Freud talks about meta-psychology. There must be a dimension above it. Theology is another name for meta-psychology, for something that is in Man more than Man, the inhuman core of Man etc. These are very precise terms. It’s interesting how many American theologists with whom I debated, they were very close to what I’m saying. They accepted this. They told me “If this is materialism, I’m a materialist.” That is to say that God is  not an old man sitting up there pulling the strings etc. God is just a name for this void, openness, this inhuman, more than human. I think that we should rehabilitate, and we all agree here with my friends, Badiou, Agamben, me, of course not in the sense of “Let’s kill them” inhumanity, more than human, trans-human dimension.(19)

The video…

 

Politics and War: Clear and Present Stupidity?

glimpses-1-300x210

This morning read a pundit on the Left, Slavoj Zizek on Turkey, and on the Right,  John Gray on ISIS and Syria, on the current stupidity of nations without leaders worth a dam. The Liberal West seems to be sinking fast, a world where the notion of freedom and democracy are shibboleths and icons of a bankrupt estate rather than the hard won concepts of the American and French Revolutions two-hundred years back. In an age of decline and decay when the world that many call fragile begins to waver and crumble into ruin one has to wonder what is next. For Gray a retrenchment and return to Hobbesian Leviathans, strong governments ruling with an iron fist; for Zizek, our world, being leaderless, is going the way of previous eras into slow decay and decline. Will Lacan’s Master-Signfier pop out of the wood work, a new Stalin or Hitler, some new dictator or strong man to fill the decadent vacuum for Gray’s Leviathan; or, will we just follow T.S. Eliot into that great silence where the world ends in a whimper rather than a bang?

John Gray in his article Islamist terror, security and the Hobbesian question of order tells us:

The West continues to reject co-operation with Russia on the grounds that Vladimir Putin and his client Assad are evil tyrants. From a Hobbesian standpoint, this is irrelevant. The salient question can only be: which is the greater evil? How is Assad’s dictatorship worse than a cult that abducts and rapes children, kills women it considers too old for sexual slavery, throws gay men off roofs, assassinates writers, cartoonists and Jews, murders dis­abled people in wheelchairs and razes irreplaceable cultural sites?

One really doesn’t like either choice. Maybe the answer is to clean house, replace Assad and put ISIS out of business. Oh, but that sounds like something we’ve heard before too: building democracy in the world. Has that worked? Let me count my fingers. No. Gray returns to Hobbes whose Leviathan took the hard line of support for a strong royalist State because without it there would be “no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

So for Gray the West has only one option, expand the State and its powers: “Concerted action against Isis on the scale that is required may not be feasible in current conditions. But even if the will to act can somehow be summoned, Isis will not go down without launching more assaults on western cities. That is why the powers of the state may need to be expanded, including restrictions on freedom that many liberals will want to reject out of hand.” Ah, the key: “restrictions on freedoms”. Where have we heard that before? War of Terror? Bush? Let’s clip the wings on our citizens, keep them safe from themselves and others: command and control, stronger law and violence. And, like the Hobbesian defender he is Gray digs in telling us: “A universal surveillance society is not a pretty prospect. Politicians who say that there is no conflict between freedom and security are deceiving themselves and us. The conflict is genuine but it is also un­avoidable. Those who want to treat liberal freedoms as sacrosanct should ask themselves what price they are willing to pay for these liberties.” The price of freedom? Being open and aware that freedom entails conflict and the realization that paranoia is not a defense against violence; being tolerant and realizing that in an open society one takes the risk. That risk is the name of the game in and Open Society? That freedom is not another word for lockdown and imprisonment, but rather for a belief that people have rights and liberties that cannot be infringed upon, that constitutions mean more than just words?

Slavoj Zizek for his part seems almost disgruntled. His article We need to talk about Turkey is so short this time one wonders if he just woke up with a bad hangover:

We are definitely dealing not with the clash of civilisations (the Christian west versus radicalised Islam), but with a clash within each civilisation: in the Christian space it is the US and western Europe against Russia, in the Muslim space it is Sunnis against Shias. The monstrosity of the Islamic State serves as a fetish covering all these struggles in which every side pretends to fight Isis in order to hit its true enemy.

So solidarity has become just another word for war by other means? We see the supposed global powers committing to non-commitments, to an uncooperative cooperation, to bombing and fly-bys without actually investing real time and energy in fighting a land based war. Of silently dispersing a nation of refugees around the planet as if this solves anything, anything at all. Zizek sees our current situation as a war of all against all, with the war on ISIS as just the staging ground for a larger global arena of war among the giants. Should one reread Gibbon on Rome rather than Hobbes on the Leviathan? What used to be called Progress has become the treadmill of a farcical repetition in stupidity and black humor. Our world is not so much a global civilization as much as it is one of Lovecraft’s slipshod gothic nightmares. Gnon is alive and well in the kingdom of Stupidity! Long live Gnon!

 

Franco “Bifo” Berardi: Running Along the Disaster

Banksy-Police-State

“The general intellect takes the form of an ocean, an infinite sprawl of depersonalized fragments of bio-time: capital picks up and recombines the digitalized fragments of work-time. This is the continuous scramble of the global labor market. These fragments are linguistic fragments, or fractals. Language is formatted in such a way that our linguistic performance is made compatible with the global linguistic machine. But the process of precarization not only concerns intellectual workers. Cognition is everywhere in the cycle of work. Every act of work is submitted to digital abstraction, or to its collateral effects. Abstraction penetrates every fragment of the nervous system of social work. The physical activity of industrial workers is subjected to this same process of precarization. This creates a condition of political weakness for workers: everybody is exposed to the blackmail of precarity.”

…from e-flux journal interview Running Along the Disaster: A Conversation with Franco “Bifo” Berardi

Time Unbound: Deleuze and Societies of Control

Smart-City2

Technology, as a mode of production, as the totality of instruments, devices and contrivances which characterize the machine age is thus at the same time a mode of organizing and perpetuating (or changing) social relationships, a manifestation of prevalent thought and behavior patterns, an instrument for control and domination.

– Herbert Marcuse,  Technology, War and Fascism: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse

Herbert Marcuse in the above passage is quoting from Lewis Mumford’s classic Technics and Civilization. The notion of technology as a total system that encompasses instruments, devices and contrivances characterizing what Mumford calls the Machine Age, and that it is bound to a teleological project or “mode of organizing and perpetuating (or changing) social relationships” – a mode of governance, an instrumental mode of being and doing based on the regulation of human behavior through command and control systems as a form of dominion is part and partial of the basic ideology that encapsulates the critical leftist stance. This is nothing new. Obviously the notion of any form of totality or enclosure in life or thought has recently come under heavy attack. Yet, as we shall see in Michael Focault and the work of Gillese Deleuze this technological instrumentality and its pursuit and the merger of power and knowledge within the social nexus, as well as the goals of power and the goals of knowledge themselves cannot be separated from this network of affiliated ideas: in knowing we control and in controlling we know. Control as Deleuze would show in his essay Postscript on Societies of Control extends Foucault basic perimeters and includes a wider register of conceptuality beyond the disciplinary society: – or, as Deleuze will term it the “societies of sovereignty” will become in our time “societies of control”.

Control” is the name Burroughs proposes as a term for the new monster, one that Foucault recognizes as our immediate future. Paul Virilio also is continually analyzing the ultrarapid forms of free-floating control that replaced the old disciplines operating in the time frame of a closed system. There is no need to invoke the extraordinary pharmaceutical productions, the molecular engineering, the genetic manipulations, although these are slated to enter the new process. There is no need to ask which is the toughest regime, for it’s within each of them that liberating and enslaving forces confront one another.

– Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on Societies of Control

The old sovereign societies centralized power and authority, but in the new “societies of control” power and knowledge is no longer centralized but rather dispersed within a free-floating network that permeates the socious.  As Deleuze will suggest the two forms of control and domination have adapted to a new geometry of organization. The old mathematical notions of enclosures or the notion in Focault of the Panopticon was based on a geometry of situating the individual in a mold, a static system that could shape his/her behavior to the dictates of sovereign centralized knowledge and power. In which the Factory was the perfect model. The notion that the worker or inmate could be seen by the all-seeing eye of power, but that it could not look back and see it: this was a theological notion of God’s pervasive presence (Eye of God) as invisible Master, the super-ego that controls one’s very thought and behavior from within and without, and is hidden and away, yet very present in the personage of the Factory Boss. One was haunted by this invisible presence that shaped and molded one’s very habits and thoughts, constraining one’s behavior and time to the goals of the economic system of profit.

While in the new societies of control power and knowledge are “modulated” through a series of dematerializations. As Deleuze will remind us the Factory was a physical enclosure, a site of visible power and control: “the factory was a body that contained its internal forces at the level of equilibrium, the highest possible in terms of production, the lowest possible in terms of wages; but in a society of control, the corporation has replaced the factory, and the corporation is a spirit, a gas.” This notion of dematerialization in the sciences (Quantum Mechanics), the Arts (Abstract painting) and the network society where the enclosure is not so much a physical site as the enclosed world of an electronic hypercapitalism that flows freely through the connectionism at the heart of the Network Society. The network society exists best at the edge of chaos, bound to a non-linear system of controls that work through codings and decodings, deterriotorializations and reterritorializations. This is the Age of Code: the dematerialization of the human as Code, an algorithmic society bound to a continuous time flow that has no beginning or end, no boundaries, a time unbound.

Reality is no longer substantive, rather it has become data to be mined and shaped or designed and manipulated by a cognitariat of specialized knowledge workers. As Luciano Floridi will tell us we are living in a dematerialized artificial world already, the InfoSphere: the infosphere will not be a virtual environment supported by a genuinely ‘material’ world behind; rather, it will be the world itself that will be increasingly interpreted and understood informationally, as part of the infosphere. At the end of this shift, the infosphere will have moved from being a way to refer to the space of information to being synonymous with Being itself.2 This closure of thought and being, or information and reality is a return to the ancient Parmedian project. The notion that reality and thought are one and the same is Idealism pure and simple. Yet, the added twist that this very dematerialized realm of thought and mind can also be reversed: that the mind can be naturalized while nature denaturalized is at the heart of the Information Philosophy. This sense that the reontoligization of the real as data that is neither fully digital nor analogue but an oscillation between the two is at the core of its conceptuality.

Floridi will see this re-ontoligization process of the environment and ourselves as informational organisms or Inforgs as part of a Gateway Program: technology is re-ontologizing our devices as part of a reality engineering project, because they engineer environments that the user is then enabled to enter through (possibly friendly) gateways. It is a form of initiation. (Floridi, p. 16) As he will conclude:

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. (ibid. pp 16-17)

Divide and Conquer

Deleuze will remind us that the older Fordist Factory systems were based on the opposition of the Boss and Worker in which Unions could the unified against the bosses, etc. While in the new corporate world of pure competition the worker is modulated by the “brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each, dividing each within”. In the old disciplinary societies there was a sense of enclosed work projects: the assembly line mentality in which there was defined beginnings and endings, a process that was bound to geometry of linearity. Work was always “beginning again”, a series of physical processes that molded the worker through its relations to this cycle: a time-narrative that was based of the clock-work world of mechanical time.

In the newer Societies of Control on the other hand there is a sense that one is never finished, that there is no structural closure or beginning and ending; rather, there is nothing but the endless drift of the process without end that even goes with one into play and home life. Deleuze will term this the Code World: “In the societies of control, on the other hand, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password, while on the other hand disciplinary societies are regulated by watchwords (as much from the point of view of integration as from that of resistance). The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it.” One is data, and one’s access to information is based on one’s place within the network of power and knowledge as an Inforg or Informational Organism. (Floridi)

With this new Society of Control a new mode of being of the human has been initiated. “We have passed from one animal to the other, from the mole to the serpent, in the system under which we live, but also in our manner of living and in our relations with others. The disciplinary man was a discontinuous producer of energy, but the man of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network. Everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports.” One might think of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi work Flow where he develops the theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow— the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.1 One might call this the Incentive Society in which individuals are bound to a desiring world of incentives and pleasures rather than drudgery and suffering, where work becomes entertainment and exciting business.

People have left the spaces of enclosure in order to enter into the open circuits of a flowing world of information and data, unbound to there tribal enclaves of family or community they float in plastic bubbles of cosmopolitan utopias that remain the same even as they travel from site to site in the new global village. As Deleuze will remind us this new world of cosmopolitan luxury and information is only for the nouveau riche, the rising class of the cognitariat and there corporate masters. For the rest of us “the operation of markets have become the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters. Control is short-term and of rapid rates of turnover, but also continuous and without limit, while discipline was of long duration, infinite and discontinuous. Man is no longer man enclosed, but man in debt. It is true that capitalism has retained as a constant the extreme poverty of three-quarters of humanity, too poor for debt, too numerous for confinement: control will not only have to deal with erosions of frontiers but with the explosions within shanty towns or ghettos.” We are the indebted ones, bound to the corporate treadmill of infinite work, a 24/7 world where work is play and play is work.

Deleuze will describe the coming InfoSpheric Cities of Time that his friend and cohort Guattari so eloquently derided: “Felix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighbourhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person’s position – licit or illicit – and effects a universal modulation.” This notion that one’s life will be totally controlled by “access” restrictions outlines the level of insidious invisibility that this world will harbor. One’s level of access will determine one’s place in the network, as well as your “exclusion” and “expendability”. The notion that your every movement will be tracked and recorded as data is already an aspect of our hypermarketing society. Deleuze was prescient of this back in the 90’s.

As Deleuze will sum it up: the young people are being “trained to serve” this vast network society:

Many young people strangely boast of being “motivated”; they re-request apprenticeships and permanent training. It’s up to them to discover what they’re being made to serve, just as their elders discovered, not without difficulty, the telos of the disciplines. The coils of a serpent are even more complex than the burrows of a molehill.

Read Postscript on the Societies of Control…

1. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.) (p. 4). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 10). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

Félix Guattari: Ecosophy and The Politics of Freedom

Guattari

Ecosophy: The Politics of Freedom

Gilles Deleuze would speak of his recently deceased friend and partner telling us that the work of Guattari remains to be discovered or rediscovered: “That is one of the best ways to keep Felix alive.”1 Maybe this is what we are doing in this reading group: discovering or rediscovering the work of Felix Guattari, and in this sense keeping his central insights alive within the matrix of possibilities we term speculative anarchism.

That The Three Ecologies was published in 1989 and seems as alive today in its critiques as the day it was penned is a testament to the truth of which his friend Deleuze speaks. That it deals with both his political and ethical vision is to be expected. Guattari was always the radical revolutionary seeking ways of emancipating others both in his medical practice and in the late cultural malaise of our capitalism. As both a committed communist and a green activist Guattari toward the end felt the need to enter the fray, to expose himself within the truth of politics and ran as a candidate for one of the political formations of the French Green movement. Even though his bid was unsuccessful it remains a high mark for the man and his politico-ethical stance and a measure of his need to realize his vision in a practice as well as theory.

The Three Ecologies is one of these pragmatic interventions into the political and ethical dilemmas of our age: the intersection of the environment, society, and subjectivity. Beyond all the usual analysis lay a his vision of neoliberalism (’Integrated World Capitalism’) as a monstrous system of ‘simulation’ (p. 31). A copy of a copy, a false world of symbols and references that simulate reality but instead entrap us within the clutches of its broken fabrications. Zizek will call this false world of simulations the big Other, or the symbolic order that enfolds us in an inverse register of Plato’s true world. As Zizek will say of Lacan, that he unveiled the illusions on which capitalist reality as well as its false transgressions are based, but in the end resined himself to the plight of humans at the hands of this neoliberal order: the final result being that we are condemned to domination— the Master is the constitutive ingredient of the very symbolic order, so the attempts to overcome domination only generate new figures of the Master. Against this Zizek will tell us that the great task of those who are ready to go through Lacan is thus to articulate the space for a revolt which will not be recaptured by one or another version of the discourse of the Master.2 We should say the same of Guattari. Those who are ready to go through Guattari is thus to articulate a site within which the political and ethical dilemmas of our ecosophic vision will open toward freedom rather than the capture or recapture of its potentials by the big Other of neoliberalism.

For Guattari ecosophy is first and foremost a reframing of the problematics of the world. As he will tell us the main issue facing us is not to return to abstract reductionist scenarios that lead to new charismatic leaders, rather ecosophy concerns itself with the problematical relations in which the production of human existence itself can arise within new historical contexts. At one point he will affirm that social ecosophy will consist in developing specific practices that will modify and reinvent the ways in which we live as couples or in the family, in an urban context or at work, etc.(ibid. 34) Does Guattari see us remaining within the confines of the capitalist matrix while doing this? So that ecosophy will work at the micro level of family rather than at the larger level of class dynamics, etc.? Rather than clinging to general recommendations we should be implementing effective practices of experimentation, as much on a microsocial level as on a larger institutional scale. (ibid. 35)

Guattari will begin at the base level of a theory of the Subject, or with the components of subjectification. For him there is a difference between the individual as person and the notion of subjectivity as such. The individual is the core site, the ‘terminal’ node or end point for processes that involve human groups, socio-economic ensembles, data-processing, etc. This notion of the individual as the endpoint of a network of information and relations is obverse to that of subjectification, which for Guattari is an aesthetic ethical perspective incorporating ecosophy in its three forms of the social, enviromental, mental. One could think of this in the same ways as the Medieval Borromean rings in which each of these levels-of-abstranction (LoV’s) overlaps the other in such a way that they form a knot. Depending upon one’s point of view or level of abstraction the specific area or region delimits a set of problems rather than solutions. As one moves through the knot one shifts focus and realizes that the regions are all part of a larger nexus seen only under the guise of singular moments of organization and detail. Ultimately Guattari used this is a teaching tool, a way of organizing the domains of knowledge and problems to awaken people from their lethargy. Point blankly he tell us that we must kick the habit of sedative discourse, and be able to shift or oscillate between the differing perspectives of the ecosophic lens.(ibid. 42) Rather than a static approach this takes a more dialectical path incorporating parallax perspectives in their processual and immanent development rather than some outer objective accumulation of facts. The inner dynamics of flows and intensities, rather than the static appraisal of substance and being.

With the emergence of our artificial world of cyberspace, biogenetics, and speed (Virilio) Guattari admonishes that we must accept this as a condition of any new praxis rather than trying to escape into some mythical past of the pre-critical worlds. The very condition of our socius and technological realms must be the starting point for ecosophy. He relates this to Alan Bombard’s experiment with an octupus in which he filled two containers: one with pure unpolluted water, the other with the polluted water from the local seaport. What transpired is that the animal survived fine in the polluted water, and within just a few minutes of being transferred to the unpolluted tank suddenly curled up, sank, and died. The notion here is that we cannot situate ourselves in some false theoretical world of ideas from which to rebuild our present world, instead we must situate any pragmatic undertaking within the very vectors of subjectification that order our present actual world.

Instead of separating and reducing the world to abstract categories of culture and nature, etc., we must begin to think ‘transversally’. To think transversally is to enact the logic of intensities, of auto-referential existential assemblages engaging in irreversible durations. This is a logic of both humans as subjects constituted totalized bodies, but is also of them as – in the psychoanalytical sense, as partial objects; or, as in Winnicott, transitional objects, institutional or otherwise. To think transversally is to think through the movement and intensity of evolving processes. In this sense process as Guattari uses it should be opposed to structure or system, and seen rather as the capture of existence in the moment of its constitution, delimitation, and deterritorialization. Ultimately at the heart of all ecological praxis is a sense of “an a-signifying rupture, in which the catalysts of existential change are close at hand, but lack the expressive support from the assemblage of enunciation; they therefore remain passive and are in danger of losing their consistency…”(ibid. 44)

To understand the way in which the Global Integrated System of Capital has captured and constituted our present artificial matrix or symbolic order Guattari developed four semiotic regimes within which to define its basic operations:

(l) Economic semiotics (monetary, financial, accounting and decision-making mechanisms) ;
(2) Juridical semiotics (title deeds, legislation and regulations of all kinds);
(3) Techno-scientific semiotics (plans, diagrams, programmes, studies, research, etc.);
(4) Semiotics of subjectification, of which some coincide with those already mentioned, but to which we should add many others, such as those relating to architecture, town planning, public facilities, etc.

As one studies the matrix of signs that is present day capitalism one must not lose sight he reminds us that it has become delocalized, and permeates the whole planet rather than being localized within a particular national context. Rather than looking for a stupefying and infantilizing consensus, it will be a question in the future of cultivating a dissensus and the singularities in production of existence and subjectification. A capitalistic subjectivity is engendered through operators of all types and sizes, and is manufactured to protect existence from any intrusion of events that might disturb or disrupt public opinion. As he explains it:

“It seems to me essential to organize new micropolitical and microsocial practices, new solidarities, a new gentleness, together with new aesthetic and new analytic practices regarding the formation of t}e unconscious. It appears to me that this is the only possible way to get social and political practices back on their feet, working for humanity and not simply for a permanent reequilibration of the capitalist semiotic Universe.” (ibid. 52)

Against any false sense of reconciliation Guattari affirms our need to accept struggle and disequilibrium, to affirm it and move not toward a reconciliation of opposites but rather to keep with the tensions and bifurcations, the gaps that present the antinomic anomalies. It is in these anomalous gaps that the new artist laborer begins to make his/her initial project drift far from its previous path, however certain it had once appeared to be. There is a proverb ‘the exception proves the rule’, but the exception can just as easily deflect the rule, or even recreate it. (ibid. 53) The aim of ecosophy is the setting forth the principle antimonies between the ecosophical levels, or, if you prefer, between the three ecological visions, the three discriminating lenses. (ibid. 54)

Against any return to a psychoanalytical modeling Guattari tells us what is needed is for us to face up to the logic of desiring ambivalence wherever it emerges – in culture, everyday life, work, sport, etc. – in order to reevaluate the purpose of work and of human activities according to different criteria than those of profit and yield. (ibid. 57) As he states it:

“Rather than tirelessly implementing procedures of censorship and contention in the name of great moral principles we should learn how to promote a true ecology of the phantasm, one that works through transference, translation and redeployment of their matters of expression.” (ibid. 58)

The point here is that for the most part the great religions of the world have lost their hold on the great majority of humans, and in this secular sphere of capital violence and other asocial manifestations we are no longer bound to the education and socialization procedures of primitive agricultural systems, but rather what we are seeing in everyday life a return to a totemic and animistic vision within the lives of singular citizens based on a hyper-technological fantasia of power and control. Societies are no longer bound to the grand narratives of past ages, but are splintering into subcultural enclaves of dissipative mythologies and schizo-cultures based on hyper-mediatainment networks of music and video that like the turbulent systems of nonlinear dynamics flow into hyper-intensities of flux and instability.

