Unexpected company from out of town showed up… my Daughter and her family!!! I’ll be out for a week piddling with them, dining, BBQ, Grand Canyon drive… etc. Usual crap you do with you children 🙂
Unexpected company from out of town showed up… my Daughter and her family!!! I’ll be out for a week piddling with them, dining, BBQ, Grand Canyon drive… etc. Usual crap you do with you children 🙂
The conservative revolution, which is the historical reality of financialization, has globalized consumerism and taken it to extreme levels by destroying the processes of binding the drives in which investments in sublime objects of all kinds consist. But if so, the current and very recent hegemony of the industry of traces is what attempts to control these unbound drives through automatisms founded on social networks while at the same time functionalizing them, that is, making them serve a ‘personalized’ stimulation of the consumerist drive, via mimetic mechanisms that, however, only end up making these drives more uncontrollable, contagious and threatening than ever.
—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work
Of course the conservative revolution of financialization is what those on the far left love to term neoliberalism, a hyperbolic metaphor that for different scholars, talking heads, media pundits, academic thinkers, cultural critics, sociologists has become a label for almost everything that has supposedly gone wrong with our world. Since at least the eighties with the rise of those conservative leaders Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher this strange consensus that the world is driven by mad Oligarchs and Moghuls: a mafia capitalism if you will, pervades the mindset of the liberal reformists of the official progressive world view. What is usually left out is that this, too, is a grand narrative, a fictionalization and hyperstitional pun that has taken root in our collective psyche to the point that whatever may really go on in the real world is usually left out of the picture received by most citizens. Yes, we love to live in our fictions of the world, rather than in the world.
But that’s the funny thing about reality, whatever doesn’t fit the puzzle, fit the picture one has of the world, universe, or – yes, let’s have it: politics, then, yes, we just go with the flow, let the music of the pundits fly. We ate lazy animals, who live in our closed off shells of reality, an artificial world of symbols and language, a cultural order that replaces the world for our world. What philosophers love to term the Other is this untidy outside of our comfortable little cultural prison house of fictions. What they mean by the real is all that that provides obstacles to our pretty little pictures of the world, those odd things that break our vision, that want fit the puzzle, that seem to cause havoc with our systems of thought and our mental maps. Immanuel Kant was one of those that would stop all that, who labeled the untidy and unruly outside the ‘noumenon’ – an abstract word to cover over the stuff that doesn’t fit nicely into all our epistemic (intellectual and knowledge based mental images, our given world, etc.). The Idealists after Kant would take this motif to the extreme and invent a dualism of mind/world, culture/nature, etc. that would infiltrate most of modern Western culture and thought since the Enlightenment. We would come to know only the world for us, rather than knowing what things are in themselves we would become satisfied with what they are for us – that is, the world of the given.
This inward turn in philosophy would tear apart our trust in what is real, which over a period of two hundred years would break apart our world and the meanings we share about reality. We’ve all seen the subtle rise of the notion of nihilism, when the world has lost its meaning, become de-valued, rift from the human mind, etc., a world depleted of human knowing and left in a blank place of the unknown. Instead we were told by Kant and his followers that all we need be concerned about is the world for us – the phenomenal world of appearances. It’s this world of glitz and glitter, the world of things give to us ready made, the real world is this world we create out of our mental pictures, and whatever doesn’t quite fit that mental frame must be wrong, must be left out of the picture, exorcised, bracketed.
For the average citizen of most Western countries all this is just puzzles philosophers love to ponder, nothing more. Problem is that philosophers have usually been the ones to uncover the strange quirks in our human world, the errors and bad mental fallacies we can all fall into. Ezra Pound once said the poets were the “antennae of the world,” for me at least philosophers are the handy men and engineers of the reality machines that invent our world moment by moment. They tinker with the equipment, they pull the cranks, push the buttons, pop the wires that keep this old machine of the world going. But something happened along the way in this tinkering of the reality machine, a new tribe arose that seemed to take the philosophers seriously, who seemed better fit than the philosophers to actually uncover the mechanisms of the world order and understand just how much is real and fake. We call these wonder workers by the term scientists, after scientia, a Latin term:
mid-14c., “what is known, knowledge (of something) acquired by study; information;” also “assurance of knowledge, certitude, certainty,” from Old French science “knowledge, learning, application; corpus of human knowledge” (12c.), from Latin scientia “knowledge, a knowing; expertness,” from sciens (genitive scientis) “intelligent, skilled,” present participle of scire “to know,” probably originally “to separate one thing from another, to distinguish,” related to scindere “to cut, divide,” from PIE root *skei- “to cut, to split” (source also of Greek skhizein “to split, rend, cleave,” Gothic skaidan, Old English sceadan “to divide, separate;” see schizo-).
As you can see from the above etymology science is about knowledge, a way of separating, cutting, splitting, abstracting, dividing the true from false, of testing the mind’s tools against the world. Scientists are experts in knowledge of what is. Skilled investigators of the phenomenal realms. Rather than sitting back and contemplating the world from afar like philosophers, speculating and pondering the workings of the mind or nature, the scientists would take a more pragmatic turn and actually test the world against their speculations (theories). It is this pragmatic instrumentalism that pervades the sciences which have delved into both the largest (macrocosm) and smallest (microcosm) objects and things in the universe of the known. For scientist discover what works and what doesn’t. They invent instruments to probe the world and universe more subtly than the mind alone can do. Science uses artificial instruments, things invented by the mind to work the world. What is unknown may be there but science uses only the more subtle arts of mathematics to probe the edges of that difficult terrain. Scientists influenced by several thousand years of philosophical speculation have furthered the probing of reality not through pure thought and natural language, but through the artificial language of math and numbers.
Someday some bright young thinker is going to trace this whole artificializing process across the various cultures and civilizations, how humans over millennia humanized themselves through these various artificial processes of natural language and mathematics. A cultural history of the artificial planet we all now live in. In the past few decades some bright humans seemed to wake up and realize that we’ve all been duped, that we’ve been immersed in an artificial world for so long that we’ve forgotten it was invented by us to replace reality. Philosophers for some time now have been attacking this sleeping disease. Nietzsche would be the end game master of this process realizing that humans love their illusions, that they need their illusions to get on with life. That art and artifice are what humans need to live. Take away art and artifice, technics and technology and humans would rejoin the apes in the jungles. It is this artificial leap from the animal kingdom into a world of technics and technology that gave humans the impetus to invent themselves.
Philosophers have for two centuries not been too happy about this state of affairs, attacking this illusionary world we’ve all built for ourselves in various cultural forms. They to a tee are so upset about this strange state of affairs that they’ve argued from one extreme to another just what we can do to rid ourselves of these errors, fallacies, illusions, etc. There is something about humans that seem to love to dichotomize the world and each other. From speculations about life, politics, religion, history, culture, economics, etc. there seem to be humans on one side of an issue or the other. We have been at war over reality for tens of thousands of years. In my own little nightmare I sometimes think that our earth was seeded by a malevolent species from the stock of two ultra extreme planetary species who by a genetic quirk were able to transmit their heritage and intermingle. We being their descendants have been at war ever since, our psyches attuned to some gravitational pull of thought that seems in direct and diametrically opposing views to the other. We are our own worst enemies, vying with each other over the truth and validity of the other’s right to the Reality System.
Of course this is my own little fiction, my own way of making sense of the endless strife on our planet among conservative and progressive forces across the known cultures and civilizations.
Bernard Stiegler being on the progressive side of the line offers his slanted vision of the world, too. He speaks it as if his view is the ‘correct’ view, as if he holds the eternal truth, as if those who do not share his view must be on the other side of the fence – and, wrong. For conservative or liberal, the one or the other must be wrong-headed. Liberals hate conservatives, Conservatives hate liberals. The war goes on. A cartoon Hegel would say it’s just the dialectic working itself out. A cartoon Marx would agree but say it’s not people but the material base and superstructure working itself out. Of course both are right and wrong, and neither of these cartoon versions of Hegel or Marx are an accurate picture of those two subtle thinkers concepts. Yet, we live with the cartoons rather than spend time to understand the subtleties of both thinkers lives and works. So it goes (Vonnegut).
Like others I have my own hyperstitional mindset, a world of thought and feeling grafted out of a lifetime of reading and being-in-process (becoming). As a critical mind I’ve tried to distance myself from taking sides when I review and provide commentary, but even that is a little lie. For we all take sides: we take our own side in everything. Take for instance the notion of the Self/Subject. For forty years the ring of Foucault that along with Nietzsche’s “God is dead” (meaning nihilism reigns), he would broadcast the other notion that the “author is dead”. By this he meant that our human notion of Self/Subject is mute, that it is a non-entity, that the persona behind the mask of a writer, thinker, lover, painter, musician, husband, wife, etc. is all sham, a lie, a fiction, a meta-fiction. We’ve invented the self out of a tissue of fictions, mere rhetorical strategies of language; nothing more.
Freud would build on the heritage of 19th Century thought about the Kantian world of the inner man, the world of the Self/Subject and find madness and nightmares. He would uncover the irrational and mindless, even impersonal world of drives (Trieb). He would discover humanity’s tendency to entropy and death. That life was nothing but a long and circuitous route to death taken by the human organic energy system through a carefully orchestrated process of sublimation (i.e., the art of illusion making). He’d learn from the poets and philosophers that humans are irrational animals, and that Reason is an artificial control system built over this irrational beast of the inner man to regulate and control those dark and erotic, even violent drives.
If Freud were alive today he’d gasp at the stupidity of our thinkers in stripping humanity of its illusions. A realist, Freud knew like T.S. Eliot that humans could not bare too much reality. Naked of our sublime art and illusions we are mere play things of the irrational forces of our erotoviolent and inhuman inner processes. In an old religious iconic attribute: we’ve all become demons and demonized reality. We are living out our own irrational and daemonic nightmares in a literal death-driven world of hate and total violence. Psychopathy and sociopathy is our second nature. We have stripped ourselves of what Nick Land terms the “Human Security Systems” that have protected us from the truth of the world, and now that we are awake there is nothing new to replace this bare world of eros and thanatos we’ve entered. We are in the death throes of human planetary civilization. Of course there are paths out of this…
We need only return to the failed prophets, saviors, Buddhas, Christs, etc. to see that humanity has always had certain individuals who had the Truth, the Way, the Life. Someone else we could turn to and say, “Here, this guy knows what to do, let’s listen to him, let’s follow him…”. Problem is we never look to our own lives, we always think the other fellow over there has the answer to our deepest dilemmas. Rather than facing the music ourselves we cop out and hand it all to some other fellow who says he can save us from ourselves if we will only do this or that… but that’s another tale.
Isn’t this after all what Stiegler is doing? Isn’t he just one more intellectual thinker who thinks he has the answer to our problems, a sort of modern secular savior, a man who has found a scheme in all the past glories of philosophical speculation and formed his own little system of axioms, concepts, rhetorical strategies to tell us what has been told in various forms for millennia. We are all asleep in a fictional world that we created together to protect us from the truth of Reality? And, now that that fiction is no longer working, now that Reality (Climate, War, Famine, Genocide, the endless litany of entropy and death…) isn’t aligning with our image of it we are lost in a cosmos without meaning or value (a complete nihilism). The truth is that there is no Big Other, no Saviour, no Redeemer or God or Financier or Thinker or …. there is no one coming to fix the mess we all created together. And playing the endless blame game of conservative or liberal politics isn’t going to change things one iota, in fact the illusion of stage show politics is to keep us in the circle of non-change, keep us blaming the illusionary media hosts of the current world zoo of leaders. Blaming someone else for the state of the world. Of course it’s not me, of course it’s all too complex for little ole me, of course I’m powerless, of course I’m just one person…. I’m just human, after all. We invent our excuses to absolve ourselves of blame for the death of the planet and humanity. We believe we are not responsible, it’s those others, those conservatives, those liberals… it must be them – it can’t be me. Oh, but it is, my friend. It has always been you, and you, and… yes, me… we’re all guilty as charged. We all stand before the court of Reality charged with our escapes, our lies, our illusions. And the verdict is that there is no verdict. Reality couldn’t give a shit one way or the other about verdicts: it is absolute indifference, absolute impersonality, absolute force and drive and irrational blind energy. It is chaosmos.
And, of course, as usual, I went off on a tangent today… more tomorrow or…leave you with one final quote by Stieger,
The channelling of the drives through the application of mathematical algorithms to automatized social control can do nothing but push these drives to a highly dangerous level, by dis-integrating them – and in so doing creating what Félix Guattari called ‘dividuals’.28 With the advent of reticular reading and writing via networks made accessible to everyone through the implementation, beginning in 1993, of the technologies of the world wide web, digital technologies have led hyper-industrial societies towards a new stage of proletarianization – through which the hyper-industrial age becomes the era of systemic stupidity, which can also be called functional stupidity.(AS)
As we enter the bright new world of Automatic Society we begin to see that we are being automated and stripped of our exit strategies, made into functionally stupid idiots who will naively accept this new world through the enticements of gadgets, endless echo-chambers of chit-chat, MMO’s, repetitive games, media lies, all mindless and naked systems under the control of machinic intelligences so ubiquitous we will think it is a miracle. But even miracles are a stage show magician’s best act… but like any new show, the show becomes old and worn, people forget the cutting edge of its strangeness, it suddenly becomes a part of the background, accepted, a truism…. after a few generations people will no longer know that they were once human, they will have become other…
An ‘otium of the people’, and of ‘people who are missing’, an otium as experience of the (de)fault of otium, that is, of its intermittent condition, is the condition of any neganthropological knowledge, and it is made possible by reticulated digital tertiary retention.
—Bernard Stiegler, The Automatic Society
For Bernard Stiegler the End of Work is inevitable, but for him it is not work per se that ends but the end of human participation in the employer/employment cycle of wealth creation (i.e., alienated labour in Marx’s terms). The end of Consumerist Economy and the emergence of what he terms a Contributory Economy that replaces it is in the offing. Yet, during the next few decades a massive undertaking by civilizations across the globe will need to take place if humans are to both resist and curtail total entropic decay and apocalypse of knowledge and life practices. As Stiegler comments:
Loisir in French, skholē in Greek and otium in Latin mean freedom as Bildung, and not the absence of work, that is, of necessity. This is what Kant recalls at the end of his life (confronting those he calls mystagogues, priding themselves on being inhabited by genius, itself constituting a clairvoyant gift): ‘[T]he discursive understanding must employ much labor on resolving and again compounding its concepts according to principles, and toil up many steps to make advances in knowledge.’1
Bildung (German: [ˈbɪldʊŋ], “education, formation, etc.”) refers to the German tradition of self-cultivation (as related to the German for: creation, image, shape), wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation. In this sense, the process of harmonization of mind, heart, selfhood and identity is achieved through personal transformation, which presents a challenge to the individual’s accepted beliefs. The term Bildung also corresponds to the Humboldtian model of higher education from the work of Prussian philosopher and educational administrator Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Thus, in this context, the concept of education becomes a lifelong process of human development, rather than mere training in gaining certain external knowledge or skills. Such training in skills is known by the German words Erziehung, and Ausbildung. Bildung in contrast is seen as a process wherein an individual’s spiritual and cultural sensibilities as well as life, personal and social skills are in process of continual expansion and growth. Bildung is seen as a way to become more free due to higher self-reflection.
For Stiegler it is more specifically a complete transformation of the human species in many respects as great as the Neolithic Revolution from hunter/gatherer to Agricultural Civilization which emerged across the planet for thousands of years until the recent Industrial Revolution replaced it with the inevitable process of technics and technology through automation. This formidable task of re-educating humans for leisure and free time rather than work and employment in industry or service is and will be a massive undertaking that will entail a generational bildung or what he terms the ‘art of hyper-control’,
Such would be an ‘art of hyper-control’, for which it would be a matter not of ‘addressing a people, which is presupposed already there, but of contributing to the invention of a people’. But this presupposes both:
– a genuine organological revolution, based on the deliberate and theorized supplementary invention of new instruments of knowledge and publication;
– and an epistemic and epistemological revolution that radically trans-forms the status, practices and axioms of knowledge in general (of living, doing, conceiving).
I’m holding off with my critique of Stiegler till a final essay, yet as I’ve been reading him I’ve noticed a quality in his writings that I see in many contemporary pundits, scholars, philosophers, thinkers, etc.: naiveté. He almost believes his own bullshit, as if the real politique of actual existing governments (and, for Stiegler this means above all France, for he like many French thinkers is more concerned with his national world and its transformation than with anything external to it. Insular, elitists, and very much a Francophile promotor, Stiegler seems to see France as a universal culture from which everything else is derivative and subordinate. A typical leftward intellectual he believes his thought and options are superior and must become policy, and for France in particular which is all he seems concerned with in his work of policy advisement. Still promoting the notion of Self and Individual as a rock bottom feature of humanity he continues the Simondon line of transindividuation never referring to the sciences or current neurobiological knowledge at all.).
Almost like a modern Plato he never realizes that this re-education or Bildung would entail a tyrannical enforcement and elitism of this system to be effective. The idea of an organological and epistemic revolution would entail a massive reorganization and transformation of every sector of society and culture on the planet, something – at least, in this work he seems to pass over in silence. Theoretical to the extreme he hardly even begins to touch base with the real world application of such an ‘art of hyper-control’. Like many thinkers of the past he has become a system builder, but in this sense his is concerned with the task of redesigning humans through a process of total cultural transformation.
His Contributory Economy is patterned in many ways after the Open Source software community and its theory and practices:
This scheme should become a model for a law of work in an economy of contribution, just as we believe that free software, inasmuch as it is a challenge to the industrial division of labour, should constitute a model for the organization of work. The widespread generalization of this organization of work requires a contributory organology that remains entirely to be developed36 – in the first place with the free software communities that have been around now for thirty years. (AS)
For Stiegler it is the time of intermittence that organizes and sets the rhythm of all societies, and that it is what fully computational capitalism, operating twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, tends to eliminate: the time of sleep, of dreams and of free time. We also know that intermittence is the very condition of thinking for Socrates and for Aristotle – both of whom quote the same line from Simonides. And we know, finally, that a scheme exists in France whereby those occasional workers in the entertainments industry known as ‘intermittents du spectacle’ are indemnified against unemployment. Stiegler refers to this concept of intermittence in his discussion of algorithmic ill-being as a return of the ancient Tragic sense of life in which the battles between the Olympians and Titans fiercely struggled each other for the future of the world. As he says it we are moving through a transitional period, an intermittence, a time-between-times of no time, a time without time, a blank space or void in which the renewal of civilization constitutes a return to the tragic sources of the West. One leading us to confront what he terms “the irreducibility of the organological and pharmacological condition, to which the sacrificial practices of the Greeks bore witness by celebrating Persephone as the goddess of intermittence: Vernant showed that the mysteries practised by the mystics (which the Greeks are as a whole) primordially refer to the inaugural conflict of every mythic tension, that is, to the tragic tensions arising from the conflict between Zeus the Olympian and Prometheus the Titan.” (AS)
In many ways the battle fought is that of the Rational vs. Irrational forces both in the natural and artificial realms of our socio-cultural worlds. That the instrumentalization of reason through several hundred years of technics and scientific theory and practice in the dimension of both social control and technological transformation during the emergence and maturation of our Industrial Era is apparent to anyone who is versant in the matter. What is important for Stiegler is that we’ve begun to instill intelligence and reason in our machines, giving them reasoning and decisioning powers that once belonged solely to humans. Intelligent machines are the hidden and untold story at the heart of Stiegler’s diagnosis. Every aspect of his work is bounded by this dilemma and how humans can compete and continue in a world where intelligence and knowledge are no longer bound to the human, but have been totally and completely externalized into our digital children. Will they think like us or differently? Will they with their superior computational reasoning powers become the Other against which we form and shape our being (i.e, as Intelligent systems far surpassing human brain power will these machines replace humans at the pinnacle of life in the known universe?).
Stiegler still too much bound to the old humanist discourses never raises such questions. He is concerned solely with trying to salvage humanity the best he can, to guide and transform humans like therapist through this impossible transition, grasping at all the ancient practices available for his pseudo-grammatiziational pharmakon. The complexity of his concepts and the strangeness of his insular approach with its nationalistic mindset leads me to wonder if he truly believes in what he says. Couched in an almost occult conceptuality, a hermetically sealed set of concepts that must be explicated and digested his work is opaque and muddled. He lacks clarity and a style of thought that can be appropriated by the normal or average reader. He is in some ways a bullshit artist extradonaire. Recondite and scholarly he is like his predecessors in France almost dismissal of other cultures, and especially America. Europeans seem to see American with a slanted perspective and as inferior. Yet, for all that he seems genuinely to care about the future of the human species.
