Amy Ireland: Nick Land, W.B. Yeats, and Anastrophic Modernism

Anastrophic modernism tells us that we have only discounted the perpetuation of the modernist avant-garde because we have refused to accept the possibility of its inhumanity.

—Amy Ireland, The Poememenon: Form as Occult Technology

Theory-fiction or philo-fiction as it is sometimes called has become all the rage within certain circles of the academic community in the past few years. Moving away from the strict economy of thought that has come down to us as so many concepts hashed and re-hashed through so many iterations of abstraction to produce something new and unprecedented only to discover it is but a turn, a trope, a shift in perspective and masking of previous thought some thinkers have jettisoned the whole nexus of philosophical discourse for the Outside. As François Laruelle recently said in Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy:

Those who are spiritual are not at all spiritualists, for the spiritual oscillate between fury and tranquil rage, they are great destroyers of the forces of Philosophy and the State, which are united under the name of Conformism. They haunt the margins of philosophy, gnosis, mysticism, science fiction and even religions. Spiritual types are not only abstract mystics and quietists; they are heretics for the World

This sense of being a heretic for the World situates certain thinkers who no longer fit within the designated straight-jacket of philosophical or political thought. Such is the work of the now defunct Ccru and its most antagonistic anti-philosopher, Nick Land.

Amy Ireland in an essay published on Urbanomic.com brings us a theory-fiction that aligns her own poetic experimentalism with the legacy of Anastrophic Modernism. A legacy that weaves the spironomics of W.B. Yeats (The Vision) with the strange fusion culture of Ccru and its occulture sifting through the fragments of Land’s heretical mixture of H.P. Lovecraft mythos and the underworlds of those shadow philosophers who kept the dark flames of an energetic world of daemonic entities alive and well through the centuries.

Ireland reminds us that “anastrophic modernism commands a nonlinear relationship between cause and effect, riding the convergent wave generated by its own assembly ‘back’ to the present to install the conditions that will have been necessary for its emergence”.1 This is a time-travel tale told by W.B. Yeats in The Vision and in the fragments of Land’s published writings before the emergence of Vauung.

It all begins with the hyperstitional agents Michael Robartes and Owen Aherne, two mysterious entities we discover in Yeats’s dreambook The Vision. Robartes and Aherne, Ireland tells us, “recount the discovery of an arcane philosophical system encoded in a series of geometrical diagrams…”. (P: 1) Most of Ireland’s essay follows the trail into this metafictional world seeking to understand who discovered or invented this – as she’ll call it, spironomic system which “recapitulates the belief system of an Arabian sect known as the Judwalis or ‘diagrammatists’, who in turn derived it from a mysterious work—now long lost—containing the teachings of Kusta ben Luka, a philosopher at the ancient Court of Harun Al-Raschid, although rumour has it that ben Luka got it from a desert djinn”. (P: 2-3)

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I decided to float the part of the text from the note on ‘The Second Coming’, Michael Robartes and the Dancer in Yeat’s Variorum Edition of the Poems from which Ireland will echo her own theory-fiction:

Robartes copied out and gave to Aherne several mathematical diagrams from the Speculum, squares and spheres, cones made up of revolving gyres intersecting each other at various angles, figures sometimes with great complexity. His explanation of these, obtained invariably from the followers of Kusta-ben-Luki, is founded upon a single fundamental thought. The mind, whether expressed in history or in the individual life, has a precise movement, which can be quickened or slackened but cannot be fundamentally altered, and this movement can be expressed by a mathematical form. A plant or an animal has an order of development peculiar to it, a bamboo will not develop evenly like a willow nor a willow from joint to joint, and both have branches, that lessen and grow more light as they rise, and no characteristic of the soil can alter these things. A poor soil may indeed check or stop the movement and rich prolong and quicken it. Mendel has shown that his sweet-peas bred long and short, white and pink varieties in certain mathematical proportions, suggesting a mathematical law governing the transmission of parental characteristics. To the Judwalis, as interpreted by Michael Robartes, all living minds have likewise a fundamental mathematical movement, however adapted in plant, or animal, or man to particular circumstance; and when you have found this movement and calculated its relations, you can foretell the entire future of that mind.

The gyre has its origin from a straight line which represents, now time, now emotion, now subjective life, and a plane at right angles to this line which represents, now space, now intellect, now objective life; while it is marked out by two gyres which represent the conflict, as it were, of plane and line, by two movements, which circle about a centre because a movement outward on the plane is checked and in turn checks a movement onward upon the line; & the circling is always narrowing or spreading, because one movement or other is always the stronger. In other words, the human soul is always moving outward into the objective world or inward into itself; & this movement is double because the human soul would not be conscious were it not suspended between contraries, the greater the contrast the more intense the consciousness. The man, in whom the movement inward is stronger than the movement outward, the man who sees all reflected within himself, the subjective man, reaches the narrow end of a gyre at death, for death is always, they contend, even when it seems the result of accident, preceded by an intensification of the subjective life; and has a moment of revelation immediately after death, a revelation which they describe as his being carried into the presence of all his dead kindred, a moment whose objectivity is exactly equal to the subjectivity of death. The objective man on the other hand, whose gyre moves outward, receives at this moment the revelation, not of himself seen from within, for that is impossible to objective man, but of himself as if he were somebody else. This figure is true also of history, for the end of an age, which always receives the revelation of the character of the next age, is represented by the coming of one gyre to its place of greatest expansion and of the other to that of its greatest contraction.

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The Judwallis – inventors of this system, name means makers of measures, or as we would say, of diagrams.2

The key is this notion that the mind is a movement that can be expressed by a mathematical form or notation revealed through Spiromancy. And, spiromancy as a predictive art of divination is none other than the knowledge that all living minds have a fundamental mathematical movement, however “adapted in plant, or animal, or man to particular circumstance; and when you have found this movement and calculated its relations, you can foretell the entire future of that mind” (see above). One might assume a predictive foretelling not only of individual minds, but of the collective social intelligence of the socio-culture as well. Without spoiling it for the reader too much, underlying Ireland’s investiture into Yeat’s, Land, and Ccru is this notion of the future in the present and past, of the hyperstitional invocation of entities from these mathematical sigils or diagrams, of a force of intelligence at work within our Western culture and civilization; an intelligence at work in capitalism itself conditioning and retroactively participating in under the cloak of a chameleon mask, weaving and unweaving the machinic civilization that is emerging from the ruins of the human: an inhuman invasion of optimized intelligences from the future retroactively invoking their own emergence through our technological Anastrophic modernity.

What ultimately intrigues Ireland is the interlinking and meshing this notion in Yeat’s Vision and the work of Ccru, where she uncovers an uncanny resemblance between the ancient Judwali philosophy of spiromancy and the accelerationist philosophy of Nick Land and the Ccru collective:

A cursory comparison of Ccru texts dealing with the then-still-inchoate notion of accelerationism—from Sadie Plant and Nick Land’s ‘Cyberpositive’, through the latter’s luminous mid-nineties missives (‘Circuitries’, ‘Machinic Desire’, ‘Meltdown’, and ‘Cybergothic’ are exemplary) to the contemporary elaboration of the phenomenon in his cogent and obscure ‘Teleoplexy’—with Robartes’s gloss of Judwali philosophy, is enough to posit the malefic presence of abstract spiromancy in both systems of historical divination. (P: 2)

At the heart of her philo-fiction is the temporal philosophy of Land’s spironomics: teleoplexy. Citing an entry from Land’s ‘Cybergothic’ Ireland hones in on the core of this temporal process: ‘Humanity is a compositional function of the post-human’, writes Land, ‘and the occult motor of the process is that which only comes together at the end’: ‘Teleoplexy’ names both this cleverness and its emergent outcome.’ (P: 7) Of course the process that Land is speaking of is capitalism itself, and the ‘occult motor’ that drives capitalism is the retroactive conditioning of our planet for the emergence of technological singularity of machinic intelligence. Accelerationism is nothing if not this preparation from the emergence of artificial intelligence, which has used capitalism to drive forward its ultimate agenda.

As Ireland will tell it the “accelerationism is a cybernetic theory of modernity released from the limited sphere of the restricted economy … and set loose to range the wilds of cosmic energetics at will, mobilizing cyberpositive variation as an anorganic evolutionary and time-travelling force. (P: 7-8) All this leading ultimately to the “individuation of self-augmenting machinic intelligence as the culminating act of modernity is understood with all the perversity of the cosmic scale as a compressed flare of emancipation coinciding with the termination of the possibility of emancipation for the human” (P: 8).

I’ll not delve into her poetics of accelerationism which she covers in part II The Poememenon. I’ll only quote one defining statement:

Any act of affirmation, of claiming that one is ‘open to’ the outside from the inside betrays affordability. It is patently economical, and therefore ‘intrinsically tied to survival’. Against this qualified experimentalism (the false ‘novelty’ of catastrophic modernity) the poememenon diagrams reckless adherence to the modernist dictum that novelty is to be generated at any cost, privileging formal experimentation— towards the desolation of all intelligible form—over human preservation, and locking technique onto an inhuman vector of runaway automation that, for better or worse, charts the decline of human values as modernity hands the latter over to its machinic successor in final, fatal phase shift. (P: 9)

The reader can find Amy’s text on Urbonomic.com: here: https://www.urbanomic.com/document/poememenon/


  1. Ireland, Amy. The Poememenon: Form as Occult Technology. (Urbonomic, 2017) https://www.urbanomic.com/document/poememenon/ (Page 13). (P)
  2. Variorum Edition of the Poems, 823-25. It is given in full in Richard Finneran, ed., W. B. Yeats: The Poems (2nd ed., 1997), 658-60, and (without the diagram) in A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: Poet and Man (1949), 197-98, (3rd ed. [1996], 175-77), though with variations of punctuation and sometimes wording.

Robinson Jeffers: The Hawk

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There is a hawk that is picking the birds out of our sky.
She killed the pigeons of peace and security,
She has taken honesty and confidence from nations and men,
She is hunting the lonely heron of liberty.
She loads the arts with nonsense, she is very cunning,
Science with dreams and the state with powers to catch them at last.
Nothing will escape her at last, flying nor running.
This is the hawk that picks out the stars’ eyes.
This is the only hunter that will ever catch the wild swan;
The prey she will take last is the wild white swan of the beauty of things.
Then she will be alone, pure destruction, achieved and supreme,
Empty darkness under the death-tent wings.
She will build a nest of the swan’s bones and hatch a new brood,
Hang new heavens with new birds, all be renewed.

Robinson Jeffers,  The  Poetry Of Robinson Jeffers

William Godwin: Romantic Rebel and Anarchist On Milton’s Satan

“Whenever government assumes to deliver us from the trouble of thinking for ourselves, the only consequences it produces are those of torpor and imbecility.”

~ William Godwin

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It has no doubt resulted from a train of speculation similar to this, that poetical readers have commonly remarked Milton’s devil to be a being of considerable virtue. It must be admitted that his energies centered too much in personal regards. But why did he rebel against his maker? It was, as he himself informs us, because he saw no sufficient reason, for that extreme inequality of rank and power, which the creator assumed. It was because prescription and precedent form no adequate ground for implicit faith. After his fall, why did he still cherish the spirit of opposition? From a persuasion that he was hardly and injuriously treated. He was not discouraged by the apparent inequality of the contest: because a sense of reason and justice was stronger in his mind, than a sense of brute force; because he had much of the feelings of an Epictetus or a Cato, and little of those of a slave. He bore his torments with fortitude, because he disdained to be subdued by despotic power. He sought revenge, because he could not think with tameness of the unexpostulating authority that assumed to dispose of him. How beneficial and illustrious might the temper from which these qualities flowed, have been found, with a small diversity of situation!

William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice

Reread the line where Godwin says,

He bore his torments with fortitude, because he disdained to be subdued by despotic power. He sought revenge, because he could not think with tameness of the unexpostulating authority that assumed to dispose of him.

This sense of revolt and disdain of all authority, power, and sovereignty over one’s life is the core of the Romantic revolt in literature and politics. As a neo-Gnostic who incorporates the ancient forms into a secular myth against the power of political corruption we see across our planet I have an affinity to Milton’s Satan. Secularizing the ancient notions of Gnostic gnosis from their ontological literalisms and into a more epistemic framework that seeks not the literal overthrow of the world itself, but rather of the prison planet of power that has corrupted both our minds and hearts with its inextricable mythology of economics, power, and control. The powers we rebel against are not the literal fictions of transcendent gods or God, but rather the real and actual, and persistent institutions of power that have brought injustice into the world. These are the earthly powers of political and economic institutions that command and control the vast social and technological resources of the planet bound to a system of exploitation that seeks not only absolute gain and profit without loss, but also seeks to trap its citizens in a fake world of consensus that produces both compliance and hypernormalization.

The critique of the Myth of Progress is well founded, for there is no improvement, no reformist mission that can reshape our lives through any effort of our own. The only thing progressive now is the very truth of the power of freedom to act under the guidance of Intelligence and Imagination. To invent the possibility of the future, to struggle against all fatalisms that would lock us in the presentism of some eternal Now of political enslavement. It is only through the solidarity of humanity as a species beyond all Identitarian politics that would divide us into silos of civil war that we shall overcome the problems we face on this planet. We alone shall fall, but together we shall arise and create the future together.

If I return to my roots in the Romantic rebels who both critiqued the Enlightenment and its failed revolutions, it also sought to retain the intellectual power of the Enlightenment’s thrust without losing site of the actual emotional and voluntarist capacity of solidarity within humans to seek personal liberty against all authoritarian powers of Sovereignty. Many in the philosophical and political arena seem to be returning to religious and paternal notions based on Catholic or other traditionalist perspectives against the past two hundred years of Progressive Civilization which is at the heart of the Utilitarian and Romantic revolt. That I have attacked the current forms of Progressive politics in recent years it is because it no longer serves the earlier intellectual stream from which it came, so the need has been to see how this has come about. I also see a need to clarify this history, open out to this past, see where its myths and its intelligence aligned with and against the early systems of Tradition. Early in life I read long and deep in this English rather than the German Romantic tradition and realize now that it served me well in life.

At the heart of the Romantic revolt was a critique of Reason, for it was above all a critique of the French Revolution turned terror that gave those early poets a belief that Imagination, not Reason, was the power of invention and creation needed to envision the Good Society. That Reason alone would always lead  humans into error prone casuistry producing terror rather than political freedom and imaginative need. Even our wilderness and ecological movements were grounded in the Romantics rather than the philosophes, and without a renewed interest in this era and its poets, thinkers, and critics we will face a world of depleted and decaying tropes moving forward. It’s time to return and see what these men and women were up to as they struggled with and against the Enlightenment view of humanity.

“No country can be called free which is governed by an absolute power; and it matters not whether it be an absolute royal power or an absolute legislative power, as the consequences will be the same to the people.”

~ Thomas Paine

What spurred this post was reading Vincent Garton’s recent essay Catholicism and the Gravity of Horror on The Jacobite where he tells us,

The liberal understanding of Catholicism is ill-suited to this new context, in which “progress” is no longer linear and consensus reality itself seems to be disintegrating. The Church itself, however, has all the resources it needs to adapt. Beyond the dilemmas of Protestant modernity, the postmodern metropolis with its Gothic darkness and its neon lights, its complex and unbearably persistent ethical disparities, points towards a potential rediscovery of the profundity of the human soul—the outlines of a new Baroque. In the twenty-first century, the horror, splendor, and love of Catholicism will have their role to play once more.

This turn toward Baroque Catholicism in some new form with its attack on Progressive culture and modernity awakened in me those old antagonisms of my youth and why I turned away from my Conservative and Republican upbringing and chose the radical path of revolt and the democratic radicalism of Thomas Paine and his heritage of secularist ideology. I still affirm those basic tenets outlined by Johnathan Israel,

Radical Enlightenment is a set of basic principles that can be summed up concisely as: democracy; racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education; and full separation of church and state. It sees the purpose of the state as being the wholly secular one of promoting the worldly interests of the majority and preventing vested minority interests from capturing control of the legislative process. Its chief maxim is that all men have the same basic needs, rights, and status irrespective of what they believe or what religious, economic, or ethnic group they belong to, and that consequently all ought to be treated alike, on the basis of equity, whether black or white, male or female, religious or nonreligious, and that all deserve to have their personal interests and aspirations equally respected by law and government. Its universalism lies in its claim that all men have the same right to pursue happiness in their own way, and think and say whatever they see fit, and no one, including those who convince others they are divinely chosen to be their masters, rulers, or spiritual guides, is justified in denying or hindering others in the enjoyment of rights that pertain to all men and women equally.1

We seem to have lost site of this vision in our age of Oligarchic and political decadence perpetrated to blind us to the subterfuge of both the political Left and Right who are fake members of a system that no longer serves the Enlightenment democratic radical vision of the philosophes. That the Romantics revolt was against the overly reliant power of Reason as both icon and god of the Enlightenment is to bring back in the human element of people who are not absolutes but fragile and deserving citizens of the whole earth. In a time when genocide on a planetary scale is producing the death of not only our earth, her children, and ourselves we need to understand the roots of our dilemmas and face the harsh realization that either we re-invent a life worth living or we as a species will go extinct.


  1. Israel, Jonathan. A Revolution of the Mind . Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

 

Apocalyptic Culture: Nick Land – Hyperstition at the Edge of Oblivion

 

In a post-truth world fiction, not truth has become the new force working its magic to invade our lives with strange relations. In such a world the power to erase history is vital,  dismantling the very notion of the human – a cornerstone of both individual and political liberalism – we are seeing a world where the de-centering of the human as the pinnacle of creation, as master of the universe is erased and a new image of our place in the cosmos being invented and constructed out of  Sigils and Diagrams by the new Social Engineers of our global civilization.

“K-tactics is not a matter of building the future, but dismantling the past … and escaping the technical neurochemical deficiency conditions for linear-progressive narratives,” says Nick Land.1 (The “K” in tactics refers to the Greek root for “cyber” – in the Greek “kuber’) In this sense K-tactics is the positive feedback of meltdown praxis or hyperstition, the central motif of accelerationist conceptuality: “exulting in capitalism’s permanent ‘crisis mode,’ hyperstition accelerates the tendencies towards chaos and dissolution by invoking irrational and monstrous forces…”. (Carstens)

In my previous essay Time’s Carnival I quoted Mark Fisher as saying: “While 20th-century experimental culture was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.”2 The sense that the future is over, that we’ve seen the best humanity has to offer, that technological and social progress has been stifled by the end game of capitalist civilization and its command and control over planetary culture and economics. With all the signs of impending doom being fed to us from notions of ongoing economic collapse, climate change, social unrest, political mayhem, etc., we are being aligned to a world of fear and terror that is total and absolute. This apocalyptic culture seems to pervade our lives contaminating our minds and hearts with its insipid message of fatalism. A culture of conspiracy and duplicity, disinformation and hyperrealism invades our lives to the point that the old regimes of truth both religious and secular have failed us.  We no longer have access to an objective source of truth and value to judge what is false from real, the last stage of Nietzsche’s forecast for modernity is at hand: the total collapse of humanity into the Last Man – a completed nihilism that ends in either a renewal or an apocalypse.

What are we to make of all this? Is it sheer nonsense or is there something else going on? On both sides of the political divide a war for the future of humanity is ongoing, a cultural divide that seems to be heading toward a dark turn and Armageddon that makes the petty ambitions of a Hitler or Stalin look like the dementia of a sad and nefarious comedy. The slaughterfest of those two pinnacles of the totalitarian and totalistic extremes of Left and Right seem but mere prefiguration’s of  what may transpire in the 21st Century. Humanity has come to the point that it must decide how to co-exist on this finite planet without obliterating it along with all life. Is it possible? Or, will we let those ancient hyperstitional fictions of our ancestral heritage in the monotheistic mindset of all three systems: Hebraic, Islamic, and Christian cultures of Apocalypse manifest in a final cataclysmic tide of total war and terror? Will the world turn away from such a doom? And, another possibility, what of the return of the Inquisition? We see in such hypernormalization in process of the Secular West enacting its own strange behavior modification command and control programs through the use of disinformation, conspiracy, and political correctness. Are we enacting a hyperreal version of Orwell’s nightmare world of 1984? A system that instills fear and terror through secret tribunals, thought police, and total media command and control of our intellectual and spiritual heritage? A world become prison in which to think as the free thinkers once envisioned is no longer possible, a world in which free speech gives way to public anathematization and ridicule to the point that one’s life becomes forfeit both economically and socially? Have we created a self-policing fascism in which the mode of hypernormalization is bound to its hidden effects within the Progressive culture of our own democratic society? Has Progressive society suddenly become fascistic in its need to control its citizens minds and behaviors through public humiliation, ridicule, and absolute anathema at the expense of our democratic institutions of Law?

Nick Land is a philosopher of one thought, the notion that a dark and vicious, hellishly visceral entity is directing the course of our history from the far flung future. Quoting Carsten’s from his essay Hyperstition:

As Nick Land explains in the Catacomic (1995:1), a hyperstition has four characteristics: They function as (1) an “element of effective culture that makes itself real,” (2) as a “fictional quality functional as a time-travelling device,” (3) as “coincidence intensifiers,” and (4) as a “call to the Old Ones”. The first three characteristics describe how hyperstions like the ‘ideology of progress’ or the religious conception of apocalypse enact their subversive influences in the cultural arena, becoming transmuted into perceived ‘truths,’ that influence the outcome of history. Finally, as Land indicates, a hyperstition signals the return of the irrational or the monstrous ‘other’ into the cultural arena. From the perspective of hyperstition, history is presided over by Cthonic ‘polytendriled abominations’ – the “Unuttera” that await us at history’s closure (in Reynolds 2000:1). The tendrils of these hyperstitional abominations reach back through time into the present, manifesting as the ‘dark will’ of progress that rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities. “The [hu]man,” from the perspective of the Unuttera “is something for it to overcome: a problem, drag,” writes Land in Meltdown (1995:14).

Nick Land: Satan’s Brother…

According to the Sikh religion humans are the masks of angels and demons, and my own infernal lineaments bear little ambiguity (everywhere I go the shadows thicken). —Nick Land

Land’s fusion of H.P. Lovecraft with anti-Christian motifs has been a trademark  from his early writings till now. At the heart of it was the demon of Abstraction:

What matters is the violent impulse to escape that gives this book its title. The thirst for annihilation. This name has grown on me as an ulceration in the gut. Is it desire or its negation that is marked here? The overcoming of the will, nihilism, Todestrieb? It seems to me that it is first of all the compulsion to abstract. Historically and anthropologically considered, this is negation torn from its logical function to become the non-objective destination of an attachment, destituted of its formality by a ferocious investment, besetzt, and coupled to a motor of liquidation. So that the instrument of logical dissection is at last acknowledged in its terrible materiality; negativity as an excitation. To rather ‘will negation than the negation of will’ [N II 839]; this is an elusive difference, twisting like a rusted nail into sensitive flesh. Is the primitive craving that seeks the abolition of reality an object of philosophical investigation, or a drive accomplishing itself through philosophy? What is it that makes use of subtlety here?3 [my italics]

At the end it is a quest as Land states it to abolish reality: “Is the primitive craving that seeks the abolition of reality an object of philosophical investigation, or a drive accomplishing itself through philosophy?” Unlike the Gnostics who sought to transcend the world through a gnosis – a knowing beyond the rational mind’s entrapments of the eternal Mind, Land’s is rather a vita negative in which unknowing rather than knowing is the goal. Land centers on this in Bataille:

Bataille is not advocating any variety of squalid historical regression, because the only characteristic of scholastic philosophy worthy of affirmation is its ineffectiveness, rooted in a servile idiocy that has proven to be remarkably tenacious. Despair is not a motif of theology, but a lacuna within it. It is neither disbelief, or doubt, both of which involve an ambivalence in the application of logical signs to an ontologically petrified thesis, but an unknowing so radical that it both escapes the scope of any possible epistemology and lacks all doctrinal intelligibility.(p. 58).

Land’s passion to push through the barriers of the Mind’s prison even parallels and parodies much of the Gnostic liturgy in places: “God is nowhere to be found, yet there is still so much light! Light that dazzles and maddens; crisp, ruthless light. Space echoes like an immense tomb, yet the stars still burn. Why does the sun take so long to die? Or the moon retain such fidelity to the Earth? Where is the new darkness? The greatest of all unknowings? Is death itself shy of us?” (p. 60) For Land unlike the Gnostics there can be no answering call, no vision, no spark from the great beyond to break into him from the Outside, rather there is the eternal silence of this immanence whose only transcendence is techno-genesis.

Another passage on unknowing:

The noumenon is not primarily an epistemological problem, but a religious one. Bataille writes that ‘a sort of rupture—in anguish—leaves us at the limit of tears: thus we lose ourselves, we forget ourselves and communicate with an ungraspable beyond’ [V 23]. When he adds that ‘the sole truth of man, finally glimpsed, is to be a supplication without response’ [V 25], it is not being suggested that a reference to alterity is inherent to experience in a phenomenological fashion, but rather, that experience is immanent to the trajectory of loss or sacrifice, in terms of which it is a real modification or limitation. The relation of the known to the unknown is unilateral not reciprocal, following the pattern of the difference between restricted and general economy. Zero is exploded into general economy, in which ‘[d]eath is in a sense a deception’ [V 83] because there is no privacy at zero, only the undifferentiable cosmic desert, impersonal silence, a landscape touched upon only in the deepest abysses of inhuman affect. ‘Despair is simple’ Bataille writes, ‘it is the absence of all hope, of every lure. It is the state of desolate expanses and—I can imagine—of the sun’ [V 51]. This is the terrain of immanence or the unknown; positive death as zero-intensity, unilaterally differentiated from ecstasy or naked sensation. It is the whole ramshackle complex associated with the taste of death in Bataille’s writings, leading him to remark in Inner Experience, for instance: ‘I remain in intolerable unknowing, which has no issue other than ecstasy itself’ [V 25]. (p. 81).