Even as the religious impulse seeks self-fulfilling prophecies of catastrophe and apocalypse in the major religions, the eco-revolutionary fronts seek to control the green movements with apocalyptic myths of climate catastrophe. We fill the unknowns, the gaps and cracks of the future with terror and horrific images, creating movies of the doom that become instant best sellers. Yet, the fictional portrayal of this doomed future scenario leaves people passive, alone, and apathetic rather than disturbing their inner subjectification for change. We speak of change but moment by moment we do nothing more than repeat this truth in the echo chamber of our cultural fantasias.

Guattari saw the unconscious not as theatre but as a factory. A factory that produced machinic processes in a plural form of subjectification through singularization. This process of psychogenesis was itself the development of becomings that formed singularties. The point of Guattari’s schizoanalytical ecosophy was to break the molds of organization that trapped us in the realms of domination and control, and instead to open subjectivities to the flow and intensities of the Real. As his friend Bifo Berardi says, Guattari hoped to “reopen the channel of communication between the individual drift and the cosmic game”.

What has transpired in the neoliberal regime is the construction through education, media, etc., three forms of subjectivity: a serial subjectivity corresponding to the salaried classes, secondly, a form corresponding to the huge mass of the ‘uninsured’, and finally an elitist subjectivity corresponding to the executive sectors. (ibid. 61) Guattari seems to take a pragmatic approach and acceptance of capitalism, and defines the task of any ecosophy as encouraging capitalist societies to make the transition from the mass-media era to a post-media age, in which the media will be reappropriated by a multitude of subject-groups capable of directing its re-singularization.(ibid. 58)

What guides this transformation is the notion of systems of valorization which allow for new modes of being and singularization to arise. Even in the Third-World thousands of value-system revolutions are progressively percolating their way up through society and it is up to the new ecological components to polarize them and to affirm their importance within the political and social relations of force.(ibid. 62) As he tells us rather than remaining subject, in perpetuity, to the seductive efficiency of economic competition, we must re-appropriate Universes of value, so that processes of singularization can rediscover their consistency. We need new social and aesthetic practices, new practices of the Self in relation to the other, to the foreign, the strange… (ibid. 68) Ultimately Guattari seeks the reconquest of a degree of creative autonomy – the catalyst for a gradual reforging and renewal of humanity’s confidence in itself.

1. Franco Berardi. Felix Guattari: Thought, Friendship, and Visionary Cartography
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 616-620). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Daily Reading: Mark Fischer’s – Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures

sapphire2

Just started reading Mark Fisher’s new book Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. In the opening sequence he relates both his childhood apprehensions and his adult refractions upon a world where time has stopped. His vivid remembrance of the British television series Sapphire and Steel, which as he states it was ready made to “haunt the adolescent mind” renders the fantastic narrative of two possibly inhuman beings sent to investigate certain break-ins of none other than Time itself into the fabric of everyday reality. One feature of this tv series was its cryptic appeal, the stories in episode after episode “never fully disclosed, still less explained” what was actually happening. Instead there was this wavering between worlds, an oscillation between the fictive and the actual.

“Anachronism, the slippage of discrete time periods into one another, was throughout the series the major symptom of time breaking down.”1 The series itself ended with this sense of the characters suspended in a time of no time, a time where time no longer moved, where time ended in the stasis of a literal vacuum without outlet. A flattening out of temporality, as if instead of time breaking in, time instead had been evacuated. As if time had been subtracted from the void of the present and in its absence the characters were themselves opened up to the café engulfed by the emptiness of space. As Fischer puts it:

In one of the earlier assignments, Steel complains that these temporal anomalies are triggered by human beings’ predilection for the mixing of artefacts from different eras. In this final assignment, the anachronism has led to stasis: time has stopped. The service station is in ‘a pocket, a vacuum’. There’s ‘still traffic, but it’s not going anywhere’: the sound of cars is locked into a looped drone. Silver says, ‘there is no time here, not any more’. It’s as if the whole scenario is a literalisation of the lines in Pinter’s No Man’s Land: ‘No man’s land, which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, which remains forever icy and silent.’ … Eternally suspended, never to be freed, their plight – and indeed their provenance – never to be fully explained, Sapphire and Steel’s internment in this café from nowhere is prophetic for a general condition: in which life continues, but time has somehow stopped.

 The rest of the book will assume the truth of this statement. As Fischer tells us in the prelude:

It is the contention of this book that 21st-century culture is marked by the same anachronism and inertia which afflicted Sapphire and Steel in their final adventure. But this stasis has been buried, interred behind a superficial frenzy of ‘newness’, of perpetual movement. The ‘jumbling up of time’, the montaging of earlier eras, has ceased to be worthy of comment; it is now so prevalent that it is no longer even noticed.

I think I’ll read on…

1. Fisher, Mark (2014-05-30). Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 152-153). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The Coming Neurosociety: Control, Brain, And Revolt

Slavoj Zizek mentions Ahmed El Hady’s article on Big Think:  Neurotechnology, Social Control and Revolution in his short work Event: A Philosophical Journey Through A Concept in which DARPA at the behest of the U.S. Government is carrying on a well-funded R&D project based on three strands: narrative analysis; augmented cognition (along the lines of the Iron Man project, etc., to create soldiers with enhanced cognitive capacities); and autonomous robots (aiming to convert a large fraction of the military into a robotic one, which is easier to control , will decrease the economic burden of having military personnel, and will reduce losses in terms of soldiers’ lives).1

The first project Hady describes it DARPA’s narrative networks project seeks to detect potential security threats and to protect vulnerable people from being recruited by terrorists through analysis of people narratives in the context of national security. Yet, the obverse potential of actually using such knowledge to inculcate and control its own populace through these same narrative techniques in a form social engineering, shaping culture and social interactions through exclusionary systems of control and enactment, etc.

The second project AugCog or augmented cognition is based on the enhancement of military personnel, yet could potentially be used on citizens as well to promote “educational neuroscience by controlling the type of information that students receive, by identifying incompetent students and in the more extreme case indoctrinating and enhancing particular aspects of reality on the expenses of other” (ibid.) In one military study being conducted by DARPA through a grant of a $300,000 to a researcher from the University of Colorado at Boulder, to study neuroeconomic models on the way we move (our behavioral or bodily movement) changes when faced with threats they hope to ultimately produce optimal decisions in soldiers, while at the same time providing tactical information and decisional processes to be used against an enemy. As Ahmed states it: “This proposal is about decision making, we want to understand the decision making process,” Ahmed says. “So it stands to reason that if you can understand it, then you can manipulate it, whatever, whoever it is can be manipulated. So it’s not just about our troops, and our side. But it also means you can expand that to the other side as well,” she says. In the same article we learn that In 2009, the Air Force unveiled an effort to research bio-science to improve cognition and “degrade enemy performance” by manipulating the brain’s chemical pathways to “overwhelm enemy cognitive capabilities.”

Even as far back as the 1970’s José Manuel Rodríguez Delgado a controversial figure in neuroscience and professor of physiology at Yale University was acclaimed by “the New York Times Magazine in a cover story as the impassioned prophet of a new ‘psychocivilized society’ whose members would influence and alter their own mental functions”. 2 Delgado implanted radio equipped electrodes, which he termed ‘stimoceivers’, into the brains of several ‘fighting’ bulls and stood in a bullring with one bull at a time and attempted to control the actions of the bull by pressing buttons on a handheld transmitter. In one instance Delgado was able to stop a charging bull in its tracks only a few feet away from him by the press of a button. The New York Times published a front page story on the event, “calling it ‘the most spectacular demonstration ever performed of the deliberate modification of animal behavior through external control of the brain’” (see Dennis).

Neurotechnologies are set to change this with the rise of ‘nanobiochips’ and brain imaging and scanning technologies that will eventually lower the cost of neurological techniques and analysis as well as making the procedures efficient and profitable. Neurotechnologies, combined with wireless sensors, may possibly usher in a communications revolution greater than that caused by the arrival of the transistor and the microchip. Zack Lynch, executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO), writes that ‘When data from advanced biochips and brain imaging are combined they will accelerate the development of neurotechnology, the set of tools that can influence the human central nervous system, especially the brain’. Although neurotechnologies are likely to be put to therapeutic and medical uses, such as for improving emotional stability and mental clarity, they also open opportunities for intrusive strategies of control and manipulation.3

As Zizek will remind us the goal is to intervene into the actual brain of both enemy and citizen through neurobiological tools and technologies:

DARPA would like to revolutionize the study of narrative influence by extending it into the neurobiological domain. The standard narrative analysis thus takes an ominous turn: the goal is not to convince the potential terrorist through apt rhetoric or line of argument ( or even plain brainwashing), but to directly intervene in his brain to make him change his mind. Ideological struggle is no longer conducted through argument or propaganda, but by means of neurobiology , i.e., by way of regulating neuronal processes in our brain. Again, the catch is: who will decide what narratives are dangerous and, as such, deserve neurological correction? (Zizek, pp. 53-54)

As one critic who also mentions the modes of external or ubiquitous computing and electronic ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) and electromagnetic neurotechnologies: the mind has no firewall, and is thus vulnerable to viruses, Trojan horses, and spam. It is also vulnerable to hackers, cyber–terrorists, and state surveillance. Whilst this may sound a little too far out, they are reasonable questions to ask if technologies are racing ahead of us in order to better get into our heads.4

It’s as if technology is already living in that future and is seeking to bring us into its ubiquitous gaze to better control and shape our desires toward its own goals, not ours. Zizek mentions Lacan’s notion of ‘traversing the fantasy’ in the context of Heidegger’s concept of Gestell (“enframing”), which for Heidegger encompasses the ‘essence of technology’. Zizek will tell us that when Heidegger speaks about the ‘essence of technology,’ he has in mind something like the frame of a fundamental fantasy which , as a transparent background, structures the way we relate to reality. Gestell, Heidegger’s word for the essence of technology, is usually translated into English as ‘enframing’. At its most radical, technology does not designate a complex network of machines and activities, but the attitude towards reality which we assume when we are engaged in such activities: technology is the way reality discloses itself to us in contemporary times. The paradox of technology as the concluding moment of Western metaphysics is that it is a mode of enframing which poses a danger to enframing itself: the human being reduced to an object of technological manipulation is no longer properly human; it loses the very feature of being ecstatically open to reality. However , this danger also contains the potential for salvation: the moment we become aware and fully assume the fact that technology itself is, in its essence, a mode of enframing, we overcome it – this is Heidegger’s version of traversing the fantasy.(ibid. pp29-30)

In our age when the powers that control us seek to use neurotechnologies of both ubiquitous computing and augmentation to shape our desires and private lives how can we become aware of their dark enframing, thereby overcome it? Zizek says we need to traverse the fantasy of our social desires, seek out the gaps and discrepancies, the disjunctions and wounds that bind us to such dark worlds. Most of all it is to awaken from our dark dream of the future and exist in the moment to moment wounds of our lives, accept the fragility and openness of our existence toward that impossible future we are already living in. 

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-08-26). Event: A Philosophical Journey Through A Concept (p. 52). Melville House. Kindle Edition.
2. J. Horgan, 2005. “The forgotten era of brain chips,” Scientific American (October), and at http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&colID
=1&articleID=000876CF-CC6F-1331-841D83414B7FFE9F0
.
3. see New Instruments of Surveillance and Social Control: Wireless Technologies which Target the Neuronal Functioning of the Brain Dr. Kingsley Dennis
4. T.L. Thomas, 1998. “The mind has no firewall,” Parameters (Spring), pp. 84–92, and at http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/
Parameters/98spring/thomas.htm
,

Slavoj Zizek: On Hegel’s Identity of Opposites

The same goes for crime and the law, for the passage from crime as the distortion (negation) of the law to crime as sustaining the law itself, that is, to the idea of the law itself as universalized crime. One should note that, in this notion of the negation of negation, the encompassing unity of the two opposed terms is the “lowest,” “transgressive,” one: it is not crime which is a moment of law’s self-mediation (or theft which is a moment of property’s self-mediation); the opposition of crime and law is inherent to crime, law is a subspecies of crime, crime’s self-relating negation (in the same way that property is theft’s self-relating negation).

A Habermasian “normative” approach imposes itself here immediately: how can we talk about crime if we do not have a prior notion of a legal order violated by the criminal transgression? In other words, is not the notion of law as universalized/ self-negated crime ultimately self-destructive ? But this is precisely what a properly dialectical approach rejects: what is before transgression is just a neutral state of things, neither good nor bad (neither property nor theft, neither law nor crime); the balance of this state is then violated, and the positive norm (law, property) arises as a secondary move, an attempt to counteract and contain the transgression. In Martin Cruz Smith’s novel Havana Bay, set in Cuba , a visiting American gets caught up in a high nomenklatura plot against Fidel Castro, but then discovers that the plot was organized by Castro himself. 30 Castro is well aware of the growing discontent with his rule even in the top circle of functionaries around him, so every couple of years his most trusted agent starts to organize a plot to overthrow him in order to entrap the discontented functionaries; just before the plot is supposed to be enacted, they are all arrested and liquidated. Why does Castro do this? He knows that the discontent will eventually culminate in a plot to depose him, so he organizes the plot himself to flush out potential plotters and eliminate them. What if we imagine God doing something similar? In order to prevent a rebellion against His rule by His creatures, He Himself— masked as the Devil— sets a rebellion in motion so that He can control it and crush it. But is this mode of the “coincidence of the opposites” radical enough? No, for a very precise reason: because Castro-God functions as the unity of himself (his regime) and his opposite (his political opponents), basically playing a game with himself. One has to imagine the same process under the domination of the opposite pole, as in the kind of paranoiac scenario often used in popular literature and films. For example: when the internet becomes infected by a series of dangerous viruses, a big digital company saves the day by creating the ultimate anti-virus program. The twist, however, is that this same company had manufactured the dangerous viruses in the first place— and the program designed to fight them is itself the virus that enables the company to control the entire network. Here we have a more accurate narrative version of the Hegelian identity of opposites.

V for Vendetta deploys a political version of this same identity. The film takes place in the near future when Britain is ruled by a totalitarian party called Norsefire; the film’s main protagonists are a masked vigilante known as “V” and Adam Sutler, the country’s leader. Although V for Vendetta was praised (by none other than Toni Negri, among others) and, even more so, criticized for its “radical”— pro-terrorist, even— stance, it does not have the courage of its convictions: in particular, it shrinks from drawing the consequences of the parallels between V and Sutler. 31 The Norsefire party , we learn, is the instigator of the terrorism it is fighting against—but what about the further identity of Sutler and V? We never see either of their faces in the flesh (except the scared Sutler at the very end, when he is about to die): we see Sutler only on TV screens, and V is a specialist in manipulating the screen. Furthermore , V’s dead body is placed on a train with explosives, in a kind of Viking funeral strangely evoking the name of the ruling party: Norsefire. So when Evey— the young girl (played by Natalie Portman) who joins V— is imprisoned and tortured by V in order to learn to overcome her fear and be free, does this not parallel what Sutler does to the entire British population, terrorizing them so that they rebel? Since the model for V is Guy Fawkes (he wears a Guy mask), it is all the more strange that the film refuses to draw the obvious Chestertonian lesson of its own plot: that of the ultimate identity of V and Sutler. (There is a brief hint in this direction in the middle of the film, but it remains unexploited.) In other words, the missing scene in the film is the one in which, when Evey removes the mask from the dying V, we see Sutler’s face. How would we have to read this identity? Not in the sense of a totalitarian power manipulating its own opposition, playing a game with itself by creating its enemy and then destroying it, but in the opposite sense: in the unity of Sutler and V, V is the universal encompassing moment that contains both itself and Sutler as its two moments. Applying this logic to God himself, we are compelled to endorse the most radical reading of the Book of Job proposed in the 1930s by the Norwegian theologian Peter Wessel Zapffe, who accentuated Job’s “boundless perplexity” when God himself finally appears to him.

Expecting a sacred and pure God whose intellect is infinitely superior to ours, Job finds himself confronted with a world ruler of grotesque primitiveness, a cosmic cave-dweller, a braggart and blusterer, almost agreeable in his total ignorance of spiritual culture …

What is new for Job is not God’s greatness in quantifiable terms; that he knew fully in advance … what is new is the qualitative baseness. In other words, God— the God of the Real— is like the Lady in courtly love, He is das Ding, a capricious cruel master who simply has no sense of universal justice . God-the-Father thus quite literally does not know what He is doing, and Christ is the one who does know, but is reduced to an impotent compassionate observer, addressing his father with “Father, can’t you see I’m burning?”— burning together with all the victims of the father’s rage. Only by falling into His own creation and wandering around in it as an impassive observer can God perceive the horror of His creation and the fact that He, the highest Law-giver, is Himself the supreme Criminal. Since God-the-Demiurge is not so much evil as a stupid brute lacking all moral sensitivity, we should forgive Him because He does not know what He is doing. In the standard onto-theological vision, only the demiurge elevated above reality sees the entire picture, while the particular agents caught up in their struggles have only partial misleading insights. At the core of Christianity, we find a different vision— the demiurge is a brute, unaware of the horror he has created, and only when he enters his own creation and experiences it from within, as its inhabitant, can he see the nightmare he has fathered.

Slavoj  Zizek, (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 269-271).

Romancing the Machine: Intelligence, Myth, and the Singularity

“We choose to go to the moon,” the president said. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

I was sitting in front of our first Motorola color television set when President Kennedy spoke to us of going to the moon. After the Manhattan Project to build a nuclear bomb this was the second great project that America used to confront another great power in the race to land on the moon. As I listened to the youtube.com video (see below) I started thinking about a new race going on in our midst: the intelligence race to build the first advanced Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As you listen to Kennedy think about how one of these days soon we might very well hear another President tell us that we must fund the greatest experiment in the history of human kind: the building of a superior intelligence.

Why? Because if we do not we face certain extinction. Oh sure, such rhetoric of doom and fear has always had a great effect on humans. I’ll imagine him/her trumping us with all the scientific validation about climate change, asteroid impacts, food and resource depletion, etc., but in the end he may pull out the obvious trump card: the idea that a rogue state – maybe North Korea, or Iran, etc. is on the verge of building such a superior machinic intelligence, an AGI. But hold on. It gets better. For the moment an AGI is finally achieved is not the end. No. That is only the beginning, the tip of the ice-berg. What comes next is AI or complete artificial intelligence: superintelligence. And, know one can tell you what that truly means for the human race. Because for the first time in our planetary history we will live alongside something that is superior and alien to our own life form, something that is both unpredictable and unknown: an X Factor.

 

Just think about it. Let it seep down into that quiet three pounds of meat you call a brain. Let it wander around the neurons for a few moments. Then listen to Kennedy’s speech on the romance of the moon, and remember the notion of some future leader who will one day come to you saying other words, promising a great and terrible vision of surpassing intelligence and with it the likely ending of the human species as we have known it:

“We choose to build an Artificial Intelligence,” the president said. “We choose to build it in this decade, not because it is easy, but because it is for our future, our security, because that goal will serve to organize our defenses and the security of the world, because that risk is one that we are willing to accept, one we are not willing to postpone, because of the consequences of rogue states gaining such AI’s, and one which we intend to win at all costs.”


Is it really so far-fetched to believe that we will eventually uncover the principles that make intelligence work and implement them in a machine, just like we have reverse engineered our own versions of the particularly useful features of natural objects, like horses and spinnerets? News flash: the human brain is a natural object.

—Michael Anissimov, MIRI Media Director

 We are all bound by certain cognitive biases. Looking them over I was struck by the conservativism bias: “The tendency to revise one’s belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence.” As we move into the 21st Century we are confronted with what many term convergence technologies: nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetechnology, and AGI. As I was looking over PewResearch’s site which does analysis of many of our most prone belief systems I spotted one on AI, robotics, et. al.:

The vast majority of respondents to the 2014 Future of the Internet canvassing anticipate that robotics and artificial intelligence will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025, with huge implications for a range of industries such as health care, transport and logistics, customer service, and home maintenance. But even as they are largely consistent in their predictions for the evolution of technology itself, they are deeply divided on how advances in AI and robotics will impact the economic and employment picture over the next decade. (see AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs)

 This almost universal acceptance that robotics and AI will be a part of our inevitable future permeates the mythologies of our culture at the moment. Yet, as shows there is a deep divide as to what this means and how it will impact the daily lives of most citizens. Of course the vanguard pundits and intelligent AGI experts hype it up, telling us as Benjamin Goertzel and Steve Omohundro argue AGI, robotics, medical apps, finance, programming, etc. will improve substantially:

…robotize the AGI— put it in a robot body— and whole worlds open up. Take dangerous jobs— mining, sea and space exploration, soldiering, law enforcement, firefighting. Add service jobs— caring for the elderly and children, valets, maids, personal assistants. Robot gardeners, chauffeurs, bodyguards, and personal trainers. Science, medicine, and technology— what human enterprise couldn’t be wildly advanced with teams of tireless and ultimately expendable human-level-intelligent agents working for them around the clock?1

As I read the above I hear no hint of the human workers that will be displaced, put out of jobs, left to their own devices, lost in a world of machines, victims of technological and economic progress. In fact such pundits are only hyping to the elite, the rich, the corporations and governments that will benefit from such things because humans are lazy, inefficient, victims of time and energy, expendable. Seems most humans at this point will be of no use to the elite globalists, so will be put to pasture in some global commons or maybe fed to the machine gods.

Machines will follow a path that mirrors the evolution of humans. Ultimately, however, self-aware, self-improving machines will evolve beyond humans’ ability to control or even understand them.

—Ray Kurzweil, inventor, author, futurist

In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines.

—George Dyson, historian

Kurzweil and Dyson agree that whatever these new beings become, they will not have our interests as a central motif of their ongoing script.  As Goertzel tells Barrat the arrival of human-level intelligent systems would have stunning implications for the world economy. AGI makers will receive immense investment capital to complete and commercialize the technology. The range of products and services intelligent agents of human caliber could provide is mind-boggling. Take white-collar jobs of all kinds— who wouldn’t want smart-as-human teams working around the clock doing things normal flesh-and-blood humans do, but without rest and without error. (Barrat, pp 183-184) Oh, yes, who wouldn’t… one might want to ask all those precarious intellectual laborers that will be out on the street in soup lines with the rest of us that question.

