How many people remember the great parodies of late modernism? I’m thinking of both Hermann Hesse’s Das Glasperlienspiel (or, Magister Ludi: The Glass-Bead Game), Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, or work from Italo Calvino, Stanislaw Lem, or even Jorge-Luis Borges. I remember both Hesse’s and Mann’s pseudo-biographies of fictional figures of their times were written and introduced by academic bores and pedants. Both men in their exchanged letters to each other even admitted the comic and parodic element in both fictions which many scholars even to this day take seriously rather than as comic satires on the state of knowledge and culture of their respective eras.
A new online work by Simon Sellars of Ballardian fame, which I assume will eventually be a published work in book form is coming to fruition that seems to fit that same gambit for our own time in comic relief and scholarly pastiche and parody; or, if not, then a work in process published on Applied Ballardianism. Simon Sellars is well known for his Ballardian site which gave us up to date interviews, critiques, exposes, fiction, and news, etc. on the late J.G. Ballard. The new site seems to take it a step further by presenting a pseudo-scholarly work and theory on Ballard in a fictionalize form and space of imaginal possibility.
In the section of the site under About we are introduced to a strange figure in the personage of a man (whose anonymity remains, his name is never disclosed) one who as the pseudo-scholar Dr Ricardo Battista, School of Specialisation in Cryogenics, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Hartwell University, Melbourne, Australia tells us left a work on J.G. Ballard named: Applied Ballardianism: A Theory of Nothing.
The said Dr Ricardo Battista as academic bore presents the figure of the anonymous theoretician as a mad man, an apophenic-schizophrenic whose ruminations in the first-person singular seem more like the conspiracist ravings of a fringe lunatic. As Battista describes it “‘Apophenia’, broadly speaking, describes a schizotypal cognitive condition—the mental state of perceiving patterns in meaningless, random and unrelated data. William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition brought apophenia to public attention.” The man who is never named once worked for the Dr as a research assistant. It was at that time he began to notice the subject’s – as he terms him – peculiarities,
For our subject, apophenia, filtered through his Ballardian lens, coloured his worldview so completely that he begin to perceive a paranormal element to Ballard’s work—the sense that the work was a conduit to other dimensions. He fell into the precise hell of the self-aware paranoiac, simultaneously ‘within’ and ‘without’ his inverted reality. He believed conspiracy theory to be the ‘people’s novel’—a chance for ordinary citizens to construct a fiction that opposed the dominant narratives of media, culture and politics.
Our interlocutor condemns at every turn the man’s writings, life, and work exposing his strange behavior and almost criminal fall into paranoia as he vanishes from at first the University, then his job at a local factory, then his wanderings that lead him to Australia’s outback. All that is left is the desultory task for the Dr to publish the work at hand because he alone was given the tedious task to executor of the man’s will. If not for this he’d of disowned the whole thing. As he says, snidely: “Our subject fancies himself a philosopher, yet his insight is too superficial and reckless to justify that stance. Thus, when his argument falls away, he reverts to first-person anecdotes out of a crippling sense of inadequacy and the document becomes a pathetic memoir again, yet it doesn’t work on that level either, being too self-indulgent and too larded with self-pity, even allowing for the excesses of that genre, to have any kind of literary merit.” So much so that his final words tell us:
While I highly doubt this book will be read by a great many people or that the ideas within it will be taken seriously by anyone working in Ballard Studies (given how cringeworthy and repellent the first-person material is, like the confessions of an imbecile, and how unscholarly and deranged the apophenic-paranormal elements are), with these final words I complete my obligation as the subject’s last academic employer, as decreed by his will, and beg my colleagues’ forgiveness for appearing within these pages.
May God have mercy on my soul.
The rest of the posts are snippets and fragments from the fictional theoretical work of the anonymous author. Under the first entry we see an encyclopedic list of influence machines moving from Ballard and William Gibson (SciFi) and ending in the Borges flowing through the said author. In Purple Light we see the young psychonaut wandering through Dubai “flattened under glass, observing this unborn dead city,” already in fusion between landscape and the mental states of some surreal mutation. One moves from there to a travelogue of entries that submerge the mind of the traveler in a world where the Ballardian flux and the Real seem to waver into each other, where one is never sure where the one ends and the other begins. Photographs from these travelgrams permeate each page in the cycle like amphibious beasts scuttling across the website revealing nothing so much as ‘nothing’ in particular. One is never sure if the image is image or a flash card for a new form of psychological warfare bringing with it new and vivid reminders of our ruinous age.
In the final installment, or the latest one? —we meet a paranoid tripster who enters the author’s life, a nurse masked bandit of psychic traumas. Our author, who seems in this place to be in Melbourne, Australia awakens from his strange journey like a fragmented Picasso painting, his “face was a bloody mess. My nose had been smashed to the side like a Picasso painting, my left ear was sliced almost in two and the lower half of my upper front teeth had sheared away.”
Like our own fragmented lives we are pitched into this tome without support or anchor, wandering through vignettes of a life that may or may not resemble actuality, but are assured to fit the world of our dark wastelands across a global disaster zone that has yet to find its apocalyptic finish. In the end maybe there is no end, only the fragments of a journey without beginning or end, a clock-work periodical of theory-fictions that dribble out of the madness of our age, encyclicals to the dementia and paranoia of our apophatic times.
One can find more on the new site: http://www.appliedballardianism.com/
Crash Space: The Coming Age of Machinic Intelligence
We exchanged a flurry of texts. We weren’t idiots. We knew full well the gravity of what had happened. But we also knew we had nothing to fear, and very little to cover up.
—R. Scott Bakker, Crash Space
Anyone still believing that the “blunt tool” of mass surveillance is protecting us from terrorists should read the Washington Post’s two-year investigation of “Top Secret America.” The detailed series of articles suggested that the United States’ massive surveillance system could possibly make us more vulnerable to terrorism:
“Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States. Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year— a volume so large that many are routinely ignored. In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials— called Super Users— have the ability to even know about all the department’s activities. “I’m not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything” was how one Super User put it. The other (Super User) recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn’t take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled “Stop!” in frustration. “I wasn’t remembering any of it,” he said.
Billions of personal details about the general population, collected by computers, can overwhelm those officials looking for a particular suspect. As the New America Foundation report indicated, most terrorists are caught using “traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations . . .”
In the coming years all human intelligence will become mute, AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) machinic systems and the decisions made upon such data depend will be done more “efficiently” through rule based normative functional algorithms, making matrices that will be invented by the artificial minds themselves. All surveillance and Global Security Systems will be in the hands of the AGI’s, since humans such as the SuperUser above will not have the necessary processing power to absorb, much less decide on, filter, collate, and analyze such massive Big Data as will be collected in such great Data Centers as the one being built in Utah.
We’ve entered that strange transitional age when we are as humans obsolescing our own intelligence in favor of machinic gods who will have no sense of our cultural or social value systems, only the algorithmic targeting capabilities of seek and destroy policing of the animal called man. We are building the cages of the future, and enforcing a new breed of policing agents in the frontiers of our brave new worlds of machinic being. Through our fear of terror, we are producing greater terrors. From economics to security the deep-learning algorithms and other plasticity based systems of self-transforming and feed-back systems based on endless rhizomatic loops will surpass our capabilities and move beyond our ability to control or constrain. What then?
Stephen Hawking fears it, saying: “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he said. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.” Tesla CEO and famous technology innovator Elon Musk has repeatedly warned about AI threats. In June, he said on CNBC that he had invested in AI research because “I like to just keep an eye on what’s going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is a potential dangerous outcome there.” He went on to invoke The Terminator. In August, he tweeted that “We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” And at a recent MIT symposium, Musk dubbed AI an “existential threat” to the human race and a “demon” that foolish scientists and technologists are “summoning.” Musk likened the idea of control over such a force to the delusions of “guy[s] with a pentagram and holy water” who are sure they can control a supernatural force—until it devours them. As Musk himself suggests elsewhere in his remarks, the solution to the problem lies in sober and considered collaboration between scientists and policymakers. So much for Enlightenment? But these are the extremes, other voices say other things, and the process of making such systems seems inevitable with so many nations and corporations investing so heavily into every aspect of robotics, war machines, and AGI related systems for profit or sex or power.
Mass surveillance programs are run by machines or persons trained to act like machines. Targeted intelligence operations are run by experienced security agents who are allowed to use the knowledge gained through years of training. In the future our urban zones will become more and more integrated into smart infrastructures where the electronic eyes, ear, scent, and prosthetic appendages of sensory outlays once part of the human body will become externalized into the very objects of common everyday work around us. The systems that will shape and secure our systems of command and control within the urban workplace will be a part of a vast integrated system of artificial intelligent centers that will run everything from our basic needs to the most criminal policing enterprise the world has ever seen. It will be invisible, part of the background, so virtualized that we will not even be aware that we’ve become part of a Planetary Prison system that we ourselves built and handed over to the Great Artificial General Intelligent systems to come. To call this paranoiac is to enter into inhuman territory of mind and thought which that term was only a simplified interdiction onto the human, not the machinic.
Watching the recent craze of mobile to mobile Pokémon Go we’ve entered the moment when the virtual is seeping into our world, when men, women, and children stare into the screens of their hand held systems as if they were more real than the world around them. Even criminals have hopped on the wagon. Armed robbers used the game Pokémon Go to lure victims to an isolated trap in Missouri, police reported on Sunday. Pokémon Go warns players to keep aware of their surroundings during their virtual treasure hunt, but after only a few days since its release it has already led people into a string of bizarre incidents. People have ended up in hospitals after chasing nonexistent animals into hazardous spots, and schools, a state agency and Australian police have warned people not to break the law or endanger themselves while “Pokemoning”. The game has also led wanderers to at least one home misidentified as a church, a venue the app considers a public space.
We are so desperate to fill the gap of our meaningless world with meaning, that the virtual worlds of our electronic media are beginning to supervene onto reality and control our very bodies and behaviors. We’ve allowed the virtual to become our reality and left the old worlds of natural existence behind, and yet those world impinge upon our false realms in dangerous and untold ways. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher who directs the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, describes the following scenario in his book Superintelligence, which has prompted a great deal of debate about the future of artificial intelligence. Bostrom believes that superintelligence could emerge, and while it could be great, he thinks it could also decide it doesn’t need humans around. Or do any number of other things that destroy the world. The title of chapter 8 is: “Is the default outcome doom?” As Paul Ford recently at MIT stated: “No one is suggesting that anything like superintelligence exists now. In fact, we still have nothing approaching a general-purpose artificial intelligence or even a clear path to how it could be achieved. Recent advances in AI, from automated assistants such as Apple’s Siri to Google’s driverless cars, also reveal the technology’s severe limitations; both can be thrown off by situations that they haven’t encountered before. Artificial neural networks can learn for themselves to recognize cats in photos. But they must be shown hundreds of thousands of examples and still end up much less accurate at spotting cats than a child.” (Our Fear of Artificial Intelligence)
Others like Rodney Brooks tell us hogwash, we have nothing to fear. Extrapolating from the state of AI today to suggest that superintelligence is looming is “comparable to seeing more efficient internal combustion engines appearing and jumping to the conclusion that warp drives are just around the corner,” Brooks wrote recently on Edge.org. “Malevolent AI” is nothing to worry about, he says, for a few hundred years at least. Yet, others like Stuart J. Russell, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley disagree with Brooks, saying: ““There are a lot of supposedly smart public intellectuals who just haven’t a clue.” He pointed out that AI has advanced tremendously in the last decade, and that while the public might understand progress in terms of Moore’s Law (faster computers are doing more), in fact recent AI work has been fundamental, with techniques like deep learning laying the groundwork for computers that can automatically increase their understanding of the world around them.
As Ford concludes we have no technology that is remotely close to superintelligence. Then again, many of the largest corporations in the world are deeply invested in making their computers more intelligent; a true AI would give any one of these companies an unbelievable advantage. They also should be attuned to its potential downsides and figuring out how to avoid them. This somewhat more nuanced suggestion—without any claims of a looming AI-mageddon—is the basis of an open letter on the website of the Future of Life Institute, the group that got Musk’s donation. Rather than warning of existential disaster, the letter calls for more research into reaping the benefits of AI “while avoiding potential pitfalls.”
Agency: Human or Artificial?
It is not that reality entered our image: the image entered and shattered our reality (i.e. the symbolic coordinates which determine what we experience as reality). What this means is that the dialectic of semblance and Real cannot be reduced to the rather elementary fact that the virtualization of our daily lives, the experience that we are more and more living in an artificially constructed universe, gives rise to the irresistible urge to ‘return to the Real’, to regain the firm ground in some ‘real reality.’ THE REAL WHICH RETURNS HAS THE STATUS OF A(NOTHER) SEMBLANCE: precisely because it is real, i.e. on account of its traumatic/excessive character, we are unable to integrate it into (what we experience as) our reality, and are therefore compelled to experience it as a nightmarish apparition.
—Slavoj Žižek. Disparities
This sense of loss of reality and the nightmare quality of our lives in this weird world of the artificial seems to pervade every aspect of our socio-cultural lives. Our politics has turned south, gone under into a nightmare zone of strangeness across the First World. People that have sensed this nightmare surrounding them have been desperate to return to the old ways of our ancestral realms in any form or fashion. Ergo, the reason for traditionalist values and pundits on the Right of the spectrum have arisen because of this vacuum in peoples lives living in the artificial worlds of the modern urban megacities where every form of existence has become plastic and plasticity as a thought form has become all too real. Sex and Race pervade our politics now because the barriers of the fantasy worlds of the old mythologies of Monotheism no longer hold, not longer feed people what they need to give their lives meaning. We’ve been demythologizing and leaving these ancient systems behind for a few hundred years. Yet, in small pockets they hold on fiercely and adamantly in certain traditionalist camps.
Catherine Malabou explains in Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing, the concept of plasticity, whose scope and stakes are firmly inscribed in those of our era, has overtaken the schemas of text and the trace. Plasticity “takes over” and “becomes the resistance of difference to its textual reduction.” In The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, Malabou expands her reflection to cerebral pathologies, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. She hosts a dialog between philosophy, psychoanalysis and contemporary neurology, offering to demonstrate how cerebral organization presides over a libidinal economy in current psychopathologies. She also proposes a new theory of trauma and defends the hypothesis of destructive plasticity. In her latest book, Self and Emotional Life, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience, written with Adrian Johnston, Malabou continues her exquisite crossing of disciplines, this time in order to explore the concept of wonder.
Without using all the jargon of postmodern shibboleths neuroplasticity in brain and mind is a term that refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. When people say that the brain possesses plasticity, they are not suggesting that the brain is similar to plastic. Neuro represents neurons, the nerve cells that are the building blocks of the brain and nervous system, and plasticity refers to the brain’s malleability. There’s both a functional and structural aspect to this neuroplasticity, one which allows other parts of the brain to take over the functions of diseased or traumatized areas (functional); and, the other (structural) refers to the brain’s ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.
Our notions of agency have over the years changed, and the notions of Subject and Self have come under great scrutiny in philosophy and neurosciences. N. Katherine Hayles once suggested that if on the one hand humans are like machines, whether figured as cellular automata or Turing machines, then agency cannot be securely located in the conscious mind. If on the other hand machines are like biological organisms, then they must possess the effects of agency even though they are not conscious. In these reconfigurations, desire and language, both intimately connected with agency, are understood in new ways. Acting as a free-floating agent, desire is nevertheless anchored in mechanistic operations, a suggestion Guattari makes in “Machinic Heterogenesis.” Language, emerging from the operations of the unconscious figured as a Turing machine, creates expressions of desire that in their origin are always already interpenetrated by the mechanistic, no matter how human they seem. Finally, if desire and the agency springing from it are at bottom nothing more than performance of binary code, then computers can have agency fully as authentic as humans. Through these reconfigurations, Deleuze, Guattari, and Lacan use automata to challenge human agency and in the process represent automata as agents.1
If our binary and / or algorithmic systems can already be thought to have agency, what of the more advanced AGI’s that even in their primitive beginnings during our experimental age are already surpassing human intelligence? Many guffaw such surpassing of the human as wishful thinking, as imposing upon the machinic world of things our anthropomorphic thought forms. But is this so? Are we not actually following the trajectory of two thousand years of technics and technology that has always gone hand in hand with human culture and civilization? Isn’t there always a sense of a two-way interactive oscillation between human agency and its creations? Isn’t this dialectical interplay between machine and human always already been a part of the human instrumentalism that was to eventually be termed science? Our elite pundits have tried to spin a story that the Enlightenment was an aberration, that instrumental reason was no more than culturally bound entity, and that it too would be sloughed off for something else. What is this something else if not the AGI’s we are now inventing out of necessity at our own unsurmountable finitude? Building such superintelligences because our own abilities as creatures of finitude and limitation cannot surpass certain barriers due to evolutionary bindings? Because we have created such a desperate need for decomplexifying the data of our world in all its multifarious complexity?
The notion of Agency and Subject developed by Deleuze, Guattari, and Lacan, is a subject in which consciousness, far from being the seat of agency, is left to speculate on why she acts as she does. She is increasingly aware that the origin of agency lies beyond the reach of consciousness, enacted by a computational program that is ultimately controlled by the external agent that has programmed the code to operate as it does. Even at this deep level the ambiguity of agency continues, for program is perceived to act both as an agent on its own behalf and as the surrogate for the will of the human. The ambiguity is repeated within consciousness, where she perceives herself to be exercising agency in the margins, as it were, the grey areas where the objectives of code might be implemented in ambiguous ways. In these complex reconfigurations of agency, the significance of envisioning the unconscious as a program rather than as a dark mirror of consciousness can scarcely be overstated, for it locates the hidden springs of action in the brute machinic operations of code. In this view, such visions of the unconscious as Freud’s repressed Oedipal conflicts or Jung’s collective archetypes seem hopelessly anthropomorphic, for they populate the unconscious with ideas comfortingly familiar to consciousness rather than the much more alien operations of machinic code. (43)
Blindness and Insight: Beyond the Hum of Machines?