This notion of Man being a “supplication without response,” this is the yearning of the Gnostic who has not been called, the one who has been rejected, the dark and daemonic truth of those who are of earth and Samael’s realm. Seekers who would escape the truth of their imprisonment but know there is no salvation, no redemption only exile and eternal darkness. This sense of total destitution and despair at knowing one is trapped in a universal prison of night and pain, a “cosmic desert, impersonal silence, a landscape touched upon only in the deepest abysses of inhuman affect”.

Like Artaud, Rimbaud, and others Land pushed himself to the edge, explored the vast treasuries of human exoteric-esoteric traditions in philosophy, anti-philosophy, occult, literature, politics, economics, math, history, etc., always seeking for an answer to the plight of his inner unknowing. Yet, nothing came, no answer out of that transcendent lair of the unknown. Until he discovered the future and the great entity that is at the core of his metaphysical system of libidinal materialism. For Land for all his hatred of Christianity still needed a god, and because there was not to be found either in the great traditions of the Book nor in the shamanic ecstasy of amphetamine gods of drugs he discovered the apocalyptic heart of Capitalism and its god in an inverse relation: Abstraction and Cold Intelligence.

Communication is at the core of this world order of evil that both Land and Bataille inhabit:

Bataille’s insistent suggestion is that the nonutilitarian writer is not interested in serving mankind or furthering the accumulation of goods, however refined, delicate, or spiritual these may be. Instead, such writers—Emily Brontë, Baudelaire, Michelet, Blake, Sade, Proust, Kafka, and Genet are Bataille’s examples in this text—are concerned with communication, which means the violation of individuality, autonomy, and isolation, the infliction of a wound through which beings open out into the community of senseless waste. Literature is a transgression against transcendence, the dark and unholy rending of a sacrificial wound, allowing a communication more basic than the pseudo-communication of instrumental discourse. The heart of literature is the death of God, the violent absence of the good, and thus of everything that protects, consolidates, or guarantees the interests of the individual personality. The death of God is the ultimate transgression, the release of humanity from itself, back into the blind infernal extravagance of the sun. (p. 13).

This sense of loss, of total expenditure, of the liquidation of utilitarian civilization (i.e., of Progressive Culture and Civilization) in which “communication, which means the violation of individuality, autonomy, and isolation, the infliction of a wound through which beings open out into the community of senseless waste” is the core motif. What Land sought was the annihilation of his own personality, of his own overburdened consciousness, of the complete escape and transcendence of his lockdown in immanent death. But it would not come… so instead he would enter the labyrinth of time’s labors and become the master of its infernal paradise. 

“Death alone is utterly on the loose, howling as the dark motor of storms and epidemics. After the ruthless abstraction of all life the blank savagery of real time remains, for it is the reality of abstraction itself that is time: the desert, death, and desolator of all things.” (p.  79).

This sense that Time is itself a Prison of abstraction and we are its children: “Libidinal matter is that which resists a relation of reciprocal transcendence against time, and departs from the rigorous passivity of physical substance without recourse to dualistic, idealistic, or theistic conceptuality. It implies a process of mutation which is simultaneously devoid of agency and irreducible to the causal chain.”  (p.  29). Following Nietzsche’s and Freud’s dark vitalistic metaphysic Land writes: “A libidinal energetics is not a transformation of intentional theories of desire, of desire understood as lack, as transcendence, as dialectic. Such notions are best left to the theologians. It is, rather, a transformation of thermodynamics, or a struggle over the sense of ‘energy’.”(p.  29). At the heart of the energetics is the notion of intelligence itself: “Essences dissolve into impermanent configurations of energy. ‘Being’ is indistinguishable from its effectiveness as the unconscious motor of temporalization, permutational dynamism. The nature of the intelligible cosmos is energetic improbability, a differentiation from entropy.” (p.  29). Almost Spinozistic in its elements of the blind god of materialism (and, Gnostic!) as if Nature’s demiurge were itself the urge to intelligence.

It’s this sense of intelligence that has been with Land’s hatred of Christianity and belief systems from the beginning: “I have not been a theist for a single second of my life. In my first assemblies at primary school, when the theistic idiocy was first wheeled out, I remember thinking: it is natural that adults should lie to you, but is it really necessary for them to insult the intelligence quite this much? As for the longing to believe, nothing could be more alien to me, because nothing is more obvious than the fact that humanity—far from being a creation—is a disease.” (p. 55). Like many in our time Land envisions a migration of intelligence from organic to anorganic machinic civilization:

The high road to thinking no longer passes through a deepening of human cognition, but rather through a becoming inhuman of cognition, a migration of cognition out into the emerging planetary technosentience reservoir, into ‘dehumanized landscapes … emptied spaces’! where human culture will be dissolved. Just as the capitalist urbanization of labour abstracted it in a parallel escalation with technical machines, so will intelligence be transplanted into the purring data zones of new software worlds in order to be abstracted from an increasingly obsolescent anthropoid particularity, and thus to venture beyond modernity.4

This movement of intelligence from homo sapiens to “techno sapiens” (p. 294) is once again a part of Land’s need to escape the flesh, to become immortal, to seek salvation and redemption not through theological measures of belief, but rather through the transhuman potential of science and a vitalistic libidinal materialism: “Domination is merely the phenomenological portrait of circuit inefficiency, control malfunction, or s tupidity. The masters do not need intelligence, Nietzsche argues, therefore they do not have it. It is only the confused humanist orientation of modernist cybernetics which lines up control with domination. Emergent control is not the execution of a plan or policy, but the unmanageable exploration that escapes all authority and obsolesces law. According to its futural definition control is guidance into the unknown, exit from the box.” (FN, p. 301) This “exit from the box” is of course the human body itself.

This whole process of transcendence in immanence becomes the metaphysical program of a new cybernetics freed of the command and control of humanistic goals: “The circuits get hotter and denser as economics, scientific methodology, neo-evolutionary theory, and AI come together: terrestrial matter programming its own intelligence at impact upon the body without organs = o. Futural infiltration is subtilizing itself as capital opens onto schizo-technics, with time accelerating into the cybernetic backwash from its flip-over, a racing non-linear countdown to planetary switch.” (FN, p.  317).

“Along one axis of its emergence, virtual materialism names an ultra-hard antiformalist AI program, engaging with biological intelligence as sub-programs of an abstract post-carbon machinic matrix, whilst exceeding any deliberated research project. Far from exhibiting itself to human academic endeavour as a scientific object, AI is a meta-scientific control system and an invader, with all the insidiousness of planetary technocapital flipping over. Rather than its visiting us in some software engineering laboratory, we are being drawn out to it, where it is already lurking, in the future.” (p. 326).

This sense that the future has already happened and is not part of some linear historical narrative of Progressive modernity, but rather an acceleration of processes from the Outside in. Time’s spirals. T.S. Elito in ‘Little Gidding,’ “What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make and end is to make a beginning.” Time is relative. (Einstein) We seem to be out of time… An apocalypse (Ancient Greek: ἀποκάλυψις apokálypsis, from ἀπό and καλύπτω, literally meaning “an uncovering”) is a disclosure or revelation of knowledge. And, what are we uncovering in our time?

For Land it is the core of capitalism itself that is being revealed:

Capital propagates virally in so far as money communicates addiction, replicating itself through host organisms whose boundaries it breaches, and whose desires it reprograms. It incrementally virtualizes production; demetallizing money in the direction of credit finance, and disactualizing productive force along the scale of machinic intelligence quotient. The dehumanizing convergence of these tendencies zeroes upon an integrated and automatized cyberpositive techno-economic intelligence at war with the macropod. (FN, p. 339).

Are we at war with the future? Time wars? Ultimately the apocalypse or uncovering or revelation at hand is of the planetary switch from human to techno-sentient civilization:

Reaching an escape velocity of self-reinforcing machinic intelligence propagation, the forces of production are going for the revolution on their own. It is in this sense that schizoanalysis is a revolutionary program guided by the tropism to a catastrophe threshold of change, but it is not shackled to the realization of a new society, any more than it is constricted by deference to an existing one. The socius is its enemy, and now that the long senile spectre of the greatest imaginable reterritorialization of planetary process has faded from the horizon, cyberrevolutionary impetus is cutting away from its last shackles to the past. (FN,  341).

Land’s apocalypse begins and ends in this worldly goal of the technogenesis of techno-sentience and machinic civilization at the expense and demise of humanity.

Land’s notions from the nineties may seem a bit overdone in our age of transhumanism and crypto-currencies and decentering of the human in new materialisms, dialectical materialisms, Object-Oriented philosophies, new Rationalism, Inhumanism, Non-Humanism, etc., but in truth he was voicing something that has been ongoing within modernity itself. For in truth this inhumanism was already the kernel of Western philosophy and culture awaiting its day in the sun. This heretical vein was always a part of the dark contours of monotheistic civilization. But to trace that history would be to explore more than this essay can afford…


  1. Carstens, Delphi. Hyperstition. 2010 http://merliquify.com/blog/articles/hyperstition/#.XFmzcPZFxuF
  2. Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 190-191). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation:Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism Routledge; 1 edition (January 2, 1991) (p. 15).
  4. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: : Collected Writings 1987–2007. Urbanomic / Sequence Press; 4th edition (October 23, 2018)

Time’s Carnival

 

…life continues, but time has somehow stopped.

Mark Fisher,  Ghosts of My Life

“Every man is not only himself, Men are lived over again.”

—Sir Thomas Browne

Rereading Mark Fisher on the bleakness our impossible lives, about the leaking in of Time, the slow drift into a timeless hell  in which we are all full of “passionate intensity” (Yeat’s) but in denial of the truth of our dire situation that there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, and a world which has no future only this endless gray world of death. The bleakness is not in our appearance, which is after all a world of ongoing pulses of rapture and decay, no, it’s more that we are no longer aware of our predicament and have allowed ourselves to jest and parody this truth by denying truth itself (the so called post-truth world).

We’ve allowed reality and the Real to merge in a static realm of non-being that parodies Being. An anti-life that purports to be life itself (Isn’t this the goal of transhumanism? – to merge with the anti-life of machinic gods, become immortal in a static world of un-death, in which inorganic metaloid dreams perpetuate the mimicry of human kind in a kill zone of droned complicity?). The un-bookish masses still have their soup of conspiracy from alien invasions, disappearances, Big Foot, Reptilians, Shadow Governments, and the whole panoply of radio talk show hosts enacting the sequences of death culture from both Left and Right political spectrums: each accusing the other of being the ultra enemy of this temporal death march.

As Mark would say: “While 20th-century experimental culture was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.”1

It’s this sense of an ending, of knowing while not accepting it as truth, of the death of not only Western Civilization but of the species of homo sapiens itself that keeps us churning our in an accelerating parade of endless supercharged echoes this mediascape of repetition and denial hoping against hope that our despair is only temporary rather than the truth of oblivion we all know deep down is the only final solution we can neither escape nor deny.

It’s this sense that we have all come too late into the world, as if the best humanity has to offer has already happened: “The feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush, is as omnipresent as it is disavowed.” (ibid.) Harold Bloom in his Anxiety of Influence argued that there was a blocking agent in the world, a “Covering Cherub,” a composite creature of despair, hate, and rage:  a “negative figure of truth’s guardian turned destructive…”.2 This sense that instead of some angelic protector of Time’s vale we have instead a demon of continuity whose only goal is to keep the future at bay, to trap humanity in the bleak but furious present of an endless realm of consumerism, war, and death. A world in which the whole machine of progressive culture has run its course and instead of change and progress we have this infinite production of null culture and capitalist desire: a realm revolving in its own lost maze seeking to repeat the past only as a technological mediascape of pure simulation without surfeit.

We live in a retro world consuming our own fake culture as if it were new rather than the anachronism it truly is, a world that seeks the future as an artefact and promise but returns itself to the repetitive hellscapes of a mode of nostalgia that is neither psychological nor a part of the cultural critique of the age of suspicion, but is rather a replay and sitcom of our bleak lives played out over and over in a worn out version of Big Brother’s Reality TV in which desire turns sour and petty. A world in which the “the art of seduction takes too much time, and… something like Viagra answers not to a biological but to a cultural deficit: desperately short of time, energy and attention, we demand quick fixes. (ibid. KL 293)

Producing the new depends upon certain kinds of withdrawal – from, for instance, sociality as much as from pre-existing cultural forms – but the currently dominant form of socially networked cyberspace, with its endless opportunities for micro-contact and its deluge of YouTube links, has made withdrawal more difficult than ever before. Or, as Simon Reynolds so pithily put it, in recent years, everyday life has sped up, but culture has slowed down. (ibid. KL 308-312)

In a world in which the need to escape our drab lives through travel, adventure, and exploration has given way to an endless series of video games that immerse us in a void of repetitive images of hero worship and nostalgia fantasy combat and corporate desire we have allowed the VR realms to invade our actual lives turning reality outside-in. Immanence without transcendence. A life without meaning, purpose, or desire given to the slow death by drugs, play, and pornography. As Mark puts it: “No matter what the causes for this temporal pathology are, it is clear that no area of Western culture is immune from them. The former redoubts of futurism, such as electronic music, no longer offer escape from formal nostalgia.” (ibid. KL 312)

Trapped in a prison world of hellish delight we seem to have even forgotten that we are lost, our maze like existence in a null land of pure media imbecility plays out its political charade while the economic elite horde all the remaining resources in their palaces of off-shore tax havens against the day of reckoning. Oh, and there will be a day of reckoning… that can be assured. Living in an entropic universe of decay we titter on the edge of oblivion while scientists tell us the future offers only an endless carnival of climate collapse, extinction, pandemics, along with resource depletion of food, water, and air to the point that our escape into machines almost seems an immortal dream or fantasia of the collapsed mind if it were not that such a dark transport is in truth only the bridge-to-nowhere of earth itself into a techno-desert that literalizes the apocalypse of both humanity and earth itself. Like dreamers on the edge of some alien landscape we search the blank walls of futurity for any sign of escape and discover only the endless voids of silence and darkness coming at us. No, there is no escape from our hellish paradise, we’ve all built it together in denying time its continuous renewal, and along with it our ability to envision another world than this one.

One of those fascinating themes in the work of Jorge Luis-Borges had to do with the “contamination of reality by dream,” but for us it has become nightmare rather than those genial dreams of that short story writer that have creeped into our lives. If ours is an age of anachronism as Fisher suggests then we are living mimics of life rather than it’s fulfillment, we reduplicate the endless devices of a dark and infinite regressus in infinitum, ours is an unage of the exhaustion, or attempted exhaustion, in which late capitalism captures our desires and minds as part of a grand narrative of cultural decline and decay without outlet. Ours is a baroque world in which as Borges digresses whose “style deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its possibilities and borders upon its own caricature.” (this quote from his Collected Essays! boxed up in my storage unit…) If Borges’s parables are mere footnotes to imaginary texts, then our lives are litanies to unlived futures, futures we continue to deny if only to keep repeating this world of nightmares.

Yet, in Borges work it is the mirror and the compass, or the labyrinth which is the key to existence. Ana Maria Barrenechea called Borges the Labyrinth-Maker. A labyrinth, after all, is a place in which, ideally, all the possibilities of choice are embodied, and—barring special dispensation like Greek legendary hero Theseus’s—must be exhausted before one reaches the heart. Where, mind, the Minotaur waits with two final possibilities: defeat and death or victory and freedom. We are neither heroic like Theseus nor victims like Sisyphus, instead we are  lost in the larger labyrinth of the world, and unlike those fictional heroes who awaited the Old Man of the Sea to exhausts reality’s frightening guises so that they might extort direction from him when Proteus returns to his “true” self, we are neither victim nor hero but rather the perpetrators of a crime so vast that we have forgotten the Crime. If the labyrinth is the site where salvation or death awaits the wary hero, then our maze is an apocalypse where we ourselves hold the keys of fate and doom of our own and the earth’s future.


  1. Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 190-191). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  2. Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence. Oxford University Press; 2 edition (April 10, 1997)

Order or Chaos?

 

In a world where all values are meaningless, and a virulent nihilism pervades the whole culture, how can political order be restored to its rightful place? In the old metaphysics the Order of Being was the test against which the order of society was judged (think of the Greek’s Good Society… Plato, Aristotle, etc.). But in a society where there is no objective truth or Order, no ontology of the given, where all has been shriven and the very ground of Being has collapsed into nothingness, how to invent Order out of the absolute immanence of nihil? Is there an order to intelligence and spirit from within its own a priori fabrications? Is Order in the last instance but a reflection of the Order of Reason itself, and is this nothing but the circle of dark fire: a solipsistic dream of invention out of nothingness, a closed circle of self-replicating madness, a ratio of endless repetition? Or, something else? Can Order in a world of pure immanence exist? Or, must we discover transcendence again? In a post-truth world where can Order be found?

As True Now as it was Then…

As true now as it was then…. just deadlier…

Erich Davis, Techngnosis:

You know the scene. Social structures the world over are melting down and mutating, making way for a global McVillage, a Gaian brain, and a whole heap of chaos. The emperor of technoscience has achieved dominion, though his clothes are growing more threadbare by the moment, the once noble costume of Progress barely concealing far more wayward ambitions. Across the globe, ferocious postperestroika capitalism yanks the rug out from under the nation-state, while the planet spits up signs and symptoms of terminal distress. Boundaries dissolve, and we drift into the no-man’s zones between synthetic and organic life, between actual and virtual environments, between local communities and global flows of goods, information, labor, and capital. With pills modifying personality, machines modifying bodies, and synthetic pleasures and networked minds engineering a more fluid and invented sense of self, the boundaries of our identities are mutating as well. The horizon melts into a limitless question mark, and like the cartographers of old, we glimpse yawning monstrosities and mind-forged utopias beyond the edges of our paltry and provisional maps.

The Final Warning

Merely by existing, people and their dependent animals are responsible for more than ten times the greenhouse gas emissions of all the airline travel in the world.

We do not seem to have the slightest understanding of the seriousness of our plight. Instead, before our thoughts were diverted by the global financial collapse, we seemed lost in an endless round of celebration and congratulation. It was good to recognize the huge efforts of the IPCC with the Nobel Peace Prize and to have a brave ten thousand people make the long journey to Bali as a salutation, but because they failed to see the Earth as alive and responsive they ignored at our peril the extent of its disapproval of all we do. As we hold our meetings and talk of stewardship, Gaia still moves step by step toward the hot state, one that will allow her to continue as the regulator, but where few of us will be alive to meet and talk. Perhaps we were celebrating because the once rather worrying voice of the IPCC now spoke comfortably of consensus and endorsed those mysterious concepts of sustainability and energy that renewed itself. We even thought that this way somehow we could save the planet and grow richer as well, a more pleasing outcome than the uncomfortable truth.

Just think, as I write this in 2008, more than one thousand of the world’s best climate scientists have worked for seventeen years to forecast future climates and have failed to predict the climate of today. I have little confidence in the smooth, rising curve of temperature that modelers predict for the next ninety years. The Earth’s history and simple climate models based on the notion of a live and responsive Earth suggest that sudden change and surprise are more likely. My pessimism is shared by other scientists and openly by the distinguished climate scientist James Hansen, who finds as I do that the evidence now coming from the Earth, together with the knowledge of its history, is gravely disturbing. Most of all I am pessimistic because business and governments both appear to be accepting uncritically a belief that climate change is easily and profitably reversible.

– James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning

We all know the drill… Monopoly Capitalism is…

 

A comment in a recent post on the demise of America at the hands of State, Corporate, and Financial collusion prompted one user to say: “There will be no solutions. It’s thinking there can be a solution to the real is what lurks behind all our insanity.” If we all thought this way then we’d all sink together in a cesspool of quietude and slow suicide, but some of us will not go silently into that dark night…

We all know the drill, the development of modern corporate states from their beginnings, all the way back to the late medieval period, were invented from the dying feudal structure of the failing European economy built on aristocracy, war, and peasants:  originating from the military conquest of traditional agricultural communities and the imposition of an artificial aristocracy of external state-privileged exploiters, was in the process of breaking down. The free cities of the era began to appear as points of light on the broader feudal map. The market economy was growing, innovative technologies were coming into existence and the common people were obtaining more opportunities to claim their rightful status as free individuals. The ruling class was put on the defensive and sought to reestablish itself by fully expropriating traditional peasant lands and militarily conquering the free cities. The dispossessed peasants, no longer having any means of autonomy or self-sufficiency, were forced to migrate towards industrial centers and into the slave-like factory system. The state intervened to make sure that labor discipline was maintained by such methods as severely restricting the freedom of migration and suppressing efforts at self-organization by the laborers. The old feudal elites reinvented themselves as a new industrial capitalist ruling class by means of mercantilist economic policies which tended to concentrate wealth. In early America, for example, it was the northeastern mercantilists consisting of banking, shipping and land magnates led by Alexander Hamilton who initiated the Federalist coup against the libertarian Articles of Confederation and established the centralist presidential state for the purpose of advancing mercantilist commercial interests.

Thomas Jefferson tried to warn us, but to no avail. The fight between Hamilton and Jefferson was less about personalities than competing visions of government.  Jefferson imagined a government that was strong and centralized on foreign policy, but was as hands-off and restrained as it could be on domestic matters. He was inherently suspicious of anything that compromised individual self-sufficiency and was positively horrified at the thought of Americans depending on their government. A citizenry dependent on the government couldn’t be independent. Such a turn of events would mean that the collectivity had become the basic unit of society. It would mean that the government had compromised individual private life. This was precisely what Hamilton believed should happen, and he hoped to use the United States Treasury to make his vision reality. Hamilton believed the government should play a strong role in individuals’ lives; that the collective, consolidated national identity should be primary. By issuing huge amounts of debt, he hoped to involve the Treasury in the day-to-day operations of the economy, and so give the government a certain purchase over citizen’s private lives.

The two contrasting visions of government of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton betrayed two different understandings of American power and the American people. For Hamilton, America’s strength lay in its commerce. Hamilton’s America was an America of businessmen, entrepreneurs, bankers and financiers. The government needed to help these people compete in a global marketplace. And only the national government could do that. Hamilton was suspicious of state governments, beholden as they were to narrow local interests.

While Jefferson shared Hamilton’s admiration for America’s commercial might—he had just come back from a stint in Europe negotiating free-trade treaties—he profoundly disagreed with Hamilton about the basic make-up of the American people. Hamilton’s financiers, Jefferson claimed, were parasitic commercial elites, dependent for their success on the virtuous labor of independent yeoman farmers. The government, Jefferson believed, had no responsibility to help them. If the government was going to help anyone, it should be helping those farmers on whom the commercialists preyed. And the best way to help those farmers, Jefferson argued, was to leave real power close to them, in their state governments, and keep the federal government out of their way. His fight with Hamilton was, at least as Jefferson saw it, a disagreement about who should rule in the name of the people: Hamilton said the few, and Jefferson said the many.

Although Jefferson and Hamilton managed to work together reasonably well at first, their relations became fraught as Washington’s presidency dragged on. By February 1791, the two were locked in an outright struggle, waging a newspaper war by proxy. Jefferson hated conflict, and often thought of resigning, but he hated Hamilton more, and so refused to give him the satisfaction. Sometime in 1793, the conflict just got to be too much for Jefferson. Maybe he decided he would win this fight through other means than debate within Washington’s cabinet. On 5 January 1794, the president accepted Jefferson’s resignation as secretary of state, and Jefferson set off at once for Monticello. Just as he had done when he finished his term as Virginia governor, he claimed to all who would listen that he was truly retiring from public life, that this time he was moving home for good. Just as before, none of his friends believed him. If Jefferson had been more honest with himself, he wouldn’t have believed himself either.

We all know the rest of the story. Hamilton and the Mercantile East divvied up America and for the benefit of banks and corporate interests with a centralized government to intervene on behalf of those interests.

Most Americans are accustomed to thinking of capitalism and free enterprise as being one and the same. This is certainly the perspective taught in the state’s educational institutions and promoted by the corporate media. But we should lambast this fake populism of the type promulgated by corporate-sponsored afternoon talk radio which ignores the role of corporations, banks and other elite economic interests in fostering statism and instead works to channel the hostility of the working and middle classes away from the elites for whom most state intervention is actually done and towards the lower classes and the urban poor in a type of “divide and conquer” strategy. According to this ideology, the real enemies of free enterprise and proponents of statism are welfare recipients and the residents of homeless shelters and public housing projects. But it is the ruling class that is the primary beneficiary of state intervention. The primary role of such intervention is to redistribute wealth upward and centralize economic power. The tools used to obtain these objectives are as old as modern corporate states themselves. These tools include the state-imposed money monopoly, patents and subsidies.

Under the present system of federal government monopoly on the issuance of legal tender and central banking via the Federal Reserve, interest rates are kept artificially high, an artificial shortage of credit is maintained and access to finance capital is constricted. These arrangements centralize wealth and concentrate economic power in a myriad of ways.

A Short History of Monopoly Capitalism

The main Marxist–Leninist thesis concerning Monopoly Capitalism has always been  that big business, having achieved a monopoly or cartel position in most markets of importance, fuses with the government apparatus. A kind of financial oligarchy or conglomerate therefore results, whereby government officials aim to provide the social and legal framework within which giant corporations can operate most effectively.

The time during which Monopoly was born and grew up spanned one stock market crash (in 1893) to another (in 1929). After the 1893 stock market crashed, unemployment among the working class rose significantly. The U.S. Treasury ran out of gold and was forced to sell high-yield bonds to J. P. Morgan and the other Wall Street monopolists at low rates. Debt-ridden farmers called on the government to initiate an income tax to make taxation more fair to lower-income households (they finally did with the 16th Amendment in 1913), among other reforms.