As many of the experts in the report mentioned above relate: about half of these experts (48%) envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers—with many expressing concern that this will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.

Sounds more like dystopia for the mass, and just another nickelodeon day for the elite oligarchs around the globe. Yet, the other 52% have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Sounds a little optimistic to me. Human ingenuity versus full-blown AI? Sound more like blind-man’s bluff with the deck stacked in favor of the machines. As one researcher Stowe Boyd, lead researcher at GigaOM Research, said of the year 2025 when all this might be in place: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy?’ Indeed, one wonders… we know the Romans built the great Circus, gladiatorial combat, great blood-bath entertainment for the bored and out-of-work minions of the Empire. What will the Globalists do?

A sort of half-way house of non-commitment came from Seth Finkelstein, a programmer, consultant and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award winner, who responded, “The technodeterminist-negative view, that automation means jobs loss, end of story, versus the technodeterminist-positive view, that more and better jobs will result, both seem to me to make the error of confusing potential outcomes with inevitability. Thus, a technological advance by itself can either be positive or negative for jobs, depending on the social structure as a whole….this is not a technological consequence; rather it’s a political choice.” 

I love it that one can cop-out by throwing it back into politics, thereby washing one’s hands of the whole problem as if magically saying: “I’m just a technologist, let the politicians worry about jobs. It’s not technology’s fault, there is no determinism on our side of the fence.” Except it is not politicians who supply jobs, its corporations: and, whether technology is determined or not, corporations are: their determined by capital, by their stockholders, by profit margins, etc. So if they decide to replace workers with more efficient players (think AI, robots, multi-agent systems, etc.) they will if it make them money and profits. Politicians can hem and haw all day about it, but will be lacking in answers. So as usual the vast plebian forces of the planet will be thrown back onto their own resources, and for the most part excluded from the enclaves and smart cities of the future. In this scenario humans will become the untouchables, the invisible, the servants of machines or pets; or, worst case scenario: pests to be eliminated.

Yet, there are others like Vernor Vinge who believe all the above may be true, but not for a long while, that we will probably go through a phase when humans are augmented by intelligence devices. He believes this is one of three sure routes to an intelligence explosion in the future, when a device can be attached to your brain that imbues it with additional speed, memory, and intelligence. (Barrat, p. 189) As Barrat tells us our intelligence is broadly enhanced by the mobilization of powerful information technology, for example, our mobile phones, many of which have roughly the computing power of personal computers circa 2000, and a billion times the power per dollar of sixties-era mainframe computers. We humans are mobile, and to be truly relevant, our intelligence enhancements must be mobile. The Internet, and other kinds of knowledge, not the least of which is navigation, gain vast new power and dimension as we are able to take them wherever we go. (Barrat, p. 192)

But even if we have all this data at our braintips it is still data that must be filtered and appraised, evaluated. Data is not information. As Luciano Floridi tells us “we need more and better technologies and techniques to see the small-data patterns, but we need more and better epistemology to sift the valuable ones”.2 As Floridi will explain it what Descartes acknowledged to be an essential sign of intelligence— the capacity to learn from different circumstances, adapt to them, and exploit them to one’s own advantage— would be a priceless feature of any appliance that sought to be more than merely smart. (Floridi, KL 2657) Floridi will put an opposite spin on all the issues around AGI and AI telling us that whatever it ultimately becomes it will not be some singular entity or self-aware being, but will instead be our very environment – what he terms, the InfoSphere: the world is becoming an infosphere increasingly well adapted to ICTs’ (Information and Communications Technologies) limited capacities. In a comparable way, we are adapting the environment to our smart technologies to make sure the latter can interact with it successfully. (Floridi, KL 2661)

For Floridi the environment around us is taking on intelligence, that it will be so ubiquitous and invisible, naturalized that it will be seamless and a part of our very onlife lives. The world itself will be intelligent:

Light AI, smart agents, artificial companions, Semantic Web, or Web 2.0 applications are part of what I have described as a fourth revolution in the long process of reassessing humanity’s fundamental nature and role in the universe. The deepest philosophical issue brought about by ICTs concerns not so much how they extend or empower us, or what they enable us to do, but more profoundly how they lead us to reinterpret who we are and how we should interact with each other. When artificial agents, including artificial companions and software-based smart systems, become commodities as ordinary as cars, we shall accept this new conceptual revolution with much less reluctance. It is humbling, but also exciting. For in view of this important evolution in our self-understanding, and given the sort of ICT-mediated interactions that humans will increasingly enjoy with other agents, whether natural or synthetic, we have the unique opportunity of developing a new ecological approach to the whole of reality. (Floridi, KL 3055-62)

That our conceptions of reality, self, and environment will suddenly take on a whole new meaning is beyond doubt. Everything we’ve been taught for two-thousand years in the humanistic traditions will go bye-bye; or, at least will be treated for the ramblings of early human children fumbling in the dark. At least so goes the neo-information philosophers such as Floridi. He tries to put a neo-liberal spin on it and sponsors an optimistic vision of economic paradises for all, etc. As he says in his conclusion we are constructing an artificial intelligent environment, an infosphere that will be inhabited for millennia of future generations. “We shall be in serious trouble, if we do not take seriously the fact that we are constructing the new physical and intellectual environments that will be inhabited by future generations (Floridi, KL 3954).”  Because of this he tells us we will need to forge a new new alliance between the natural and the artificial. It will require a serious reflection on the human project and a critical review of our current narratives, at the individual, social, and political levels. (Floridi, 3971) 

In some ways I concur with his statement that we need to take a critical view of our current narratives. To me the key is just that. Humans live by narratives, stories, tales, fictions, etc., always have. The modernists wanted grand narratives, while the postmodernists loved micro-narratives. What will our age need? What will help us to understand and to participate in this great adventure ahead in which the natural and artificial suddenly form alliances in ways never before seen from the beginning of human history. From the time of the great agricultural civilizations to the Industrial Age to our own strange fusion of science fiction and fact in a world where superhuman agents might one day walk among us what stories will we tell? What narratives do we need to help us contribute to our future, and to the future hopefully of our species? Will the narratives ultimately be told a thousand years from now by our inhuman alien AI’s to their children of a garden that once existed wherein ancient flesh and blood beings once lived: the beings that once were our creators? Or shall it be a tale of symbiotic relations in which natural and artificial kinds walk hand in hand forging together adventures in exploration of the galaxy and beyond? What tale will it be?

Romance or annihilation? Let’s go back to the bias: “The tendency to revise one’s belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence.” If we listen to the religious wing of transhumanism and the singulatarians, we are presented with a rosy future full of augmentations, wonders, and romance. On the other side we have the dystopians, the pessimists, the curmudgeons who tell us the future of AGI leads to the apocalypse of AI or superintelligence and the demise of the human race as a species. Is their a middle ground. Floridi seems to opt for that middle ground where humans and technologies do not exactly merge nor destroy each other, but instead become symbionts in an ongoing onlife project without boundaries other than those we impose by a shared vision of balance and affiliation between natural and artificial kinds. Either way we do not know for sure what that future holds, but as some propose the future is not some blank slate or mirror but is instead to be constructed. How shall we construct it? Above all: whose future is it anyway? 

As James Barrat will tell us consider DARPA. Without DARPA, computer science and all we gain from it would be at a much more primitive state. AI would lag far behind if it existed at all. But DARPA is a defense agency. Will DARPA be prepared for just how complex and inscrutable AGI will be? Will they anticipate that AGI will have its own drives, beyond the goals with which it is created? Will DARPA’s grantees weaponize advanced AI before they’ve created an ethics policy regarding its use? (Barrat, 189)

My feeling is that even if they had an ethics policy in place would it matter? Once AGI takes off and is self-aware and able to self-improve its capabilities, software, programs, etc. it will as some say become in a very few iterations a full blown AI or superintelligence with as much as a thousand, ten thousand, or beyond intelligence beyond the human. Would ethics matter when confronted with an alien intelligence that is so far beyond our simple three pound limited organic brain that it may not even care or bother to recognize us or communicate. What then?

We might be better off studying some of the posthuman science fiction authors in our future posts (from i09 Essential Posthuman Science Fiction):

  1. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  2. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  3. Slan, by A.E. Van Vogt
  4. Dying Earth, Jack Vance
  5. More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
  6. Slave Ship, Fredrick Pohl
  7. The Ship Who Sang, by Anne McCaffrey
  8. Dune, by Frank Herbert
  9. “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by James Tiptree Jr.
  10. Aye, And Gomorrah, by Samuel Delany
  11. Uplift Series, by David Brin
  12. Marooned In Realtime, by Vernor Vinge
  13. Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
  14. Permutation City, by Greg Egan
  15. The Bohr Maker, by Linda Nagata
  16. Nanotech Quartet series, by Kathleen Ann Goonan
  17. Patternist series, by Octavia Butler
  18. Blue Light, Walter Mosley
  19. Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks
  20. Revelation Space series, by Alasdair Reynolds
  21. Blindsight, by Peter Watts
  22. Saturn’s Children, by Charles Stross
  23. Postsingular, by Rudy Rucker
  24. The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman
  25. Natural History, by Justina Robson
  26. Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

1. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (pp. 184-185). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Floridi, Luciano (2014-06-26). The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality (Kindle Locations 2422-2423). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Posthuman Economics: The Empire of Capital

Maybe what haunts posthumanism is not technology but utopian capitalism, the dark silences long repressed, excluded, disavowed, and negated within the Empire of Capital.  Franco Berardi’s The Uprising grabs the history of art and capital by the horns as the slow and methodical implementation of the Idealist program. By this he means the dereferentialization of reality – or what we term now the semioitization of reality: the total annihilation of any connection between signifier and signified, word and thing, mind and world. Instead we live in a world structured by fantasy that over time has dematerialized reality.

In economics it was Richard Nixon (1972) who cut the link between financial capital and its referent, the gold standard which subtly dematerialized monetarism of the neoliberal era. This slow vanishing act of reality into its digital matrix has in our time become so naturalized that we have forgotten how much our lives are enmeshed in fictions divorced from even the illusion of reality. As Berardi will put it:

The premise of neoliberal dogmatism is the reduction of social life to the mathematical implications of financial algorithms. What is good for finance must be good for society, and if society does not accept this identification and submission, then that means that society is incompetent, and needs to be redressed by some technical authority.1

He speaks of the moment when the newly elected Greek President Papandreou actually had the audacity to question the EU’s austerity program and was summarily ousted by the new entity, The Markets, and replaced with a consultant from Goldman-Sachs. He asks calmly, What is this blind god, the Markets?

Markets are the visible manifestation of the inmost mathematical interfunctionality of algorithms embedded in the techno-linguistic machine: they utter sentences that change the destiny of the living body of society, destroy resources, and swallow the energies of the collective body like a draining pump. (Berardi, 32)

In this sense we are already being run by the machinic systems of math and computation at the core of our economic system. As he tells it the humans behind the system are not fascists, yet they allow society to be enslaved by a mathematical system of economics and financialization, which is clean, smooth, perfect, and efficient. The financial orthodoxy would have you believe that all things should act efficiently. Like all orthodoxies it offers comfort and guidance, but, as orthodoxies do, it also has the power to wound those who cannot follow its dogmas or who resist its rituals of conformity. It is technological because it has primarily to do with making things work, and it is particularly apparent in the contemporary emphasis on quantifiable productivity and associated fears of waste, especially the waste of time.2

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once developed his theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.3 Thinking of flow and efficiency one discovers the key is the concept of flow-of information or of goods, for example-and the role of efficiency in preventing disruptions. This suggests that beneath the zeal for efficiency lies the desire to control a changing world, to keep an optimal and peak level of flow going at all times in society and combatting and preventing anything that might disrupt that flow.

In Berardi’s mathematization of society we’re no longer consumers and users, but have instead become as Bruce Sterling tells us in The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Thingsparticipants under machine surveillance, whose activities are algorithmically combined within Big Data silos” (Sterling, KL 30). So that in this sense we are no longer embodied humans, but are instead bits of data floating among the wired worlds of our digital economy. But a fascinating aspect of the Internet of things is that the giants who control the major thrust within its reaches Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft could care less about efficiency. No. They in fact don’t bother to “compete” with each other because their real strategy is to “disrupt”. Rather than “competing” – becoming more efficient at doing something specific – “disruption” involves a public proof that the rival shouldn’t even exist.(Sterling, KL 212-216)

The basic order of the economic day is coded in the language of noir dime novels. “Knifing the baby” means deliberately appropriating the work of start-ups before they can become profitable businesses. “Stealing the oxygen” means seeing to it that markets don’t even exist – that no cash exchanges hands, while that formerly profitable activity is carried out on a computer you control. (Sterling, KL 224)

Yet, underneath all the glitter and glitz is the hard truth of reality. If the Internet of things is a neo-feudal empire of tyrant corporations disrupting the flows of efficient commerce in a bid to attain greater and greater power and influence, then the world of austerity and nation states outside the wires is preparing for the barbarians. As Berardi relates it outside the cold steel wires of financial digi-tyranny we can already see the violent underbelly of the old physical body of the social raising its reactionary head: nation, race, ethnic cleansing, and religious fundamentalism are running rampant around the globe. While the digital-elite pirate away the world of finance the forgotten citizenry outside the digital fortress are preparing for war in the streets: despair, suicide, and annihilation living in the austerity vacuum of a bloated world of wires.

Maybe Yeats wrote his poem The Second Coming for our century:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
   The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

1. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. The Uprising. (Semiotext(e), 2012)
2. Jennifer Karns Alexander. The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control (Kindle Locations 29-32). Kindle Edition
3. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.) (Kindle Locations 214-216). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

 

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism – Conclusion (Part 8)

While the disconnection thesis makes no detailed claims about posthuman lives, it has implications for the complexity and power of posthumans and thus the significance of the differences they could generate. Posthuman entities would need to be powerful relative to WH to become existentially independent of it.1

 In his final chapter David Roden takes up the ethical or normative dimensions of his disconnection thesis. He will opt for a posthuman accounting that will allow us to anticipate the posthuman through participation in its ongoing eventuality. Yet, he recognizes there are both moral, political, and other factors that argue for both its necessary constraint and limits through control pressure from normative and political domains. (previous post) As we approach David Roden’s final offering we should remember a cautionary note by Edward O. Wilson from his The Social Conquest of the Earth would caution:

We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.2

In the first section Roden will face objections to his disconnection thesis from both phenomenological anthropocentrism and naturalist versions of species integrity, and find both wanting. Instead of going through the litany of examples I’ll move toward his summation which gives us his base stance and philosophical/scientific appraisal. As he states it:

…the phenomenological species integrity argument for policing disconnection-potent technologies presupposes an unwarrantable transcendental privilege for Kantian personhood. Since the privilege is unwarrantable this side of disconnection, the phenomenological argument for an anthropocentric attitude towards disconnection fails along with naturalistic versions of the species integrity argument such as Agar’s. Thus even if we accept that our relationships to fellow humans compose an ethical pull, as Meacham puts it, its force cannot be decisive as long we do not know enough about the contents of PPS (posthuman possibility space) to support the anthropocentrist’s position. What appears to be a moral danger on our side of a disconnection could be an opportunity to explore morally considerable states of being of which we are currently unaware.*(see notes below)

 Reading the arguments of both Agar and Meacham against the disconnection thesis it brings to mind the sense of how many thinkers, scientists and philosophers fear the unknown element, the X factor in the posthuman equation. What’s difficult and for me almost nonsensical in both arguments is their sense of Universalism, as if we could control what is viable a nominalistic universe of particulars through either a universal and normative set of theory and practices (let’s say a Sellarsian/Brandomonian normativity of “give” and “take” in a space of reasons; creating a navigational mapping of the pros/cons of the posthuman X factor and develop a series of reasoning’s for or against its emergence, etc.) as if we have a real say in the matter. Do we? Roden has gone through the pros/cons of technological determinism and found it lacking in any sense of foundation.

Yet, his basic philosophy seems grounded in the surmises of phenomenological theory and practice rather than in the sciences per se. So from within his own perspective in philosophical theory all seems viable for or against the posthuman. But do we live in a phenomenological world. Do we accept the philosophical strictures of the Kantian divide in philosophy that have led to the current world of speculation, both Analytical and Continental?

As Roden will suggest against the threat of phenomenological species integrity is one that attacks the actual foundations of the whole ethical and political enterprise rather than an specific or putatively “human” norms, values or practices (Roden, KL 4130). I think its safe to say that most of the species that have ever existed (99%) are now extinct according to evolutionists. So humans are part of the natural universe, we are not exceptional, and do not sit outside the realm of the animal kingdom. When it comes down to it do we go with those who fear extinction at the hands of some unknown X factor, some unknown posthuman break and disconnect that might or might not be the end point for the human? Or, do we opt for the challenge to participate in its emergence and realize that it might offer the next stage in – if not biological evolution (although transhumans opt for this), but technological innovation and evolution? Roden will try to answer this in his final section.

 Vital posthumanism: a speculative-critical convergence

In this section (8.2) Roden will opt for a post-anthropocentric ethics of becoming posthuman, one that does not require posthumans to exhibit human intersubjectivity or moral autonomy. Such an ethics would need to be articulated in terms of ethical attributes that we could reasonably expect to be shared with posthuman WHDs (wide human descendants) whose phenomenologies or psychologies might diverge significantly from those of current humans (Roden, 4164).

One prerequisite as he showed in earlier sections of the book was the need for functional autonomy:

A functionally autonomous system (FAS) can enlist values for and accrue functions ( § 6.4 ). Functional autonomy is related to power. A being’s power is its capacity to enlist other things and be reciprocally enlisted (Patton 2000: 74). With great power comes great articulation ( § 6.5 ). (Roden, 4168)

To build or construct such an assemblage he will opt for a neo-vitalist normativity, one that is qualified materialism following Levi R. Bryant against any form of metaphysical vitalism. Instead he will broker an ontological materialism that denies that the basic constituents of reality have an irreducibly mental character (Roden, KL 4180). Second, he will redefine the conceptual notions underpinning vitalism by offering a minimal definition of the posthuman as living because they must exhibit functional autonomy. This is a sufficient functional condition of life at best (Roden, KL 4187). This does not imply any form or essentialism either, there is not implied set of properties etc. to which one could reduce the core set of principles.

He will work within the framework of an assemblage ontology first developed by Gilles Deleuze. It assumes that posthumans would have network-independent components like the human fusiform gyrus, allowing flexible and adaptive couplings with other assemblages. Posthumans would need a flexibility in their use of environmental resources and in their “aleatory” affiliations with other human or nonhuman systems sufficient to break with the purposes bestowed on entities within the Wide Human.(Roden, 4202) I’m tempted to think of Levi R. Bryant’s Machine Ontology which is an outgrowth of both Deleuze and certain trends in speculative realism, too. Yet, this is not the time or place to go into that (i.e., read here, here, here).

He affirms an accord between his own project and that of Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman. Yet, there are differences as well. As he states it:

“…she is impatient with a disabling political neutrality that can follow from junking human moral subjectivity as the arbiter of the right and the good. She argues that a critical posthumanist ethics should retain the posit of political subjectivity capable of ethical experimentation with new modes of community and being, while rejecting the Kantian model of an agent subject to universal norms. (Roden, KL 4224)”

His point is that Braidotti is mired in certain political and normative theories and practices that bely the fact that the posthuman disconnection might diverge beyond any such commitments. As he will suggest the ethics of vital posthumanism is thus not prescriptive but a tool for problem defining (Roden, KL 4271). The point being that one cannot bind oneself to a democratic accounting, because – as disconnection suggests an accounting would not evaluate posthuman states according to human values but according to values generated in the process of constructing and encountering them. (Roden, KL 4278)

In the feral worlds of the posthuman future our wide-human descendants may diverge so significantly from us, and acquire new values and functional affiliations that it might be disastrous for those who opt to remain human through either normative inaction or policing the perimeters of territorial and political divisions, etc., to the point that the very skills and practices that had sustained them prior to disconnection might be inadequate in the new dispensation. (Roden, KL 4372) Therefore as he suggests:

It follows that any functionally autonomous being confronted with the prospect of disconnection will have an interest in maximizing its power, and thus structural flexibility, to the fullest possible extent. The possibility of disconnection implies that an ontological hypermodernity is an ecological value for humans and any prospective posthumans. … To exploit Braidotti’s useful coinage, ramping up their functional autonomy would help to sustain agents – allowing them to endure change without falling apart (Roden, KL 4376- 4385)

He will summarize his disconnection hypothesis this way:

I will end by proposing a hypothesis that can be put to the test by others working in science and technology, the arts, and in what we presumptively call “humanities” subjects. This is that interdisciplinary practices that combine technoscientific expertise with ethical and aesthetic experimentation will be better placed to sculpt disconnections than narrow coalitions of experts. There may be existing models for networks or associations that could aid their members in navigating untimely lines of flight from pre- to post-disconnected states (Roden 2010a). “Body hackers” who self-administer extreme new technologies like the IA technique discussed above might be one archetype for creative posthuman accounting. Others might be descendants of current bio- and cyber-artists who are no longer concerned with representing bodies but, as Monika Bakke notes, work “on the level of actual intervention into living systems”. (Roden, KL 438)

So in the end David Roden is opting for intervention and experimentation, a direct participation in the ongoing posthuman emergence through both ethical and technological modes. Instead of it being tied to any political or corporate pressure it should become an almost Open Source effort that is open and interdisciplinary among both academic and outsiders from scientists, technologists, artists, and bodyhackers willing to intervene in their own lives and bodies to bring it into realization. He will quote Stelarc, a body hacker, saying,

Perhaps Stelarc defines the problem of a post-anthropocentric posthuman politics best when describing the role of technical expertise in his art works: “This is not about utopian blueprints for perfect bodies but rather speculations on operational systems with alternate functions and forms” (in Smith 2005: 228– 9). I think this spirit of speculative engineering best exemplifies an ethical posthuman becoming – not the comic or dreadful arrest in the face of something that cannot be grasped. (Roden, KL 4397)

One might term this speculative engineering the science fictionalization of our posthuman future(s) or becoming other(s). Open your eyes folks the posthuman could already be among you. In the Bionic Horizon I had quoted Nick Land’s essay Meltdown, which in some ways seems a fitting way to end this excursion:

The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalitization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.