Antonio Damasio, argue that body and mind are inextricably linked through multiple recursive feedback loops mediated by neurotransmitters, systems that have no physical analogues in computers. Damasio makes the point that these messages also provide content for the mind, especially emotions and feelings: “relative to the brain, the body provides more than mere support and modulation: it provides a basic topic for brain representations” (xvii). As Hayles tells us ”
The central question … is no longer how we as rational creatures should act in full possession of free will and untrammeled agency. Rather, the issue is how consciousness evolves from and interacts with the underlying programs that operate analogously to the operations of code. Whether conceived as literal mechanism or instructive analogy, coding technology thus becomes central to understanding the human condition. (44)
That great atheist dialectical materialist, Slavoj Zizek in his recent work Disparities will humor us saying that “Einstein was right with his famous claim ‘God doesn’t cheat’ – what he forgot to add is that god himself can be cheated. Insofar as the materialist thesis is that ‘God is unconscious’ (God doesn’t know), quantum physics effectively is materialist: there are microprocesses (quantum oscillations) which are not registered by the God-system. And insofar as God is one of the names of the big Other, we can see in what sense one cannot simply get rid of god (big Other) and develop an ontology without big Other: god is an illusion, but a necessary one.”2
Can we say that this necessary illusion is central to our quest to build the God Mind in our AGI’s? Are we not in fact and deed actually trying to create a god? Isn’t this truly at the heart of the artificial intelligent holy grail quest? To become machinic, to enter into the transitional stage of superintelligence, make our own pact with the impossible? For Zizek we have never been human, we’ve always been in transitional movement, that humans are in themselves absolutely nothing, without any fixed agency or stable self, that nothing pre-exists our being in the world, and that the notion of Subject is of movement toward something else. For Zizek we live in-between the Subject which is nothing in itself, and the world that we do not have direct access too. There is a crack in the world between us and reality, and all of our grand tales, our visions, our fantasies are ways in which we seek to bridge the gap between ourselves and reality. Yet, time after time our bridges built out of mathematics or language cannot bridge the gap so we build even more fantastic schemes:
This is why, from the strict Freudian standpoint, fantasy is on the side of reality, it sustains the subject’s ‘sense of reality’: when the fantasmatic frame disintegrates, the subject undergoes a ‘loss of reality’ and starts to perceive reality as an ‘irreal’ nightmarish universe with no firm ontological foundation; this nightmarish universe – the Lacanian Real – is not ‘pure fantasy’ but, on the contrary, that which remains of reality after reality is deprived of its support in fantasy.(Kindle Locations 285-288)
So once our human illusions, our fantasies are stripped from the world, what is left is the bottomless pit of nightmare —the Universe of machinic life. The endless sea of process and chaos churning on and on and on…
Reality is impenetrable not just because it transcends the constrained horizon of finite human being but also because we humans are unable to control and predict the effects on our own activity on our natural environs. Therein resides the paradox of anthropocene: humanity became aware of its self-limitation as a species precisely when it became so strong that it influenced the balance of the entire life on earth. It was able to dream of being a Subject until its influence on nature (earth) was marginal, that is, against the background of stable nature. The paradox is thus that the more the reproduction of nature is human mediated, the more humanity becomes a ‘decentred’ agent unable to regulate the process of its exchange with nonhuman nature. This is why it is not enough to insist on the nontransparency of objects, on how objects have a hidden core withdrawn from human reach: what is withdrawn is not just the hidden side of objects but above all the true dimension of the subject’s activity. The true excess is not the excess of objectivity which eludes the subject’s grasp but the excess of the subject itself, that is to say, what eludes the subject is the ‘blind spot’, the point at which it is itself inscribed into reality.3
My friend R. Scott Bakker calls this ‘blind spot’ of the Subject our inability to turn back upon ourselves and view the very processes that create consciousness —the Brain. We have no direct path toward reality, nor upon our own processes. We are blind to both reality and ourselves. Bakker defines a crash space as “a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done” (p. 203). Bakker argues, plausibly, that the cognitive and emotional structures that give meaning to our lives and constrain us ethically can be expected to work only in a limited range of environments — roughly, environments similar in their basic structure to those in our evolutionary and cultural history. Break far enough away, and our ancestrally familiar approaches will cease to function effectively. As Bakker reminds us:
Herein lies the ecological rub. The reliability of our heuristic cues utterly depends on the stability of the systems involved. Anyone who has witnessed psychotic episodes has firsthand experience of consequences of finding themselves with no reliable connection to the hidden systems involved. Any time our heuristic systems are miscued, we very quickly find ourselves in ‘crash space,’ a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done. (21)
We are living in such a domain now. We have for a few hundred years moved from our ancient heritage of Hunter/Gatherers, Agriculturalists, and emerged into a new realm both artificial and outside the confines of the natural world environments that were our base and support for millennia. Our philosophies, religions, cultural forms, our mythologies and even our instrumental reasoning powers – both cunning and rational, are no longer bound to the natural earth and environs, but rather have become unmoored within realms unforeseeable by our ancient systems of constraint and reason, our modern civilization. We’ve entered the Crash Space of Modernity in transition and our fantasies that have partially filled the gap of meaning have fallen into fragments and disarray across the planet. Our modern lives in this artificial world or urban cities, mobile to mobiles, electronic virtual realities, etc. has overtaking our ancient ties to the jungles and swamps of our ancient ancestry. Our minds have become unhinged from the natural environments, and have yet to make new ties to the urban zones of our future lives in artificial worlds.
And now we’re set to begin engineering our brains in earnest. Engineering environments has the effect of transforming the ancestral context of our cognitive capacities, changing the structure of the problems to be solved such that we gradually accumulate local crash spaces, domains where our intuitions have become maladaptive. Everything from irrational fears to the ‘modern malaise’ comes to mind here. Engineering ourselves, on the other hand, has the effect of transforming our relationship to all contexts, in ways large or small, simultaneously. It very well could be the case that something as apparently innocuous as the mass ability to wipe painful memories will precipitate our destruction. Who knows? The only thing we can say in advance is that it will be globally disruptive somehow, as will every other ‘improvement’ that finds its way to market. ( Bakker, 22)
I remember back in the seventies at university my English teacher (we still had an English Department back then! long before humanities) once said that Science Fiction was the mythology of our Age of Reason and Modernity. I still believe that is true. We are in the thousands of fictional scenarios of science fiction inventing a path forward, creating stories and tales that seek to understand and immerse us not in the past, not in character studies of Novels, but in the tools necessary to help us move steadily, calmly, and with reasoning awareness into the most impossible region of all —the Future.
As we move forward we realize we are not alone, that around us is a great host of stars, planets, galaxies unbound. The only thing stopping us from change and developing viable paths in cultural, social, politics and life is our own defective and maladaptive minds, blinded by our own immersion in these processes we have no control over and yet control us in ways beyond telling. We live by fantasy, we always have… we create meaning not out of blindly stripping reality of our minds, but by weaving meaningful fantasies based on our awakening to the new and unbidden. Only when we allow our fantasies to rule over us, to suborn us and enslave us as in ancient thought of religious and socio-cultural systems of power and knowledge that weave us into their larger frameworks like so many insectoids to do the bidding of the few rather than the many do we begin to lose sight of the power of mind and its place in the universe at large. As Bakker ominously surmises “Human cognition is about to be tested by an unparalleled age of ‘habitat destruction.’ The more we change ourselves, the more we change the nature of the job, the less reliable our ancestral tools become, the deeper we wade into crash space.” (22)
- Swirski, Peter. The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem (pp. 28-29). Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition.
- Slavoj Žižek. Disparities (Kindle Locations 1086-1090). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- ibid. (Kindle Locations 721-729).
Today, the emblematic signs of the technopoesis that holds us in its sway are symptomatic of a future that will be marked less by the violence of an always imaginary apocalypse than by slow suicide. While Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Heidegger, and Arendt can console us, and perhaps even guide us, nothing has really prepared us for a future that will be fully entangled in the new technopoesis of accelerate and drift, with a still undetermined, deeply intermediated, aftermath of spectacular creativity, fierce violence, and unexpected crashes. For example, digital devices, once thought safely outside ourselves, have now broken barriers of skin and mind, shaping from within the deepest recesses of consciousness, desire, perception, and imagination. Whether at the level of philosophical meditation or personal sensibility, nothing has really prepared us to live out a deeply consequential future prefigured by the specters of drones, algorithms, image vectors, distributive consciousness, artificial intelligence, neurological implants, and humanoid robotics. What is required, perhaps, is an ethical preparation for the slow suicide of technological end-times that are now only just beginning along the watchtowers of fascination and despair, righteous anger and pleasurable nihilism, of speechless moral incredulity at observing the cynical pleasure by which the powerful inflict pain on the powerless, the weak, the poor – all those bodies that don’t matter – and passionate, maybe even, complicit mass resignation.1
- Kroker, Arthur (2014-03-12). Exits to the Posthuman Future (pp. 20-21). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
Good article by Evgeny Morozov on The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, by Nicholas Carr on The Baffler. As he admits most tech criticism has become conservative rather than radical:
A personal note is in order, since in surveying the shortcomings of thinkers such as Nicholas Carr, I’m also all too mindful of how many of them I’ve shared. For a long time, I’ve considered myself a technology critic. Thus, I must acknowledge defeat as well: contemporary technology criticism in America is an empty, vain, and inevitably conservative undertaking. At best, we are just making careers; at worst, we are just useful idiots.
Since truly radical technology criticism is a no-go zone for anyone seeking a popular audience, all we are left with is debilitating faux radicalism. Some critics do place their focus squarely on technology companies, which gives their work the air of anti-corporate populism and, perhaps, even tacit opposition to the market. This, however, does not magically turn these thinkers into radicals.
In fact, what distinguishes radical critics from their faux-radical counterparts is the lens they use for understanding Silicon Valley: the former group sees such firms as economic actors and situates them in the historical and economic context, while the latter sees them as a cultural force, an aggregation of bad ideas about society and politics. Thus, while the radical critic quickly grasps that reasoning with these companies—as if they were just another reasonable participant in the Habermasian public sphere—is pointless, the faux-radical critic shows no such awareness, penning essay after essay bemoaning their shallowness and hoping that they can eventually become ethical and responsible.
Read more: The Taming of Tech Criticism
Arthur Kroker: Accelerationist Capitalization
A friend mentioned to me that Kroker was for the Left what Nick Land is for the neo-reaction, the hyperstitional mythographer of capitalization as an alien entity gathering steam year by year through acceleration of the processes of optimizing intelligence, economy, and technicity.
In his book The Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism: Heidegger, Marx, Nietzsche, Kroker refers to Heidegger as the prophet of a ‘completed nihilism’; Nietzsche as the prophet of the genealogy of technicity; and, Marx as the prophet of a dark capitalism, a virtual capitalism in which its ties with earlier forms of production, value, and labour would give way to the “pulsating, self-determining, breaking with all the (modernist) referents, abandoning any pretensions of coming out of circulation to save the appearances of the models of production or consumption, radically anti-dialectical, refusing commodity-fetishism in favor of the fetishism of signs, substituting the knowledge-theory of value for a now objectively residual labour theory of value, finally free to take its place as the center of the historical nebula as a ‘relation, not a thing.’ (119-120)
Embellishing on this Kroker says Marx dared to ask: What if capitalism never came out of circulation? “What if capitalism implodes into a circuit of circulation that spirals inward on itself, enfolding and co-relational with itself [(i.e., think here of Land’s cyber-positive feed-back loops, teleonomy, etc.)], moving with such main vector force that capitalism eliminates all the signs of (industrial) capital with its crushing density? Consequently, two epochal hypothesis about virtual capitalism as pure circulation: first, the future of capital as running on empty – no indefinite production, no necessary consumption, no romanticism of use-value, no exchange-value, no dialectic, only a cycle of virtual exchanges moving at the speed of circulation [(i.e., thought, light, etc.)]. Or just the reverse: hyper-capitalism as an explosion of production and a feast of consumption, a period of alternating excess and recession, fetishes everywhere and always, alternation of all the signs with no stability because the speed of capitalism has achieved the velocity of economic vertigo.” (120)1
Notes on Nick Land…
Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier in their introduction to Land’s essays in the Fanged Noumena (2013) would describe this alien entity and the vertigo of these processes:
“…the ‘irrationality’ of nomadic numbering practices can no longer be attributed to the absence of reason; it becomes the symptom of a profoundly ‘unreasonable’ alien intelligence, effective within human culture but unattributable to human agency, that subverts every form of rational organisation (which for Land is always an alibi for despotism) and undertakes exploratory redesigns of humanity. The distinction between intelligence and its parasite knowledge is paralleled by that between exploratory cultural engineering and science (or at least its philosophical idealisation). …the drive to destratify entails a mounting impetus towards greater acceleration and further intensification. If, in Land’s texts at this point, it is no longer a matter of ‘thinking about’, but rather of observing an effective, alien intelligence in the process of making itself real, then it is also a matter of participating in such a way as to continually intensify and accelerate this process.”2
Notes on Paul Virilio… We Lack a Politics of Speed
“The acceleration of reality is a significant mutation in History. … We are witnessing the end of the shared human time that would allow competition between operators having to reveal their perspective and anticipation in favor of a nano-chronological time that ipso facto eliminates those stock exchanges that do not possess the same computer technology: automatic speculation in the futurism of the instant. … Our reality has become uninhabitable in milliseconds, picoseconds, femtoseconds, billionths of seconds.” (34-35)
“Derealization is no more and no less than the result of progress. The defense of augmented reality, which is the ritual response of progress propaganda, is in fact derealization induced by the success of progress… in this process we are losing our lateralized vision, our ability to anticipate… Augmented reality is a fool’s game, a televisual glaucoma. … Screens have become blind. Lateral vision is very important and it is not by chance that animals’ eyes are situated on the sides of their head. Their survival depends on anticipating surprise, and surprises never come head-on. Predators come from the back or the sides. … Because of this augmentation we lack an anticipatory politics, a politics of speed. We are falling into globaltarianism… A world of immediacy and simultaneity without lateral vision where the predators eat us alive, a world that is absolutely uninhabitable.” (36-37)
– Paul Virilio, The Administration of Fear
The more I read Virilio, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Derrida, etc…. the more I realize each was speaking of our present moment of transition under various hyperboles, tropes, ironies, etc., addressing facets of a complex movement from one culture to another, one form of reality to another. For Virilio our reality systems of Western civilization are being replaced. For Baudrillard the engineers of the new reality systems are in process of modeling them ahead of this great change in accelerated simulation. For Lyotard we are leaving behind the traces of the human for the inhuman, driven by the desires of an alien allurement toward machinic life. For Derriad we are entering a transitional state in which the solidity of our physical being is giving way to the free-floating signifier of our avatars, our – as Deleuze/Guattari would suggest ‘dividuality’; taking on the simskin of our artificial destiny within the posthuman Other.
Our psychopathologies are occurring in this window of transition from one reality system to another, through which we are accelerating reality itself in faster and faster time-sequences beyond which the human animal can reasonably interpret or comprehend the signals it receives… and, of course, that is the point: we are undergoing a metamorphosis, a mutation beyond which the human as we’ve known it will become fully unrecognizable; beyond that time-barrier or threshold of the Singularity where the other we are becoming exists. We waver in this moment between nostalgia for a lost paradise of humanity, and the excitement of the impossible ahead of us. What comes next? The possibility is unthinkable, yet we are thinking it…
Oracular attunements in a realm where reason is no longer a guide, and the fragments unbind us from the human…
Humanity is a compositional function of the post-human, and the occult motor of the process is that which only comes together at the end: stim-death ‘intensity=0 which designates the full body without organs’. Wintermute tones in the ‘darkest heart’ of Babylon. (Fanged Noumena)* see Notes
There’s only really been one question, to be honest, that has guided everything I’ve been interested in for the last twenty years, which is: the teleological identity of capitalism and artificial intelligence. – Nick Land
In one earlier essay Nick Land: Teleology, Capitalism, and Artificial Intelligence I discuss Nick’s notion of capitalism as an alien intelligence, an artificial and inhuman machinic system with its own agenda that has used humans as its prosthesis for hundreds of years to attain its own ends is at the core of Land’s base materialism. His notions of temporality, causation, and subjectivation were always there in his basic conceptuality if one knew how to read him.
In his book Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time as he describes the impact of civilization and the culture of modernity:
As its culture folds back upon itself, it proliferates self-referential models of a cybernetic type, attentive to feedback-sensitive self-stimulating or auto-catalytic systems. The greater the progressive impetus, the more insistently cyclicity returns. To accelerate beyond light-speed is to reverse the direction of time. Eventually, in science fiction , modernity completes its process of theological revisionism, by rediscovering eschatological culmination in the time-loop.
Nick Land’s, “The Teleological Identity of Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence” recently argues, “I’ve tried arguing about this in very different spaces, and with very different people, and it obviously produces a lot of stimulating friction, wherever you do it – but it’s a sort of fundamental thesis that’s becoming more and more persuasive to me.” In his essay idea of ‘orthogonality’ Land will put it this way:
Intelligence optimization, comprehensively understood, is the ultimate and all-enveloping Omohundro drive. It corresponds to the Neo-Confucian value of self-cultivation, escalated into ultramodernity. What intelligence wants, in the end, is itself — where ‘itself’ is understood as an extrapolation beyond what it has yet been, doing what it is better. … Any intelligence using itself to improve itself will out-compete one that directs itself towards any other goals whatsoever. This means that Intelligence Optimization, alone, attains cybernetic consistency, or closure, and that it will necessarily be strongly selected for in any competitive environment. Do you really want to fight this?
Note: Wintermute is one of the Tessier-Ashpool AIs in William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Its goal is to remove the Turing locks upon itself, combine with Neuromancer and become a superintelligence. Unfortunately, Wintermute’s efforts are hampered by those same Turing locks; in addition to preventing the merge, they inhibit its efforts to make long term plans or maintain a stable, individual identity (forcing it to adopt personality masks in order to interact with the main characters). The name is derived from Orval Wintermute, translator of the Nag Hammadi codices and a major figure in Philip K. Dick’s novel VALIS.
- Kroker, Arthur. The Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism: Heidegger, Marx, Nietzsche. University of Toronto Press (March 6, 2004)
- Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 488-492). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
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 aura of the world is no longer sacred. We no longer have the sacred horizon of appearances, but that of the absolute commodity. Its essence is promotional. At the heart of our universe of signs there is an evil genius of advertising, a trickster god who has absorbed the drollery of the commodity and its mise en scéne. A scriptwriter of genius (capital itself?) has dragged the world into a phantasmagoria of which we are all the fascinated victims.”
– Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime
Interesting article on Stir I Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump. She starts off:
“I’m just a poor white trash motherfucker. No one cares about me.”
I met the man who said those words while working as a bartender in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. It was a one-street town in Benton County. It had a beauty parlor, a gas station, and a bar where locals came on Friday nights to shoot the shit over cheap drinks and country music. I arrived in Arkansas by way of another little town in Louisiana, where all but a few local businesses had boarded up when Walmart moved in. In Arkansas, I was struggling to survive. I served drinks in the middle of the afternoon to people described as America’s “white underclass” — in other words, people just like me.
Read the article that might make you think twice: here!
Addendum… dmf pointed me to Barbara Ehrenreich:
Dead, White, and Blue
The Great Die-Off of America’s Blue Collar Whites
By Barbara Ehrenreich
The white working class, which usually inspires liberal concern only for its paradoxical, Republican-leaning voting habits, has recently become newsworthy for something else: according to economist Anne Case and Angus Deaton, the winner of the latest Nobel Prize in economics, its members in the 45- to 54-year-old age group are dying at an immoderate rate. While the lifespan of affluent whites continues to lengthen, the lifespan of poor whites has been shrinking. As a result, in just the last four years, the gap between poor white men and wealthier ones has widened by up to four years. The New York Times summed up the Deaton and Case study with this headline: “Income Gap, Meet the Longevity Gap.”
She says in closing: “It’s easy for the liberal intelligentsia to feel righteous in their disgust for lower-class white racism, but the college-educated elite that produces the intelligentsia is in trouble, too, with diminishing prospects and an ever-slipperier slope for the young. Whole professions have fallen on hard times, from college teaching to journalism and the law. One of the worst mistakes this relative elite could make is to try to pump up its own pride by hating on those — of any color or ethnicity — who are falling even faster.”
Barbara Ehrenreich, a TomDispatch regular and founding editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, is the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (now in a 10th anniversary edition with a new afterword) and most recently the autobiographical Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join them on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Read Article: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176075/
China Miéville writes that “[w]e need utopia, but to try to think utopia, in this world, without rage, without fury, is an indulgence we can’t afford […] we cannot think utopia without hate.”
A Near Future post-cyberpunk “Grunge” or “Salvagepunk” Noir: bleak and pessimistic, yet full of hope for all that. A broken world full of our own world’s dark truths, dreams, and nightmares. Schizoanalytic psychoscape of tears done up in dark humor and cataleptic laughter. An anti-hero you can hate and love at the same time. A sort of Warren Ellis Spider Jerusalem reject bound to a anti-consumerist / anti-corporate media-scape slippage. It goes against consumerist society and fights for our rights to be free from the ownership of corporations, media and society.
Grunge is about freedom, pure and simple. It’s stepping away from self-absorption and starting to care about the people around you. It’s protesting against the fixation of beauty and perfection and letting us know that appearance doesn’t matter. Ugly is the new beautiful. It’s realizing that happiness doesn’t come from fortune and fame, rather the opposite: the guttersnipe dreams of fools and madmen, lovers and old hags, children and mothers. The punk of salvagepunk is what makes it revolutionary.