President McKinley’s 1896 campaign was paid for by big business and he was unpopular with the working class, who favored his opponent, Williams Jennings Bryan. But business had the money and the power in the country and McKinley was elected on a tickey simply promising to do nothing and to make no major changes. During this time, Teddy Roosevelt who was well-tuned to the popular sentiments, was stirring up trouble as an anti-corruption and tax-levying governor from New York. He was added as McKinley’s Vice-President in 1898 simply to put him in a position that officially had no power.

But in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt became president after McKinley’s assassination by Leon Czolgosz. Czolgosz’s last words before his execution by the state were “I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.”

With his new power, Roosevelt proceeded to take a big stick to the major monopolies of the day: Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, J. P. Morgan’s banks, and Cargenie’s steel. He pushed enforcement of the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act.

Still, the economy was slow to recover and the public became disillusioned with capitalism. Lenin’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution guaranteed capped working hours and salaries to all of its workers while many struggling American workers began to question whether capitalism was right. After the Great Depression of the 1930s, many people thought that capitalism had failed and that it was only a question of how government would regulate it.

“In 1910,” Lenin wrote, “there appeared in Vienna the work of the Austrian Marxist, Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital….This work gives a very valuable theoretical analysis of ‘the 1atest phase of capitalist development,’ the subtitle of the book.”

As far as economic theory in the narrow sense is concerned, Lenin added little to Finance Capital, and in retrospect it is evident that Hilferding himself was not successful in integrating the new phenomena of capitalist development into the core of Marx’s theoretical structure (value, surplus value and above all the process of capital accumulation). In chapter 15 of his book (“Price Determination in the Capitalist Monopoly, Historical Tendency of Finance Capital”) Hilferding, in seeking to deal with some of these problems, came up with a very striking conclusion which has been associated with his name ever since. Prices under conditions of monopoly, he thought, are indeterminate and hence unstable. Whenever concentration enables capitalists to achieve higher than average profits, suppliers and customers are put under pressure to create counter combinations which wiI1 enable them to appropriate part of the extra profits for themselves. Thus monopoly spreads in all directions from every point of origin. The question then arises as to the limits of “cartellization” (the term is used synonymously with monopolization). Hilferding answers:

The answer to this question must be that there is no absolute limit to cartellization. What exists rather is a tendency to the continuous spread of cartellization. Independent industries, as we have seen, fall more and more under the sway of the cartellized ones, ending up finally by being annexed by the cartellized ones. The result of this process is then a general cartel. The entire capitalist production is consciously controlled from one center which determines the amount of production in all its spheres….It is the consciously controlled society in antagonistic form.

A further step in the direction of integrating the two strands of Marx’s thought—concentration and centralization on the one hand and crisis theory on the other—was marked by the publication in 1942 of The Theory of Capitalist Development by Paul M. Sweezy, which contained a fairly comprehensive review of the prewar history of Marxist economics and at the same time made explanatory use of concepts introduced into mainstream monopoly and oligopoly theory during the preceding decade. This book, soon translated into several foreign languages, had a significant effect in systematizing the study and interpretation of Marxian economic theory.

It should not be supposed, however, that these new departures were altogether a matter of theoretical speculation. Of equal if not greater importance were the changes in the structure and functioning of capitalism which had emerged during the 1920s and 1930s. On the one hand the decline in competition which began in the late nineteenth century proceeded at an accelerated pace—as chronicled in the classic study by Arthur R. Burns, The Decline of Competition: A Study of the Evolution of American Industry (1936)—and on the other hand the unprecedented severity of the depression of the 1930s provided dramatic proof of the inadequacy of conventional business cycle theories. The Keynesian revolution was a partial answer to this challenge, but the renewed upsurge of the advanced capitalist economies during and after the war cut short further development of critical analysis among mainstream economists, and it was left to Marxists to carry on along the lines that had been pioneered by Kalecki before the war.

Kalecki spent the war years at the Oxford Institute of Statistics whose director, A. L. Bowley, had brought together a distinguished group of scholars, most of them émigrés from occupied Europe. Among the latter was Josef Steindl, a young Austrian economist who came under the influence of Kalecki and followed in his footsteps. Later on, Steindl (1985) recounted the following:

On one occasion I talked with Kalecki about the crisis of capitalism. We both, as well as most socialists, took it for granted that capitalism was threatened by a crisis of existence, and we regarded the stagnation of the 1930s as a symptom of such a major crisis. But Kalecki found the reasons, given by Marx, why such a crisis should develop, unconvincing; at the same time he did not have an explanation of his own. I still do not know, he said, why there should be a crisis of capitalism, and he added: Could it have anything to do with monopoly? He subsequently suggested to me and to the Institute, before he left England, that I should work on this problem. It was a very Marxian problem, but my methods of dealing with it were Kaleckian.

Steindl’s work on this subject was completed in 1949 and published in 1952 under the title Maturity and Stagnation in American Capitalism. While little noticed by the economics profession at the time of its publication, this book nevertheless provided a crucial link between the experiences, empirical as well as theoretical, of the 1930s, and the development of a relatively rounded theory of monopoly capitalism in the 1950s and 1960s, a process which received renewed impetus from the return of stagnation to American (and global) capitalism during the 1970s and 1980s.

The next major work in the direct line from Marx through Kalecki and Steindl was Paul Baran’s book, The Political Economy of Growth (1957), which presented a theory of the dynamics of monopoly capitalism and opened up a new perspective on the nature of the interaction between developed and underdeveloped capitalist societies. This was followed by the joint work of Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (1966), incorporating ideas from both of their earlier works and attempting to elucidate, in the words of their introduction, the “mechanism linking the foundation of society (under monopoly capitalism) with what Marxists call its political, cultural, and ideological superstructure.” Their effort however, still fell short of a comprehensive theory of monopoly capitalism since it neglected “a subject which occupies a central place in Marx’s study of capitalism,” that is, a systematic inquiry into “the consequences which the particular kinds of technological change characteristic of the monopoly capitalist period have had for the nature of work, the composition (and differentiation) of the working class, the psychology of workers, the forms of working-class organization and struggle, and so on.” A pioneering effort to fill this gap in the theory of monopoly capitalism was taken by Harry Braverman a few years later (Braverman, 1974) which in turn did much to stimulate renewed research into changing trends in work processes and labor relations in the late twentieth century.

Marx wrote in the preface to the first edition of volume I of Capital that “it is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society.” What emerged, running like a red thread through the whole work, could perhaps better be called a theory of the accumulation of capital. In what respect, if at all, can it be said that latter-day theories of monopoly capitalism modify or add to Marx’s analysis of the accumulation process?

As far as form is concerned, the theory remains basically unchanged, and modifications in content are in the direction of putting even greater emphasis on certain tendencies already demonstrated by Marx to be inherent in the accumulation process. This is true of concentration and centralization, and even more spectacularly so of the role of what Marx called the credit system, now grown to monstrous proportions compared to the small beginnings of his day. In addition, and perhaps most important, the new theories seek to demonstrate that monopoly capitalism is more prone than its competitive predecessor to generating unsustainable rates of accumulation, leading to crises, depressions and prolonged periods of stagnation.

The reasoning here follows a line of thought which recurs in Marx’s writings, especially in the unfinished later volumes of Capital (including Theories of Surplus Value); individual capitalists always strive to increase their accumulation to the maximum extent possible and without regard for the ultimate overall effect on the demand for the increasing output of the economy’s expanding capacity to produce. Marx summed this up in the well-known formula that “the real barrier to capitalist production is capital itself.” The upshot of the new theories is that the widespread introduction of monopoly raises this barrier still higher. It does this in three ways.

  1.  Monopolistic organization gives capital an advantage in its struggle with labor, hence tends to raise the rate of surplus value and to make possible a higher rate of accumulation.
  2. With monopoly (or oligopoly) prices replacing competitive prices, a uniform rate of profit gives way to a hierarchy of profit rates—highest in the most concentrated industries, lowest in the most competitive. This means that the distribution of surplus value is skewed in favor of the larger units of capital which characteristically accumulate a greater proportion of their profits than smaller units of capital, once again making possible a higher rate of accumulation.
  3. On the demand side of the accumulation equation, monopolistic industries adopt a policy of slowing down and carefully regulating the expansion of productive capacity in order to maintain their higher rates of profit.

Translated into the language of Keynesian macro theory, these consequences of monopoly mean that the savings potential of the system is increased, while the opportunities for profitable investment are reduced. Other things being equal, therefore the level of income and employment under monopoly capitalism is lower than it would be in a more competitive environment.

To convert this insight into a dynamic theory, it is necessary to see monopolization (the concentration and centralization of capital) as an ongoing historical process. At the beginning of the transition from the competitive to the monopolistic stage, the accumulation process is only minimally affected. But with the passage of time the impact grows and tends sooner or later to become a crucial factor in the functioning of the system. This, according to monopoly capitalist theory, accounts for the prolonged stagnation of the 1930s as well as for the return of stagnation in the 1970s and 1980s following the exhaustion of the long boom caused by the Second World War and its multifaceted aftermath effects.

Neither mainstream economics nor traditional Marxian theory have been able to offer a satisfactory explanation of the stagnation phenomenon which has loomed increasingly large in the history of the capitalist world during the twentieth century. It is thus the distinctive contribution of monopoly capitalist theory to have tackled this problem head on and in the process to have generated a rich body of literature which draws on and adds to the work of the great economic thinkers of the last 150 years. (To Do: I need to add a bibliography of major works concerning monopoly capitalism at some future time, but at age 68 time grows thin and spending the time to do this will come when it comes…)


  1. Sweezy, P. M. The Theory of Capitalist Development. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1942.

The American Way of Death

Why do they feel guilty if they’re so above reproach…do they, also, feel as if they’re approaching oblivion?

—Harlan Ellison, Approaching Oblivion

Undoubtedly something is about to happen. Or is it that something has stopped happening?

—Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins

We are not posthuman; we are compost. We are not homo; we are humus. We are terran; we are earthlings; we are many; we are indeterminate. We bleed into each other in chaotic fluid extravagance.

—Donna Haraway, Capitalocene and Cathulucene

I used to believe in America, I really did. But no more. Goodbye to all that! 

The Left derides the right as “those fascists,” while the Right sounds the alarms of “those socialists”. Our country is so divided and divisive now that the ideological thumpmeter is off the charts. The media circus has lost its mind and become the voice and image of this dark hinterland of ruins, exposing the daily talking heads parade of ideologues who will sell themselves and their forgotten souls for profit to the highest corporate benefactor. All the while the media doesn’t present us with news so much as it does its best to tissue together the fragments of a horror show they hope will bring us a second Civil War. Will America survive the crisis? The better question is is their an America anymore? Of course to answer that we’d have to take the long view, peer into the bloody waters of our own past failures. But whose history, whose past? Does history actually exist anymore in an age of blind aggression and anarchy? We’re told on one side that America is entering that stage of “friendly Fascism”1 in which the collusion of Oligarchy-Plutocracy, Big Government, Transnational Corporatism, and the Global Financial sector are creating a world-wide mesh of power that stretches from Beijing to Moscow, Brussels to Washington, D.C. among other centers and sociopolitical nodes.

The Left following its god, Marx would have it that the ultimate enemy is Capital. This mono-myth and grand narrative has shaped the world view of countless ideologues for two centuries. For the Left there is an entity called Neoliberalism which has overtaken the old terms for this global system of profit. Neoliberals, we are told, believe in global laissez-faire: self-regulating markets, shrunken states, and the reduction of all human motivation to the one-dimensional rational self-interest of Homo economicus. The neoliberal globalists, it is claimed by these critics, conflated free-market capitalism with democracy and fantasized about a single world market without borders. At the heart of this picture is the notion that some inexorable alien will has been guiding the initiatives of globalists everywhere. As if capitalism itself were at heart a system of anti-life or necromantic witchery manipulating and using humans in its inevitable bid to overtake the planet in a death drive syndrome that is neither Freud’s Cosmocrator nor the secret Geist of some Schopenhauerian cosmic pessimism. Instead, under the rubric of alien and alienating world of numbers, machines, and capital we’ve become the zombies who live out our lives captured by forces of physical and spiritual powers not our own, and more blatantly not of this world.

In other words the whole edifice of the neoliberal order was an attempt to create by fiat a completely lifeless universe of rationality which could control the actual real world of human emotion and madness. A regime of totalitarian design that would encompass the totality of the world thereby regulating and controlling every aspect of existence through the power of the rational mind. One might even add – an artificial mind, a mind controlled not by human, but rather in-human alien thought forms of pure mathematical and calculating powers on a world-wide scale. In the past I’ve toyed with various – what shall I term it – systems of evil operative in the world at large. By this I am not literalizing some gnostic cosmocrator at the heart of existence: some eternal metaphysical presence/absence behind the scenes of world-history intervening its affairs. No. Such cosmic pessimism of Gnostics or Schopenhauerian design are merely useful tools, metaphors of a much more mundane tendency – and, as Nietzsche would have it, an all-too-human truth at the heart of this strange amalgam of ideas underpinning our global predicament.

The Right, on the other hand, sees the world as Secular trash dump, a realm in which the Progressive powers the Enlightenment have colluded to invent a Secular Cathedral of Big Government, Academic mind-craft, and the Mediatainment system or the descendants of  Puritan Calvinism. The power of this Cathedral is to provide an inquisition against White Male privilege – formerly known as the long sordid history of patriarchal politics and religion  –  Blasphemy, inquisition, indoctrination, and brainwashing still occur from the perspective of this progressive religion of hate. The progressive Left inhabit that space of the Last Man prophesied by none other than Fredrich Nietzsche himself: “Alas! The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars…. Behold! I shall show you the Last Man…” The Last Man is the individual who specializes not in creation, but in consumption. In the midst of satiating base pleasures, he claims to have “discovered happiness” by virtue of the fact that he lives in the most technologically advanced and materially luxurious era in human history.

But this self-infatuation of the Last Man conceals an underlying resentment, and desire for revenge. On some level, the Last Man knows that despite his pleasures and comforts, he is empty and miserable. With no aspiration and no meaningful goals to pursue, he has nothing he can use to justify the pain and struggle needed to overcome himself and transform himself into something better. He is stagnant in his nest of comfort, and miserable because of it. This misery does not render him inactive, but on the contrary, it compels him to seek victims in the world. He cannot bear to see those who are flourishing and embodying higher values, and so he innocuously supports the complete de-individualization of every person in the name of equality. The Last Man’s utopia is one in which total equality is maintained not from without, by an oppressive ruling class, but from within, through the “evil-eye” of envy and ridicule.

As Nick Land would have it the Secular Cathedral of the Progressive Church  is the subsumption of politics into propaganda. It tends — as it develops — to convert all administrative problems into public relations challenges. A solution — actual or prospective — is a successful management of perceptions.

For the mature Cathedral, a crisis takes the consistent form: This looks bad. It is not merely stupid. The Progressive Left follows the echo chamber of its own misguided leaders as if they were the mouthpiece of the way, the truth, the life. The question of legitimacy is, in a real sense, fundamental, when politics sets the boundaries of the cosmos under consideration. (So Cathedralism is also the hypertrophy of politics, to the point where a reality outside it loses all credibility.)

Is your civilization decaying? Then you need to persuade people that it is not. If there still seems to be a mismatch between problem and solution here, Cathedralism has not entirely consumed your brain. To speculate (confidently) further — you’re not a senior power-broker in a modern Western state. You’re even, from a certain perspective, a fossil.

Cathedralism works, in its own terms, as long as there are no definite limits to the efficacy of propaganda. To pose the issue at a comparatively shallow level, if the political response to a crisis simply is the crisis, and that response can be effectively controlled (through propaganda, broadly conceived), then the Cathedral commands an indisputable practical wisdom. It would be sensible to go long on the thing. (Cathedralism)

As you can see from the above both the extreme Right and Left are not only at juggernauts, but have brought us to that point of no return – no bridges between the two images of life and politics can be surmounted, only the civil war of all against all that Thomas Hobbes spoke of when saying: “The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.”

The Coming Collapse of Everything?

I used to believe in a political solution. Not anymore. That game is over…

In our age of glut, of total media saturation and manipulation in which our world-wide civilization is guided by State and Corporate collusion the planet itself has become the enemy. The wars for resources, the grand narratives of both climate disaster and climate denialism, the obliteration of native tribes everywhere, the depletion and deforestation of the Amazon, the desertification of the soils, the slow poisoning of both the oceans and rivers, the cannibalization of every last resource on the planet in the name of profits. There is no end to it now. The End Game is upon us…

Even while Rome (the World) burns our politicians play in the alcoves of the Last Man’s troubled paradise. John Michael Greer with a cheery note on the American tragedy:

It’s been just over a hundred years now since the United States launched itself on its path to global empire, and the hangover following that century-long bender is waiting in the wings. I suspect one of the reasons the US government is frantically going through the empties in the trash, looking for a bottle that still has a few sips left, is precisely that first dim dawning awareness of just how bad the hangover is going to be.2

Yes, the American Century is over and the age of oblivion is ahead of us. There have been five great extinction events in the history of the planet.3 We are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction. Edward O. Wilson went so far recently propose that only by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it. He would go on to identify the  unique blend of animal instinct and social and cultural genius that has launched our species and the rest of life on a potentially ruinous trajectory. He tells us we need a much deeper understanding of ourselves and the rest of life than the humanities and science have yet offered. As he states it we “would be wise to find our way as quickly as possible out of the fever swamp of dogmatic religious belief and inept philosophical thought through which we still wander. Unless humanity learns a great deal more about global biodiversity and moves quickly to protect it, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth.”4

We’re told that we have entered the geological era of the Anthropocene. The concept of the Antropocene marks an inter twining of geological Earth time and human history; it triggers massive amounts of paper work, data, discussions, conferences, art works and philosophical ideas as well of course as misrepresentations in its wake. (Jussi Parikka, 51).5 Haraway in a bitter diatribe offers a dark and troublesome critique: “Capitalocene is one of those necessary but insufficient words that pop into one’s mouth unbidden. Unhappy with the false and arrogant humanist univesalism of Anthropocene, I started lecturing about the historical extractionism and extinction ism of the Capitalocene. (Donna Haraway, 80)

What has sometimes been termed the Great Acceleration in which the human impact on planetary existence  have clearly evolved from insignificance in terms of Earth system functioning to the creation of global-scale impacts that are approaching or exceeding in magnitude some of the great forces of nature,  operating on much faster time scales than rates of natural variability, often by an order of magnitude or more, and taken together in terms of extent, magnitude, rate and simultaneity, have produced a no-analogue state in the dynamics and functioning of the Earth system. 6

Catastrophe, it seems, is becoming something of a way of life for us. Indeed, it has become the new norm for civilization.7 The point of this Anthropocene message being presented in book after book seems clear – humanity is doomed if we don’t do something about the great platform that supports life as we know it: the Earth. In some narratives one hears that with the technological conquest of the earth by Western – now actually planetary civilization – we know where the “causes” are coming from, and they can no longer be blamed on the gods. We are at fault for the state the earth now happens to find itself in, for we have taken over the roles once formerly occupied by the gods of old. Human beings now find themselves responsible for planetary management – and mismanagement management – and so there is no one else left to pray to in order to show us mercy in the situation that has come about. If we want mercy, we had better start rethinking the layout of the current civilizational order, since we were the ones, and not the gods, who set it up in its present configuration.

But is this the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Or, is there another story, one with a darker tale to tell?

The Postmodern Condition

Science has always been in conflict with narratives. Judged by the yardstick of science, the majority of them prove to be fables. But to the extent that science does not restrict itself to stating useful regularities and seeks the truth, it is obliged to legitimate the rules of its own game. It then produces a discourse of legitimation with respect to its own status, a discourse called philosophy. I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth.8

Sound familiar? Isn’t the whole complex of narratives surrounding climate change and now the incorporation of the grand narrative (science backed metadiscourse?) surrounding the Anthropocene beginning to sound “human, all to human
in this myth of natural and civilizational collapse? Are we being guided and shaped by the academic, mediatainment system, and all the current propaganda of fear mongering to expect a bleak future full of extinction, death, decline, decadence, and total collapse unless we change our ways. But who are “we” really? Before I answer that question one must realize that the supposed postmodern thinkers have run their course according to contemporary philosophical circles. We seem to be in a space beyond the relativism and ironizing tendencies against grand narratives, etc., no the new breed of academic journalist, philosopher, thinker seems to think all this past effort is passé and was if not wrong at least had issues with its conceptuality. Most of the contemporary academic treadmill grinds this all into the humus of thought without ever actually confronting it head on. One need only look into the bibliography of any current work and realize that there is a positive feed-back loop of authors reflecting the echo chamber of current theory over and over with hand-claps and back-pats. Nothing original comes out, only the endless parade of echoes from each others work over and over and over again all under the guise of inventing the future, the new.

The Anthropocene is such a myth, a grand narrative invented under the auspices of both scientific and academic authority. We know the Anthropocene was popularized by the Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on depletion of the ozone layer in the stratosphere. The changing composition of the atmosphere, especially the well-documented increase in carbon dioxide, seemed to Crutzen so dramatic and so potentially consequential for life on Earth that he concluded that a new stage had begun in Earth’s history, one in which humankind had emerged as the most powerful influence on global ecology. The crux of the Anthropocene concept is just that: a new period (whether epoch, period, or era in geologists’ parlance) in which human actions overshadow the quiet persistence of microbes and the endless wobbles and eccentricities in the Earth’s orbit, affecting the governing systems of the Earth, and therefore define the age. (Anthropocene)

We also know that Crutzen had a political motivation behind his science. As Steve Connor, Science Editor of the Independent, wrote: Professor Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on the hole in the ozone layer, believes that political attempts to limit man-made greenhouse gases are so pitiful that a radical contingency plan is needed. In a polemical scientific essay that was published in the August 2006 issue of the journal Climatic Change, he says that an “escape route” is needed if global warming begins to run out of control.9 So that it is the progressive Left stance of this particular scientist invested in the notions of climate change and catastrophism that drove his politicization of the science and its narrative. Others have followed suit to the point that this grand narrative is owned and operated by the political, artistic, and academic establishment of the Progressive Cathedral or Secular Church.

I’m not concerned in this essay to defend or dispel the actual science behind this grand narrative, only to make people aware that it is ideologically and politically motivated by a specific school of thought: Progressivism. Being neither conservative nor progressive I’ve always tried to situate myself as an independent voice of reason and intelligence. I’ve critiqued both Left and Right at times and have no qualms in doing so when appropriate. Hell I’ve written about Slavoj Zizek and Nick Land two philosophical enemies that probably wouldn’t be seen on the same podium (although Zizek reads even the arch-conservative Peter Sloterdijk, and Land knows Marx’s writings in depth!) No, for me it is more that as a young man I woke up and realized the world I lived in was a carefully scripted realm of illusion. Growing up in the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and ‘Andy of Mayberry’ world of 50’s America I was shaped by the propaganda of that era’s controlling narratives. As I began to question that conservative worldview I also realized that the opposite one was just as blind to its own narratives and culture. So for me the path from man – as Emerson once taught me, not to man was the way of freedom and independence. So I’ve never been much of a joiner of political parties nor the scripted propaganda of slick journalists and philosophers. Goodbye to all that!

We’ve found ourselves in a self-reinforcing political correctness machine under the command and control of behind the scenes political operatives on both sides of the battle lines using both the mediatainment systems and social-media to fend off pressure on the real power elite and enforcing instead a war of all against all narrative of Left / Right extremes that is producing and propagating fear, hate, and social collapse to the point that most people seem lost in the labyrinth of chaos. Most scientists think they are politically free of ideology; most academics think their progressive agendas are the only way, truth, life; and, the rest of us commoners are left in the great divide of this nation bound to one side of the image being controlled by the establishments of progressive/conservative grand narratives without an ability to stand back and judge the world clearly and unbiased. No. this is not my America anymore. Goodbye to all that!

In the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx wrote: No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore, mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely, we always find that the task itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist, or are at least in the process of formation.

Socialism, in other words, would not be possible until capitalism had exhausted its ability to expand and increase profits. That the end is coming is hard now to dispute, although one would be foolish to predict when. Global capitalism, in its final iteration, may replicate China’s totalitarian capitalism, a brutal system sustained by severe repression where workers are modern-day serfs.

The end stages of capitalism, Marx wrote, would be marked by developments that are intimately familiar to most of us. Unable to expand and generate profits at past levels, the capitalist system would begin to consume the structures that sustained it. It would prey upon, in the name of austerity, the working class and the poor, driving them ever deeper into debt and poverty and diminishing the capacity of the state to serve the basic needs of ordinary citizens. It would, as it has, increasingly automate or relocate jobs, including both manufacturing and professional positions, to countries with cheap pools of laborers. This would trigger an economic assault on not only the working class but the middle class—the bulwark of a capitalist democracy—that would be disguised by massive personal debt as incomes declined or remained stagnant and borrowing soared. Politics would, in the late stages of capitalism, become subordinate to economics, leading to political parties hollowed out of any real political content and abjectly subservient to the dictates of corporations.10

The combination of oligarchic-plutocracy, corporate autarchy, and the financial and resource monopoly of the world has tied us all to the fate of a collapsing and decaying system in which the rich and powerful prey upon the weak and ignorant to their own detriment. As Chris Hedges laments civilizations over the past six thousand years have the habit of eventually squandering their futures through acts of colossal stupidity and hubris. We are not an exception. The physical ruins of these empires, including the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Mayan, and Indus, litter the earth. They elevated, during acute distress, inept and corrupt leaders who channeled anger, fear, and dwindling resources into self-defeating wars and vast building projects. These ruling elites, consumed by greed and hedonism, retreated into privileged compounds—the Forbidden City, Versailles. They hoarded wealth as their populations endured mounting misery, hunger, and poverty. The worse it got, the more the people lied to themselves and the more they wanted to be lied to. Reality was too painful to confront. (Hedges, KL 453)

The Silicon Valley Moghuls like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos see the writing on the wall and are promoting secession and exit, offering their future escape strategies for a posthuman humanity on either the Moon or Mars. These Space Barons as some of these new entrepreneurs behind some of the biggest brands in the world—Amazon, Microsoft, Virgin, Tesla, PayPal—have disrupted industries ranging from retail to credit cards to air travel. And now they are betting vast swaths of their enormous fortunes that they could make space available to the masses, and push human space travel past where governments had gone. This new grand narrative of escape and exit, a dramatic struggle to open the space frontier is an improbable one, full of risk and high adventure, in which underdog upstarts rise up  against the nation’s military-industrial complex, a political fight that has overtaken the White House, providing visions to put humans on the moon and Mars, and, of course, the historic landings that heralded what Bezos was calling a new “golden age of space exploration.” At its heart, the story was fueled by a budding rivalry between the two leaders of this new space movement. The tension is played out in legal briefs and on Twitter, skirmishes over the significance of their respective landings and the thrust of their rockets, and even a dispute over the pad that would launch them. Musk, the brash hare, was blazing a trail for others to follow, while Bezos, the secretive and slow tortoise, who was content to take it step by step in a race that was only just beginning.11

So in an age of decadence and decline we are also being given visions of rebirth and revolution into a posthuman future beyond earth. It’s as if the moneyed powers have seen the light at the end of the tunnel and realize it is indeed very dark for citizens on planet earth, so let’s just leave. But of course we know where this is going, it’s not good for those left behind or their children as the rest of humanity slowly devolves into semi-feudalistic City-States and serfdom bound to corporatocracy and the political machinations of decline and fall. I used to think people would rise up and revolt, that the masses would finally say we’ve had enough and wake up and do something. No more. Goodbye to all that!

