One of main themes I’ve been working with in my near future novel is with the ethical dilemmas of memory erasure, or what I’ll term “mindwipe”. As a science fiction motif this has been around for ages. But we starting to see the edges of it entering actual scientific regions of knowledge and testability. Not only that but the notion of neural implants, and transplanted or false memories, etc. All these technologies come with a price as they always have. They can be used for good or ill. War or peace. That’s the dilemma.
Just got my Wattpad Site and will be using that as my platform for publishing and writing with community feedback, etc. I noticed authors like Cory Doctorow (Homeland), Scott Westerfield (Uglies) and many other current YA and Dystopian writers use the system effectively.
Updating weekly: https://www.wattpad.com/user/alien_ecologies
Quantum Lives: Tales of Undercity
Set in the Consilience an InfoSpheric Assemblage of data and natural worlds enclosed in the Global System somewhere in the early 22nd Century. The opening tale is within the enclaves of Undercity where we discover Precarity Jones and her sidekicks, a group of latter day corporate hackers and fixers after the Global Meltdown and the period of the Great Transition, where the virtual and the actual no longer have boundaries between them and a post-Singularity Civilization arises amid the ruins of a failing and dying world of capitalism.
This is the beginning of the Quantum Lives Trilogy that will delve into the sociology, politics, science, and transformational processes of our near future singularity. A posthuman future where human and machine meet in the Mechanosphere of a mutation of civilization unlike any before seen.
I’ll be using the underpinning notion of the ‘holographic principle,’ the idea that a universe with gravity can be described by a quantum field theory in fewer dimensions, has been used for years as a mathematical tool in strange curved spaces. New results suggest that the holographic principle also holds in flat spaces. Our own universe could in fact be two dimensional and only appear three dimensional — just like a hologram.
In which as Luciano Floridi states it: “The infosphere will not be a virtual environment supported by a genuinely ‘material’ world behind; rather, it will be the world itself that will be increasingly interpreted and understood informationally, as part of the infosphere. At the end of this shift, the infosphere will have moved from being a way to refer to the space of information to being synonymous with Being itself.”
The notion of an Intelligent City – a Sentient City of living algorithms organizing and shaping both the infrastructure and its inhabitants in an Infospheric world of play and work, creativity and innovation. What would happen in such a sentient city? What if the city herself was a character in a novel… one that could take on the form of human and inhuman structurations and subjectivations at will, a selective and impersonal system of smart technologies that adapt and learn in inhuman cycles we can only begin to register on our less than adequate physical architecture?
Yet, how do we escape the temporal dilemma such a notion presents? Are we bound within a strange loop that ends in an eternal repetition of the Same as portrayed in such fanciful novels as Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs Novels, in which we are reborn as clonable skins controlled by corporate elites in a universe of closed repetition? Or is there a form of escape from this closed capitalist system of command and control, a way of retroactively changing and entering the rhizome of reality based on a new temporal open universe of endless possibilities? Philosophers in our time from Deleuze/Guattari, Zizek, Sloterdijk, Land, Meillassoux and many others are working through this from different visions of materialist perspectives. With quantum mechanics the older substantive materialism died, and a new immaterial materialism of subatomic forces has arisen which has yet to be concluded or fully fleshed out. Yet, it’s impact on our scientific image of the world is without doubt, and it’s immediate impact of our technological and social systems is trickling down into bifurcating views of reality and time/space. These are the things that interest me in both science and philosophy, and am taking them into an entertaining exploration in a near future trilogy Science Fiction.
Yet, even in this we see a division between a Platonic Idealist tradition of simulation and simulacrum played out in such scientists as Roger Penrose and Seth Lloyd who propose simulated universe models, while others like Lee Smolin who has recently come to change his mind about the nature of reality and had moved away from the idea that the assumptions that apply to observations in a laboratory can be extrapolated to the whole universe. Against such simulated models based on math or computational forms, Smolin says “Time is real, the laws of physics can change and our universe could be involved in a cosmic natural selection process in which new universes are born from black holes…”.