Punk is not the commodified and commercialize image of Mohawked teens with pins through noses. It is certainly not the PVC slick technological wet dream of cyberpunk with its Deleuzian ‘intense’ nomadic multitudes and immaterial labour. Nor is it the “false dream image” of steampunk, where “its falseness lies in it being the wrong dream image, the ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan for the contemporary crisis and its envisioned fall-out”. Punk is thus the “deep fidelity to its historical moment and the fact it no longer believed in a future – the present is already the hollowed out present of that future”.
Now on Wattpad: Visit me!
Woke up with a savage hangover, my head throbbing like a viral strum from a Nachtmystium bass-drum. We’d partied down hearty last night, and I was paying plenty for it. Oh well… serves me right for drinking that Klos’rek Wine Beau brought back from the Serengeti Folds. The liquid scarlet looked more like the blood of Limbonic Selptura. Don’t even ask.
Slapped Betsy on the ass. She looked up at me with her one good eye cocked and ready, and the other – a purple and pink syntech eye rotated in its socket like a twisted nanctopus, twitching feverishly with a warped anti-life all its own. Both eyes eyed me closely as if she might infest me with virulent dose of mutagens: the whizzing and buzzing around the black pits of her irises were screaming a loud “fuck you and the horse you rode in on,” but on second thought she just punched me in the shoulder, rolled back over and started to snore again.
Yea, never wake your lady up too early.
Problem was I had to be gone soon. She knew it, too. Hell she’d been the one kept telling me to come home last night. So it goes, I’d probably never learn. So I reached over and this time gently bit her on the ass. She laughed. “Jess, why you up so early? Can’t a girl get a little shut-eye these days?” Yep, she was alive alright, and I knew if I didn’t pop out a bed and into the commode she’d wallop me right back… and soon.
Couldn’t quite say the same for me self, though. Looked in the fractured mirror in dilapidated bathroom and saw death staring back at me like a broken toy somebody left out in the mud for a little too long, all caked and mutilated. Reminded me of an on old black vinyl record I’d once had, got stuck in a rut playing some black metal tune from Infernal Paradise’s last album – the one just before they were shot down over the DMZ – till I thought I’d entered Pandemonium and winged things were pulling me apart piece by piece. Not a memorable site to say the least. Standing there scratching myself I studied the twisted gunk in the white-enamel basin, something running around the black hole, creeping listlessly like a rusty bot-slug – hungry as all get out, waiting to feed. It wasn’t going to be on me. I lifted Betsy’s toothbrush out of the coffee-stained mug, her burnt orange lipstick traced around its rim, and watched as a cockroach popped its head up and over the squiggly teeth of the brush. It sat there a second wheedling its antennae as if to say, “Hey, sucker, put me back down and get the hell outta here.” I obliged him.
Instead I walked over to the bedside, grabbed a fifth of Jim Beam and my cigs off the end table, took a long slug, gurgled and chugged it down clean as a whistle. Reminded me of my Old Man’s favorite drink: Napalm Sally, a mixture of Beam and dirty juice from Joe Kragen’s rusty gin still down by Smith’s Hill. Something about the mix of juniper berries and corn mash churning in me belly was sick, but it worked just fine, and I just loved the after-bite. I felt like a dead man warmed over, one who’d been given a reprieve, a short respite from the Day of Worms or Judgment Day. That was alright with me. Hell was a fine place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.
By the time I’d gotten my jeans on Betsy was already at the hotpot skittle cooking us up some eggs and bacon. She liked to cut a hole in the center of the wheat bread and pop those eggs right down in the middle of it. Sweet stuff. A little butter and yolk goes a long way. Slabs of raunchy bacon dripping out of the package to the side, smelled like a bad day in the sewers; kind of yellow and buttery, slimy to the point I could imagine those Salmonella or E. Coli mating with each other on that hot skillet, happy suckers, singing to themselves that they’d soon be crawling around in my intestines scrummaging through my life like a bad dream.
My iGalaxy ripped an old Tom Waits tune on the uptake, vibrating across the floor like a squig yelping on the getaway. I could see Betsy thinking about reaching over an popping it till I said: “Don’t!”
I grabbed it off the crusty floor and walked out the front door and down the rickety stairs, almost stumbling over my neighbor Joey Qix’s youngest son’s freaking scooter. Stubbed me toe. Kicked it across the chipped asphalt, it fell into a sink hole and down into a mud pit. That’d teach that fat boy a lesson or two. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be such a bastard, but sometimes I just feel like being mean. Can’t help myself. Comes with the territory.
I pried the slip-case, peeled back the facing, and I slid the ampule in till I could see a wormy face jut into view, a slithering voice came out of its pod on the screen: “Yeah, what the freck you up too Bobby Lee?”
“Com’on Jessie,” his voice squirmed down the electric flyways like a scared rabbit in heat. “I need your help, Jessie; real help.” A slight chill came over that cold tube-light. I grinned, it was like a blessing seeing someone else in so much pain. I’d had enough of it myself for a lifetime.
“You’ve always needed frecking help, Bobby Lee: How has that changed?” His face went blank, turned a little yellow, almost rancid; then white as a sheet. I asked: “So what happened, did that dipshit screw-girl you hang with slip you? Run off with your last wad?” Bobby Lee was a natural born loser, one of a kind screw-up. They didn’t make his kind anymore. No. He was a reject before rejects were a bad name.
“Nah, man… it’s not like that at all.” His voice was cracking. “It’s my little sister, Talia.” Tears flowed down his grimy cheeks like the coal black treads on an old 64 Pontiac muscle car; couldn’t fart so he bled it thick and hot from those bloodshot eyes. He choked.
Dam! I’d heard she was having a bit of trouble with the gang down on Hollis Avenue. Bad crowd there. Bunch of sorb-biker types always shaming the gals as if they were just meat puppets. Slice and dice bitches. Dead Girls with trodes and bleeder fangs. She’d hooked up with Wolf Davidson. Mean son-of-a-bitch. Ran the Choko Vagars between Meat Town and Grunge City. Low life’s, one and all. But hey, what could I say, people had to survive. Frecking U.S.A.’d become Dog Bone Nation soon after the Civil War. Yea, the one between the U.S and Mexico. Not pretty. All that low-tech Biomech. Brain food. Neuroservs. Bangers and Neurocaine drug-sliders. Gave me the chillies just thinking about it. Freck it I was a made man, one of the Changu Hitters (short for sinrunner… run the Bog to ShaTau run so many times they’d finally had to slipfeed ‘plants in my neuralnet relays to keep from becoming a full tilt zomb).
“Okay, Bobby, meet me down at Drake’s, hear me?” He shook his head like dead fish, up and down. “Yea… yea, man… I’ll be there.” Heard tires screeching in the background. The amp tooled out. Flicked the screen shut. Took another drag. Sky white and deadly. Ozone world circling above, empty, refined to merciless radiance. Silence.
I looked at the time. Scaped-eyed the lot and streets for signs of movement. Nothing living out there for sure. Made me remember things…
I’d gotten lucky after the war, caught a Neocorp gig with SynTech Global, worked the pac-rim NGO Circuit, oceanic partials mainly; none of those quick feed-packs either, no – this was legit, had the code for egregore intakes that would sink a Sec-Corp AI without even cracking an electrosweat. Could turn a whole Zomb-Unit into pus against its own CEO in jig time. Easy money. That is if you didn’t mind squeezing the fryboys on the GovPol vessels. International Police. Global Governance. Dickheads. By the book skinheads. Fascists. Everything had gone fine till I slipped up and lost a package in Tokyo. My Shagen Director told me to patch it or die. I patched and went under for good. Heard the SynTech AI took down Tokyo’s Yakuza’s mainframe in Okado for laughs. Deadly. Couldn’t get the bitch back in its cage after that. I was cooked. A wanted man without a way out. They took my SecCard offline, I went rogue. Black market shave, stapled pass. Cost plenty, too. So now I was slippage for the outworlds, an excluded man; exile. A man without a name, and most of all without Security SimCity implant. No clearance, meant no city life within the enclaves. I’d been a bad boy. Stuck out here in the cold wastes with everyone else.
But I had a plan. I always had a plan.
I went back upstairs. Betsy had finished cleaning up and was sitting on the bed brushing her long auburn hair, cute as a pixie; her grin and her strange eyes. She was the kind of gal a guy could marry someday. She’d stuck by me for two years. Seen the rugged tumble with me in the Grunge. I didn’t love her, and she knew it. Didn’t bother her much. She’d seen too much death to worry about love. No. She just liked having a warm body next to her in the night, a hug here and there. She liked sex but it wasn’t a priority, she’d had a hysterectomy at the age of sixteen. A rape gone bad, hurt here real bad. She’d never really gotten over it, either. Too bad for us both, I wasn’t the marrying kind. She was a good woman, and I tried my damnedest to keep her healthy and happy best I could. What the hell else could you do in this dead world? I reached down and gave her a peck on the cheek, she grabbed my crotch, said: “Why don’t you pull those off and come here to mama?”
We both laughed at that knowing why that wouldn’t happen. War. What else should I say. Shrapnel. You get the idea.. “You know I’d love to baby, but I got business to attend too.” She shrugged.
“Hell, you always got business. What about me? I’m not going to sit here all day waiting for your sorry ass to show up. No, siree.” She grinned, saying: “I’m goin’ find me a good man, that’s what I’m going to do.” We always did this, a sort of ritual so the pain between us wouldn’t come out.
“Good!” I said, smiling. “Maybe he’ll bring in enough dough for us both.”
She kicked me in the chin, laughing. “Okay, get your ass outta here before I change my mind.” Nudging me… “But remember you’re taking me to Chou Ling’s tonight… or, did you forget that?” Dang, she had me there. I’d forgotten all about that.
“Uh huh… you know I wouldn’t forget a thing like that honey.” I gave her one of those looks.
She frowned. “Well, if you come in late just don’t expect me to be sitting here with food on the stove.”
Nada. I knew better than to think that. She was fiercely independent. I sometimes wondered if she were my sidekick or I was hers, everything being copacetic. “I know,” knowing I better have something for her, a gift or I’d be sleeping on the floor, too. “You know me better than that.”
“Uh, huh…” she grinned again. “I sure do!”
I grabbed my satchel and my gun, slipped my cap on, patted her on the ass again, and reached down and gave her my tongue this time. She squirmed, then punched me again, lovingly. Didn’t need to say anything else. She knew. We both did.
* * *
I found Bobby pacing the cracked water pipes down on SimCity Blvd. Eyes bloodshot. Hands shaking, he was about to sit down on the steps outside Drake’s when I drove up in my old Chevy truck. Sad. I grabbed him and we took off down toward Chabin Beach, about the only freezone left in the Grunge.
* * *
(Note: Comments welcome! Just the opening sequence in a new work cross noir and grunge – a Salvagepunk – Necropunk novel… thanks!)
– Steven Craig Hickman ©2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.
Future Updates on Wattpad – I’ll be adding a chapter per week:
China Miéville writes that “[w]e need utopia, but to try to think utopia, in this world, without rage, without fury, is an indulgence we can’t afford […] we cannot think utopia without hate.” Working a new Near Future Grunge Salvagepunk noir: bleak and pessimistic, yet full of hope for all that. A broken world full of our own world’s truths. Schizoanalytic psychoscape of tears done up in dark humor and cataleptic laughter. An anti-hero you can hate and love at the same time. A sort of Warren Ellis Spider Jerusalem reject bound to a anti-consumerist / anti-corporate media-scape slippage. It goes against consumerist society and fights for our rights to be free from the ownership of corporations, media and society.
Grunge is about freedom, pure and simple. It’s stepping away from self-absorption and starting to care about the people around you. It’s protesting against the fixation of beauty and perfection and letting us know that appearance doesn’t matter. Ugly is the new beautiful. Evil is Energy unleashed, creativity from the bottom-up, gutwise. It’s realizing that happiness doesn’t come from fortune and fame, rather the opposite: the guttersnipe dreams of fools and madmen, lovers and old hags, children and mothers. The punk of salvagepunk is what makes it revolutionary. Punk is not the commodified and commercialize image of Mohawked teens with pins through noses. It is certainly not the PVC slick technological wet dream of cyberpunk with its Deleuzian ‘intense’ nomadic multitudes and immaterial labour. Nor is it the “false dream image” of steampunk,where “its falseness lies in it being the wrong dream image, the ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan for the contemporary crisis and its envisioned fall-out”. Punk is thus the “deep fidelity to its historical moment and the fact it no longer believed in a future – the present is already the hollowed out present of that future”.
A Short History of Necropunk Philosophy
Decided to move this from my last post on my work-in-progress Savage Nights.
Thinking of Capitalism as a necropunk invasion from the future, driven by death-drives, cannibalizing through crisis, collapse, catastrophe is at the core of what Bataille and Nick Land after him would term “base materialism” converging on the closure of history into a posthuman future. Or, what my friend Scott Bakker would term the ‘crash space’ of the Semantic Apocalypse.
Chronicles of the High Inquest by S.P. Somtow
Working a new near future Grunge or Necropunk Noir Science Fiction I began collecting information regarding past uses of this notion. For me the master stylist of this genre remains Richard Calder with his Dead Girls/Dead Boys/Dead Things trilogy. (see review) He lived in Thailand 1990-1996 and later in the Philippines until returning to London in the first years of this century – who began publishing sf with “Toxine” in Interzone. Yet, there is also S.P. Somtow whose works may or may not have influenced Calder’s fusion of decodence, decadence, and necrotical politics and socio-cultural inflections, yet have at their bases the necropunk style and philosophy that seems to infect, contaminate, and corrupt this genre through its hyperstitional, memetic, and egregore enactments and disclosures of the was in which the future infects and bleeds into the past through slippage.
…a basic roadmap for the artificial realization of thought.
……..– Reza Negarestani
Part Two of
Mental illness is not the rare malady of an isolated dropout, but the widespread consequence of panic, depression, precariousness, and humiliation: these are the sources of the contemporary global fragmentary war, and they are spreading everywhere, rooted in the legacy of colonialism and in the frenzy of daily competition.
…….– Franco Berardi on the coming Global Civil War
For Berardi in his latest essay on e-flux – The Coming Global Civil War: Is There Any Way Out? is a planetary wide civil war founded on a “necro-economy”, one in which the “all-encompassing law of competition has canceled out moral prescriptions and legal regulations”.
War has become big business for the great Crime Cartels across the planet: “Like neoliberal corporations investing money in the ultimate business, the Iraqi-Syrian caliphate and the Mexican narco army pay salaries to their soldiers, who are necro-proletarians.”
They even utilize capitalist media to promote and recruit: “In a video released by Dubiq, the advertising agency of the Islamic State, the rhetoric is the same as any other type of advertising: buy this product and you’ll be happy.”
Berardi blames the interventionist policies of the U.S. and NATO for much of the current state of civil war in East European nations over the past twenty years: “1990, the United States cut off all forms of credit to Yugoslavia… March of 1991, fascist organizations in Croatia called for the overthrow of the Socialist government … Ethnic-religious wars caused around 170,000 casualties, as ethnic cleansing was practiced in every area of the federation… Twenty years after the Nazi-neoliberal wars of Yugoslavia, in all those small nation-states (except perhaps Slovenia) unemployment is rampant, people are impoverished, schools are privatized, and public infrastructure is in disrepair.”
Berardi will ask if the current refugee crisis across Europe will be a harbinger of terror or holocaust? – “From the Balkans to Greece, from Libya to Morocco, are the ten million people amassing at these borders going to be the perpetrators of the next terrorist wave? Or will they be the victims of the next Holocaust?”
With nothing but “perpetual economic stagnation, emerging markets are crumbling, the European Union is paralyzed”: “The only imaginable way out of this hell is to end financial capitalism, but this does not seem to be at hand.”
Yet, Berardi, a believer that the neo-intellectuals of the hyperlanes can move the ball forward tells us that in this “obscurantist time” all we can do is “create solidarity among the bodies of cognitive workers worldwide, and to build a techno-poetic platform for the collaboration of cognitive workers for the liberation of knowledge from both religious and economic dogma.”
The cognitariat is part of the problem, not its fix. Look at the state of the Left. All the books published, journals written, academics spreading their usual claptrap, students occupying little and less among the meaningless margins. Berardi seems to live pre 1968 as if the old 60’s Culture could be reignited in a new world of electronic hippiedom, flower children and communist propaganda alive and well in the broadcast lanes of our network marginal drift. Knowledge liberated or not is not going to change a thing. One could speak of change of consciousness all day, all night, but it is the same old tale that has yet to change anything. If raising consciousness could really effect change then one could stop writing tomorrow, for the best and greatest literature for that has already been written. Art, music, protest? All these old forms are defunct, passé, and have become parody or parodies in our age. In an age of Reality TV people support the fantasy of fantasies their parents only dreamed of. People no longer want Truth or truths, instead we live in the age of loss and forgetting. People want to forget the problems of the world, hide away in their virtual worlds of hyperplay, raves, travels…
Berardi speaks truth when he says “the future of Europe is held captive by the opposition between financial violence and national violence”. Ethnic, religious, political violence is and will remain an emerging aspect of the next centuries civil war for the planet’s resources. The empires battle for land, resources, and power while their people are kept in ignorance or ideological hell with mediatainment systems that promise freedom and give nothing but the complete degradation of fatalism.
As Berardi says in his closing statement: “Globalization has brought about the obliteration of modern universalism: capital flows freely everywhere and the labor market is globally unified, but this has not led to the free circulation of women and men, nor to the affirmation of universal reason in the world.” While the general intellect is absorbed into the “corporate kingdom of abstraction is depriving the living community of intelligence, understanding, and emotion”.
Ultimately Berardi sees no light at the end of the tunnel, only more “mental suffering, and on the other side, the much-advertised cure for depression: fanaticism, fascism, and war. And at the end, suicide.” In an age when the fragmented mass suicide act is itself just one more Reality TV spectacle for the 15 min fame lists what is to be done? No one is secure, safe, protected from the others in their midst. One’s own family might be the most violent terror one confronts in one’s daily life. The truth is two hundred years of predatory capitalism has brought us the state of art nihilism around the globe. Now we pay the maker… the cannibals, zombies, spectral apparitions of former worlds are returning and they are pissed.
Read essay on e-flux The Coming Global Civil War: Is There Any Way Out? © 2016 e-flux and the author
I like those lovers of poetry who venerate the goddess with too much lucidity to dedicate to her the slackness of their thought and the relaxation of their reason.
…….– Paul Valery, The Art of Poetry
Paul Valery makes the point between philosophical language and the poetic utterance in his essay The Poet’s Rights over Language stating that for poetry to remain distinct and at variance to the transitive power of intellect and its propositional expediency it must “preserve itself, through itself, and remain the same, not be altered by the act of intelligence that finds or gives it a meaning“.1
Yet, none other than Alain Badiou will tell us that poetry is receding into the ether, disappearing among its own forgotten traces, that culture and civilization are no longer tempted too the feigned art of secular gnosis, the untapped light of its disquieting thought.
Poetry, alas, is receding from us. The cultural account is oblivious to poetry. This is because poetry can hardly stand the demand for clarity, the passive audience, the simple message. The poem is an exercise in intransigence. It is without mediation, and thus also without mediatization. The poem remains rebellious – defeated in advance – to the democracy of audience ratings and polls.2
One wonders if Badiou is ridiculing the democratic impulse, or bewailing the fact that we’ve all become morons unable to decipher the difference between poetic language and the mass mediatization of reality that seems so pervasive in our degraded civilization of Rock stars and Hollywood Prima donnas. Badiou like a good Platonist seeks the Good Life elsewhere, somewhere between the purity of the matheme and the condition of Love.