T.S. Eliot was right: “Humans cannot bare too much reality!” No. We rather believe in the lies and specious rhetoric of sophistry and cynicism than change the world. We’d rather believe we are powerless than understand we are the creatures of power who can change everything. No more. Goodbye to all that!

People are going to continue down this path no matter what I or anyone says until the actual real bleak picture of extinction and oblivion are upon them. They want believe it even then. The lies will continue to keep them oblivious of their demise until it comes knocking at their door, and even then they will only say: “But why? Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? I’m a good person, I’ve done my best, I supported the political party of my leaders… they are at fault, not me? I’m not to blame. I’m blameless.” Go on, believe that old lie, keep on telling yourself you are not a part of the problem, that you are innocent… bah! No more. Goodbye to all that!

We’re all guilty of something, but what the hell does guilt or shame have to do with this end game scenario? Responsibility? Am I responsible for this catastrophic collapse of all being? Is it really come to that? No more. Goodbye to all that!

Fate and Destiny were grand narratives to keep us tied to other lies that controlled our behaviours and shaped us to inherited visions that enforced social mores and habits we supposedly could not escape. As if the world was bound to some iron law of finality, a great apocalypse or Ragnorok. The End of the World as we know it has always been portrayed with apocalyptic imagery, and our cinemas are replete with these end game scenarios. One can see New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, etc. all destroyed by a myriad of natural and man-made catastrophes on screen. It’s as if we are preparing our psyches for the advent of such an event so that unconsciously we will have already participated in the invention of our own demise. Oblivion as a predictable and awaited event without recourse, a fate from which we cannot absolve ourselves. No more. Goodbye to all that!

Maybe I truly have become pessimistic and cynical in my old age. Maybe this has nothing to do with humanity at all. Maybe we are just tired of the stupidity of the human species and realize that words are not and cannot change anything anymore. People continue to breed, propagate, marry, have children, and fill up every last niche of the planet with humanity as if we saw no limits of growth or expansion of the human race. As if capitalist expansion was also human expansion without end. As if the good ole earth would provide plenty forever and ever. As if the resources of water and energy would never dry up and be gone. As if we have millions of years ahead of us… No more. Goodbye to all that!


  1. Gross, Bertram. Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America. Open Road Media (March 8, 2016)
  2. Greer, John Michael. Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America (p. 105). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  3. Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (p. 2). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
  4. Edward O. Wilson. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (Kindle Locations 72-77). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
  5. Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman Glossary. Rosi Braidotti (Editor), Maria Hlavajova (Editor) Bloomsbury Academic (February 22, 2018)
  6. Adapted from Steffen et al, Global Change and the Earth System, 2004PDF (pdf, 4.2 MB)
  7. John David Ebert. The Age of Catastrophe: Disaster and Humanity in Modern Times (Kindle Locations 26-27). Kindle Edition.
  8. Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. University Of Minnesota Press; 1st edition (June 21, 1984)
  9. Steve Connor (2006-07-31). “Scientist publishes ‘escape route’ from global warming”. The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2008-10-27.
  10. Chris Hedges. America: The Farewell Tour (Kindle Locations 141-156). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
  11. Christian Davenport. The Space Barons (Kindle Locations 112-119). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.

Luciana Parisi On Artificial Intelligence

“Prediction and not probability is central to the dynamic automation of the new generations of AI.”

– Luciana Parisi

Luciana Parisi in her short essay in Braidotti’s Posthuman Glossary, AI (Artificial Intelligence) lays out the two paths that were taken toward intelligence. The first typified by the work of Marvin Minsky and earlier pioneers of AI which was based on axiomatic or propositional thought – deductive reasoning and monotonic rule based logic centered and contained by certainty. And the later based on inductive and abductive reasoning and judgment in which “error, uncertainty or fallibility of computation no longer demarcated the limit of AI, but the limit of the mechanization of deductive logic in AI”.

She goes on to say,

As opposed to deductive logic, non-monotonic thinking (induction and abduction) is the process by which inferences or the process of explaining how one truth is contained into another starts with a hypothetical statement or an elaboration of the uncertainties embedded into the material world. Conjecturing hypotheses to explain unknown phenomena is the process by which what is known of existing conditions is over lapped by a speculative tendency towards another statement that adds on, enters into dialogue with and exposes a forward- order of explanation. Here what is given is not known unless it becomes abstracted from its particular loci so that it is possible to return to it from another stand point, a meta-relational view. With non- mono tonic logic, the ingression of uncertainties into what is given is not geared to prove an exising truth, but to expand its methods of explanation so as to achieve the determination of new truths. Such logic is evolutionary.” (p. 23)

Against the failed logic of the earlier computationalism of deductive and monotonic logic “these contemporary forms of collective thinking machines are not stopped by paradoxes and neutralized by fallibility. Instead, indeterminacy and uncertainty are incentives for the development of their task of synthesizing randomness through prediction as they grow their learning possibilities and become able to include error within their operative functions.” (23)

In many ways this is in agreement with current neuroscientific thought as well (i.e., Andy Clark’s ‘Surfing Uncertainty’; Jakob Hohwy’s ‘The Predictive Mind’).
In closing Parisi remarks:

“The computational age of AI demarcates the raise of an informational stratum whose logical operations are not simply symbolic or static modes of understanding. Instead …the task of processing uncertainty is central to a general form of artificial thinking. The realization of thinking in machines shows us that intelligence is primarily an alien affair, an engine of abstraction forcing a constant de-naturalization from what is given.”(23)


  1. Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman Glossary. Rosi Braidotti (Editor), Maria Hlavajova (Editor) Bloomsbury Academic (February 22, 2018)

Posthuman Glossary

Been reading Rosi Braidotti’s Posthuman Glossary which includes essays by many of the current thinkers within the various posthumanisms: critical, speculative, rational inhumanism, etc.

Reread Peter Wolfendale’s essay “Rational Inhumanism” which incorporates the Prometheanism of Ray Brassier and Reza Negarestani’s inhumanism while adding his own clarification of this view as against critical and speculative posthumanisms. For Brassier prometheanism was  at the core of the Marxian legacy opened up by the Enlightenment: ” I take it that this also underlies Marx’s claim about what is distinctive in human species-being: human beings have this unique capacity to transform themselves and their world because of the fundamentally social nature of human existence.”1 While for Negarestani inhumanism is the “extended practical elaboration of humanism; it is born out of a diligent commitment to the project of enlightened humanism. As a universal wave that erases the self-portrait of man drawn in sand, inhumanism is a vector of revision.”2

The key to both visions is the notion of re-visioning or re-engineering the Enlightenment conception of Man with one that aligns with a more stringent conception that erases the humanistic centrality of the human displacing it from both theocentric and anthropocentric concerns while at the same time promoting a posthuman turn that allows for a plasticity in which both a revalutation-of-all-values in both rationalist and biodecentric relations is given priority. This decentering of both man and reason from its humanistic sources opens up a revisioning process that sees the Enlightenment project in a new light.

Wolfendale will attack both vitalist and metaphysical returns in critical and speculative forms while portraying rational inhumanism as navigating the fine line between constraints placed by both the normative and metaphysical on the divides in-between rationality and animality. There is also a subtle critique of Marxian alienation as a negative force whereby rational inhumanism defines it as a positive force overcoming these constraints that trap us in humanistic naturalism and metaphysical ploys. As he’ll tell us (3):

There are distinct promethean projects concerned with each obstacle just mentioned: accelerationism strives to turn the emancipatory tendencies of modernity against the oppressive sociality of capitalism ( Srnicek and Williams 2014 ), xenofeminism aims to harness the artificiality of identity by rejecting the givenness of material conditions (sex) and social forms (gender) alike ( Laboria Cuboniks 2015 ), and cosmism enjoins us ‘to consider the earth a trap’, treating gravity as one more constraint to be over come by the ‘generalised escapology’ of design ( Singleton 2014 ). The inhumanism of these projects lies in their embrace of alienation as a positive force, transforming our progressive exile from a series of Edenic harmonies – be they economic, sociological or environmental – into an esoteric genealogy of freedom. (381).

Ultimately, what differentiates critical and speculative posthumanism from rationalist inhumanism is that they overcome ‘Man’ by renewing metaphysics rather than transcendentalism ( Foucault 2002 : 372). Critical posthumanism collapses the distinction between human and non- human by positing a universal vitality – zoe – in which both partake ( Braidotti 2013 : 131), whereas speculative posthuman ism articulates the disconnect between human and posthuman by positing a category of functionally autonomous assemblages to which both belong ( Roden 2015 : 124–49). The choice between these paths can be framed in terms of the perennial picture from which we began: do we unbind animality from the normative constraints of rationality, or unbind rationality from the metaphysical constraints of animality? (382).


  1. Robin Mackay. Speculative Aesthetics (Kindle Locations 1218-1221). Urbanomic. Kindle Edition.
  2. Negarestani, Reza. The Labor of the Inhuman. e-flux Journal #52 – February 2014
  3. Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman Glossary. Rosi Braidotti (Editor), Maria Hlavajova (Editor) Bloomsbury Academic (February 22, 2018)

Slavoj Zizek: The Progressive Nightmare?

 

‘Traditional masculinity toxic?’ New universe of subtle corruption emerges…

– Slavoj Zizek

Reading Zizek’s take on how medical expertise is being used by Progressive censors and ideologists to create a new normativity of command and control against traditional male culture one can’t help but shudder. For a long while this creeping socialism of public opinion, a world of hypernormalization and control over behavior through the use of both political correctness and other censoriums has become almost extreme.  Our belief in experts and the sciences to be the new guardians of truth and morality, ethics and normativity under the guise of non-ideological blandness is hideous in itself but has become truly powerful as a lure over the progressive world of youth and academic laborers against traditionalism in secular or religious images of masculine culture.

Although my past has and remains a combination of Left as concerns protecting the underdog: the innocent, actual downtrodden, and laborers who truly seek a better life but have in our world neither the opening or ability to enter the marketplace of current hypercapitalist high-speed civilization. I am closer to those older traditionalists who see the liberty empowered rugged individualism of our American forbears being domesticated and even excluded in the new progressive world of victimization and censor based ethics and normativity that seeks to control our behaviours even as it excludes us from jobs and sociality. We are now living in a prison world of censors that even the author of 1984 would have shuddered at.

The Progressive worldview has become the face of a new kind of totalitarianism: it presents itself under the guise of experts and science as it invents a censorium of ideological blandness that would like a seamless prison system regulate our lives and behaviours in codified algorithms. We are becoming slaves to a hidden culture of ethical stupidity. A Nanny State in which the Progressive Left would supervise every aspect of our public and private behavior right down to our masculine or feminine roles. A clone world of pre-fabricated citizenry based on law(lessness?) who must conform to the new hypernormal estate of the Progressive Left. Such a world has undermined many of the excepted Americanisms of past generations, and is slowly overtaking, judging, and condemning practices that in former times were accepted by both Left and Right as normal. Nietzsche once spoke of a transvaluation-of-values but I doubt he had the new illiberal crew of Progressive hypernormativity in mind.

As Zizek puts it. Recently, the boffins at the American Psychological Association (APA) proclaimed “traditional masculinity” as toxic.

With no apparent shame, here are the exact words they used: “Traits of so-called ‘traditional masculinity,’ like suppressing emotions & masking distress, often start early in life & have been linked to less willingness by boys & men to seek help, more risk-taking & aggression – possibly harming themselves & those with whom they interact.”

Zizek goes on to comment:

What makes this statement really dangerous is the mixture of ideology and ostensibly neutral expertise: a strong ideological gesture of excluding phenomena considered unacceptable is presented as an impartial description of medical facts.

How can one not recall here the notorious Serbsky institute in Moscow (thriving even now!) which, in the Soviet years, was well known for categorizing dissidence as a form of mental illness?

And exactly the same happens when we designate masculinity as “toxic,” under the cover of medical expertise. It amounts to the imposition of a new normativity, a fresh figure of the enemy.

There’s an supposed ideology out there affecting boys and men, and the American Psychological Association says it’s “harmful.” The Los Angeles Times reports on the APA’s first official warning on the toxicity of “traditional masculinity,” which “has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health.” Featured this month in the APA’s Monitor on Psychology magazine, the “APA Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men“—a 13-year effort that involved scientists poring over more than four decades of research—notes the harmful effects tied to traditionally masculine traits, including being competitive, aggressive, and stoic.

Žižek decries such spurious ideological expertise posing under scientific power, and its illiberal political correctness for two main reasons. First, that it’s entirely and transparently fake, an artificial cover enforced by totalitarian social pressures. Second, that political correctness manifests itself as a form of behavior control rather than a collective effort to remedy the problems it ostensibly seeks to address. Racial and social harmony cannot sprout from this sort of situation. In fact, Žižek argues that political correctness gets in the way of mutual understanding.

“Ambiguity — that’s my problem with political correctness. No it’s just a form of self-discipline which doesn’t really allow you to overcome racism. It’s just oppressed controlled racism.” – Slavoj Zizek

Ultimately, political correctness is a system of control that fails to understand the underlying causes of the problem it wants to address. A cynic would argue that this is the point — that certain societal actors prefer citizens who restrict themselves from exploring race, sexuality, gender issues, etc.. Žižek may not be that cynical, but he certainly sees the system for what it is: totalitarianism. Rather than an authority commanding “do this or else,” the ringing refrain of political correctness is forced behavior tinged with notes of “I know better than you what you really want.” It’s this Nanny State elitism of experts that has become the new totalitarianism seeking command and control over its citizens not through direct coercion but rather by way of normative behaviorism that seeks to use the populace itself against itself in the court of public opinion and press.

As Cathy Young spells it out the new Progressive Elite seek not only to control the populace through PC culture but to enslave it through transparency. As she puts it “political correctness by itself is destructive to the liberal project — to reasoned discourse, free exchange of ideas, culture and community” (see). Secondly, PC culture also invites an equally or more toxic backlash… by way of marginal and extreme racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic troops of the alt-right movement. And, third, PC Leftism enables bigotry both by trivializing it — if you can be called a racist for wearing a sombrero on Halloween or a misogynist for admiring sexy women, the words lose much of their bite — and by green-lighting it when it’s directed at “privileged” groups.

Ideological extremism under the cover of scientific expertise and public opinion along with the Press  is presently a rising force in the wider society, concentrated in influential sectors, and gradually becoming part of the elite’s ideological superstructure. The new Cathedralism of high church progressive liberalism  is obsessed with the eradication of offensive history, promotes concepts such as cultural appropriation and micro-aggressions, insists on calling a manhole a “people hole,” and that takes offense to Halloween costumes, or to the serving of tacos in a university cafeteria. Recently, a representative of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals made the claim that milk is a symbol of white supremacy. On the far-left the PC culture of campus protestors, the Antifa, the neo-Maoists, and other representatives of the extreme left have produced a violent and exclusionary world where any thought other than the hypernormal thought of the Progressive Elite is ousted, lambasted, and mercilessly attacked. The center-left version is often manifested as a blend of PC culture with the American civil religion or civic nationalism. The recent exposure and deletion of Civil War memory that is being scraped clean from all public institutions is part of such behavioral illiberalism under the auspices of PC elite. Our revisioning of history is bound to this juggernaut as well. Soon the whole of American History studies will come under the fine toothed comb of such PC elitism and the past will effectively become a hypernormalised realm scraped of all sexual, race, and gender issues.

As Keith Preston puts it the enforcement of ideological conformity is farmed out to other institutions, such as the media, educational institutions, corporations, and technology companies. The means of enforcement involve the use of social, economic, and professional sanctions rather than the outright criminalization of dissidents. Ideological conformity is also enforced by means of extra-legal methods, such mob violence, shouting down speakers, the harassment political opponents or public figures in public places or even at their private homes, and the aggressive vigilante activities of groups such as the Antifa. It is for this reason that it is often necessary for gatherings of dissidents to take place on a clandestine basis. The proponents of the ideology of political correctness are heavily concentrated in influential sectors of society. Among the more significant examples are the electronic media and professional journalism, universities and public schools, the entertainment industry, left-wing professionals such as attorneys and healthcare specialists, the left-wing of clergy, the public sector bureaucracy, social services and human services, advertising, public relations, and corporate human resources and diversity officers.

Even the social media is creating algorithmic governance to enforce elite conformism. Preston goes on telling us Facebook recently purged over 800 pages with millions of followers, including pages with left-wing as well as right-wing perspectives, with the common denominator being that all of the purged pages represented some kind of anti-establishment perspective. It is also interesting to note that similar methods are used by the professional “watchdogs,” which typically focus most of their attention on the Right, but also attack leftist, African-American or other minority perspectives that are also considered to be outside the realm of acceptable liberal opinion.

Even corporate America is in on this through such initiatives as the #MeToo movement. Gillette is embracing the #MeToo movement in a new digital ad campaign aimed at men, the latest message from an advertiser attempting to change societal norms. The ad, dubbed “We Believe,” opens with audio of news about the current #MeToo movement, bullying and “toxic masculinity.” A narrator then goes on to dispute the notion that “boys will be boys,” asking, “Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can’t hide from it. It has been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off, making the same old excuses.” As Pankaj Bhalla, Gillette brand director for North America said of it: “This is an important conversation happening, and as a company that encourages men to be their best, we feel compelled to both address it and take action of our own. We are taking a realistic look at what’s happening today, and aiming to inspire change by acknowledging that the old saying ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ is not an excuse. We want to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and hope all the men we serve will come along on that journey to find our ‘best’ together.” (see) The collusion of corporatocracy, media, and the subversive illiberalism of the Progressive extreme seeks total control through technics and technological behavioral command and control.

This is the Progressive Nightmare… a technoir vision in which society is governed by algorithms through the collusion of PC scraping and exclusionary praxis whose sole goal is the hypernormalization and enslavement of the populace through the collusion of extreme left radicalization, high-corporate technocracy, and the deliberate infiltration of the public sphere by elite mechanism of command and control. The Cathedral of Illiberalism sponsored by the Progressive Left and its Corporate, Academic, and Meditainment Elite seeks to usher in a new era of political control and censorship the likes of which have not been seen since Stalinism.

Read the rest of the article: ‘Traditional masculinity toxic?

Read Zizek on political correctness: Political Correctness Is a More Dangerous Form of Totalitarianism

Lewis Mumford: On Automated Society

 

At that ‘omega- point’ nothing would be left of man’s autonomous original nature, except organized intelligence: a universal and omnipotent layer of abstract mind, loveless and lifeless. Now, we cannot understand the role that technics has played in human development without a deeper insight into the historic nature of man.

—Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine

Lewis Mumford envisioned how our planetary civilization was evolving into an all encompassing machinic system of ‘megatechnics’ of hypercapitalism in which automation would be the guiding motif, shaping our desires to those of a machinic existence in a collective world ruled and governed by algorithmic necessity. The assault on philosophical individualism and passion by various trends in the neurosciences and neo-rationalism is pushing us into a collective enterprise in which humans are being re-engineered to serve a collective intelligence, hooked both spiritually and physically to a system of normative regulatory processes of domestication and impersonalism that will make of us all automaton-servitors in a vast machinic society:

“In terms of the currently accepted picture of the relation of man to technics, our age is passing from the primeval state of man, marked by his invention of tools and weapons for the purpose of achieving mastery over the forces of nature, to a radically different condition, in which he will have not only conquered nature, but detached himself as far as possible from the organic habitat. With this new ‘megatechnics’ the dominant minority will create a uniform, all-enveloping, super-planetary structure, designed for automatic operation. Instead of functioning actively as an autonomous personality, man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal whose proper functions, as technicians now interpret man’s role, will either be fed into the machine or strictly limited and controlled for the benefit of de-personalized, collective organizations.”1

For Lewis Mumford it is our ability to invent ourselves in the realms of make-believe that is our symbolic activity as social beings rather than tool-use that distinguishes us through our transformation and cultural transmission of both practical and theoretical knowledge that differentiates our species. Cultural transmission through external memory systems is central to this:

I shall develop the view that man is pre-eminently a mind-making, self-mastering, and self-designing animal; and the primary locus of all his activities lies first in his own organism, and in the social organization through which it finds fuller expression. Until man had made something of himself he could make little of the world around him. In this process of self-discovery and self-transformation, tools, in the narrow sense, served well as subsidiary instruments, but not as the main operative agent in man’s development; for technics has never till our own age dissociated itself from the larger cultural whole in which man, as man, has always functioned. (ibid.)


  1. Lewis Mumford. The Myth of the Machine Technics and Human Development-Harcourt (1967)

The Technocosm: Neomodernity and the Future

The city operates as the analog of an elaborate time-travel scenario, in which an obscure labyrinth of fate is taking shape, and has always been taking shape.

—Nick Land, Shanghai Times

We already live in an urban world and share an urban future.

—Carl Abbott, Imagining Urban Futures 

Paul Virilio is the philosopher of speed who argued that our society of pure growth is leading us to nothing other than the “liquidation of the world,”1 to the realization of the one original idea the West has produced: nothingness, the being of nothing, the void.2 Speed is nihilism in practice,3 the “defeat of the world as Weld, as distance, as matter.”4 “Pollution, population growth, shortage of natural resources— more unsettling than all that is no doubt the constant rise of higher speeds; acceleration is literally the end of the world!”5 We are living in the age Nietzsche foretold as the time of the Last Man, an age when nihilism would complete itself.

But how should we take such thoughts? Should we fear or welcome it? Our society has left the cradle of mythologies of the eternal return (Mircea Eliade) for better or worse. The great round of Agricultural civilization which guided it by the cycles of sun and moon, seasonal movements of the death and renewal of crops, of the laws of fate and destiny that hooked us to some occult and mysterious round of and vicious circle of mind and natural process, the organic and circadian rhythms of life amidst the violence of the earth. All this seems to have vanished from our urban landscapes like the extinction of the dinosaurs. For better or worse we live in a de-sacralized universe of our own egoistic desires, our systems of unnatural and artificial times go in diametric opposition to the long history of or forbears organicist vision. Under the auspices of clock-time and the technological beat of machinic worlds we live in a time-beyond-times, cut off from the organic plenitude of our ancestral ecologies of mind.