His views are contrary to the widely-accepted model of the universe in which time is an illusion and the laws of physics are fixed, as held by Einstein and many contemporary physicists as well as some ancient philosophers, Prof. Smolin said. Acknowledging that his statements were provocative, he explained how he had come to change his mind about the nature of reality and had moved away from the idea that the assumptions that apply to observations in a laboratory can be extrapolated to the whole universe.
In his latest book THE SINGULAR UNIVERSE AND THE REALITY OF TIME he develops four inter-related themes:
1) There is only one universe at a time. Our universe is not one of many worlds. It has no copy or complete model, even in mathematics. The current interest in multiverse cosmologies is based on fallacious reasoning.
2) Time is real, and indeed the only aspect of our description of nature which is not emergent or approximate. The inclusive reality of time has revolutionary implications for many of our conventional beliefs.
3) Everything evolves in this real time including laws of nature. There is only a relative distinction between laws and the states of affairs that they govern..
4) Mathematics deals with the one real world. We need not imagine it to be a shortcut to timeless truth about an immaterial reality (Platonism) in order to make sense of its “unreasonable effectiveness” in science.
As he tells us: “We argue by systematic philosophical and scientific reasoning , as well as by detailed examples, that these principles are the only way theoretical cosmology can break out of its current crisis in a manner that is scientific, i.e. results in falsifiable predictions for doable experiments.”
Who will win this debate? So far all the facts are not in for either theory, and the technology to support or test the facts has yet to be developed so that it is in the early stages of quantum mathematics. Only time will tell…
I see it for the first time since some beaten bloody friend on a childhood battlefield convinced me to throw my own point of view away. – Peter Watts, Blindsight
Most of us go through life never questioning the truth or untruth of our perspective onto reality or ourselves. We merrily believe that we exist and that’s enough. Sure, everyone lives, breaths, smells, hears, sees – and, we all have this feeling that there is this subtle continuity, something that from day to day remains; even after all the objects that enter and leave our conscious mind we sense this something that is essential about our lives, something distinct and different; and, most of all permanent: the sense of Self, our identity – our meaning and purpose, our memories and connections to a body and its relations with others, our sociality. But what is this thing after all? This Self we so believe in and never even question, but assume that everyone around us has as well. Is it real? Are just a packet of memories that resolve themselves through redundancy and recursive iterations of information seem to provide us the illusion of a unified identity through time, when indeed there is actually nothing at all there, nothing. Just an illusory vacuum filled with strange thoughts that appear from nowhere and soon drift off into that vast emptiness surrounding us on all sides.
You can’t go there. Nobody can. But information can be exchanged, so money can be made there.”
– William Gibson, The Peripheral
What if the future were run by gangsters? Not your old Italian or Russian Mafioso’s, but families who live beyond their years who control secrets and knowledge bases larger than governments. Who can roam through time or at least send bits of data back to do their bidding. To murder, perhaps? At least so goes the basic plot of William Gibson’s new novel, The Peripheral.
“It’s new . It’s quiet. Lev looks for new things, things his family might invest in. He thinks this one may be out of Shanghai. Something to do with quantum tunneling.”
“How far back can they go?”
“Twenty twenty-three, earliest. He thinks something changed, then; reached a certain level of complexity. Something nobody there had any reason to notice.”
“Remind me of it later.” She reached for him. On the walls, the framed flayed hides of three of her most recent selves. Her newest skin beneath him, unwritten.1
A hint of the Singularity? AI run amok? 3D printing builds a new world? Designer skins for those lucky elites that need a new sleeve for the right occasion? Who knows? I’m just on page 70 and I’m hooked finally realizing just where this story is going, at least I tell myself that hoping it is leading somewhere dark and darker. Gibson seems to be back in tidy form, his prose snaps and bristles with the old cyberpunk flippancy. Yet, one sees a more mature shadow of the former self, a revisionary gleam floating out of the prose from a seasoned veteran who has taken in the hype and spit it out again refraining from the glib glitz of our networked utopianism, and instead conveying the bitter truth of dystopia with a caged smile.