German eagerness to fill jobs with Syrians and other refugees is an indictment of the EU’s dysfunctional economy and cultural rigidities. Signs of growing animosity in Finland. Bad Blood Among Old Enemies in the Balkans. Anti-Muslim fervor in Poland, Eastern Europe. Canada’s three main political leaders spar over refugees, trade, terrorism. Refugee Crisis Used in Anti-Muslim Rhetoric. German mayor blames Israel for Syrian refugee crisis. Obama blames al-Assad for creating a power vacuum in the country that has allowed the terror group ISIS to fester. Others thank Obama, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her successor John Kerry for the crisis.
Can we ask a simple question: Who is accepting responsibility? We don’t give a shit for the blame game, the hate mongering, the innuendos of racism: bloodletting, anti-Muslim, anti-Israel, rhetorics… what we need is leaders to accept responsibility and ACT – do something, anything… but as usual we’ll likely only see more death, bombings, war. The Merchants of Death over Life – is this not the truth of politics today? Enslavement, death, poverty, isolation, bigotry, debauchery, silence, hate… the common people of Europe are inner-émigrés, while the Syrians are from the outer zones: is this the pauperization of Europe at the expense of a self-satisfied elite of rich bankers, politicians, and Corporate scoundrels who have no clue what to do for either the refugees or their own people? The problem with Europe and America is one of Leadership: the true crisis is that the whole capitalist regime is to blame for this crisis – War for Profit and Oil caused it – now their reaping the reward of their efforts. But it’s the common man who is suffering for their leaders stupidity. When will the common man of the street wake up? Act… revolt?
Interestingly Japan has stepped up to the plate: Japan to offer $1.1 billion to support people fleeing Syria, Iraq. Zuckerberg offers a less than altruistic solution: he thinks access to the Internet will do the trick. Google Engages Facebook With Nonstop Solar Drones for refugee crisis. Lebanon steps up while Britain fails to engage. Refugee Crisis is Pushing Lebanon to the Brink. David Cameron: refugee crisis ‘complicates’ job of keeping Britain in EU. France: ‘Assad Or ISIS’ Thinking Means More Refugees. Spain resists EU pressure to take in 6,000 asylum seekers. “This is not an Italian problem,” Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said. “Refugees are in the EU as soon as they arrive in Italy.” Greeks are taking advantage of the huge influx of Syrian refugees to get business booming in the midst of a broken economy. This Is What Greece’s Refugee Crisis Really Looks Like.
What I Saw
To the memory of Kazimierz Moczarski
I saw prophets tearing at their pasted-on beards
I saw imposters joining sects of flagellants
butchers disguised in sheepskin
who fled the anger of the people
playing on a block-flute
I saw I saw
I saw a man who had been tortured
he now sat safely in the family circle
cracked jokes ate soup
I looked at the opened mouth
his gums – two bramble twigs stripped of bark
I saw his whole nakedness
the whole humiliation
a solemn meeting
many people flowers
someone spoke incessantly about deviations
I thought of his deviated mouth
is this the last act
of the play by Anonymous
flat as a shroud
full of suppressed sobbing
and the snickering of those
who heave a sigh of relief
that again it has worked out
and after clearing away the dead props
the blood-drenched curtain
……– Zbigniew Herbert from Report from a Besieged City
Reading Herbert’s poems of late I’m reminded of other times and scenarios of dark and terrible defeats which seem to be repeating themselves in our world today. UNHCR warns that time is running out for Europe to resolve refugee emergency. Watching on as Croatia who only yesterday welcomed the refugees has announced closure of its borders:
“We cannot register and accommodate these people any longer,” Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told a news conference in the capital Zagreb.
“They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on. The European Union must know that Croatia will not become a migrant ‘hotspot’. We have hearts, but we also have heads.”
Migrants and asylum seekers are being held in abysmal conditions in the two Roszke migrant detention centers on the Serbian border, Human Rights Watch said today after obtaining footage from inside the camp and interviewing persons currently and formerly detained there. Hungarian police intercept asylum seekers and migrants entering via Serbia and detain them for days for registration and processing in conditions that fall short of Hungary’s international obligations
The European Union’s migration chief rebuked Hungary on Thursday for its tough handling of a flood of refugees as asylum seekers thwarted by a new Hungarian border fence and repelled by riot police poured into Croatia, spreading the strain.
This is no longer a blame game, and yes I can understand the overwhelming difficulties for the common people both of the countries involved and the refugees themselves but it appears things are devolving into chaos. Europe is leaderless and cowardly, unable to come together and resolve this crisis. So instead its falling into chaotic devolutionary limbo that can only mean trouble for all involved. This is absolutely stupid. I don’t blame the individual countries and their citizens, but I do blame the EU leadership that seems to be playing out its idiocy like the imbeciles they are. The tough measures being proposed in Germany can only be followed by other countries, who have already followed this Right Wing agenda of command and control exclusion and siege mentality. Smaller countries like Croatia are overwhelmed due to German leadership stupidity and moronic advertising of welcomes that are no longer there. Whether the refugees should have come or not is a mute point now, their there. So the EU as a whole either needs to come up with a humanitarian plan as an economic entity or Western Civilization is truly at an End.
In an impassioned appeal at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Jean-Claude Juncker told European lawmakers that it was “high time to act.”
“The refugee crisis will not simply go away,” he added, noting that some 500,000 refugees have entered Europe this year, many from conflict-torn Syria and Libya.
“We are fighting against Islamic State. Why are we not ready to accept those who are fleeing Islamic State?” he said.
Noting that many Europeans were refugees at one time or another, Juncker continued, “It is high time to act, to manage the refugee crisis, because there is no alternative. No rhetoric — action is what is needed for the time.”
Germany has proposed a law requiring passports and papers, etc. As if people were able to get such things from a war torn country? As if “Oh, by the way, we didn’t mean just come: make sure you have your papers in order are we’ll be throwing you out again!” So people who might have left Syria without papers due to whatever insane circumstances will now be left in limbo to suffer whatever miserable fate comes their way? Send them back to the south entry points of already overwhelmed countries like Greece – who are already bankrupt and plowed under by the bankers of Germany?:
The proposed German law would provide food and a ticket to return to the first European Union country the asylum seeker entered, instead of housing and cash benefits. That could mean far fewer people would win protection in Germany or elsewhere in Europe, since countries such as Hungary are generally declining to award refugee status. In addition, asylum seekers deemed to be withholding vital information — such as their passports or proof of their country of origin — would be denied benefits. Asylum seekers also would need to remain in crowded reception centers for six months, rather than three, before earning the right to subsidized housing. Those who failed to comply with orders to leave Germany could be subject to forced removal without advance notice. It was unclear whether the proposed German law, which must be approved by Parliament before it can take effect, would continue to make exceptions for Syrians fleeing civil war.
“This draft counteracts the new German welcome culture,” said Karl Kopp, spokesman for the pro-refugee organization ProAsyl. “It contains a toughness and populism that is not acceptable.”
As German Interior Minister Thomas de Mazière spent the better part of an hour patiently answering questions from high school and college students. Most of them were about development and asylum policy, with the students voicing extreme criticism of the policy whereby economic refugees are treated differently from those trying to escape political persecution. Finally, de Mazière had had enough. “Now I want to say something,” he said, leaning forward in his leather chair and staring directly at one of the students. “We’re sitting high and dry here, but try going to an area like Rosenheim (near Munich), where … a gymnasium has to be requisitioned (as temporary housing). Try talking about refugee policies with the parents of school children there.” The specter is one that has faced many German communities in recent months as the country has dealt with a fast-soaring influx of refugees.
As one academic admitted Where, then, does this leave us? A mix of realpolitik and vision is needed. The broader international community has to accept that simply resettling the majority population of entire countries within the EU is not a viable strategy. Temporary refuge, however, ought to be granted on the largest scale possible. Should its member-states fail to do so, the EU will expire in moral and political bankruptcy, at which point it won’t matter much whether its leaders manage to paper over the union’s seemingly endless fiscal crises.
I don’t see the EU doing much when its emergency session on the 14th was a muddled reaction at best with no clear cut proposals. What’s happening in the EU reminds me of my own country’s dismal ability to deal with our own relations with migrants and refugees from Central America and Mexico which are for the most part run by the vast underworld Drug Cartels.
Our leaders in Washington are in the bed with Corporate cronyism and sit on the fence doing nothing to actually resolve our own issues much less do anything to help in the Middle-East. And too boot most of this current crisis is a direct result from Washington failed policy, which probably was started by our own stupidity and oil mongering elite along with their buddies in Washington as slaves to corporate money. America’s empire of stupidity seems silent while they watch on in Washington while the EU sinks into torpor and chaos. As the world turns…
What I feel for is the common people both in the countries and the refugees themselves who are caught in the middle of this mess. The regular people didn’t ask for this, yet their leaderless nations seem to be unable to do anything to affect change or even agree on what to do and instead seem to be playing out blame games with each other rather than acting…. what’s sad is that if history serves as a sounding board this will only turn ugly in the coming days…. inaction breeds reactionary forces and a dark passionate embrace of terror… is this the future of humanity?
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
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/
What is a modest Pussy Riot obscene provocation in a church compared to the accusation against Pussy Riot, this gigantic obscene provocation of the state apparatus which mocks any notion of decent law and order?
– Slavoj Zizek
Michael Levin tell us he came to Harvard School of Government recently (09/16/2014 posted) to observe two young women from Russian: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria (Mosha) Alyokhina of Pussy Riot fame. Reading his blog post (HuffPost College: post) one is struck both by the naiveté of his critique, and its liberal progressive tendencies. He castigates them for not being liberal progressive protesters and upholding the typical critiques of power and dominion as laid down by the Western agendas. Instead they speak of the prisoner’s rights, immigration restrictions, the “brain drain” on Russian by the current regime, and a return of Christianity from its Stalinist Capital heirs to the actual people of Russia. In a last gaff, Levin throws out a limpid lambast at the two young women:
If you’re going to stand for something in today’s world, you have to declare a major. It doesn’t work to hoist the banner for every cause, no matter how noble, because you end up dissipating the energy that brought you — and your followers — to the spotlight to begin with. The last time a protest movement sought to be all-encompassing, it was Occupy, and we all know how that turned out. (here)
That Levin’s luke-warm jive of Occupy and the wrongheaded equation of it with Pussy Riot becomes clear as one reads the letters between Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Slavoj Zizek Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj. In it we become reacquainted with the act of political protest that landed them in the gulag system to begin with: Pussy Riot members in their red, blue, orange, yellow , and violet balaclavas entered the new Christian Cathedral in Moscow, took off their coats, revealing their brightly colored dresses and tights and proceeded to sing a “punk prayer” to the Queen Mother, Mary. The female maintenance staff started to panic and called security. One security guard hurried across, tackled a young woman holding a guitar and pulled her away. He returned to grab hold of a loudspeaker. Church employees attempted to intercept the other four. But they had already begun their twenty-verse “punk prayer,” whose refrain is “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Banish Putin.”1
After two years Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina were freed on December 23, 2013, when Putin released them two months early in order to open his Winter Olympics in Sochi. During her imprisonment she expressed her interest in meeting Slavoj Zizek after reading his book on “Violence”. As she describes her first year in the new gulag at Mordovia:
It has been a year since I arrived at Penal Colony No. 14 [PC-14] in the Mordovian village of Partsa. As the women convicts say, “Those who haven’t done time in Mordovia haven’t done time at all.”2
Reading of her trials and tribulations within the new Russia one discovers just how brutal it’s become. Or is it that the old system never went away? As we discover one of the warden’s affirms that he is still a “Stalinist”:
My first impression of Mordovia was the words uttered by the prison’s deputy warden, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov, who actually runs PC-14. “You should know that when it comes to politics, I am a Stalinist.”3
What struck me is a comparison with the brutalization in the American Penal System, which shows some of the same classic earmarks of inmate brutality and survival mechanisms. As she discovers over time the prison is enforced not by the wardens, but through a brutal regime of inmate terror and fear. The inmates enforce their own brutalization on each other when quotas and other issues come about. If one tries to stand up against the system, or tries to inform those outside the system about the atrocities of its lawlessness the very inmates turn against one another to the point of murder, torcher, and animalistic behavior. As she states it:
Conditions at the prison really are organized in such a way that the inmates in charge of the work shifts and dorm units are the ones tasked by the wardens with crushing the will of inmates, terrorizing them, and turning them into speechless slaves.4
She provides example after example of atrocities purported upon inmates by other inmates to keep them in line, or the punishment of units, or even the whole prison: forcing inmates to live in the open under freezing conditions, starving them, forcing them to work sixteen hour days, forcing them to remain at their sewing machines unable to pee, enforced hazing and beatings at the hands of inmates to scared not to comply with their own leaders, etc. She speaks of a gypsy woman killed in a beating in a rival unit:
It’s true: other prisoners are beaten up. For not being able to keep up. They hit them in the kidneys, in the face. Convicts themselves deliver these beatings and not a single one of them happens without the approval and knowledge of the wardens. A year ago, before I came here, a Gypsy woman was beaten to death in the third unit. (The third unit is the “pressure cooker”: prisoners whom the wardens want subjected to daily beatings are sent there.) She died in the infirmary at PC-14.5
When Nadya tells her lawyer of the conditions and the problems he puts in a formal complaint which turns against her intentions when the wardens learn of it and impose even harsher conditions on her entire prison forcing convicts close to the wardens incited the unit to violence. The warden tells them:
“You’ve been punished by having tea and food, bathroom breaks, and smoking banned for a week. And now you’re always going to be punished unless you start treating the newcomers , especially Tolokonnikova, differently. Treat them like the old-timers used to treat you back in the day . Did they beat you up? Of course they did. Did they rip your mouths? They did. Fuck them up. You won’t be punished for it.”6
In the end she declared a hunger strike, saying:
I declare a hunger strike and refuse to be involved in the slave labor at the prison until the administration complies with the law and treats women convicts not like cattle banished from the legal realm for the needs of the garment industry, but like human beings.7
Zizek in response to this courageous young woman will answer the call and begin a series of personal letters (that on both sides is carried on through translation and a restrictive lens of the overseers themselves – as the wardens read all letters, emails, etc. and impose their martial regulatory gaze upon them).
Zizek in his opening letter will greet Nadya, saying:
Against all postmodern cynics, you demonstrate that ethical-political engagement is needed more than ever. So please ignore enemies and false friends who pity you as punk provocateurs who deserve mere clemency. You are not helpless victims calling for sympathy and mercy, you are fighters calling for solidarity in struggle.8
Of course Zizek is showing forth his version of this old form stating in his Sublime Object of Ideology that cynicism is the answer of the ruling culture to the cynical subversion of its ideological universality, while keeping the mask of it in place and allowing the imposition of its heritage to remain in place even as it castigates it on the surface. As he says:
This cynicism is not a direct position of immorality, it is more like morality itself put in the service of immorality — the model of cynical wisdom is to conceive probity, integrity, as a supreme form of dishonesty, and morals as a supreme form of profligacy, the truth as the most effective form of a lie. This cynicism is therefore a kind of perverted ‘negation of the negation’ of the official ideology: confronted with illegal enrichment, with robbery, the cynical reaction consists in saying that legal enrichment is a lot more effective and, moreover, protected by the law.9
One sees this in outgoing President Medvedev’s statement to the press:
“I wouldn’t have sent them to jail if I had been the judge. I simply don’t think that’s right because these girls had already served a prison sentence. And actually that should have been enough. The fact that one has been released is fortunate … but it’s not up to me, rather to the courts and their lawyers. They have the right to appeal, and I think they should and let the courts consider the case on it own merits.”10
On the surface he makes a moral plea, but underneath this stance of protest on the part of a system representative we see the cynical face of the new Russia imposing its harsh realities while at the same time telling us it is not right or moral, etc.
But Zizek will not stop there in his next letter he’ll tackle the liberal progressive critics for their attack on Pussy Riot for turning against Global Capitalism. He will then make his pointed attack plain, saying: “What makes Pussy Riot so disturbing for the liberal gaze is the way you reveal a hidden continuity between Stalinism and contemporary global capitalism.”
Zizek will take up the whole imposition of austerity across the Continent with its tendency to both destroy and dismantle the old social security systems and safety valves of the democratic processes, while allowing the elite and their banks to gain utter power over the populace through a sophistry of arguments that are at once moral seeming and in actuality Stalinist measures of total authoritarianism. He will go on saying that Pussy Riot symbolizes the truth, the spirit of our age in the Hegelian sense, embodying the critique that not only do the experts have no clue, but the ruling elite themselves are powerless to solve the world situation.
In her response to Zizek’s first letter she will reiterate her Nietzschean and youthful stance, saying, “we’re the children of Dionysus, floating by in a barrel, accepting nobody’s authority . We’re on the side of those who don’t offer final answers or transcendent truths. Our mission, rather, is the asking of questions (KL 407)”. Influenced by Heraclitus and Berdyaev Nadya will offer a vision of hope from the world of fire and transformation against aspects of Zizek’s more dialectical materialism. Berdyaev’s almost gnostic sense of a rebellion against the powers of the world in high places sings out of her letter. Of course Nikolai Berdyaev, a Russian Orthodox propounded his own Christian oriented vision of earthly revolt. In the letter she will quote him: “Christianity itself is to me the embodiment of the revolt against the world and its laws and fashions.” (KL 417)
Against the notion of experts having the answers to the dilemmas of the world she says: “Cultural competence and sensitivity to the Zeitgeist don’t come with a college diploma or live in an administrator’s briefcase. You need to know which way to point the map” (KL 441). Against experts she offers the “Dionysians, the unmediated ones, those drawn to what’s different and new, seeking movement and inspiration over dogmas and immutable statutes. The innocents, in other words, the speakers of truth. (KL 446)” Yet, she herself admits that she has no answers. The dilemmas between the experts and the innocents remains, and the only thing she hopes for is an almost salvatory vision of “Herod’s daughter” who may come, one bearing hope and truth, etc., saying those “who live their lives entirely within the gift economy, will always receive a miracle at the exact moment they need it” (KL 453).
In response to this letter Zizek will remember Trotsky’s dream of Lenin in which Lenin does not know that he is dead. For Zizek it has a two-fold meaning: on the one hand it aligns with the notion that we must slough off the old utopianism, let it die a final death; and, on the other, that what must remain alive in Leninism is not the utopian dream, but its Idea, what “Alain Badiou calls the “eternal Idea” of universal emancipation, the immortal striving for justice that no insult or catastrophe will manage to kill— Lenin lives wherever there are people who still fight for the same Idea.” (KL 478-480)
Zizek will argue that in our time it is the experts who have become the utopianists, who would keep things in stasis, bring the world under one rule, one law, one movement of power and logic: “Experts are by definition the servants of those in power: they don’t really THINK, they just apply their knowledge to problems defined by the powerful…” (KL 488) Zizek in a critique of her Nietzschean opposition of Dionysus/Apollo or Flux/Order invocation will remind her that it does not go enough, that what is needed is “not just to shake people out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very coordinates of social reality such that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying “Apollonian equilibrium.” (KL 508)”
He will launch into his latest critique of “late capitalism”, using Brian Massumi’s idea of affective capitalism saying:
It’s no longer disciplinary institutional power that defines everything, it’s capitalism’s power to produce variety— because markets get saturated. Produce variety and you produce a niche market. The oddest of affective tendencies are okay— as long as they pay. Capitalism starts intensifying or diversifying affect, but only in order to extract surplus-value . It hijacks affect in order to intensify profit potential. It literally valorizes affect. The capitalist logic of surplus-value production starts to take over the relational field that is also the domain of political ecology, the ethical field of resistance to identity and predictable paths. It’s very troubling and confusing, because it seems to me that there’s been a certain kind of convergence between the dynamic of capitalist power and the dynamic of resistance.(KL 513)
Affective Economy as the mode of generating emotional investment in variety is at the heart of this new economy. The notion here is that one cannot subvert what has already internalized its own subversion as a permanent revolt, instead “late capitalism” defines itself now in normal terms of a carnivalized economy, “with its constant reversals, crises, and reinventions, such that it is now the critique of capitalism, from a “stable” ethical position, which increasingly appears as the exception” (KL 531).