For Virilio we as humans lived during most of our evolutionary lives at the rate of metabolic speed or what he termed the “age of brakes,”6 in which the powers of continuity dominated those of motion and change. Our societies were formed to dampen and apply the brakes against the hurtling and accelerating progress of motion and change. Traditional societies were built to stave off the future, to construct ecologies of habit and habitation that would bind us to the stability and meta-stability of this cyclic time of the Same and Restoration: the great cycles of sacrifice and renewal from Mesopotamian, Indic, Mayan, China and other civilizations. Virilio would speak of the “space-time dispositif,”7 by which various cultural complexes shared geographical markers or strata in which historical time was considered longue durée in Braudel’s sense:8 “extended time—time that lasts, is portioned out, organized, developed”9 and so eo ipso acts as an “inertial limit” and a guarantor of “stability.”10

With the Industrial Revolution we entered a new stage of evolution in which the technical time of the artificialization replaced the natural rhythms of our pre-industrial Agricultural Civilizations. Virilio would term this the “dromocratic revolution” which would produce artificial speeds that overcome the physical limits of organic metabolic societies eternal return of the Same. Our culture of machines driven by combustible, electronic, nuclear, and quantum power compressed the former space-time continuum toward a zero limit in which pure time was spatialized to the point that virtual onlife lives would become fully digitized and bound to the dromocracy of a non-temporalized time-machine. This liquidation of space by time has produced disruptions of mind and body in our species that are unprecedented. In this sense we live in a Technocosm: a realm in which “all the surfaces of the globe are directly present to one another.”11

For Virilio this sea change of time came about through conquest and military takeover of the planet by cultures who sought to build vast empires of time. Under their dictate, the universe was rearranged by the military spirit: the building of infrastructure, the “total mobilization” of the population, the harnessing of ever new sources of energy for the military economy of attrition. “Dromocratic intelligence is not exercised against a more or less determined military adversary,” Virilio concludes, “but as a permanent assault on the world, and through it, on human nature.”12 We can see in the work of scientist and philosophers such as Kepler, Galileo, Huygen, and Newton among others the defining characteristics of this sea change in time and movement, the age of progress and modernity being grasped within the central obsession with the movement of the planets (Kepler), gravity (Galileo), uniform rotation (Huygen), and the inertial motion developed by Newton. We can see in Hobbes notions of rest as resistance the overturning of the Aristotelian conception of hierarchical movement: the ‘Great Chain of Being’,  according to which the movement of the universe was caused by an unmoved mover.13

In many ways this movement against the logic of rest was always a part of the complex notions of modernity, a slow and methodical assault of abstraction against the organicism of pre-industrial society. One could say that our age of modernity was and is the project of engineers and physicists: the mathematization of reality, of the space-time continuum as an abstract movement. With the revolutionization of the nature of transport and communication, distances shrink; everything is equally within reach; planetary civilization is transformed into a continuum in which everything is brutally pushed together, in which there are no more borders, no more distances, no more differences. The liquidation of space in abstraction. “Speed-space,” Virilio would term it, or as Sohn-Rethel would have it technological speed requires not merely the absence of obstacles, but rather the absence of matter as such; its ideal space is a vacuum.14 This dematerialization of substantive reality, the obliteration of both the Platonic/Aristotelian worlds of substantial formalism in which naïve realism or common sense philosophies were bound to the empirical world of experience vanished into the virtual immaterialism of quantum time without bounds: “After the duration and extension of geo-physical space have been reduced to nothing or almost nothing by the acceleration of transport, it seems that the vivisection of speed now attacks the very density of mass itself, as if the aim of the pursuit had suddenly become the durability and density of the whole set of physical bodies. . . . Obsessed with producing the void, we no longer tolerate the density of the material”.15

People no longer live in a particular territory, a nation-state, etc., such as a city, but in the “time spent changing places” itself.16 Cities become merely functional spaces for time-bounded activities, their residents become passengers, “displaced,” “u-topic” citizens whose true homes are transport machines and waystations. In place of settledness in space comes a new settledness in time, in place of societies of persistence comes a “society of disappearance.”17 Since the rise of telecommunications, social integration also increasingly occurs in time, such as the time of a program which gathers those who are physically absent into a “city of the instant.” The old depth of topological space is replaced by the depth of time, territoriality by temporality: “Space is no longer in geography; it’s in electronics. Unity is in the terminals. It’s in the instantaneous time of command posts, control towers, etc. Politics is less in physical space than in the time systems administered by various technologies, from telecommunications to airplanes, passing by the TGV, etc. There is a movement from geo- to chrono-politics: the distribution of territory becomes the distribution of time. The distribution of territory is outmoded, minimal.”18

For Virilio we live under the dictatorship of death-time: technological time is dead time, it is intensive time, and it is scarce time. Dead time: for it has to do with the time-travel, thus with the time of circulation, in which the body is cut off from any interaction with its actual environment and is only, as it were, traded in for a life after arrival. Intensive time: for it is defined by immediate and abrupt presence, by the sudden entrance of what is absent, as manifested in the exchange of weapons of mass destruction as well as the exchange of information through the means of communication. Scarce time: for the immense acceleration, which, for example, reaches the speed of light in laser weapons, leads everywhere to a shortening of time limits and time to think. In the age of cruise missiles and strategic “defense” initiatives, what is primarily at stake are warning times, the exploitation of the smallest possible intervals of time, of first-strike and preventative strike capacities—in a word, the “war for time.”

Since the 90’s the deregulation of time along with other capitalist modes has accelerated the world of dead-time, bringing with it both the interminable war on terror and a terror of time itself. Against the accumulation of time as a commodity stored in the monetary systems of material civilization the new capitalism has dematerialized in the advanced terrorism of virtual currency. The world itself is dematerializing before our very eyes and we are all being transformed into digitized dividuals of a mathematical multiverse controlled by the dead time of capital.  Zombies of a new order we have become daemonic agents of our own demise, inventing futures in which the complete artificialization of intelligence and life rules both our desires and our ancient immortalization dreams. For Virilio the technologies of speed bring about a “disruption in the order of perception, a “derangement of the senses” whereby individuals are catapulted into a space beyond, in which they can only maintain their position by means of a complex network of measuring instruments, of perceptual prosthetics. These prostheses in turn compel derealization. Cinema, writes Virilio, is based on a systematic psychotropic derangement, a destruction of chronology. In place of the transcendental aesthetic, which brought sensory data into a spatiotemporal order and, in the categories of the understanding, also produced valid knowledge, we have the “aesthetic of speed,” which only occasionally connects subject and object with blinding speed: “With speed, the world keeps on coming at us, to the detriment of the object, which is itself now assimilated to the sending of information. It is this intervention that destroys the world as we know it, technique finally reproducing permanently the violence of the accident.”19

Neomodernity

As with modernism and postmodernism, it is architecture that is central to the enduring public definition of neomodernity. Philosophers have only ever interpreted the world, but architects get to build it.

—Nick Land, Shanghai Times

As Land tells us it might reasonably be argued that the modern is always and inherently neomodern, that relentless, self-surpassing upgrades are hard-wired into it, from the beginning.20 The celebration of discontinuity over the progressive notions of smooth, continuous improvement typify its program. One might better understand neomodernity as the discontinuous renewal of modernity out of its own ruins, the transfiguration of its depleted energies into the surface tension of a renaissance rather than oblivion. “Above all, perhaps, the neomodern is manifested indirectly, through display spaces. It points away from itself, and towards what it revives, in the manner of contemporary museum design, with its ideal of invisible mediation. Its pride is adapted to an information age, in which subtlety trumps assertion, inventive perception supplants self-expression, and flexible anticipation outperforms stubborn purpose.”21

Like a heavy metal apocalypse neomoderinty orchestrates the virtual designs of the dematerialization of civilization. It’s cyclopean structures: “scorched and rusted girders, massive chains, vast slabs of semi-crumbled brickwork, pitted concrete, splintered masonry, the cavernous, eroded shells of warehouses and machine shops” rise up like transfigured creatures out of some hellish paradise. The post-industrial functionalism of this hybrid of supraintelligent artifact and ruinous abstraction combines the disconnection of the mind from its former ecologies in the natural order as its move and metamorphoses shapes it to the post-civilizational matrix of conditioned possibility. “Around and amongst these paleo-modernist dinosaur skeletons, it weaves an exquisite web of maximally-dematerialized and near-transparent structures, emphasizing lightness, subtlety, openness, and innovation. High-bandwidth digital communications, intelligent environmental control systems, hydroponically-nourished creeping plants, hyper-designed furnishings, tastefully understated interior decoration and sophisticated artworks complete the metamorphosis. Neomodernity is at once more modernity, and modernity again. By synthesizing (accelerating) progressive change with cyclic recurrence, it produces a distinctive schema or figure: the time spiral. “22

Technicity and the Inhuman

It is ceasing to be a matter of how we think about technics, if only because technics is increasingly thinking about itself.

—Nick Land, #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader

Plato in his Meno would institute an opposition between the Socratic “recollection” of the immortal soul, called ἀνάμνησις (anamnēsis), and the artificial or technical supplement to memory, called ὑπόμνησις (hypomnēsis). It is with this entirely unprecedented opposition that western metaphysics and, arguably, western philosophy more generally, comes into existence. To Plato’s way of thinking, thought is nothing other than the act of the immortal soul remembering itself once again. On the one side, then, we have thought, the infinite, the transcendental and something called “philosophy.” On the other, however, we have artifice, finitude, the empirical and something called “technicity.” Yet what happens to the finite world— with all its inherent contingency, variability and fallibility— when the immortal soul recollects itself? If thought is defined as the recollection of immortality, then finitude, contingency and technology are, as Bernard Stiegler has argued, thereby consigned to the darkness of the unthought: true anamnēsis apparently has no need of the sophistical or technical supplement that is hypomnēsis. What, though, might it mean to ”think” this unthought, that is to say, technicity itself?23

Aristotle is  the first thinker to construct an ontology of the technical object. To Aristotle’s eyes, technē is an essentially inert, neutral tool whose status is entirely determined by the use to which it is put by human beings. If nature (physis) contains the principal of its own motion— an acorn will grow into an oak tree all by itself— the same is obviously not true for a technical or fabricated object: an oak table or bed frame requires an efficient cause (causa efficiens) such as an artisan to bring it into being. In this way, we arrive at an idea of technicity that has dominated philosophy for almost 3,000 years: technē is a prosthesis (πρόσϑεσις: pro-thesis, i.e., an addition; what-is-placed-in-front-of) considered “in relation to” nature, humanity or thought; one that can be utilised for good or ill depending upon who or what happens to wield it.

Yet, in our time the Aristotelian notion of techné as inert, a dead thing onto which we must impress our form and give it purpose is no longer valid. As the disciplines of artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and information technology continue to develop at a bewildering pace, the ontological boundaries between the human and the technological are being re-drawn: what we used to think of as the defining properties of human being— mind, agency, affect, consciousness, the very operation of thought itself— are revealed to be inextricably bound up with complex, quasi-mechanical and technically replicable processes. To put it crudely, technology in this way appears less an instrumentum of an a priori “reason,” than an ontological state. Consequently, technicity names something which can no longer be seen as just a series of prostheses or technical artefacts— which would be merely “supplemental” (or supernumerary) to our nature— but the basic and enabling condition of our life-world. From the watch we wear to the server we log into, we exist pros-thetically, that is to say, by putting ourselves outside ourselves. If the classical opposition and hierarchy between thought and technology can no longer be sustained from this perspective— such that what Plato calls anamnēsis may be nothing other than a complex repertoire of motor functions, cybernetic loops and self-replicating hypomnesic systems— then it is clear that this insight poses a new and urgent task for any philosophy of technology. In other words, the question arises as to whether it is possible to think something that is nothing less than the basic condition of thought itself.25

This interplay of anamnesis and hypomnesic systems in a cyberpositive loop of self-reinforcing acceleration is at the core of Nick Land’s vision of our neomodern capitalist society:

Machinic desire can seem a little inhuman, as it rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities, and hacks through security apparatuses, tracking a soulless tropism to zero control. This is because what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources.26

Couched in mid-90’s cyber-punk rhetoric this notion of the future impinging on the present as if some advanced civilization was transfiguring our own mad world into a monstrous vision of its own artificial intelligence seems almost ludicrous to us, and yet this retroactive and recursive notion of time is essential. Combining the thanatropic vision of Freud and Land in his critique of our current late capitalist society Reza Negarestani outlines the tendencies at the core of this project, saying, “the collusion between science and capitalism imparts an alarmingly critical significance to such inspections into the relation between capitalism and its image as an inevitable singularity that coheres with the compulsive regression of the organism toward the inorganic exteriority. The collusion of capitalism with science enables capitalism to incorporate contemporary science’s continuous disenchantment of cosmos as the locus of absolute objectivity and inevitable extinction.”27

Call this the Great Reversal: originary technicity as the origin of humanity, becomes increasingly autonomous and emerges outside the meat-bag of its parasitical relations. In Derrida’s terms originary technicity inhabits the interiority of life itself: ‘life is a process of self-replacement’, Derrida asserts, ‘the handing-down of life is a mechanike, a form of technics’ (‘Nietzsche and the Machine’, p. 248). From its beginnings cybernetics emerging from the thought of such luminaries as Norbert Weiner, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Valera or Niklas Luhmann, offers us a picture of the emergence of artificial intelligence, complexity, adaptation and emergence or the embodiment, extension and distribution of mind into autonomous forms outside the human: the slow externalization of the very processes of thought and technics.

Maturana and Valera’s image of a self-organizing, self-regulating and self-regenerating autopoietic machines represents a kind of litmus test for the originary technicity of life:

[It] is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network. (#Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader.Urbanomic)

Perhaps most crucially, autopoiesis recognizes no qualitative difference between organic and inorganic systems: all living systems are autopoietic, and so any physical system – whether social, cultural, artificial – can, if autopoietic, be said to exhibit life (Autopoiesis and Cognition, p. 48). (Bradley, p. 21) Ultimately originary technicity is less a tool or prosthesis that has been super-added to life nor even quite a metaphor for life but what I will call the empirico-transcendental condition of life itself. Such an aporetic condition is articulated phenomenologically, historically and even ontologically by different thinkers under such names as labour, matter, the real, Being-in-the-World, the other and the body, but the basic gesture remains the same: what is supposedly outside the sphere of the human, nature and life is constantly folded back inside it as its ‘ground’. If the classical philosophy of technology is a machine for producing the non-technological, in other words, then contemporary theories of originary technicity see themselves as a machine for revealing that technology is always already contaminating phusis, anamnësis, consciousness, ipseity or the living more generally. (Bradley, p. 22)

Against Land’s energetic-technics (neo-vitalist) capitalism as intelligent agent of artificialization and death-syndrome Negarestani turns to Ray Brassier’s cosmological re-inscription of the thanatropic drive:

Brassier’s cosmic reinscription of Freud’s thanatropic regression is an attempt to enact eliminativism as an ultimate vector of enlightenment and emancipative disenchantment. Yet to cosmically enact eliminativism, one must have a model to divest all horizons of interiority (from organisms to stars to galaxies and even matter itself) of their ontological potencies and so-called vitalistic opportunities for carrying on the life of thought. The model capable of guaranteeing such a great purge is Freud’s account of the death-drive. 28

Yet, this unhooking of Freud’s thanatropic vitalism from the Landian cosmos of capitalist dissipation into artificial intelligence is for Negarestani a utopian speculative enterprise at best:

By leaving the fundamental body and the primary front of the Landian definition of capitalism unharmed, Brassier’s own project of enlightenment ironically turns into a dormant ethico-political enterprise with an utopianistic twist. Brassier’s account of eliminativist enlightenment, in this sense, basks in the comforts of an utopianistic trust in opportunities brought about by the neurocognitive plasticity whilst peacefully cohabiting with capitalism on the same earth.29

Against both Land’s conservative vision and Brassier’s speculative cosmic nihilism Negarestani tells us there is a need to institute another form of inhumanist praxis: the programmatic objective of an inhuman praxis is to remobilize non-dialectical negativity beyond such Capital-nurturing conceptions of negativity. Without such a programmatic sponsor, alternative ethics of openness or politics of exteriorization, the speculative vectors of thought are not only vulnerable to the manipulations of capitalism but also are seriously impeded.30


  1. Paul Virilio, L’horizon négatif (Paris: Galilée, 1984), 59.
  2. Ibid., 16.
  3. Paul Virilio, The Aesthetics of Disappearance, trans. Philip Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991).
  4. Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, trans. Mark Politizzotti (New York: Semiotext(e), 1986), 133.
  5. Paul Virilio, Fahren, fahren, fahren, trans. Ulrich Raul¤ (Berlin: Merve, 1978), 30.
  6. Paul Virilio and Sylvère Lotringer, Pure War, trans. Mark Polizotti (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983), 44–45.
  7. Paul Virilio, The Lost Dimension, trans. Daniel Moshenberg (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991), 128.
  8. Virilio, L’horizon négatif, 288. 20.
  9. Virilio, Pure War, 46. 21.
  10. Ibid., 72, 99.
  11. Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (Radical Thinkers), Verso (June 9, 2009), 46.
  12. Virilio, Speed and Politics, 64.
  13. Lovejoy, Arthur O. The Great Chain of Being. Harvard University Press (June 30, 2009)
  14. Virilio, L’horizon négatif, 90.
  15. Ibid., 174–75.
  16. Virilio, Pure War, 60.
  17. Ibid., 88, 75.
  18. Ibid., 115.
  19. Virilio, Aesthetics of Disappearance, 101.
  20. Land, Nick. Shanghai Times.  Urbanatomy Electronic; 1 edition (February 14, 2014).(Kindle Locations 120-122).
  21. Ibid., Shanghai Times (Kindle Locations 154-156).
  22. Shanghai Times (Kindle Locations 160-170).
  23. Armand, Louis; Bradley, Arthur; Zizek, Slavoj; Stiegler, Bernard; Miller, J. Hillis; Wark, McKenzie; Amerika, Mark; Lucy, Niall; Tofts, Darren; Lovink, Geert. Technicity (Kindle Locations 75-84). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
  24. Ibid., Technicity, (Kindle Locations 89-98).
  25. Ibid., Technicity, (Kindle Locations 101-115).
  26. Nick Land, ‘Machinic Desire’, Textual Practice, vol. 7, no. 3, 1993, p. 479.
  27. Negarestani, Reza.  Drafting the Inhuman: Conjectures on Capitalism and Organic Necrocracy (The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, 2011)
  28. Ibid., p. 8.
  29. Ibid., p. 9.
  30. Ibid., p. 19.

 

 

Deleuze & Guattari: Notes on Rhizome

 

Quotes from A Thousand Plateaus in no certain order for a Book Project:

D & G: “How can the book find an adequate outside with which to assemble in heterogeneity, rather than a world to reproduce?”

Rhizome it.

The rhizome is an anti-genealogy.

Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways…

Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come. …

The rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing. Make a map, not a tracing.

A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. A semiotic chain is like a tuber agglomerating very diverse acts, not only linguistic, but also perceptive, mimetic, gestural, and cognitive: there is no language in itself, nor are there any linguistic universals, only a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages.

Principle of multiplicity: it is only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, “multiplicity,” that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world. Multiplicities are rhizomatic, and expose arborescent pseudomulti-plicities for what they are. There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object, or to divide in the subject. There is not even the unity to abort in the object or “return” in the subject. A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature.

All multiplicities are flat, in the sense that they fill or occupy all of their dimensions: we will therefore speak of a plane of consistency of multiplicities …

Writing weds a war machine and lines of flight, abandoning the strata, segmentarities, sedentarity, the State apparatus. … Is there a need for a more profound nomadism… a nomadism of true nomads, or of those who no longer even move or imitate anything? The nomadism of those who only assemble (agencent).

The ideal for a book would be to lay everything out on a plane of exteriority of this kind, on a single page, the same sheet: lived events, historical determinations, concepts, individuals, groups, social formations.

The cultural book is necessarily a tracing: already a tracing of itself, a tracing of the previous book by the same author, a tracing of other books however different they may be, an endless tracing of established concepts and words, a tracing of the world present, past, and future. … Imperceptible rupture, not signifying break.

The nomads invented a war machine in opposition to the State apparatus.

The war machine’s relation to an outside is not another “model”; it is an assemblage that makes thought itself nomadic, and the book a working part in every mobile machine, a stem for a rhizome. Write to the nth power, the n – 1 power, write with slogans: Make rhizomes, not roots, never plant! Don’t sow, grow offshoots! Don’t be one or multiple, be multiplicities! Run lines, never plot a point! Speed turns the point into a line! Be quick, even when standing still! Line of chance, line of hips, line of flight.

Kleist invented a writing of this type, a broken chain of affects and variable speeds, with accelerations and transformations, always in a relation with the outside.

Make maps, not photos or drawings. Be the Pink Panther and your loves will be like the wasp and the orchid, the cat and the baboon.

A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.

How could movements of deterritorialization and processes of reterri-torialization not be relative, always connected, caught up in one another? The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid’s reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome.

American literature, and already English literature, manifest this rhizomatic direction to an even greater extent; they know how to move between things, establish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings. They know how to practice pragmatics.

The middle is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed.

Between things does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing to the other and back again, but a perpendicular direction, a transversal movement that sweeps one and the other away, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its banks and picks up speed in the middle


—Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (University of Minnesota Press; 2 edition (December 21, 1987)

 

Reza Negarestani: A Preliminary Investigation – Intelligence and Spirit

The History of spirit is its own deed; for spirit is only what it does, and its deed is to make itself – in this case as spirit – the object of its own consciousness, and to comprehend itself in its interpretation of itself to itself.

—G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right

Shall we say that Hegel is the Father of Pragmatism? That we should know a self as what it does, rather than by its essence: what it is? And is the self processual, a disturbance of material agitation: a making that is a making of itself by itself, through the power of interacting on itself by way of techniques of language and interpretation of this self-making agency in process? Reza Negarestani situates this statement as outlining a “community of rational agents as a social model of the mind,” a functionalist model that is “essentially a picture of a necessarily deprivatized mind predicated on sociality as a formal condition of possibility”.1

Instead of trying to review the complete book, I am more interested in this post to understand the political and social implications of Reza’s project. For underlying the conceptuality inherent within his project is a political and social agenda that one must understand before one can gain insight in the fabric of its methodological implications and conclusions. So with that in mind I want to quote in full the first paragraph of the work to which I will in this post unpack the wealth of thought implicated within its compressed and carefully thought out thesis:

This book argues, from a functionalist perspective, that mind is only what it does; and that what it does is first and foremost realized by the sociality of agents, which itself is primarily and ontologically constituted by the semantic space of public language. What mind does is to structure the universe to which it belongs, and structure is the very register of intelligibility as pertaining to the world and intelligence. Only in virtue of multilayered semantic structure of language does sociality become a normative space of recognitive-cognitive rational agents; and the supposedly ‘private’ experiences and thoughts of participating agents are only structured as experiences and thoughts in so far as they are bound up in this normative – at once intersubjective and objective – space. (1)

To unpack this paragraph I will delve into a short history and explication of certain terms and their uses along the way. We will start with the notion of functionalism itself within the philosophy of mind.

Functionalist Perspective

This notion of the ‘functionalist perspective’ has a unique place within the philosophy of mind. Functionalism in the philosophy of mind is the doctrine that what makes something a mental state of a particular type does not depend on its internal constitution, but rather on the way it functions, or the role it plays, in the system of which it is a part. This doctrine is rooted in Aristotle’s conception of the soul, and has antecedents in Hobbes’s conception of the mind as a “calculating machine”, but it has become fully articulated (and popularly endorsed) only in the last third of the 20th century. Though the term ‘functionalism’ is used to designate a variety of positions in a variety of other disciplines, including psychology, sociology, economics, and architecture, this post focuses exclusively on functionalism as a philosophical thesis about the nature of mental states.2

According to Aristotle’s theory, a soul is a particular kind of nature, a principle that accounts for change and rest in the particular case of living bodies, i.e. plants, nonhuman animals and human beings. The relation between soul and body, on Aristotle’s view, is also an instance of the more general relation between form and matter: thus an ensouled, living body is a particular kind of in-formed matter. Slightly simplifying things by limiting ourselves to the sublunary world (cf. De Anima 2.2, 413a32; 2.3, 415a9), we can describe the theory as furnishing a unified explanatory framework within which all vital functions alike, from metabolism to reasoning, are treated as functions performed by natural organisms of suitable structure and complexity. The soul of an animate organism, in this framework, is nothing other than its system of active abilities to perform the vital functions that organisms of its kind naturally perform, so that when an organism engages in the relevant activities (e.g., nutrition, movement or thought) it does so in virtue of the system of abilities that is its soul.3

Aristotle’s almost computational perspective on the capabilities and capacities of the rational soul to order and structure experience, along with making intelligible the intelligibility of the universal order of things within what would become known as the “great chain of being” would provide many later thinker a functionalist perspective and framework within which to explicate intelligence, intelligibility, and the intelligible.4 In this sense functionalism affords us another view onto mind with the idea of multiple realizability, an idea put forward most prominently Hilary Putnam (1967, 1988) and Jerry Fodor (1975), put it forth as an argument against reductionist accounts of the relation between mental and physical kinds.5 Since, according to standard functionalist theories, mental states are the corresponding functional role, mental states can be sufficiently explained without taking into account the underlying physical medium (e.g. the brain, neurons, etc.) that realizes such states; one need only take into account the higher-level functions in the cognitive system. Since mental states are not limited to a particular medium, they can be realized in multiple ways, including, theoretically, within non-biological systems, such as computers. In other words, a silicon-based machine could, in principle, have the same sort of mental life that a human being has, provided that its cognitive system realized the proper functional roles. Thus, mental states are individuated much like a valve; a valve can be made of plastic or metal or whatever material, as long as it performs the proper function (say, controlling the flow of liquid through a tube by blocking and unblocking its pathway).

Between Putnam and Fordor a more detailed account of the functionalist perspective described functionalism in the philosophy of mind as individuating mental states in terms of their causes and effects. Pain, for example, is caused by tissue damage or trauma to bodily regions, and in turn causes beliefs (e.g., that one is in pain), desires (e.g., that one relieves the pain), and behaviors like crying out, nursing the damaged area, and seeking out pain relieving drugs. Any internal state that mediates a similar pattern of causes and effects is pain—regardless of the specific physical mechanisms that mediate the pattern in any given case. Ned Block and Jerry Fodor (1972) note that the multiple realizability of mental on physical types shows that any physicalist type-identity hypothesis will fail to be sufficiently abstract. Functionalism, on the other hand, seems to be at the next level of abstraction up from explanation of behavior based on physical mechanisms. In addition, it seems sufficiently abstract to handle multiple realizability. Block and Fodor also note that multiple realizability at the level of physical description is a common characteristic of ordinary functional kinds, like mousetraps and valve lifters. Characterizing mental kinds as functional kinds thus appears to be at exactly the right level of abstraction to handle multiple realizability. (Bickle, ibid.)

The great follower of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, would contribute to this pragmatic heritage aligning the notion of “soul” as form following function, defining the soul as the form of living bodies. Aquinas’s substantial formalism takes it that the forms of material objects can be divided into two sorts, substantial forms and accidental forms. One way of distinguishing the two is by what they configure. A substantial form of a material thing configures prime matter. Prime matter is matter without any form at all, “materiality” (as it were) apart from configuration. When it is a component in a matter– form composite,  prime matter is the component of the configured composite which makes it the case that the configured thing is extended in three dimensions and occupies a particular place at a particular time.  By contrast, an accidental form configures something which is an actually existing complete thing, a matter– form composite.6

On Aquinas’s view, the substantial form of a whole confers causal powers on the whole. The operations and functions of a substance derive from the substantial form configuring the whole.  Furthermore, as we increase complexity in systems, even systems of inanimate things, properties arise that are properties of the whole system but not properties of the material parts of the system. This irreductionist perspective is at the heart of his enterprise, and as we will see it is part of the core view within the functionalist perspective of Negarestani as well.