Somewhere ahead of us on the peer to peer communications line of time are two worlds, one in which Flynne Fisher and her brother, Burton live out their lives in a near-future rural America and, while in the other, Wilf Netherton wanders among dark lords of crime in a far flung future-future London. The plot is simple enough: Burton Fischer knows something, something that the overlords of some gangland world of the future wish to erase, so they seek to kill him by wiring money and information back in time along that point in space where he can be found, then killed. As Wilf finds out from another family of criminals who have been tracking such things:
“They want to kill a dead man in a past that effectively doesn’t exist?” Netherton asked. “Why? You’ve always said that nothing that happens there can affect us.”
“Information,” Lev said, “flows both ways. Someone must believe he knows something. Which, were it available here, would pose a danger to them.” (Gibson, 70)
Yet, it’s Flynne who comes alive as a character, her puckish punkishness, her no nonsense matter-of-fact observations, cynical yet full of the old style rebelliousness: grace under pressure? She more than other characters shapes the novel to something that keeps you reading. The other characters still seem a little bland and commercial compared to her Appalachian youth. But, for all that, this isn’t your homegrown variety of Appalachian satire, but rather the emergence of an especially acute intelligence in the midst of a world gone south in more ways than one. America on the decline, fallen on bad times; yet, still working in pragmatic home down fashion with what is at hand to make a living, and survive. Flynne is a girl who outwardly is tough as a boot, but inwardly still harbors those deeper qualities of femininity that marks the need for recognition and independence for women. She can handle what you throw at her, yet she also knows that some things aren’t worth throwing or having.
There’s a moment when she intervenes into a situation that seems about to go viral, where a young punk named Conner “who was half a machine, like a centaur made out of a motorcycle” has been baited by a couple of football types and is about to show them what violence truly is when she walks out of the bar and confronts him:
“It’s a tiresome asshole town. Least you got an excuse. Go home. Burton’s on his way back from Davisville. He’ll come see you.” And it was like she could see herself there, on the gray gravel in front of Jimmy’s, and the tall old cottonwoods on either side of the lot, trees older than her mother, older than anybody, and she was talking to a boy who was half a machine, like a centaur made out of a motorcycle, and maybe he’d been just about to kill another boy, or a few of them, and maybe he still would. She looked back and saw Madison was on the porch, bracing the football player who’d thrown the bottles, titanium glasses up against the boy’s eyeballs, boy backing to keep from being poked in the chest with the rows of pens and flashlights in Madison’s Teddy Roosevelt vest. She turned back to Conner. “Not worth it, Conner. You go home.”
“Fuck-all ever is,” he said, and grinned, then punched something with his chin. The Tarantula revved, wheeled around, and took off, but he’d been careful not to spray her with gravel. (Gibson, 65-66)
So here I am reading this, realizing Gibson’s hooked me again. Up to this moment I kept wondering what it was all about, not now… now I just want to enjoy the ride of how this strange tale will unfold.
I’ll return with a full review in the short future… stay tuned.
1. Gibson, William (2014-10-28). The Peripheral (p. 39). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
A friend recently asked me about publishing, whether one should as an author go literary with quality, or go to the great youth worlds of the day with street talk and music. He was interested in this idea of “publishable quality.” Asking me how I would characterize it?
I wouldn’t, at least not in the sense of some universal notion. From what I’m reading most of it is beyond doubt all too subjective in the area of editors and publishers these days. The culture I grew up in is gone: the age of print is gone. Even if you see it everywhere, books are dead.
This is the time of Indie’s and self-publishing. Getting published by a formal old-time book publisher is an iffy business from what I read on post after post of even the best published authors in various fields… so who am I to presume to know that answer?
My remark was mainly dealing with the typical aspects of openings, hooks, etc. And it depends if your audience is for the mass appeal, or literary? That truly is the cutting line: how many people do you assume you want to have read your work – the top readers, the echelon who love difficult and complex prose, etc. Or just your basic internet blip reader whose vocabulary is built out of the base set of street talk and music? Nothing demeaning here, but there is a difference.
In my fictional writing I’ve had to compromise a great deal and tone down my knowledge of the English language, so that I might be able to reach the younger generation. I’ve begun tapping into the blogs and sites that cater to younger people to see what kinds of things are actually being bought. In other words I’m a word whore discovering the tribal worlds around me: a cartographer of YA if you will.