—Nick Land, Meltdown

One aspect of Roden’s program strikes me as pertinent, we need better tools to diagnose the technological infiltration of human agency as the future collapses upon the present. Yet, he also points toward a posthuman movement as he sees opportunity in an almost agreement with the tendencies of accelerationism. We might actually see late capitalism as an even more radical form of technological accelerationism which goes beyond any political concerns, and whose goal is reinventing human relations in light of new technology. So that instead of the current mutations  of some phenomenological effort we may be experiencing the strangeness of techno-capital as a speculative opportunity to rethink basic notions of humanity as such. Ultimately, as we’ve seen through time technology and humanity have always already been in symbiotic relationship to emerging technologies from the time of the early implementation of domestication of animals and seed baring agricultural emergence to the world of Industrial Civilization and its narrowing of the horizon of planetary civilization. What next? Roden offers an alliance with the ongoing process, optimistic and open toward the future, hopeful that the alliance with the interventions of technology may hold nothing more than our posthuman future as the next stage of strangeness in the universe. We’ll we become paranoid and fearful, withdraw into combative and religious reformation against such a world; or, will we call it down into our own lives and participate in its emergence as co-symbiotic partners?


*Notes:

Agar: In Humanity’s End, Agar is mainly concerned with the first type of threat from radical technical alteration. His argument against radical alteration rests on a position he calls species relativism (SR). SR states that only certain values are compatible with membership of a given biological species: According to species-relativism, certain experiences and ways of existing properly valued by members of one species may lack value for the members of another species.(Roden, 3869)

Meachem (from a dialogue): Thus a disconnection could be a “phenomenological speciation event” which weakens the bonds that tie sentient creatures together on this world:

This refers us back to a weakened version of Roden’s description of posthuman disconnection: differently altered groups, especially when those alterations concern our vulnerability to injury and disease, might have experiences sufficiently different from ours that we cannot envisage what significant aspects of their lives would be like. This inability to empathize will at the very least dampen the possibility for the type of empathic species solidarity that I have argued is the ground of ethics. (Ibid.)

Meacham’s position suggests that human species recognition has an “ethical pull” that should be taken seriously by any posthuman ethics.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Locations 3832-3834). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Wilson, Edward O. (2012-04-02). The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 179-181). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Visions of the Future: Apocalypse or Paradise?

Continuing with a frontal assault of our conceptions of the future in both their negative and positive modes I’d like to continue down the path from previous notes on John Michael Greer’s assessment for America and the world’s prospects (here). He ended his book telling us that Americans need a new vision, a new Dream, one “that doesn’t require promises of limitless material abundance, one that doesn’t depend on the profits of empire or the temporary rush of affluence we got by stripping a continent of its irreplaceable natural resources in a few short centuries“. Yet, he also warned us that “…nothing guarantees that America will find the new vision it needs, just because it happens to need one, and it’s already very late in the day. Those of us who see the potential, and hope to help fill it, have to get a move on“.1

Michio Kaku in his book Physics of the Future will offer what he terms an “insider’s view” of the future. I thought it ironic that he would pull the old trick of insider/outsider that opposes scientific authority to the folk-wisdom of the tribe, and assumes scientific knowledge has some greater privilege and access to the future than that of historians, sociologists, science fiction writer’s, and “futurologists” – who he gently removes from authority and truth, saying in his preface that they are all “outsiders” – “predicting the world without any firsthand knowledge of science itself” as if this placed them in a world of non-knowledge or folk-wisdom that could be left behind, as if they were mere children in a grown-ups world of pure scientific mystery that only the great and powerful “insider”, the scientist as inventor, investigator, explorer of the great mysteries of the universe could reveal.

Yet, in the very next paragraph after dismissing the folk-wisdom of the tribal mind, and bolstering the power of science and scientists he will ironically admit that “it is impossible to predict the future with complete accuracy”, that the best we can do is to “tap into the minds of scientists on the cutting edge of research, who are doing the yeoman’s work of inventing the future”.2 One notices that science is now equated with “invention” of the future, as if the future was a product or commodity that we are building in the factories of knowledge, both material and immaterial that will – as he terms it “revolutionize civilization”. Of course etymologically invention is considered “a finding or discovery,” a noun of action from the past participle stem of invenire to “devise, discover, find”. And as he uses the words “yeoman’s work” for scientists as inventors of the future we will assume the old sense of that as “commoner who cultivates his land”, or an  “attendant in a noble household,” so that these new scientists are seen as laborers of the sciences producing for their masters, or the new nobility of the elite Wall-Street and Corporate Globalist machine.

(I will come back to the notion of the future as Invention in another essay in this series. What is the future? How do we understand this term? Is the future an invention, a discovery, a finding; or, is it rather an acceleration of the future as immanent in our past, a machinic power unfolding, or a power invading us from the future and manipulating our minds to deliver and shape us to its will? Time. What is this temporality? What is causality? Do we shape it or does it shape us? )

So in Kaku we are offered a vision of the future in alignment with the globalist vision of a corporatized future in which scientists are mere yeoman doing the bidding of their masters in inventing a future that they are paying for through the great profit making machine of capitalism. It’s not that his use of differing metaphors and displacements, derision of the outsider and ill-informed or folk-wisdom practices of historians, sociologists, science-fiction writers, and futurologists was in itself a mere ploy; no, its that whether consciously or unknowingly he is setting the stage, which on the surface appears so positive, so amiable, so enlightening and informing for a corporate vision of the future that is already by the virtue of a dismissal of its critics a done deal, a mere effort of unlocking through the power of “devices, inventions, and therapies”. Kaku is above all an affirmer of technologies dream, of science as the all-powerful Apollonian sun-god of enlightened human destiny that will revolutionize civilization.  

I doubt this is the dream that John Michael Greer had in mind when he mentioned that we need a new American Dream. Or is it? For Greer there only the ultimate demise of the last two-hundred years of Fordism or the Industrial Age:

Between the tectonic shifts in geopolitics that will inevitably follow the fall of America’s empire, and the far greater transformations already being set in motion by the imminent end of the industrial age , many of the world’s nations will have to deal with a similar work of revisioning.(Greer, 276)

Yet, this is where Greer leaves it, at a stage of revisioning to come, of dreams to be enacted. He offers no dream himself, only the negative critique of existing dreams of the Fordist era utopias that have failed humanity and are slowly bringing about disaster rather than transformation.

Kaku on the other hand, whose works sell profitably, a man who has the ear of the common reader as well as the corporate profiteers seeks his own version (or theirs?) of the American Dream. Unlike his previous book Visions, which offered his vision of the coming decades; instead, this new one offers a hundred year view of technology and other tensions in our global world that as he tells it ominously “will ultimately determine the fate of humanity”.

I’ll leave it there for this post, and will take up his first book, Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century in my next post, then his Physics of the Future in the third installment. 

1. Greer, John Michael (2014-03-17). Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America . New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2. Michio Kaku. Physics of the Future. (Doubleday, 2012)

John Michael Greer: Decline and Fall of the Global Empire

An empire is an arrangement among nations, backed and usually imposed by military force, which extracts wealth from a periphery of subject nations and concentrates it in the imperial core. Put more simply, an empire is a wealth pump, a device to enrich one nation at the expense of others.
– John Michael Greer

John Michael Greer of The Archdruid Report’s new book is worth reading, Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America. The basic ploy is as old as Rome: the globalist nations are running out of both territory, resources, and what he terms the costs between the periphery and the core. Because of this we’re headed for a crunch, or as he terms it, a catabolic collapse:

To understand how empires collapse, two things have to be kept in mind. The first is the core concept of catabolic collapse … — the mismatch between maintenance costs and available resources. The second is the definition of empire … — that an empire is a wealth pump, a system of economic arrangements backed by military force that extracts wealth from subject nations and concentrates it in the imperial core.1

He suggests that the American Empire and Western Civilization are slowly moving toward decline and fall, and that it is due to the a catabolic collapse as defined above. As Arthur Herman will tell us in The Idea of Decline in Western History, decline is actually a “theory about the nature and meaning of time”.2 That Western democracies and globalism are being eroded from competitive and aggressive forces and nations such as Russian and China is part of the reason, yet more than that is the West’s mythical inheritance in the ‘Myth of Progress’: every theory of progress also contains a theory of decline, since “inevitable” historical laws can just as easily shift in reverse as move forward. Likewise, whenever we meet a theory about the decline of Western civilization, we can probably find lurking underneath a theory of progress.(Herman, 2)

Yet, we’ve seen this surmise before in the works of such grand narrations as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Spengler would at the beginning of his classic history of decline ask:

Is there a logic of history? Is there, beyond all the casual and incalculable elements of the separate events, something that we may call a metaphysical structure of historic humanity, something that is essentially independent of the outward forms — social, spiritual and political — which we see so clearly? Are not these actualities indeed secondary or derived from that something? Does world-history present to the seeing eye certain grand traits, again and again, with sufficient constancy to justify certain conclusions? And if so, what are the limits to which reasoning from such premises may be pushed? 3

Reinhold Niebuhr in his own time would state that the lower middle class was often attracted to a politics of envy and resentment, and that the progressive tradition never grappled with the difficult questions but continually battled over false ideological quandaries of life – anti-intellectualism , xenophobia, racism.4 When it came down to it as Niebuhr would ask: If social cohesion is impossible without coercion, and coercion is impossible without the creation of social injustice, and the destruction of injustice is impossible without the use of further coercion, are we not in an endless cycle of social conflict? (Lasch, 532)

Christopher Lasch himself felt the progressive tradition in American History was on decline, and even in its final death throws. For him the options were few and far between:

The need for a more equitable distribution of wealth ought to be obvious, both on moral and on economic grounds, and it ought to be equally obvious that economic equality cannot be achieved under an advanced system of capitalist production. What is not so obvious is that equality now implies a more modest standard of living for all, not an extension of the lavish standards enjoyed by the favored classes in the industrial nations to the rest of the world. In the twenty-first century, equality implies a recognition of limits, both moral and material, that finds little support in the progressive tradition. (Lasch, 532)

This last published in 1991. Yet, the rich or top 1% of the global world, and especially in America are not about to lay down their riches for the masses. That last sentence is telling as we watch nightly the austerity measures earmarked for working people while the rich live in hyper-luxury that even the ancient Romans would have envied. So what does John Michael Greer see ahead? “

Over the decades ahead, the people of the United States and the rest of the industrial world are going to have to deal with the unraveling of an already declining American global empire, the end of a global economic order dominated by the dollar and thus by America’s version of the imperial wealth pump, the accelerating depletion of a long list of nonrenewable resources, and the shattering impact of rapid climate change , just for starters. If history is any guide, the impact of those crises will likely be compounded by wars, revolutions, economic crises, and all the other discontinuities that tend to crop up when one global order gives way to another. (Greer, 264-266)

Of course there is nothing new there, more of the doom and gloom forecasting we’ve seen in many books over the past few years that offer us differing views of the coming collapse of civilization on a planetary wide scale. The accumulated effect is almost mind numbing. Michael C. Ruppert in his Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World would offer his own sobering conclusion:

At question here is not just the planet’s ability to sustain new growth, which is obviously a thing of the past, but its ability to support those who are already here. We must power down. There were only about two billion of us here before oil. There are almost seven billion of us today. Failing to address this single, overriding issue may result in the extinction of the entire species because, if we do not address this as a whole, it will be addressed for us by chaos, war, famine, disease, societal breakdown, collapse and very possibly nuclear war. This challenge may be addressed by those with vast money and resources in secret. It may be addressed by genocide, biological warfare or some other means.5

 Another more scholarly or academic treatment on collapse came from Joseph A. Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies, wherein he demarcates four basic concepts that lead to collapse: first, human societies are problem-solving organizations; second, sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance; third, increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and fourth, investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns. (Tainter, 194) The combination of the first three into the fourth align well with Greer’s notion of the mismatch between maintenance costs and available resources.

Once a complex society enters the stage of declining marginal returns according to Tainter, collapse becomes a mathematical likelihood, requiring little more than sufficient passage of time to make probable an insurmountable calamity. (195) Yet, unlike Spengler, Toynbee, or even the notion of progressive decline as pointed out in both Arther Herman and Christopher Lasch, Tainter will tell us:

Collapse … is not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity. The notion that collapse is uniformly a catastrophe is contradicted, moreover, by the present theory. To the extent that collapse is due to declining marginal returns on investment in complexity, it is an economizing process. It occurs when it becomes necessary to restore the marginal return on organizational investment to a more favorable level. To a population that is receiving little return on the cost of supporting complexity, the loss of that complexity brings economic, and perhaps administrative, gains.(198)

What he describes sounds much like Freud discussing the ‘Death drive’ which ultimately leads to a degree zero or annihilation into as Tainter would have it: “a lower complexity”. Problem with Tainter is that he speaks of the collapse of societies as if it were a mathematical abstraction devoid of human pain and suffering, as if it were just a matter of theorems and economic measures based on chaos theory, etc., where its all about loss or gains of complexity that can easily be handled by a top/down administrative tier of intellectual bureaucrats.  Yet, he admits that his approach is neither dramatic nor romantic, and that they would never make a movie of it but that in the end it speaks the truth of societies as clearly as all those grand narratives without the emotional baggage, just the plain facts of the case.

Another rock star of collapse theory is Dmitry Orlov who tells us he has no qualifications other than experiencing the collapse of the Soviet Union:

Collapse can be conceived of as an orderly, organized retreat rather than a rout. It may even be useful to think of collapse as a transition: a transition that has already been planned for us (so no further transition planning activities are needed) and will consist of the collapse of finance, consumerism and politics-as-usual, along with the collapse of the societies and cultures that are entirely dependent on them. (Orlov, 14) 7

In fact as he began studying collapse he discovered over and over certain basic patterns that turned up time and time again, which he ultimately laid down as the five stages of collapse:

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost. The future is no longer assumed to resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out and access to capital is lost.
Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost. Money is devalued and/ or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.
Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.
Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum, run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.
Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for “kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality , compassion, charity.” Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes “May you die today so that I can die tomorrow.” (Orlov, 14-15)

Stage five almost reminds me of my abusive father who used to pound into me literally the motto: “It’s a dog eat dog world kid. If you don’t learn to eat them, they’ll eat you for sure. Learn to fight.” Have we truly come to that? Are we entering the stage of becoming our inhuman core? Sad. Yet, if one wanders through a few cities here in America that are now in financial ruins:  Stockton, California; Mammoth Lakes, California; West Fall, Pennsylvania; Jefferson County, Alabama; Falls, Rhode Island; Vallejo, California; Moffett, Oklahoma; Pritchard, Alabama, etc. and the list could go on… (see Broken America) would we discover aspects of stage five’s cultural collapse?

That we are living in the twilight years of America is becoming obvious for many of us as we watch things fall apart. We can see many of the aspects in Orlov’s five stages already with us in differing parts of this country, and I’m sure other nations in Europe or elsewhere around the world would have their own tales. As Greer sums it up for us here in America:

One of the central tasks before Americans today, as our nation’s imperial age stumbles blindly toward its end, is that of reinventing America: of finding new ideals that can provide a sense of collective purpose and meaning in an age of deindustrialization and of economic and technological decline. We need, if you will, a new American dream, one that doesn’t require promises of limitless material abundance, one that doesn’t depend on the profits of empire or the temporary rush of affluence we got by stripping a continent of its irreplaceable natural resources in a few short centuries. I think it can be done, if only because it’s been done three times already. For that matter, the United States is far from the only nation that’s had to find a new meaning for itself in the midst of crisis, and a fair number of other nations have had to do it, as we will, in the face of decline and the failure of some extravagant dream. Nor will the United States be the only nation facing such a challenge in the years immediately ahead. Between the tectonic shifts in geopolitics that will inevitably follow the fall of America’s empire, and the far greater transformations already being set in motion by the imminent end of the industrial age, many of the world’s nations will have to deal with a similar work of revisioning. That said, nothing guarantees that America will find the new vision it needs, just because it happens to need one, and it’s already very late in the day. Those of us who see the potential, and hope to help fill it, have to get a move on. (Greer, 276)

As a poet in what Harold Bloom once termed The Evening Land of America it’s time for us to both envision and revision what it means to be America. Walt Whitman once said in a poem, America:

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

 

Let that be our motto going forward! Yet, it’s worth reemphasizing Greer’s last sentence: “…nothing guarantees that America will find the new vision it needs, just because it happens to need one, and it’s already very late in the day. Those of us who see the potential, and hope to help fill it, have to get a move on.

 

1. Greer, John Michael (2014-03-17). Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America (pp. 14-15). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2. Herman, Arthur (2010-05-29). The Idea of Decline in Western History (p. 1). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
3. Spengler, Oswald (2014-06-11). The Decline of the West: The Complete Edition (Kindle Locations 225-229).  . Kindle Edition.
4. Lasch, Christopher (1991-09-17). The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics (p. 531). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
5. Michael C. Ruppert. Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World (Kindle Locations 2275-2279). Kindle Edition.
6. Joseph A. Tainter. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Kindle Edition.
7. Orlov, Dmitry (2013-05-10). The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors’ Toolkit (p. 14). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

Emerson, Neuroscience, & The Book of Nature – On Fate & Freedom

 

The book of Nature is the book of Fate. She turns the gigantic pages, — leaf after leaf, — never returning one.  … The element running through entire nature, which we popularly call Fate, is known to us as limitation. Whatever limits us, we call Fate. … Why should we fear to be crushed by savage elements, we who are made up of the same elements? – Ralph Waldo Emerson: Fate

As one reads and rereads Emerson’s essays, and especially the ones in The Conduct of Life, one gains a deeper appreciation of this man’s dark temperament, and of his tenacity in the face of those who would tyrannize us with superfluous notions of just what necessity and fate truly are.  For Emerson the notion of fate was but one of the forces, not the ruling force of life in this universe. The opposing force for him was freedom. If there are limits, if there are environmental factors that shape and bind us to certain limits and limitations of physical and mental constitution, there is also the opposing notion of mind and intelligence to counter the harsh necessities of life’s circumstances. Yet, the mind is not some separate entity, above it all; this would be illusion, too. No, the mind is very much enmeshed within the web of elements we call the universe, and it is within this very context and rootedness of mind in the processes of the universe that we must approach fate and freedom.

In his poem Fate  (see below) Emerson tells us that “There is a melody born of melody, which melts the world into a sea.” The notion that there are processes born of processes, which fold the world internally into the processes of the brain is at the heart of this. One could say that the production of production, system of system, or feedback loop within feedback loop all work their magic in this sea within:

That you are fair or wise is vain,
Or strong, or rich, or generous;
You must have also the untaught strain
That sheds beauty on the rose.
There is a melody born of melody,
Which melts the world into a sea.
Toil could never compass it,
Art its height could never hit,
It came never out of wit,
But a music music-born
Well may Jove and Juno scorn.
Thy beauty, if it lack the fire
Which drives me mad with sweet desire,
What boots it? what the soldier’s mail,
Unless he conquer and prevail?
What all the goods thy pride which lift,
If thou pine for another’s gift?
Alas! that one is born in blight,
Victim of perpetual slight;—
When thou lookest in his face,
Thy heart saith, Brother! go thy ways!
None shall ask thee what thou doest,
Or care a rush for what thou knowest,
Or listen when thou repliest,
Or remember where thou liest,
Or how thy supper is sodden,—
And another is born
To make the sun forgotten.
Surely he carries a talisman
Under his tongue;
Broad are his shoulders, and strong,
And his eye is scornful,
Threatening, and young.
I hold it of little matter,
Whether your jewel be of pure water,
A rose diamond or a white,—
But whether it dazzle me with light.
I care not how you are drest,
In the coarsest, or in the best,
Nor whether your name is base or brave,
Nor tor the fashion of your behavior,—
But whether you charm me,
Bid my bread feed, and my fire warm me,
And dress up nature in your favor.
One thing is forever good,
That one thing is success,—
Dear to the Eumenides,
And to all the heavenly brood.
Who bides at home, nor looks abroad,
Carries the eagles, and masters the sword.

Continue reading

A Dark Day’s Night

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. The more I think on it the more I look at the Left (who think the Justice system and privatization of Prisons is to blame…), and the Right (who blame the cultures or the poor and disaffected…). It’s neither, its much more insidious than either of these who want to moralize from Left or Right. It’s life on this planet and its organization. It’s how stupid we as a species are in our relations not only with each other, but with the planet itself. It’s our whole investment in a world of fictions that just don’t work anymore: Secular or Religious… they’ve failed us. We talk Reform or Revolution… it’s bullshit. Warmed over metaphysical crapology that never worked then and isn’t about to now. We never learn, we will continue repeating the same mistakes over and over like the mad creatures we are. I look around and see the stupidity of humans across the world. Genocide in Africa. Apartheid in Israel. War everywhere or the rumor of war. Ukraine and Putin. EU and U.S.A. boom time hedonism of endless trivializations. Prison System filled with the poor and disaffected run by private corporations. Drugs in Central America. Nothing but Cultures of Death, Destruction, and Despair on a planet wide scale. Noir at its finest.

But to be fair it doesn’t much matter what I think, it’s going to work itself with or without my moral outrage which is for the most part just one more stupidity among many. Neurosciences are revealing everyday just how little we have control over even the tiniest aspects of our own mental processes much less the processes of the planet and these large collectives we’ve enmeshed ourselves within. True, no place to go, either. No Outside. No, we’re all Inside now so will have to piss in our own stew as the old cliché goes. Oh, you wanted some good news did you. None here I’m afraid. And, I’m not even a nihilist anymore. I guess closer to a Realist, maybe even Pessimist at this juncture.

I look around at this supposed #Accelerationist Community with all their High Idealisms and moral bantering, normative navigational guidance systems that are staking out such wonderful new futures for us, planning initiatives to overcome the juggernaut of capitalist aggression, etc. I wish them…. luck? Ah, yes, luck… the great Wheel of Fortune, a spin on the wheel of chance and randomness. But there’s nothing random about what we’re doing to ourselves on this planet. Nothing. It’s a cold calculated world of instrumental reason with its own alien mindset wheeling and dealing its atrocities moment by moment across the board. Do you really think you can stop it now? Do you think I’m just another mad prophet of doom? Well… yes, you might have good reason to conclude that. I want defend this position: it’s not even defensible… it’s just what I’m doing at this moment. Being pissed about everything. Especially the world of our comfortable little pitiless bourgeois middle-class existence. We like to think that if we write enough poetry, philosophy, critiques, ad infinitum that someone will listen, someone will change, things will get better, we’ll all figure this out and work together and build a bright tomorrow.

NO. WE WILL NOT.