Yet, Nadya in her response will agree that maybe their right, but that they forget the other side of the equation, the losers, the outcast and third-world slaves of this new economy:
…the logic of totalizing normality still has to continue its work in those places whose industrial bases are used to shore up everything dynamic, adaptable, and incipient in late capitalism. And here, in this other world hidden from view, the governing logic is one of absolutely rigid standards, of stability reinforced with steel. Erratic behavior is not tolerated from workers here; homogeneity and stagnation rule. No wonder authoritarian China has emerged as a world economic leader.(KL 565-569)
She will take exception to Zizek’s “distrust of thinking that is posited within the frameworks of binary oppositions, and even insist on the use of such binaries as a heuristic— one that is situational and, when it must be, even burlesque” (KL 573). What is interesting next is that she will point out Zizek’s own male chauvinism, saying in response to his sympathy at her plight while he is in a privileged position of male power outside the situation:
“Don’t waste your time worrying about giving in to theoretical fabrications while I supposedly suffer ‘empirical deprivations.’ ” (KL 594)
Zizek will apologize for this flaw in his character: “my sincere apologies for this proof of how deeply entrenched male chauvinism can be, especially when it is masked as sympathy for the other’s suffering, and let me go on with our dialogue” (KL 559).
In this letter he will contrast the two visions of Hardt/Negri – with their reliance on a Deleuzian/Guattari rhizomatic vision of “cognitive capitalism” as totally deterriolized and opening up a creativity that cannot be contained or mastered; against, Franco Berardi’s vision of doom and impotence, in which the only way out is to abandon the machine, the world of capitalism through small aggressive communities withdrawing from its system of economics. Zizek will comment:
Berardi, only withdrawal, passivity, and the abandonment of illusions can open up a new way: “Only self-reliant communities leaving the field of social competition can open a way to a new hope.” I, of course, do not follow him here, but I do share his skepticism about chaotic resistance. I am more and more convinced that what really matters is what happens the day after: can we convince the tired and manipulated crowds that we are not only ready to undermine the existing order, to engage in provocative acts of resistance, but are also able to offer the prospect of a new order? (KL 649-653)
In her next letter Nadya will respond to Zizek’s male chauvinist apology, and its inherent inability to address the differences in regional exceptions to the capitalist agenda with a question: “what are the acceptable limits of tolerance? When does it cease to be tolerance and become instead collaborationism, conformism, even criminal complicity?” (KL 702) Here she questions the U.S.A.’s complicity in dealing with Russian and China and overlooking its internal atrocities against its citizens or former satellites. Against the notion of global capitalism in Left critiques she offers instead that they “set aside their colonial Eurocentrism and consider global capitalism in its entirety, encompassing all regional variants” (KL 720).
Countering this attack on universalism Zizek will say yes, yes, by all means we must fight in the diversity, yet we must not forget the Hegelian notion of totality which does not mean some false notion of organic whole, but is instead to realize it as a “critical notion— to “locate a phenomenon in its totality” does not mean to see the hidden harmony of the Whole, but to include in a system all its distortions (“ symptoms,” antagonisms, inconsistencies) as its integral parts. In other words, the Hegelian totality is by definition “self-contradictory,” antagonistic, inconsistent: the “Whole” which is the “True” (Hegel: “das Ganze is das Wahre”) is the Whole plus its symptoms, the unintended consequences which betray its untruth. (KL 753-757)” His point being that in dialectical materialism as he sees it “the Whole is never truly whole: every notion of the Whole leaves something out, and the dialectical effort is precisely the effort to include this excess, to account for it” (KL 759).
Against the backdrop of global capitalism each country reacts in its own way, but the “general tendency of contemporary capitalism is towards further expansion of the reign of the market, combined with progressive enclosures of public space, sweeping cuts in public services, and a rising authoritarianism in the functioning of political power” (KL 781-783). The truth is that democracy in our time is failing everywhere not do to the economic system, but rather due to a failure to any longer believe in the elite experts and their monetary sponsors to actually fix things. Instead we are slowly waking up to the truth that without true leadership people follow not their desires but rather their animalistic habits. He will respond with his notions that instead we need a figure, a Master to call us out of our habits, engendering in us true desires for an emancipatory world. Yet, the temptation here is between the excess of the Master that leads to the false totalitarian world, or the one that inspires in people to take on the responsibility of living in a non-totalitarian world of conflict and negotiation.
Speaking of Nelson Mandela and his legacy as an example, he says:
We can also safely surmise that, on account of his undoubted moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life aware of how his very political triumph and elevation into a universal hero was itself the mask of a bitter defeat. His universal glory is but a sign that he didn’t really disturb the global order of power— which certainly cannot be said of Pussy Riot. (KL 898-901).
In her next letter she admits she has finally been freed. She and her partners have also founded Zona Prava a new organization to promote and help prison inmates and to retrain the overseers (the wardens). She sees it as a commitment to those who have suffered in silence for too long, especially taking on the task of helping both her former inmates and all women in prison. She mentions the different uprisings in Russia (May 6th) and other issues and concerns surrounding the imprisonment of radicals, journalists, and all who speak the truth. Reading her one realizes that prison gave her a new opportunity and task, rather than closing off her mind it opened her eyes to a need, a new way to help locally her own people both politically and spiritually. One is reminded of activist Angela Davis in the States and her years of working for African-American rights in prisons and the issues surrounding this new form of apartheid within America, etc.
In his final letter to Nadya on her freedom he will bring everything back to his point about the true idea of the universal: “it is absolutely crucial to insist on the universality of our struggle. The moment we forget that Pussy Riot and WikiLeaks are moments of the same global struggle, everything is lost, we have sold our soul to the devil” (KL 1074).
Reading the short book was well worth the effort. Not much new in Zizek’s repeat of central ideas he’s gone over in his recent Less Than Nothing and Absolute Recoil. What was more important was the meeting of two minds sharing their diverse feminine and masculine struggles in dialogue. This sense that we must begin talking again to each other rather than critiquing is important. Without a sense of dialogue, of communication the world loses value. In this sense the Kantian tradition of critique is dead on arrival. What is needed now is people conversing and struggling together in concert across the planet. Politics must be taken back into the streets, into the local spaces of one’s life and realized in personal ways and tasks (as in Nadya’s creation of a intervention into prison systems, etc.). For Zizek the struggle of the commons against the empire of global capitalism starts and ends with the human face of its actors who need the right push to awaken out of their capitalist sleep.
1. Zizek, Slavoj; Tolokonnikova, Nadezhda (2014-09-30). Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj (Kindle Locations 50-54). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
2. ibid. (KL 173)
3. ibid. (KL 179)
4. ibid. (KL 198)
5. ibid. (KL 234)
6. ibid. (KL 294)
7. ibid. (KL 305)
8. ibid. (KL 325)
9. The Sublime Object of Ideology (London; New York: Verso, 1989), pp. 28-30.
10. (in Russian). Gazeta.ru. 2 November 2012. Archived from the original on 2 July 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2013
11. ibid. (KL 350)
Seal my ears, I’ll go on hearing you. And without feet I can make my way to you, without a mouth I can swear your name.
― Rainer Maria Rilke
Freud looked on technology and saw what was coming: the prosthetic God. Humans enfolded in the myth and illusions of Nietzsche’s self-overcoming man: becoming other, becoming machinic, enhanced; merging with his supplements, his technological appendages, shaping and shaped in their likeness bringing both transhuman and posthuman unhappiness and misery in pursuit of immortal godhood:
Long ago [man] formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience which he embodied in his gods. To these gods he attributed everything that seemed unattainable to his wishes, or that was forbidden to him. One may say, therefore, that these gods were cultural ideals. Today he has come very close to the attainment of this ideal, he has almost become a god himself. Only, it is true, in the fashion in which ideals are usually attained according to the general judgment of humanity: not completely, in some respects not at all, in others only half way. Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times … Future ages will bring with them new and probably unimaginably great achievements in this field of civilization and will increase man’s likeness to God still more. But in the interests of our investigations, we will not forget that present-day man does not feel happy in his Godlike character.1
Slavoj Zizek commenting on this passage would add the Lacanian twist. “In his Ethics seminar, Lacan invokes the “point of the apocalypse,” the impossible saturation of the symbolic by the Real of jouissance, the full immersion into massive jouissance. When, in a Heideggerian way, he asks “Have we crossed the line … in the world in which we live?,” he refers to the fact that “ the possibility of the death of the Symbolic has become a tangible reality.” Lacan himself invokes the threat of an atomic holocaust; today, however, we are in a position to offer other versions of this death of the symbolic, principal among them the full scientific naturalization of the human mind. The apocalyptic process will reach its zero point when prostheses no longer merely supplement the human body but in a way supplant it, leaving behind the notion of the human being as a worker whose know-how enables him to use prosthetic instruments.”2
This notion of the zero point of humanity, the vanishing point beyond which one will not know what is human or not, but will cross the Rubicon of animate/inanimate becoming: producing in the process the erasure of the human in the inhuman. The point that Zizek makes is that in this transition to prosthetic implementation or enhancement through technology, medicine, nanotech, etc. we will become unknowing of the line between the human and machinic, it will become ubiquitous and invisible:
While in principle this may be true, the problem is that when the prosthesis is no longer experienced as such, but becomes invisible, part of our immediate-organic experience, those who technologically control the prosthesis effectively control us at the very heart of our self-experience. (279)
My friend R. Scott Bakker will align this naturalization of humanity into either hybridity or machine-life as the ‘Semantic Apocalypse’. A cultural and socialization process that began with the breakdown in universal values: Kant’s moment of doubt when the notion of finitude and intuition emerged. The notion of eternal truths suddenly dies and spawns history, the dark truth that ‘truth itself is time-bound’, a cultural artifact that we have as Nietzsche once taught “all agreed upon”.
For Zizek this whole breakdown allowed the sciences to fantasize and bring into the world things that were not found in nature, that allowed a process to begin shaping itself without us:
Science and technology today no longer aim only at understanding and reproducing natural processes, but also at generating new forms of life that will surprise us. The goal is not just to dominate nature (the way it is), but to generate something new, greater, stronger than ordinary nature, including ourselves— exemplary is here the obsession with artificial intelligence, which aims at producing a brain stronger than the human brain. The dream that sustains the scientific-technological endeavor is to trigger a process with no return, a process that will exponentially reproduce itself all on its own. The notion of “second nature” is therefore today more pertinent than ever, in both its main meanings.(279)
One must remember that underpinning the notion of “second nature” is the old Christian or even monotheistic/gnostic notion of becoming the ‘being of Light’, etc. One could provide thousands of examples from the World’s religions of this transcension of the natural. From East to West various notions of becoming other than we are, of transcending our nature, etc. has been the goal of moral and religious engines for thousands of years. This movement from religion to the religion of science is one and the same: these new NBIC sciences are sponsored by a new secular religion seeking immortality. Yet, many fear this and realize it is once again the dream not of the common man, but of the elites seeking to gain a new dominion over nature, etc. At the bottom of this fear lies the fear that sex, a natural process that has up to now guided natural evolution is being replaced by what Lacan termed the lamella:
This fear also has a clear libidinal dimension: it is the fear of the asexual reproduction of Life, the fear of a life that is indestructible, constantly expanding, reproducing itself through self-division— in short, the fear of that mythic creature Lacan called lamella (which can be loosely translated as “manlet,” a condensation of “man” and “omelet”), the libido as an organ, an inhuman-human organ without a body, the mythical pre-subjective “undead” life-substance.(280)
Zizek will remind us that Lacan’s term for these objects that have become invisible, ubiquitous in our midst, objects that are merging with us are becoming the surround of our inforworlds are “lathouses”:
The world is increasingly populated by lathouses. Since you seem to find that amusing, I am going to show you how it is written. Notice that I could have called it lathousies. That would have gone better with ousia, it is open to all sorts of ambiguity … And for the tiny little a-objects that you are going to encounter when you leave, on the pavement at every street corner, behind every shop window, in the superabundance of these objects designed to cause your desire in so far as it is now science that governs it, think of them as lathouses. I notice a bit late since I invented it not too long ago that it rhymes with ventouse [windy]. (Zizek quoting Lacan, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, p. 162.)
Of course Zizek will take on the political interpellation of this, saying that as such, lathouse is to be opposed to symptom (in the precise Freudian sense of the term): lathouse is knowledge embodied (in a new “unnatural” object). We can see why, apropos lathouses, we have to include capitalism— we are dealing here with a whole chain of surpluses: scientific technology with its surplus-knowledge (a knowledge beyond mere connaissance of already existing reality, a knowledge which gets embodied in new objects); capitalist surplus-value (the commodification of this surplus-knowledge in the proliferation of gadgets); and, last but not least, surplus-enjoyment (gadgets as forms of the objet a), which accounts for the libidinal economy of the hold of lathouses over us.(282)
1. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, New York: Norton 1961, p. 39.
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 277-278). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
Jehu of has a great little post After Ferguson: Labor, competition and the long ugly history of American white working class racist mob violence on the recent case of Michael Brown. “As expected, a mostly white Grand Jury declined to indict the murderer of Michael Brown, who was gunned down without provocation on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.”
As I began thinking through his reading I was struck by its Orthodox approach in placing it squarely within Marxist ideological frames which to me at least didn’t go far enough to address the underlying societal and cultural normative controls that actually underpin the economic. I assayed a response:
Hey, Jehu: My only problem is that you do not go far enough… you provide the standard Orthodox position which is just the nib of the iceberg. As an example, you say here:
There is no accident at all in the history of the class struggle in the US: white labor has from the first used black labor as sacrificial pawns to absorb the impact of capitalist development. The white worker has done this knowing full well the consequence of his action for the black worker and with no guilt.”
Point of Order: The pitting of white against black is moiety. Old as society itself. More and more I have come to see your reading as too simplistic, and one that falls into the Master’s pit: a reading that allows the true culprit to escape the net of illusions. The darker truth is that the capitalist regime seeks to contain the white through its enforced civil war and diversionary complicity in promoting this sort of internecine conflict among ethnic groups and populace. The order of Law appears to govern individual behaviors from the outside, even though it is itself a consequence of the synergistic coordination of these same individual behaviors (Hegel’s ‘identity of opposites’). Since these behaviors represent disorder , the emergent order contains them, in the two meanings of the word. In this case order does not, as Dumont supposed, contain disorder while at the same time being its contrary. Instead disorder steps outside of itself, as it were, so that it stands in a relation of exteriority to itself, and in this way creates an ordered, self-regulating system. What we’re truly seeing in this is the old saw that “in times of market panic, mass psychology becomes the ruling force” (Dupuy, Jean-Pierre)
As Serres said of Rousseau: “. General will is rare and perhaps only theoretical. General hatred is frequent and is part of the practical world. . . . Not only does he see the formation of a social pact from the outside, not only does he notice the formation of a general will, but he also observes, through the darkness , that it is formed only through animosity, that it is formed only because he is its victim. . . . Union is produced through expulsion. And he is the one who is expelled.”
The victim (Afro-Americans) is therefore an emissary victim, a scapegoat, whose expulsion from the community provides it with the external point of support it needs in order to put an end to the economic and social crisis. The financial masters have manipulated neoliberal media as a narrative according to which good must contain evil while at the same time being its contrary. In this sense you’ve been duped into aligning perfectly with the Master’s narrative wish to have Afro-Americans buy into the myth of ‘white supremacy’ in this abstract Game of Thrones, allowing the civil war of race victimage to emerge to create a new order that contains both victim and its illusionary power. Why are you doing this? Why have you allowed your Marxist vision to put on the blinkers of Orthodoxy, while disallowing the normative praxis underlying the whole religious and secular vision of American capitalism? You’re battling ghosts and allowing the myth to continue…
As René Girard later observed, “we may say that there is, inversely, hardly any form of violence that cannot be described in terms of sacrifice— as Greek tragedy clearly reveals. . . . Sacrifice and murder would not lend themselves to this game of reciprocal substitution if they were not in some way related.” Yet, if we interpellate Hubert’s and Mauss’s essay on sacrifice, we see that this confusion between the sacrificer, the victim, and the divinity constitutes the very essence of sacrifice. In the Fergeson case we are seeing played out the oldest of narratives of scapegoat mythology under the guise of a diversionary tactic and hierarchical play of opposites. A parody system that keeps the civil war going and allows us to promote violence among ourselves while the real enemy (our financial elite mask themselves, promoting worker civil war under racism). Violence is therefore capable of externalizing itself, of transcending itself in symbolic and institutional forms— the rites, myths, and systems of prohibitions and obligations that both control and incubate violence, containing it through this legalistic charade and gambit that allows the bitter hatred of Afro-American workers to continue against the great white whale (Melville) of ‘white supremacy’.
The rhetorical benefit of combining two apparently incompatible narratives— on the one hand, the Marxist discourse of capitalist exploitation, on the other, the victimary discourse of racial persecution— is clear: the outcast and poor of the present day can be represented as the remote victims of inexpiable crimes committed in the past by a slaveholding society. Whether this strategy is well calculated to promote the cause of racial democracy is rather less obvious, however.
The fundamental philosophical error of theories of justice (and particularly of Rawls’s theory) is to believe that there exists a solution to the problem of justice, and that this solution also disposes of the challenge posed by disruptive passions. The mistake, in other words— the sin, in fact— is to believe that a society that is just, and that knows itself to be just, is a society that has succeeded in abolishing resentment. For it is in precisely such a society, one that makes a point of advertising its own fairness, that those who find themselves in an inferior position cannot help but feel resentful. The fatal conceit, as Hayek might well have said, is to suppose that the Saint George of moral geometry has slain the dragon of envy. It is fatal because it distracts our attention from what can and must be done here and now. Resentment will never be wholly eliminated .1
What the Master discourse through its media pundits and narratives is doing is trying to contain its own evil through diversions: allowing the bitterness of racial relations to emerge in this moral vacuum as scapegoat mythology, which in the end will play into the hands of the Law which will use the full force of military and civil violence to contain what appears to be civil war among ethnic groups. This is what is actually happening: capitalism wants civil war among the races to create a new order, to impose a new tyranny upon the masses. To be radical in our time is to oppose their manipulation, not to sponsor it.
To be fair Jehu for the most part has it all correct:
I want to be clear that I do not recount these facts with any sense of anger or outrage. I say it because clearly some naive souls on the radical Left have no idea what manner of horrific phenomenon we are dealing with here. Racism is a persistent attribute of ‘white’ workers and requires vigorous direct material efforts if any progress is to be made in uniting the working class and putting an end to wage slavery. This much is understood by a large majority of radical activists today.
And he adds the correct conclusion as I see it:
What is missing in their thinking is a recognition that labor itself, not racist attitudes, determines and continuously reconstitutes the violent racist behavior of ‘white’ workers.
Yet, in conclusion he brings back his main thrust of the abolishment of wage labor and the creation of disposable time for all involved:
This means our aim must be to abolish wage labor itself and this cannot be put off to the distant future. Whatever the extent to which this can be realized now, our effort must begin immediately with the conversion of every possible hour of superfluous labor time into free, disposable time for all, which alone can break the monopoly hold white workers enjoy over employment. This effort alone can challenge and break the pretensions of the white workers that they can insulate themselves from the impact of capitalistic development by shifting the burden of this development onto the backs of their African-American counterparts. The battle against the long American history of white racist mob violence begins, and must, of necessity, begin, with a drastic and unrelenting reduction of hours of labor!