The other issue many authors are facing now is the glut of writing being published. One reads over and over how if one takes the road to publish in the more reputable magazines and publishers that one will need an almost informidable tracking record of already published works within the lesser or newer markets. Even books like The Writer’s Market, etc. offer the base approach that if your a newly unpublished author then begin slowly, and they offer selections of publications seeking only new unpublished authors etc.
Others have gone the way of the Indie, the self-publishing world where it’s truly up to you to find your own fan base, market your own work, spend the time and effort building up a circulation and network of sites to promote your work, etc. Even among some of the better known authors this seems to be the way to go these days. Is there a clear cut answer? I doubt it.
Luck always has had a lot to do with markets: that, and having something that connects with a certain segment of the population. In some ways that’s always been true: who is your fictitious reader? Who is your audience? Knowing that is half the battle. Once you know who you are writing for, then one needs only to know what this audience likes and dislikes.
Blogging has been interesting for me in the fact that I have a small audience, which leads me to believe that for the most part I do have at times difficult aspects to my work, else the things that interest me are not wide-spread fare. Obviously philosophy and the sciences are not everyone’s cup of tea, and the depth of knowledge one needs to ponder many of the current things going on in the various enclaves of both philosophy and the sciences is tremendous. Just the background knowledge alone, years of reading the various players in the fields, let along the history of philosophy and the sciences that play into it. My poetry tends toward a specific mode of dark romanticism edging into the posthuman, weaving eros and thanatos in differing forms. So I’m sure it will only have certain types of readers, which is fine for me.
Yet, as I ponder the SciFi and Fantasy markets I realize the gradient of expertise must come down a notch or two, must deliver a fictional ensemble that is full of action and suspense, yet that is neither simplistic nor over the top writerly crap. What’s interesting in SciFi and Fantasy is not that they are already overly cliché ridden, but how certain authors can take the oldest clichés and make them new, bring to the table new problems and solutions to the old twists and patterns. Maybe that’s the secret: taking the old and making it new, giving it a new twist, a new container and language in which to tell the tales that seem to live own endlessly in that realm between potentiality and actuality.
Nikko, who was in truth only a program himself, a modern ghost, an electronic entity copied from the mind of his original self, had little patience for Dull Intelligences.
– Linda Nagata, The Bohr Maker
“By the beginning of the twentieth century , it was becoming clear that the engines of life operated at the molecular scale. How can we understand such machines, and how does their operation relate to the macroscopic machines of our everyday experience?”1 Reading Linda Nagata’s The Bohr Maker is like entering that moment of transition between our everyday world of commonsense and the ultrareal worlds of advanced NBIC technologies. Caught between the “folk image” of our ancient world views, centered in magic, religion, and voodoo; and, the realms of the “scientific image” in which rationality alone is the guide, Negata enacts her fable of our posthuman molecular destiny.
Maybe what haunts posthumanism is not technology but utopian capitalism, the dark silences long repressed, excluded, disavowed, and negated within the Empire of Capital. Franco Berardi’s The Uprising grabs the history of art and capital by the horns as the slow and methodical implementation of the Idealist program. By this he means the dereferentialization of reality – or what we term now the semioitization of reality: the total annihilation of any connection between signifier and signified, word and thing, mind and world. Instead we live in a world structured by fantasy that over time has dematerialized reality.
In economics it was Richard Nixon (1972) who cut the link between financial capital and its referent, the gold standard which subtly dematerialized monetarism of the neoliberal era. This slow vanishing act of reality into its digital matrix has in our time become so naturalized that we have forgotten how much our lives are enmeshed in fictions divorced from even the illusion of reality. As Berardi will put it:
The premise of neoliberal dogmatism is the reduction of social life to the mathematical implications of financial algorithms. What is good for finance must be good for society, and if society does not accept this identification and submission, then that means that society is incompetent, and needs to be redressed by some technical authority.1
He speaks of the moment when the newly elected Greek President Papandreou actually had the audacity to question the EU’s austerity program and was summarily ousted by the new entity, The Markets, and replaced with a consultant from Goldman-Sachs. He asks calmly, What is this blind god, the Markets?