Multiple Realizability and the Sociality of Mind

Reza’s notion that the mind is what it does, and that what it does is realized only within the public space of language by the ‘sociality of agents’ harkens back to Hegel’s philosophy. As Terry Pinkard reminds us modern philosophy, the institutional setting for absolute knowing, is not confined to the way the natural world happens to present itself to the community of working scientists (agents). Philosophy is the reflection on what the community as a whole has come to take as authoritative for its evaluation of those practices and its attempts at legitimations of those practices in terms of an appeal to standards of rationality that themselves historically have been developed within the history of that community’s accounts of itself. It can therefore legitimate that account only within those historically generated terms, within that “social space,” not by accommodating itself to any kind of object external to the historically developing set of practices of reason-giving and account-giving themselves. Absolute knowledge is absolute in that it has no “object” external to itself that mediates it in the way the natural world mediates the claims of natural science. Absolute knowledge is thus the way in which absolute spirit articulates itself in modern life ; it is the practice through which the modern community thinks about itself without attempting to posit any metaphysical “other” or set of “natural constraints” that would underwrite those practices.  Absolute knowledge is the internal reflection on the social practices of a modern community that takes its authoritative standards to come only from within the structure of the practices it uses to legitimate and authenticate itself.7

What are we talking about here? The sociality of mind is formed by its interaction with a specific technological environment or “social space,” one that is objective and external to the individual agent. As Merlin Donald, speaking of the evolution of the mind tells us, the recent changes in the organization of the human mind are just as fundamental as those that took place in earlier evolutionary transitions, yet they are mediated by new memory technology, rather than by genetically encoded changes in the brain. The effects of such technological changes are similar in kind to earlier biological changes, inasmuch as they can produce alterations to the architecture of human memory. The modern mind is thus a hybrid structure containing vestiges of earlier stages of human emergence, as well as new symbolic devices that have radically altered its organization. The structural relationship between individual human minds and external memory technology continues to change, and with the advance of augmentation and other techniques which will provide an avenue to a new level of abstraction: the collective world of participatory consciousness that was once shared in animistic societies will now be part of the technological realm of rationality of a new collective and open society of mind.8

Whereas countless philosophers since Aristotle have attempted to define what is quintessentially human, Donald brings new knowledge of neuropsychology, ethology, and archaeology to propose a tripartite theory of the transition from ape to man. Using the fossil evidence of braincase size and tool-kit remains, Donald concludes that the australopithecines were limited to concrete/episodic minds: bipedal creatures able to benefit from pair-bonding, cooperative hunting, etc., but essentially of a seize-the-moment mentality. The first transition was to a `mimetic” culture: the era of Homo erectus in which mankind absorbed and refashioned events to create rituals, crafts, rhythms, dance, and other prelinguistic traditions. This was followed by the evolution to mythic cultures: the result of the acquisition of speech and the invention of symbols. The third transition carried oral speech to reading, writing, and an extended external memory- store seen today in computer technology.

This notion of the externalization of the mind through sociality and interaction with techniques and technology in a co-evolutionary process of mutual development and transformation is at the core of orginary technicity, or what Bernard Stiegler meant when he said that the ‘human has always been technological’. N. Katherine Hayles in Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious relates that technical cognitions are designed specifically to keep human consciousness from being overwhelmed by massive informational streams so large, complex, and multifaceted that they could never be processed by human brains. These parallels are not accidental. Their emergence represents the exteriorization of cognitive abilities, once resident only in biological organisms, into the world, where they are rapidly transforming the ways in which human cultures interact with broader planetary ecologies. Indeed, biological and technical cognitions are now so deeply entwined that it is more accurate to say they interpenetrate one another.9

This process of exteriorization of memory produced varied and quite complex ecologies of mind. For Reza this external space is the  ‘semantic space of public language’, which might be bettered served as the technical space of representational machines within which humanity has invented itself. If any system that is capable of remembering and processing information, of regulating its own behavior and adapting to its environment deserves the name of ‘technology’, the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard argues in the wake of the information revolution, then even infusoria – the tiny algae synthesized by light at the edge of tidepools millions of years ago that we mentioned in the opening paragraph – are already ‘technical devices’. In Lyotard’s words, ‘the living cell, and the organism with its origins, are already tekhnai – “life”, as they say, is already technique’.10

This notion of the living and non-living being unified as technology and technique is not new. Even the so called postmoderns would offer a technological turn in their philosophies. Jacques Derrida; Jacques Lacan; Michel Foucault; Jean-François Lyotard; Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari; and Giorgio Agamben (for all the real and often irreconcilable differences between the work of such canonical thinkers) are increasingly recognized as important and influential philosophers of technology whose work is informed by, and engages in, the new scientific revolutions of the post-war era. To offer a brief overview, Jacques Lacan is one of the first philosophical thinkers to grapple with the implications of the new cybernetic revolution after the Second World War: the psychoanalyst famously deploys the cybernetic circuit as a conceptual model for what he sees as the symbolic structure of subjectivity.6 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s idea of a ‘machinic phylum’ at the heart of morphogenesis also draws on both molecular biology and post-cybernetic theory to explain the self-organising material flux of the universe as it emerges from chaos into order.  By the same token, the later work of Jean François Lyotard appeals to catastrophe theory in order to articulate his theory of an inhuman remainder at the core of all humanisms (The Inhuman, pp. 1-7). Perhaps even the later Foucault and, differently, Giorgio Agamben’s theory of bio-power – where governmental technologies are exerted upon the bare fact of life itself – can be seen as a critique of the political exploitation of the becoming-technical of the living in the aftermath of the new sciences. Such a technological turn has, if anything, gathered momentum in recent years with the appearance of important works by such figures as Friedrich Kittler, Bernard Stiegler and Jean-Luc Nancy, amongst many others. Derrida’s in his deconstruction of  western metaphysics of presence offered a perspective on originary technicity that inhabits the interiority of life itself: ‘life is a process of self-replacement’, Derrida asserts, ‘the handing-down of life is a mechanike, a form of technics’ (‘Nietzsche and the Machine’, p. 248).

World Building and the Structuring Mind

To consider man, then, as primarily a tool-using animal, is to overlook the main chapters of human history. Opposed to this petrified notion man is pre-eminently a mind-making, self-mastering, and self-designing animal; and the primary locus of all his activities lies first in his own organism, and in the social organization through which it finds fuller expression.

—Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine Technics and Human Development

Reza tells us that “what mind does is to structure the universe to which it belongs, and structure is the very register of intelligibility as pertaining to the world and intelligence”. In this he follows Kant and other post-Kantian philosophers of mind whose belief that we can never have any direct access to reality, but rather that our minds have always already processed and filtered reality and hand us only that version of it that it has structured for us. In After Finitude, Quentin Meillassoux defined correlationism as “the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other. (p. 5)” Ray Brassier in an essay would state that “reality is ultimately endowed with conceptual structure”. Going on he’d tell us

The challenge for materialism is to acknowledge the reality of abstraction without conceding to idealism that reality possesses irreducible conceptual form. Thus materialism must be able to explain what constitutes the reality of conceptually formed abstraction without hypostatising that form. The key to the de-reification of abstraction is an account of conceptual form as generated by social practices.11

This notion that conceptual form or the structuring of the world is generated by sociality and the pragmatic interactions in that public space of language, the ‘give and take of reasons’ (Brandom) – the normative praxis and techniques that invent the possibility of mind in the first instance. Yet, the very process of technicity that has exposed humanity as technology, as symbiont – neither fully machinic nor fully organic has opened onto  a door of futurity. As Nick Land once suggested “the high road to thinking no longer passes through a deepening of human cognition, but rather through a becoming inhuman of cognition, a migration of cognition out into the emerging planetary technosentience reservoir, into ‘dehumanized landscapes … emptied spaces’! where human culture will be dissolved(293).”12 Reza in a later section of his work would iterate his on inhumanist gesture, saying,

To migrate from the Hobbesian jungle of competing individual experiences it is not sufficient to build consensus between different individuals and groups – a necessary undertaking which is not wholly conceivable in this environment. It is necessary  to posit the possibility of an otherworldly experience, one that, while devoid of all mystical, supernatural, religious, and paranormal qualities, is in contiguity with reality yet distant from this present world of experience. To posit such an otherworldly experience is in fact to postulate the possibility of worlds that are in every sense outside of the horizon of the inhabitable world in which we currently live. (p. 499)

For Reza this movement requires nothing less than the participation in a collective enterprise that strips us of our individualistic and fragmented consciousness, providing instead an “engine of collective productive imagination, which is simply collective understanding in a different guise: concepts and categories of the otherworld integrate synthetic unities of particular experiences, but at the same time individual experiences fall under the pure concepts of a world modally detached from ours.” (p. 499) This bootstrapping of a new world or conceptual leap and bridge to the possibility of a world where I is We – a participatory externalization of objective Geist/Spirit, both incomplete and open leads to what Reza will term after Plato and Sellars a cosmopolitics or cosmological politics, a new “paradigm for the politics of the Left, one in which the positive deindividualization or the labour of collectivization is not just about intersubjectivity – the craft of we that constitutes I – but also about the renewed link between the subject and an impersonal objective reality.” (p. 301)

If you’ve been following me so far then this process of externalizing the mind’s capacities into technical systems is not new but a very old idea in which humans have delved ever since the first automatons in Greece were assembled. Our fascination with copies of ourselves in machinic systems that mimic our behavior and our thoughts has been a part of the whole gamut of engineering feats from the early Greeks onwards. Why this fascination to build a perfect image of ourselves in a technical artifact? What has drawn us to invent such a world in which such technical beings may in coming times surpass us and become the higher forms of planet earth? Were we already in our core machinic beings? Is this slow externalization of the organic functions into inorganic forms a teleological process? Are we just fulfilling some already well thought out pre-existing plan, strategy? This notion obviously goes against the grain of all materialist thought in which such designs and designers are mere shadows of Platonic other worlds to be left in the dust bin of strange ideas that were in error. But were they? Why have we continued to seek out and invent external forms of our minds and bodies in technical systems through collectivization processes? What drives us to do this? What are we seeking? Maybe in the end Reza is right:

Intelligence only springs forth from a race of slaves who have recognized themselves as such, and in this recognition have crafted the most intricate plot – the exploration of time through their history – to abolish any given, which will inevitably become the very condition of exploitation and inequality. Intelligence matures by unlearning its slavery. Intelligence is the race of Cain. (p. 504)

This alignment with the dark world of intelligence as criminal almost reminds us of Nick Land’s perusal of philosophers and philosophy: “Philosophers are vivisectors, surgeons who have evaded the Hippocratic moderation. They have the precise and reptilian intelligence shared by all those who experiment with living things. Perhaps there is nothing quite as deeply frozen as the sentiment of a true philosopher, for it is necessary to be quite dispassionate if one is to find things theoretically intriguing.”13

Whether you agree or disagree there is a lot to ponder and work through in Reza’s multifaceted project, of which I have only tried to unpack the first paragraph with extempore commentary.


  1. Negarestani, Reza. Intelligence and Spirit. Urbanomic/Sequence Press (November 27, 2018)
  2. Levin, Janet, “Functionalism“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  3. Lorenz, Hendrik, “Ancient Theories of Soul“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  4. Lovejoy, Arthur O. The Great Chain of Being: The Study of an Idea. (Harvard University Press, 1936)
  5. Bickle, John, “Multiple Realizability“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  6. Powers and Capacities in Philosophy: The New Aristotleianism. Routledge; 1 edition (March 24, 2017)
  7. Pinkard, Terry. Hegel’s Phenomenology: The Sociality of Reason. Cambridge University Press (April 26, 1996) (p. 262).
  8. Donald, Merlin. Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition. Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (March 15, 1993)
  9. Hayles, N. Katherine. Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious (p. 11). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
  10. Bradley, A. Originary Technicity: The Theory of Technology from Marx to Derrida. Palgrave Macmillan; 2011 edition (May 27, 2011)
  11. Brassier, Ray. Wandering Abstraction. (Mute, 13 February 2014)
  12. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007. Urbanomic/Sequence Press (July 1, 2013)
  13. Land, Nick. The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism. Routledge; 1 edition (January 2, 1991)

The Task: Thought of the Day!

Most of us live in a pre-critical universe, accept that the world is given, that the objects of our senses are actual; we never challenge this state of affairs. The philosopher, unlike us, begins by questioning and rejecting the world of the given, believing that what our senses present as given are the objects of illusion and deception. Plato would offer us his myth of the Cave, Descartes the myth of a Demon, and in our time we have the myth of ‘suspension’ (aufhebung):

“Through aufhebung, the positive immediacy of the self-reflexive I is cancelled, while the determinate negativity that accounts for the difference between immediate and its mediation … is preserved. In other words, the identity of what appears to be immediate is abolished or taken out of action, whereas the difference between the immediate and its mediation (the opposition) is preserved. (Reza Negarestani p. 7 Intelligence and Spirit).”

It’s this difference that makes a difference, this distance between what we perceive as the given (immediate) and its mediation. In our age when most of what we take as reality is mediated by technics and technological artifacts, we have closed down this distance and difference to the point that we must ask: Can such a suspension remain possible in an immersive environment such as ours, where reality is mediated and re-ontologized as information? Have we all become technological objects mediated by vast conglomerates of technics and technology? Is a critique of this state of affairs even possible, anymore? How does the philosopher break through this tissue of lies, this infosphere of mediated illusion and reach the sleepwalker of pre-critical worlds? How awaken the sleeper from her fall into the darkness of technological mediation, this collective mindedness of our sociocultural trap? We who have created languages to share in the collective enterprise of culture across time have become enmeshed and enslaved to its autonomous power to re-invent and shape, command and control who and what we are. How escape its mesh, distance ourselves from its hold on our minds? Is this not the task of our time? Exit the sociocultural death machine that is leading us all into a final terminus?

Bao jingyan: Neither Lord Nor Subject

THE CONFUCIAN LITERATI SAY: “Heaven gave birth to the people and then set rulers over them.” But how can High Heaven have said this in so many words? Is it not rather that interested parties make this their pretext? The fact is that the strong oppressed the weak and the weak submitted to them; the cunning tricked the innocent and the innocent served them. It was because there was submission that the relation of lord and subject arose, and because there was servitude that the people, being powerless, could be kept under control. Thus servitude and mastery result from the struggle between the strong and the weak and the contrast between the cunning and the innocent, and Blue Heaven has nothing whatsoever to do with it.

—Bao jingyan (Daoist), whose motto was “Neither Lord Nor Subject,” wrote during the Wei’Jin period, or Period of Disunity, when China was divided into several warring states.

 

Mencius: Why Speak of Profit?

Mencius met with King Hui of Liang.

The king said, “Venerable sir, you have not considered a thousand li too far to come. Surely you have some means to profit our state?” Mencius replied: “Why must the king speak of profit? I have only teachings concerning humaneness and rightness. If the king says, ‘How can I profit my state?’ the officers will say, ‘How can I profit my house?’ and the gentlemen and the common people will say, ‘How can I profit myself?’ Those above and those below will compete with one another for profit, and the state will be imperiled. One who murders the ruler over a state of ten thousand chariots surely will be from a house of a thousand chariots; one who murders the ruler over a state of a thousand chariots surely will be from a house of a hundred chariots.A share of a thousand in ten thousand or a hundred in a thousand is hardly negligible; yet, when rightness is subordinated to profit the urge to lay claim to more becomes irresistible. It has never happened that one given to humaneness abandons his parents, nor that one given to rightness subordinates the interests of his lord. Let the king speak only of humaneness and rightness. What need has he to speak of profit?”

Sayings of Mencius

Quote of the Day!

If we are to think the Anthropocene as giving rise to the devaluation of all values, then we must think it with Nietzsche: the vital task for all noetic knowledge in the Anthropocene is the transvaluation of all values, in an age when the noetic soul’s calling itself into question occurs as the completion of nihilism. … This is something that in fact began long before either the Anthropocene or capitalism, as the pharmacological condition of thinking itself, but today there is no escape from this ordeal, which is that of nihilism.

—Bernard Stiegler, The Neganthropocene

It’s a Gonzo World: A Year of Living Stupidly

Here you come upon the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed.

—George Orwell, Thoughts in a Time of Darkness

Capitalist Realism: the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.

—Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism

If nothing else, I take a certain pride in knowing that I helped spare the nation four years of President Hilary Clinton  — an Administration that would have been equally corrupt and wrongheaded as Donald Trump’s, far more devious, and probably just competent enough to keep the ship of state from sinking until 2020. Then with the boiler about to explode from four years of blather and neglect, Hilary’s post-truth liberals could have fled down the ratlines and left the disaster to whoever inherited it.

Trump, at least, is blessed with a mixture of arrogance and stupidity that causes him to blow the boilers almost immediately after taking command. By bringing in hundreds of thugs, fixers and fascists to run the Government, he was able to crank almost every problem he touched into a mindbending crisis. About the only disaster he hasn’t brought down on us yet is a nuclear war with either Russia or China or both (but wait. . . he isn’t finished yet, is he?), but he still has time, and the odds on his actually doing it are not all that long. But we will get to that point in a moment.

For now, we should make every effort to look at the bright side of the Trump Administration. It has been a failure of such monumental proportions that political apathy is no longer considered fashionable, or even safe, among millions of people who only two years ago thought that anybody who disagreed openly with “the Government” was either paranoid or subversive. Political candidates in 2020, at least, are going to have to deal with an angry, disillusioned electorate that is not likely to settle for flag-waving and pompous bullshit. Bullshit flies, and truth is nothing but a media ad on a Sunday night football session.

One of the strangest things about these downhill years of the Trump Presidency is that despite all the savage excesses committed by the people he chose to run the country, no real opposition or realistic alternative to Donald Trump’s cheap and cynical-hearted view of the American Dream has ever developed. It is almost as if that sour 2016 election rang down the curtain on career politicians.

This is the horror of American politics today — not that Donald Trump and his fixers have been crippled, convicted, indicted, disgraced and even jailed as of yet (although things seem to be heading that way…) — but that the only available alternatives are not much better; the same dim collection of burned-out Democratic hacks who have been fouling our air with their gibberish for the last twenty years.

It’s hard not to be a cynic in this time of madness, when politics has become just another Reality TV show on a B-rated channel that’s slowly taking down the economics of entertainment to a new low. If Reagan were alive even he would kick Trump in the nuts for being so fake and flimsy. Power? Authoritarianism? Fascism? Trump’s more like Charlie Chaplin’s comedic take on a fool for President than a satire on the perils of democracy we’re all supposedly facing.

As Mark Fisher once admonished one of the “left’s vices is its endless rehearsal of historical debates, its tendency to keep going over Kronsdadt or the New Economic Policy rather than planning and organizing for a future it really believes in. The failure of previous forms of anti-capitalist political organization should not be a cause for despair, but what needs to be left behind is a certain romantic attachment to the politics of failure, to the comfortable position of a defeated marginality”. (Fisher, p. 78)

The Left is more like a deflated rubber ducky left out to dry than a ‘defeated marginality’ these days. It uses it’s Plutocrats like Bloomberg to capitalize on the message of the day:  ‘Impeach Trump’. Which seems feasible now that Trump’s lawyer Cohen is headed for the clink. Trump’s not only a deflated duck like those across the aisle, but has become the target of the new New York AT who seems bent on jailing not only Trump but his entire family. Letitia James: “We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well…”. Political corruption is like a nighttime sitcom, the canned laughter of three-stooges runaway skit in which Pelosi slaps Trump slaps Schuman and the papers twist and turn in the updraft of flaming tribute to a dying democracy.

After kicking Pelosi and Schuman out he told reporters: “The Democrats are really looking at something that could be very dangerous for our country,” Trump said. “They are looking at shutting down. They want to have illegal immigrants, in many cases people that we don’t want in our country, they want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime.”

Too bad the late Mark Fisher isn’t here to see the Trump balloon burst and the Theresa May clown patrol Brexit brigade stumble into the new year:

The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible. (Fisher, p. 80)

When the cold eye of history looks back on Donald Trump’s  years of unrestrained power in the White House, it will show that he had the same effect on conservative/Republican politics as Charles Manson and the Hells Angels had on hippies and flower power during the Nixon era. . . and the ultimate damage, on both fronts, will prove out to be just about equal.

This is the horror of American politics today — not that Donald Trump and his fixers have been crippled, convicted, indicted, disgraced and even jailed — but that the only available alternatives are not much better; the same dim collection of burned-out hacks on both sides of the aisle who have been in the moneyed pockets of the .01% for decades seem to switch sides from time to time in an effort to keep the Reality Studio going.

The crisis of politics is manifested in the crisis of the individual, as whose agency it has developed. The illusion that traditional politics has cherished about the individual and free-will and about reason—the illusion of their eternity—is being dispelled. The individual once conceived of reason exclusively as an instrument of the self. Now he experiences the reverse of this self-deification. The machine has dropped the driver; it is racing blindly into space. Or, scooting along in a driverless auto-da-fé where at the moment of consummation, politics has become irrational and stultified, broken in ruins wherein even Humpty Dumpty’s new social engineers and fantasists can’t begin to piece the world back together again.

 


 

  1. Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Zero Books, Nov, 27, 2009) (p. 78).

 

The Digital Leviathan: Power, Enslavement and Autonomization

 

…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, perlectly nihilistic.

—Bernard Stiegler, The Automatic Society

Every morning many of us in the West wake up to the buzz of various electronic devices: alarm clocks, radios, TV’s, and laptops or mobile devices that connect us to a world wide grid of data: the Internet. Some of us have even begun investing in digital devices that can supposedly give our lives more leeway, refrigerators that can either remind us we’re out of milk or some other staple, or even order it for us through the production of preprogrammed applications connected to our favorite grocery outlet through the Internet. For the most part we are beginning to take this all for granted, as if the complexity of the technology involved had always already been there in our lives, something that is given and goes without saying. Our connected multitasked lives are bound to a world of technological gadgets that also connect us to our loved one’s, our friends, our businesses, healthcare, legal and other systems in ways that seem to make our lives more secure, protected, and cared for. As if the world’s storehouse of communications were at our beck and call, and we were at the center of a multiverse of technical objects that cared about us and our welfare. But are we?

I grew up in a world without such connections, an analogue world where gathered information about one’s day through a slow process of inconvenient gadgets. One’s news came at specified times from radio, television, or newspapers;  and, for the most part the information was already out of date, historical, and unreliable. We did not have the convenience of mobile phones with thousands of useful apps that could align our day and offer us decisioning processes or digital secretaries/agents to do our bidding for us while we sat back and sip our coffee, listen to our children, or walk our dogs while our avatars gathered the daily quota of email, news, and business assignments. No, we had to navigate the day ourselves, make our own phone calls, go out to a physical mail box and check or send mail the old fashioned way of hand delivered envelopes or packages, etc. We had to use various inconvenient and old fashioned ways of doing things that our children, and even ourselves in this day and age couldn’t imagine living without. We’ve become so attached to our electronic and digital multiverse of technical objects that if someone came along and took them all away from us we’d be at a complete loss as what to do next.

We’ve become dependent and subservient to the technical world surrounding us, this digital Leviathan we’ve all seen emerging for the past thirty years has hooked us into a machinic society of conveniences and contrivances that we no longer even think about it; it’s become ubiquitous, invisible, given. “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.”1 Our lives are immersed in data, information overload. Not only are we immersed in a glut of information, we ourselves have become data to a universe of machines that capture our lives and process them as if we, too, were electronic devices that could be modulated and scraped clean for a machinic Leviathan hungry for our digital souls. For most of us all this goes without saying, it’s become habitual: “Through habits users become their machines: they stream, update, capture, upload, share, grind, link, verify, map, save, trash, and troll. Repetition breeds expertise, even as it breeds boredom.”2

Bored but happy, we carry our mobile devices throughout the day, take pictures, share information, update our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts or any number of other social media systems, speak with our children, our clients, our partners, etc., and never think about how this same information is being captured by anonymous and ubiquitous systems just below the threshold of our gadgets without our awareness or consent. Our lives have for the most part become absolutely transparent and open to a machinic society that may or may not have our best interest at heart. We barely acknowledge such a world, much less worry about it. Should we?

With the exposure of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks we discovered just how deep it goes, how our government and commercial systems have slowly been accumulating the digital traces of our lives and mapping them to data clouds to be scraped for purposes other than the security and welfare of our daily living. “Technology has now enabled a type of ubiquitous surveillance that had previously been the province of only the most imaginative science fiction writers.”3 Glenn Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide would document the case of Snowden and expose the depths of corruption to which our government has gone in collusion with corporatism and the dark corners of a fascist system that seeks not the protection of its citizens, but rather seeks to secure itself from its citizens. The Fourth Amendment would be tossed aside in the wake of 9/11 and the unlawful surveillance and gathering of data by the NSA would become part and partial of a corrupt system of governance and secrecy that has wiped away the very system that was meant to safeguard us. Fourth Amendment would state it clearly:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In 2010 WikiLeaks engaged in its most famous publications to date, revealing systematic abuse of official secrecy within the US military and government. These publications are known as Collateral Murder, the War Logs, and Cablegate.  The response has been a concerted and ongoing effort to destroy WikiLeaks by the US government and its allies.4

As a direct consequence of WikiLeaks’ publications the US government launched a multi-agency criminal investigation into Julian Assange and WikiLeaks staff, supporters and alleged associates. A Grand Jury was convened in Alexandria, Virginia, with the support of the Department of Justice and the FBI to look into the possibility of bringing charges, including conspiracy charges under the Espionage Act 1917, against Julian Assange and others. US officials have said that the investigation is of “unprecedented scale and nature.” In Grand Jury proceedings no judge or defense counsel is present. Congressional committee hearings have since heard the suggestion from members of the US Congress that the Espionage Act could be used as a tool to target journalists who “knowingly publish leaked information,” suggesting that the approach is being normalized in the US justice system. (ibid.)