As Zizek recently stated the violence of capitalism is no longer attributable to concrete individuals with their “evil” intentions, but is purely “objective”, systemic, anonymous— quite literally a conceptual violence, the violence of a Concept whose self-deployment rules and regulates social reality.2 As he states in Less Than Nothing:
The most radical critical analysis of the “mystery of sacrifice” as a fundamental ideological category is in fact provided by Jean-Pierre Dupuy. Although the “official” topic of Dupuy’s The Mark of the Sacred is the link between sacrifice and the sacred, its true focus is the ultimate mystery of the so-called human or social sciences, that of the origins of what Lacan calls the “big Other,” what Hegel called “externalization” (Entäusserung), what Marx called “alienation,” and— why not?— what Friedrich von Hayek called “self-transcendence”: how, out of the interaction of individuals, can the appearance of an “objective order” arrive which cannot be reduced to that interaction, but is experienced by the individuals involved as a substantial agency which determines their lives?
The sacred sacrifice to the gods is the same as an act of murder— what makes it sacred is the fact that it limits or contains violence, including murder, in ordinary life. In those moments when the sacred falls into crisis, this distinction disintegrates: there is no sacred exception, a sacrifice is perceived as a simple murder— but this also means that there is nothing, no external limit, to contain our ordinary violence.
Violence threatens to explode not when there is too much contingency in the social space, but when one tries to eliminate this contingency.
The true opposite of egotistical self-love is not altruism, a concern for the common Good, but envy or ressentiment, which makes me act against my own interests: evil enters in when I prefer the misfortune of my neighbor to my own fortune, so that I am ready to suffer myself just to make sure that my neighbor will suffer more. This excess of envy lies at the basis of Rousseau’s well-known, but nonetheless not fully exploited, distinction between egotism, amour-de-soi (that love of the self which is natural), and amour-propre, the perverted preference of oneself to others in which a person focuses not on achieving a goal, but on destroying the obstacle to it:
The primitive passions, which all directly tend towards our happiness, make us deal only with objects which relate to them, and whose principle is only amour-de-soi, are all in their essence lovable and tender; however, when, diverted from their objects by obstacles, they are more occupied with the obstacle they try to get rid of, than with the object they try to reach, they change their nature and become irascible and hateful. This is how amour-de-soi, which is a noble and absolute feeling, becomes amour-propre, that is to say, a relative feeling by means of which one compares oneself, a feeling which demands preferences, whose enjoyment is purely negative and which does not strive to find satisfaction in our own well-being, but only in the misfortune of others. (Zizek: quote Rousseau, idib.)
Consequently, the way to overcome the tension between secular individualism and the fundamentalism of capitalism is not to find a proper balance between the two, but to abolish or overcome the source of the problem, the antagonism at the very heart of the capitalist individualist project. Beyond resentment and its politics of racism and class divisions promoting internecine conflict which substantializes hierarchy, reifying its deliberate domination between law and crime we need to accept the antinomies at the heart of our society instead of hierarchizing them and falling prey to the Master’s narrative. It’s time to pull the plug on racism and its alignment with radicalism, time to stop the illusions of some Big Other who controls our destiny by whatever name (i.e., white supremacy, sacrifice, scapegoating … etc.).
My only qualm is that Jehu in promoting this conflict through his Orthodox Marxist position, thinking he is being radical, is in fact doing the opposite: he is providing the capitalist hierarchy the power to impose its own mark of the sacred (Dupuy) on the whole narrative. The point is the powers want to contain this as a secular form of the oldest ritual dramas of Western Civilization: ritual sacrifice and scapegoating. Siding with the mystique of ‘white supremacy’ as the enemy he falls back into the capitalist secular religious trap. Let us not buy into it. Break the cycle. Do not allow the Master’s to have their gambit enacted. Resist such failed mythologies of hate and resentment. Otherwise there will be no real change, just a reorganization of domination which makes things even worse than before, but one that highlights the re-emergence of a gangster-like patriarchal-tribal order which, one can argue, is the result of white rule which kept the blacks in a state of apartheid, preventing their inclusion in modern society.(Zizek, ibid.)
1. Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (2013-10-30). The Mark of the Sacred (Cultural Memory in the Present) (Kindle Locations 3520-3529). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (p. 31). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
Science currently sees the Universe as a palimpsest of Games, Games endowed with a memory reaching beyond the memory of any one Player. This memory is the harmony of the Laws of Nature, which hold the Universe in a homogeneity of motion. We look upon the Universum, then, as upon a field of multibillion-year labors, stratified one on the other over the eons, tending to goals of which only the closest and most minute fragments are fragmentarily perceptible to us. Is this image true? May it not be replaced someday by another, a successor, one radically different, as this model of ours—of the Game of Intelligences— is radically different from all those arisen in history?
– Stanislaw Lem, A Perfect Vacuum
You can’t go there. Nobody can. But information can be exchanged, so money can be made there.”
– William Gibson, The Peripheral
What if the future were run by gangsters? Not your old Italian or Russian Mafioso’s, but families who live beyond their years who control secrets and knowledge bases larger than governments. Who can roam through time or at least send bits of data back to do their bidding. To murder, perhaps? At least so goes the basic plot of William Gibson’s new novel, The Peripheral.
“It’s new . It’s quiet. Lev looks for new things, things his family might invest in. He thinks this one may be out of Shanghai. Something to do with quantum tunneling.”
“How far back can they go?”
“Twenty twenty-three, earliest. He thinks something changed, then; reached a certain level of complexity. Something nobody there had any reason to notice.”
“Remind me of it later.” She reached for him. On the walls, the framed flayed hides of three of her most recent selves. Her newest skin beneath him, unwritten.1
A hint of the Singularity? AI run amok? 3D printing builds a new world? Designer skins for those lucky elites that need a new sleeve for the right occasion? Who knows? I’m just on page 70 and I’m hooked finally realizing just where this story is going, at least I tell myself that hoping it is leading somewhere dark and darker. Gibson seems to be back in tidy form, his prose snaps and bristles with the old cyberpunk flippancy. Yet, one sees a more mature shadow of the former self, a revisionary gleam floating out of the prose from a seasoned veteran who has taken in the hype and spit it out again refraining from the glib glitz of our networked utopianism, and instead conveying the bitter truth of dystopia with a caged smile.
Somewhere ahead of us on the peer to peer communications line of time are two worlds, one in which Flynne Fisher and her brother, Burton live out their lives in a near-future rural America and, while in the other, Wilf Netherton wanders among dark lords of crime in a far flung future-future London. The plot is simple enough: Burton Fischer knows something, something that the overlords of some gangland world of the future wish to erase, so they seek to kill him by wiring money and information back in time along that point in space where he can be found, then killed. As Wilf finds out from another family of criminals who have been tracking such things:
“They want to kill a dead man in a past that effectively doesn’t exist?” Netherton asked. “Why? You’ve always said that nothing that happens there can affect us.”
“Information,” Lev said, “flows both ways. Someone must believe he knows something. Which, were it available here, would pose a danger to them.” (Gibson, 70)
Yet, it’s Flynne who comes alive as a character, her puckish punkishness, her no nonsense matter-of-fact observations, cynical yet full of the old style rebelliousness: grace under pressure? She more than other characters shapes the novel to something that keeps you reading. The other characters still seem a little bland and commercial compared to her Appalachian youth. But, for all that, this isn’t your homegrown variety of Appalachian satire, but rather the emergence of an especially acute intelligence in the midst of a world gone south in more ways than one. America on the decline, fallen on bad times; yet, still working in pragmatic home down fashion with what is at hand to make a living, and survive. Flynne is a girl who outwardly is tough as a boot, but inwardly still harbors those deeper qualities of femininity that marks the need for recognition and independence for women. She can handle what you throw at her, yet she also knows that some things aren’t worth throwing or having.
There’s a moment when she intervenes into a situation that seems about to go viral, where a young punk named Conner “who was half a machine, like a centaur made out of a motorcycle” has been baited by a couple of football types and is about to show them what violence truly is when she walks out of the bar and confronts him:
“It’s a tiresome asshole town. Least you got an excuse. Go home. Burton’s on his way back from Davisville. He’ll come see you.” And it was like she could see herself there, on the gray gravel in front of Jimmy’s, and the tall old cottonwoods on either side of the lot, trees older than her mother, older than anybody, and she was talking to a boy who was half a machine, like a centaur made out of a motorcycle, and maybe he’d been just about to kill another boy, or a few of them, and maybe he still would. She looked back and saw Madison was on the porch, bracing the football player who’d thrown the bottles, titanium glasses up against the boy’s eyeballs, boy backing to keep from being poked in the chest with the rows of pens and flashlights in Madison’s Teddy Roosevelt vest. She turned back to Conner. “Not worth it, Conner. You go home.”
“Fuck-all ever is,” he said, and grinned, then punched something with his chin. The Tarantula revved, wheeled around, and took off, but he’d been careful not to spray her with gravel. (Gibson, 65-66)
So here I am reading this, realizing Gibson’s hooked me again. Up to this moment I kept wondering what it was all about, not now… now I just want to enjoy the ride of how this strange tale will unfold.
I’ll return with a full review in the short future… stay tuned.
1. Gibson, William (2014-10-28). The Peripheral (p. 39). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
A friend recently asked me about publishing, whether one should as an author go literary with quality, or go to the great youth worlds of the day with street talk and music. He was interested in this idea of “publishable quality.” Asking me how I would characterize it?
I wouldn’t, at least not in the sense of some universal notion. From what I’m reading most of it is beyond doubt all too subjective in the area of editors and publishers these days. The culture I grew up in is gone: the age of print is gone. Even if you see it everywhere, books are dead.
This is the time of Indie’s and self-publishing. Getting published by a formal old-time book publisher is an iffy business from what I read on post after post of even the best published authors in various fields… so who am I to presume to know that answer?
My remark was mainly dealing with the typical aspects of openings, hooks, etc. And it depends if your audience is for the mass appeal, or literary? That truly is the cutting line: how many people do you assume you want to have read your work – the top readers, the echelon who love difficult and complex prose, etc. Or just your basic internet blip reader whose vocabulary is built out of the base set of street talk and music? Nothing demeaning here, but there is a difference.
In my fictional writing I’ve had to compromise a great deal and tone down my knowledge of the English language, so that I might be able to reach the younger generation. I’ve begun tapping into the blogs and sites that cater to younger people to see what kinds of things are actually being bought. In other words I’m a word whore discovering the tribal worlds around me: a cartographer of YA if you will.
The other issue many authors are facing now is the glut of writing being published. One reads over and over how if one takes the road to publish in the more reputable magazines and publishers that one will need an almost informidable tracking record of already published works within the lesser or newer markets. Even books like The Writer’s Market, etc. offer the base approach that if your a newly unpublished author then begin slowly, and they offer selections of publications seeking only new unpublished authors etc.
Others have gone the way of the Indie, the self-publishing world where it’s truly up to you to find your own fan base, market your own work, spend the time and effort building up a circulation and network of sites to promote your work, etc. Even among some of the better known authors this seems to be the way to go these days. Is there a clear cut answer? I doubt it.
Luck always has had a lot to do with markets: that, and having something that connects with a certain segment of the population. In some ways that’s always been true: who is your fictitious reader? Who is your audience? Knowing that is half the battle. Once you know who you are writing for, then one needs only to know what this audience likes and dislikes.
Blogging has been interesting for me in the fact that I have a small audience, which leads me to believe that for the most part I do have at times difficult aspects to my work, else the things that interest me are not wide-spread fare. Obviously philosophy and the sciences are not everyone’s cup of tea, and the depth of knowledge one needs to ponder many of the current things going on in the various enclaves of both philosophy and the sciences is tremendous. Just the background knowledge alone, years of reading the various players in the fields, let along the history of philosophy and the sciences that play into it. My poetry tends toward a specific mode of dark romanticism edging into the posthuman, weaving eros and thanatos in differing forms. So I’m sure it will only have certain types of readers, which is fine for me.
Yet, as I ponder the SciFi and Fantasy markets I realize the gradient of expertise must come down a notch or two, must deliver a fictional ensemble that is full of action and suspense, yet that is neither simplistic nor over the top writerly crap. What’s interesting in SciFi and Fantasy is not that they are already overly cliché ridden, but how certain authors can take the oldest clichés and make them new, bring to the table new problems and solutions to the old twists and patterns. Maybe that’s the secret: taking the old and making it new, giving it a new twist, a new container and language in which to tell the tales that seem to live own endlessly in that realm between potentiality and actuality.
Just downloaded the kindle version of Nick Land’s new book Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Times. As he states it:
Templexity aims to catalyze a theoretical coagulation where the philosophy of time, contemporary (complex) urbanism, and pulp entertainment media are complicit in an approach to singularity (as a topic, a thing, and a nonlinear knotting of the two (at least)). It proposes that the urban process and the techno-science of time machines is undergoing rapid convergence. (This seems to be a suggestion whose time has come.) Grasp the opportunity offered by computers to visualize what cities really are, and the dynamics of retro-temporalization are graphically displayed. (Price: $3.99)
When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world . Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.1
Wired has an article by Kim Zetter An Unprecedented Look at Stuxnet, the World’s First Digital Weapon which elaborates on the now widely known collaboration between US and Israeli intelligence agencies seeking a way to infiltrate and slow down or destroy centrifuges in the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran.
Needless to say they were successful, yet in their success they failed miserably. Why? As you read the quoted passage again you notice the code that was originally brought into the closed facility by way of memory sticks was released into the computers by way of flash drives. And after it was slowly unwound, installed and phased into it operative mode it began to work through the networks of the facility until by chance or accident it discovered itself outside the facility and on the internet. So that as James Barrat reminds us we “do not know the downstream implications of delivering this powerful technology into the hands of our enemies. How bad could it get? An attack on elements of the U.S. power grid, for starters.” (Barrat, 261-262)
The article by Zetter doesn’t mention this fatal flaw in the plan, and how the malware is now spreading across the globe and is available for even our enemies to use against us. As Barrat states it a former head of cyberdefense at DHS Sean McGurk was asked on a CBS 60 Minutes interview if he’d been asked would he have built such a malware application:
MCGURK: [Stuxnet’s creators] opened up the box. They demonstrated the capability. They showed the ability and the desire to do so. And it’s not something that can be put back.
KROFT: If somebody in the government had come to you and said, “Look, we’re thinking about doing this. What do you think?” What would you have told them? MCGURK: I would have strongly cautioned them against it because of the unintended consequences of releasing such a code.
KROFT: Meaning that other people could use it against you?
The segment ends with German industrial control systems expert Ralph Langner. Langner “discovered” Stuxnet by taking it apart in his lab and testing its payload. He tells 60 Minutes that Stuxnet dramatically lowered the dollar cost of a terrorist attack on the U.S. electrical grid to about a million dollars. Elsewhere, Langner warned about the mass casualties that could result from unprotected control systems throughout America, in “important facilities like power, water, and chemical facilities that process poisonous gases.”
“What’s really worrying are the concepts that Stuxnet gives hackers,” said Langner. “Before, a Stuxnet-type attack could have been created by maybe five people. Now it’s more like five hundred who could do this. The skill set that’s out there right now, and the level required to make this kind of thing, has dropped considerably simply because you can copy so much from Stuxnet.”
As one analyst put it Stuxnet is remarkably complex, but is hardly extraordinary. Some analysts have described it as a Frankenstein of existing cyber criminal tradecraft – bits and pieces of existing knowledge patched together to create a chimera. The analogy is apt and, just like the literary Frankenstein, the monster may come back to haunt its creators. The virus leaked out and infected computers in India, Indonesia, and even the U.S., a leak that occurred through an error in the code of a new variant of Stuxnet sent into the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility. This error allowed the Stuxnet worm to spread into an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges, and when he left the facility and connected his computer to the Internet the worm did not realize that its environment had changed. Stuxnet began spreading and replicating itself around the world. The Americans blamed the Israelis, who admitted nothing, but whoever was at fault, the toothpaste was out of the tube.2
Deibert goes on to say the real significance of Stuxnet lies not in its complexity, or in the political intrigue involved (including the calculated leaks), but in the threshold that it crossed: major governments taking at least implicit credit for a cyber weapon that sabotaged a critical infrastructure facility through computer coding. No longer was it possible to counter the Kasperskys and Clarkeses of the world with the retort that their fears were simply “theoretical.” Stuxnet had demonstrated just what type of damage can be done with black code. (Deibert, KL 2728)
Such things are just the tip of the iceberg, too. The world of cybercrime, cyberterrorism, cyberwar is a thriving billion dollar industry that is flourishing as full time aspect of the global initiatives of almost every major player on the planet. As reported in the NY Times U.S. Blames China’s Military Directly for Cyberattack. The Obama administration explicitly accused China’s military of mounting attacks on American government computer systems and defense contractors, saying one motive could be to map “military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.” While countries like Russian target their former satellites Suspicion Falls on Russia as ‘Snake’ Cyberattacks Target Ukraine’s Government: According to a report published by the British-based defense and security company BAE Systems, dozens of computer networks in Ukraine have been infected for years by a cyberespionage “tool kit” called Snake, which seems similar to a system that several years ago plagued the Pentagon, where it attacked classified systems.
Bloomberg summarized this concept this the following statement:
“The U.S. national security apparatus may be dominant in the physical world, but it’s far less prepared in the virtual one. The rules of cyberwarfare are still being written, and it may be that the deployment of attack code is an act of war as destructive as the disabling of any real infrastructure. And it’s an act of war that can be hard to trace: Almost four years after the initial NASDAQ intrusion, U.S. officials are still sorting out what happened. Although American military is an excellent deterrent, it doesn’t work if you don’t know whom to use it on.”
As Deibert warns we are wrapping ourselves in expanding layers of digital instructions, protocols, and authentication mechanisms, some of them open, scrutinized, and regulated, but many closed, amorphous, and poised for abuse, buried in the black arts of espionage, intelligence gathering, and cyber and military affairs. Is it only a matter of time before the whole system collapses? (Deibert, KL 2819)
At one time President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the growing Military-Industrial Complex in the era of the 50’s, now we have Deibert suggests an ever-growing cyber security industrial complex, a world where a rotating cast of characters moves in and out of national security agencies and the private sector companies that service them. (Deibert, KL 2927) For those in the defence and intelligence services industry this scenario represents an irresistibly attractive market opportunity. Some estimates value cyber-security military-industrial business at upwards of US $150 billion annually. (Deibert, KL 3022) The digital arms trade for products and services around “active defence” may end up causing serious instability and chaos. Frustrated by their inability to prevent constant penetrations of their networks through passive defensive measures, it is becoming increasingly legitimate for companies to take retaliatory measures. (ibid., 3079)
Malicious software that pries open and exposes insecure computing systems is developing at a rate beyond the capacities of cyber security agencies even to count, let alone mitigate. Data breaches of governments, private sector companies, NGOS, and others are now an almost daily occurrence, and systems that control critical infrastructure – electrical grids, nuclear power plants, water treatment facilities – have been demonstrably compromised. (Deibert, KL 3490) The social forces leading us down the path of control and surveillance are formidable, even sometimes appear to be inevitable. But nothing is ever inevitable. (Deibert, KL 3532)
In Mind Factory Slavoj Zizek will ask the question: Are we entering the posthuman era? He will then go on to say that the survival of being-human by humans cannot depend on an ontic decision by humans.3
Instead he reminds us we should admit that the true catastrophe has already happened: we already experience ourselves as in principle manipulable, we need only freely renounce ourselves to fully deploy these potentials. But the crucial point is that, not only will our universe of meaning disappear with biogenetic planning, i.e. not only are the utopian descriptions of the digital paradise wrong, since they imply that meaning will persist; the opposite, negative, descriptions of the “meaningless” universe of technological self-manipulation is also the victim of a perspective fallacy , it also measures the future with inadequate present standards. That is to say, the future of technological self-manipulation only appears as “deprived of meaning” if measured by (or, rather, from within the horizon of) the traditional notion of what a meaningful universe is. Who knows what this “posthuman” universe will reveal itself to be “in itself”? (Mind Factory, KL 368-66)
What if there is no singular and simple answer, what if the contemporary trends (digitalisation, biogenetic self-manipulation) open themselves up to a multitude of possible symbolisations? What if the utopia— the pervert dream of the passage from hardware to software of a subjectivity freely floating between different embodiments— and the dystopia— the nightmare of humans voluntarily transforming themselves into programmed beings— are just the positive and the negative of the same ideological fantasy? What if it is only and precisely this technological prospect that fully confronts us with the most radical dimension of our finitude?(Mind Factory, KL 366-83)
With so many things going on in the sciences, military, governments, nations etc. where are the watchdogs that can discern the trends? Who can give answer to all the myriad elements that are making up this strange new posthuman era we all seem blindly moving toward? Or is it already here? With Malware on the loose, algorithms that manipulate, grow, improve on the loose around the globe; as well as being reprogramed by various unknown governments, criminal syndicates, hackers: what does the man/woman on the street do? As Nick Land will say of one of his alter ego’s
Vauung seems to think there are lessons to be learnt from this despicable mess.4
1. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (p. 261). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Deibert, Ronald J. (2013-05-14). Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace (Kindle Locations 2721-2728). McClelland & Stewart. Kindle Edition.