Markets are the visible manifestation of the inmost mathematical interfunctionality of algorithms embedded in the techno-linguistic machine: they utter sentences that change the destiny of the living body of society, destroy resources, and swallow the energies of the collective body like a draining pump. (Berardi, 32)
In this sense we are already being run by the machinic systems of math and computation at the core of our economic system. As he tells it the humans behind the system are not fascists, yet they allow society to be enslaved by a mathematical system of economics and financialization, which is clean, smooth, perfect, and efficient. The financial orthodoxy would have you believe that all things should act efficiently. Like all orthodoxies it offers comfort and guidance, but, as orthodoxies do, it also has the power to wound those who cannot follow its dogmas or who resist its rituals of conformity. It is technological because it has primarily to do with making things work, and it is particularly apparent in the contemporary emphasis on quantifiable productivity and associated fears of waste, especially the waste of time.2
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once developed his theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.3 Thinking of flow and efficiency one discovers the key is the concept of flow-of information or of goods, for example-and the role of efficiency in preventing disruptions. This suggests that beneath the zeal for efficiency lies the desire to control a changing world, to keep an optimal and peak level of flow going at all times in society and combatting and preventing anything that might disrupt that flow.
In Berardi’s mathematization of society we’re no longer consumers and users, but have instead become as Bruce Sterling tells us in The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things “participants under machine surveillance, whose activities are algorithmically combined within Big Data silos” (Sterling, KL 30). So that in this sense we are no longer embodied humans, but are instead bits of data floating among the wired worlds of our digital economy. But a fascinating aspect of the Internet of things is that the giants who control the major thrust within its reaches Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft could care less about efficiency. No. They in fact don’t bother to “compete” with each other because their real strategy is to “disrupt”. Rather than “competing” – becoming more efficient at doing something specific – “disruption” involves a public proof that the rival shouldn’t even exist.(Sterling, KL 212-216)
The basic order of the economic day is coded in the language of noir dime novels. “Knifing the baby” means deliberately appropriating the work of start-ups before they can become profitable businesses. “Stealing the oxygen” means seeing to it that markets don’t even exist – that no cash exchanges hands, while that formerly profitable activity is carried out on a computer you control. (Sterling, KL 224)
Yet, underneath all the glitter and glitz is the hard truth of reality. If the Internet of things is a neo-feudal empire of tyrant corporations disrupting the flows of efficient commerce in a bid to attain greater and greater power and influence, then the world of austerity and nation states outside the wires is preparing for the barbarians. As Berardi relates it outside the cold steel wires of financial digi-tyranny we can already see the violent underbelly of the old physical body of the social raising its reactionary head: nation, race, ethnic cleansing, and religious fundamentalism are running rampant around the globe. While the digital-elite pirate away the world of finance the forgotten citizenry outside the digital fortress are preparing for war in the streets: despair, suicide, and annihilation living in the austerity vacuum of a bloated world of wires.
Maybe Yeats wrote his poem The Second Coming for our century:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
1. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. The Uprising. (Semiotext(e), 2012)
2. Jennifer Karns Alexander. The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control (Kindle Locations 29-32). Kindle Edition
3. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.) (Kindle Locations 214-216). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
In 1863, the great novelist Jules Verne undertook perhaps his most ambitious project. He wrote a prophetic novel, called Paris in the Twentieth Century, in which he applied the full power of his enormous talents to fore-cast the coming century. His biographers have noted that, although Verne was not a scientist himself, he constantly sought out scientists, peppering them with questions about their visions of the future. He amassed a vast archive summarizing the great scientiﬁc discoveries of his time. Verne, more than others, realized that science was the engine shaking the foundations of civilization, propelling it into a new century with unexpected marvels and miracles. The key to Verne’s vision and profound insights was his grasp of the power of science to revolutionize society.1
Science as the engine of progress and development, of modernity as it has come down to us is central to the underlying myths of speed and accelerationism. Jules Verne could be considered the father of Accelerationism. Frank Borman an astronaut on Apollo 8 would comment: “In a very real sense, Jules Verne is one of the pioneers of the space age”. Books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, The Adventures of Captain Hatteras and An Antarctic Mystery, Mathias Sandorf, Journey to the Center of the Earth would each inspire scientists like pioneering submarine designer Simon Lake, and other maritime scientists: William Beebe, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and Robert Ballard, and Jacques Cousteau; rocketry innovators Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard, and Hermann Oberth; explorer Richard E. Byrd, after a flight to the South Pole; Edwin Hubble, the American astronomer; the preeminent speleologist Édouard-Alfred Martel; and others like Fridtjof Nansen, Wernher von Braun, Guglielmo Marconi, and Yuri Gagarin.