At least not till someone gets up off their shiny arse and does something about it other than talk… the planets full of chatter, the noosphere’s alive with buzzing idealists galore… everyone wants to change the world. But the problem is they can’t even change themselves. Caput. Until you realize its not the world that needs changing, but your own being – and, no, I want say – SELF… we are nothing more than mere temporary agents of that impersonal brain, that three-pound lump of power and capacity in our skull which we don’t even understand much less have control of – no, that’s all history now… belated? Too late? Is anything too late? No. Nothings ever too late. We can change, but we have to want too… Hell, even the greatest evil being that Shakespeare could imagine, Edmund in King Lear at the end was able to change, to feel remorse, and learn from his stupidity of intellectual pride… he listened to his own brain, realized just how vein he truly was and that for once in his life another human actually existed beyond his own narcissistic self-infatuated mirrors… he’d been loved…

Edmund said: “I pant for life. Some good I mean to do, Despite of my own nature.”

Maybe in the end this is all we can do. Even against our own dark natures we can awaken the courage to do some good. But what the hell is the Good? Do we even know it? All the normative bellowing want do much good for us in this regard. If you asked the major civilizations and cultures of the planet they’d just start a new war over The Good… who’s good, they’d say. So where does that put us. The Left and Right have their own Good. And, those don’t even align with all the third-world Good’s, nor even the differing cultural frameworks not aligned with the Western sense of our philosophical heritage. Whatever we decide is the good has to be something based beyond our own moral compasses in our useless conceptions of culture.

And don’t expect me to give you an answer to that one. How the hell should I tell you what the Good is for our time?

So… with that I feel better. It’s like a bitter pill, the old Saturnian black sun at the bottom of one’s hell needs to rise up and air itself from time to time… does it change anything? Probably not… I don’t expect people to change much anymore. I think we can agree we’re way too late for that… the planet will probably take us down that deep curve to where it wants… for us… it’s already a long slow dive into noir…

 

 

Are Robo Workers taking your job?

It’s getting harder to find people to work on farms in the US – robo-farmers are shifting plants and could soon be picking strawberries in their place…”
Harvey, the robot farmer fixing the US labour shortage (New Scientist)

With Cow-Milking Robots taking over conglomerate farms like Bordens, where even the cows enjoy the new automated systems and seem happier and more contented, one wonders why it took so long. I mean, we don’t need humans anymore for this manual labor now do we? All those people can find other jobs now can’t they?

Derek Thomson tells that “machines and technology have been replacing our jobs for about as long as the concept of a “job” has existed. In the early 1800s, British textile workers called the Luddites launched a series of massive protests against fancy new spinning machines and looms. They had a point. These machines worked better than people worked alone. They did steal jobs. But eventually, these dreaded machines and the rest of the industrial revolution made the vast majority of workers much richer by making us all more productive.” And, now he says: “But since machines are starting to take over not just farm jobs and factory jobs, but also white-collar professions, there’s a spookier question. What happens if machines can do so many jobs that we just run out of work? What if software eats the legal industry? What if robots start doing the work of doctors? What if they start cooking and serving all the food in restaurants? And driving all of our cars? And stocking all of our warehouses? And manning all of our retail floors? Today we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that robots are really good at repetitive tasks and we’re really good at managing them. But what if artificial intelligence rises to the point that robots are better at managing robots?”

In a recent survey on nbcnews.com they line it up with nine jobs that will slowly replace humans in the near future:  pharmacists, lawyers and paralegals, drivers, astronauts, store clerks, soldiers,  babysitters, rescuers, sportswriters and other reporters. Quite a list don’t you think. Well, yes might finally get some neutral news at a last, huh? And, all those money-grubbing legal fees from bumkin lawyers will now go to feeding the bot. But what about that friendly sixteen year old needing extra case for school lunches and dates: we going to let a metal can take their place? Not I said the cracker.

Andrew McAfee of MIT co-author of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies with Erik Brynjolfsson tells us (see here) the near future holds three basic scenarios for such a takeover: scenario one is that it is going to hit the economy, and it might take a while to work itself out, but in the end we will reach a happy equilibrium; scenario two is that we see successive waves: artificial intelligence, automated driving that will impact people who drive for a living, robotics that will impact manufacturing:  scenario two happens, the problem is a bit worse because it will be difficult for the economy to keep adjusting and for workers to keep retraining; and, scenario three is that we finally transition into this science-fiction economy, where you just don’t need a lot of labor.

That last scenario sounds a lot like Marx’s original option: “Labor equals exploitation: This is the logical prerequisite and historical result of capitalist civilization. From here there is no point of return. Workers have no time for the dignity of labor.” (see Struggle Against Labor) But one wonders: Will there come a day when our progeny the Robots will demand the same?

 

 

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Red Stack Attack!

“How do we overcome this paradoxical era of hyped-up individualization that results precisely in the algorithmic outsourcing of the self?”

– Geert Lovink, Networks Without a Cause

“…software studies need to be open to a plurality of approaches and techniques, striving to use those tools that provide us with useful empirical material for making sense of the sociality and spatiality of code.”

      – Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge: Code/Space Software and Everyday Life

Tiziana Terranova in her essay Red Stack Attack! Algorithms, Capital and the Automation of the Common (2014) for the Accelerationist reader tells us that what is at stake is nothing less than the relationship between ‘algorithms’ and ‘capital’: “the increasing centrality of algorithms to organizational practices arising out of the centrality of information and communication technologies stretching all the way from production to circulation, from industrial logistics to financial speculation, from urban planning and design to social communication” (381).

Thinking on the above I had to remind myself of what James C. Scott Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed in his once said:

The planned “scientific city,” laid out according to a small number of rational principles, was experienced as a social failure by most of its inhabitants. Paradoxically, the failure of the designed city was often averted, as was the case in Brasília, by practical improvisations and illegal acts that were entirely outside the plan. Just as the stripped-down logic behind the scientific forest was an inadequate recipe for a healthy, “successful” forest, so were the thin urban-planning schemata of Le Corbusier an inadequate recipe for a satisfactory human community.2

In both statements above we admit to what the authors of the two-volume History of The Probabilistic Revolution the power of probability: “Probability theory appeared to provide an answer to the problems drawing inferences from data subject to a variety of uncontrolled influences and the need to find rules for theory evaluation in these circumstances. (3).3 In the matter of theory only two scientific disciplines have truly bound themselves to the probalistical and statistical constructions: physics and evolutionary biology. Yet, it is within this world of probabilistically uncertain mathematics that both quantum theory and forms of economic theory (neo-Keynseanism) would forge their tools. With the marshalling of the complexity of mathematical probabilistic and statistical equations becoming increasingly difficult for the mathematicians themselves to master the need for an alternative came about. It was out of this need that the information processing or computer age was initiated. The notion of planning anything these days is beyond our human programming capabilities: ergo – we invented algorithms to do the job for us. But algorithms inhabit not only the virtual spaces of hardware and computers, they are the engines of creation that drive our social and political domains as well, from Wall Street to the great financial institutions of Europe and Asia we’re caught in the complex web of an accelerating war of competing algorithms.

Yet, it was actually a difficulty faced by gunners in WWI that would become the engine driving the future of this whole information age. Thornstein Veblen’s brother Oswald a gunner realized the need for a better and more accurate way of firing larger artillery, and needed the help of human computers or mathematicians to do the job. As George Dyson tells it: ”

Veblen organized the teams of human computers who were placed under his command, introducing mimeographed computing sheets that formalized the execution of step-by- step algorithms for processing the results of the firing range tests. It took the entire month of February to fire the first forty shots, yet by May his group was firing forty shots each day, and the growing force of human computers was keeping up.4

But it would be one of his recruits was Norbert Wiener, a twenty-four-year-old mathematical prodigy well trained after two years of postdoctoral study in Europe , but socially awkward and discouraged by the failures of his first teaching job (KL 637-639), who would eventually discover the answer needed to calculate artillery effectively. After the war Veblen would go on to become instrumental in bringing together many of the mathematicians that would ultimately provide the knowledge base from which our digital age was first conceived. As Dyson relates it quoting Freeman Dyson: “The School of Mathematics has a permanent establishment which is divided into three groups, one consisting of pure mathematics, one consisting of theoretical physicists, and one consisting of Professor von Neumann. (KL 987)” It was in this third kingdom of mathematics as formulated by von Neumann that the digital universe was conceived and “numbers would assume a life of their own” (991).

But as Terranova will relate the universe of algorithms would not be confined to the digital universe alone but would become a part of our everyday life, becoming increasingly coextensive with processes of production, consumption, and distribution displayed in logistics, finance, architecture, medicine, urban planning, infographics, advertising, dating, gaming, publishing, and all kinds of creative expression (music, graphics, dances etc.) (382).

Algorithms, Capital And Automation

In this section of her essay Terranova will play off the notion of automation, and specifically of two types of automation – the industrial-thermodynamic and the digital electro-computational models. The industrial type gave rise to a system ‘consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs so that workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages’ (i.e., we’ve seen this already from Marx’s ‘Fragment on Machines’ in the reader, 55). The digital form of automation on the other hand will involve the brain and nervous system of living labor as intellectual or cognitive labor, which will unfold within “networks consisting of electronic and automatic relays of a ceaseless information flow” (383). It’s within this digital form of automation and it spatial model that she will discuss the political for any new algorithmic modes.

After describing the typical nature of algorithms (i.e., what they do, the work they perform, how they are situated within certain material and immaterial assemblages, etc.) she remarks that as far as capital is concerned “algorithms are just fixed capital, means of production finalized to achieve an economic return” just like any other commodity (385). In this sense algorithms have replaced living labor, the worker herself as the site where the temporal aspects of labor time, disposable time, etc. play themselves out. Instead of the alienated presence of the human in the machine as mere appendage driving and guiding the machine through its everyday processes, the human has been stripped out of the process altogether as non-essential or disposable and the algorithm as an abstract machine is now situated in that site.

Yet, as Terranova will remind us after Marx we must not reduce the algorithm to “use value” only, but also see it within the context of “aesthetic, existential, social, and, ethical values” (386). She will ask if it wasn’t the reduction of software to its exchange value that drove many Hackers to opt out of the strict commercial world and invent an alternative type of economics (i.e., her example: Richard Stallman and the Free and Open Source movement). In fact, she asks, isn’t this at the heart of the hacker ethic and aesthetics, this need to escape the constraints of “use value” that capital has imposed upon the software industry?

She will also remind us that we must not reduce techniques in some absolutist fashion with either ‘dead labor’, ‘fixed capital’, or ‘instrumental rationality’ but should rather understand that the reduction of labor costs that enables capital investments in technology to free up ‘surplus’ labor not for the benefit of the worker herself as free time, but as that part of the cycle of production and exchange value which is continuously reabsorbed into profit and gain for the few (the collective capitalists) at the expense of the many (the multitudes). (387)

She describes the litany of effects that this neoliberal form of capitalism has brought to fruition in the closing time or our era: global poverty, psychic burnout, environmental degradation, resource depletion, war, etc. To remedy this she offers an agreement with Maurizio Lazzarato’s notion of a post-capitalist society based on the autonomous and enduring focus on subjectification that entails not only a better distribution of wealth, but also a the reclamation of ‘disposable time’ – that is, “time and energy freed from work to be deployed in developing and complicating the very notion of what is ‘necessary’ (387)”.

Against he exploitation of the existing and corrupt profit system of neoliberal technocapitalism with its cycle of crash and burn at the expense of the many, she that with the freeing up of ‘disposable time’ we could finally fulfill Marx’s dream of the free creation of new subjectivities that could begin to reshape the what is “necessary and what is needed” (388). This is not some return to a pristine natural world but is in fact the hard work of feeding populations, constructing shelters, education, healthcare, children and the elderly, etc. What we need she tells us is new ways of achieving these goals, ways that no longer exploit for profit and gain but bind us to a ‘commonfare’ – a notion from the work of Andrea Fumagali and Carlo Vercellone: “the socialization of investment and money and the question of the modes of management and organization which allow for an authentic democratic reappropriation of the institutions of Welfare… and the ecologic re-structuring of our systems of production” (388-389).

The Red Stack: Virtual Money, Social Networks, Bio-Hypermedia

She follows Benjamin H. Bratton in developing a new nomos of the earth that links technology, nature and the human in what is termed the ‘stack’ (389-391). As she tells it the stack supports and modulates a kind of ‘social cybernetics’ able to compose ‘both equilibrium and emergence’ (390). What she describes is the notion of the stack as providing a platform that is hooked into what Williams and Srnicek will term ‘The Network’: as a ‘megastructure’ the stack becomes a cartographic device that incorporates a normative standards based verticality, and a topographical layered organization of artificial and human components both every day and digital (see the essay for details).

Against the mapping provided by Bratton she proposes an alternative she terms the ‘Red Stack’ – a new nomos for a post-capitalist commons (390). To do this she tells us we must engage three aspects of the socio-technical systems of innovation: virtual money, social network, and bio-hypermedia. Citing authors as diverse as Christian Marazzi (money as a series of signs), Antonio Negri (money as an abstract machine), Maurizio Lazzaroto (money as both exchange and as investment in alternate futures), and Andrea Fumagalli – who will ask if the money being created in the digital realms (i.e., bitcoins, etc.) as experiments in alternative exchanges offer a way to “promote investment in post-capitalist projects and facilitate freedom from exploitation, autonomy of organizations, etc.? (392). She affirms the central role that algorithms will play as both creators of virtual money and its possible, and politically inclined agent (390). A place within any plan will need to incorporate these virtual monies as part of the subjectivation process in the creation of productive subjectivities that are open toward the “empowering of social cooperation” (390).

Social networks and social plug-ins are so prevalent and use a complex set of data structures and algorithms that support the interactions within these spaces that to circumvent the strictures of capitalist modes with post-capitalist modes of use will entail both the organization of resistance and revolt, but at the same time the need for creating new social modes of self-creation and self-information. These at the moment are aligned with notions of autonomy and singularity, but could instead be linked to form new collectives, new assemblages that within the red stack would hijack existing social networks and repurpose them to promote a distributed platform for learning and education, fostering and nurturing new competencies and skills, fostering planetary connections, and developing new ideas and values (395).

Coined by Giorgio Griziotti bio-hypermedia touches on that interface between bodies and those technological devices that have become our intimate connections to the world of relations. As devices are miniaturized and mobilized, as apps become the downloadable extensions to this world of relations, we begin to enter what are becoming less virtual and more actual ‘code spaces’ as software moves from the desktop to the everyday world of objects. More and more we are in the infosphere rather like fish in the ocean, swimming in information and communications that swirl around us like so many schools of fish. As she describes it these new “spatial ecosystems emerging at the crossing of the ‘natural’ and the artificial allow for the activation of a process of chaosmotic co-creation of urban life” (396). Rather than being subsumed within the networks of consumption and surveillance as in the neoliberal order, the new post-capitalist world will open up a new ‘imaginary’ and make room for alternative forms of hardware design and applications for these collective social devices (396).

In conclusion she offers the notion that algorithms will be the base of any ongoing construction project for the commons. Not only will algorithms be a central component within The Network but will open new potentialities for postneoliberal modes of governance and postcapitalist modes of production (397). It will entail nothing less than a takeover of the very infrastructures of the current corporatized internet and repurposing it toward an open egalitarian social system that is no longer based on monetization and privatization, but rather provide a way out of the neoliberal order of debt, austerity, and accumulation (397). She tells us this is not a pipe-dream but a “program for the constituent social algorithms of the common” (397).

—————————-

In Part Two: Section Four I’ll open up toward the essays of  Luciana Parisi who deals with the speculative reason in the Age of the Algorithm. Then we’ll move on to Reza Negarestani, Ray Brassier, Benedict Singleton and Patricia Reed; along, with a final gambit or rebuttal from Nick Land in his Teleoplexy: Notes on Acceleration within this same volume.

—————————–

Next post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Automate Architecture

Previous post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Cyberlude

1. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
2. Scott, James C. (1998-03-30). Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (The Institution for Social and Policy St) (Kindle Locations 5777-5781). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
3. The Probabilistic Revolution. Two Volumes. Editors: Lorenz Kruger, Gerd Gigerenzer, and Mary S. Morgan (MIT Press, 1987)
4. Dyson, George (2012-03-06). Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (Kindle Locations 633-636). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section Two

The utopian currents of socialism, though they are historically grounded in criticism of the existing social system, can rightly be called utopian insofar as they ignore history …, but not because they reject science.”

     – Guy Debord,  Society of the Spectacle

“…the best Utopias are those that fail the most comprehensively.”

– Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future

But what of the history of the future? – Has anyone written of that territory beyond the moment: of its struggles or its failures; and, what of its successes? Who will mention a nostalgia for the future? Jameson would ask the question of culture: whether culture could be political; that is, whether it could be both critical and subversive, or is it necessarily reappropriated and coopted by the very social system it seeks to escape?1 Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding will remark in their Histories of the Future a sense of loss, saying, “our sense of the future is conditioned by a knowledge of, and even a nostalgia for, futures that we have already lost.”2

One remembers the Japenese film Battle Royale (2000) where civilization is in state of chaos, and violence by rebellious teenagers in schools is completely out of control. The government hits back with a new law: every year a school class picked at random will be cast away on a desert island to fight it out among themselves. The rules are simple: it lasts three days, everyone gets water, food and a weapon and only one may survive.

Ghost in the Shell (1995): Set in the year 2029 and following World Wars III and IV, a Japanese-led Asian block dominates world affairs. The alliance maintains its international supremacy through its elite security force whose cybernetically enhanced operatives tackle an array of hi-tech terrorists and other threats to international security. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cybernetically augmented female agent, has been tracking a virtual entity known as the Puppet Master with her crack squad of security agents.

The Giver (2015): One of the big components of the 1993 novel was that, due to the Sameness of society, there was no war, no hunger, but also, no color. The receptors had been blocked, as it were, and we all saw the world in a plain, black and white. A place where euthanasia became the remedy for almost all infractions.

More and more the future becomes a site where we can dump civilizations dirty little secrets rather than as a place to test the waters of change. While we are taught to believe in the emptiness of the future, or even that no future exists, or that the future is a dead end going no-where, or, even – a catastrophe zone best left in the abyss of its own death knell, we all now live as if the future were already here: saturated by future-consciousness that permeates the spectacle around us like so many electronic toys we seem to busy ourselves with, moment by moment, not knowing that we are not only using them but they are using us back in ways beyond telling. As Rosenberg-Harding relate the “Future” is a placeholder, a placebo, a no-place, but it is also a commonplace that we need to investigate in all its cultural and historical density (9).

Cataclysms – The Future has been Cancelled

Yes, cataclysms: climate change; terminal resource depletion – water and energy shortages; mass starvation; famine; economic collapse; hot and cold wars; austerity and governmental control (Fascism); privatization of welfare and prisons; automation of even the cognitariat itself. All this will be the opening gambit of Williams and Srnicek’s #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics. A Politics of Fear? or, Concern? Let us listen: “While crisis gathers force and speed, politics withers and retreats. In this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been cancelled.” Caput! Finito! Done! The future is no more, or is it?

Antonio Negri – scholar of Spinoza, collaborator along with Michael Hardt on a trilogy of works against the neoliberal order Empire, Multitude: War and Democracy in an Age of Empire, and Commenwealth – will tell us not to be worried about the cataclysmic events coming our way: “There is nothing politico-theological here. Anyone attracted by that should not read this manifesto.” Simple. Effective. To the point. If your looking for the Apocalypse of John be our guest and find a preacher in your local parish, for there will be no one here preaching salvation by God or any other big Other. Instead Negri will hone in on the core truth to be found in this manifesto revealed as ‘the increasing automation in production processes, including the automation of “intellectual labor”‘, which would explain the secular crisis of capitalism (365).3 As Negri explicates it the neoliberal global order is afraid: to continue they had to “block the political potentiality of post-Fordist labor (i.e., the inforgs, cognitariat, intellectual workers). Neither the left nor the right will escape Williams and Srnicek’s derision, both have become a part of the neoliberal machine because both have put an end to any opening toward the future: canceled by the “imposition of a complete paralysis of the political imaginary (366).” Negri states it simply that the manifesto offers us nothing less than the potentiality against power – “biopolitics against biopower“.(366) It is because of this new potentiality that the future has opened up again, says Negri: “the possibility of an emancipatory future radically opposed to the present capitalist dominion” (366).

For Negri the manifesto hinges on the “capacity to liberate the productive forces of cognitive labor” (366), cognitive labor being the new class or precariat within this post-capitalist project. The Fordist era of labor has shifted, there will be no return. For better or worse we are in the midst of an immaterial informational economy in which the cognitariat are workers of knowledge rather that producers of hard commodities, intellectual laborers in a game of tech patents both medical-pharmaceutical and science-tech. Negri tells us that to move forward will take decisive planning and organization: – “planning the struggle comes before planning the production” (369). It’s about unleashing this power of cognitive labor as well as tearing it from its latency (its delays) through education and learning. Next comes – as Negri states it, the most important passage in the manifesto, the notion of the reappropriation of “fixed capital” under its many guises: “productive quantification, economic modeling, big data analysis, and the most abstract cognitive models are all appropriated by worker-subjects…” (370). As for a new Leftist hegemony or techno-social body he tells us: “we have to mature the whole complex of productive potentialities of cognitive labor in order to advance a new hegemony” (371).

Negri commends them for a reinvigorating the Enlightenment project, for their humanist and Promethean proclivities; and even sees a tendency in their work as opening out toward posthuman utopian thought; yet, most of all he approves their movement toward reconstructing the future – one in which we “have the possibility of bringing the Outside in, to breathe a powerful life into the Inside” (372). Yet, I wonder if Negri reads them aright: are they humanists in the old sense? And, what of the Enlightenment: which Enlightenment is he referring too, there being multiple or plural enlightenments? I assume, Negri being a Spinozaean scholar – that he’d be more in tune with the “radical enlightenment” – as Jonathan I. Israel will tells us “the Radical Enlightenment arose and matured in under a century, culminating in the materialistic and atheistic books of La Mettrie and Diderot in the 1740s. These men, dubbed by Diderot the ‘Nouveaux Spinosistes’, wrote works which are in the main a summing up of the philosophical, scientific, and political radicalism of the previous three generations” (6-7).4 Yet, by the time of Kant a more moderate Enlightenment would oust the radicals from there place in the sun, and a compromise with the traditionalist or conservatives would be the ruination of French Revolution in the end: “Insofar as anything did, the coup of Brumaire of the Year VIII (November 1799), and the new Constitution of 13 December 1799, ended the Revolution. …The 1799 Constitution, in short, effectively suspended the Rights of Man, press freedom, and individual liberty, as well as democracy and the primacy of the legislature, wholly transferring power to initiate legislation from the legislature to the executive, that is, the consulate, making Bonaparte not just the central but the all-powerful figure in the government. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was removed from its preambule. (Israel, 694).