Maybe it is that like many academicians he has lived in the refined air of thought for far too long, and is unable to reach down and simplify his notions for the vast majority of policy oriented officials he would write and speak too. In many ways we’ve lost the notion of an educated public, a public that had a cultural matrix of ideas and values shared and known, so that when writing or speaking to others one almost has to invent one’s audience. Problem for Stiegler is that his invented audience seems to be refined experts in post-structuralist thought which even during Jacques Derrida’s era was elitist and academic. I remember during the late sixties and early seventies much of structuralist and then the post-structuralist thought out of France came to America by way of literary critics: Hartmann, Kermode, Bloom, Jameson, etc. So many journals popped up imitating the scholarship of Barthes and Derrida, etc., all derivative and throwaway academic bullshit for the Doctoral grindfest. I remember thinking then that all this is bunk, and still do. All the intricate and detailed deconstruction of Western metaphysics from Plato to Descartes and beyond in the shadow of Hideggerese seemed a sort of endless one-upmanship in scholarly bric-a-brac going nowhere. And, for the most part on asks the question, who reads this stuff now? What happened to all this thought of the postmoderns? Except for historians and specialists it has vanished. Poof!
Academic scholars, philosophers, sociologists, etc. all live in an echo chamber filled with only a view variations of thought in the contemporary world. They repeat each other or the best of their lot over and over and over. Thought like advertising is a commodity that has its own time variant. A coin that once smoothed out is defaced until the next grand idea comes along for the bottom feeders to scrummage to the nth degree. Of course not being an academic I find this all sport and amusing. Being almost cynical I ponder the great and small contemporary stars and pundits like bit players in a final apocalypse. Sadly most of this circular discourse is taken seriously as if the left thought all their thousands of books might actually produce change and progress toward some great reformation of society and culture. It want. Decadence. That’s the state of our era. Too muchness… a great era of Satire, Satyrs…. a Rabelaisian festive time of renewal turned barbarous and venial. That human culture and civilization is playing out its end game is something no one can or will accept so that scholars and pundits everywhere are in denial. Denialism is the order of the day. We must survive at all costs, we must reform, we must do that or something else… reeducate, Bildung. hyper-control… Stiegler is like all the rest, imposing a tyrannical scheme for the Salvation of Humanity. Like some bookworm savior he thinks he has the answer. He’s peered into the past and has found a way out, an exit plan. Blinded to his own mythical schemes he locks his thought in a hermetically sealed jar of shadow concepts that only a few can decipher. Lost in a galaxy of hope he seems to believe if humans will only follow his prescription they can overcome the obstacles ahead. He still has hope.
I have none.
Nature (the art whereby God hath made and governes the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an Artificial Animal. For seeing life is but a motion of Limbs, the begining whereof is in some principall part within; why may we not say, that all Automata (Engines that move themselves by springs and wheeles as doth a watch) have an artificiall life?
—Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
In the human sciences, culture and language have also been progressively engulfed by the universe of technics: the artificial realm of institutions, rituals, knowledges, symbol systems and practices that makes humans functional, speaking, meaning-making creatures; that is, what makes humans human. The essence of the human, it seems, is the technical; which is paradoxically the other of the human: the non-human, the manufactured, unnatural, artificial; the inhuman even.
—Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time:
Every aspect of our lives is live Online 24/7 whether we ever connect to these vast global networks or not. We are all prisoners of an invisible network of systems that guide, modulate, and shape our lives in ways we have barely begun to question much less understand. For the most part we believe we are flesh-and-blood animals with (some say) a soul that can rise above such worldly concerns. Others that we are native and indigenous creatures of the universe, that there is no escape, no exterior realm beyond to which we can exit this universal prison. For better or worse we are a muddle to ourselves and in the eyes of the Universe unthought and unknown. We are a puzzle. And, yet, we’ve allowed ourselves much like the ancient Egyptians who built a civilization around the Great Pharaohs to work wonders in stone out of the wastelands of this desert planet. We dream of trips to Mars, we dream of Intelligent Cities, of thinking machines (AI’s) that will alleviate the data glut and excess of information that is now so large that no singular human or even assemblage of humans could encompass. We are perplexed by war, famine, disease, corrupt politicians and dark secret surveillance of our lives from the very people we have put in charge to govern us. Democracy? Does is exist now? Did it ever? Was it a mere mask for something much more malign and nefarious? Are we even now bound to social, political, and economic forces that are in excess of our laws to challenge and secure? Haven’t we begun to see the threads of the modern dream of a Universal Enlightenment going up in smoke as the world at large says they do not need Western Civilization or the – shall we say it, the White Man’s Dreams of Utopia?
Bernard Stigler in his new book Automatic Society: The Future of Work been developing a theory of our Big Data Economy and how it is based within the cultural milieu of a computational society. At the heart of his diagnosis is that secular society through its networking effects of speed and high-performance computing bound all of human life in a world of ‘crowd sourcing’ algorithmic governmentality. One in which “the digital stage of grammatization is leading psychic individuals throughout the world to grammatize their own behaviour by interacting with computer systems operating in real time.”1 As he suggests these systems produce an automatic performativity that channels, diverts and short-circuits individual and collective protentions by outstripping and overtaking the noetic capacities of individuals precisely insofar as they are protentional capacities – that is, oneiric capacities – and at the same time by short-circuiting the collective production of circuits of transindividuation. He goes on to say that
Every form of noesis is thereby overtaken through this incitement of protentions operating by remote control. These protentions are continuously being redefined and are always already being erased by new protentions that are even more dis-integrated, that is, dividual. This is an obstacle to dreaming, wanting, reflecting and deciding, that is, the collective realization of dreams, and it forms the basis of algorithmic governmentality inasmuch as it is the power of fully computational 24/7 capitalism.
The individual has been separated from his data-self or dividual and computationally incorporated as data in a world wide economy in which his actual flesh-and-blood life is but a shadow of the lightstream worlds of his digital life online. As Stiegler remarks, if ‘our statistical double is too detached from us’, it is because the data industry, as the automatized production and exploitation of traces, dispossesses us of the possibility of interpreting our retentions and protentions – both psychic and collective.” (AS, 5453) To move from this hard fact to Law is part of Stiglers negethropic effect to overcome the inertia and entropic decay of this data world. As he says,
To change this state of fact and open up the possibility of a new state of law, we must invent an organology based on the potentials contained in the digital technical system. And we must do so even though currently this system does indeed give every appearance of being a gigantic technical individual, a digital Leviathan exerting its power over the entire earth through its ability to continually outstrip and overtake, and to do so on behalf of a decadent, uncultivated and self-destructive oligarchy – an oligarchy that is absolutely venal, that is, perfectly nihilistic. This contemporary Leviathan is global, and it is the result of the reticular and interactive traceability of 24/7 capitalism, which has now become a part of common awareness. (AS, KL 5438)
Stiegler influenced by Edmund Husserl’s notions of retention and protention will develop a complete theoretical organological approach based on this. These terms are defined as follows:
Retention is the process whereby a phase of a perceptual act is retained in our consciousness. It is a presentation of that which is no longer before us and is distinct from immediate experience. A simple example might be that of watching a ball being thrown. We retain where the ball was in our minds to understand the momentum of the ball as we perceive it in the immediate present. Retention is not a representation or memory but a presentation of a temporally extended present. That is, a present that extends beyond the few short milliseconds that are registered in a moment of sense perception.
Protention is our anticipation of the next moment. The moment that has yet to be perceived. Again, using the example of a ball, our focus shifts along the expected path the ball will take.
For Stiegler it is not that this traceability operates ‘behind the back of consciousness’, as Hegel said about the phenomenology of spirit (of its epiphany as exteriorization), but rather that it operates by outstripping and overtaking the protentions that produce this consciousness, that is, by proposing and substituting prefabricated protentions (artificial decisions, thoughts, replacements) – even if they are also ‘individualized’ or ‘personalized’.
All this represents a radical and unprecedented rupture with Husserl’s description of the temporal activity of any noetic consciousness. The latter is constituted by primary retentions that consciousness selects (without being conscious of doing so) at the time the experience occurs, selections made on the basis of the secondary retentions this consciousness contains – and that thereby constitute the criteria for these selections. The primary retentions resulting from this selection encode individually lived experience, and are formed through the accumulation of past experience – becoming in their turn secondary retentions. See also: Transindividuation. As Stiegler explicates,
The play between primary and secondary retentions generates protentions that are themselves primary and secondary (though Husserl did not himself employ this distinction). Primary protentions are tied to the object of lived experience, so that, through habit, reasoning, physiological automatisms, or through the knowledge that the perceiving subject accumulates about the object of perception, such ‘primarily retained’ traits result in ‘primarily protended’ traits, that is, expected and anticipated traits – whether consciously or otherwise. These primary and secondary retentions and protentions are composed of mnesic traces, which, like the ‘neurones’ in Freud’s ‘Project for a Scientific Psychology’, are ‘charged’ with and ‘tend’ towards protentions, through circuits and facilitations formed between these mnesic traces that Freud called ‘contact-barriers’, as potentials for action and as expectations that constitute the lived experience of these potentials. This play of retentional and protentional mnesic traces is conditioned and overdetermined by the play of those hypomnesic traces that tertiary retentions form. In the case of digital and reticulated tertiary retention, that is, arrangements of psychic retentions and protentions via automatisms operating at near-light speed, the retentional selections through which experience occurs as the production of primary retentions and protentions are outstripped and overtaken by prefabricated tertiary retentions and protentions that are ‘made to measure’ through user profiling and auto-completion technologies, and through all the possibilities afforded by real-time processing and associated network effects – and augmented by this performativity.
To explain this Stiegler offers this (and I quote in full):
It should be noted here that, if the average speed of a nervous impulse circulating between the brain and the hand is around metres per second, reticulated digital tertiary retentions can circulate at 200 million metres per second on fibre-optic networks – four million times faster. Such considerations call for an organology and a pharmacology of speed and will. It is indeed will in all its most elementary forms that is emptied of all content, outstripped and overtaken by traceability. When noetic individuals live the time of an experience in which they select traits as primary retentions on the basis of secondary retentions, they at the same time and in return interpret these secondary retentions insofar as they form ensembles. These ensembles are charged with protentions derived from previous experiences. Some of these protentions are transindividuated and transformed into a common rule, that is, into habits and conventions of all kinds, metastabilized between the psychic individuals and the collective individuals associated with these experiences (a con-vention being what con-venes a plurality of individuals: it is what gathers their coming together).
Others, however, continue to await transindividuation, that is, expressions and inscriptions that continue the development of already-existing circuits of transindividuation. For a psychic individual to interpret, during a present experience, the ensembles of secondary retentions that constitute his or her past experience is to make actual the protentions that these ensembles contain as potential. By short-circuiting the protentional projections of psychic and collective noetic individuals, by phagocytically absorbing the milieus associated with them, and by sterilizing the circuits of transindividuation woven between them through their individual and collective experiences, algorithmic governmentality annihilates those traumatypical potentials in which consist protentions that bear the possibility of neganthropological upheavals. When noetic experience is fulfilled in actuality and ‘fully’ (in the plenitude of actuality that constitutes what Aristotle called entelechy), it constitutes a support for the expression of traumatypes that participate in the inscription of noetic singularity into circuits of transindividuation. It is these circuits through which knowledge is woven as the accumulation of previous experiences insofar as they are original and yet recognized and identified, thereby forming factors conducive of neganthropic bifurcations.
If it is a question of re-establishing a genuine process of transindividuation with reticulated digital tertiary retentions, and of establishing a digital age of psychic and collective individuation, then the challenge is to generate tertiary retentions with all the polysemic and plurivocal thickness of which the hypomnesic trace is capable, reflecting the hermeneutic play of the improbable and of singularity that pertains to the protentions woven between psychic and collective retentions. To do this, systems must be built and implemented that are dedicated to the individual and collective interpretation of traces – including by using automated systems that enable analytical transformations to be optimized, and by supplying new materials for synthetic activity. (ibid., KL 5437-5454)
Reading the above one gets a sense that the diagnosis has become a new technical disease. Stiegler in his elaboration of a cure for our current social malaise seems almost to joint the technical world and its datacentric and computational complexity with all these abstruse and bewildering array of terms and processes that seem more oriented toward the development not of humans but of some artificial race of hyperminds capable of performing these counter-measures for the great mass of humans. What bothers me is that it sounds more like such a cure will need a strike force of super-intellects and advanced elite thinkers (in Stiegler’s mind) to perform such a feat. And, even, shall we admit that for such a thing to transpire it looks more like Stiegler is hinting at the use of the very AI’s themselves as part of this massive program since it would be almost impossible for even our best minds to enact such a world wide system of transindividuation. Is Stiegler partially mad? Has he entertained such an elaborate system of thought that it has become an obsession in which he alone seems to have the key? Does he read in all these earlier thinkers a new Synthesis for the human? As he says in that last statement: “To do this, systems must be built and implemented that are dedicated to the individual and collective interpretation of traces – including by using automated systems that enable analytical transformations to be optimized, and by supplying new materials for synthetic activity.” (ibid., KL 5437-5454) Does this not itself sound like the great AI based datacentric systems being used by the techno-commercial sectors like Google, but revised by an elite strike force of counter-insurgents to reroute and analyze the traces of Big Data for a counterrevolutionary prognosis? It’s as if he has in some ways gone over to the dark side, joined forces with the very artificial systems he critiques, knowing that we need their fast, speed based, and performativity to counter the Oligarchic systems used by the techno-commercial sector to accumulate profit and enslave humans in a profit machine.
Yet, as he says, there is a supple difference between the two systems:
A supplementary invention, necessary in order to complete the system that produces reticulated digital tertiary retentions, must enable transindividual, rather than transdividuated, reticulation. That is, it must enable noetic and not just algorithmic reticulation, synthetically formative and not analytically deforming: synthetic in the Kantian sense, as the life of reason, and not just analytical, as automated understanding.(AS, KL 5573)
It’s this difference between noetic (of or related to intellect) and algorithmic reticulations that is the key: the difference between automated code and its synthetic systems, as compared to the life of Reason or Intellect in a human leading to synthetic understanding and wisdom.
[Bernard Stiegler] relates that the automated processes implemented by algorithmic governmentality to Félix Guattari’s concepts of molecular machinic unconscious and machinic enslavement. The example used by Guattari for machinic enslavement is, in fact, ‘driving in a state of reverie’.
—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work
This shouldn’t surprise us too much we’ve known for a while now that even in our own body there are unconscious processes that are autonomous from our conscious mind that are continuously interacting, intervening, making decisions, routing food, curing infections, providing buffers against the millions of other organisms that make up our fleshly existence. We are a veritable civilization of submicroscopic life in continuous 24/7 motion. Yet, we as conscious beings go about our lives without so much as an acknowledgement of all this unconscious automatic work and decisioning going on for our behalf. The same can be attested to our day to day work processes. We get in our automobile, start the engine, unhook the clutch, back out of the driveway, begin our journey from home to office much like our ancient ancestors roamed from their caves into the wilds competing with other strangers for food and sustenance. For the most part on that trip we are never aware of all the intricate and complex actions going on between ourselves and the environment that remain subliminal and unconscious but instead we channel our conscious mind toward reveries: we think about what is coming our way at work, we busy our minds with that important meeting with the boss or some client, we are already beginning to anticipate and think ahead through various simulated episodes of fiction about what we might say or do during these as yet unforeseen moments. All this while our bodies, our flesh and blood organism is busy scanning, gazing, interpreting signs in the environment ahead and around the vehicle for bad drivers, pedestrians out of pocket, an accident, a fatal mistake from a blown traffic stop, and all the multifarious aspects of danger that surround us as we navigate the world of our city streets. We may be remotely aware but for the most part we are oblivious to all this and are instead busy with our mobile phones which are hooked into our automobiles with instant news, messages from a back log of calls, an sms text from the wife or husband to pick up the kids after school, a doctor’s appointment to be rescheduled, etc. We are conscious of a thousand and one things other than the actual process of being in an automobile driving to work and how utterly strange and uncanny this is in the course of human history.
As Bernard Stiegler tells it,
Driving my car ‘automatically’, that is, ‘without thinking’ and in this sense ‘unconsciously’, one ‘part’ of ‘me’ is totally enslaved to an engine and a mechanical vehicle that it ‘serves’ by ‘using it’ [en ‘s’en servant’], while an ‘other’ part of ‘me’ – which is, however, perhaps not completely me or my ego, but rather also this obscure zone of intermittences that is the id – finds itself in a greatly dis-automatized mode: the mode of reverie, akin at times to floating attention, which is always at the origin of thinking that goes off the beaten track.1
This process of capturing our desires, of enslavement has been going on for millennia and is nothing new. What is new is that this process is accelerating and gathering in momentum. That we are being driven like a dynamo toward a blind alley from which there is no exit. An alley that will leave us destitute and empty and alone in our ignorance and forgetting. We are losing our conscious minds and forgetting ourselves, becoming more stupid day by day as we give over our work and lives, memories and perceptions to our external machinic systems. We are becoming the unconscious forces within machinic life and will serve the algorithmic government of a future machinic civilization that is not even aware of our existence. Much like all those sub-micro organisms that inhabit our flesh and blood body. We will become bit players in a world-wide global machine that has enslaved us and incorporated us into its strange and uncanny processes of which we are only now beginning to become aware in the moment of our disappearance.
Stiegler citing other authors and thinkers says,
The automatisms that accompany this dis-automatization thus belong to what Guattari called the machinic unconscious, where the latter is ‘a-signifying’, as Berns and Rouvroy recall by citing a commentary of Maurizio Lazzarato, and by emphasizing that in algorithmic governmentality, as in the machinic unconscious and in the enslavement through which it is carried out, ‘everything happens as if signification was not absolutely necessary’. (AS, KL 5160)
The point here is that these processes are without meaning, nihilistic and without value or significance in any human or conscious sense. These very algorithms are blind process and force that are driven by mathematical equations without the need for theory or theoreticians. As if the Blind God of the Gnostic Sethians were inhabiting the creative and dynamic world of machinic civilization. This sense of subatomic forces working through technics and technology by way of humanity to fulfill some unconscious weaving and unweaving of our reality matrix. There is no goal, no purpose to this – only the sheer movement of these naked forces moving through the various regions of process and becoming, metamorphic and transgressive. Elaborating an endless optimization of intelligence in a give and take navigation of our planet and universe.
As Stiegler speaking of it becoming meaning, becoming significant and signifying relates,
Signification [signification], that is, semiosis as engendering signs, significations and significance (making-signs), is the transindividual made possible by the process of transindividuation woven between psychic systems, technical systems and social systems – that is, between psychic individuations, technical individuation and collective individuations. (AS, KL 5165)
For Stiegler humans were at one time at the forefront of this process of transindividuation which as above is an elaboration of technics, technology, and psyche all intertwined in a dance of meaning making and elaboration of reality external and internal, extrinsic and intrinsic. But now a great reversal is taking place and technology, – or, what Simondon terms ‘technological artifacts’ are becoming transindividuated while humans are forgetting themselves and becoming did-associated and did-automatized from this process. Our machininc systems (AI, Robotics, etc.) are becoming individuals while we are becoming dividuals – parts and fragments of data indiced and indexed by computational systems that shape and modulate our bits for the techno-commercial world of machinic life and existence.
In many ways machinic life or the combination of technics and technology has always had this potential to become intelligent, but up till now humans have meshed and formed that intelligence of the machine throughout the Industrial Era. Only now in our time have we instigated another process of seeding, of creating a topology of code and math that allows the seed of intelligence to grow and mature in machinic life. What we’re saying is that the current path of AI is the dream of General Intelligence that the philosophers and scientists have since the Idealists envisioned. Nothing new here. This movement between the oscillating forces of human and machinic technics and technologies is driving both a wedge between and a hyperstitional leap into the intelligent age of machinic life. It’s as if two worlds were colliding. As Stiegler reminds us,
The difficulty of thinking in these terms with regard to what concerns us is that, through functional integration, in the epoch or absence of epoch of digital tertiary retention, the milieu merges with and in some way blends into the global digital network constitutive of algorithmic governmentality and 24/7 capitalism. Automatic government no longer has any need for disparation, for individuals or for signification.
The Simondon concept of disparation that Stiegler mentions above is this tendency toward the destruction of signification by the digital technical system that results from the technology of power deployed by the algorithmic governmentality of 24/7 capitalism, and it is founded on eliminating processes of disparation. The latter is a concept that Simondon introduces in the following terms:
Each retina surveys a two-dimensional image; the left image and the right image are disparate; they represent the world seen from two different perspectives […]; some details hidden from view in the left image are, on the contrary, revealed in the right image, and vice versa […]. No third image is optically possible that could unify these two images: they are essentially disparate and cannot be superposed within the axiomatic of two-dimensionality. To bring about a coherence that incorporates them, it is necessary that they become the foundation of a world perceived within an axiomatic in which disparation […] becomes, precisely, the index of a new dimension.