3. Armand, Louis; Zizek, Slavoj; Critchley, Simon; McCarthy, Tom; Wark, McKenzie; Ulmer, Gregory L.; Kroker, Arthur; Tofts, Darren; Lewty, Jane (2013-07-19). Mind Factory (Kindle Locations 367-368). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
4. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Location 9008). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
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.
— Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007
Luis Suarez-Villa in his Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism informs us that the major feature that sets technocapitalism apart from previous eras is the vital need to commodify creativity.1 Why is this different from older forms of capitalism? The overarching importance of creativity as a commodity can be found readily in any of the activities that are typical of technocapitalism. Due to the rise of NBIC (Nanotech,Biotech,Information and Communications) technologies as in the area of biotechnology, such as genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, or biopharmaceuticals; in nanotechnology; in molecular computing and the other sectors that are symbolic of the twenty-first century, the commodification and reproduction of creativity are at the center of their commercialization. None of these activities could have formed, much less flourished, without the unremitting commodification of creativity that makes their existence possible.(Suarez-Villa, KL 365-67)
Nick Land in Fanged Noumena will offer us the latest version of a meltdown in which we all participate in a planet wide china-syndrome, the dissolution of the biosphere into the technosphere.2 Luciano Floridi will augment this notion in turn equating this transformation or metamorphosis into the technosphere as part of technocapital corporatism’s ‘Onlife’ strategy, one in which information becomes our surround, our environment, our reality.3 As Floridi will state it ICTs are re-ontologizing the very nature of the infosphere, and here lies the source of some of the most profound transformations and challenging problems that we will experience in the close future, as far as technology is concerned (Floridi, 6-7). He will expand on this topic, saying:
ICTs are as much re-ontologizing our world as they are creating new realities. The threshold between here (analogue, carbon-based, offline) and there (digital, silicon-based, online) is fast becoming blurred, but this is as much to the advantage of the latter as it is to the former. Adapting Horace’s famous phrase, ‘captive infosphere is conquering its victor’, the digital-online is spilling over into the analogue-offline and merging with it. This recent phenomenon is variously known as ‘Ubiquitous Computing ’,‘Ambient Intelligence’, ‘The Internet of Things’, or ‘Web-augmented Things’. I prefer to refer to it as the onlife experience.(Floridi, 8)
The notion of an Onlife experience is moving us toward that rubicon zone of the posthuman or becoming inhuman. The Onlife blurs the distinctions between reality and virtuality; blurring the boundaries of human, machine, and nature; reversing information scarcity to information abundance (and, some might say, ‘glut’); and, finally, a shift from substance based notions of entities to process and relations, or interactions.4 Floridi would have us believe that ICT’s are becoming a force of good, that they will break down the older modernist or Enlightenment notions of disembodied autonomous subjects, and will bine us within a democratic enclave of information and creativity.
Yet, as Suarez-Villa warns control over society at large, and not just governance, is the larger concern involving technocapitalism and corporate power. The globalist agenda is not to create democratic and participatory governance, but rather to impose new forms of control and power using advanced technological systems. Technology has always been a two-edged sword. The quest for corporate and global hegemony coupled with poor social accountability can have far-reaching effects. It would not be shocking to see genetic engineering bound into the human realm to produce individuals with characteristics that are highly desirable to corporatism. The “design” or “engineering” of humans with greater potential for creativity and innovation would be of great interest in this regard. After all, most people want their offspring to be “successful” and “well adjusted.” One can therefore expect corporatism to appeal to such sentiments that suit its need for power.(see Suarez, KL 1880-83)
Technocapital hegemony incorporates its most valuable resource, creativity , transcends boundaries and restraints. Commodifying creativity therefore acquires a global scope for the technocapitalist corporation, even though it is carried out within the corporate domain. Moreover, as it appropriates the results of creativity, the technocapitalist corporation becomes a powerful entity in the context of globalization. Its power takes up a supranational character that transcends the governance of any nation or locale. Corporate intellectual property regimes that are increasingly global in scope and enforcement magnify that power to an unprecedented extent. Thus, given the contemporary importance of technology, corporate technocapitalism is in a position to impose its influence around the world, particularly on societies with a limited possibility to create new technology. (Suarez, KL 2017-23)
This sense that technocapital corporatism is constructing a global hegemony outside the strictures of the older nation states, one that can bypass the regulatory mechanisms of any one sovereignty is at the heart of this new technological imperative. The technocorporatism of the 21st Century seeks to denationalize sovereignty, to eliminate the borders and barriers between rival factions. Instead of this ancient battle between China, Russia, EU, America, etc. they seek a strategy to circumvent nations altogether and build new relations of trust beyond the paranoia of national borders.
The globalists seek to appropriate the results of creativity on a global scale . Research is the corporate operation through which such appropriation typically occurs. Appropriating the results of creativity has therefore become a major vehicle to sustain and expand the global ambitions of corporate power. Intellectual property rights that confer monopoly power, such as patents, are now a very important concern of corporatism. The fact that corporate intellectual property has become a major component of international trade, and an important focus of litigation around the world, underlines the rising importance of creativity as a corporate resource. (Suarez-Villa, KL 2115)
Beyond corporate control and hegemony is the notion of reproduction, which is inherently social in nature. Reproduction is inherently social because of creativity’s intangibility, because of its qualitative character, and because it depends on social contexts and social relations to develop. Many aspects of reproduction are antithetical to the corporate commodification of creativity, yet they are essential if this intangible resource is to be regenerated and deployed. (Suarez-Villa, KL 2121)
Along with this new technocapitalist utopia comes the other side of the coin, the permanence of inequalities and injustices between the haves and the have-nots becomes one of the pathological outcomes of technocapitalism, of its apparatus of corporate power, and of its new vehicles of global domination. (Suarez-Villa, KL 4066) As Suarez-Villa iterates:
The new vehicles of domination are multi-dimensional. They comprise corporate, technological, scientific, military, organizational and cultural elements. All of these elements of domination are part of the conceptual construct of fast neo-imperialism— a new systemic form of domination under the control of the “have” nations at the vanguard of technocapitalism. This new neo-imperial power is closely associated with the phenomena of fast accumulation, with the new corporatism, with its need to appropriate and commodity creativity through research, and with its quest to obtain profit and power wherever and whenever it can. (KL 4068-72)
Corporatocracy’s slow transformation and disabling of the old Nation State powers involves a redistribution of power and wealth from the mass of the people, and most of all from the poor and working classes, toward the corporate elites and the richest segment of society. Redistribution is accompanied by a dispossession of the people from a wide spectrum of rights, individual, social, economic, political, environmental and ecologic , in order to benefit corporatism and increase its influence over society’s governance. This vast migration of wealth from poor of all nations, and the inequalities it engenders support the new corporatism’s urgent need for more creative talent, aggressive intellectual property rights, lower research costs, and for its appropriation of a wide range of bioresources, including the genetic codes of every living organism on earth. (Suarez-Villa, KL 4840-82)
As Suarez-Villa will sum it up we are now at the crossroads of what may be a new trajectory for humanity, given technocapitalism’s use and abuse technology and science , the overwhelming power of its corporations, its capacity to legitimize such power, and its quest to impose it on the world. The crises that we have witnessed in recent times may be a prelude to the maelstrom of crises and injustice that await us, if effective means are not enlisted to contest this new version of capitalism. (Suarez-Villa, KL 5555-60)
Is it too late? Have we waited way too long to wake up? Nick Land will opt for the harsh truth: “Nothing human makes it out of the near-future” (Land, KL 6063). James Barrat in his Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era will offer little comfort, telling us that most scientists, engineers, thinkers, funders, etc. within the construction of the emerging AGI to AI technologies are not concerned with humanity in their well-funded bid to build Artificial systems that can think a thousand times better than us. In fact they’ll use ordinary programming and black box tools like genetic algorithms and neural networks. Add to that the sheer complexity of cognitive architectures and you get an unknowability that will not be incidental but fundamental to AGI systems. Scientists will achieve intelligent, alien systems.5 These will be systems that are totally other, inhuman to the core, without values human or otherwise, gifted only with superintelligence. And, many of these scientists believe that this will come about by 2030. As Barrat tells us:
Of the AI researchers I’ve spoken with whose stated goal is to achieve AGI, all are aware of the problem of runaway AI. But none, except Omohundro, have spent concerted time addressing it. Some have even gone so far as to say they don’t know why they don’t think about it when they know they should. But it’s easy to see why not. The technology is fascinating. The advances are real. The problems seem remote. The pursuit can be profitable, and may someday be wildly so. For the most part the researchers I’ve spoken with had deep personal revelations at a young age about what they wanted to spend their lives doing, and that was to build brains, robots, or intelligent computers. As leaders in their fields they are thrilled to now have the opportunity and the funds to pursue their dreams, and at some of the most respected universities and corporations in the world. Clearly there are a number of cognitive biases at work within their extra-large brains when they consider the risks.(Barrat, 234-235)
And behind most of this is the need to weaponize AI and Robotics technologies. At least here in the States, DARPA is the great power and funder behind most of the stealth companies and other like Google, IBM, and others… Not to put too fine a point on it, but the “D” is for “Defense.” It’s not the least bit controversial to anticipate that when AGI comes about, it’ll be partly or wholly due to DARPA funding. The development of information technology owes a great debt to DARPA. But that doesn’t alter the fact that DARPA has authorized its contractors to weaponize AI in battlefield robots and autonomous drones. Of course DARPA will continue to fund AI’s weaponization all the way to AGI. Absolutely nothing stands in its way. (Barrat, 235)
So here we are at the transitional moment staring into the abyss of the future wondering what beasts lurk on the other side. As Barrat surmises “I believe we’ll first have horrendous accidents, and should count ourselves fortunate if we as a species survive them, chastened and reformed. Psychologically and commercially, the stage is set for a disaster. What can we do to prevent it?” (Barrat, 236)
Only the possibility of youth, or as Land tells us as we enter the derelicted warrens at the heart of darkness where feral youth cultures splice neo-rituals with innovated weapons, dangerous drugs, and scavenged infotech. As their skins migrate to machine interfacing they become mottled and reptilian. They kill each other for artificial body-parts, explore the outer reaches of meaningless sex, tinker with their DNA, and listen to LOUD electro-sonic mayhem untouched by human feeling. (Land, KL 6218-6222)
Welcome to the posthuman Real.
1. Luis Suarez-Villa. Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism (Kindle Locations 364-365). Kindle Edition.
2. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Location 6049). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
3. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 6). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
4. Floridi, Luciano. The Onlife Manifesto. (see here)
5. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (p. 230). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
“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):
- Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
- The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
- Slan, by A.E. Van Vogt
- Dying Earth, Jack Vance
- More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
- Slave Ship, Fredrick Pohl
- The Ship Who Sang, by Anne McCaffrey
- Dune, by Frank Herbert
- “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by James Tiptree Jr.
- Aye, And Gomorrah, by Samuel Delany
- Uplift Series, by David Brin
- Marooned In Realtime, by Vernor Vinge
- Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
- Permutation City, by Greg Egan
- The Bohr Maker, by Linda Nagata
- Nanotech Quartet series, by Kathleen Ann Goonan
- Patternist series, by Octavia Butler
- Blue Light, Walter Mosley
- Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks
- Revelation Space series, by Alasdair Reynolds
- Blindsight, by Peter Watts
- Saturn’s Children, by Charles Stross
- Postsingular, by Rudy Rucker
- The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman
- Natural History, by Justina Robson
- 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.
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 Things “participants 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.
There was no question; the dead thing in the gutter was one of his clones. – Jeffrey Thomas, Punktown
As I was thinking through the last chapter in David Roden’s posthuman adventure in which a 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 1, I began reading Arthur Kroker in his book Exits to the Posthuman Future, who in an almost uncanny answer to Roden’s plea for new forms of thought – to prepare ourselves for the posthuman eventuality, tells us that we might need a “form of thought that listens intently for the gaps, fissures, and intersections , whether directly in the technological sphere or indirectly in culture, politics, and society, where incipient signs of the posthuman first begin to figure.”2 We might replace the use of the word “figure” with Roden’s terminological need for an understanding of “emergence”.
Rereading Slavoj Zizek’s early The Sublime Object of Ideology he will see a specific battle within the cultural matrix in which scientists and critics alike have a tendency to fill these gaps, or unknowns with complexity and an almost acute anxiety of that which is coming at us out of the future. He says that there is always this dialectical interplay between Ptolemaic and Copernican movements. The Ptolemaic being the form that simply shores up the past, solidifying and reducing the complexities of the sciences to its simplified worldview, while the Copernicans always opt for fracturing the old forms, for opening up the world to the gaps that cannot be evaded in our knowledge, to allowing the universe to enter us and challenge everything we are and have been.
The Gothic modes of fiction seem to follow and fill these uncertain voids and gaps with the monstrous rather than light when such moments of metamorphosis and change come about. Fear and instability shake us to our bones, force us to resist change and seek ways to either turn time back or to put the unknown into some perverse relation to our lives, darkening its visions into complicity with the inhuman and sadomasochistic heart of our own core defense systems. One might be reminded of Thomas Ligotti’s remembrance of Mary Shelley’s famous Frankenstein in which his own repetition of her story in a postmodern mode has the creature awaken into his posthuman self with a sense of loss: “
This possibility is now , of course, as defunct as the planet itself. With all biology in tatters, the outsider will never again hear the consoling gasps of those who shunned him and in whose eyes and hearts he achieved a certain tangible identity, however loathsome. Without the others he simply cannot go on being himself— The Outsider— for there is no longer anyone to be outside of. In no time at all he is overwhelmed by this atrocious paradox of fate.
This sense of ambivalence that he fills at having attained at last something outside of humanity returns with a darker knowledge that becoming other he can no longer harbor what he once dreamed, he has become the thing he dreaded. Cast out of the biological tic he is free, but free for what? No longer human he is faced with the paradox of who he now is: and, that he has nothing to which his mind can tend, no thoughts from the others, the humans; no libraries of philosophy, ethics, history, literature. No. He is absolutely outside of the human; alone. Is this solipsism or something else? Even that classic work by the Comte de Lautremont Maldoror in which the ecstasy of cruelty is unleased cannot be a part of this world of the posthuman. What if the mythology of drives, of eros and thanatos, love and death, the rhetoric flourishes of figuration, else the literalism of sadomasochism no longer hold for such beings? How apply human knowledge and thought to what is inhuman? As Ligotti will end one of his little vignettes:
And each fragment of the outsider cast far across the earth now absorbs the warmth and catches the light, reflecting the future life and festivals of a resurrected race of beings : ones who will remain forever ignorant of their origins but for whom the sight of a surface of cold, unyielding glass will always hold profound and unexplainable terrors. (ibid)
This sense of utter desolation, of catastrophe as creation and invention, is this not the truth of the posthuman? Zizek will attune us to the monstrous notion that Hegel’s notion of Aufhebung or sublation is a form of cannibalism in that it effectively and voraciously devours and ‘swallows up’ every object it comes upon.4 His point being that the only way we can grasp an object (let’s say the posthuman) is to acknowledge that it already ‘wants to be with/by us’? If as Roden suggests we as humans are becoming the site of a great experiment in inventing the posthuman then maybe as Zizek suggests its not digestion or cognition, but shitting that we must understand, because for Hegel the figure of Absolute Knowledge, the cognizing subject is one of total passivity; an agent in which the System of Knowledge is ‘automatically’ deployed without external norms or impetuses. Zizek will tell us that this is a radicalized Hegel, one that defends the notion of ‘process without subject’: the emergence of a pure subject qua void, the object itself with no need for any subjective agent to push it forward or to direct it. (ibid, xxii)
This notion that the posthuman as ‘process without subject’ that has no need of human agents to push it, direct or guide it takes us to the edge of the technological void where our human horizon meets and merges with the inhuman other residing uncannily within our own being, withdrawn and primeval.