Even Marx himself would understand that science is the engine of production and progress:
“…the entire production process appears not subsumed under the direct skillfulness of the worker, but rather as the technological application of science. [It is] hence, the tendency of capital to give production a scientific character; direct labour is reduced to a mere moment in this process. As with the transformation of value into capital, so does it appear in the further development of capital that it presupposes a certain given historical development of productive forces on one side – science too is among these productive forces – and, on the other, drives and forces them further onwards.”2
This notion that the cycle of the production process is driven by applied science as a productive force, and that it is a continuous force driving it in a progressive form of continuous process is key to Marx’s understanding. Instead of capital as the driver of production as many assume, Marx would describe a combination of social labour and the “technological application of natural sciences, on the one side, and to the general productive force arising from social combination of total production on the other side” (ibid). These two forces would ultimately lead capital to “its own dissolution as the form of dominating production” (ibid).
Marx as he begins to diagnose the power of science and machines tells us that at first the power of machines to take over human labour was martialed not by the machines, but by mechanizing the worker, but as he says the rise of machines in industry arose by “dissection – through the division of labour, which gradually transforms the workers’ operations into more and more mechanical ones, so that at a certain point a mechanism can step into their places. Thus, the specific mode of working here appears directly as becoming transferred from the worker to capital in the form of the machine, and his own labour capacity devalued thereby” (ibid).
Even now we hear many workers in the labour force worried that robots and intelligent systems will make them obsolete. In From Watson to Siri we discover that as in early Fordist era machine takeovers we’re facing it again:
“…in the infancy of the 21st century, a new revolution is reshaping the American economy, what we might call the “A.I. revolution.” … machines employing natural language processors, voice recognition software and other tools of artificial intelligence are proliferating, just as textile mills and, later, assembly lines proliferated and fundamentally altered the American economy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, American workers won the race against machines by using advances in technology to usher in a new era of consumerism and mass production. This time … we must learn to co-exist with machines, rather than race against them.” (PBS/Need to Know)
It is also interesting, continuing with Marx’s essay, that real wealth creation depends less “on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology or the application of this science to production” (ibid). Again the engine of science and knowledge applied is the driver and engine of wealth creation in which the human worker become more of a “watcher and regulator” of the production process done for the most part by machines. What Marx is ultimately driving at is that humans as scientists and knowledge workers whose “understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence in the social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and wealth” (ibid, 62).
The point that Marx is making in contradistinction to many labour theorists is that wealth is produced by promoting less labour time and more free time for social individuals who thereby become artistic, scientific, educated in free time:
“The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of its penury and antithesis. The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created.” (ibid, 63)
By this of course surplus labour is the labour performed in excess of the labour necessary to produce the means of livelihood of the worker (“necessary labour”). So that the exploitation of surplus labour or making individuals work more than is needed for their basic needs should be put to an end, and the input of wealth distributed to the mass of workers to further their education so that through their artistic and scientific creativity and inventions industry would benefit greatly. As Marx will pointedly tells us the capitalists have no clue, that instead of opening up free time for the workers and giving them an opportunity to further their artistic and scientific education, they force them to work longer hours than is necessary to survive:
“Capital itself is the moving contradiction, in that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form: hence it posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question life or death – for the necessary.” (ibid, 63)
But remember Marx had previously told us that the development of the social individual is the “great foundation-stone of production and wealth”, not surplus labour nor labour time as the source of wealth. The point of the contradiction comes into play in that the capitalists use the powers of science, and the resources of nature as the engine of wealth creation in collusion with the social combination and social intercourse independent of labour time employed on it (ibid, 63). Yet, on the other hand they play the blind-man’s card and have us believe that labour time is the measuring rod for the social forces created, and limit it as the created value of value (ibid, 63).