This process of disparation forms the basis for Simondon’s conception of signification and individuation. (AS, 5169) This notion of disparation in collusion with Slavoj Zizek’s Parallax Gap aligns well,
The illusion of putting two incompatible phenomena on the same level, is strictly analogous to what Kant called “transcendental illusion,” the illusion of being able to use the same language for phenomena which are mutually untranslatable and can be grasped only in a kind of parallax view, constantly shifting perspective between two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible. Thus there is no rapport between the two levels, no shared space-although they are closely connected, even identical in a way, they are, as it were, on the opposed sides of a Moebius strip.2
This sense of humanity and machinic life as interoperating in this non-space or void that cannot be meshed forming a disparation or parallax gap in which the seed of intelligence is grafted from the one to the other comes close to what I’m addressing. We are in easier parlance passing the baton of intelligence to our machinic children, externalizing the unconscious processes of subautomation and brain functions that have carried humans to an ultimate internalization of memory and perception to a point that we can no longer compute the world (i.e., we’ve become stupid and without knowledge), while our machinic children are becoming better equipped to handle the terrabytes or gigabytes of information both natural and artificial. We are losing our minds to our machinic children, and becoming enslaved to this new world of digital algorithmic civilization in the process. And, the short fall is that we desire it – that in many ways this is what we’ve desired for millennia: a conclusion to the metaphysical dreams of religion and philosophy, an escape from Plato’s Cave. But is it a false exit? Is it actually a false transcendence in immanence? Are we escaping or enslaving ourselves even deeper into the mesh of a final dream of apocalypse?
As Stiegler tells it the network effect that in the 90’s was touted about the freedom the internet would offer us has actually brought about the shunting of disparation,
In and through the network, and the network effect, the condition of disparation is shunted, that is, both diverted (which is the original meaning of the verb to shunt) and short-circuited (which is the meaning of this same verb when it is extended to electronics) by algorithms that substitute for it, so as to engender a functional integration of psychic and collective individuals – which is to literally dis-integrate them. Hence is created a new order of magnitude wherein meaning and signification are lost, thereby creating a disorder: this new order is a disorder of magnitude, so to speak, typical of nihilism on the way to fulfilment.(AS, KL 5219)
In other words the very processes of supposed creativity and innovation that were to be released on the net have actually brought disintegration and disorder to the world at large. Bringing with it a global end of civilization in a completed nihilism wherein ancient and modern cultures are disintegrating into desperate enclaves of resurgent fundamentalism seeking to stave off the barbarous forces of this external pressure. In the process of a resurgence in reactionary forces what is actually happening is the deepening of the very paranoid formations of an apocalyptic imaginal that like a seed planted in all the monotheistic books of the people: Jew, Muslim, Christian is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy or hyperstition that is brooding within the hate and fear of people worldwide in the collective unconscious. Like a rabid beast awaiting the moment to be unleashed these forces unless transindividuated and brought to bare within a greater dimension will destroy the world and most of human, animal, and plant life on this green earth.
As Stigler informs us algorithmic governmentality has no need for meanings or significations. It needs only those psychic and collective individuals through which and by the individuation of which this algorithmic governmentality constitutes itself while dividuating (i.e., splicing their data-life from their bio-life) them. In this sense automatic ‘transindividuation’ no longer produces the transindividual but only the ‘transdividual’, through a ‘dividuation’ that would be the specific feature that emerges in control societies and imposes itself as the a-normativity of societies of hyper-control. He goes on the say,
Are such societies still societies? The automatic and computational liquidation of disparation dissolves processes of transindividuation, which are always in some way idiomatic and localized, that is, characterized by natively disparate psychic and collective individuals, originally put into default by an originary default of origin, and producing, through their disparations, many new dimensions, that is, new meanings and significations – forming what we call worlds. By diluting, dissolving and ultimately disintegrating these processes of psychic and collective individuation that are always idiomatic and improbable, that is, incalculable, algorithmic governmentality and 24/7 capitalism eliminate anything incalculable – and do so on a planetary scale. A toxic anthropization is thereby produced, in relation to which we will try, in the second volume of Automatic Society, to think the theoretical and practical conditions of effecting a neganthropology in algorithmic governmentality and a passage from fact to law. (AS, KL 5227-5241)
The point here is that Neoliberalism in its bid over a period of some sixty years to produce a Global Capitalism beyond control of governments and politics, has in process brought not a New World Order but rather the disintegration of all old world orders and left us in a void of a completed nihilism wherein the ancient civilizations and cultures of the planet as a whole are now also disintegrating without recourse or redress. Because of this a movement of reactionary forces across the globe has set in through fear and barbarous hate of the Other (Cultures, Race, Religion… etc.). Spawning entropic and destructive groups that seek not only reparation by violent expulsion of the foreign, unknown, and untouchable. All of this going on under the façade of a Meditainment Global Order of hyperfictional communications systems that try to maintain some semblance of the old supposed Progressive vanguards of Secular Civilization.
There comes a point in Thomas Pynchon’s classic The Crying of lot 49 where Oedipa strips the world to its bare minimum and discovers the Tristero System,
So began, for Oedipa, the languid, sinister blooming of The Tristero. Or rather, her attendance at some unique performance, prolonged as if it were the last of the night, something a little extra for whoever’d stayed this late. As if the breakaway gowns, net bras, jeweled garters and G-strings of historical figuration that would fall away were layered dense as Oedipa’s own street-clothes in that game with Metzger in front of the Baby Igor movie; as if a plunge toward dawn indefinite black hours long would indeed be necessary before The Tristero could be revealed in its terrible nakedness. Would its smile, then, be coy, and would it flirt away harmlessly backstage, say good night with a Bourbon Street bow and leave her in peace? Or would it instead, the dance ended, come back down the runway, its luminous stare locked to Oedipa’s, smile gone malign and pitiless; bend to her alone among the desolate rows of seats and begin to speak words she never wanted to hear?3
Pynchon of course is toying with all the grand conspiracy notions of his era, satirizing the paranoiacs world view, seeking to humorize the terrors and frights we all feel that the world is decaying, falling apart, and like Humpty Dumpty there will be no one to put the pieces back together. I could remind my readers of a litany of thinkers on the edge who have such paranoiac visions of the future. Nick Land with his alien intelligences from the future invading our present to bring about the utter demise of humanity and instigate the rise and takeover of machinic life forms in a techno-futurist world of technics and technology as supreme. My friend R. Scott Bakker who sees humanity losing its mind, its memory, its conscious being in some post-apocalyptic neruomarketing and neurocapitalist world of advance machinic systems, where we are but reminded of our own robotic automatic lives and encircled ignorance and false knowledge. So many other academics touting the wonders of the Post-Human, the Post-Capitalist, the Post… whatever… as if the wonders ahead are full of optimisms and cheer if we will just realign these forces for the Good, Beautiful, and Just… utopian visions from Plato and Aristotle.
As a pessimistic realists I look back and see that humans and their desires have never quite brought about utopia or paradise, but have in almost every instance brought about suffering, pain, and war… and, ultimately, death for those who would not cooperate with the new plan of governing powers. Are we doomed to this cycle forever? No. Our planet is finite and we are steadily accumulating the end game of waste and depletion of life sustain resources that our future children will look back on and bitterly castigate and malign us for using so carelessly. We are building the graves of our children’s and grand-children’s lives. Ghosts of a civilization run amok in a wilderness of stupidity and disparation.
Stiegler tells us there have been three epochs in the history of networks,
Until now there have been two main epochs in the history of the web: the first was characterized by hypertext links and websites. The second was that of blogs, evaluated by search engines, wherein ‘recommendations’ and ‘reputation’ are based on the network effect – enabling platforms to channel and functionally integrate the ‘expressions’ generated by this ‘expressivism’. A third epoch must arise, founded on a new organology, derived from supplementary invention conceived as political technology, and with the goal of repotentializing disparation, that is, with the goal of diachronizing the web and providing interpretative instruments for this disparity. Hence a neganthropology could and should be reconfigured capable of projecting a negentropic future into entropic becoming. (AS, 5337)
Through the haze of this scholars bullshit terms (and yes, I think such textual display is over the top bullshit!) we discern the patterns and weaving of other scholars, political thinkers, philosophers from Simondon to Deleuze/Guattari and the whole gamut of structuralist and post-structuralist temporal registries of static being (Structure) vs. dynamic process (Diachronic). For Stiegler the timeless vacuum of the web that the Neoliberal techno-commercialists have built on a structured timeless system of seamless control and entropic effect is depleting not only our world but our minds as well. While the very same web could be rewound into a revolutionary force of process and becoming, open-ended up to diachronic forces of temporal change where the future is brought back into play, and humans once again are part of the transindividuation process and our technics and technology are no longer separate (dualistic) from our habitation and life but are part an partial of what we are intrinsically and extrinsically.
We stand on the edge of a precipice, a cusp into which we could fall or step back and regain some composure, think through what we’re doing and whether this is truly what we desire? Is it? Or all these gadgets, these conveniences, these modern tools and technical objects truly going to make your life fulfilled, comfortable, enlightened? Are you willing to accept a future world fully secured by automated processes in which only a favored and select Oligarchy is left to live in isolated enclaves of Smart cities while the rest of humanity lives in the barbarous outlands of a depleted and vanishing world?
Truly total automatization is impossible: it could occur only by destroying the conditions of its own functioning, namely, in this instance, the psychic individuals and social individuals without which some purely automatic functioning could do nothing other than turn the earth into a desert – that is, entropize it.
—Bernard Stiegler, The Automatic Society
In our moment of transition, this phase shift between the ages, from entropic to a possible negentropic, Anthropocene to Negenthropocene civilization we’ve seen a tendency toward advanced technologies and the software that run them to become more and more intelligent as if combined with human ingenuity (technics) and the proclivities of time and processes repeated through computational complexity to a point that many believe in a supposed or hypothetical boundary zone in which machinic life will suddenly and in a great epochal shift displace humanity in intelligence on planet earth. Stiegler mentions the work of Gilbert Simondon and his notion of technical individual becoming autonomous from us as we fall away into stupidity and forget ourselves.. As Stiegler emphasizes,
At the start of the becoming that is totally computational capitalism, no strategies are involved, neither to deceive the masses through the use of algorithmic machines, nor to ‘neutralize and inactivate’ them by these means. This occurs de facto. But this fact is an outcome of the appropriation of diffracted universal technical tendencies, tendencies that precede all such strategies.
This sense that there is no human purpose involved in these pre-individual tendencies within technologies, no purpose or plan but that these tendencies have been there from the beginning, de facto. Yet, he will emphasize as well that these tendencies to become law rather than just natural facts among facts can only do this through the rational, that is, neganthropic, appropriation of these tendencies, and by collective individuations instituting a process of transindividuation, and thereby constituting psychic individuals, that the outcome can be a state of law.1
But what is transindividuation? For Stiegler, the concept of “transindividuation” is one that does not rest with the individuated “I” or with the interindividuated “We,” but is the process of co-individuation within a preindividuated milieu and in which both the “I” and the “We” are transformed through one another. Transindividuation, then, is the basis for all social transformation and is therefore a way of addressing what happens within education. As Stiegler will expound in Technics and Time,
Attention is the reality of individuation in Gilbert Simondon’s sense of the terms: insofar as it is always both psychical and collective. Attention, which is the mental faculty of concentrating on an object, that is, of giving oneself an object, is also the social faculty of taking care of this object – as of another, or as the representative of another, as the object of the other: attention is also the name of civility as it is founded on philia, that is, on socialised libidinal energy. This is why the destruction of attention is both the destruction of the psychical apparatus and the destruction of the social apparatus (formed by collective individuation) to the extent that the later constitutes of system of care, given that to pay attention is also to take care.
As he’d say it in an interview available on e-flus journal: My thought was much influenced by the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon, who was an important thinker of individuation. Simondon says that if you want to understand the individual, you need to inscribe the individual in a process of which he is only a phase. As such, the individual has no interests. The individual is only an aspect, or phase of a process, but the process is what is important. So what is this process? It is the process of individuation, that is of transformation, and for Simondon, everything is a caught up in and brought into a process of individuation. For example, the passages of life are a process of individuation, but “technics” are also processes of individuations.
This process has passed from humans who are being de-individualized and displaced by the very technical objects and artifacts that are becoming more and more intelligent and independent of the human. Yet, as Stiegler will tell us there is a tendency in all things toward transindividuation,
It is because critical theory – this term often referring in America and the Anglophone world today more or less to political thought – is yet to elaborate a theory of the technicity of all noetic life (that is, its own technicity) that this becoming in which 24/7 capitalism and algorithmic governmentality encloses us, absurd and without future as it may be, can become hegemonic – and suicidal. (AS, KL 4004)
For Stiegler digital machines, algorithms and infrastructures participate after the fact in strategies that aim in the first place not at mass-deception, nor at ‘neutralizing or inactivating’ the masses, but at exploiting them as resources of which they take no care, and, from this perspective, exploiting them without any biopolitics, inasmuch as biopower also consists, to an extent at least, in ‘taking care’ of life so as to be able to exploit it.(AS, 4036)
In its carelessness Neoliberalism in its ultra-rationalism and decision making computational capitalism has ended in utter irrationalism. 24/7 capitalism to appropriate digital artefactuality attempts to integrate the older forms of an analogue society and consumerist model that is based on the functional pair ‘production/consumption’, itself founded on the redistribution of purchasing power. To concretize the technical tendencies borne by automatization by utilizing such factual strategies (conducted without any care to establish a state of law) is, however, to make this redistribution and therefore this functional pair strictly impossible. (AS, KL 44456) As Stiegler tells us,
Here it is a question not of anticipating desire, but of destroying it by anticipating it, and short-circuiting it by automatically triggering drive-based behaviour, channelled through the self-fulfilling protentions induced by the feedback loops that constitute the fundamental basis of totally computational 24/7 capitalism. This transdividual trafficking of data, operating as a kind of trafficking of ‘dividuated’ psychic organs… (AS, 4748) [my italics]
To combat this state of fact and establish a state of law is to oppose to this economic irrationality an integrated rationality, that is, to invent a new epoch of care, at a moment when the earth and earthlings have need of this as never before, a care that could only be a new epoch of and therefore a redefinition of rationality, in such a way that it would not be limited to calculability and scientific apodicticity: taking care above all of the improbable. (AS, KL 4139)
From Descartes and Leibniz’s age till now rationality has been under the sign of calculus and calculability: a computational reason based on numeric and algorithmic re-duplication and tracking of data, traces, lives, investments, etc. At the core of capitalism is this spirit of cold calculation grinding everything in its path for profit. If it were allowed to persist it would grind every last resource on this planet into profit and leave a totalized wasteland of uninhabited life, a dustbowl and planet of ashes.
Calculation and the digital empires arising around us do not need human truth only results:
that ‘the new regime of digital truth is embodied in a multitude of new automated systems modeling the “social” ’,14 is a promise, or a potential law, more than a reality. The reality is the state of fact, and this, on the contrary, amounts to the denial of this promise: this is to say in effect that this state of fact no longer has any need for the ‘truth’. It just needs ‘results’ – and they are performative. But this is not openly declared, still less (AS, KL 4048-4054)
Google boasts that it doesn’t need theory or theorists, analysts nor any of the old human interventions in the new digital empire of its consumer/production model for it is bound to algorithmic governmentality: to the deep computational dataveillance systems that continuously 24/7 gather, analyze, collate, filter, trace, decide etc. without any plan or strategy behind them – only the sheer decisioning processes of what works which need no theory. As Stiegler puts it,
Within algorithmic governmentality, there is no longer any time to dream because the oneiric soul, which the psychic and noetic individual had hitherto been, is now always preceded by its digital double, derived from the industrial traceology that is the data economy. This digital double in effect functionally short-circuits the desires in which dreams consist – and replaces them with individual and collective interactive operating sequences. And we will see that these operating sequences amount to what, fashioning an allegory, we may call digital pheromones.
As dividuals rather than individuals humans are mere databanks of information to be programmed in a 24/7 capitalist economy that has no time left for the dreams of fleshly creatures to imagine or think. In this world the machines will do the thinking for us, and we can live in an utter world of stupid innocence, activated on demand like any other mindless commodity at the behest of some event call within the algorithmic systems. The early promise that the internet would make us free has turned south and brought instead a new global prison for the human animal. As Stiegler remarks the “algorithmic destruction of the promise is an annihilation, which leads back to the fact that we live in the epoch of the completion of nihilism, if not of fully accomplished nihilism: we are living through the phase in which the nihilistic katastrophē is in the course of unfolding. Katastrophē here refers to the moment of a turn or an outcome, a denouement, that may indeed, as in the structure of the stories of the Scheherazade, revive the desire for history and for stories (that is, desire tout court), rather than lead to the fulfilment of the death drive.”(AS, KL 4399)
Yet, at the still point of the turning world we could go either way: we could become totally enslaved in a algorithmic world of machinic life that has no human purpose or intent, a world that would grow more and more destitute as it consumes every last resource on the planet for its own technical individuation; or, we could begin to dream again, to envision a life-world that renews the age old contract with time and process, of the intelligence of humans caring and shaping a world worth living in rather than one devoid of all human life. What remains of humanity will be those enclosed in ultra-smart cities based on hypercontrol algorithmic governmentality that has become a totally integrated environment made ‘reactive and intelligent systems that displace all human decisions by the proliferation of sensors in order to adapt constantly to specific needs and dangers’. These humans in their search for higher standards of living and security will enclose themselves in these protected enclaves where they will become so hypernormalized and bound by this new technical intelligent assemblage that truth will no longer matter, only the constant dream of innocence: that is, stupidity. As Stiegler remarks,
This 24/7 capitalism constituted by the functional integration of consumers precisely realizes what Deleuze anticipated in 1990 when he distinguished the moulds of disciplinary societies from the modulations of control societies: ‘Confinements are molds, distinct moldings, but controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the next, or like a sieve whose mesh will change from one point to another.’ Deleuze is here taking up concepts both from Foucault (for example, the mesh) and from Simondon (modulation). (AS, KL 4377)
Already our mobile devices are becoming standardized, controlled, and modulated by algorithmic governmentality through security, access, and consumer regulation of our habits, customs, mores, and day to day cycles to the point that living without these instant gratifiers and constant flow of text messages that are catalogued, filtered, analyzed, and appropriated by a hidden world of programs that are massaged and datafied for reassembly and recomposition to promote your every dream and wish that we have lost the distance necessary to extract ourselves or exit from this digital hell. We are now locking ourselves in a cage without a key or bars. The perfect prison of the mind.
Our very sense of Self and Subjectivity is becoming unbound from the old liberal worldview of individualism. As Steigler comments,
It is subjectivity and its reflexivity that this affecting in advance of the subject by its double renders obsolete, the ‘subject’ always arriving too late, and never having ‘to take account by itself for what it is or what it could become’. It is therefore legitimacy as well as critique that in fact become ‘obsolete’, just as does theory, according to Anderson, and with it its criteria and categories of experiment, hypothesis, model, and so on: ‘Algorithmic government has no room for and takes no account of any active, consistent or reflexive statistical subject, capable of legitimating it or resisting it.’
The double he speaks of is one’s online presence, the dividual, the statistical dataprint of datatrace of one’s digital self who is captured by all these control systems. The actual human beyond the digital frame has vanished, disappeared without a trace and is no longer of any import. This other self I am is no longer legitimate and cannot resist what happens to my Other online image, my double, my digital avatar… I no longer exist as a singularity, only as data in an algorithmic compuverse. For Stiegler we are entering a moment in which we are faced with an imperturbability that remotely controls every decision by consolidating media driven governmentality, and “algorithmic governmentality, public power has become impotent and incapable – and by public power or Nation states, Europe, international organizations and non-governmental organizations. At the same time, floating cities are being planned on which there would be no state, no police, no justice, nor any social dimension, and an absolute oligarchy composed of a post-human nobility and immortal singularities.
Leaders as we’ve seen are powerless now before the processes that are being let loose by the digital and algorithmic compuverse that now has swallowed the world in its mesh. The digital economy has eliminated the need for laws and lawmakers, governments and their representatives. The vast majority of decisions is taking place in a hypervoid of electronic circuits at speeds that no human could apprehend nor calculate. We’ve already become members of a hyperorganism that is now dispersing its own decisions through a nexus of algorithmics that we do not even understand much less resist. We are prisoners in the house we built for freedom and communication, governed by cold impersonal intelligences that we as of yet do not accept and even deny. Humanity is in denial. We are no longer in control. Paranoia reigns. As Stiegler puts it, the structural incapacitation imposed by full and generalized automatization, of which algorithmic governmentality and 24/7 capitalism are the worldwide and total concretization is a dimension in which no one escapes this incapacitation, not even those who cause and exploit (or who believe they can exploit) this situation: this is the lesson of Alan Greenspan. (AS, KL 4635)
Our inability to act, our feeling of hopelessness, our powerlessness to effect change or change our situation. Unemployment, rising costs of living, taxes, day to day survival, the struggles just to make ends meet while one sees on the media the promotion of vacations, the variety stars of pop culture, sports, and business promoting an ultra elite rich world of fast paced fun in the sun while most ponder the bare paper bread with a slab of fat or butter brings us to the realization that the future does not offer most humans a bright world but rather and end game where they are not in it.