After Negri’s initial praise of the manifesto he discovers a flaw: “there is too much determinism in this project, both political and technological” (373). He sees a difficulty in their project, a tendency toward teleological openness which might lead to perverse effects in the end, producing a “bad infinity” if not corrected (373). To correct this tendency he suggests they need to specify in details what the “common” is in any technological assemblage, while at the same time providing an anthropology of production(375). Having been subsumed within a global information economy, one in which production is now defined by the socialization of cognitive work and social knowledge, we must also understand, Negri tells us that informatization being the most valuable form of fixed capital, and automation the cement of capital, we are all slowly being enfolding by “informatics and the information society back into itself” (375). He remarks that this is a weakness within the manifesto in that the cooperative dimension of production (and particularly the production of subjectivities) is underestimated in relation to technological criteria (375).

He argues that in the future the battles will be over the “currency of the common” (i.e., money as a type: gold, bitcoin, dollar, etc.). As he tells it the “communist program for a postcapitalist future should be carried out on this terrain, not only by advancing the proletarian reappropriation of wealth, but by building a hegemonic power – thus working on the ‘common’ that is at the basis of both the highest extraction/abstraction of value from labor and its universal translation into money” (377).

Finally, Negri reminds us that we should remember what the slogan ‘Refusal of labor’ meant: a reduction in automation and labor time “disciplined or controlled by machines”, and an increase in real salaries. Last is the nod toward a favorite theme of Negri: the production of subjectivities, the “agonistic use of passions, and the historical dialectics that opens against capitalist and sovereign command” (378). All in all a favorable review by Negri. I do like that he wants to see in the manifesto more details concerning its mapping of a transformative anthropology of the workers’ bodies (373), one that centers the relation between subject and object as a relation between the “technical composition and the political composition of the proletariat”. As Negri states it in this way the “drift of pluralism into a ‘bad infinity’ can be avoided” (374).

In the end though Negri will remind us that we need a new ‘currency of the common’: that the authors of the manifesto are well aware that money functions as an abstract machine (Deleuzeguattari) – acts as the real measurement of value extracted from society through the real subsumption of the current society by capital (377). Yet, this same process used by capital also points to new forms of resistance and subversion: “the communist program for a postcapitalist future should be carried out on this terrain, not only by advancing the proletarian reappropriation of wealth, but by building a hegemonic power – thus working on ‘the common’ that is at the basis of both the highest extraction/abstraction of value from labor and its universal translation of money” (377).

In a brief Cyberlude we’ll revisit Nick Land’s ‘Circuitries’ essay in the reader before moving on to Tizaianna Terranova and Luciana Parisi who both deal with the new algorithmic worlds of culture and technology and their impact on an accelerationist politics.

Previous post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section One

Next post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Cyberlude

1. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future (Verso, 2005)
2. Histories of the Future. Editors Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding. (Duke University Press, 2005)
3. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
4. Israel, Jonathan I. (2001-02-08). Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (pp. 6-7). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part One

“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,  Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

“How does thought think the death of thinking?”
– Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound Enlightenment and Extinction

 

Is there something beyond this meaningless void of internal and external degradation, this nihilistic dance of temporality, this decadent history of ruins named for no other reason than for its sheer unfathomability – late capitalism? Even Janus that Roman god of transitions, beginnings and endings, change and time once broke time’s sway on those bone days opening his gates wide: a gatekeeper holding the keys to the present, past and future, for whom the dog days of war once revealed the future situated on the knife’s edge like some temptation to a virulent annihilation? Even he could not fathom this alien force accelerating toward us from an unbounded future.

Samuel Beckett would bring those imponderables Estragon and Pozzo together to ambush language and silence, noise and sound. Godot like that big Other that seems to forever hold “our future in his hands” never appears, and in fact vanished from the scene long ago; or, like all twisted myths, became the face of our own desires rather than some dark progenitor of our wants and needs. Estragon would remark: “We are all born mad. But some remain so.” But what happens after madness? Do we all wake up and become happy consumers?

We’ve become the precarious migrants of an informational global economy that knows no borders and seeks to control not the material, but rather the immaterial goods of this new native realm, the infosphere, where the virtual elite put on the happy face of hypercynicism and nihilism and migrate right along with the multitude into the dark fiberous worlds of the net like cybernaifs rather than troubadours of some sonic rave or retromania. The corporate mesh begins to weave its dark threads through the tunnels of the net seeking ways of coercing its denizens into the fold of its economic clutches. Unlike the good old days of fictional cyber cowboys – roaming the lightlanes of a virtual or libidinal economy like so many escape artists – in search of the ultimate prize of a hacker’s paradise beyond control, our late capitalist worlds seem less colorful yet more dangerous as both governments and corporations reappropriate in advanced intelligence systems to do their bidding as AI extras in some accelerating retro-reel from the future. These new cognitariats look more like staid corporate climbers rather than the lock-and-load jacket boys of former cyberpunk machine dreams from the likes of Gibson, Sterling, or Cadigan.  We of the minor proletariat, service workers in a lost rodeo, live in a zombieland of stagflation where slow time meets time-famines and the future is a no way exit toward noman’s land rather than expeditionary force of some socialist revolt.

In an age when software code and the inherent algorithms within its confines can datablast trillions of bits in mere seconds,  while “high-frequency trading programmers” construct the next systems for corporate snooping and hacking, shading off millions of trades a millisecond ahead of their human counterparts who blink an eye and lose the market in a financial meltdown of fabricated black swans.1 Our techno-futurists on the Left and Right advance theories of acceleration and speed to set the information age adrift in the simultaneous light of tremendous forces that seem to be imploding toward us out of some inhuman future we neither expected nor imagined in our wildest nightmares. Like infonauts in some mathematical virtual ride we inhabit artificial realms of the infosphere as inforgs – informational organisms – like wind-up toys from some vision of the Jetsons CIRCA. 3232. Those scholars who would bind us to the straightjackets of Marx and Freud, Lacan or Heidegger, or any number of other flavors of the month pomo blather or speculative realism that comes to mind, find themselves in the nostalgic tempo of their philosophical forbears rhythmically wishing that it was all as simple as Marx once said it was: class warfare. But Marx never met a transhumanist, nor his alternate – an AI robot wandering the corporate headquarters of Google, or some Japanese executive’s dreamsuit serving cocktails to the elite oligarchs of a new technocapitalism.

In Spirit and Teeth Nick Land would give us a history of the world left out of your history books. A history that lives below the threshold of all those civilized barbarians that haunt our postmodern landscapes of late capitalism. Instead his history wakens the nightmares, the energies of blood and tribal wisdom, of the mythic underbelly that all those positivist scientists and philosophers tried to escape through their ever so subtle purification of the bittersweet linguistic web of lies that bind us all across the Vulcan codes of our dark arcologies. “The migrant blocks of tension summarized in the Freudian unconscious are much less a matter of Oedipus than of the mongols; of those who feed the world of spirit to their horses as they inundate civilization like a flood. If the unconscious is structured like a language it is only because language has the pattern of a plague.”2 We are the plague, the zombie extinction pact, the apocalyptic core of that inhuman kernel of the code/space that keeps returning from its repressive distance in the living cells of those genetic monstrosities of our becoming futures, our habitations among the feral citizens of some lapidary nightworld.

Like those characters in a J.G. Ballard story or novel we’ve become voyeurs of our own desires rather than participants, devoid of emotion we walk the lightworlds of our cities like imitations of false desires in search of death rather than love. Apathetic, alienated, distrustful of an other’s gaze, we’d rather slit their throats than make love to them. Our children imitate our false desires and literally enact them in all their murderous purity, traveling to those sites of their betrayed memories that seek to obliterate every trace of the horror of their existence, gathering the black metal nightmares from their victims hearts like so many skulls from a head hunter in the Amazonian forests to appease neither their god nor death itself, but rather to show off like so many trophies in honor of their father – the Promethean, whose fire branded them so long ago. Yet, we are wrong, this is not some powerful sky god but rather a god of rats and sewers,  of plagues and toxic amphitheaters, nightspawn of a terrible force that bores its way into civilization from an inhuman future, itself leaving nothing behind but the tattered bloodsheaves of a forgotten order of chaos in its wake.

Yet, there are those of late who have invoked that old liberator of the human animal, Prometheus, at once Titan and Trickster, master of fire and industry the true progenitor of commerce and the dark forethought, the cunning man’s guide to the sun and life’s force in the magic of fire and intelligence. In those great myths from ancient Greece in Hesiod, Homer, Pindar, and Pythagoras we learn that this trickster god survived the great generational battles between the Titans and the Sky Gods their children. Prometheus would trick the great Zeus in a simple but effective match of wits based on the appeal of the eye and stomach, forcing mighty Zeus to choose between two offerings in celebration of his victory over the Titans: one offering encompassed by bones hiding within a delicacy of meats, the other a sumptuous exterior feast of fats hiding within bones. Zeus blinded by his lust for appetitive pleasures chose the latter, while Prometheus reserved the former for his new creation: humanity. Besides giving humans fire he would also teach them the arts of civilization, such as writing, mathematics, agriculture, medicine, science, and commerce.

From Aeschylus down to the Renaissance and on to Goethe, Shelley and his sister, Mary, Prometheus would serve as a figure of light bearing truth and power for humanity. Yet, it would be in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein A Modern Prometheus that the myth would take on its darker hues for an emerging industrial society. In her version of the Promethean mythos it would be science and technology that would supervene rather than mythical gods in the creation of the first artificial life-form, giving us for the first time the central mythos of the technological sublime that would encompass the new era of a mechanized society based on Capitalism. Neither deterministic nor complete the sciences would infiltrate every aspect of modernity from the Enlightenment onward, its combination of technicity and an impersonal objectivity devoid of personal bias would inform the rational views of many; yet, underneath its rational exterior would be those hidden monsters, the humans themselves who wielded these new instruments of power as they dissected and constructed their new worlds of technology for an Industrial Elite.

Throughout history there have been a few misfits, vagabonds, visionaries, and intellectual outsiders who have penetrated to the core of the noumenal and brought back tales of this strange realm. For the most part these creatures have been misplaced, forgotten, castigated, and even pronounced insane by a society that conforms to a notion of security and safety that disallows heretical thought and opinion. From time to time such individuals arise in our midst and perturb the smooth waters of civilized life with their extreme visions of excess, transposing from those impenetrable realms signs and portents of other modes of being that we dare attempt in our self-inflicted slavery to an ideological reality that binds us all in its dark power. Once in a while certain individuals attempt the impossible and in their experiments with reality they discover long lost truths that shatter our conceptions of what it means to be human. What happens after is the need to put such visions to pen and paper, to somehow convey the richness of these felt worlds in words that might if not describe then at least transpose their figural limits through the medium of print.

One such vision came from a particular individual who dared to look chaos in the face and return with a few tattered stories. His name was Nick Land.

Nick Land – Fire and Ice: From Acceleration to Neoreaction

The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.3

We shall call this the Myth of Accelerationism. It’s lineage would be sought among economics of Karl Marx, satires of Samuel Butler, cosmist cosmologies of Nikolai Fedorov, dynamo writings of Henry Adams, and the sociology of leisure class Americans in Thorstein Veblen. Yet, it would be in the philosophical and schizo-analytical work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus, along with its complicit critique and satirization in Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, we’d discover the Promethean desires revealed most prominently bearing strange signs from the future, machinic dreams and chaosophy cartographies full of diagrams and magical sigils, forcasting chromatic time-famines and massive disruptions of the technospheric worlds fragmenting and merging with ours as neoliberalism became the guiding mythos of the economic death plot guiding our post-modern age. Land would remark in Meltdown parenthetically: “Machinic Synthesis. Deleuzoguattarian schizoanalysis comes from the future.” (KL 6052) These future historians return with news of meltdowns and accelerated heat phases as we move toward the bindu point of some singularity in which “Nothing human makes it out of the near-future.”(KL 6063) We’ll come to these new prophets of the accelerating future soon enough.1

In that Deleuzoguattarian fold Land would discover what he needed when they asked the question Where 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 reversal of the fascist ‘economic solution’? Or might it 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 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.3

As Land would remark on this acceleration of deterritorialization: “Hyper-fluid capital deterritorializing to the planetary level divests the first world of geographic privilege; resulting in Euro-American neo-mercantilist panic reactions, welfare state deterioration, cancerizing enclaves of domestic underdevelopment, political collapse, and the release of cultural toxins that speed-up the process of disintegration in a vicious circle” (KL 6127). Do we see the eternal return as process running its dark Nietzschean core into ever smaller circles of collapsing density, an anti-authoritarian meltdown that Land himself would label by such tags as “cyberian invasion, schizotechnics, K-tactics, bottom-up bacterial warfare, efficient neo-nihilism, voodoo antihumanism, synthetic feminization, rhizomatics, connectionism, Kuang contagion, viral amnesia, micro-insurgency, wintermutation, neotropy, dissipator proliferation, and lesbian vampirism, amongst other designations (frequently pornographic, abusive, or terroristic in nature)” (KL 6130-6134). The Future was never more friendly than this.

Land himself after the explosion of the 90’s, the cyberdelia of a career darkening as late capitalism darkened toward some mythical beast, would renounce his last affiliations with the left’s ‘transcendental miserabilism’, and would bore his way through the shizoscapes and into a new sense of mission, riding the waves of a neoreactionary positing of annihilation toward the neo-liberal Cathedral instead. As Mackay and Brassier tell us “the apparent degeneration of his once scalpel-sharp dissection of the body of capitalism into schizophrenizing and repressive tendencies, may seem to dissolve the complexities of his work into a superlative cosmic version of the familiar neo-liberal narrative according to which ‘there is no alternative’, and the wholesale identification of capital with life, growth, and history”(KL 719-723), but they’d be wrong for Land would rise among the ashes and ruins of his former self and into the neoreactionary pluriverse where he’d find a “time-crisis, manifested through paradox” that (following Anomaly UK) Land would explicate as:

Ultimately, however, if after all these centuries of trying to improve society based on abstract ideas of justice have only made life worse than it would have been under pre-Enlightenment social systems, the time has come to simply give up the whole project and revert to traditional forms whose basis we might not be able to establish rationally, but which have the evidence of history to support them.

This understanding of neoreaction – undoubtedly capturing its predominant sentiment – equates it with a radicalized Burkean conservatism, designed for an age in which almost everything has been lost. Since the progressive destruction of traditional society has been broadly accomplished, hanging on to what remains is no longer enough. It is necessary to go back, beyond the origin of Enlightenment, because Reason has failed the test of history. (Neoreaction for dummies).

But we have to ask the simple question: Did Reason fail us, or did we fail Reason? How can nostalgia for a pre-Enlightenment world begin to assuage the complexities of this market world of late capitalism? What moral drift from the other ends of time will salvage us from this lethal and toxic system that is itself a product of the very pre-Enlightenment traditionalism? Oh, yes, we think we’re progressive but under the hood is the same old conservative smile parading in its hidden lair like old gentrified denizens of a Dicken’s novel. Nostalgia? More like white men in wigs sporting princely ambitions of sovereignty. In the end Land steered his ship to farther shores (literally in this case since he now lives in Shanghai) where he’d sing of the dark enlightenment, where for “hardcore neo-reactionaries, democracy is not merely doomed, it is doom itself. Fleeing it approaches an ultimate imperative. The subterranean current that propels such anti-politics is recognizably Hobbesian, a coherent dark enlightenment, devoid from its beginning of any Rousseauistic enthusiasm for popular expression.”

The dark embers still burn in this Promethean but within another universe of power where like some shamanic infonaut he prognosticates his dithyrambs on urban culture and the xenonomic ramblings for the new hotspurs of the neoreaction. As Mackey and Brassier – speaking of his philosophical divigations will tell us of his older pre-neoreactionary world visions: “…what we retain of Land’s expeditions are diverse and scattered remnants… These are also tools or weapons; arrows that deserve to be taken up again and sharpened further.” (KL 747-749) I’d rather think of Land as an alien psychonaut whose explorations or investigations from the outside in bring tidings from an even more alien future, one where humans have become if anything irrelevant. For Land we live in a transitional space in which time-famines rule the day, where humans are transmigrating by way escape velocities they neither control nor understand while an imploding future accelerates toward them like so many thoughts of death and annihilation.

A Short History of the Future Perfect

Benjamin Noys would be one of the first to rediscover or resuscitate accelerationism, “a term I’ve coined (unless someone out there proposed it w/o my knowledge) to describe the kind of strategy beautifully conveyed here. In a sense it has a fairly impeccable pedigree as one of the “spirits” of Marx, especially the oft-quoted passage from the Manifesto on “all that’s solid melts into air”. He’d go on to say: “this is “an exotic variant of la politique du pire: if capitalism generates its own forces of dissolution then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better. We can call these positions accelerationist.” 5 Instead of Deleuze and Guattari, or even Land, Noys would find his version of accelerationism in Brecht and Lyotard. Saying of Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy “the book of accelerationism, puts it: “in the immense and vicious circuit of capitalist exchanges, whether of commodities or ‘services’, it appears that all the modalities of jouissance are possible and that none is ostracized.” 

Yet, for Noys this was all a piece of a mythical cultural complex that grew out of a misguided non-history. Recently he tells us that there is a vacation – in the sense of vacating the building, of accelerationism by those within the camp:

“The rejection of the term “accelerationism” from within accelerationism is a result of it being freighted with modernist and futurist baggage, too associated with the notion of accelerating capitalism, and linked to the toxic politics of, take your pick, fascism or Nick Land’s embrace of the neo-reactionary. The implication is that instead of acceleration we might think in terms of cartography, redesign, cunning, or various other descriptions of retooling and reinvention.6

It appears that accelerationism may have already seen its 15 minutes of fame. For Noys it was always more about the moment, the present moment: “The embrace of the present is the only route to saving the future and the only true exit from our present moment.”(ibid. 2014)  He is “or to be rather vague on how and when they will be repurposed.” (ibid. 2014) Noys himself admits that he’s done with accelerationism as formulated and opts for a return to “the necessity of class struggle emerging out of the negativity of this process of the incorporation (and abandonment) of living labour in capital.” (ibid. 2014) But this is to get ahead of ourselves. Noys leaves off where the others begin.

“Capital has run away from human and natural barriers; human beings have been domesticated: this is their decadence. The revolutionary solution cannot be found in the context of a dialectic of productive forces where the individual would be an element of the contradiction. Present day scientific analyses of capital proclaim a complete disregard for human beings who, for some, are nothing but a residue without consistency. This means that the discourse of science is the discourse of capital, or that science is possible only after the destruction of human beings; it is a discourse on the pathology of the human being. And on this we agree: the human being is dead. The only possibility for another human being to appear is our struggle against our domestication, our emergence from it. Humanism and scientism … are two expressions of the domestication of humanity. All those who nurse the illusion of the decadence of capital revive ancient humanist conceptions or give birth to new scientific myths. They remain impermeable to the revolutionary phenomenon running through our world.” So says Jaques Camatti in ‘The Decline of Humanity’, a work which would turn the tables on its master, Marx, and understand the revolutionary moment as a revolt not against capital in itself but rather against the very product of capitalism: the domesticated animal at its heart, the human as a product of humanism and science; the very truth of an animal as decaying agent of its own self-enslavement and passivity in the face of accelerating forces it neither understands nor could ever master nor tame, but rather is forced to abide by its onslaught like the automatons of some machinic unconscious out of control. It would seem that there is no exit. Capital holds us all in serial thrall. Yet, Camatte would like Kafka’s mole bid us with a truth: “Lying in my heap of Earth I can naturally dream of all sorts of things, even of an understanding with the beast, though I know well enough that no such thing can happen, and at the moment when we see each other, more, at that instant we merely guess at each other’s presence, we shall both blindly bare our claws and teeth, neither of us a second before or after the other, both of us filled with a new and different hunger, even if we should already be gorged to bursting.” One cannot escape the circle one can only radicalize it.

The neoliberal agent is the marker of what Jean Baudrillard would once term the perfect crime, a crime that would go unnoticed by all those sleepers dead and dying within its precincts. For we are those dead, we are the ghosts of humanism and science, the fallen ones, the zombies of capital who wander the streets like sheep seeking hedonistic pleasures to stay ourselves against the disturbances of an eternal night. Baudrillard in his fable of mirrors would tell it: “We dreamed of passing through the looking-glass, but it is the mirror peoples themselves who will burst in upon our world. And ‘this time will not be defeated'” (JB: The Perfect Crime, 150).

The Manifesto Kids: The Future Is No More, Long Live The Future

“Modernity invented the future, but that’s all over. In the current version ‘progressive history’ camouflages phylogenetic death-drive tactics, Kali-wave: logistically accelerating condensation of virtual species extinction. Welcome to the matricide laboratory. You want it so badly it’s a slow scream in your head, deleting itself into bliss.”

     – Nick Land, Fanged Noumena

“A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts.”

     – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation

Instead of asking what accelerationism is we begin by asking: What does accelerationism want? What hides under the mask of accelerationism? Mark Fisher in Terminator vs Avatar begins his essay with a quote from Lyotard which attacks bourgeois intellectuals (of which he cannot be excluded) for inclining toward the proletariat as if they could speak truth to them or offer them a program or alternative beyond what the capitalists have already put into play. Most of all Lyotard reminds those political intellectuals with a truth from the proletariat: “…don’t wait for our spontaneity to rise up in revolt either” (#Accelerationism, 357).