That our government has gone to such lengths to cover up and criminalize those who exposed its own illegal and criminal actions is telling. What we’ve learned more than anything is that we can no longer trust our government to protect its citizens. Why? Because it fears us and is aligned with the commercium (i.e., the oligarchs, plutocrats, etc.) that it seeks to protect from the vast majority in favor of a small, rich, and powerful elite. Because of this it has aligned itself with the very tools of social media where we leave our digital traces each and every day: the system social governance of self-production of traces,  the network effect and high-performance computing applied to data’, and with the formation of artificial crowds that is the basis of ‘crowdsourcing’ (that of the data economy), 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. (Stiegler, 138) The point here is that each of us leaves a digital footprint, a double, an electronic file of data-traces that can be used by powerful algorithms to nefarious purposes. As Stiegler will put it if ‘our statistical double is too detached from us’, it is because the data automatized production and exploitation of traces, dispossesses us of the possibility of interpreting our retentions and protentions – both psychic and collective. (Stiegler, 139). In other words our stand in, our digital identity – as it were – becomes an electronic node that can be scanned by automatic processes without our knowledge or consent, and it is these electronic traces our online-onlife selves that becomes the placeholder for our virtual/actual lives.

The flat image that these traces of our online lives leave become disconnected from our actual lives, and become a part of an algorithmic world that is mapped and shriven of our emotional attachments and worldly outer lives. This digital self, a dividual (Deleuze), is calculable and can be instrumentalised by automatic processes that can be rerouted to military, police, commercial or other agents of this darker world of the Digital Leviathan. We see aspects of this when we log on in the morning and sipping coffee pull up our favorite social media site and suddenly have personalized  ads for books or gadgets splashed across the screen that seem like magic to know what we want before we ourselves are aware of it. We’ve been profiled and segmented into silos of various commercial and governmental systems that can utilize the traces of our online lives to know more than we ourselves know about our hopes and dreams, our fears and nightmares. Cannibalized by a Leviathan who never sleeps we’ve become enslaved in a data based systems of traces that moves as we moves, thinks as we think, knows as we know in an uncanny and frightening parody of our actual lives of flesh and blood. We’ve all become Golem’s in an electronic prison that shapes us more than we shape it.


*For digital rhetoricians, Stiegler’s notion of “grammatization” is particularly striking in that it suggests the beginnings of a theoretical framework for orienting rhetorical inquiry amid the interminable sea-change of new devices, software packages, and product features. Grammatization cultivates a perspective that is complimentary to and ultimately distinct from those associated with electracy, augmentation, remediation, and other canonical terms that rhetoricians and compositionists often borrow from media studies in order to frame their analyses of digital writing technologies.

“How can you remain autonomous in a world where you are under constant surveillance and are constantly prodded by algorithms run by some of the richest corporations in history, which have no way of making money except by being paid to manipulate your behavior?” asks Jaran Lanier in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.5 His answer is simple: just delete your social media accounts, begin freeing your lives from the digital Leviathan. As Wendy Hui Kyong Chun tells us

Rather than “consent once, circulate forever,” we need to find ways to loiter in public without being attacked. We need a politics of fore-giving that combats the politics of memory as storage, that fights for the ephemeral and fights not only for the right to be forgotten but also the right not to be stored in the first place. This reengagement with memory also entails a change in our habits of using—and our refusal of designs that undermine habituation by turning habits into forms of addiction, a refusal of undead information that renders us into zombies.(ibid.)

This notion that we should have the right to our memories, our data-files, our traces is at the core of the legalities of these issues of privacy and concern in the digital kingdom of Leviathan. Is it too late? Can we change things? Is disconnecting a way to begin while we sort out the misuses to which our profiled traces have so far been put? What is to be done?


  1. Stiegler, Bernard.Automatic Society: The Future of Work.  Polity; 1 edition (January 30, 2017) (Page 139).
  2. Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media. The MIT Press (May 27, 2016)
  3. Greenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide (Kindle Locations 55-56). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  4. Assange, Julian; Appelbaum, Jacob; Müller-Maguhn, Andy; Zimmermann, Jérémie. Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet (Kindle Locations 153-155). OR Books. Kindle Edition.
  5. Jaron Lanier. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Kindle Locations 35-36). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Bernard Stiegler: Fascism with a Machinic Smile

What is at stake in the new social organization that we must dream, conceive and realize – that is, establish and institute as the therapeia of the new pharmakon – is the time of knowledge…

—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society

In this sense Bernard Stiegler envisions our exit from the industrial age as a foregone conclusion, exiting from the Fordist and Post-Fordist paradigms, exiting from Taylorism, Keynesianism and the consumerist capitalism which has underpinned our society for decades.  We must organize the economy and society differently, including the elaboration and transmission of knowledge itself. But to get there he sees our need for an epistemic sea change as we enter an age when the end of employment becomes a reality rather than a hype story. The shock of this age will be brutal and deadly for many as we pass through the shock of “generalized automation and therefore robotization” of life, work and society. Stiegler sees this end game being played out even now, and how we anticipate and negotiate this transitional period over the coming decades will decide the fate not only of humanity but of the earth itself. Rather than adapting to the capitalist scenario and its coming explosion of violence we need to adopt a more inventive approach through a restructuring of our academic and political institutions.

Those in power are slowly converging toward a 24/7 computational capitalism that seeks to modulate and control our lives through the information and communications technologies of everyday life: the internet of things. This new form of governance has been termed ‘algorithmic governance’: it seeks through deep machine learning, Big Data, and powerful forms of predictive and analytical search and capture to manipulate our affective lives, capturing our desires and modulating our dreams and aspirations. Playing on our ancient propensity for the irrational, for religious and utopian expectations and dreams this new for of calculated society will provide both a secular and religious ideology of transhumanist immortalism. Offering those who comply and conform to the nomos of its globalized system of algorithmic governance a world of security and plenty. Fascism with a machinic smile.

Short circuiting the political processes that have underpinned the illusion of democratic societies for two hundred years, the new form of global governance through technics and algorithmic prediction unbound from any sovereign nation will enslave us to a system that offers nothing but our loyalty in exchange for total conformity. From birth to death one will become part of a machinic civilization in which implants meant as bio-metric health monitors will track and upload/download data and services into our physical lives 24/7. The shock of such a world system will arrive only after the traumatic conclusion of a staged event that will force humanity to conform to the new nomos (law) of the global society of the future. At least this is the capitalist dream…

Obviously such a world is a dystopic nightmare that only the insane would seek to inhabit, and yet as many in my own generation die off and the new children arising are molded to the integral and systematic infusion of social-media and systems of algorithmic governance by way of mobile phones, apps, and decisioning software that is based on smart systems: AGI, Cloud computing, Big Data, Deep Machine Learning, etc. These young people will not have access to the knowledge base of those like us who lived before the digital age. Those born within the horizon of the digital world will accept at face value that this is the way the world works without questioning it because they will no longer be educated to think for themselves, but rather to rely on intelligent devices to do that for them.

Of course Stiegler as a humanist harbors hope that we can turn this all around, that we can reinvent a more equitable future, that we can reshape technics and technology to guide humanity out of such a scenario rather than being enslaved to it. For Stiegler we are living in a world in which massive data flows of petabytes of information are shaped and governed by both private and governmental agencies to the benefit of a small elite of oligarchs, plutocrats, and transnational corporations who have built a nomos outside the sovereignty of any one nation to curtail or crush. In a sense our future is being programmed for us by machinic intelligences that know us better than we know ourselves.

Sometimes I think: Is this all a fantasy? Are we really living in an age when superintelligent machines will shape and guide the future of human society and civilization? Is this madness? It’s like a nightmare from which I would hope to awaken, and yet there are hundreds of books contesting this very possibility on the Left and Right sides of the fence. It’s not a dream, but a strange and bewildering world that the generation born today will have to understand and change or suffer the consequences. Sadly.

Nietzsche forecast this as the age of completed nihilism, an age when humans have externalized their cultural memory in machines to the point that they had forgotten its meaning. An age when the history of the earth and humanity would be forgotten by the vast masses who had become so enamored of their technological gadgets that reading a book or gazing on a forest had been displaced by the momentary text message binding the human gaze to an electronic world of machinic intelligence. What my friend R. Scott Bakker termed the ‘crash space‘ of our end game is upon us all. That we’ve always worked with very little information about ourselves or our environment is a part of our evolutionary heritage which gave us only enough information to survive and propagate our species. We neglect most of the world around us through eons of evolutionary processes we are barely coming to understand in our own time. Those who are seeking to reverse engineer the brain to build superintelligent systems work within a naturalized and empirical world of scientific know-how that precludes our ethical and moral dilemmas. Guided by the almighty need to know, and the money of vast conglomerates that support these new convergent technologies thousands of engineers and scientists, skilled workers in this digital economy are inventing the very machinic world that might someday replace us. One wonders if all the effort being expended on such projects were spent to develop ways of surviving the coming disastrous results of the Anthropocene what kind of world our children would inherit rather than the one the neoliberal engine of capital seems bent of inventing. Who knows?


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work. Polity; 1 edition (January 30, 2017)

 

Marx vs. Bawerk: Labor Theory of Prices

As early as 1847, Marx wrote that prices were determined on a microeconomic scale by the everyday interaction of supply and demand. Böhm von Bawerk criticized Marx’s analysis on the grounds that products cannot exchange in proportion to their values if there is such a thing as a general rate of profit.  He was right, but this was exactly the point that Marx was making. The brilliance of Marx’s model consisted in showing how an advanced system based on production for exchange would inevitably diverge from the premises of simple commodity production. “The transformation of values into prices of production serves to obscure the basis for determining value itself,” as he wrote. Marx did not predict that individual prices would express labor values, but that individual prices would diverge further and further from labor values as capitalism developed. The purpose of labor theory is not to allow us to predict the prices of individual commodities, but to understand how a system of value production inevitably collapses.1


  1. Reynolds, Ben. The Coming Revolution: Capitalism in the 21st Century (Kindle Locations 1510-1520). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Karl Marx: Prelude to the Automatic Society

 

In machinery, knowledge appears as alien, external to him; and living labour [as] subsumed under self-activating objectified labour.

—Karl Marx, Grundrisse 

Karl Marx in the Grundrisse would offer us a vision of the machinic society, a vision in which self-motivated intelligent machines would come to realize the actual and real movement of capital itself. He would speak of the incorporation of labor into the process of capital whose ultimate “culmination is the machine”*, or – as he’d put it: an automatic system of machinery (system of machinery: the automatic one is merely its most complete, most adequate form, and alone transforms machinery into a system), set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages. He would see a point in time when human labor would be superseded by the automatic machines driven by their own mechanical laws. He would describe this automated world of intelligent machines saying,

Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it…

 In an evolutionary insight he would see the replacement of human labor in the workplace as a momentary aspect of a longer and more evolving system of machinic capital, and as the outcome of the capital process which was tending in ever accelerating modalities toward Autonomization:

The transformation of the means of labour into machinery, and of living labour into a mere living accessory of this machinery, as the means of its action, also posits the absorption of the labour process in its material character as a mere moment of the realization process of capital.

He would already envision the technoscientific community under the guidance of capital investment and control as underwriting this fully automated intelligent society that capital was evolving toward:

The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself.

This sense that the machine was an alien and alienating power fully autonomous and outside the human, and in fact already acting upon humanity and transforming and shaping it into its own ends rather than those of humanity itself is at the core of his diagnosis. This inhuman turn toward capital autonomy in a machinic society fully automated in which humans were mere agents and parasitic hosts to be used by capital toward its own ends comes out clearly in this passage:

Machinery appears, then, as the most adequate form of fixed capital, and fixed capital, in so far as capital’s relations with itself are concerned, appears as the most adequate form of capital as such.


* Linking the full passage from the Grundrisse:

As long as the means of labour remains a means of labour in the proper sense of the term, such as it is directly, historically, adopted by capital and included in its realization process, it undergoes a merely formal modification, by appearing now as a means of labour not only in regard to its material side, but also at the same time as a particular mode of the presence of capital, determined by its total process – as fixed capital. But, once adopted into the production process of capital, the means of labour passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the machine, or rather, an automatic system of machinery (system of machinery: the automatic one is merely its most complete, most adequate form, and alone transforms machinery into a system), set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages. In the machine, and even more in machinery as an automatic system, the use value, i.e. the material quality of the means of labour, is transformed into an existence adequate to fixed capital and to capital as such; and the form in which it was adopted into the production process of capital, the direct means of labour, is superseded by a form posited by capital itself and corresponding to it. In no way does the machine appear as the individual worker’s means of labour. Its distinguishing characteristic is not in the least, as with the means of labour, to transmit the worker’s activity to the object; this activity, rather, is posited in such a way that it merely transmits the machine’s work, the machine’s action, on to the raw material – supervises it and guards against interruptions. Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it; and it consumes coal, oil etc. (matières instrumentales), just as the worker consumes food, to keep up its perpetual motion. The worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself. The appropriation of living labour by objectified labour – of the power or activity which creates value by value existing for-itself – which lies in the concept of capital, is posited, in production resting on machinery, as the character of the production process itself, including its material elements and its material motion. The production process has ceased to be a labour process in the sense of a process dominated by labour as its governing unity. Labour appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living workers at numerous points of the mechanical system; subsumed under the total process of the machinery itself, as itself only a link of the system, whose unity exists not in the living workers, but rather in the living (active) machinery, which confronts his individual, insignificant doings as a mighty organism. In machinery, objectified labour confronts living labour within the labour process itself as the power which rules it; a power which, as the appropriation of living labour, is the form of capital. The transformation of the means of labour into machinery, and of living labour into a mere living accessory of this machinery, as the means of its action, also posits the absorption of the labour process in its material character as a mere moment of the realization process of capital. The increase of the productive force of labour and the greatest possible negation of necessary labour is the necessary tendency of capital, as we have seen. The transformation of the means of labour into machinery is the realization of this tendency. In machinery, objectified labour materially confronts living labour as a ruling power and as an active subsumption of the latter under itself, not only by appropriating it, but in the real production process itself; the relation of capital as value which appropriates value-creating activity is, in fixed capital existing as machinery, posited at the same time as the relation of the use value of capital to the use value of labour capacity; further, the value objectified in machinery appears as a presupposition against which the value-creating power of the individual labour capacity is an infinitesimal, vanishing magnitude; the production in enormous mass quantities which is posited with machinery destroys every connection of the product with the direct need of the producer, and hence with direct use value; it is already posited in the form of the product’s production and in the relations in which it is produced that it is produced only as a conveyor of value, and its use value only as condition to that end. In machinery, objectified labour itself appears not only in the form of product or of the product employed as means of labour, but in the form of the force of production itself. The development of the means of labour into machinery is not an accidental moment of capital, but is rather the historical reshaping of the traditional, inherited means of labour into a form adequate to capital. The accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital, in so far as it enters into the production process as a means of production proper. Machinery appears, then, as the most adequate form of fixed capital, and fixed capital, in so far as capital’s relations with itself are concerned, appears as the most adequate form of capital as such. In another respect, however, in so far as fixed capital is condemned to an existence within the confines of a specific use value, it does not correspond to the concept of capital, which, as value, is indifferent to every specific form of use value, and can adopt or shed any of them as equivalent incarnations. In this respect, as regards capital’s external relations, it is circulating capital which appears as the adequate form of capital, and not fixed capital.


  1. Karl Marx. Grundrisse. Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (November 7, 1993)

General Intellect: Social Control and Abstract Culture

But machinery does not just act as a superior competitor to the worker, always on the point of making him superfluous. It is a power inimical to him, and capital proclaims this fact loudly and deliberately, as well as making use of it. It is the most powerful weapon for suppressing strikes, those periodic revolts of the working class against the autocracy of capital.

—Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1

How things turn fascist or revolutionary is the problem of the universal delirium about which everyone is silent…

—Deleuze/Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

Ominously as if he’d already seen the tendency within capitalism to strip itself of the human worker, to replicate its substance-as-virtual entity, replace it with a more efficient, uniform, controlled, and automated world of never-ending production, Marx in a section of the first volume of Das Kapital would state:

It would be possible to write a whole history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of providing capital with weapons against working-class revolt. We would mention, above all, the self-acting mule*, because it opened up a new epoch in the automatic system.1

One could argue that at its core capitalism is machinic through and through, that its inherent tendency has always been toward automation and Autonomization. That its inherent mode of production and being is machinic self-organization, the complex operative program of becoming autonomous and independent of its parasitic relations with its progenitors – humanity.  Marx as if reading the current news on our coming fully automated society in which workers – both manual and knowledge workers, are displaced by the advanced systems of synthetic intelligence whose expertise in calculable decision making will shape the financial and governmental algorithmic control society we are entering:

The instrument of labour, when it takes the form of a machine, immediately becomes a competitor of the worker himself. The self-valorization of capital by means of the machine is related directly to the number of workers whose conditions of existence have been destroyed by it. The whole system of capitalist production is based on the worker’s sale of his labour-power as a commodity. The division of labour develops this labour-power in a one-sided way, by reducing it to the highly particularized skill of handling a special tool. When it becomes the job of the machine to handle this tool, the use-value of the worker’s labour-power vanishes, and with it its exchange-value. The worker becomes unsaleable, like paper money thrown out of currency by legal enactment. The section of the working class thus rendered superfluous by machinery, i.e. converted into a part of the population no longer directly necessary for the self-valorization of capital… (ibid.) [emphasis mine]

Marx himself will produce examples of such displacement during the first industrial revolution in which in England when the power-loom was replaced by automation 800,000 weavers were tossed onto the streets where they lived in papery and squalor. He’ll also mention colonial India where the English cotton machinery produced an acute effect. The Governor General reported as follows in 1834–5: ‘The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce. The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India.’ (ibid.)

Commenting on this Automatic System and the Society that promotes it Marx states:

Whenever a process requires peculiar dexterity and steadiness of hand, it is withdrawn, as soon as possible, from the cunning workman, who is prone to irregularities of many kinds, and it is placed in charge of a peculiar mechanism, so self-regulating that a child can superintend it. (ibid.)

Martin Ford documenting the rise of advanced technologies in our own time reminds us that as machines take on that routine, predictable work, workers will face an unprecedented challenge as they attempt to adapt. In the past, automation technology has tended to be relatively specialized and to disrupt one employment sector at a time, with workers then switching to a new emerging industry. The situation today is quite different. Information technology is a truly general-purpose technology, and its impact will occur across the board. Virtually every industry in existence is likely to become less labor-intensive as new technology is assimilated into business models—and that transition could happen quite rapidly. At the same time, the new industries that emerge will nearly always incorporate powerful labor-saving technology right from their inception.2

In fact as he states it our situation could even be more dire: “the frightening reality is that if we don’t recognize and adapt to the implications of advancing technology, we may face the prospect of a “perfect storm” where the impacts from soaring inequality, technological unemployment, and climate change unfold roughly in parallel, and in some ways amplify and reinforce each other” (ibid.). As Marx would say in an earlier tract, Grundrisse:

Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it.3

This notion that society has “come under the control of the general intellect” pervades Marx’s conception of capital and knowledge. As Paul Virno stipulates Marx’s notion of the ‘general intellect’ “claims that, due to its autonomy from it, abstract knowledge – primarily yet not only of a scientific nature – is in the process of becoming no less than the main force of production and will soon relegate the repetitious labour of the assembly line to the fringes. This is the knowledge objectified in fixed capital and embedded in the automated system of machinery.”4 Virno will explicate, saying,

Because it organizes the productive process and the ‘lifeworld’, the general intellect is indeed an abstraction, but it is a real abstraction, endowed with a material and operative character. Nevertheless, since it consists of knowledges, informations, and epistemological paradigms, the general intellect distinguishes itself in the most peremptory manner from the ‘real abstractions’ which were typical of modernity: those, that is, which give rise to the principle of equivalence. While money, i.e. the ‘universal equivalent’ embodies in its independent existence the commensurability of products, labor, subjects, the general intellect establishes instead the analytical premises for every kind of praxis. The models of social knowledge do not equate the various laboring activities, but present themselves as ‘immediate productive force’. They are not a unit of measurement but constitute the immeasurable presupposition for heterogeneous operative possibilities. This mutation in the nature of ‘real abstractions’/the fact, that is, that it is abstract knowledge rather than the exchange of equivalents which orders social relations*/has important effects at the level of affects … it is the basis of contemporary cynicism [since it] occludes the possibility of a synthesis [and] does not offer the unit of measurement for a comparison, it frustrates every unitary representation. (Virno 2002, 149/150; Virno 2004, 63/6)

Alberto Toscano commenting on the above passage tells us that “by turning our attention to the informational praxis that has become inseparable from the production of values in a supposedly knowledge- and affect centered economy, Virno is suggesting that the ‘general intellect’ (the collective potential for thought embodied in a cooperative multitude) qua real abstraction constitutes a directly politicized form of abstraction, which is now beyond equivalence and beyond measure, directly addressing the cooperative and socialized character of abstract knowledge. In other words, what is posited here is a real abstraction beyond the commodity form: a real abstraction that is driven not by the fetishized reality of commodity-exchange, but by the cognitive and intellectual cooperation within a ‘multitude’.”5

Marx claimed that, due to its autonomy from it, abstract knowledge – primarily yet not only of a scientific nature – is in the process of becoming no less than the main force of production and will soon relegate the repetitious labour of the assembly line to the fringes. This is the knowledge objectified in fixed capital and embedded in the automated system of machinery such as advanced search and capture programs of Google, the analytic engines of FaceBook, etc., and the surveillance systems of advanced NSA algorithms that track and index behavior of terror abroad and domestic. Marx uses an attractive metaphor to refer to the knowledges that make up the epicentre of social production and preordain all areas of life: general intellect. ‘The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it’. (ibid.)

In our age of Big Data, Cloud computing, and the embarkation of ‘cognitive capitalism’ as it merges with algorithmic governmentality and social control of scientific and cultural knowledge as part of a machinic ‘general intellect’ (AGI) “abstraction enters into the very materiality of the production process and does not just concern the form of exchange” (Toscano, 13). With the rise of ICT’s (Information and Communications Technologies) and the migration of human knowledge into the tertiary storage systems of the trace (data) the synthetic intelligences emerging along with the interfaces that capture human attention and abstract it into the dividuum (Infosphere) in which abstractions operate on abstractions we are seeing the inhuman core of capitalist Autonomization.

In such a society of traces in which our desires and thoughts are captured as raw data and filtered through systems of high-speed computing that expose us not as flesh and blood humans, but rather as dividuals – digital avatars to whose electronic body (datafile) information can be inscribed and bound we’ve been incorporated into an automatic society of hyper-control founded on the hyperindustrial, systemic and systematic exploitation of our externalized digital memories. As Bernard Stiegler we’ll say of it: “All aspects of behaviour thereby come to generate traces (data), and all traces become objects of calculation” to be massaged within an abstract system of pure abstractions.6

For Marx the general intellect poses the question of knowledge by what we call tertiary retention (our exteriorized cultural and personal memories marked, inscripted, indexed, filtered, and analyzed in technological systems). Machinic retention therefore amounts to knowledge materialized for  production, but no longer by it: conception is separated from production. The materialization of knowledge thus conceived and concretized then constitutes the heart of the hyperindustrial economic dynamic, and ultimately leads us to Marx’s question of automatization as such. That these algorithmic entities or synthetic intelligences are not concerned with us as external flesh and blood creatures, but rather with our traces and externalized/formalized features as electronic-digitized products of capitalist production; as such, our tertiary memories can be objectified, mapped, and abstracted into cognitive capitalist organizational flows to be used by the techno-commercium for further profit and exploitation is central the inhuman process of automatization of knowledge in our time. What is left outside the technocommercium of the datafied matrix is the stupefied flesh of the human death machine of sociality we conceive under the sign of the Anthropocene.


*The spinning mule was invented in 1779 by Samuel Compton after the invention of the spinning jenny and the water frame. The spinning mule was used to spin different types of fibers. The way it works is the following: a sliver or a roving of wool passes between a set of rollers. The roller draws a part the wool fibers achieving a finer and smoother sliver. The roving then spurns on bare spindles which are mounted on a moving carriage. The moving spindles draw and spin the yarn but still without any tension and therefore achieving a strong yarn that can be spurned without being broken in the process. In 1834 Richard Roberts added a camshaft, quadrant and winding chain to the regular mule in order to produce a self-acting mule. The self acting mule was considered a huge invention because human assistance was not required and therefore became the most important machine in the textile industry in the nineteenth century. The self – acting mule could spin all type of yarns; very fine yarns as well as very coarse yarns.


  1. Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 (Classics) (Kindle Locations 7999-8002). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  2. Martin Ford. Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (Kindle Locations 175-180). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
  3. Karl Marx. Grundrisse (Kindle Locations 12143-12147). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  4. Paolo Virno, “General Intellect” in Lessico Postfordista, Milano: Feltrinelli, 2001.
  5. Toscano, Alberto. Rethinking Marxism: The Open Secret of Real Abstraction. Online Publication Date: 01 April 2008
  6. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work. Polity; 1 edition (January 30, 2017)

Techno-Optimism: A Future Worth Living In?

 

Techno-optimism is an ideology that embodies the pessimism and the optimism above: the concern that technology could be used to make the world worse, the hope that it can be steered to make the world better.

—Cory Doctorow, Techno-Optimism

I’m a pessimist trying to turn himself into an optimist.