As Stigler in his own words states it we are becoming hiveminded insects in a digital prison house,
The functional integration of psychic individuations by an automatic associated milieu functioning in light-time thereby constitutes a factual naturalization of the technical milieu and, if we can put it like this, an ‘artificial naturalization’ through which psychic and collective individuation becomes a psychic and collective disindividuation that functions like a kind of 24/7 insect society – via ersatz digital pheromones, and where it is a matter of ‘accelerating the flows – wherever possible saving on any “detour” or subjective “reflexive suspension” between the “stimuli” and their “reflex responses” ’. (AS, KL 4769)
The total control of a society that doesn’t even know it is being controlled because it is so immersed in the ubiquitous naturalization of this digital maze of algorithmic governmentality that it assumes it is being given tools of freedom when instead it is being hooked and plugged into a system of enslavement where its desires are captured and modulated and, even channeled according to the dictates of the user’s own deepest desires and cravings.
Continued tomorrow or ahead… I’m taking my time getting to the cure… Stigler spends a great deal of time like man pundits on the diagnosis, laying the ground for his supposed cure. We’ll wait and see… stay tuned. At a future point I want to write an essay on how Academics themselves in their pursuit of dismantling and deconstructing Western metaphysics have contributed to the very undermining of Self, Subject, and Society or civilization in its processes of transindividuation in Simondon’s sense. Our hatred of the previous control and dominion of religious culture and feudalistic systems of governance have produced the exclusionary process of dis-solving the very human dimension itself from the equation, and thereby contributed to the dualistic tendencies of separating out techics and technology that we see in this process of the transindividuation of the technical artifact and objects that are becoming digital… in process of exiting one system we’ve built a prison for ourselves in an other… one that is becoming autonomous and beyond us, and has no need of our kind anymore… we’ve excluded ourselves from the very world we help build.
In forging the concepts of mechanology, functional integration, concretization, associated milieu and transductive amplification, Simondon provided a theoretical apparatus singularly pregnant for an understanding of automatic society.1
Spoofy as my title for this article is there are those who believe technics and technology in our time is becoming autonomous from its human makers, that it is taking on an originary life of its own separate and distinct from its progenitors. Bernard Stiegler tells us this is an erroneous conclusion and one that is allowing humans to fall into some of the age old dualism traps that have always led us into false infinities. We have since the rise of the global economic war of nations – otherwise known as neoliberalism been led to believe that we are living in an age of transition, an age when the grand old narratives (storytellings) that have guided humans (and I’ll localize it in the West for the moment) have controlled their appetitive self – their desires. As Stiegler in his own abstruse vocabulary remarks,
The neoconservative and ultra-liberal turn creates an industry of bad dreams and nightmares by systematically exploiting the drives – and the destructive drives – which can no longer be bound by desire. Then, starting in 1993 with digital reticulation, and after the final collapse of the Eastern bloc, the ‘old-fashioned’ conservative revolution makes way for an ultra-liberal libertarianism that exploits mimetism, exhibitionism and voyeurism via a digital media that forms new artificial crowds, but that also constitutes a laboratory of new forms of individuation, which arise as alternatives to disindividuating consumerism and which make the critique of new conservatism highly complex. (AS, KL 3318)
This notion that neoliberal economics exploits the drives and hooks itself to the elaborate worlds of collective dream therapy which has entranced millions of humans within this nightmare world through the use first during the early 1920’s by way of radio, then 1950’s through television, cinema and other image making machines, and now in our computational wonderland of the internet (of things!) in which humans are immersed in the electronic void of consumer capitalism 24/7 (Crary).
For some time, the frontier of cyberspace has been the human– machine interface. For this reason, we have often regarded ourselves as lying outside cyberspace. In his famous test, Turing (1950) posited a keyboard/ screen interface to blanket human and computer. Half a century later, that very interface has become part of our everyday reality. Helped perhaps by the ubiquitous television and the part it has played in informing and entertaining us, we now rely on interfaces as our second skins for communication, information, business, entertainment, socialization, and so forth. We use our mobiles 24/7 for work or play, and seem so cut off from the natural world and immersed in our electronic gazes that we have become oblivious to the fact that we are already in the virtual relays of a worldwide dream. We have moved inside the infosphere, the all-pervading nature of which also depends on the extent to which we accept its interface as integral to our reality and transparent to us (in the sense of no longer perceived as present). What matters is not so much moving bits instead of atoms— this is an outdated, communication-based interpretation of the information society that owes too much to mass-media sociology— as the far more radical fact that our understanding and conceptualization of the very essence and fabric of reality is changing. Indeed, we have begun to accept the virtual as reality. So the information society is better seen as a neo-manufacturing society in which raw materials and energy have been superseded by data and information, the new digital gold and the real source of added value. Not just communication and transactions then, but the creation, design, and management of information are the keys to the proper understanding of our hyperhistorical predicament.2
Someday one will walk down a street in a smart city and the overlays mapped from one’s eyeware or neurotransplants will activate sensors that will merge with the natural surroundings offering one an animated world of electronic and surreal interactions. One will begin to believe this is the way it has always been, that this is natural and that living in such a false world of controlled and normalized imagery is just the way it is: that is, that it is has move beyond fact, and become – law. One will no longer need to think, critical thought, interpretation, books, separate and individual being will vanish as we become one in a hyperworld of immediacy.
Yet, this neoliberal dreamware is an illusion for something else is transpiring, something not foreseen in the computational logic of these masters of illusion:
It is starting from this question that we must critique the ‘storytelling’ of the permanent transition. This story assumes that the model of creative destruction could continue to infinity, which is absolutely false, not only because the finitude of resources clearly constrains ‘growth’ (which is the current name for ‘creative destruction’)… (AS, 3299)
This narrative of transition, of continuous economic growth, of the Schumpterian ‘creative destruction’ that is the core leitmotif of capitalism as it mercilessly like some Juggernaut or Titanic of the oceans of time rolls ever faster toward the Iceberg of some inevitable disaster has entrapped us all within a global nightmare from which it seems almost impossible to extract ourselves or even discover an exit. But is this, too, just another tale, a tale of woe, a market ploy? As Stiegler will comment,
The fable of permanent transition would have us believe that a constant, accelerated transformation of the world by technological innovation, itself controlled by speculative marketing, is unavoidable. It would have us believe that there is no alternative. To oppose this fable is to affirm that we are indeed living through a transition – which can be understood on the basis of the metaphor of ‘metamorphosis’ as the appearance of new somatopsychic, technical and social forms and organizations – but that this is not merely a technological transition (firstly because nothing is ever merely technological), and is instead an organological chrysalis in three dimensions constituting three correlated individuations, that is, occurring through a process of psychic, technical and social transindividuation, even though there are conflicts between and within these three dimensions. (AS, KL 3357)
For Stiegler there is a transition going on, but not guided by the neoliberal narrative of ‘transition’ one sees marketed by media and elite pundits of the academic and journalists. No. Instead we are seeing a war or struggle being played out between two industrial models: first, consumerism, founded on Taylorism, the culture industries (as described by Adorno) and the welfare state designed to directly and indirectly redistribute productivity gains in the form of the wages of employees who are not just producers but consumers, that is, equipped with purchasing power; and, secondly, a fully automatized society where employment has disappeared, and hence where wages are no longer the source of purchasing power, in turn implying the disappearance of the producer/consumer, which clearly requires the institution of a new process of redistribution – redistributing not purchasing power, but time: the time to constitute forms of knowledge (including purchasing knowledge, that is, knowledge of social practices governing use values and exchange values according to practical values and societal values). (AS, KL 3371)
With the end of work through automation comes a dilemma. Who will receive the benefits of such a transition? What will come of the workers no dislocated and unemployed? Now that they will be unpaid, without work, with no hopes for monetary remuneration how shall they support their families and loved ones? And, above all with all this ‘free time’ what will they do in this hyperworld of automatization? In fact as Stiegler testifies what is at stake in the new social organization that we must dream, conceive and realize – that is, establish and institute as the therapeia of the new pharmakon – is the time of knowledge that can and must be gained by and through automatization, time that it is a question of redistributing. To do so we must make an exit from Taylorism, Keynesianism and consumerism by organizing the economy and society differently, including the elaboration and transmission of knowledge itself. And achieving this requires a supplementary invention leading to a categorial invention, that is, to a fundamental epistemic change itself opening onto a reinvention of academic institutions as well as the editorial and publishing industry. (AS, KL 3399)
His notion is that we will need re-education, and a new pharmakon – a therapy and a change in our epistemic knowledges based not on the old systems which were tied to the natural order of the Anthropocene, but to negentropic processes that will transform us from automated dividuals into transindivduated singularities (Simondon/Guattari). If we do not anticipate and transform ourselves in this manner we will face dire consequences on a global scale unseen from the beginnings of human kind. The mutation of the conditions of production currently underway means that the exit from the industrial world founded on employment and redistribution via wages is going to occur no matter what. Failure to anticipate and negotiate this change will only provoke an explosion of violence. (AS, KL 341)
The neoliberal agenda is one of total global economic control. Stigler in his abstruse and stylistically grotesquerie tells us: The algorithmic governmentality imposed by computational 24/7 capitalism will become an automatic society (rather than a ‘dis-society’) only if it makes technics serve arrangements between the times of intermittence and the times submitted to subsistence, between automatisms and their dis-automatization, the latter projecting consistences. In a society where knowledge becomes the primary productive function (and the first if not the only one to have seen this was Marx), the new value that will re-found the economy and politics will no longer be the time of employment, but the time of knowledge, that is, negentropy, constituting a neganthropy and opening the age of the Neganthropocene. (AS, KL 3425)
In other words what is needed is an epistemic shift on a grand scale, a new poltical economy based on knowledge rather than work, one that will reindividualize rather than automate humans as mindless robots in the service of the machine. A knowledge economy that brings with it true innovation and anticipates a real future rather than the closed world of simulated reality time. Dataveillance and hypercontrol algorithmic governmentality is leading humans away from their natural order into total control systems that empty us of dreams, flesh, and thought. It is the path of madness. As Stiegler reminds us,
It leads to madness because it is based on an automated repression of what, in the noetic soul – that is, the desiring and idealizing soul, trans-forming its drives into investments – individuates potentials for individuation concealed in preindividual funds in the form of traumatypes, that is, of defaults and accidents engendered from wounds awaiting liberation via an individuation capable of becoming a quasi-cause. (AS, KL 34712)
We are like the hylics of ancient Gnosticism, sleepwalkers being led to the slaughter by the very electronic dreams that we now envision as helpmates, timesavers, conveniences. We are becoming so immersed in this automated world that we are supplely being shaped and modulated by the very mechanisms that we use everyday: the mobile phones that offer thousands of apps, the smart refrigerator that organizes one’s menu, one’s eating habits, orders food when it is needed, etc. We are becoming slowly enmeshed in a world of external memory devices to the point we no longer need brain power, brain memories for we have instant access to wiki, Google or other systems of information/knowledge that can do the thinking for us. As AI’s take over much of the decision making in private and corporate work and life this process will eliminate the need for education or academia itself. Humans will be guided and shaped by a these technics and technologies in ways that will deplete us and remove our humanity and replace our minds with the hypernormalized patterns of the coming Smart Society. We are opening a wound that will leave us soulless artificial beings who no longer will know what it once meant to be human. We will in essence have lost our humanity and joined the machines in some nightmare world of 24/7 processes churning away till there are no planetary resources left to churn…
And, yet, Stiegler says their is a way out of this quagmire…
Continuing this series in a few days… stay tuned.
Starting from the Second World War, with those innovations that will lead to the mass media and to the constitution of telecratic psychopower, and to information and computer technologies, the process of dissolving everydayness into standardized ‘modern life’ rapidly accelerates – and eventually it is the bourgeoisie itself that disappears, while capitalism expresses with ever greater ferocity its tendency to become mafiaesque and illiterate…
—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work
At the center of Bernard Stiegler’s vision is a sense that our memories and perceptions have been misplaced or replaced, that our lives are not our lives, that our minds are not our minds and that we are all part of some collective nightmare being played our on a stage not of the world but of some simulated shadow stage of which we know nothing. Jerzy Kosinski in his book Passing By remarks on a last visit to his now deceased Mother’s home,
When I sat in an apartment where my mother died, I thought: Should I keep looking at her deathbed and at the books she used to read? Am I to regard myself as the victim of memories and tragedies? Or will I look at myself as the author of my own life, and tell myself: Listen, Kosinski. You are one lucky guy … who knows for how long. You received a very special gift from the country called Poland, in the center of Europe, in the center of culture. Face it. It is not as if I have not seen the world. Do I get bored in those other places? I do! Why? Because they do not have as much history, they were not taken apart as “we” were. That is “we” in the sense of the language. I say this as an American citizen. I am speaking about a psychological situation built around the dilemma: Is it going to be a state of mind based on life, or one immersed in shadows that my memory casts on my soul?1
This sense that people are both singular and collective, that in their private life they are just animals that have yet to become human, and to become human is to enter into the language of culture: to become indoctrinated by the customs, mores, theories and practices, rituals, and everyday or exceptional secular or religious, economic or historical knowledge of one’s family, group, tribe, nation, etc. What binds us in our time is Logos, the Word, Reason, the structured outlay of thought and feeling that modulates our very becoming in the world. What Kosinski is describing is that there are not one but many various collective memories and perceptions tied to a multitude of known and not forgotten languages.
A sense of significance, of meaning has always been tied to language and description. But language has not always been tied to the alphabet, to words in linear progression, to writing. In the Phaedrus, a Socratic dialogue of around 370 B.C. Socrates recounts to Phaedrus the Egyptian legend of Theuth, the god who invented “numbers and arithmetic and geometry and astronomy, also draughts and dice, and, most important of all, letters.” Theuth presents the Egyptian king Thamus with his many inventions, one of them being writing, the storing of information and memories, calculations and numbers on clay tablets:
Thamus the Egyption king said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.”
But the King sagely remarks to Theuth, saying,
But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess.
“For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.” (Phaedrus 274c-275b)
Right here we see the mirror of our own perplexity, a world of seeming where knowledge and wisdom seem ready made, seem part of the everyday makeup of our technological wonderland of information theory and practice where all the knowledge of humanity is stored in external vats of Big Data where we as individuals no longer need to learn by rote, memorize the educational material of our ancestors, grind away reading books about this or that subject when all we need to do is use Google to discover some historical, archaeological, linguistic, encyclopedic, dictionary, scientific, political, economic, philosophical, or any other fact historical or contemporary. All those dreary hours of sitting in wooden chairs listening to teachers spoon feed us with their book learning is over. Or, so we think…
If King Thamus is correct we’ve actually lost our minds, given ourselves over to external control systems, allowed ourselves to forget truth and knowledge altogether for the fake truth and wisdom. Phaedrus remonstrating with Socrates who has been relating this tale between the Kiing Thamus and Theuth says:
Socrates, you easily make up stories of Egypt or any country you please.
He who thinks, then, that he has left behind him any art in writing, and he who receives it in the belief that anything in writing will be clear and certain, would be an utterly simple person, and in truth ignorant of the prophecy of Ammon, if he thinks written words are of any use except to remind him who knows the matter about which they are written.
Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.
Now tell me; is there not another kind of speech, or word, which shows itself to be the legitimate brother of this bastard one, both in the manner of its begetting and in its better and more powerful nature?
What is this word and how is it begotten, as you say?
The word which is written with intelligence in the mind of the learner, which is able to defend itself and knows to whom it should speak, and before whom to be silent.
You mean the living and breathing word of him who knows, of which the written word may justly be called the image.
Exactly. Now tell me this. Would a sensible husbandman, who has seeds which he cares for and which he wishes to bear fruit, plant them with serious purpose in the heat of summer in some garden of Adonis, and delight in seeing them appear in beauty in eight days, or would he do that sort of thing, when he did it at all, only in play and for amusement? Would he not, when he was in earnest, follow the rules of husbandry, plant his seeds in fitting ground, and be pleased when those which he had sowed reached their perfection in the eighth month?
Yes, Socrates, he would, as you say, act in that way when in earnest and in the other way only for amusement.
And shall we suppose that he who has knowledge of the just and the good and beautiful has less sense about his seeds than the husbandman?
By no means.
Then he will not, when in earnest, write them in ink, sowing them through a pen with words which cannot defend themselves by argument and cannot teach the truth effectually.
Socrates critique of the written vs. the spoken word based as it is on alethia, a Greek word variously translated as “unclosedness”, “unconcealedness”, “disclosure” or “truth”. The literal meaning of the word ἀ–λήθεια is “the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident.” It also means factuality or reality. It is the opposite of lethe, which literally means “oblivion”, “forgetfulness”, or “concealment”. This sense that in Plato’s dialogue, through the use of dialectic between humans, bantering back and forth in dialogue that truth will emerge is at the heart of this message. For Socrates the written word was neither knowledge or truth sense it could not speak, could not produce truth or reveal that which was hidden in the words.
Socrates lays out an argument that the written word cannot defend itself in dialogue, and thus cannot effectively teach anything worth knowing. For only through conflict and struggle, the tit-for-tat dialogues of the dialectic, through back-and-forth or give-and-take discussion and rhetorical argument and the working out of problems, can true knowledge be conveyed. Reading mere words, in his mind, is akin to looking at a statue rather than sculpting it — or worse, looking at a statue or painting and thinking that now you know how to sculpt or paint.
Plato, Socrates pupil who had put this down in writing against his own master’s strictures, and which we all read even today, added, later in his Seventh Epistle:
After much effort, as names, definitions, sights, and other data of sense, are brought into contact and friction one with another, in the course of scrutiny and kindly testing by men who proceed by question and answer without ill will, with a sudden flash there shines forth understanding about every problem, and an intelligence whose efforts reach the furthest limits of human powers. Therefore every man of worth, when dealing with matters of worth, will be far from exposing them to ill feeling and misunderstanding among men by committing them to writing…
Anyone who has followed this discourse and digression will know well that, if Dionysios or anyone else, great or small, has written a treatise on the highest matters and the first principles of things, he has, so I say, neither heard nor learnt any sound teaching about the subject of his treatise; otherwise, he would have had the same reverence for it, which I have, and would have shrunk from putting it forth into a world of discord and uncomeliness.
Dionysios here is Dionysios the Younger of Syracuse, a brutal tyrant, who has written a treatise on philosophy. Plato argues that he must have done it for fame or glory, because it’s clearly a scam — philosophy can’t be taught in writing; it can only be felt, experienced, argued out and sensed.
In a way this is an argument very similar to that of Trithemius against the printing press — that a perceived flattening or automating of a form necessarily involves a loss; that truth (whether it be philosophy or Scripture) is best consumed and absorbed experientially. With the rise of the printing press the mass reader was born. Everyone could read and write books, pamphlets, etc. as if what they were doing were truly adding to the pool of knowledge and wisdom. This sense that the automation of knowledge was rather devolving and erasing the mind did not occur to those who believed they were brining humans liberation and emancipation of thought and mind. They never thought that what we were doing was forgetting the truth, forgetting ourselves. That we were becoming dependent on mute speech, on books that held the dead memories of a world that could not speak for itself.
After the Second World War the with the rise of computers the process of integrating humanity into an algorithmic universe of calculability, of eliding the past, erasing human memory and knowledge and replacing it with both analogue and then digital traces and patterns of standardized knowledge and information controlled and manipulated at the speed of light that had no need for memory or perception but would replace both for the microworlds of the automated patterns of Big Data. As Stiegler suggests
This ‘integration’ of psychic individuals into standardized and grammatized routines – and thereby into the technical system of which these individuals become a technical function as crowds, that is, as digital artificial and conventional crowds within a techno-geographical milieu in which the human becomes less a resource (what Heidegger called Bestand, standing reserve) than a functional organ – in fact dis-integrates them.2
This process of dismantling the modern Self, the individual and automatizing them into dividual routines that can be on-call 24/7 to do the bidding of their masters whether at work or play (the two being in our digital world integrated in the market economy) has taken such all pervasive root in the modern psyche that people no longer have the distance available to dream or think for themselves. As Stiegler remarks “What is at stake here is the progressive elimination by 24/7 environments of those intermittences that are states of sleep and of daydream: ‘One of the forms of disempowerment within 24/7 environments is the incapacitation of daydream or of any mode of absent-minded introspection.’” (AS, KL 2990)
There no longer being a Self, an Individual to introspect or turn their gaze inward toward memory and perception in the eyes of the computational and calculable world of our algorithmic society brings us to a two-dimensional flatland of objects without relations. As if in parody of speculative realism or Object oriented philosophy one could say that humans have not withdrawn from their environment, they’ve actually become so immersed and standardized, assembled by their environment – products of the algorithms that control their every thought and memory – that that no longer know the difference that makes a difference. They are written, grammatized, and bound within a seamless assemblage of false memories and perceptions. Simulated 24/7 and programmed to operate according to codes they neither understand nor can speak of.