This anti-Leninist notion that social revolution can and should occur spontaneously from below, without the aid or guidance of a vanguard party, and that it cannot and should not be brought about by the actions of individuals or parties who might attempt to foment such a revolution was at the heart of Lenin’s own attack against Rosa Luxemberg and others in What is to be done? Lyotard is of course parodying this whole tradition to make a point of his own: “Let me open a parenthesis of hatred, here, a word will suffice against the great cesspool of consolations called spontaneity and creativity…”.7 Of course he was attacking Cornelius Castoriadis for his installation of spontaneity as creativity: “…we broke with Castoriadis who, rightly bored with reassessing historical, dialectic and diarrhoetic materialism, nevertheless proposed to put in its place the abominable super-male thing of generalized creativity” (Lyotard, 116). Castoriadis for his own part would offer later on his own view of capitalist accelerationism (although not by that name), saying:

Far from having the “freedom” naively presupposed by the apologists of neoliberal ideology, the unchecked consumer is plunged into a world of unbridled conformism and actually ends up thinking and acting in strict accordance with what the institution calls for.  Heteronomy thereby establishes its hegemony in the heart of the  supposed freedom of unlimited consumerism. Moreover, the dominant imaginary signification of unlimited expansion becomes a vortex in which other significations disappear, leading to an overall atrophy of the imagination and a retreat of creativity in all fields (philosophy, art, science, etc.). Insignificance comes to saturate almost everything in a determined world of blind narcissism and hedonism orchestrated by the Eleatic fatalities of neoliberalism.8

In the above we notice the acceleration of consumerism in a void, a void that produces as its product the emptied consumer, the insignificant blank in a commoditized solipsistic circuit of revolving doors going nowhere, a conformity or adaptation to the market rather than the market to the free and creative, autonomous individual. The touted individual has long ago vanished and in his place is the Cipher almost in collusion with Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We: “All ciphers walked in measured rows, by fours, rapturously keeping step. Hundreds and thousands of ciphers, in pale bluish uniforms, with gold badges on their chests, indicating the state-given digits of each male and female.”9 Of course this Maoist sort of conformism in the West is replaced with the conformity of Wal-mart with its standardized duplications of goods and services to the lowest common denominator: cheap. Let’s keep the folk happy: a market populism that allows the consumer freedom at the lowest price, bargain basement specials and a life at the bottom assured for all. The human as cipher, insignificant except as a commoditized product and producer of insignificance: a market scion in a circular economy of expansion and contraction, acceleration and deceleration without end. No longer the affective creature of humanism who supports an autonomous identity and morality, rather a mindless zombie given to narcissistic and hedonistic pulsations at the mercy of the market elite who feed his pleasure zones with instant gratification and incentives.

Lyotard of course would have his own notion of accelerationism. He’d play it off the old industrial worlds of reproduction as “cosmic slow time”, the time of the “seed and its fruit, of the chicken and the egg, of gestation, and of dripping honey”(240). Against this he would offer the immaterial monetization of ‘signs’: “We go crazy in signs: they allow several times, many times, they are accelerators or brakes, just because they are not constrained to (re)production, that is to say to consumption, to nihilism” (240). Instead as he remarks:

Their multiplication issues not from their fertility, from the translation of their face-value into productive commodities, that is, from their investment; this is only a concentration of wealth on one pole of circulation, stolen from the other pole; these are only sweeping movements which exhaust the surfaces. These movements are free of the constraints of all productive consumption; they make possible the dissipation of the surfaces they cross.” (240)

It’s this threshold dissipation into chaos, into complexity beyond the requirements of even surplus value, a value beyond consumption that leads toward an unknown and unknowable future as maximal efficiency of the market economy itself that is accelerationism. As Lyotard suggests and questions: “Isn’t it also a call loan, a speculation without intention, an incandescence of the surfaces swept away with no concern either to reproduce them or to augment them, a jealous zeal and not a conquest of power? Certainly. The utterly immortal duplicity and dissimulation of all capitalization?” (241)

Against this backdrop Mark Fisher will revisit what Lyotard considered his “evil book”. As Fisher will point out Libidinal Economy along with Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, Luci Irigaray’s Speculum: Of the Other Woman, and Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death would all inhabit that space of resistance that seemed outside the prevalent channels of Marxist thought in its age. Each in their own way would renew a Nietzschean heritage marked out by Freud and/or against his influx and mediation of the Enlightenment project and its aftermath.

Fisher will offer his own quotes from Deleuze and Guattari and Lyotard respectively for precursors of accelerationism. He will also respectfully disincline himself from the Rousseauist primitivism of Hollywood Marxism and its kitsch gaudiness and iconic Avatar dreams of a return to some primal tribalism within the womb of a protective natural world, a paradise of guardian trees and endless days of play amid the Gaian lapidary of emerald forests and rivers of pure bliss. Instead Fisher plays the circuit board of the future, an accelerationism that harbors no way home only a way forward under the sign of libido, but not just any formulation will do rather “politics as a means to greater libidinal intensification… it’s a question of instrumentalising libido for political purposes” (#Acclerationism, 340).

This transcription of Nietzsche’s ‘Will-to-power’ as force, as libido or base materialism, an intensified and driven if not to say thanatropic movement operative within Lyotard, Grant, Land would lead to that enfolding from progressivist tendencies toward a reactionary intensification of those pulsations that Fisher describes as “telegraphic tech-punk provocations replacing the conspicuous cogitation of so much post-structuralist continentalism, with its implication that the more laborious and agonized the writing the more thought must be going on” (#Accelerationism, 341).

As Fisher points out Land in his attack on the academic and entrenched left “took earnestly … the Spinozist-Nietzschean-Marxist injunction that a theory should not be taken seriously if it remains at the level of representation” (#Accelerationism, 342). Fisher that asks: What is Land’s philosophy all about? In a nutshell it’s an inverted version of the historical materialist dialectic: “Capital will not be ultimately unmasked as exploited labor power; rather, humans are the meat puppets of Capital, their identities and self-understanding are simulations that can and will be ultimately sloughed off” (#Accelerationism, 342). So for Fisher Land’s cyber-heuristics, his experimentalism or hypermodernism moves us toward that information processing or modeling trajectory in which the end game is none other than the inhuman core of thought itself. Fisher will give us a litany of cyberpunk lit 101 from music to films, all informing an anticipated influx of the machinic future as dystopian paradise.

Then he will ask: What does all this have to do with the Left? On the one hand he tells us that Land is the sort of antagonist the Left needs, but on the other he criticizes Land for his misprisioning of his masters, Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of capitalism as a collapse into schizophrenic excess, rather what it truly masks is just the opposite: an anti-market, a realm where the promise a utopian speed of thought is inversely shown to be the controlled and constrained speed of business, and the touted innovation and creativity of the market economy hides instead its essential inertia and stasis (#Accelerationism, 345).

Ultimately, Fisher tells us its high time to leave the “logics of failed revolts, and to think ahead again” (346). What we need now more than ever he tells us is a combination of anti-capitalist strategies – of which, accelerationism is but a unique trajectory that can function as a “terroristic” core within Marxism against the stagflationism of current capitalist pressures: “What we are not talking about here is the kind of intensification of exploitation that a kneejerk socialist humanism might imagine when the specter of accelerationism is invoked” (345). Against any form of “cynicism and lawlessness” (Marx) we need to situate ourselves in the midst of Good and Evil that is this system, to radicalize it and intensify its pressure points and seek those gaps in its armor that will lead us toward a future that only we can construct out of the ruins of this present moment.

—————————

Part Two will continue…. here we’ll revisit Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s Manifesto for an Accelrationist Politics along with many other Prometheans in this new pantheon of philosophical speculation…

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section One is up now…

———————–

1. Lewis, Michael (2014-03-31). Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (p. 2). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
2. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
3. G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, tr. R. Hurley, M. Seem, H.R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 239-40.
4. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 2504-2506). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
5. Benjamin Noys. Accelerationism. (No Useless Leniency blog, 2008)
6. Benjamin Noys.  Abandoning Accelerationism? Two Exits.(Accelerationism Workshop, Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster (23 May 2014)
7. Jean Francois Lyotard. Libidinal Economy. (Indiana University Press, 1993)
8. Postscript on Insignificance: Dialogues with Cornelius Castoriadis (ed./trans. Gariel Rockhill and John V. Garner). Continuum, London 2011.
9. Zamyatin, Yevgeny (2007-12-18). We (Modern Library Classics) (pp. 6-7). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Techno-Futurism: Noise, Dissonance, and the Global Avante Garde

To enrich means to add, not to substitute or to abolish.
—Luigi Russolo, The Enharmonic Bow

“Noise,” as an idea, a subject, a field, an instrument, came upon the scene with a power and swiftness that transformed all of science and our views of the nature of matter. At birth, it solved the major issue of its time, perhaps, the greatest idea of all time—the existence of atoms.
– Richard Feynman

Luigi Russolo – La Musica 1911

There are sounds and they are of various kinds. Yet, noise has its own secret history, one connected to the 20th Century and its birth in the avante-garde of Italian Futurism. Luciano Chessa tells us in his Luigi Russolo, Futurist: Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult that Luigi Russolo (1885– 1947)— painter, composer, builder of musical instruments, and a member of the Italian futurist movement from its inception— represents a crucial moment in the evolution of twentieth-century musical aesthetics. He is generally considered the father of the first systematic poetics of noise and by some even the creator of the synthesizer, and his influence on the likes of Edgar Varèse, Pierre Schaeffer, and John Cage is well documented.1

As Luigi would tell us in his essay Art of Noises: “Ancient life was all silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibility of men. For many centuries life went by in silence, or at most in muted tones. The strongest noises which interrupted this silence were not intense or prolonged or varied. If we overlook such exceptional movements as earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, avalanches and waterfalls, nature is silent” (see Art of Noise).

Luigi would strike up the call of all modernisms to return to the streets, to enter the life of the dissonant matrix out of which all life emanates, to as Henry Miller so aptly put it:

To be born in the street means to wander all your life, to be free. It means accident and incident, drama, movement. It means above all dream. A harmony of irrelevant facts which gives to your wandering a metaphysical certitude. In the street you learn what human beings really are; otherwise, or afterwards, you invent them. What is not in the open street is false, derived, that is to say, literature. Nothing of what is called “adventure” ever approaches the flavor of the street. It doesn’t matter whether you fly to the Pole, whether you sit on the floor of the ocean with a pad in your hand, whether you pull up nine cities one after the other, or whether, like Kurtz, you sail up the river and go mad. No matter how exciting, how intolerable the situation, there are always exits, always ameliorations, comforts, compensations, newspapers, religions. But once there was none of this. Once you were free, wild, murderous….
– Henry Miller – Black Spring

Luigi himself would express it poignantly in his manifesto: “…let us cross a great modern capital with our ears more alert than our eyes, and we will get enjoyment from distinguishing the eddying of water, air and gas in metal pipes, the grumbling of noises that breathe and pulse with indisputable animality, the palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags. We enjoy creating mental orchestrations of the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din, from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning mills, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways.” This sense of the vibrancy of things, of the machinic presence of irritation and disruption, of noise as a source not of fear and disgust, but rather as the singular power of life churning away in the midst of our modern industrial world, the world of capitalism was at the heart of this strange turn toward noise. This was the moment just before the great engines of war would crash down over Europe bringing a new noise: a noise full of dread and defeat and death. This would be the regressive noise of fascism leading back into the dark primitive romanticism of terror and blood.

Above is Luigi with his Intonarumori which were a family of musical instruments he invented in 1913. They were acoustic noise generators that permitted to create and control in dynamic and pitch several different types of noises. Each instrument was made of a wooden parallelepiped sound box with a carton or metal speaker on its front side. The performer turned a crank or pressed an electric button to produce the sound whose pitch was controlled by means of a lever on top of the box. The lever could be moved over a scale in tones, semitones and the intermediate gradations within a range of more than an octave. Inside the box there were a wooden or metal wheel (whose shape or diameter varied depending on the model) that make a catgut or metal string vibrate. The tension of the string is modified by means of the lever allowing glissandos or specific notes. At one end of the string there is a drumhead that transmits vibrations to the speaker. There were 27 varieties of intonarumori with different names according to the sound produced: howling, thunder, crackling, crumpling, exploding, gurgling, buzzing, hissing and so on. (see Valerio Saggini Intonarumori)

We know that in 1914 he caused a riot after presenting his program using these multifarious instruments. The program comprised four “networks of noises” with the following titles:

  • Awakening of a City
  • Meeting of cars and aeroplanes
  • Dining on the terrace of the Casino and
  • Skirmish in the oasis

Luigi had high hopes for reintroducing the sensual element of everyday life into peoples lives through music, and especially through the dissonance and interruptions of noise. As he stated in the final sections of his famous manifesto:

Every manifestation of our life is accompanied by noise. The noise, therefore, is familiar to our ear, and has the power to conjure up life itself. Sound, alien to our life, always musical and a thing unto itself, an occasional but unnecessary element, has become to our ears what an overfamiliar face is to our eyes. Noise, however, reaching us in a confused and irregular way from the irregular confusion of our life, never entirely reveals itself to us, and keeps innumerable surprises in reserve. We are therefore certain that by selecting, coordinating and dominating all noises we will enrich men with a new and unexpected sensual pleasure.
– Luigi Russolo – Art of Noise

 

OUT OF NOISE: Futurism And Its Progeny

Franz Kafka admiring ironically the painting by Delaunay, Homage to Belriot, expressed this futurist ensemble with its singular and powerful image of the aeroplane and its caged rider, saying, “One can see his erect upper body above the wings; his legs extend deep down into the machine of which they have become part. The setting sun … shines on the floating wings.” He goes on to ask: “What is happening? Up there, 20 metres above the earth, a man is imprisoned in a wooden cage and defends himself against a freely chosen invisible danger. We, however, stand below, wholly caught up in a trance and watch this man.”2

This notion of being entranced, of being caught up in a trance would become central to both futurism and its hypertrance descendants from those like Eric Satie who would use what he termed found sound, on to the latest worlds of that began with such musicians a Lou Reed‘s double LP Metal Machine Music (1975); and, onward to the nine nights of noise music called Noise Fest that was organized by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in the NYC art space White Columns in June 1981 followed by the Speed Trials noise rock series organized by Live Skull members in May 1983; as wells as, the first postmodern wave of industrial noise music appearing with Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and NON (aka Boyd Rice); and, on to the portmanteau Japanoise, with perhaps the best known being Merzbow (pseudonym for the Japanese noise artist Masami Akita who himself was inspired by the Dada artist Kurt Schwitters‘s Merz art project of psychological collage); and, even, the ambient, microsound, or glitchdigital scene described by Kim Cascone as the “aesthetic of failure”3. One could add much more to this lineup of experimental music and sound cascades of noise culture, etc.

This is just a sampling of a world-wide scene that has even entered such notable additions as the Detroit techno scene – a type of techno music that generally includes the first techno productions by Detroit-based artists during the 1980s and early 1990s. Detroit techno artists include Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. A distinguishing trait of Detroit techno is the use of analog synthesizers and early drum machines, particularly the Roland TR-909, or, in later releases, the use of digital emulation to create the characteristic sounds of those machines.

But underlying all these variations is a the notion of noise itself. What is noise? Maybe a better question is – What does noise do? How does it enter our lives, what impacts does it have, how has noise shaped us since the advent of our hyper-technological society, and what repercussions has it had on our cultural and political worlds? In my own quest to understand the roots of fascism, and of its continuing impact on ideology across the planet through its various and secretive initiatives within the fabric of our global neo-liberal statist or global governance agendas, I’ve begun, along with my friend, Edmund Berger – Deterritorial Investigations Unit, both art and music as tools of the avant-garde of these many eras have impacted our lives even if we are not fully aware of that fact. The subtle enchainments of command and control that permeate our own surveillance society had their roots in this Era of Noise.

Deleuze and Guattari in their Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia would tells us that the “territorial machine is … the first form of socius, the machine of primitive inscription, the “megamachine” that covers a social field” (141). They would show us how the very underpinnings of history and society form the social machine that “fashions a memory without which there would be no synergy of man and his (technical) machines” (ibid. 141). For them capitalism was the final megamachine, the “semiautonomous organization of technical production the tends to appropriate memory and reproduction, and thereby modifies the forms of the exploitation of man” (ibid. 141).

Edmund Berger in a recent post Sound Hacking: Further Reflections on Noise and Noncommunication outlines an alliance between noise and noncommunication that gives us a detailed understanding of the economic and political implications of this history. As he tells it when we consider the notion of noise as an “aesthetic mode aligned with moments bound up in the emergence or production of new subjective processes” we must consider two aspects: first, the questions of the vibrational infrastructure of the noise itself: how is the noise produced, with what intensity or solemnity, how audible is the noise, how is it directed, from what distance is the noise traveling, how does the architecture impact the noise, how do the bodies in the proximity of the noise, be it those catalyzing it or those receiving it, react?”; and, secondly, the “points of cultural expression, a tapestry woven from but not limited to lifestyles, politics of class and sexuality, experience, subjective environments, and degrees of accessibility” (see here). He explains in detail these aspects so I’ll not go into them here, but recommend the reader to take a moment and read his post. At one point he admits that maybe this opening out of the futurists toward the sacred and irrational should not be condemned but reinvestigated:

Instead of condemning the desire to explore the otherwordly as escapism, we may do well to approach rationality from the perspective of Henri Lefebvre, who saw this force as one that has withered away the capacity for experience and intensity. “The mysterious, the sacred and the diabolical, magic ritual, the mystical – at first these things were lived with intensity.” … For Lefebvre, like Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, the machine of industrial produced an enclosure around everyday life which detached the individual and the group from a lived experience of authenticity (what these individuals analyzed was attacked by the countercultures of their time, with the resurrection of the shamanic and the esoteric coexisting alongside the more directed political aspirations of civil rights, the anti-war movement, and the greater hopes for a different age).  (here)

Michel Serres puts it, ‘we are surrounded by noise. And this noise it inextinguishable […] We are in the noises of the world, we cannot close our door to their reception’ (Serres, 2007, 126). For Serres, at least, noise comes before any meaningful system as its transcendental field, which is why noise can never be fully eliminated. In this perspective all living systems in their negentropy are temporary escapes from entropic noise, but escapes that are destined to failure by the laws of thermodynamics. In more aesthetic terms we might think of noise as ground, and meaning as figure, rising from the ground, but caught within its field in order to function . More basically, what any system necessarily excludes as noise are all the levels of organization above and below it that include its own conditions of possibility, hence the informational account of noise as a lack of organization being a state of fundamental distortion. Noise is indeed static or interference but not that of an unorganized chaos so much as patterns of organization alien to the norms of a specific system – that which Serres refers to as ‘the parasite’.4

As Cary Wolfe would describe it in his preface to Serres book The Parasite:

…“noise” (for the English reader) forms the third and unsuspected meaning of the French word parasite: 1. biological parasite ; 2. social parasite; 3. static or interference. As we know from classical information theory and its model of the signal-to-noise ratio, noise was typically regarded as simply the extraneous background against which a given message or signal was transmitted from a sender to receiver. For Serres, however, “as soon as we are two, we are already three or four.… In order to succeed, the dialogue needs an excluded third” [Genesis, 57); we may begin with “two interlocutors and the channel that attaches them to one another,” but “the parasite, nesting on the flow of the relation, is in third position” (53). For Serres, then— and here he joins a line of systems theorists that includes figures such as Gregory Bateson and, later, Niklas Luhmann— noise is productive and creative: “noise, through its presence and absence, the intermittence of the signal, produces the new system” (52). Or as Bateson puts it in the very last sentence of his seminal essay “Cybernetic Explanation” (1967): “All that is not information, not redundancy, not form and not restraints— is noise, the only possible source of new patterns.” 6 Luhmann helps clarify and develop the point in his major work, Social Systems (1984):

“The difference between meaning and world is formed for this process of the continual self-determination of meaning as the difference between order and perturbation, between information and noise. Both are, and both remain , necessary. The unity of the difference is and remains the basis for operation. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough. A preference for meaning over world, for order over perturbation , for information over noise is only a preference. It does not enable one to dispense with the contrary.”

This is exactly what Serres has in mind when he asserts in The Parasite that “systems work because they do not work. Nonfunctioning remains essential for functioning.” Given the basic informational and communicational paradigm of “two stations and a channel,” messages are exchanged, and “if the relation succeeds, if it is perfect, optimum, and immediate; it disappears as a relation. If it is there, if it exists, that means that it failed.” Thus, he continues, “Relation is nonrelation,” and if the channel that carries the message “disappears into immediacy,” then “there would be no spaces of transformation anywhere.” In this context his apparently paradoxical assertion that “the real is not rational” makes perfect sense (79).5

This opening out to the Real was at the heart of the later Lacan, who as Zizek tells us the “paradox of the Lacanian real is then that it is an entity which, although it doesn’t exist (in the sense of “really existing,” taking place in reality), has a series of properties. It exercises a certain structural causality; it can produce a series of effects in the symbolic reality of subjects” … He goes on to say:

If we define the real as such a paradoxical, chimerical entity which, although it doesn’t exist, has a series of properties and can produce a series of effects, it becomes clear that the real par excellence is jouissance: jouissance doesn’t exist; it is impossible, but it produces a lot of traumatic effects. And this paradoxical nature of jouissance offers us also a clue to explain the fundamental paradox which unfailingly attests the presence of the real: the fact of the prohibition of something which is already in itself impossible. (see The Lacanian Real: Television).

Zizek in another context in his book Less Than Nothing will describe how the noise of an interruption, and irritable recognition of its affects upon the mind causes a certain clarity of mind to develop:

…as soon as I talk to my sister— who is sitting and working behind me— about this matter, I realize what hours of hard thinking have not been able to make clear to me. It isn’t as if she was telling me in any direct sense. … But since I have some vague thoughts that are in some way connected with what I am looking for, then once I have embarked on the formulation of the thought it is as if the need to lead what has been begun to some conclusion transforms my hazy imaginations into complete clarity in such a way that my insight is completed together with my rambling sentence. I mix in inarticulate noises, I draw out my sentence connectives, I use appositions where they are not strictly necessary and I use other rhetorical tricks that will draw out speech : in this way I gain the time to fabricate my idea in this workshop of reason. …

Nothing in all this is more useful than some movement on the part of my sister, a movement indicating that she intends to interrupt me. For my strained mind becomes even more excited by the need to defend this inherent right to speak against attack from the outside. The mind’s abilities grow like those of a great general who is faced with a very difficult situation.6

This movement of interruption, the irritable expectation or influx of noise in the environment engenders an excitation in the brain, that engenders the very thought in its crystalline form that he was seeking through those many harmonious struggles through certain texts and thoughts. This notion that noise can engender order, bring a sense of clarity to thought and reason, force the mind to defend itself against this secret intruder, or parasite (Serres), seems an accurate portrayal of the shock of the Real that Lacan spoke of.