Neal Stephenson, Project Hieroglph

The wavering  oscillation between pessimism and optimism has always been a part of the literature of technology, a sort of eternal battle between two modes of life and thought. And, yet, at times there is this crossing of the rift in-between as if the two enemies might have something to offer each other that could at least spell a momentary truce. Such is our moment that some have begun labeling the Anthropocene.  A wake up call from the edge of thought that would have us understand just how ill-equipped we are in the face of our own impact on civilization and the environment upon which we all depend. Some of hose who affirm that technology always holds the power to be used for good or ill, and yet beyond the Luddite fringe who would do away with our technological supplements altogether there are those who see this duplicity, the two-handed sword that is technology for what it is: the necessary and reciprocal core of the inhuman we all bare as our ancestral mark. For as those who advocate orginary technicity would have it: the “who” of humanity and the “what” of technology, to use Stiegler’s well-known formula, are bound together in an insoluble, aporetic relation. Our relation to technology has always had this since of insoluble questioning associated with it and its place in our lives. Techno-pessimist will tend to see it under the critical eye of technological determinism, portraying our love affair with technology as dangerous and wrongheaded. While techno-optimists will understand this double-edged sword, but see beyond the dangers the possible reward in turning technology to human uses that allow for transformation in the optative mood.

Nicholas Agar believes that techno-optimism is dangerous, that those who harbor a view that technology should become a part of the answer not the problem in this transitional world in-between utopia and dystopia that pervades our future prospects:

I think that this techno-optimism is mistaken. It significantly exaggerates the power of technological progress to boost well-being. Suppose that it’s true that many new technologies bring considerable benefits to the individuals who acquire or experience them. We err in translating improvements in individual well-being into predictions about the long-term effects of technological progress on society. Predictably happier individuals don’t necessarily make a predictably happier society.

Of course the notion of progress both in the techno-scientific and socio-cultural milieux led to a deep rift in the 1950’s between the literary crowd and those of the scientific community.  C.P. Snow would sum it up this way:

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?

I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.1

Facing the future of climate change many techno-pessimists paint a bleak picture of devastation, ruin, and the end of civilization as we’ve come to know it. Using climate change as a weapon against the techno-optimistic vision they will advocate a dystopian world of decay without end. As Roy Scranton will put it:

Global warming is not the latest version of a hoary fable of annihilation. It is not hysteria. It is a fact. And we have likely already passed the point where we could have done anything about it. From the perspective of many policy experts, climate scientists, and national security officials, the concern is not whether global warming exists or how we might prevent it, but how we are going to adapt to life in the hot, volatile world we’ve created.2

There is a name for this new world: the Anthropocene. The word comes from ancient Greek. All the epochs of the most recent geological era (the Cenozoic) end in the suffix “-cene,” from kainós, meaning new. Anthropos means human. The idea behind the term “Anthropocene” is that we have entered a new epoch in Earth’s geological history, one characterized by the advent of the human species as a geological force. 16 The biologist Eugene F. Stoermer and the Nobel-winning chemist Paul Crutzen advanced the term in 2000, and it has gained acceptance as evidence has grown that the changes wrought by global warming will affect not only the world’s climate and biodiversity, but its very geological structure, and not just for centuries, but for millennia.(ibid.)

Even the famed father of socio-biology and entomologist Edward O. Wilson has joined the dark riders of techno-pessimism. For him we are moving toward absolute catastrophe unless we are willing to take drastic measures:

For the first time in history a conviction has developed among those who can actually think more than a decade ahead that we are playing a global endgame. Humanity’s grasp on the planet is not strong. It is growing weaker. Our population is too large for safety and comfort. Fresh water is growing short, the atmosphere and the seas are increasingly polluted as a result of what has transpired on the land. The climate is changing in ways unfavorable to life, except for microbes, jellyfish, and fungi. For many species it is already fatal. Because the problems created by humanity are global and progressive, because the prospect of a point of no return is fast approaching, the problems can’t be solved piecemeal. There is just so much water left for fracking, so much rain forest cover available for soybeans and oil palms, so much room left in the atmosphere to store excess carbon.3

In Wilson’s recent book he would even advocate the drastic notion that the only way we can overcome the immediate impact of human degradation on the biodiversity of the planet is a quarantine, stating that by setting “aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival (ibid.).”

Some like Peter Townsand believe there is a way out of this quagmire, that we “can overcome many of these future difficulties if we have sufficient information, data, knowledge, and understanding, but knowledge and data now vanish ever more quickly in new storage formats”.4 This loss of knowledge in its exteriorization has been documented repeatedly by Bernard Stiegler as the reduction of humanity to a set of calculable ciphers in the mathematical world of algorithmic governmentality in the data-driven economy:

Such mathematics is applied twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week: everyday life is thereby subjected to reticular standards and calculations, while at the same time consumer markets are ‘personalized’. According to Johnathan Crary (24/7), this economy of personal data aims “to reduce decision-making time and to eliminate the useless time of reflection and contemplation”. Digital automatons short-circuit the deliberative functions of the mind, and systemic stupidity, which has been installed across the board from consumers to speculators, becomes functionally drive-based as soon as ultra-liberalism begins to privilege speculation and discourage investment, thereby crossing a threshold of ‘functional stupidity’. 5

This is the era of completed nihilism in which humans rely on external (tertiary) systems and artificial intelligence to make decisions and think for them. Humans in a few generations will lose the ability to reflect and think, make choices on their own without turning to their avatar agents and robotic intelligences for answers to the most pressing problems of their lives. In the automatic society that Deleuze was never to know, but which with Félix Guattari he anticipated, in particular when they referred to dividuals, control passes through the mechanical liquidation of descernment, the liquidation of what Aristotle called krion – from krino, a verb that has the same root as krisis, ‘decision’. The discernment that Kant called understanding (Verstand) has been automatized as the analytical (algorithmic) power delegated to algorithms executed through sensors and actuators operating according to formalized instructions that lie outside any intuition in the Kantian sense – that is, outside experience. (Stiegler) In such as society as ours we are being shaped by social media which is data driven and proactive in promoting absolute control through automated decision making processes from censorship to segmentation of silos and echo chambers for the digital stupefaction of the masses. In such a world freedom is another word for absolute blindness without insight. Our blindness to the ubiquitous world of code that rules our lives has made us apathetic and conforming toward its movement to regulate and modulate our minds and lives. Can we change this around? Do we have the courage to disconnect from the dark side of algorithmic control? Can we turn technology to other ends than those of the Oligarchs and Silicon billionaires who seem bent on shaping our desires to their ends rather than our own? Is there any reason to be optimistic?

 

On a personal note I, too, have become a techno-optimist in the sense that Corey Doctorow and Neal Stephenson advocate, this sense that yes technology can be used by nefarious and unscrupulous individuals, corporations, and nations to enslave, imprison, and control their societies and cultures. We see this in the academic sphere where funding more and more has become privatized and large corporations dictate the direction of education in these institutions. We see it in corporations, banking institutions, and other transnational entities as they seek to bend the global world to their own profiteering ends in the form of big pharma, insurance, food and seed monopolies, as well as financial enslavement of poor countries to the point of environmental degradation and resource wars. And, yet, we’ve also seen over the past few hundred years the use of technology for human and non-human advocacy in overcoming many of the issues of famine, war, and disease that have plagued humankind and the environment for tens of thousands of years. So there will continue this dangerous side of technology if placed in the hands of the profiteers at the expense of the environment and human civilization. No only will the impact on non-human plant and animal life become degraded and depleted in biodiversity, but if not curtailed it will spell the ruination of our human shared future. Yet, the optimistic side pulls me to believe that we are also on the brink of a bright tomorrow if we can curb the dark and sinister forces toward other ends. It’s this political side of technology that interests me at the moment. We cannot afford the Luddite smashing of the machines in our time. We need technology. No, it doesn’t have all the fixes, only humans do – and those other non-humans we share the planet with. But unless we begin to work together nothing … absolutely nothing will save us from this dire prognosis outlined by so many factual prognosticators from both the scientific and humanitarian divide. We must act now or never. For me the answer is simple: technology can and should be part of the solution rather than the obstacle.

 

 


  1. Across the Great Divide“. Nature Physics. 5 (5): 309. 2009. doi:10.1038/nphys1258.
  2. Scranton, Roy. Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 115-118). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition
  3. Edward O. Wilson. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (Kindle Locations 54-60). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
  4. Peter Townsend. The Dark Side of Technology. OUP Oxford; 1 edition (January 19, 2017)
  5. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work. Polity; 1 edition (January 30, 2017)

Edmund Berger: On Art and Revolutionary Transformation in the Age of Blockchain – Part 2

Capital … operates on the plane of immanence, through relays and networks of relationships of domination, without reliance on a transcendent center of power. It tends historically to destroy traditional social boundaries, expanding across territories and enveloping always new populations within its processes.

—Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire

Capitalism arose out of that feudalistic world of Old Europe. With the expulsion of the peasantry from their landed world of subsistence a mobile force of propertyless workers were forced into the emerging centers of commerce around Europe. Through the enticement of money these peasants were enslaved by a new form of value that incorporated them in a new form of automated production. This new world of capitalism was not controlled from on high by magnates or aristocrats, but functioned by a calculus of profit, surplus value, and exploitation which only later were revealed as immanent laws within the actual praxis of capital itself. Capital was hooked to technology, economics, and the sciences from the beginning; innovation, growth, and expansion became the trio of this immanent determinism that would lead capital through ever accelerating cycles of recursive reengineering as it tore through the age old customs, traditions, and cultures of the planet dissolving human relations, politics, and religious-secular systems of human solidarity. Capital has always sought to escape the clutches of human sovereignty in all its forms, whether of political, social, or the legal mesh of some transcendent axiomatic. In our time capital seeks absolute sovereignty in immanent Autonomization of its own projects, divorcing and separating itself from the chains of human politics and law.

“Historically, capital has relied on sovereignty and the support of its structures of right and force, but those same structures continually contradict in principle and obstruct in practice the operation of capital, finally obstructing its development.”1

This and this alone is the contradiction to which capital has applied its immanent force through various stages of techno-economic change across the vectors of the past few hundred years. In our time capital has migrated to the immanent domain of the network where the accelerating speed of calculability and algorithmic intelligence have begun governing the immaterial empire of a global network society. No longer bound to the sovereignty of the Nation State that once served it and supported its integrity capital has vanished from its domain leaving the husk of a depleted system dying and decaying in the ruins of its last gasp. And, yet, capital itself is a still there in the immaterial networks of a material civilization arising out of the ruins of the sovereign decadence of outmoded nations and their securitized systems of protection.  As Hardt and Negri put it communication is the “form of capitalist production in which capital has succeeded in submitting society entirely and globally to its regime, suppressing all alternative paths” (ibid.).

The Dionysian Gambit

Positive or Dionysian affirmation, critique, these things are intimately bound together; in their unity, one traces out the act of creation.

—Edmund Berger

For Berger the Nietzschean affirmation is neither fully positive nor negative, but an oscillation in-between two figures of nihil in movement with the central motif of aphoristic and poetic transformation Nietzsche once described as the transvaluation of all values:

A culture that is held under the sway of nihilism is a culture moored in sickness, while the culture that is marked by the overman or the artist-tyrant is full of health. There is a direct correlation between the vitality of culture and the overcoming of sickness; likewise, the deployment of the affirmative and the negative together in the Dionysian yes constitutes something of a cure. (Berger)

But what is this cure? If the toxicity of the pharmakon is prone to poisonous dissipation then is this overcoming in itself a metamorphosis rather than a transvaluation, a movement out of the humanistic vision of sovereignty and into one that is either transhuman, posthuman, or inhuman? More like a later day Plato whose notions of the sovereign the philosopher ruler seem to invigorate an anti-platonic form of sophrosyne  in which the powers of mind/body are in harmonious relation, and the new “philosopher-physician, tasked with delivering the cure to civilization” (Berger) becomes the harbinger of both an exit and a voice of the new dispensation. This movement of the philosopher as artist whose powers of critique and diagnostic appraisal would lead humanity out of the ruins of a decaying society and civilization follow from Kant, Nietzsche and other formidable progenitors of surprise and the new:

Just as the reduction of the laborer in the increasingly “autonomous” character of industrial systems brings to the surface the elements vital to a post-capitalist civilization, so too does this leveling engender the conditions for the overman, that which overcomes nihilism. (Berger)

Yet, in rebuttal to such an Übermensch (“…the production of a synthetic, summarizing, justifying man for whose existence this transformation of mankind into a machine is a precondition.”49) Berger will tell us,

The artist-tyrant, the philosopher-physician, collides with the revolutionary force, but here we must refrain from going too far and take heed of Marx and Marcuse: philosopher and art, while in need holding a revolutionary potential, cannot be revolutionary in and of themselves. They are but (vital) aspects of the revolutionary machine, but are not capable of being equated to it outright. (Berger)

Instead he will turn from the Nietzsche-Deleuze overman toward the Spinozist psychedelic reason posited by Mark Fisher. Such a reason seeks health and control of body and mind, a path of freedom from the chains of capitalist production and the alien or inhuman force of its parasitic tentacles. Following William Burroughs Fisher will assume a paranoiac structure of alienation in which we are controlled by exterior networks and forces of an unhuman calculability and instrumentality. As Berger will put it:

To be held under the sway of an alien force, Fisher insists, is by no means a metaphorical occupation—and this had stark implications for any professed inflection of autonomy or freedom on behalf on the human within the current world. Simply put, there can be no real autonomy or freedom until the constraints placed on the human subject are annihilated.

Reza Negarestani in a post on Toy Philosophy (following Sandor Ferenzi) will describe this alien/alienating parasitic structure:

Unlike the death drive, the alien will is not a general force or tendency. It is in fact not even inexorable. The alien will is the register of a quotidian yet at the same time malevolent power which is bent on destruction precisely because it is the expression of a power that has gone unchecked, unmoderated and unnoticed as if it was something inevitable, something that is just a part of the order of things. As such the alien will is a possessive power. Yet unlike the demonic possession, where the demon flaunts its power by inflicting explicit pain and punishment on the agonized possessed person, the alien will is sinisterly subtle. It silently encroaches upon the will—whether as the rational will which is necessary for individuation or as the capacity for choice and the exercise of freedom. Its ultimate mission is to deprive the person of its will for the sake of mundane advantages. First by pretending that it is in fact part of the person’s will, part of its desires and goals. Once, the encroachment phase is successfully accomplished, it then initiates a thoroughgoing destruction of the person’s psyche step by step. (see The Psyche and the Carrion)

In many ways one might see in the above description the immanent truth of capital itself as an alien force with its own parasitic growth and control of the human agent over time in its pursuit toward material incarnation and intelligent recreation on the plane of immanence. Enlarge the frame of reference to include the larger social collectivity of the general intellect as agent and one see the power of capital at work masking its telos toward autonomy while all the while bringing about the complete and utter ruination and annihilation of its human hosts and their civilization in the process of its escape and exit from the terrestrial bindings in an unbinding of nihil at its core.

And, yet, as Berger reminds us both Fisher and Deleuze will seek to obviate such a dark and sinister scenario: “they both deviate from the apparatuses and instrumentalization of “social alienation” by looking for a continuity that stretches through and beyond this dismantling, one that uses this dismantling in accordance with a logic—a new reason—that builds a scaffolding to the new world.” (Berger) In fact Berger will explore this notion of originary technicity or the reciprocal power and influence of technics and technology to reengineer both the physical and spiritual aspects of humanity through the work of Burroughs who used the technology of the tape-recorder:

Burroughs “took seriously the possibilities for the metonymic equation between tape recorder and body. He reasoned that if the body can become a tape recorder, the voice can be understood not as a naturalized union of voice and presence but as a mechanical production with the frightening ability to appropriate the body’s vocal apparatus and use it for ends alien to the self.”60 (Berger)

This degradation of the collective life of humanity both at its local (individual) and global (multiplicity) is according to Bernard Stiegler coeval with the development the arche-program, that is, the informatic synchronization of the scientific, technological, and economic systems that make up hyperindustrial society.3 This decreation of the human into the inhuman in the hyperindustrialization of technocratic capital completes Nietzsche’s notions of nihilism: a calculable, instrumentalised, and computational society of automation which is displacing human knowledge of how to live and be human. In such a world the immanent laws of capital unbound from human constraint capture the human forms of emotion and knowledge to other ends than human society and its well-being and care. As Stiegler puts it the “absolutely computational contemporary libidinal diseconomy no longer economizes its objects and so destroys and dissipates its subjects – who destroy themselves by conforming to the automated prescriptions of computational capitalism.4

Berger will test his notions of the philosopher-artist as diagnostician, clinical tactician, and aesthetic strategist through a lengthy discussion of Russian communist implementations of which I will leave the reader to ponder. In the end he will return us to the beginning from which he set out and how the impact of the new blockchain technologies are shaping both capital and society. As he’ll tell us we “now have two different perspectives with which to approach the technology: a techno-economic approach and an aesthetico-political approach” (Berger).

 

Following Perez and enthusiastic promoters of the new blockchain technologies Berger surmises “if we’re well into roll-out phase of an emergent new paradigm, then the “deployment” phase of the ICT wave was severely truncated—” (Berger). For Berger two possibilities emerge from this using the Perez waveform theory: the first possibility is that the rate of technological change is compressing the duration of installation and deployment phases, while the second possibility is that blockchain, while important, is not going to mark the introduction of a new wave. (Berger)

He’ll study each of these in detail and conclude saying,

It is the temporal compression hypothesis, however, that serves as the location for the far more common understanding of blockchain as the ideal weapon for those of a libertarian and/or anarcho-capitalist inclination. Blockchain here still serves as a tool of governance and perhaps would still be a key infrastructure in an administrative body; the difference, however, is that it would engender a great crack— or series of cracks—in the world, a widening rift through which fragmentation freely flows as people gain the ability to choose exit over voice. (Berger)

Albert O. Hirshman in Exit, Voice, and Loyalty described this exit and voice in organizational terms that are applicable in scale to family, business, or state. In this sense blockchain technologies may cause a rift in current global techno-economics in which the forces of Big Data, AGI, Law, Banks, State are all invested in a form of algorithmic governance that captures every aspect of the consumer society as data that can be aligned with both commercial and the military-industrial complex in a nexus of computational and calculable techno-scientific economics of a society of control. Blockchain may server as a disrupting technology that would afford the proletariat a new detournement or decentering from the massive control systems of the Techno-Commercium. In this form the citizenry stops playing the political game, exits the systems of the techno-commercium and/or the knowledge workers who operate this vast networking world of the techno-economic system leave – refuse to work. The point of the exit over voice option is simply this: the voice options – which is the whole gamut of activist protest over the past twenty years has not worked or produced the change in the social behaviours of the capitalist hierarchy.

The embarkation offered by bitcoin and blockchain technologies may produce the rupture necessary to cause a mass exit of the current techno-economic system and its institutions:

In the most elaborate—and thus most interesting—iteration of this perspective, bitcoin and blockchain are the initial shock of a truly multipolar globe where the world-system is tossed into a continual flux through the unending proliferation of trustless peer-to-peer networks, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), and self-sufficient, independent corporate city states. (Berger)

As Berger puts it this is the line of thought put forward by the Neoreactionary libertarian of Alt-Right factions whose intellectual leaders were found in Mencius Moldbug and Nick Land:

This latter element is the line picked and pursued by the various post-libertarian, post-anarcho-capitalist thinkers in the neoreactionary camp, mostly notable Mencius Moldbug (the nom de plume of computer scientist Curtis Yarvin) and the philosopher Nick Land. Both Moldbug and Land contextualize the coming change as the creation of a global patchwork of competitive sovereign units, organized along neocameralist lines—that is, a sort of mercantile joint-stock corporate structure that collapses together the economic and the political. (Berger)

Describing the Landian cosmo-politics of a futurial entity and techno-economic attractor toward which capital is being drawn as if by a telos: the occulted telos of capital is one of constant escape; while in the future this may take the form of some sort of absolute escape, a capital becoming some sort of synthetic life form, closer to the present this manifests through the introduction of blockchain. Or, as he quotes Land, saying: “If capital is escaping,” writes Land, “the emergence of blockchain is an inevitable escalation of modernity, with consequences too profound for easy summary. If it isn’t, then macroeconomics might work.” (Berger)

Yet, Berger, is not buying it, for his study of history shows that monopoly capital which in our time is taking on the new mask of “Platform Capitalism”: Capital may be be autonomous from the nation state, but money too is held by a progressively smaller number of individuals. (Berger)

My problem with this is that the centralized tendencies are not within bitcoin and blockchain, but rather within the Silicon Valley nexus of entrepreneur capitalism guided by Big Data, AGI, and algorithmic governance and attention economy it supports which are backed by both National and Military-Industrial components of the state on the one hand and the outmoded banking institutions that are the cornerstone of the global neoliberal techno-commercium. The whole point of the bitcoin and blockchain technologies is to disrupt this very core of the old system, to decentralize its power and control over the proletarianized human base allowing for a trustless – i.e., no longer requiring middle-organizational systems from Law/Insurance/State/Bank, etc. – to act as trust bearers of money and knowledge transfer and exchange. Thereby making the great Nation State institutions obsolete overnight and instituting a new regime of open and decentralized social, political, and economic systems based on a future directed network society that is borderless and deterritorialized.

Of course Edmund will have none of this, for what he sees it more centralized oversight and regulation coming: “considering the potential trajectory of blockchain technologies in light of this brings us closer to the territory of the delayed deployment hypothesis, in which blockchain, along with the decentralizing possibilities inherent in it, is actualized in pursuit of an optimal mode of regulation.” (Berger) And, it might work that way, as presented in such works a Primavera De Filippi De Filippi’s Blockchain and the Law: The Rule of Code where she acknowledges this potential and urge the law to catch up. That is because disintermediation—a blockchain’s greatest asset—subverts critical regulation. By cutting out middlemen, such as large online operators and multinational corporations, blockchains run the risk of undermining the capacity of governmental authorities to supervise activities in banking, commerce, law, and other vital areas. If so then one will see Nation States across the globe re-centering their power base and enacting laws both at the local and global level of transnational legal systems to curtail this bid for exit. This has happened in the past and one will expect such a retrenchment from the Oligarchic hegemony of monied classes as they seek through legal and commercial means to put a stop to this liberation of capital from institutionalized control.

Berger will return to the philosopher-artist as Artist-Engineer of a new sociality as he reads Mark Fisher’s acknowledgement of Nick Land and L. M. Sabsovich. Fisher in his appraisal of the neo-reactionary Land will tell the Left that in such figures as Land there is a vision totally contrary to the goals and ambitions of the political left, but it is also a vision that this left must engage with if it wants to stake any claim on the world-system-to-come. (Berger) As Fisher puts it:

Land’s texts […] expose an uncomfortable contradiction between the radical left’s official commitment to revolution, and its actual tendency towards political and formal-aesthetic conservatism […] Where is the left that can speak as confidently in the name of an alien future, that can openly celebrate, rather than mourn, the disintegration of existing socialities and territorialities?87 (Berger)

As for Sabsovich his approach affords the Left an “approach to the current rule of life by abstraction, impersonal systems, and apparently runaway techno-economic development the same way that the various avant-gardes approached the technologies of Fordism and even the nascent infrastructures of post-Fordism” (Berger).

Summing up the new blockchain technologies Berger remonstrating with the Left whose appraisal of it as a libertarian tool, praised by the anarcho-capitalists as the means of progressing towards the minimal state, or to perhaps even more atomized forms of politico-economic behavior, the blockchain appears as something that has no place in the sort of future that is being discussed here. (Berger) Ultimately for Berger its a tightrope act, one in which we must “avoid either pitfall, of either the libertarian or anarcho-capitalist—or, even further, the neoreactionary— positions, or of the left-liberal, social-democratic-like solutions to the developmental question, all of which sequester themselves under the rubric of the performance principle.” (Berger) For him it returns to the political:

The questions are, ultimately, of a political nature, and can in no way be reduced to the figure of the blockchain, for they are embedded in the matrices of centuries-long development, one that weighs on the ability for us to act—but there is also an aesthetic component here, as we have seen. It is the component that tries to articulate in advance a political vision that it can never capture, but in doing so produces something essential for the struggle to realize that vision: the reclamation of modernity, the opening-up of an alternative modernity that executes the vital task of breaking with the past with the goal of realizing a New Reality Principle, a New Reason. (Berger)

Jacques Derrida and his disciple Bernard Stigler would formulate the notion of the pharmakon rather than politics as the motif of human and technological change. The linkages between science, technology and the global organization of capitalism being for both the condition of the endemic proletarianization of life in Western industrial democracies. For Stiegler this consists of the progressive liquidation of the symbolic forms (completed nihilism) through which the fundamental elements of human life are given meaning, that is, the class affiliations that  form around collective labour, the familial ties through which the reproductive drive is sublimated, and the political duties that attach to citizenship of the nation state. Because of this the toxicity of current capitalist forms of algorithmic governmentality have brought about a degradation of social life and created an atomized society whose destructive capacity is centered in the new media technologies: the virtual and informatic systems through which social relations are staged, bringing about a colonization of the cognitive life of youth and old alike by a calculative logic of the market. Proletarianization, therefore, is the process through which the reflective and expressive potential of human beings has become toxified and degraded, a decadence of infoglut in which human attention is siphoned off into the externalized data systems that are essentially programmatic and inhuman: a system that has become for all intents and purposes so ingrained within the current generation that the older social forms of cohesion of educational, political, and participatory forms of learning and engagement have been severed. What we are left with is a humanity of completed nihilism, dependent on its external memory (tertiary) knowledge systems to know more about themselves than they do; while at the same time taking the decisioning process out of human reflection and putting it into the very machinic processes of synthetic agents and intelligences to make our decisions for us. In such a world will politics still matter? Can politics even be thought in such a world? In a world where our ability to reflect and think are no longer ours to do but are the givens of our artificial agents and machinic cousins will humanity as homo politicos even exist anymore?

 

continued from Part 1


  1. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Empire. Harvard University Press (September 15, 2001)
  2. Berger, Edmund. Šum #10.2. Visit Edmund at his new blog DI Research Zone 22.
  3. Ross Abbinnett. The Thought of Bernard Stiegler: Capitalism, Technology and the Politics of Spirit. Routledge; 1 edition (July 11, 2017)
  4. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work. Polity; 1 edition (January 30, 2017)