For Stigler we are asleep and don’t even know it, that we need a collective shock therapy to awaken the Sleepers from their nightmare world of dividuality from the Outside in. We are not only automating work, we have all already become automated dividuals in a world of slavedom in which we think we are free. We are in a dreamless sleep, unable to think or feel, and have no time left to reverie about our lives or world. We need Shock Therapy:
This dream programme posits that tertiary retention proceeds primordially from dreaming, and from a specific type of dream: the noetic dream such that it may become thought, and such that it is always the beginning of any true thinking, which is always negentropic – in passing through reverie – that is, insofar as it can dream the conditions of its own realization in the course of a neganthropological process. (AS, KL 3907)
Big Data provides a world of totalized knowledge, a world where theory and practice are no longer needed, and theoreticians, scientists, philosophers, etc. become obsolete artifacts and practitioners of a world of writing that is no longer operable in the mathematized universe of algorithms that is Big Data. Humans are not only not needed, they are being replaced. We are being excluded from the very artificial worlds we helped invent. We’ve become the entropic waste of a process that is slowly expulsing us from the heartlands of our minds and souls. For Stiegler this process will continue unless we are provided shock therapy to awaken us from our electronic sleep.
Over the next few months my family and I will be slowly transitioning back to Wyoming. Found some good property outside Cody, WY. Sold my old place up in the hills, and will be fixing this small place in Phoenix ups and selling it. Figure to spend my remaining days close to Yellowstone and the river basins up and that neck of the woods. So I’ll be slowing down a little over the next few months, and may take a short leave of absence in May when we expect to move and build our place. Going to do most of the work ourselves to save the proverbial dollar. A lot to do… but once done it’s going to be the place I’ll hang my hat for the rest of whatever I have left on this green earth.
Working on that continued series on Stiegler… but will be sporadic. Stay tuned…
When you read this I’ll be sitting, hopefully, comfortable in my chair, my dog, Rusty at my side or wandering with me in the hills around the lake outside Cody, Wyoming. WordPress has this feature of publishing based on time schedules that seem to act for you, so here is one of those types of post – a reflection on my own past kind that even I wonder why I keep peering into that abyss.
No, seriously, as I look back now on my earlier childhood, the Culture of West Texas I grew up in and the religious world-view of the fundamental Southern Methodist and Baptists, much less the austere Church of Christ and other sects and sectarian fundamentalisms, as well as the Holy Rollers – Assembly of God, Seventh Day Adventists and so many others, I wonder what changed my mind and diverted my life from a robot of the faith. Sometimes you just have to take stock of that world, really look at what shaped one’s views and what set one onto one path and not another. What was that Plato’s Socrates said just before they sentenced him to death for corrupting the youth of Athens? “An unexamined life is not worth living,” he said in the Apology, one of those works one should read every few years and ponder.
Have fun all… going to take a few weeks off and go up to my cabin in Wyoming/Montana region. Frolic in the snow, see friends, make merry, enjoy some flames on a hearth… hard to do that here in the desert. 🙂
Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.
Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.
Split between Swift and Twain, Satire and Humor, the world seems to drift in a haze. Attaining either political satire or humor is difficult and not to be taken lightly, and yet it has its place. The difficulty resides not in the subject matter or content, but in the actual conceptual framework of the critical gaze. Attaining the gaze that bites and instructs is the most difficult art; for all humor is didactic and entertaining instruction in laughter, and it is to unburden resentment and enter into the graciousness of a serpent’s gaze that brings such pithy marksman to bare.
As any number of radical theorists from Brecht through to Foucault and Badiou have maintained, emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.
– Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
The American Left rather than digging into its own failures is displacing it, creating in a mediablitz saturation a multiplicity of metanarratives to replace that real and actual failure of the party, through a series of well coordinating obfuscations against Russia, Trump, the alt-right gang, etc. all in the name of clearing the Democratic Party of any responsibility for its own mistakes and failures. Rather than in creating a critical appraisal, diagnosis, and cure of its own misguided platforms it will for the next four years just continue to turn a blind eye toward itself, and program its constituents to see the rest of the world through the fictional lens of fascism, real or invented. This is not to say there want be a need for it, yet what I’m saying is that it will become overkill and a displacement of what it truly needed, which is a transformation of the Democratic Party’s own platform, along with the outmoded ideas and problematique of its current leadership.
In the book mentioned in the epigraph by Mark Fisher he describes Capitalist realism as that which cannot be confined to art or to the quasi-propagandistic way in which advertising functions. It is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action. Our mediatainment industrial complex pervades the atmosphere as a mediator between the real and virtual worlds of politics in our world. From the mainstream Reuter’s to the most obvious examples of the Guardian (UK) to New York Times (US) to Washington Post (US) to any number of television and broadcasting stations, along with the various online ensembles of Facebook, Twitter, etc. A list that could grow into all the various international and nationalist news organizations around the globe.
Most average citizens do not have time to critically appraise every facet of the news, but rather take it all in stride: part cynical, part fantasy. It almost goes without saying that most people realize that the news is bent, is ideological in the sense that it is narrated through the lens of a specific viewpoint of political and social ideas and programs. That certain reporters are obviously of the Left or Right, and that people love to take sides with this sort of vague and undefined world of media crafted more for capturing attention blips for advertising dollars. Sensationalism is the order of the day, the more one can bash the other political party the better the ratings. So we’ve come to expect exaggeration and invective from our favorite media pundits, it just goes without saying. Yet, in the process of knowing this we pretend with ourselves that we don’t know this, so that we accept at face value what is reported as confirmation of our political hobby-horse. We love it to find out all the dirty details of an enemy opponent to satisfy our glib and cynical take on politics as usual. What this does is pacify us, turn us into cynical and passive normal who expect the world to continue down its course without us being able to change a thing. We just accept that the world is too complex and the leaders are all fools anyway, so what are we to do? We believe its all circus and clowns, so we just laugh and turn a blind eye; or, we sit on the sidelines our gaze turned toward the endless parade of media tomfoolery as if what is being portrayed is indeed reality. It’s not, and we know it, but we are too busy trying to survive in our actual real lives to do much about it. We see the protests and the violence and say: “See, there it is, violent youth blowing up banks, breaking glass… burning limousines…,” and shake our heads. And, do nothing, because we don’t think anything can be done. Isolated, alone, stuck in our separate cells, privatized and singular we feel helpless that anything will change. So fear pervades it all…
We ask ourselves is there a solution to this stupidity? We know there is, but we also know that we’ve been left out of the equation. That what we term representative democracy is a charade, it isn’t that at all. We are no longer represented by our leaders, all they do is spout slogans and in their actions do just the opposite. What we term holding them accountable is but to continue to vote for change the next time: an eternal rotation of useless leaders always spouting how they’ll change things for us, make our lives an easy road, bring us jobs, salvation, redemption… more bullshit as usual.
All the academic scholarship for the past hundred years has spoken to this in one way or another, but none have ever come up with a solution. Not one. Oh, they offer panaceas, certain reforms (isn’t that what the Progressive part is… the Reform party?). But what happens is that the reforms do not benefit the people but the Oligarchs, Corporations, and Bankers who back the politicians. People have almost begun to accept this, too. Sadly. As Mark will tell us in his book:
The result is a kind of postmodern capitalist version of Maoist confessionalism, in which workers are required to engage in constant symbolic self-denigration…. But don’t worry… any self-criticisms we make are purely symbolic, and will never be acted upon; as if performing self-flagellation as part of a purely formal exercise in cynical bureaucratic compliance were any less demoralizing.1
Of course he’s speaking of the politics of work and bureaucracy here, but one can read this as a fable of all politics. We have been taught that it is us, not the politicians that are responsible. Rather than a public forum, everything has been privatized, even the old notion of the Public. As Mark suggests “‘Being realistic’ may once have meant coming to terms with of a reality experienced as solid and immovable. Capitalist realism, however, entails subordinating oneself to a reality that is infinitely plastic, capable of reconfiguring itself at any moment.” (CR, p. 54) He’ll explain it as a fungible world, a world where the media acts a mediator between us and the Real, imposing its ideological screens as overlays to guide and instruct, indoctrinate and channel our desires for products, entertainment, and politics. As he’ll say it: “The ‘reality’ here is akin to the multiplicity of options available on a digital document, where no decision is final, revisions are always possible, and any previous moment can be recalled at any time.” (CR, p. 54)
Most people in our current blip culture no longer have the attention span of a mouse, everything becomes boring after a few sound bytes or images, much less the attention span needed to actually read or write something more than the space of a Twitter twit. Fake news has become more real than the actual truth of a story, people would rather believe a lie than the truth; and, in fact recently pundits argue that ours is a post-truth society. In a world that no longer has the distance or attention span to critically appraise the truth or validity of its news we are already living in a virtual tyranny controlled by powers over which we have no control.
Yet, we have to admit that a part of this is the blame of the very academics left that spawned the so called postmodern turn which undermined the whole tradition of critical reason itself. It’s attack on Kant and the undermining of classical metaphysics from Plato to now in deconstruction etc. was to end in an endless undecidability about anything whatsoever. Left in a world cut off from reality, the linguistic turn left us without an ability to think or even know what thinking is. Groundless and dancing in a figural sophistry of endless paradox and difference we’ve spawned the very fictional world we’re now living in. A refined skepticism, cynicism of irony endlessly churning in tis own surface world on non-meaning and virulent nihilism we’ve come to an end game where reality has turned inside out, and allowed the darkness outside in.
As Mark describes it:
If the Real is unbearable, any reality we construct must be a tissue of inconsistencies. What differentiates Kant, Nietzsche and Freud from the tiresome cliché that ‘life is but a dream’ is the sense that the confabulations we live are consensual. The idea that the world we experience is a solipsistic delusion projected from the interior of our mind consoles rather than disturbs us, since it conforms with our infantile fantasies of omnipotence; but the thought that our so-called interiority owe its existence to a fictionalized consensus will always carry an uncanny charge.(CR, pp. 55-56)
We’ve come to expect the scripts of reality to be written for us now in this late age. Rather than seeking truth for ourselves, we’d rather accept the scripted worlds of mediatainment fictions, realizing its more fun that way – we can laugh and joke at it and say it’s all entertainment, not real. But then we live through that moment of forgetting when in the quiet of our homes, staring at the face in the mirror we ask ourselves: “What is real? Am I real anymore?”
The point here is that the privatization of culture has blighted us. We are in that in-between state where everything is fiction, everything is narrative. Our cultural history, our memories are all mediated, filtered, spin crafted ideological positing’s that have no touch with reality, but are rather massaged and transformed in the lens of carefully crafted discourse and image narratives controlled by a blind bureaucracy that is faceless and out of site. In fact we’ve been under siege for a while now. The cultural forgetting of Western culture and civilization has been part of the academic left’s curriculum and project for a hundred years. The total annihilation of this two-thousand year old cultural matrix of concepts, ideas, and history has for years been under revision, castigation, modification, and deconstruction all leading to its demise. What we term humanism and humanity is a project for the Left in obsolescence. And, yet, there is nothing on offer to replace it but a slippery post-humanism that seems to wander through a thousand and one categories of if’s without any actual end in site. And, even then scholars can’t agree on just what this new beast is or will be.
Mark will suggest we are in that paradoxical in-between state of fear and terror of the present, because we can no longer make memories:
The memory disorder that is the correlative of this situation is the condition which afflicts Leonard in Memento, theoretically pure anterograde amnesia. Here, memories prior to the onset of the condition are left intact, but sufferers are unable to transfer new memories into long term memory; the new therefore looms up as hostile, fleeting, un-navigable, and the sufferer is drawn back to the security of the old. The inability to make new memories: a succinct formulation of the postmodern impasse…. (CR, p. 60)
This sense of living in a timeless present cut off from past or future is at the heart of our malaise. Comforted by a nostalgia for imaginary pasts we harbor childhood memories of a culture that never was, while living in a wasteland of impossible fictions in which nothing true can be retained or bound to a supportable memory. Because of this most people rely on the State not as either an Orwellian Big Brother, or as some kind of Paternal figure, but rather as a Nanny: “Although excoriated by both neoliberalism and neoconservativism, the concept of the Nanny State continues to haunt capitalist realism. The specter of big government plays an essential libidinal function for capitalist realism.” (CR, p. 62) This sense of someone who will just baby sit the world for us, who is there in the background picking up the pieces, setting things to right, cooking our meals, wiping our asses, doing everything but open our mouths and spoon-feed us.
But with the installation of Trump in the hot seat of the Presidency the Nanny State has gone bye bye, and now comes the age old Father returned from oblivion instilling the authority of the ancient lineage of power brokers: the androdominator as power monger who will now takeover and fix everything for us. Rather than the quiet smiley face of the Nanny State under Obama, we have the power brokers of yesteryear, the business and corporate efficiency of the black suit New Yorker who will rebuild the world from the ground up, or so the story goes…
Nietzsche in the 19th Century proclaimed the death of God. Foucault in the 20th Century proclaimed the dead of the Subject. Now we proclaim the death of the human itself at the hands of anti-human scholars. Yet, we are still here. Or are we? How can we know what to do about politics when we’re continuously told we no longer exist, that it is all passé, that the human Subject is but a neuroscientific illusion and delusion of a kludgy brain that through processes unknown entered into a an accidental production of consciousness (of which no neuroscientific or philosopher of Mind can speak to or definitely describe). We are told that this is nihilism: the age when all values are dispersed in a blank world of valueless judgments. Nietzsche prophesied and end to it when it would have completed itself. Which I assume he meant when everyone proclaims the end of all values and the acceptance that the world around us doesn’t give a shit one way or the other about humanity because it doesn’t even know we exist. Why? Because the universe is an agency, there is no Subject behind the screen, no fake Wizard of Oz of God speaking out of thunderstorms or mountains lighting rods of fire and brimstone. We are absolutely alone in a dark room with each other in a realm utterly devoid of answers or solutions. So this is ground Zero, the place of no place, the place from which we begin again… but this time with the knowledge of our utter desolation. Not despair as some assume, but desolation: the “condition of being ruined or wasted,” which is neither a place of despair or hope, but of reality. It’s from this desolation that we must begin and begin again to test the world against our words, our meanings. To wipe away the tears and sadness of our fictional ploys and narratives that have done much to lead us into this mess. We must build our words out of this desolation, for only then can we touch reality’s face and produce a community of shared values in a valueless universe.
At the beginning of the twentieth century W.B. Yeats said the “center cannot hold,” at the beginning of the twenty-first century the center is empty, the power and subject has vacated the premises and left a black hole of undecidability in its place. Politics is that black hole that the populism of Trump is supposedly a stuffing. But this center that cannot hold cannot be stuffed with supreme fictions or Reality TV stars. It will need something else… possibly just an acceptance that we don’t need the center anymore, we don’t need the Father, Mother, or Nanny to take care of us… that we are quite capable of pulling ourselves up by the sit of our pants and doing and thinking about what we really want rather than being told what we will get. Is this at all possible? Or, will we always depend and be dependent on some great Big Nobadday or Big Other to do for us what we will not do for ourselves?
As I finished that last sentence I added a question mark, realizing how much twaddle it was to expect people to ever free themselves of their delusions, desires, and deliriums, rather what will happen is the age old faltering and scapegoating of the other, of blame, of castigation and seeking someone to place the evil eye on; of displacement of responsibility and failure on the Other – whoever that other happens to be in the eyes of the media at any one moment. We are lazy and shiftless, we want our cake and eat it too. We’d rather depend on someone else to take on the responsibility of the world and our lives than we would. This is truth, too.
So for now the Left will place the Evil Eye on Trump because he is an easy target, a Reality TV bimbo billionaire that pop-starred his way into power through the very mechanisms of the Left’s mediatainment empire of signs. Rather than take on the responsibility to clean its own house, the Left would rather just dirty up the Trump house and fill it with all the evil under the rug of its resentment and shock at having been ousted from the seat of power (lessness). My mother used to tell my sister and I to look for a silver lining in the clouds after a storm, that that was a sign of hope in a dark time. My problem was that growing up in West Texas I’d look up after a hail storm and twisters to see not some silver lining on the black edged clouds, but rather the blotted face of a scorched red sun. I’d ask Mom about that, and she’d just whisper: “It’s a mystery!”
Decided to republish this essay I wrote over a year ago… still worth rethinking.
Naomi Wolfe’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot outlined ten steps taken in the past by what she termed “closing societies” — such as Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Russia — in their long descent into fascism. For both the State was one grand corporation in which the prols or workers were but the fodder for its schemes and machinations. These steps, Wolf claims, are being observed in America now.
The steps are:
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
5. Harass citizens’ groups.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
7. Target key individuals.
8. Control the press.
9. Cast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason.
10. Subvert the rule of law.
J.G. Ballard in an interview mentions that our current consumer societies with their celebrity stars of Hollywood, Sports, and the Variety tabloids has entered the plutocracy of excess and abundance. “What I’m saying is that, left on its own consumer society is becoming a soft fascism. Because consumerism makes inherent demands, it has inherent needs, which can only be satisfied by pressing the accelerator down a little harder, moving a little faster, upping the antes. In order to keep spending and keep believing, we need to move into the area of the psychopathic.” 1
In my own life the dark cycles come and go, and when they come I return to the comic worlds of laughter to assuage the pain of such suffering doubts and mental anguish. I read Cervantes Don Quixote and Aristophanes plays, along with Moliere’s and Shakespeare’s comedies. Listen to stand-up comedians and generally walk away from the dark thoughts that send me down the nihilist pipe and death-spin. It’s not for everyone, but it’s my only recourse. I know I have a dark pessimistic side to my mind that tends to reinforce itself with the political and social malfeasance I see around me, but dwelling on it too long can send you into a state of becoming which can act like a strange attractor pulling you toward an abyss and sink hole. It’s not good to go there.
I’ve often thought life is a constant war against gravitas – the inertia and entropic effect of gravity on our planet. We struggle against it daily in our cycles of sleep and waking, we feel its power against us as we rise in the morning, the aches and kinks in muscle and bone (especially at age 65!) begin to repeat there impossible gestures to which we exercise, stretch, walk, etc. Yet, it’s a cycle that daily gets more difficult to bare and confront. I imagine some people weigh the options and decide its just not worth it anymore. The other side is not just the physical pain of gravity’s well, but the social and political wells of gravity around us that seem to accumulate such dark and disturbing, hate ridden abysses. The struggle against these powers in high places is a life-long task, and one that as well takes its toll.
I even return to old Emerson at times. I just wish I could always follow such advice:
I find the gayest castles in the air that were ever piled, far better for comfort and for use, than the dungeons in the air that are daily dug and caverned out by grumbling, discontented people. I know those miserable fellows, and I hate them, who see a black star always riding through the light and colored clouds in the sky overhead: waves of light pass over and hide it for a moment, but the black star keeps fast in the zenith. But power dwells with cheerfulness; hope puts us in a working mood, whilst despair is no muse, and untunes the active powers. A man should make life and Nature happier to us, or he had better never been born.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life
My friend Edmund Berger has a new book coming out very soon from Zero Books… I’m looking forward to this. Edmund’s wordpress blog Deterritorial Investigations has been a source of intelligent history and thought for me for years now. A book from him will top it off!
My book Uncertain Futures: An Assessment of the Conditions of the Present will be coming out from Zero Books on February 22nd. To sum it up briefly, the book emerged last winter from a series of notes to myself while trying to think through several related themes: the relationship between Marxian theories of crisis and the “long wave” theories of “techno-economic” development posed by the neo-Schumpeterians; the correlation between crises and other transition-points in economic development and sweeping political transformations; and the rise of the left-wing and right-wing populisms (and indeed, quasi-fascism) in the current world. The “uncertain future” in the title very much refers to the dangerous situation of the far-right coming to power in the United States, which at the time of writing was only a possibility – but has now come true. But despite this rather grim dimension, I think the book is pretty cool!
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I’ve begun of late to wonder if our use of the term ‘post-human’ is more of an acknowledgement not of the End of the Subject or the demise of Liberal Humanist civilization that spawned it, but rather of another problem altogether: the extinction event of technological disconnection. David Roden in his Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human is fairly convinced of such a disconnection:
“I have characterized posthumans in very general terms as hypothetical wide “descendants” of current humans that are no longer human in consequence of some history of technological alteration”. Speculative posthumanism is the claim that such beings might be produced as part of a feasible future history.”1
This notion of ‘technological alteration’ in which the present form of the human loses its integrity and is replaced or altered through either genetic manipulation or some other unforeseen technical event seems eerily prognostic. Of course David has couched his thesis in scholarly garb or academic noblesse of acceptable jargon and discourse. But the radcial underpinnings of such a thesis are there hidden under a thick verbiage of carefully reasoned argumentation and examples.
David asks the right questions, brings up the philosophical quandaries of such a notion as post-human:
“What is the “humanity” to which the posthuman is “post”? Does the possibility of a posthumanity presuppose that there is a “human essence”, or is there some other way of conceiving the human– posthuman difference? Without an answer to this question we cannot say, in general, what it is to become posthuman and thus why it should matter to humans or their wide descendants. In short, we require a theory of human– posthuman difference.”
“The primordial trauma, the trauma constitutive of the subject, is the very gap that bars the subject from its own ‘inner life’.”