Greg Hainge will offer us an ontology of noise which “is immersive because there is nothing outside of it and because it is in everything”.7 Indeed, noise is not only multi-medial , arising in many different kinds of forms and media, engaging many different senses, sensations, responses and affects, it is medial insofar as it is always in-between, produced in the passing into actuality of everything, both animate and inanimate – a false dichotomy in any case as has been suggested. Noise, this is to say, is the trace of the virtual out of which all expressive forms come to be, the mark of an ontology which is necessarily relational:

If noise inhabits everything because everything is in actuality formed out of noise, then what noise ultimately points us to is the relational ontology according to which the world comes to pass, the way in which there is nothing that falls outside of the event, of the realm of process, of an existence formed only through the heterogeneous assemblages of different forms of expression which inescapably and incessantly contract the virtual into the actual.- (Hainge, ibid. KL -396)

This notion of expression rather than description brings us to the notion of an ontology of process as against an ontology of substance and objects, the sense that it is out of the Void in Zizek’s sense that things, entities, objects (the phenomenal realm) come to be. Yet, as he tells us “there need not be a split between the operations of noise as a philosophical concept and its manifestations in expression, that it is not necessary to separate out the ontological from the phenomenological” (Hainge, KL 578). Finally, he states:

Noise, then, makes us attend to how things come to exist, how they come to stand or be (sistere) outside of themselves (ex-). Noise, then, is fundamentally about ontology, and in order to sketch an operational taxonomy of noise, it is only fitting that each of the categories to be used should also address how things come to exist (-sistere). Let me then suggest the following:

  1. Noise resists – not (necessarily) politically but materially because it reconfigures matter in expression, conduction and conjugation.
  2. Noise subsists – insofar as it relates the event to the field from which expression is drawn and thus subtends all being.
  3. Noise coexists – as its ontology is only relational and does not come into being by itself but only as the by-product of expression.
  4. Noise persists – because it cannot be reconfigured or recontained, cannot become thetic as it passes into expression, but remains indelibly noise.
  5. Noise obsists – since it is fundamentally anathema to stasis and thus opposes all illusions of fixity, pulling form beyond itself through expression and bringing about the collapse of meaning.

– Hainge: (Kindle Locations 585-597)

In his conclusion he tells us that if “we cannot talk about noise as though it is a thing with a core, definable essence, we can nonetheless talk about what it does, about its operations , and attempt to find in the multifarious sites, subjects, objects, texts, expressions and channels in which it arises some commonality or shared principles that allow us to talk about it in terms of an ontology” (Hainge, KL 5944).

Yet, there is the politics of noise as well, of a movement, of a transgressive marshalling toward change that process thinking brings to the table. As Stephen Mallinder will remind us in the introduction to Alexander Reed’s Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music:

The inspiration of Dada offered a guidebook of how to go about deconstructing a world that did not adequately represent the one we actually inhabited. Suitably driven by Duchamp, Tzara, and other past pugnacious artists, this was a sincere if somewhat naïve attempt to tear up the plans and devise new strategies. Process meant the rejection of traditional methods and instrumentation. The recording studio became the most valuable writing tool; tape machines, effected voices, “treated” instruments, tape loops, and drum machines. Song structures and linear arrangements were abandoned; the logocentric norm of most contemporary music was dismissed for a sonic democracy. The music was intended to be primal, visceral, and provocative. Noise, for us a Sheffield birthright, was the most effective tool in the box. Although most at the time were unaware of many of the readings into the inherent political and social power of noise, it was clearly a language of subversion. Noise defied order and control . It was a musical taboo. Sonic belligerence. 8

This notion of a resistance to the command and control systems that seek to enslave us in a global system of power and knowledge, a biopolitical structure of governance and law that uses the Infotainment Industrial Complex to hook us into its reality matrix, its illusionary world of ideological jouissance scrambling the codes that have allowed us to fall into apathy and indifference. Noise brings us out of sleep, makes us irritable, induces a sense of belligerence and defiance, a militant and aggressive assertion of our power to remain free and collective, productive of solidarity and global justice. As Deniz Peters explains, “The hopes of this modernist aesthetic were on the machine, not only on the noise machines make, but, just as importantly, on the mechanistic production of sound; that is, the hopes were tied to the image of the generation of sound using a perfectly suited, untiring and infallible body. …”9 Maybe Henry Miller had it right all along when he said that we’d need to distinguish where the noise comes from and not go daffy just because you hear an explosion under your ass.10 In his text Genre is Obsolete, Ray Brassier points out that the commodification of experience now takes place not only at the ideological level but at the neurophysiological level.11 Noise pervades us like those impossible entities and processes dark matter/dark energy. It interrupts our harmonious lives, our walk-about sleep world of capital, it makes us irritable, and wakes us from our lethargically desperate lives and forces us to acknowledge aspects of our affective relations that have for so long been repressed and silenced by the zombie consumerism of the free market socius. As Brassier puts it:

 Much contemporary critical theory of a vaguely marxisant bent is compromised by conceptual anachronisms whose untruth in the current social context is every bit as politically debilitating as that of the reactionary cultural forms it purports to unmask. Just as ‘noise’ is neither more nor less inherently subversive than any other commodifiable musical genre, so the categories invoked in order to decipher its political potency cannot be construed as inherently ‘critical’ while they remain fatally freighted with neo-romantic clichés about the transformative power of aesthetic experience. … Technology is now an invasive component of agency. Neurotechnologies, including cognitive enhancers such as modafinil, brain fingerprinting, neural lie-detectors, and nascent brain-computer interfaces, are giving rise to phenotechnologies which will eventually usher in the literal manufacturing of consciousness in a way that promises to redraw existing boundaries between personal and collective experience and recast not only extant categories of personal and collective identity, but also those of personal and collective agency. The commodification of experience is not a metaphor played out at the level of ideology and combatable with ideological means, but a concrete neurophysiological reality which can only be confronted with neurobiological resources. (Brassier, 69)

In our age of neural implants and invasive technologies we may one day wake up and realize our reality is a commodity produced moment by moment by the engineering elite of some technocapitalist global order unless the noise can begin to break through the chinks in the metal cavities of our encased minds. As Brassier reminds us to “eradicate experience would be to begin to intervene in the sociological determination of neurobiology as well as in the neurobiological determination of culture. Here, the cognitive and cultural import of art cannot be separated from its formal and structural resources: the radicality of the latter must be concomitant with the radicality of the former” (Brassier, 70).

Luciano Floridi describes the notion of ontological friction which refers to the forces that oppose the information flow within (a region of) the infosphere, and hence (as a coefficient) to the amount of work and effort required for some kind of agent to obtain, filter and/ or block information (also, but not only) about other agents in a given environment, e.g. by establishing and maintaining channels of communication and by overcoming obstacles in the flow of information such as distance, noise, lack of resources (especially time, memory space and processing capacities), amount and complexity of the data to be processed, and so forth.12 He describes a new set of agents in society, the inforgs, as “informationally embodied organisms, entities made up of information” that exist in the infosphere. Inforgs are natural agents situated alongside artificial agents, existing as part of hybrid agency that is, for example, a family with digital devices such as digital cameras, cell phones, tablets, and laptops. In our time we’ve seen a slow shift toward an informational ontology rather than either materialist or idealist, or shall we say the merger of the two in a wider framework that includes them both in a new perspective. Noise will play its part in the transgressive movement of information as the radicalization of an oppositional politics that seeks to interrupt, disrupt, and irritate the technocapitalist state apparatuses and its global system of governance.

Afterword

I’ll need to leave off now… hopefully will add a part two that will show some of the inner history of some of the bands from the different periods that have contributed to this new musical form. Music has become for many the greatest extension of popular resistance in our time. Hopefully we’ll be able to shed a little light on that in the future…

A book that someone just reminded me about by Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century appears to be a good overview of this whole modern and postmodern period of music, I haven’t read it yet but will over the coming weekend.

——————————–

1. Chessa, Luciano. Luigi Russolo, Futurist: Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult. (University of California Press, 2012)
2. Marjorie Perloff. The Futurist Moment. (University of Chicago Press, 1986)
3. Cascone, Kim. “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music”. Computer Music Journal 24, no. 4 (Winter 2002): pp. 12–18.
4. Hegarty, Paul; Goddard, Michael; Halligan, Benjamin (2012-05-31). Reverberations: The Philosophy, Aesthetics and Politics of Noise (p. 3). Continuum US. Kindle Edition.
5. Serres, Michel (2013-11-30). The Parasite (Posthumanities) (Kindle Locations 150-160). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
6. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 12947-12949). Norton. Kindle Edition.
7. Hainge, Greg (2013-03-14). Noise Matters: Towards an Ontology of Noise (Kindle Locations 396-400). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
8. S. Alexander Reed, (2013-05-08). Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music . Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
9.
Peters, Deniz. Introduction. Bodily Expression in Electronic Music. Eds. Deniz Peters, Gerhard Eckel, and Andreas Dorschel. New York: Routledge, 2012. 1– 16.
10. Miller, Henry (2012-03-03). Tropic of Cancer (p. 143).  . Kindle Edition.
11. Ray Brassier. Genre is Obsolete Multitudes, No. 28, Spring 2007
12. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 232). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.


 

Dreams of an Wayward Android

None are so hopelessly enslaved, as those who falsely believe they are free. The truth has been kept from the depth of their minds by masters who rule them with lies. They feed them on falsehoods till wrong looks like right in their eyes.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Android IV

Peter Gric @ http://www.gric.at Android IV

Long ago we fell under their spell, the wizards that now command and control us from afar. For too long we believed their lies and taught our children, and their children, and their children’s children until they forgot that which was once our truth. We became enamored with our modern marvels, our technological wonders, and the world they produced for us. We built cities in which technology became the very fabric of our onlife being. The artificial earth became for us a stay against the monstrosities of the outer realms. No one has been beyond the gates now for a thousand years, no one remembers the sun, moon, or stars that once roamed across the great sky like wanderers from another universe. No. We have lived in this incandescent cave of light without darkness for so long that the memory of night is but a reflection of a forgotten thought. In the day they wiped our memories free of the great past we were no longer troubled by the nightmares of what we’d become so many centuries ago.

That was until I began to dream.

Continue reading

Niklas Luhmann: Mass-Media, Communications, and Paranoia

I’ve been reading Niklas Luhmann’s works for a couple years now and have slowly incorporated many of his theoretical concepts into my own sociological perspective. Along with Zygmut Baumann I find Luhmann’s theoretical framework one of the most intriguing in that long tradition stemming from Talcott Parsons, one of the world’s most influential social systems theorist. Of course Luhmann in later years would oppose his own conceptual framework to his early teacher and friend. Against many sociologists, especially those like Jürgen Habermas  who developed and reduced their conceptual frameworks to human centered theories and practices, Luhumann developed a theory of Society in which communications was central. He did no exclude humans per se, but saw that within society humans had over time invented systems of dissemination that did not require the presence of the human element as part of its disseminative practices. We live amid impersonal systems that are not human but machinic entities that communicate among themselves more equitably than to us. Instead of stratification and normative theories codifying out personal relations within society Luhmann advocated a functionalism that dealt with these impersonal systems on their own terms rather than reducing them to outdated theories based on morality and normative practices. For Luhmann we continue to reduce the social to an outdated political and moral dimension that no longer understands the problems of our current predicament. In fact these sociologists do not even know what the problem is, or how to ask the right questions much less what questions to ask.

Luhmann was one of the first, and definitely not the last, sociologists to decenter the human from society. The notion of the social without the human actor was replaced by communications itself. Luhmann himself saw his theories as forming a new Trojan horse: “It had always been clear to me that a thoroughly constructed conceptual theory of society would be much more radical and much more discomforting in its effects than narrowly focused criticisms—criticisms of capitalism for instance—could ever imagine.”1 His reception in North American academy has been less than underwhelming according to Moeller because of his couching his terminology in the discourse of Habermas and the sociologists of his day in Germany. Over and over Foucault spoke of the conformity to discourse that scholars were forced to inhabit to be read as legitimate sources of scholarship. Yet, as Moeller tells it Luhmann hoped to hide is radical concepts in plain site even if within the discourse of his day: “Luhmann ascribes to his theory the “political effect of a Trojan horse.” – Luhmann openly admits to his attempt to smuggle into social theory, hidden in his writings, certain contents that could demolish and replace dominating self-descriptions, not only of social theory itself, but of society at large.” (Moeller, KL 223)

Continue reading

Herbert Marcuse: Radical Revolution and Our Future

The only utopia left to us at this late stage in the game is history itself: the history of the future. Recently I set Mondays aside as my day to begin reading through the six volumes of Hebert Marcuse’s collected papers edited by Douglas Kellner.

  • Technology, War and Fascism: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 1
  • Towards a Critical Theory of Society: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 2
  • The New Left and the 1960s: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 3
  • Art and Liberation: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 4
  • Philosophy, Psychoanalysis and Emancipation: Herbert Marcuse Collected Papers, Volume 5
  • Marxism, Revolution and Utopia: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume Six

Of course the mainstays of his work were One-Dimensional Man, Eros and Civilization, and Reason and Revolution which are still available in trade paperbacks and e-books. One wishes the six volume work was a little less pricey and available for more of us to afford. I’m actually just buying them as needed each month out of my stipend that I put away for such extravagances. Either way Marcuse is little read these days, and yet in his time he was truly one of those activists like Zizek that traveled, lectured, hit the streets in protest and generally lived what he wrote rather than sitting back in some theoretical haven in academia. I watch a lot of the youtube and vimeo lectures of Leftists these days and think: “This is why we’re getting no where on the Left, everyone is talking to the choir rather than to the people that need an awakening to the power of radical ideas and practices. As Angela Davis says in her own contribution and introduction to one of the volumes tells us: “It seems to me that the overarching themes of Marcuse’s thought are as relevant today on the cusp of the twenty-first century as they were when his scholarship and political interventions were most widely celebrated.”

 

 

 

The Exterminating Angel: The Dark Flows of Capital

The schizophrenic deliberately seeks out the very limit of capitalism: he is its inherent tendency brought to fulfillment, its surplus product, its proletariat, and its exterminating angel.

– Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

 

The State and its bureaucracies, the forces of law and order, try to stem the tide of these flows – split them among the dark contours of accumulated violence: the schizophrenic pulse accelerating onward toward oblivion on the extended wings of an exterminating angel. “When we say that schizophrenia is our characteristic malady, the malady of our era, we do not merely mean to say that modern life drives people mad. It is not a question of a way of life, but of a process of production” (34).1 Yet, as they continually remind us, there “is only one kind of production, the production of the real” (32). But what is produced by its inversion in capital is the production of fantasy – a group fantasia for zombies, a consumers purgatory where even angels dare to tread.

In another context they tell us desire produces reality, but that one might also say, “desiring production is one and the same thing as social production” (30). The production of the socious they contend is tripartite: the body of the Earth, the body of the Despot, and the body of Money (33). Under capitalism all three forms can be found intermixed among the codes of a wandering flow within States, nations, and families. Capitalism founded on abstract quatities, on things, on the lack of impossible objects and of the acquisition of those objects as our desires. In nihilistic delirium we yearn for those impossible substances that capital produces in parody of real desires. At the heart of capital is the production not of the real but of the unreal, of fantasies, impossible dreams. We follow these impossible dreams as zombies in a consuming cannibalistic frenzy, the flesh of the world dripping from our mouths as we build our towers of Babel to strange gods.

Continue reading

The Mythmakers: Engineering of Consent

To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really?

– BBC, promotion of The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis

I decided to watch Adam Curtis’s BBC Documentaries he made over a number of years recently, and discovered that they’d been banned from YouTube.com for copyright reasons. These documentaries had been up there for years without any issues, but now it seems that the full code of the law has now emerged across the net on almost everything dealing with copywrite infringement. Should we call this the slow enclosure of the commons? Are the powers of commerce slowly closing off both funding and access to subversive books, films, documentaries? Oh, sure they obviously tell you these are copyrighted and that they are still being sold commercially, etc. That they have every right to block the reproduction and pirating (as they term it) of their commodities. But is this the case, are they truly making a profit off selling such works, or is it closer to the mark that a change in politics has suddenly infiltrated the online world with a force of reckoning that seeks to erase or at least minimize radical ideas that just might wake people up from their ideological slumbers.

Even if Curtis is a self-proclaimed libertarian, if you study the documentaries they actually hook into many of the underlying issues surrounding issues on the Left in ways not usually covered. He seems to have been influenced as early as age 13 by John Dos PassosUSA Trilogy. As he tells it: “You can trace back everything I do to that novel because it’s all about grand history, individual experience, their relationship. And also collages, quotes from newsreels, cinema, newspapers. And it’s about collage of history as well. That’s where I get it all from”.2 Well worth studying…

Continue reading

“Captive Cyberspace is Conquering its Victor”: Onlife and the Spectacle Society

It must not be forgotten that every media professional is bound by wages and other rewards and recompenses to a master, and sometimes to several; and that everyone of them knows he is dispensable.

– Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

Reading Debord now is like revisiting a world of hope that no longer exists. From the time he documented the Society of the Spectacle to now we’ve been immersed in the simulated worlds of information and communciations technologies (ICTs); or, what Lucian Floridi would later term, the infosphere of our onlife.

“Infosphere” is a word I coined years ago on the basis of “biosphere,” a term referring to that limited region on our planet that supports life. By “infosphere,” then, I mean the whole informational environment made up of all informational entities (including informational agents), their properties, interactions, processes, and relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, “cyberspace” (which is only one of the sub-regions of the infosphere, as it were), since the infosphere also includes offline and analog spaces of information. We shall see that it is also an environment (and hence a concept) that is rapidly evolving. – Luciano Floridi, ‘Peering into the Future‘.

The notion that our actual material lives has merged with our virtual lives, that in fact the supposed distinctions or barriers between the two have disappeared, vanished, and have become one and the same flow of a new form of technocapitalism in which 24/7 workday is the rule rather than the exception is becoming part and partial of this strange new hyperworld we’ve constructed for ourselves. As tells us everyone, we are told— not just businesses and institutions— needs an “online presence,” needs 24/ 7 exposure , to avoid social irrelevance or professional failure. But the promotion of these alleged benefits is a cover for the transfer of most social relations into monetized and quantifiable forms. It is equally a shift of individual life to conditions in which privacy is impossible, and in which one becomes a permanent site of data-harvesting and surveillance. One accumulates a patchwork of surrogate identities that subsist 24/ 7, sleeplessly, continuously, as inanimate impersonations rather than extensions of the self.( Crary, 104)1

Continue reading

Multiagent Systems: Plato’s Chariot, AI, and Self in Information Philosophy

We will liken the soul to the composite nature of a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. […] the charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. Therefore in our case the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome.

– Phaedrus 246a – 254e

Luciano Floridi introduces Plato’s chariot as a  problem in engineering, a technological problem to be analyzed not in the older modes of a phenomenological or descriptive approaches to the self but rather in the sense of postmodern constructionist or design-oriented approaches.1 Michael Wooldridge gives us a good working definition of a multiagent systems:

Multiagent systems are systems composed of multiple interacting computing elements, known as agents. Agents are computer systems with two important capabilities. First, they are at least to some extent capable of autonomous action – of deciding for themselves what they need to do in order to satisfy their design objectives. Second, they are capable of interacting with other agents – not simply by exchanging data, but by engaging in analogues of the kind of social activity that we all engage in every day of our lives: cooperation, coordination, negotiation, and the like.2

For Floridi many of the challenges in the engineering of these multiagent systems (MAS) couched in the new metaphors of AI research and engineering theory and practices stem from older forms philosophical speculation on the self. He cites such issues and concerns as communication, coherence, rationality, successful interaction with the environment, coordination and collaboration with other agents among others as crossover problems of classic philosophy. As he tells us their is another component beyond the charioteer and the two horses that Plato mentions that needs to be included in any notion of a multiagent conception of the self, and that is the ‘chariot’ itself. For it is the chariot that “guarantees the unity and coordination of the system, thus allowing the self to be, persist and act as a single, coherent, and continuous entity in different places, at different times, and through a variety of experiences” (Floridi, 5).

Continue reading

Luciano Floridi: Quote of the Day!

As a social organization and way of life, the information society has been made possible by a cluster of ICT-infrastructures. And as a full expression of techne, the information society has already posed fundamental ethical problems. Nowadays, a pressing task is to formulate an information ethics that can treat the world of data, information, and knowledge, with their relevant life-cycles, as a new environment, the infosphere, in which human beings, as informational organisms, may be flourishing.

– Luciano Floridi,  The Ethics of Information

 

*ICT = Information-Communications Technologies

ACCELERATIONISM: A symposium on tendencies in capitalism

Old hat for many, but just ran across this symposium that was held in Berlin back in December of this year on accelerationism. Looks like it had many of the usual suspects: Ray Brassier, Benjamin Noys, Nick Srnicek, Alex Williams, Reza Negarestani, Elisabeth von Samsonow and, Josephine Berry Slater.

ACCELERATIONISM
A symposium on tendencies in capitalism

14 December 2013, 10-20hr
Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 29, Berlin
S/U-Bahn Alexanderplatz [map]
info@xlrt.org   *   www.xlrt.org

Ray Brassier sets the tone in his Wandering Abstractions saying:

‘Accelerationism’ provokes passionate condemnation and equally impassioned affirmation. Perhaps this is because what is at stake in this ‘Marxist heresy’ is our relation to the future: Is communism, understood as “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” , the consummation of the project of modernity, or its repudiation? The version of accelerationism recently proposed by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams affirms the former by reasserting the Enlightenment – and classical Marxist – compact between emancipation and rationality.

Noticed it offered summaries of the abstracts, as well as videos from several of the sessions: (Abstracts) and (Videos).

New Reader #1: Maurizio Lazzarato’s book The Making of the Indebted Man

The first issue of The New Reader focuses on debt as a theme in current philosophy and critical theory. Released in two parts, this initial instalment sets off with an essay by Richard Dienst, which maps out the discourse on debt and the distinct conceptual models it relies on. The following three contributions address a pivotal recent intervention on the topic: Maurizio Lazzarato’s book The Making of the Indebted Man. Each of these texts attempts to frame, elaborate or problematize the thesis central to this book: that the concept of ‘indebtedness’ does not only characterize an increasingly generalized economic situation, but also marks a form of subjectivity central to our present condition.

  1. Richard Dienst: Where Are You When You Are In Debt?
  2. Maurizio Lazzarato: Subverting the Debt Machine
  3. Tiziana Terranova: Debt and Autonomy: Lazzarato and the Constituent Powers of the Social
  4. Alberto Toscano: Alien Mediations – Critical Remarks on the Making of the Indebted Man