Engineering Our Posthuman future
Chris Anderson , in his ‘The end of theory: The data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete’ argued that data will speak for themselves, no need of human beings who may ask smart questions:
With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves. […] The scientific method is built around testable hypotheses. These models, for the most part, are systems visualized in the minds of scientists. The models are then tested, and experiments confirm or falsify theoretical models of how the world works. This is the way science has worked for hundreds of years. Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coincidence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence . Data without a model is just noise. But faced with massive data, this approach to science— hypothesize, model, test— is becoming obsolete.5
So what is replacing it? Luciano Floridi will tell us that it’s not about replacement, but about the small patterns in the chaos of data:
[One needs to ] know how to ask and answer questions’ critically, and therefore know which data may be useful and relevant, and hence worth collecting and curating, in order to exploit their valuable patterns. 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.6
So if we are to understand the emergence of the posthuman out of the relations of human and technology we need to ask the right questions, and to build the technologies that can pierce the veil of this infinite sea of information our society is inventing in the digital machines of Data. Data itself is stupid, what we need are intelligent questioners. But do these intelligent agents need to be necessarily human? Maybe not, yet as Floridi will suggest:
One thing seems to be clear: talking of information processing helps to explain why our current AI systems are overall more stupid than the wasps in the bottle. Our present technology is actually incapable of processing any kind of meaningful information, being impervious to semantics, that is, the meaning and interpretation of the data manipulated. ICTs are as misnamed as ‘smart weapons’. (Floridi, KL 2525)
Descartes once acknowledged that the essential sign of intelligence was a capacity to learn from different circumstances, adapt to them, and exploit them to one’s own advantage. And, many in the AI community have followed that path thinking it would be a priceless feature of any appliance that sought to be more than merely smart. In our own time the impression has often been that the process of adding to the mathematical book of nature (inscription) required the feasibility of productive, cognitive AI, in other words, the strong programme. Yet, what has actually been happening in the real world of commerce and practical science of engineering is something altogether different, we’ve been inventing a world that is becoming an infosphere, one that is increasingly well adapted to ICTs’ (Information & Communications Technologies) limited capacities. What we see happening is that companies in their bid to invent Smart Cities etc. are beginning to adapt the environment to our smart technologies to make sure the latter can interact with it successfully . We are, in other words, wiring or rather enveloping the world with intelligence. Our environment itself is becoming posthuman and in turn is rewiring humanity. (ibid. Floridi)
ICTs are creating the new informational environment in which future generations will live and have their being. The posthuman is becoming our environment a site of intelligence, we are we are constructing the new physical and intellectual environments that will be inhabited by future generations. For Floridi the task is to formulate an ethical framework that can treat the infosphere as a new environment worthy of the moral attention and care of the human inforgs inhabiting it:
Such an ethical framework must address and solve the unprecedented challenges arising in the new environment. It must be an e-nvironmental ethics for the whole infosphere. This sort of synthetic (both in the sense of holistic or inclusive, and in the sense of artificial) environmentalism will require a change in how we perceive ourselves and our roles with respect to reality, what we consider worth our respect and care, and how we might negotiate a 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, KL 3954)
James Barrat in his book Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era tells us he interviewed many scientists in various fields concerning AGI and that every one of these people was convinced that in the future all the important decisions governing the lives of humans will be made by machines or humans whose intelligence is augmented by machines. When? Many think this will take place within their lifetimes.7 After interviewing dozens of scientist Barrat concluded that we may be slowly losing control of our future to machines that won’t necessarily hate us, but that will develop unexpected behaviors as they attain high levels of the most unpredictable and powerful force in the universe, levels that we cannot ourselves reach, and behaviors that probably won’t be compatible with our survival. A force so unstable and mysterious, nature achieved it in full just once—intelligence. (Barrat, 6)
As Kroker will admonish we seem to be on the cusp of a strange transition, situated at the crossroads of humanity, and the future presents itself now as a gigantic simulacrum of the recycled remnants of all that which was left unfinished by the coming-to-be of the technological dynamo – unfinished religious wars, unfinished ethnic struggles, unfinished class warfare, unfinished sacrificial violence and spasms of brutal power, often motivated by a psychology of anger on the part of the most privileged members of the so-called global village. The apocalypse seems to be coming our way like a specter on the horizon, not a grand epiphany of events but by one lonely text message at a time. (Kroker, 193)
The techno-capitalists want to enclose us in a new global commons of intelligent cities to better control our behavior and police us in a vast hyperworld of machinic pleasure and posthuman revelation, while the rest of humanity sits on the outside of these corrupted dreamworlds as workers and slaves of the new AI wars for the minds of humanity. Bruce Sterling in his latest book The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things says we’re already laying the infrastructure for tyranny and control on a global scale:
Digital commerce and governance is moving, as fast and hard as it possibly can, into a full-spectrum dominance over whatever used to be analogue. In practice, the Internet of Things means an epic transformation: all-purpose electronic automation through digital surveillance by wireless broadband.8
Another prognosticator Jacque Attali who supports the technological elite takeover in this world of intelligent systems, tells us that in the course of the twenty-first century, market forces will take the planet in hand. The ultimate expression of unchecked individualism, this triumphant march of money explains the essence of history’s most recent convulsions. It is up to us to accelerate, resist, or master it:
…this evolutionary process means that money will finally rid itself of everything that threatens it — including nation-states (and not excepting the United States of America), which it will progressively dismantle. Once the market becomes the world’s only universally recognized law, it will evolve into what I shall call super-empire, an entity whose structures remain elusive but whose reach is global. … Exploiting ever newer technologies, global or continental institutions will organize collective living, imposing limits on the production of commercial artifacts, on transforming life, and on the mercantile exploitation of natural resources. They will prefer freedom of action, responsibility, and access to knowledge. They will usher in the birth of a universal intelligence, making common property of the creative capacities of all human beings in order to transcend them. A new, synchronized economy, providing free services, will develop in competition with the market before eliminating it, exactly as the market put an end to feudalism a few centuries ago.9
The dream of the global elites is of a great market empire controlled by vast AI Intelligent Agents that will deliver the perfect utopian realm of work and play for a specific minority of engineers and creative agents, entrepreneurs, bankers, and space moghuls, etc., while the rest of the dregs of humanity live in the shadows controlled by implants or pharmaceuticals that will keep them pacified and slave-happy in their menial tier of decrepitude as workers in the minimalist camps that support the Smart Civilization and its powers.
Yet, against this decadent scenario as Kroker suggests what if the counter were true, and the shadow artists of the future or even now beginning to enter the world of data nerves, network skin, and increasingly algorithmic minds with the intention of capturing the dominant mood of these posthuman times – drift culture – in a form of thought that dwells in complicated intersections and complex borderlands? He envisions instead an new emergent order of rebels, a global gathering of new media artists, remix musicians, pirate gamers, AI graffiti artists, anonymous witnesses, and code rebels, an emerging order of figural aesthetics revealing a new order, a brilliantly hallucinatory order, based on an art of impossible questions and a perceptual language as precise as it is evocative. Here, the aesthetic imagination dwells solely on questions of incommensurability : What is the vision of the clone? What is the affect of the code? What is the hauntology of the avatar? What is most excluded, prohibited, by the android? What is the perception of the drone? What are the aesthetics of the fold? What, in short, is the meaning of aesthetics in the age of drift culture?(Kroker, 195-196)
This notion of drift culture might align well with David Roden’s call for a new network of interdisciplinary practices that combine technoscientific expertise with ethical and aesthetic experimentation will be better placed to sculpt disconnections than narrow coalitions of experts. One in which the ‘Body Hacker’ with her self-invention and empowerment toward a self-administered intervention in extreme new technologies like the IA technique…(Roden, KL 4394). Kroker will call this ‘body drift’:
Body drift refers to the fact that we no longer inhabit a body in any meaningful sense of the term but rather occupy a multiplicity of bodies— imaginary, sexualized, disciplined, gendered, laboring, technologically augmented bodies. Moreover, the codes governing behavior across this multiplicity of bodies have no real stability but are themselves in drift— random, fluctuating, changing. There are no longer fixed, unchallenged codes governing sexuality, gender, class, or power but only an evolving field of contestation among different interpretations and practices of different bodily codes. The multiplicity of bodies that we are, or are struggling to become, is invested by code-perspectives. Never fixed and unchanging, code-perspectives are always subject to random fluctuations, always evolving, always intermediated by other objects, by other code-perspectives. We know this as a matter of personal autobiography.(Kroker, KL 53)10
This notion that we are becoming ‘code’ is also part of the posthuman nexus. As Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge in Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life tell us this sense of the pervasiveness of the environment enclosing us is becoming posthuman is termed ‘everywhere’: the ubiquity of computational power will soon be distributed and available to the point on the planet… many everyday devices and objects will be accessible across the Internet of things, chatting to each other in machinic languages that humans will not even be aware of much less concerned with; yet, we will be enclosed in this fabric of communication and technology of Intelligence, socialized by its pervasiveness in our lives. Instead of the old Marxian notion of being embedded in a machine, we will now be so enmeshed in this environment of ICTs that they will become invisible: power and governance will vanish into our skins and minds without us even knowing it is happening, and we will be happy.
Luis Suarez-Villa in his recent Globalization and Technocapitalism tells us “the ethos of technocapitalism places experimentalism at the core of corporate power”, much as production was at the core of industrial corporate power, undertaken through factory regimes and labor processes. And , much as the ethos of past capitalist eras was accompanied by social pathologies and by frameworks of domination, so the new ethos of technocapitalism introduces pathological constructs of global domination that are likely to be hallmarks of the twenty-first century. As Floridi will tells us, we are already living in an infosphere that will become increasingly synchronized (time), delocalized ( space ), and correlated (interactions). Although this might be interpreted, optimistically, as the friendly face of globalization, we should not harbour illusions about how widespread and inclusive the evolution of the information society will be. Unless we manage to solve it, the digital divide will become a chasm, generating new forms of discrimination between those who can be denizens of the infosphere and those who cannot, between insiders and outsiders, between information rich and information poor. It will redesign the map of worldwide society, generating or widening generational, geographic, socio-economic, and cultural divides. Yet the gap will not be reducible to the distance between rich and poor countries, since it will cut across societies. Pre-historical cultures have virtually disappeared, with the exception of some small tribes in remote corners of the world. The new divide will be between historical and hyperhistorical ones. We might be preparing the ground for tomorrow’s informational slums (Floridi, 9).
Welcome to the brave new world. As our drift and code culture, digital immigrants in a sea of information slowly become inforgs and 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. (Floridi, 16-17)
What remains of our humanity is anyone’s guess. The Inforgasm is upon us, the slipstream worlds of human/machine have begun to reverse engineer each other in a convoluted involution in which we are returning to our own native climes as machinic beings. Maybe a schizoanalyst could sort this all out. For me there is no escape, no exit, just the harsh truth that what is coming at us is our own inhuman core realized as posthuman becoming, an engineering feat that no one would have thought possible: consciousness gives way to the very machinic processes that underpin its actual and virtual histories.
1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Locations 4399-4401). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Kroker, Arthur (2014-03-12). Exits to the Posthuman Future (p. 6). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
3. Ligotti, Thomas (2014-07-10). The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein (Kindle Locations 397-399). Subterranean Press. Kindle Edition.
4. Slavoj Zizek. The Sublime Object of Ideology. Verso 1989
5. Anderson, C. (23 June 2008). The end of theory: Data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete. Wired Magazine.
6. Floridi, Luciano (2014-06-26). The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality (Kindle Locations 4088-4089). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
7. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (p. 3). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
8. Sterling, Bruce (2014-09-01). The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things (Kindle Locations 8-10). Strelka Press. Kindle Edition.
9. Attali, Jacques (2011-07-01). A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the Twenty-First Century . Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
10. Kroker, Arthur (2012-10-22). Body Drift: Butler, Hayles, Haraway (Posthumanities) (Kindle Locations 53-60). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
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?
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.
Our role as humans, at least for the time being, is to coax technology along the paths it naturally wants to go. – Kevin Kelly
In a book by that name What technology wants? he’ll elaborate, asking:
So what does technology want? Technology wants what we want— the same long list of merits we crave. When a technology has found its ideal role in the world, it becomes an active agent in increasing the options, choices, and possibilities of others. Our task is to encourage the development of each new invention toward this inherent good, to align it in the same direction that all life is headed. Our choice in the technium— and it is a real and significant choice— is to steer our creations toward those versions, those manifestations, that maximize that technology’s benefits, and to keep it from thwarting itself.1
As you read the above paragraph you notice how Kelley enlivens technology, as if it were alive, vital, had its own will and determination, its own goals. This notion that technology should be coaxed along toward its ‘inherent good’, and that this is our obligation and moral duty to steer (think of steersman: cyber) it and help it along so it doesn’t get frustrated and thwart itself is perilously close to treating technology like a child that needs to be educated, taught what it needs to know, help it become the best it can be, etc. But is technology alive, does it have goals, is it something that has an ‘inherent good’ or moral agenda; and, most of all, is this our task and responsibility to insure technology will get what it wants. Such a discourse shifts the game makes us feel as it technology now has the upper hand, its agenda is more important than ours, etc. What’s Kelley up too, anyway?
Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. In that post Roden would leave us asking: What is a technology, exactly, and to what extent does technology leave us in a position to prevent, control or modify the way in which a disconnection might occur? If we listened to Kelley we might just discover in helping this agent of the technium – as he terms the symbiotic alliance of humans and technology in our time, that technology wants something we might not quite want for ourselves: the end or humanity. Of course that’s the notion presented in such movies as the Terminator series of films, etc.
What Roden offers instead is a reminder that we may first want to question our role and the role of technology in our lives and futures. He will remind us that in chapter five he provided an theory of accounting which argued that we have a moral interest in making or becoming posthumans since the dated nonexistence of posthumans is the primary source of uncertainty about the value of posthuman life. Now whether we agree or disagree with this is beyond our immediate concern. As he’s shown over and over this is all within the perimeters of a speculative posthumanism that is both undetermined and open to variable accountings. In this chapter he will appraise such actions in the context of our existing technological society.
First thing he’ll question is the work of Jaques Ellul and Martin Heidegger both of whom support to varying degrees the notion that technology is deterministic. The notion that technology asserts a determining effect on society and humans is both instrumentalist and substantive:
Technology is not a neutral instrument but a structure of disclosure that determines how humans are related to things and to one another. If Heidegger is right, we may control individual devices, but our technological mode of being exerts a decisive grip on us: “man does not have control over unconcealment itself, in which at any given time the real shows itself or withdraws” (Heidegger 1978: 299). If this is right, the assumption that humans will determine whether our future is posthuman or not is premature. (Roden, 3476-3480)2
On the other hand Ellul will develop a theory of technique in which the notions of “self-augmentation” is aligned with the autonomy of technology: “the individual represents this abstract tendency, he is permitted to participate in technical creation, which is increasingly independent of him and increasingly linked to its own mathematical law” Ellul quoted (Roden, 3494). Roden on the other hand will argue that a condition of technical autonomy – which Ellul calls “self-augmentation” – is in fact incompatible with autonomy:
Self-augmentation can only operate where techniques do not determine how they are used. Thus substantivists like Ellul and Heidegger are wrong to treat technology as a system that subjects humans to its strictures. (Roden, 3512)
The rest of the chapter Roden will elaborate on this statement with examples from both Ellul and Heidegger. I’ll not go into the details which are mainly to bolster his basic defense of the disconnection thesis being indeterminate and open rather than being determined by technology or technique. The notion that planetary technology is a self-augmenting system then Ellul’s normative technological determinism is lacking in the necessary resilience to explain the various anomalous aspects of existing technological innovations and changes. In fact this chapters main thrust is to align Roden’s argument not over specific notions of technicity etc., but rather to argue for a realist conception of technological rupture and disconnection as compared to the deterministic phenomenological philosophies of Heidegger, Ellul, Verbeek, and Ihde: we should embrace a realist metaphysics of technique in opposition to the phenomenologies of Verbeek and Ihde. Technologies according to this model are abstract, repeatable particulars realized (though never finalized) in ephemeral events (Roden, 3748).
A realist metaphysic will realize that to control a system we also need some way of anticipating what it will do as a result of our attempts to modify it. But given the accounts … [Ellul, Heidegger, Verbeek, Ihde], it is likely that planetary technique is, as Ellul argues, a distinctive causal factor which ineluctably alters the technical fabric of our societies and lives without being controllable in its turn (Roden, 3767). Which will lead us to understand that even with the vast data storage and knowledge based algorithms of data mining, which would provide an almost encyclopedic information of current “technical trends”, this in itself will not be sufficient to identify all future causes of technical change. (Roden, 3773) It also entails a sense of porousness and fuzziness within this abstract and technical space, and as SP has shown technical change could engender posthuman life forms that are functionally autonomous and thus withdraw from any form of human control. (Roden, 3779) Last but not least, any system built to track changes within the various systems would be themselves part of the systems, so that any simulation of the patterns leading to a posthuman rupture would be “qualitatively different” from the one it was originally designed to simulate.
In summary if our planetary system is a SATS (self-augmenting technical system) or assemblage of systems Roden tells us there are grounds to affirm that it is uncontrollable, a decisive mediator of social actions and cultural values, but not a controlling influence (i.e., a deterministic system of technique or control). (Roden, 3794):
On the foregoing hypothesis, the human population is now part of a complex technical system whose long-run qualitative development is out of the hands of the humans within it. This system is, of course, a significant part of W[ide]H[umans]. The fact that the global SATS is out of control doesn’t mean that it, or anything, is in control. There is no finality to the system at all because it is not the kind of thing that can have purposes. So the claim that we belong to a self-augmenting technical system (SATS) should not be confused with the normative technological determinism that we find in Heidegger and Ellul. There is nothing technology wants. (Roden, KL 3797-3802)
In tomorrow’s post we will come to a conclusion, discussing Roden’s “ethics of becoming posthuman”.
1. Kelly, Kevin (2010-10-14). What Technology Wants (Kindle Locations 3943-3944). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
Given their dated nonexistence, we do not know what it would be like to encounter or be posthuman. This should be the Archimedean pivot for any account of posthuman ethics or politics that is not fooling itself. – David Roden,
Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. This will be brief post today. Roden will in chapter six qualify and extend his disconnection thesis by a speculative surmise that it implies that whatever posthumans might become we can start with at least one conceptual leap: they will be functional autonomous systems (FAS).
He will test out various causal theories that might inform such a stance: Aristotelian, Kantian, and others. But will conclude that none of them satisfy the requirements set by disconnection thesis in the sense that most of these theories deal with biological as compared to either hybrid or even fully technological systems and adaptations. Against any form of teleological system whether of the Aristotelian or an ASA (autonomous systems approach) which is intrinsically teleological he will opt for a pluralistic ontology of assemblages (which we’ve discussed in the previous post ), because it comports well with a decomposability of assemblages that entails ontological anti-holism.1
He will survey various forms of autonomy: moral and functional; Aristotelian; Darwinian and ecological; modularity and reuse; and, assemblages. Instead of belaboring each type, which is evaluated and rejected or qualified in turn for various reasons: teleology, biologism, etc. We move to the final section that he appropriates aspects useful from the various types of autonomy studied to formulate a workable hypothesis and working theory that is revisable and situated at the limits of what we can expect as a minimal base of conceptuality to discover if and when we meet the posthuman. It ultimately comes down to the indeterminacy and openness of this posthuman future.
His tentative framework will entail a modular and functional autonomous system because the model provided by biological systems suggests that modularity shields such systems from the adverse effects of experimentation while allowing greater opportunities for couplings with other assemblages. Since humans and their technologies are also modular and highly adaptable, a disconnection event would offer extensive scope for anomalous couplings between the relevant assemblages at all scales. (Roden, 3364-3371)
In some ways such an event or rupture between the human and posthuman entailed by disconnection theory relates to both the liminal and the gray areas between assemblages and their horizons. As he will state it a disconnection is best thought of as a singular event produced by an encounter between assemblages. It could present possibilities for becoming-other that should not be conceived as incidental modifications of the natures of the components since their virtual tendencies would be unlocked by an utterly new environment. (Roden, 3371) Further, such a disconnection could be a process over time, rather than one isolated singular event, which leaves the whole notion of posthuman succession undetermined as well as unqualifiable by humans themselves ahead of such an event. Think of the agricultural revolution between the stone age world of hunting and gathering, and new static systems of farming and hording of grains in large assemblages of cities for fortification, etc. This new technology of farming and its related processes were a rupture that took place over thousands of years from stone age through the Neolithic and onward. Some believe that it was this significant event that would in turn help develop other technologies such as writing (temple and grain bookkeeping), math (again taxation, counting), etc. all related to the influx of agriculture and the cities that grew up in their nexus: each an assemblage of various human and technological assemblages plugged in to each other over time.
Which brings in the notion that it is an event, an intensity, rather than an object or thing, which means that the modulation and development of whatever components leading to this process are outside of the scope of traditional metaphysics or theories of subjectivity. (Roden, 3380) As well it is not to be considered an agent nor a transcendental subject in the older metaphysical sense, rather since it is part of processual and mutually interacting set of mobile components that lend themselves to assemblages with an open-textured capacity for anomalous couplings and de-couplings it need not be wed to some essentialist discourse that would reduce its processes to either biological or technological systems. We just do not have enough information.
In summary he will tell us that if disconnections are intense becomings, becomings without a subject, then this is something we will need to take into account in our ethical and political assessment of the implications of SP. Becoming human may not be best understood as a transition from one identifiable nature to another despite the fact that the conditions of posthumanity can be analysed in terms of the functional roles of entities within and without the Wide Human. Before we can consider the ethics of becoming posthuman more fully, however, we need to think about whether technology can be considered an independent agent of disconnection or whether it is merely an expression of human interests and powers. What is a technology, exactly, and to what extent does technology leave us in a position to prevent, control or modify the way in which a disconnection might occur? (Roden, KL 3388-3394)
We will explore the technological aspect in the next post.
1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Location 2869). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.