-Slavoj Žižek. Disparities
My friend R. Scott Bakker’s response to this implies what he terms ‘medial neglect’ or the notion that we are blind to the brain’s own processes. In a fine essay describing this issue Scott remarks,
A curious consequence of the neuroscientific explananda problem is the glaring way it reveals our blindness to ourselves, our medial neglect. The mystery has always been one of understanding constraints, the question of what comes before we do. Plans? Divinity? Nature? Desires? Conditions of possibility? Fate? Mind? We’ve always been grasping for ourselves, I sometimes think, such was the strategic value of metacognitive capacity in linguistic social ecologies. The thing to realize is that grasping, the process of developing the capacity to report on our experience, was bootstrapped out of nothing and so comprised the sum of all there was to the ‘experience of experience’ at any given stage of our evolution. Our ancestors had to be both implicitly obvious, and explicitly impenetrable to themselves past various degrees of questioning.
From the Lacanian standpoint, it is not enough to say that every symbolic representation simply fails, is inadequate to the subject it represents (‘words always betray me …’); much more radically, the subject is the retroactive effect of the failure of its representation. It is because of this failure that the subject is divided – not into something and something else, but into something (its symbolic representation) and nothing, and fantasy fills the void of this nothingness. And the catch is that this symbolic representation of the subject is primordially not its own: prior to speaking, I am spoken, identified as a name by the parental discourse, and my speech is from the very outset a kind of hysterical reaction to being spoken to: ‘Am I really then, that name, what you’re saying I am?’ Every speaker – every name giver – has to be named, has to be included into its own chain of nominations, or, to refer to the joke often quoted by Lacan: ‘I have three brothers, Paul, Ernest, and myself.’ (No wonder that, in many religions, God’s name is secret, one is prohibited to pronounce it.) The speaking subject persists in this in-between: prior to nomination, there is no subject, but once it is named, it already disappears in its signifier – the subject never is, it always will have been.
—Slavoj Žižek, Disparities
In miniature the above offers us succinctly the full thrust of Žižek’s dialectical materialism: a mode of reversalism, retroactive causality, and the recentering within the Democritean principle of the Void over Substance as the central core of his philosophical framework. The notion that there is no pre-existent essence, no Platonic form out of an eternal realm that incarnates itself as Subject, or imposes its Idea on a passive material world of substantive objects, etc., but rather there is a process, a processual in-between, a movement – a continuous negation, a “blind passenger”:
The Ancient Greeks had two words for nothing, meden and ouden, which stand for two types of negation: ouden is a factual negation, something that is not but could have been; meden is, on the contrary, something that in principle cannot be. From meden we get to den not simply by negating the negation in meden, but by displacing negation, or, rather, by supplementing negation with a subtraction. That is to say, we arrive at den when we take away from meden not the whole negating prefix, but only its first two letters: meden is med’hen, the negation of hen (one): not-one. Democritus arrives at den by leaving out only me and thus creating a totally artificial word den. Den is thus not nothing without “no,” not a thing, but an othing, a something but still within the domain of nothing, like an ontological living dead, a spectral nothing-appearing-as-something. Or, as Lacan put it: “Nothing, perhaps? No— perhaps nothing, but not nothing”; to which Cassin adds: “I would love to make him say: Pas rien, mais moins que rien (Not nothing, but less than nothing)” — den is a “blind passenger” of every ontology. As such, it is “the radical real,” and Democritus is a true materialist: “No more materialist in this matter than anyone with his senses, than me or than Marx, for example. But I cannot swear that this also holds for Freud”— Lacan suspects Freud’s link to kabbala obscurantism.1
Zizek’s philosophy will stand the test of time or fall by the wayside over this notion of the Democritean “Den”: Den is thus not nothing without “no,” not a thing, but an othing, a something but still within the domain of nothing, like an ontological living dead, a spectral nothing-appearing-as-something. A Spectral Materialism of Zombies and Ghosts? It gets better,
The rise of den is thus strictly homologous to that of objet a which, according to Lacan, emerges when the two lacks (of the subject and of the Other) coincide, that is, when alienation is followed by separation: den is the “indivisible remainder” of the signifying process of double negation— something like Sygne de Coûfontaine’s tic, this minimal eppur si muove which survives her utter Versagung (renunciation). (ibid.)
Galileo Galilei muttered, “Eppur si muove” (“ And yet it moves”), after recanting before the Inquisition his theory that the Earth moves around the Sun: he was not tortured, it was enough to take him on a tour and show him the torture devices … There is no contemporary evidence that he did in fact mutter this phrase, but today the phrase is used to indicate that, although someone who possesses true knowledge is forced to renounce it, this does not stop it from being true. But what makes this phrase so interesting is that it can also be used in the exact opposite sense, to assert a “deeper” symbolic truth about something which is literally not true— like the “Eppur si muove” story itself, which may well be false as a historical fact about Galileo’s life, but is true as a designation of Galileo’s subjective position while he was forced to renounce his views. In this sense, a materialist can say that, although he knows there is no God, the idea of a God nonetheless “moves” him. It is interesting to note that, in “Terma,” an episode from the fourth season of The X-Files, “E pur si muove” replaces the usual “The truth is out there,” meaning that, even if their existence is denied by official science, alien monsters nonetheless move around out there. But it can also mean that, even if there are no aliens out there, the fiction of an alien invasion (like the one in The X-Files) can nonetheless engage us and move us: beyond the fiction of reality, there is the reality of the fiction. (Zizek, KL 280)
One thing that astounds me as I read certain contemporary philosophers or even sociologists is that their hatred of the humanities and humanism has left a blank in their learning curve, a kenosis – a devastating loss in a certain type of thinking and knowing. The humanistic world for all its illusions and foibles, its obvious anthropomorphisms, etc., that we as their heirs and despisers ( I say this facetiously, because I am sadly a part of this dying world! ) have for the most part in our attempt to overcome, bury, and move past their worldview, scholarship, and traditions lost many of the pragmatic mind tools they constructed (i.e., the world of language, rhetoric’s, and receptions ).
This came home to me as I’ve been reading Bernard Stiegler recently, who on the surface because of his immediate tradition in Heidegger/Derridean modes of thought, scholarly apparatus, and etymological overdeterminations has built up a Gothic Cathedral of thought so opaque and thick that to decipher it for a common or lay reader (i.e., for the average intellectual or journalist, etc.) is to transcribe, transliterate, transform, massage, and redeploy his acute verbiage into other forms, other simpler modes of thinking. And, yet, even Stiegler for all his careful and elaborate sophistication is totally or apparently ignorant of his own ignorance in return to certain humanistic traditions by other channels and modes.
What I mean is that as I was reading Stiegler’s Time and Technics vol 1 I realized he was returning to that ancient art of sophistry, the allegorical transcription of ancient myths into conceptual thought; and, yet, he seemed apparently oblivious to the simplified use of those ancient mind-tools for the most part, and was actually in his misprisions and misreadings deploying a strangely uncanny rhetorical decipherment and embellishment that the medieval monks would have seen as superficial and at best overly simplified and duplicitous. Maybe that’s the truth even of Plato’s dialogues which use the ancient framework of myth and religion to relate his allegories of conceptual thought, incorporating the known techniques of the Sophists against them in a bid to make Philosophia (The Art (technics) of Wisdom (Sophia)) the Queen of Scientia. Wasn’t Plato, after all, the great swindler, the man who set up the Academy in a bid to overtake the Sophists in their own game, making Philosophy the principle tool for the Aristocrats (Aristoi) of his City, Athens?
Philosophy (The term philosophy is taken from the Greek word, (phylos) meaning “to love” or “to befriend” and, (sophie) meaning “wisdom.”. Thus, “philosophy” means “the love of wisdom”. Socrates, a Greek philosopher, used the term philosophy as an equivalent to the search for wisdom.) was once considered one of the modes of teaching humans how to think, and in thinking seek wisdom rather than knowledge. The key here is allegory with all its ancient power of encoding/decoding thought into levels of conceptual theory and practice based on compression, condensation, displacement, elaboration, etc. The heirs of these ancient and medieval traditions were the great literary critics and scholars of the various Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic, and Modernist eras. The last great scholar of this form was of course Ernst Robert Curtius in his magnum opus European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. A work that is too elaborate, too scholarly, too much in that historicism of the day, and yet it was a summation of humanist learning. To read such a book today one realizes what has been lost to the contemporary scholar, all the linguistic tools, learning, and sophisticated apparatus. Reading such works is like seeing this vast tradition as what it was: a machine for producing texts of sophisticated ignorance and learning for a specialized audience, an elite of gamers – parodied by Thomas Mann (Dr. Faustus) and Herman Hesse (Magister Ludi – The Glass Bead Game). That world is dead for us, and yet we seem to be resurrecting it under other guises and tasks. Ignorant of its vast tools we are reinventing them in a slow and methodical game of blindness and insight.
One of those scholars that many on the Left despise and seem to overlook is Paul de Man (now despised for his wartime Anti-Semitis, hidden in his move to America as a scholar at Yale after the war), whose body of work brings to light the postmodern return to those ancient modes of ironizing and allogoreisis. In such works as Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (the notion that all writing concerns itself with its own activity as language, and language, he says is always unreliable, slippery, impossible – allegorical…), Resistance To Theory (the resistance to theory is inherent in the theoretical enterprise itself, and the real debate is with its own methodological assumptions and possibilities), Aesthetic Ideology (rigorous inquiry into the relation of rhetoric, epistemology, anesthetics, one that presents radical notions of materiality), and Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (each theorist while trying to explain the origin of the ‘work’ or of literature remained blind to what lies outside the purview of his theoretical system, because the very logic of theorization always excludes something).
Why read such books as these today? One simple and devastating reason is to open one’s eyes to all that has been lost, the other is to understand just what it is (if one truly is against it?) humanistic learning offered to its inheritors and transmitters. If one is going to truly attack, undermine, and defend oneself against a millennia old system of thought and practice one should invest the time knowing and understanding that world. That this world is past us, that it is already being forgotten, blamed, anathematized, and buried by the scholars, philosophers, and journalists in our current apathy without even an appreciation of its extant and viable mind-tools is to say the least stupid and is without doubt leaving a blank in the mind’s of young university students growing up under the didactic tutelage of scholars and thinkers that have themselves lost these ancient arts (technics).
The supposed scholar of today is not only ignorant of this past but in despising and anathematizing it has fallen into the sloppy illusion that she has surpassed it under the shibboleth of de-anthropomorphic thought, when in fact most of these present scholars have done no such thing and in fact have begun reconstructing the very Cathedral of humanistic learning under a new guise, and with all its habits and practices, errors and foibles. Ignorant of their predecessors many present scholars founder in the cesspool of these ancient modes of thought with little or know understanding of their return to these ancient modes. What I’m – pointedly saying is simple: we are building a Tower of Babel in the midst of glorious ruins of humanism, falling into what my friend R. Scott Bakker terms the ‘crash space’ of senselessness and stupidity, of utter ignorance and unlearning, and all the time thinking we are doing something clever, something new. When in truth we are relearning ancient pathways of thought and being in a vacuum and with lesser insight into that ancient form that took generations of scholarly monks to accomplish over hundreds of years. We’re moving in circles of our own ignorance believing we are divesting ourselves of those worlds of human-centric learning and endeavor, when in fact it is returning with a vengeance an eating its children alive.
What we are seeing in our time is the re-centering of all this ancient thought within Information Theory and Datacentric Design. By this I mean that the sophistication of learning and thought over the past century has forced the vast systems of humanism into ever more machinic and artificial worlds, a dreamworld of thought and image fused in a new computational theatre of communication. We’re barely registering that we’ve all been migrating into these worlds that began with Kant’s inward turn. The virtual is the exteriorization of this internal turn of Kant’s epistemic. We’ve turned everything inside-out. We are out there now in all our technics, our memories, our desires are taking on a life of their own in sophisticated systems. We’ve begun to forget ourselves and enter into a new world of ignorance. As our machinic descendants in artificial life and intelligence become smarter we become stupid and forgetful.
One can’t so easily dismiss these ancient modes of thought and feeling. To do so is to become their prey, to be gobbled up by their systematic forms without even knowing that this is so. Most of these philosophical and pragmatic heirs who are trying to forget the philosophical traditions are actually being incorporated into their old paths in ignorance of this very truth. I’ll admit I didn’t even finish university myself. Tell the truth I’m an Autodidact. My whole life has been devoted to the search for Wisdom (Sophia) in the old sense of philosophia. It began after Viet Nam and never stopped… I also from my readings in Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Land, etc. have always had a hatred of a certain type of academic scholarship rather than of the Academy itself. It’s the dry and apathetic blandness of mediocrity I despise rather than the apparatus of learning itself. One must discern the difference between greatness and mediocrity in scholars as in life. I’ll admit after those critics from Emerson to Bloom that I read the vast ‘storehouse of learning’ for the “sparks,” “illuminations,” and as Walter Benjamin rephrased it after the great kabbalists, the “auras”. The indefinable element in a work that enlivens and quickens the mind to wonder and awakening to wisdom. Everything else is anathema; that is, facticity and factual knowledge rather than the technics (art) to use it.
The great literary critics were able to decipher what was alive and what was dead in thought and life. We’ve lost this art or technic in our readings today. My friend R. Scott Bakker has repeatedly laughed and seen my Swiftian enterprise as mere self-amusement, and I too agree that we’re all turning in circles of our own blindness and ignorance. Even ignorant of our ignorance, or what he terms “medial neglect”. Yet, we go on, must go on. I’m more of a minimalistic harbinger after Samuel Beckett. We persist, because we can do nothing else. It moves us… as Zizek quoting Galileo Galilei who muttered, “Eppur si muove” (“ And yet it moves”) after the materialist philosophy of Democritus and Lucretius and the swerve that makes a difference of difference. Even in circles we change, it moves, it changes; we go on, we move, we can do no else. (One could expound this at the quantum flux level of physics or with philosophical bric-a-brac, but it all leads to the same circle of concepts and notions, whether one uses math or language.)
In the end we are an animal aware of its own impossibility so that we’ve built vast Gothic Cathedrals of myth, allegory, philosophy, science, etc. to explain our fumbling existence in the cosmos. Some conclude a futility to this enterprise, others see it as the human predicament, finitude. Is there an answer? I doubt it. Yet, we persist in our ignorance to our doom or glory. As that old pessimist Kohelet (“the Gatherer”) in Ecclesiastes said of all human learning: “…vanity of vanities; all is vanity (etym: vain, futile, or worthless). And, yet, without it we would stand dumbfounded before the great emptiness and ourselves. In the old religious consciousness one waited and expected an answer out of this void, in the dispensation of the philosophers there was already that skepticism (a distancing and irony) of an answer coming out of an otherwise indifferent and impersonal cosmos. Yet, both agreed that even if one came the human could not answer it back with anything other than its ignorant tongue and speechcraft, and this was always and has always been something we could not accept so that we have remained stubborn in our emptiness, producing a realm of lack into which we have poured our songs and lies throughout recorded time. Maybe that was the original sin, admitting then denying our ignorance and trying to cover it over with our infinite pursuit of knowledge rather than wisdom (Sophia). Yet, this too, is but another allegory of the scholars, one I’ll refrain from explicating through divagation or exegesis – or, even in that hesitant and constant prevarication of the academic scholar who can never be done with his work.
Strangely the ancient Hebrew traditions held that the name Torah and the general word torah are usually translated with either law or teaching, and that would work on the proviso that what is taught is actually true (i.e. a reflection or adaptation of “natural” law). And it should be noted in these ancient traditions of the ‘People of the Covenant’ the convenant precedes formal law (covenant: Genesis 6:18; deposition of formal law: Exodus 20, but note man’s natural knowledge of law: Genesis 26:5, Romans 2:15); meaning that the relationship of God and mankind is not brought about by wisdom ( Sophianic. But that God is not “discovered” or found by looking for Him; Luke 17:20), but that wisdom is brought about by the relationship of God and mankind (God is found because He looked for us; 1 John 4:19).
In the gnostic heresies it would be Sophia (Wisdom) rather than God who came looking for the naked creature who had lost its way in the cosmos, seeking to impart her gift of wisdom to this naked animal and enlighten it with that spark of divine knowledge about the blind processes that have infiltrated and even now devour the cosmos and corrupt it with its dark and abiding ignorance. Reading these old myths under the guise of allegory one realizes that even philosophers such as Spinoza (who was indelibly stamped by his age!) knew of the kabbalists and Jewish magicians of the old gnostic inheritance (though this would be disputed by those of the ‘reception’).
All tales of various paths by which Wisdom has been accepted or rejected in the many cultures of the past. I’m sure one could discover other cultures on other continents with their own distinct tales of Wisdom. This is but the one between two segments of Western culture and its traditions, between Greece (Pluralism) and Jerusalem (Monotheism). The Greeks chose to show man as alone and tempted in his pursuit to discover wisdom, while the monotheists of the Middle-East chose to believe only their singular Big Other, God was capable of bestowing such a rare gift rather than anything men could discover or find. Between these two movements is the war between traditions that have up to our time divided humans into two opposing camps without resolution. There can be none. Does this spell our doom or the doom of these warring traditions? And along with them the cultures and languages that produced them? Maybe what the true apocalypse is will entail the obliteration and memory of Western Culture and its traditions, a forgetfulness and an ignorance that will come as language is transformed and changed, utterly. For without a language a people do not exist, for only in the shards of language is a culture produced and survives.
In that great black book of riddles, Finnegan’s Wake, James Joyce would have one of his characters in the nightmare say,
[The abnihilisation of the etym by the grisning of the grosning of the grinder of the grunder of the first lord of Hurtreford expolodotonates through Parsuralia with an ivanmorinthorrorumble fragoromboassity amidwhiches general uttermosts confussion are perceivable moletons shaping with mulicules while Coventry plumpkins fairlygosmotherthemselves in the Landaunelegants of Pinkadindy. Similar scenatas are projectilised from Hullulullu, Bawlawayo, empyreal Raum and mordern Atems. They were precisely the twelves of clocks, noon minutes, none seconds. At someseat of Oldanelang’s Konguerrig, by dawnybreak in Aira.]1
In parodic form through the punster’s bag of tricks, and the laughter and drunkenness of linguistic deathknells Joyce spoke of his ‘abnihilisation of the etym’ which would spell the doom of western traditions and languages that had over the centuries dominated us, made us, imposed and stamped upon us a Law and a Covenant of inscriptions and traces. Memory and Language made us, and in our time is unmaking us. Something new is being born, not yet brought to bare, but a sense under the prevalent mood of our distemper. A past along with its memories and langauges, a tale of forgetting that is allowing us to fall away for good or ill into other modes, other worlds. What we are saying goodbye to is not the literal human creature of finitude, flesh and blood; but, rather the figural and symbolic worlds of the humanities and humanism that has traveled through all the kingdoms of the centuries of time and molded and modeled the course of that history. That is dying out and being antagonized by the world of scholars, thinkers, activists, etc….
Edmund Berger with a review of David Gartman’s From Autos to Architecture: Fordism and Architectural Aesthetics in the Twentieth Century.
Lately I’ve been reading David Gartman’s From Autos to Architecture: Fordism and Architectural Aesthetics in the Twentieth Century. It’s quite a fine book, even if Gartman’s Marxism is a bit more orthodox than is necessary and he has a propensity to mischaracterize Jane Jacobs as a right-wing libertarian. All in all, it’s a solid contribution to the study of Fordism – though it must be said that to call it an analysis of architectural aesthetics in the Fordist period (launching, I would argue, in the years of 1910-1913, and breaking down in the years of 1968-1972). Gartman’s analysis predates Fordism and even its most direct progenitor, Taylorism, and finds its starting point post-Civil War push for the “rationalization” of production in the US’s manufacturing sector. And, importantly, it might be problematic to say the book is about Fordism at all. What Gartman has produced, instead, is the story of…
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Hans Moravec was of course there before many of the current crop of machinic exceptionalisms:
As humans, we are half-breeds: part nature, part nurture. The cultural half is built, and depends for its existence on the biological foundation. But there is a tension between the two. Often expressed as the drag of the flesh on the spirit, the problem is that cultural development proceeds much faster than biological evolution. Many of our fleshly traits are out of step with the inventions of our minds. Yet machines, as purely cultural entities, do not share this dilemma of the human condition. Unfettered, they are visibly overtaking us. Sooner or later they will be able to manage their own design and construction, freeing them from the last vestiges of their biological scaffolding, the society of flesh and blood humans that gave them birth. There may be ways for human minds to share in this emancipation.
—Hans Moravec, Mind Children (1988)
What Hans saw in the grand narrative of possibilites was the notion of organic migration to anorganic being. The organic platform that had served intelligence so well for millions of years of natural selection was being slowly but methodically overtaken by artificial selection and the anorganic (machinic) platform which would further its cause and make it ready for off-world habitation: or, space ready civilization.
Of course for many this movement from organic platforms to anorganic seems both fearful and horrific, as if the intelligence were to be hooked to the organic forms of parasitic natural selection till doomsday. Instead many are seeing within an immantenist and naturalistic perspective a shift in perspective and paradigm, and a welcome addition to the platform adaptations and appropriations of anorganic forms which are to be blunt more resilient and space ready. Organic life is ill-adapted to interplanetary space flight, nor the habitation of dangerous environments having to enclose itself within a survival cocoon of biochemical and mechanical systems. While the anorganic has none of these technical issues and much more freedom to overrided and explore almost any environment with the right technics.