Yet, Marx will almost surprised by his own analyses remind us that it is the human brain freed up to produce knowledge for the society that is the lynchpin of wealth, and that the “creation of a large quantity of disposable time apart from necessary labour time for society generally” which leads to people being able to pursue artistic and scientific education etc. Yet, the capitalists in contradistinction to their own practices, invert this logic and take hold of the surplus labour to force workers not into free time for education, but to produce excessive material products for the market and as Marx suggests, if it succeeds too well it “suffers from surplus production, and then necessary labour is interrupted, because no surplus labour can be realized by capital” (ibid, 64). The point here is that the capitalist is his own worst enemy, and the cycles of bust and depression, inflation, etc. are brought about by the fantasia of the capitalists.
Ultimately Marx’s diagnosis would be that as the contradiction continues to produce these same cycles of boom and bust over and over and over again, it is up to the workers, not the entrepreneurs and bankers (Capital), to appropriate their own surplus labour (free time): Once they have done so- and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence – then, on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. (ibid, 65) This will lead Marx to his final point, that real wealth is the combined or total productive power of all workers, and the measure of wealth is not labour time but “disposable time”. Instead of the capitalist who bases wealth on labour time, on the exploitation of the worker beyond his necessary time he needs to support himself and his family, he is force to “work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest, crudest tools” (ibid. 65).
Instead as Marx will tell us what should occur is the saving of labour time, of turning it into free time, of education and productive time for family and life thereby allowing workers to ultimately accumulate knowledge for society: “this process is then both a discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming, and, at the same time, practice, experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulation of knowledge of society” (ibid, 66).
As we move into an era of artificial intelligence, smart cities, technocapitalism the need for creativity and higher performance and inventiveness has come more and more into play, and as Luis Suarez-Villa will tell us this is becoming a era in which creativity itself is becoming the greatest commodity: “The commodification of this most intangible and elusive human quality has characteristics separating it from the commodification of other resources in previous stages of capitalism.”3
In my next post I’ll introduce some of where Luis Suarez-Villa sees our brave new world of technocapitalism is taking us. All of this as lead in to Kaku and others as to the direction of capital, acceleration, and science as they merge and form the new worlds ahead.
1. Michio Kaku. Physics of the Future. (Random House, 2012)
2. Fragment on Machines. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. editors Robin Makay and Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
3. Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism (Kindle Locations 357-359). Kindle Edition.
Continuing with a frontal assault of our conceptions of the future in both their negative and positive modes I’d like to continue down the path from previous notes on John Michael Greer’s assessment for America and the world’s prospects (here). He ended his book telling us that Americans need a new vision, a new Dream, one “that doesn’t require promises of limitless material abundance, one that doesn’t depend on the profits of empire or the temporary rush of affluence we got by stripping a continent of its irreplaceable natural resources in a few short centuries“. Yet, he also warned us that “…nothing guarantees that America will find the new vision it needs, just because it happens to need one, and it’s already very late in the day. Those of us who see the potential, and hope to help fill it, have to get a move on“.1
Michio Kaku in his book Physics of the Future will offer what he terms an “insider’s view” of the future. I thought it ironic that he would pull the old trick of insider/outsider that opposes scientific authority to the folk-wisdom of the tribe, and assumes scientific knowledge has some greater privilege and access to the future than that of historians, sociologists, science fiction writer’s, and “futurologists” – who he gently removes from authority and truth, saying in his preface that they are all “outsiders” – “predicting the world without any firsthand knowledge of science itself” as if this placed them in a world of non-knowledge or folk-wisdom that could be left behind, as if they were mere children in a grown-ups world of pure scientific mystery that only the great and powerful “insider”, the scientist as inventor, investigator, explorer of the great mysteries of the universe could reveal.
Yet, in the very next paragraph after dismissing the folk-wisdom of the tribal mind, and bolstering the power of science and scientists he will ironically admit that “it is impossible to predict the future with complete accuracy”, that the best we can do is to “tap into the minds of scientists on the cutting edge of research, who are doing the yeoman’s work of inventing the future”.2 One notices that science is now equated with “invention” of the future, as if the future was a product or commodity that we are building in the factories of knowledge, both material and immaterial that will – as he terms it “revolutionize civilization”. Of course etymologically invention is considered “a finding or discovery,” a noun of action from the past participle stem of invenire to “devise, discover, find”. And as he uses the words “yeoman’s work” for scientists as inventors of the future we will assume the old sense of that as “commoner who cultivates his land”, or an “attendant in a noble household,” so that these new scientists are seen as laborers of the sciences producing for their masters, or the new nobility of the elite Wall-Street and Corporate Globalist machine.