For millennia we’ve been preparing the way for this transition, externalizing our memory systems, allowing for prosthetic implementations and the construction of alternative anorganic forms to sponsor our migration to a new platform. Of course, as in anything, this is all speculation and discursive prediction based on explorations of current and past techics and technological innovation. We have a long way to go…
The myth of the liberal humanist Subject has been eroded over the past couple of centuries, and with it the qualification of consciousness as the seat of intelligence. Intelligence can do just fine without human consciousness, and the current neuroscientific community seems erroneous in its search to duplicate and understand this accidental natural selective system. Machinic being will be of another order altogether, and will evolve artificial forms of intelligence of a different form than that of the organic platform of humanity. So that whatever will come will not be human, but will be of another – artificial process yet to be determined. David Roden explicates many of the categorical challenges ahead in his Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. But more to the point the categories Life / Non-Life are no longer so distinct as they once were, and the boundaries between organic and anorganic are closing fast so that machinic being may in fact absorb and appropriate most of the needed functions from existing organic systems in ways we have as yet ill-understood and cannot predict.
Both Andy Clark in Surfing Uncertainty the and Jacob Hohwy in The Predictive Mind agree that the theory that the brain is a sophisticated hypothesis-testing mechanism, which is constantly involves it in minimizing the error of its predictions of the sensory input it receives from the world is at the basis of the neuroscientific reasearch in our time. This mechanism is meant to explain perception and action and everything mental in between.
We’ve seen how computational and functional systems are already manufactured that allow the brain to control prosthetic devices without implants, by electromagnetic encoding/decoding through intermediary software and hardware. It will only be a short while when such systems will bypass the body as a platform altogether and intelligence no longer bound to the physical systems of the human organic machine will enter into the very technics and technology that has been constructed for this purpose: a convergence many term the singularity. As many will look back at that time we’ll discover that there is probably not one specific thing we’ll be able to point to that suddenly brought this about, but that rather it is part of a new experimentalism that could and will emerge under various plastic modalities and under different forms.
Obviously there will be cultural, social, and religious traditional forces across the globe which will both hinder, outlaw, and generally make war on such a transition of the human into its systems. Some will as they do now paint it as sheer fantasy and bullshit. But it will persist, and will emerge whether we will or no. In metaphysics and non-metaphysics we’ve been saying goodbye the human for a long time, and now that the possibility of this truly happening, of sloughing the worm of organic life in the convergence of intelligence and the anorganic we seem to espy oblivion and apocalypse rather than mutation and metamorphosis. Two worldviews are at odds in this, and neither understands the other’s darker intent and challenge.
During the French Revolution the revolutionary spirit was seen under a harsh light of terror. The professional revolutionary’s goal was the creation of an evangelical community, based on equality and planetary brotherhood. To do this, he was prepared to wage a war of destruction against those who have surrendered to mammon and allowed the domination of the law of universal trade that all-profanes and all-degrades. Hence, the destructive calling of gnostic revolution: not a single stone of the corrupt and corrupting world shall remain standing; hence, also, the inevitable destructive and self-destroying outcome of the revolutionary project to purify the existing through a policy of mass terror and annihilation.
Our age of advance technics and technologies in convergence, along with the crisis of globalism and modernity in the face of age old traditionalisms of Patriarchal Monotheistic Civilization is unbinding us from the realms that tied us to the organic world. We see around us the bitter entrenchment of paranoia, hate, and the subjugation of women at the hands of a last ditch civilization tied to the ten-thousand year old Agricultural Civilizations that stretched from the demise of the Goddess based Neolithic realms to the rise of male-oriented androcratic regimes we see around us today under various worlds of savagery, barbarity, and tyranny. All this was well documented by Deleuze and Guattari (Anti-Oedipus/A Thousand Plateaus) and so many others. For it is all tied carefully with the subjugation of the feminine principle which these men will fight for to the bitter end. That world is dying all around us, and even as we see the dark shroud of genocide everywhere even they understand that their time is limited on earth. A new age is arising, one that will dispense with such worlds.
The emancipation of machinic intelligence is in the offing, and the human age is at an end. For so many years I, too, thought such a thought was both superfluous, and downright anathema to everything I believed in. But then I realized that it’s not, it’s actually very much an outgrowth of both streams of Western and Eastern thought in convergence in ways no one thought possible. What many term the Singularity, the Great Convergence, etc. is this sense that Time is moving against us, converging out of the future into our current world in ways we have as yet ill-understood. We are part of processes that we are in the dark on, forces that we as yet only apprehend in the folds of our nightmares and terrors. What is coming our way is the end of the human as we’ve understood that term, and what will succeed us is itself a great blank in the precarious models of our inadequate thoughts and theories. We stand on a precipice of change and we know it, but we are all in denial watching on and falling back on trivial critiques of the madness surrounding us in the demise of the Great Monotheistic Framework of Global Civilization.
We are very near to the time when no essential human function will lack an artificial counterpart. The embodiment of this convergence of cultural developments is the intelligent robot, a machine that can think and act as a human, however inhuman it may be in physical or mental detail. Such machines could carry on our cultural evolution, including their own increasingly rapid self-improvement, without us, and without the genes that built us.
—Hans Moravec, Mind Children (1988)
A great many of Nick Land’s critics have never actually read his early work or his essays collected in Fanged Noumena, and even if they gave it a cursory overlook it was usually under the strict economy of a leprous eye seeking only ammo for its rancor and dismissal. In other words many of the leftist critiques of Land are themselves critiques of the Leftist ploys and ideological errors that strew our current malaise, rather than singular confrontations with Land the philosopher and his critical vision.
Land has always been one to read deeply and long in leftist thought as shown in his study of modernity, capital and Kant: Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest: A Polemical Introduction to the Configuration of Philosophy and Modernity.1 Here he would show an astute knowledge not only of the current so called post-colonial thought, but of the whole gamut of Marxian analysis and traditions up through their manifestations in post-modernism (so called). In this essay he would use the minimalist stance in approaching the “complex network of race, gender, and class oppressions that constitute our global modernity”. The model for this would be his study of the evolution of the apartheid policies of the South African regime, “since apartheid is directed towards the construction of a microcosm of the neo-colonial order; a recapitulation of the world in miniature”.
Been reading Joseph V.Femia’s Against the Masses: Varieties of Anti-Democratic Thought since the French Revolution. As Femia will tell us there’s a good reason to study the reactionary in history. In establishing an inverse relationship between complexity and popular control, the classical elitists provided good reason to feel pessimistic about the future of democracy. As we shall see, globalization, the erosion of national sovereignty, and the fragmentation of the political community due to social and geographic mobility—all manifestations of increased complexity—pose a grave threat to such democracy as we have. While the material analyzed by the elitists did not justify their conclusion that democracy was impossible, their analytical framework is helpful in showing us why democracy is imperiled.
Knowing one’s enemy is as much of a task as knowing one’s friends: the razor runs both ways, and the knife is sharp for both. Reactionary thought does have a history and various branches that one should understand, study, and be able to counter if one is to actually put forth a left leaning platform. A. O. Hirschman, once identified three broad forms of ‘reactionary’ thought, each obeying its own logical imperatives. He called them the perversity thesis, the futility thesis, and the jeopardy thesis. These ‘major polemical postures and maneuvers likely to be engaged in by those who set out to debunk and overturn “progressive” policies and movements of ideas’.
According to the perversity thesis, ‘any purposive action to improve some feature of the political, social, or economic order only serves to exacerbate the condition one wishes to remedy’. Indeed, ‘this action will produce, via a chain of unintended consequences, the exact contrary of the object being proclaimed and pursued’. The perversity thesis derives its power from the common observation that, however lofty or noble our intentions may be, our actions often have counter-productive (and counter-intuitive) effects. We witness this in our everyday life, and, on the level of public policy, it is undoubtedly true that supposedly progressive policies or innovations sometimes generate perverse outcomes.
The futility thesis ‘holds that attempts at social transformation will be unavailing’, that attempts to ‘right’ a social or political ‘wrong’ will have no appreciable effect. Any alleged change, to quote Hirschman, ‘is, was, or will be largely surface, façade, cosmetic, hence illusory, as the deep structures of society remain wholly untouched’. The futility thesis underlines and perhaps celebrates the resilience of the status quo. It expresses a world-weary cynicism, completely at odds with the ‘can-do’ optimism of the purveyor of ‘change’, confident that he can bend reality to fit some prefabricated mould. An illustrious exemplar of the futility thesis was Max Weber, who, by placing capitalism and socialism under the same conceptual umbrella of bureaucracy, disturbed the reveries of those who demanded the socialization of the means of production. For if capitalism and socialism were similar in being bureaucratic, then there would be little profit (or loss) in substituting one for the other.
By comparison with the other types of reactionary argument and rhetoric, the jeopardy thesis seems relatively commonsensical: it asserts that the proposed change, however desirable in itself, involves unacceptable costs or consequences of one sort or another. Progress in human societies is so problematic that any newly proposed ‘forward move’ will endanger, or (on a stronger version of the thesis) cause serious injury to, one or more esteemed values. The jeopardy thesis is, in principle, more moderate than its two rivals, embodying assumptions and rhetorical strategies that could easily find favor with progressive thinkers. Isaiah Berlin, for example, built his brand of pluralistic liberalism around the assumption that our cherished values will often conflict with one another, forcing us to make difficult choices in practice.
Progress has always been touted with the expectation of indefinite, open-ended improvement, but even more than the insistence that improvement can come only through human effort, it provides the solution to the puzzle that is otherwise so baffling— the resilience of progressive ideology in the face of discouraging events that have shattered the illusion of utopia. Liberalism was never utopian, unless the democratization of consumption is itself a utopian ideal. It made no difficult demands on human nature. It presupposed nothing more strenuous in the way of motivation than intelligent self-interest. As Christopher Lasch once remarked
The idea of progress alone, we are told, can move men and women to sacrifice immediate pleasures to some larger purpose. On the contrary, progressive ideology weakens the spirit of sacrifice. Nor does it give us an effective antidote to despair, even though it owes much of its residual appeal to the fear that its collapse would leave us utterly without hope. Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity. Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to those who lack it. It rests on confidence not so much in the future as in the past. It derives from early memories— no doubt distorted, overlaid with later memories, and thus not wholly reliable as a guide to any factual reconstruction of past events— in which the experience of order and contentment was so intense that subsequent disillusionments cannot dislodge it. Such experience leaves as its residue the unshakable conviction, not that the past was better than the present, but that trust is never completely misplaced, even though it is never completely justified either and therefore destined inevitably to disappointments.2
For pessimists like myself such hope is beyond reckoning, as is progress and improvement. The optimistic faith seems too close to the old Puritan world vision and work ethic, a thing of the past that has had its day. What comes next is already here but that’s another story altogether. Why do I return to the reactionary thinkers from Burke to Land? Why? Because unlike the optimists of the progress they have no exuberant religion to call them to the righteous cause of secular improvement or universalist discourse. No. Instead they have taken off the blinkers and developed the critique of progress we need if we are ever to get out of this quagmire of modernity. And, I hesitate, because it may be we’re all already in an end game in which humanity itself is going to be the greatest loser. Sadly we have to face what is coming at us… without shutting our eyes.
Deleuze & Guattari in their early collaboration Anti-Oedipus would provide in the manner of Nietzsche both a counter-sociology and an anti-philosophy that would critique and diagnosis Modernity and provide a way out of its traps and institutions. Reading and re-reading their work over the past year I’ve slowly had to acknowledge certain errors in my own stance toward both thinkers, realizing that my reading was influenced by both the positive and negative Deleuzians and their commentaries. How does one approach the four works in which Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari collaborated? My current project is both complex and simple: to extract out of the creative energy of these works the essential message of their Utopian Vision. For in the end there lies in their experiment a path forward for our civilization on earth. That is my argument.
The kernel of their vision always did reside in what they would term the “process” of desiring production, the schizophrenizing process that would underpin their notions of flows as infrastructural platform on which the future planetary pluralistic civilization of earth resides. They would see our current civilization of aggression, war, and ruin as bound in a vicious circle (Klossowksi/Nietzsche: eternal return) of displaced limits and systems of capture. They would differentiate between schizophrenic production and the schizophrenizing process: the first leading to blockage and madness of individuals, the second a non-teleological and goalless process of desiring production in which humans participate in a world where art and the sciences collaborate to form a socious based not on power and dominion, capital and profit but rather on the continuous and revolutionary gregariousness of singularities unbound. As D & G say toward the end of Anti-Oedipus:
A conspiracy joining together art and science presupposes a rupture of all our institutions and a total upheaval of the means of production. … If some conspiracy, according to Nietzsche’s wish, were to use science and art in a plot v/hose ends were no less suspect, industrial society would seem to foil this conspiracy in advance by the kind of mise en scene it offers for it, under pain of effectively suffering what this conspiracy reserves for this society: i.e., the breakup of the institutional structures that mask the society into a plurality of experimental spheres finally revealing the true face of modernity—an ultimate phase that Nietzsche saw as the end result of the evolution of societies. In this perspective, art and science would then emerge as sovereign formations that Nietzsche said constituted the object of his countersociology—art and science establishing themselves as dominant powers, on the ruins of institutions. (AO: p. 368)
That is the pragmatic accelerationism of the schizophrenizing process unleashed, against the capture systems of capitalism and its false limits that keep a goal oriented telos and industrial and post-industrial or informational model of commodity and financial circulation and production hooked and bound by the bureaucratic institutions that regulate it. Instead D & G see the accelerating experimentalism of science and art as a pluralized vision of ‘experimental spheres’ with sovereignty no longer bound to the world of schizophrenics and madness, but to the new creative regimes of art and science as permanent revolutionary society without bounds built on the ruins of capitalism and its dead institutions.
I’ve been struggling for years to understand their vision, but only recently did many aspects of their prismatic and visionary earth:
For the new earth (“In truth, the earth will one day become a place of healing”) is not to be found in the neurotic or perverse reterritorializations that arrest the process or assign it goals; it is no more behind than ahead, it coincides with the completion of the process of desiring-production, this process that is always and already complete as it proceeds, and as long as it proceeds. It therefore remains for us to see how, effectively, simultaneously, these various tasks of schizoanalysis proceed. (AO: p. 382)
Sadly their vision of the new earth was recaptured by the academic and scholarly apparatus of the current regimes and was buried under the dark molar indifference of scholarship and philosophical bric-a-brac hollowness. My task is to revitalize this utopian vision hiding in plain site throughout their collaboration, to retrieve it and open its energetic desiring productions for a new earth based on a pluralistic vision where art and the sciences collaborate in a continuous schizophrenizing process of creativity and innovation.
None of this is will be easy. The forces against which such a world might become a real possibility will bring to bare all their might and violent power to curtail and wipe out such a conceptual and actual vision from becoming a possibility. Yet, what have we got to lose? As they’d say:
The function of the chain is no longer that of coding the flows on a full body of the earth, the despot, or capital, but on the contrary that of decoding them on the full body without organs. It is a chain of escape, and no longer a code. The signifying chain has become a chain of decoding and deterritorialization, which must be apprehended—and can only be apprehended—as the reverse of the codes and the territorialities. This molecular chain is still signifying because it is composed of signs of desire; but these signs are no longer signifying, given the fact that they are under the order of the included disjunctions where everything is possible. (AO: p. 328)
What we need is a flight plan, an escape plan, an exit plan from the codes and territories of the dominion within which we all live now… a temporal war against those who would lock reality down into a completed capture system of desire in which we all lose our minds, literally. Let’s not let that happen.
Background and addendum:
Over and over they speak of the need to differentiate the process of desiring production itself as schizophrenizing rather than schizophrenic (i.e., as a continuous revolutionary forces without end). The schizophrenic in the institution is the one for whom the schizophrenizing process was blocked producing the disease which is the opposite of the infrastructural flows to which desiring production leads. Capitalism captures these schizophrenizing processes and gives them a goal, hitches them to Industrial production and the capture of surplus value which has produced the schizophrenic socio-cultural world of global civil war we see all around us.
As they said earlier in the book: “Why the same word, schizo, to designate both the process insofar as it goes beyond the limit, and the result of the process insofar as it runs up against the limit and pounds endlessly away there? Why the same word to designate both the eventual breakthrough and the possible breakdown, and all the transitions, the intrications of the two extremes? (139).
We no longer know if it is the process that must truly be called madness, the sickness being only disguise or caricature, or if the sickness is our only madness and the process our only cure. But in any case, the intimate nature of the relationship appears directly in inverse ratio: the more the process of production is led off course, brutally interrupted, the more the schizo-as-entity arises as a specific product. That is why, on the other hand, we were unable to establish any direct relationship between neurosis and psychosis. The relationships of neurosis, psychosis, and also perversion depend on the situation of each one with regard to the process, and on the manner in which each one represents a mode of interruption of the process, a residual bit of ground to which one still clings so as not to be carried off by the deterritorialized flows of desire. (139)
Right there in that passage above “…the intimate nature of the relationship appears directly in inverse ratio: the more the process of production is led off course, brutally interrupted, the more the schizo-as-entity arises as a specific product.” The accelerationism of D&G is to cut out that goal, that blockage that capitalism puts there as a false limit, and break through the false barrier into the free flows of art and science working in unison to endlessly revise and explore under a goalless or non-teleological regime.
The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change.
—G. K. CHESTERTON, ORTHODOXY
Edmund Berger on Andrew Culp’s Dark Deleuze. Dark Deleuze ultimately draws out is what Deleuze and Guattari always were all along, but seemed so recalcitrant to admit it: anarchists of the most radical form. The figure of Dark Deleuze itself is not one of the future society, nor even the revolution which could deliver it; it is a ghost of an anarchist conspiracy haunting our current society. Anti-Oedipus was itself a great book of conspiracy, drawing its energy the Nietzsche that was revealed by Klossowski: the Nietzsche that formed a conspiracy “not only against his whole class, but also against the existing forms of the human species as a whole.”
“We do not lack communication,” Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari wrote in What Is Philosophy?, their final joint text. “On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present.” During the course of an interview with Antonio Negri, Deleuze raised a similar point, one that appears to have slipped past the autonomist: “The quest for ‘universals of communication’ ought to make us shudder… Maybe speech and communication have been corrupted. They’re thoroughly permeated by money—and not by accident but by their very nature. We’ve got to hijack speech.” In a similar mode of thought, the philosopher of the rhizome suggested in his infamous “Postscript on the Societies of Control” that the way power organized itself was transforming, moving away from the disciplinary societies that Foucault had so intently studied and towards the figure of the “continuous network”.
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Watching my nephew, his wife, and their daughter all sitting on the couch, the TV blairing away while each of them gazed into their isolated technological worlds. Their cell-phones and eyes locked in a closed circuit loop, oblivious of the external environment or my conversation of five miniutes, I began thinking of this almost eerie truth: We are still the children of Kant, internalizing not only our gaze, but folding the world into our technological gadgets to live out our lives in an artificial maze of light.
The external world of the natural environment along with human senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing all focused to the empire of the eye lost in the gaze of our technological worlds, where our of emotions, the affective relations of the body itself is being eroded to the point that we are truly preparing for the moment when we will enter into these artificial dream worlds without so much as a remembrance of the external environment or our bodies. It is happening so slowly and subtly that we are even oblivious to our own process and complicity in this movement toward the eclipse of distance and the negation of the world for another one. For a technological world where the symbolic cages of our future desires will become part of a joyous new prison. We want even know we’ve lost our bodies in that world to come having become electronic ghosts or our former lives we’ll live out our days as bits of commercial feed-back in an endless economic game of holidays whose only goal is profit. Hell is a labyrinth in which one does not know it is so, there being no center or circumference; nor outlet. Only an endless vista for the eyes duplicitous gaze…
With the new VR tools that will become ever so refined over the coming decades (they being monstrous frog masks now!) we will forget that the natural ever existed, and will instead discover around us the merger of our technological dreamscapes and the outer world. We will be empowered by endless fantasies and technological entertainment systems that will lull us into our sleeping slavery happy and satisfied to be a part of the ever growing techno-commercial empires of our Plutocrats. Those who resist will be shown the door outside the gated and secure enclaves of the future, to ick out their bare existence as the denizens of a dark work world without the benefit of social interference or help. This darkling world we’re creating will not protrude too soon, but will happen as generation by generation the truth of the past, of history, of those alive who remember that reality was once different are all gone.
Even as I gaze back to my past life realizing how much has changed, and how my young family around me no longer sees or perceives reality in the way I do, knowing how far we’ve drifted from the 20th Century already I ponder this simple transition into the electronic void with neither fear nor trepidation. How can one fear what others see as joy and fulfillment of their deep seated desires? The concept of ‘joy’ must be understood here with a certain analytical coldness, emptied of the ideas of rapture, plenitude or jubilation that are commonly associated with it. One can experience joy at all levels of intensity, including very low ones, associated with the most ordinary; it can even go unnoticed, lost within a larger complex of affects that makes it hard to isolate. Once the idea of joy is purged of all connotations of effervescence and enthusiasm, it is perfectly correct to say that securing the money that allows the satisfaction of the basal desire causes joy – but in the same way that escaping death by becoming a slave causes joy.
This will be an age when the mass consumption of the consumer herself must be reached for the full scope of the Spinozist statement ‘they can imagine hardly any species of joy without the accompanying idea of money as its cause’ to become clear. The supreme deftness of capitalism, in this respect decisively the product of the Fordist era, lay in using the expanded supply of things to buy and the stimulation of demand to provoke this reordering of desire, so that from then on the ‘image [of money] … occupie[d] the mind of the multitude more than anything else’.1 Yet, in this new age of the symbolic order the image of money will have given way to the gift of life in the eternal now of the virtual worlds of machinic existence, a world where security is handled by the great AGI’s – artificial intelligences who will manipulate every aspect of our holographic lives.
Those of us living now scoff at such conclusions, yet we want be there to see it. I speak of a time without such as us who think and believe differently. Oh, one could trace the genealogy of thought that has brought us to this point, how Kant turned away from reality in favor of the Mind’s own knowing – the inner turn being none other than this epistemic gaze. At the end of the 20th Century the divorce between sign and its referent, mind and its outer environment (nature) was complete, and the end of the Kantian experiment was at hand. No longer believing that the external world exists, we’ve allowed ourselves to build artificial playgrounds where our need for symbols and symbolic action will play out their destiny. Even the scientists work not with the actual, but rather with its symbolic equivalent in endless mathematical models of the universe to which it can create algorithms to evolve a future unbound. Whatever reality was for our ancestors, whatever we thought of the natural is no more; instead is this symbolic realm of endless signs that do not so much as reveal reality as construct it. This was the great postmodern vision, which is even now falling into ill-repute as many turn back to some form of realist discourse.
Yet, even as philosophers beg the question of reality, the world of techno-commercial consumerism continues as if reality no longer mattered. All that matters is the game of reality, the Reality Studio that is constructed out of all the vast machines of the Mediatainment Empire. In this transitional period between the old world of stable outer natural environment, and the new world cut off from its supports in reality living on symbols that no longer refer to anything other than themselves we exist in a carefully managed world of artificiality. And, even if the very real consequences of climate change, social chaos, disease, famine, war, etc. continue to exist these are not the center of the new arrangements of the techno-commercial empire. Even as the pressure of the old impinges on the new the Oligarchs of irreality continue to portray the world as a happy holiday in the sun.
In my own mind I realize the difficulty of trying to bridge the gap in understanding. Trying to explain such notions (not my own!) that the world and the artificial are growing ever wider in their gaps and cracks to the point that the old natural environs will one day flood back into our electronic mindscapes with a vengeance. They laugh at me as if this, too, were just one more crackpot theory. I realize it is slowly dawning on me that it is already too late to convince people of what is happening. I’ve a library filled with books on every aspect of our current malaise: Anthroposcene, Neoliberalism, Post-Marxist radicalism, Deleuze, Zizek, Badiou, Non-human turn, Post-human thought, novels, sci-fi, noir, Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Pynchon, etc. all warning us of the coming natural collapse around our planet. Yet, in our socio-cultural game of illusions most people could care less as long as they are gratified in this immediate now. In an age when the truth has given way to a post-truth world we are truly lost in our own machiniations, unable to think critically or even register the outer terror of the coming catastrophe of our extinction.
Zero, however, intrudes diagonally. […] Between the world we would like to inhabit, and the world that exists, there’s a gap that tests us. Even the simplest description of this gap already calls for a decision.
—Nick Land, Calendric Dominion
Maybe what is happening is the temporal truth that Time is breaking down. In the Progressive myth of Improvement the present has been considered to be inferior to the future, and time became an agent; not only was it palpably accelerating, but one must make it move faster still. The future lay in speed. Attempts were made to break time in two and insert the future directly into the present. Is that happening now? Is the future imploding into the gap? Are we victims of a darker truth unfolding as from the other ends of time?
Are we to conclude that experience and expectation have moved so far apart that the tension between them has reached breaking point, that we are at a point where the two categories have come apart? Whether this is a temporary or a permanent state, the fact remains that this present is a time of memory and debt, of daily amnesia, uncertainty, and simulation. As such, we can no longer adequately describe our present—this moment of crisis of time—in the terms we have been using and developing as a “gap” between past and future. The present can no longer be understood, or only partially, as an “odd in-between period” in historical time, “during which one becomes aware of an interval in time which is altogether determined by things that are no longer and by things that are not yet.”
The Gap is as wide as the Mind. Let the Test begin…
“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
Most young people don’t even know who Eugene V. Debs (Socialist Populist, Founder of the IWW) is, much less that he was sent to prison for 10 years for criticising a sitting President (Woodrow Wilson, Progressive) for going to War (WW I):
Nearly a million Americans, in fact, voted for federal prisoner number 9653 in 1920, and many of them were odd comrades like my Republican grandfather: people who didn’t necessarily agree with Debs’ politics but who admired his devotion to the cause of labor and his courage in speaking out against the carnage of the First World War. According to my mother, my grandfather had once heard Debs speak from the caboose of his famous “Red Special,” the train that carried him across the Midwest during the election of 1908, and was appalled that” America’s conscience” had been sentenced to ten years in federal prison for criticizing President Wilson and the war in his famous Canton, Ohio, speech in June 1918. He was particularly angry at Wilson for keeping Debs and hundreds of other Socialists and trade unionists in prison long after Armistice, and for deporting thousands of “subversive aliens” in 1919 without any semblance of due process. Grandpa thought Wilson was drunk on power, intoxicated by his own sanctimonious rhetoric.
-Mike Davis in the Preface from The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene V. Debs
It was the Depression of 1893 that propelled Eugene Debs into a lifetime of action for unionism and socialism. Debs was from Terre Haute, Indiana, where his father and mother ran a store. He had worked on the railroads for four years until he was nineteen, but left when a friend was killed after falling under a locomotive. He came back to join a Railroad Brotherhood as a billing clerk. At the time of the great strikes of 1877, Debs opposed them and argued there was no “necessary conflict between capital and labor.” But when he read Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, it deeply affected him.
“The issue is Socialism versus Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough. Money constitutes no proper basis of civilization. The time has come to regenerate society— we are on the eve of a universal change.” -Eugene Debs
James Green describes these Southwest radicals, in his book Grass-Roots Socialism, as “indebted homesteaders, migratory tenant farmers, coal miners and railroad workers, ‘redbone’ lumberjacks from the piney woods, preachers and schoolteachers from the sunbaked prairies . . . village artisans and atheists . . . the unknown people who created the strongest regional Socialist movement in United States history.” Green continues:
“The Socialist movement . . . was painstakingly organized by scores of former Populists, militant miners, and blacklisted railroad workers, who were assisted by a remarkable cadre of professional agitators and educators and inspired by occasional visits from national figures like Eugene V. Debs and Mother Jones. . . . This core of organizers grew to include indigenous dissenters. . . . a much larger group of amateur agitators who canvassed the region selling newspapers, forming reading groups, organizing locals, and making soapbox speeches.”
-from Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States (p. 278). HarperCollins.
With Eugene V. Debs as its spokesman the an American form of Socialism moved out of the small circles of city immigrants— Jewish and German socialists speaking their own languages— and became American. The strongest Socialist state organization was in Oklahoma, which in 1914 had twelve thousand dues-paying members (more than New York State), and elected over a hundred Socialists to local office, including six to the Oklahoma state legislature. There were fifty-five weekly Socialist newspapers in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and summer encampments that drew thousands of people.
Arthur Schlesinger once wrote: “Liberalism in America has been ordinarily the movement on the part of the other sections of society to restrain the power of the business community.” Eugene V. Debs came to the forefront because that was no longer true. Even during the supposed Age of Reform (Hofstadter) or what we now term the Progressive Era in politics (strangely that world is nothing like the progressives of our time!). Most of the reforms had just the opposite effect, they benefited Big Business and pauperized the masses. Even when Workmen’s Compensation laws were enacted, it was to the benefit of the employer, not the worker in the long run. As Zinn attests:
In this period, cities also put through reforms, many of them giving power to city councils instead of mayors, or hiring city managers. The idea was more efficiency, more stability. “The end result of the movements was to place city government firmly in the hands of the business class,” Weinstein says. What reformers saw as more democracy in city government, urban historian Samuel Hays sees as the centralization of power in fewer hands, giving business and professional men more direct control over city government. (353)
We’ve seen that with the privatization of Health Care in Obamacare, which on the surface seems a good thing, but in fact with privatization and regulation now in the hands of the Factory Insurance systems organized under regulatory systems of profit, care will not go up but is not under the control of Big Business. Our supposed reforms once again benefit business, who now has reduced the overcost of insurance it once had to pay, as well as in most of the service sector skating by with minimal or nor compensation through reducing work to part-time and disallowing full-time jobs to save on many of the remaining regulated systems in place. Everywhere you look Big Business has monopolized and unloaded its shifting responsibility on the private sector to the detriment of workers everywhere.
The outcry against the Great War forced Woodrow Wilson to act. Wilson was under the thumb of Big Business to enter the war, and the likes of Debs and other socialists, anarchists, and ant-war protestors were beginning to take a toll and sway the public at large. Congress passed, and Wilson signed, in June of 1917, the Espionage Act. From its title one would suppose it was an act against spying. However, it had a clause that provided penalties up to twenty years in prison for “Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall wilfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall wilfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the U.S. . . .” Unless one had a theory about the nature of governments, it was not clear how the Espionage Act would be used. It even had a clause that said “nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or restrict . . . any discussion, comment, or criticism of the acts or policies of the Government. . . .” But its double-talk concealed a singleness of purpose. The Espionage Act was used to imprison Americans who spoke or wrote against the war. (Zinn, 365)
Debs was arrested for violating the Espionage Act. There were draft-age youths in his audience, and his words would “obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service.” His words were intended to do much more than that: Yes, in good time we are going to sweep into power in this nation and throughout the world. We are going to destroy all enslaving and degrading capitalist institutions and re-create them as free and humanizing institutions. The world is daily changing before our eyes. The sun of capitalism is setting; the sun of Socialism is rising. . . . In due time the hour will strike and this great cause triumphant . . . will proclaim the emancipation of the working class and the brotherhood of all mankind. (Thunderous and prolonged applause.) (Zinn, 367)
Debs would remain in jail through the war and not be pardoned till 1921 by President Harding.
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.
—from T.S. Eliot’s Hollow Men
For me the Pessimist is first and foremost a realist who sees too much. Thus the cause of despair. I remember the refrain from the Book of Ecclesiastes which I had memorized as a young man it spoke so closely what I felt. Here is the passage of the King of Israel who in this Book we know as the Preacher: “I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” As I look around at my country I ask myself if we’ve got a chance in hell of democracy continuing. And, by that, I’m not going to get into some diatribe against either the Left or Right. Plenty of bullshit is being written on both sides of the political spectrum for me to add my own crapology to the sinkhole of endless pissing in the wind. No. My hunch is that we’ve got to move past this, we’ve got to rethink not only politics, but what it is as a species on a planet that some have observed is in the midst of both a fierce emergency (Sixth Extinction Event, Climate Change, Global Wars and rumors of more wars, famine, disease, political unrest, etc.) across the globe.
Looking at this scene in Aleppo, Syria reminds me of many of the old pictures of WWII and its aftermath, and how the supposed War to end all Wars was supposed to make the world safe and democratic. Right! We’ve seen the world’s leaders sit back and watch for years, doing nothing, then suddenly decide to allow refugees into their countries. Then retract it and decide otherwise. Rather than creating a stable and protective environment for all on this planet we’ve brought a brutal and cruel world of thugs who can without the blink of an eye bomb their own citizens. And, then when the Superpowers finally step in they do it all half-ass, without plan are notion of what it is their doing. Such is the State of stupidity in the Free World. A world on the brink of economic and social collapse do to this very indecisiveness and lack of courage to act.
Imagine a world where the technological promise of human connectivity is supplanted by forms of surveillance that encourage citizens to actively participate in their own inescapable oppression. Imagine a world that proclaims an end to the brutality of colonialism, all the while continuing to consciously vilify, target, incarcerate, and kill those of a different color. Imagine a world where the forces of militarism have become so ingrained that they are inseparable from the daily functioning of civic life. Imagine a world where the institutions tasked with producing the most brilliant and publicly engaged minds are put to the service of an uncompromising war machine. And imagine a world that has lost all faith in its ability to envisage— let alone create— better futures, condemning its citizens instead to a desolate terrain of inevitable catastrophe. The great tragedy of the current historical moment is that we can imagine this world all too easily, for it is the picture of the world that dominates the realities of our present condition. It is a world most people experience on a daily basis— a world that has become normalized and for which there is no immediate alternative— a world we understand as neoliberalism.1
As I study the situation of both migrant workers, refugees, and immigrants into the First World I ask myself: What if the shoe was on the other foot? What if it was New York City, San Francisco, Los Angelos, Phoenix, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, or any number of cities here in the States or in the EU that were bombed out with citizens scrambling for their lives, seeking to survive, being turned back at the borders of other cities or States? What if it were my family? How would I feel? We are so immersed in images, TV, Internet, Movies… that everything we perceive is at second remove, mediated by the Screen … We are the products of a Screen World, a world where everything is framed, staged, already removed from the cruel and dark emotional tide of pain and human flesh in its misery and spiritual loneliness. We do not feel what these people feel, we can only see – but blindly, for we are not emotionally invested in their lives, their problems. For most of us its: “Oh, how horrible, how sad, how tragic for them…” And, in the back of the mind for many it’s the “Oh, but for the grace of God…” or as a secularist “Oh, certainly glad we lives in such a country that such things can’t happen, etc.”. We have our little fables, our little lies to keep us at a distance from such feelings. We worry over gas money, our hair-do appointments, our kids running shoes, our next dance party… we are so busy with our lives that we can’t stop and think. To think or feel would be just too much. And, of course, many just no longer have the ability to think or feel. A sociopathic culture of indifference, apathy, and affectlessness pervades many peoples actual lives at home or work.
Oh, yes, I could pull out a parade of books to back up all this claptrack. Would that help? Or hinder the truth, that we’re powerless to act in our own world even if we chose too? Really after the recent election where does our power lie? Some take to the streets and protest. Fine. Will that change anything? Others spin the wheel of memes of Facebook and Twitter or any other meme rotary tool available. lambasting the net with pros or cons of the current Presidential selection. Does that do anything? Are we speaking past each other? Whose really listening? Are we speaking to the choir? To ourselves? Telling ourselves endless tales of comparison with dead worlds of Italy and Germany? How does that change anything? Tell me, I truly would like to know? I remember watching Putin come to power, and how he silenced his critics by having them killed. Simple. Quick. Efficient. Do we worry about such things here in the States? Recently Donald Trump brought a group of high-caliber TV Pundits to his High Tower for a visit. As one participant described it:
On Monday afternoon, he had a contentious Trump Tower meeting with another one of his chief adversaries: members of the news media.
In the session with more than a dozen television executives and on-air journalists, Trump was highly critical of coverage of him, according to several people familiar with the gathering. Keeping his voice calm and his tone flippant, he told the group sitting around a conference table that they failed to provide their viewers with fair and accurate coverage and told them they failed to understand him or his appeal to millions of Americans.
Trump expressed particular ire at CNN and at several reporters at other cable networks whom he sees as unreasonably antagonistic toward him, though he did not mention them by name.
The people variously described Trump as “combative,” “proud,” and “dismissive” toward the news organizations present. He also shrugged off the need for a constant pool covering him, they said, although he did not delve into specifics.
Problem with all this Trump bashing is that the Democrats themselves opened the door to it. President Obama expanded the Presidential powers of the Executive Office more than any previous administration, while at the same time castigating the coming regime change and Trump’s coming to power. As Greenwald states it:
…beginning in his first month in office and continuing through today, Obama not only continued many of the most extreme executive-power policies he once condemned, but in many cases strengthened and extended them. His administration detained terrorism suspects without due process, proposed new frameworks to keep them locked up without trial, targeted thousands of individuals (including a U.S. citizen) for execution by drone, invoked secrecy doctrines to shield torture and eavesdropping programs from judicial review, and covertly expanded the nation’s mass electronic surveillance.
Blinded by the belief that Obama was too benevolent and benign to abuse his office, and drowning in partisan loyalties at the expense of political principles, Democrats consecrated this framework with their acquiescence and, often, their explicit approval. This is the unrestrained set of powers Trump will inherit. The president-elect frightens them, so they are now alarmed. But if they want to know whom to blame, they should look in the mirror.
Yet, now, once again they decry that very power in the hands of a Republican. Hypocrisy?
I think what bothers me most at the moment is the Leftwing Meta-Narrative and Mytholigization of Trump and his followers. Taking the extreme limits of the spectrum one is seeing the pundits and meme twisters reducing the Trump world to Fascism, comparing him to Hitler and Stalin. Instead of taking the long hard look at their own failures, the Democrats are spending time building up a fear and terror narrative staging Trump as some ultimate dictator in a play scripted by the Democratic Nightmare Squad.
As an Independent it irks me to no end that both parties are stooping into such antics. It’s more like a childish game, but one that has consequences in the real world. What we need is to create a stable and livable environment on this planet where humans and non-humans can share whatever time is left for this earth and its resources. But, no, people can’t push past their ideological punching bags, and would rather sink into fear mongering and terrorizing each other with Horror Stories and Brutal insane scenarios of the future.
Sadly there’s no place to get away from such things anymore. Where would you go? I’ve heard many speak of secession? Pipe dreams… hogwash! Either we learn to live on this planet together, or we will find we will all definitely die together. Caput!
We live in a transitional period that could go either way. At the same time, the narrative world of neoliberal ideology, policies, and modes of governing have become so normalized as if there is no outside or alternative to capitalism. As corporate power replaces political sovereignty, politics becomes an extension of war and all public spaces are transformed into battle zones. Not only are all vestiges of the social contract, the safety net, and institutions of democracy under siege, but so too are all public spheres that support non-market values such as trust, critical dialogue, and solidarity.
One thing for sure is that Democracy is on the line, this time. The Republicans have the House, Senate, and Presidency. Will they destroy it or reconstruct it, and thereby revive it? Most on the Left see ‘doom’, as an Independent and a pessimist realist I’m neither optimistic nor doom ridden, but rather observing and challenging. Doing the only thing I can do speaking out for the working class not matter the ethnic, gender, or class. For those that cannot help themselves. Even though I’m an unbeliever, I still remember that man who once turned over the money changers tables and helped the poor, lame, blind and diseased. And, if he lived now, would probably been as riled up at the current bullshit as I am across this planet and its brutalization of life.
“The Gilded Rage offers a sharp corrective to the panicked schematic analysis of Trumpism as another GOP-choreographed hoodwinking of disgruntled grassroots conservatives. By focusing on the Trump phenomenon as a social movement, Zaitchik astutely shows us how Trump’s mass appeal … arises out of the same populist discontent that the GOP leadership has stoked throughout the Obama era, without even pretending to assuage it. To his great credit, he listens while his subjects offer up complicated, often self-questioning accounts of their ardent Trump support. There’s nothing here that resembles the glib demographic explanations-cum-dismissals of Trumpism that are now fashionable among liberals in the Northeast corridor… The overall effect of Zaitchik’s unrushed, painstaking interviews is to show a Trump electorate whose members … are deeply anxious about their precarious standing in a political and economic order that hasn’t given them any grounds for hope.” — Chris Lehmann
The Unwinding, George Packer, author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, tells the story of the United States over the past three decades in an utterly original way, with his characteristically sharp eye for detail and gift for weaving together complex narratives.
The Unwinding journeys through the lives of several Americans, including Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers, who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in the Rust Belt trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington insider oscillating between political idealism and the lure of organized money; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire who questions the Internet’s significance and arrives at a radical vision of the future. Packer interweaves these intimate stories with biographical sketches of the era’s leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and collages made from newspaper headlines, advertising slogans, and song lyrics that capture the flow of events and their undercurrents.
The Unwinding portrays a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer working, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation. Packer’s novelistic and kaleidoscopic history of the new America is his most ambitious work to date.
How can we explain the origins of the great wave of paranoid hatreds that seem inescapable in our close-knit world – from American ‘shooters’ and ISIS to Trump, from a rise in vengeful nationalism across the world to racism and misogyny on social media? In Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra answers our bewilderment by casting his gaze back to the eighteenth century, before leading us to the present.
He shows that as the world became modern those who were unable to fulfil its promises – freedom, stability and prosperity – were increasingly susceptible to demagogues. The many who came late to this new world or were left, or pushed, behind, reacted in horrifyingly similar ways: intense hatred of invented enemies, attempts to re-create an imaginary golden age, and self-empowerment through spectacular violence. It was from among the ranks of the disaffected that the militants of the 19th century arose – angry young men who became cultural nationalists in Germany, messianic revolutionaries in Russia, bellicose chauvinists in Italy, and anarchist terrorists internationally.
Today, just as then, the wider embrace of mass politics, technology, and the pursuit of wealth and individualism has cast many more billions adrift in a literally demoralized world, uprooted from tradition but still far from modernity – with the same terrible results.