(I will come back to the notion of the future as Invention in another essay in this series. What is the future? How do we understand this term? Is the future an invention, a discovery, a finding; or, is it rather an acceleration of the future as immanent in our past, a machinic power unfolding, or a power invading us from the future and manipulating our minds to deliver and shape us to its will? Time. What is this temporality? What is causality? Do we shape it or does it shape us? )
So in Kaku we are offered a vision of the future in alignment with the globalist vision of a corporatized future in which scientists are mere yeoman doing the bidding of their masters in inventing a future that they are paying for through the great profit making machine of capitalism. It’s not that his use of differing metaphors and displacements, derision of the outsider and ill-informed or folk-wisdom practices of historians, sociologists, science-fiction writers, and futurologists was in itself a mere ploy; no, its that whether consciously or unknowingly he is setting the stage, which on the surface appears so positive, so amiable, so enlightening and informing for a corporate vision of the future that is already by the virtue of a dismissal of its critics a done deal, a mere effort of unlocking through the power of “devices, inventions, and therapies”. Kaku is above all an affirmer of technologies dream, of science as the all-powerful Apollonian sun-god of enlightened human destiny that will revolutionize civilization.
I doubt this is the dream that John Michael Greer had in mind when he mentioned that we need a new American Dream. Or is it? For Greer there only the ultimate demise of the last two-hundred years of Fordism or the Industrial Age:
Between the tectonic shifts in geopolitics that will inevitably follow the fall of America’s empire, and the far greater transformations already being set in motion by the imminent end of the industrial age , many of the world’s nations will have to deal with a similar work of revisioning.(Greer, 276)
Yet, this is where Greer leaves it, at a stage of revisioning to come, of dreams to be enacted. He offers no dream himself, only the negative critique of existing dreams of the Fordist era utopias that have failed humanity and are slowly bringing about disaster rather than transformation.
Kaku on the other hand, whose works sell profitably, a man who has the ear of the common reader as well as the corporate profiteers seeks his own version (or theirs?) of the American Dream. Unlike his previous book Visions, which offered his vision of the coming decades; instead, this new one offers a hundred year view of technology and other tensions in our global world that as he tells it ominously “will ultimately determine the fate of humanity”.
I’ll leave it there for this post, and will take up his first book, Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century in my next post, then his Physics of the Future in the third installment.
1. Greer, John Michael (2014-03-17). Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America . New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2. Michio Kaku. Physics of the Future. (Doubleday, 2012)
One of the guiding factors in my science fiction series (quartet) is the collusion and convergence of the current and future trends in NBIC (nanotech, biotech, information tech, and computer tech) and ICT (information and communications technologies) technologies and their personal, social, political, environmental, and moral impact over then next couple centuries.
With notions of economic and environmental collapse central to this I hope to cover the underlying tension of global governance, technological risk, and the posthuman-transhuman singularity in both its neoliberal, reactionary, and ultra-left varieties. With the alternate forms of a philosophy of Accelerationism being promoted by the Right and Left one wants to enact theses differing tensions in an approach to the micro/macro scaled transformations of society and environment across a future history spectrum.
Science Fiction has always based itself on current trends and forecasting, providing both the hard science and the strangeness or wonder at the impact upon society and environment. The idea of giving shape to such a realm is daunting to say the least, but over the past few years I’ve been listening to our philosophers around the globe, as well as the scientists and engineers who enact the pragmatic materiality of such systems of thought through everyday practices. They all seem to agree that the utopian ideologies of the 20th Century or now defunct, passé and of little use in ongoing scenarios that incorporate such technological and economic impacts to both the physical well-being and health of our global civilization and those other creatures we share its resources with. Ours is a time of both accelerating change and a moment when the future of life on this planet is being decided. Over the next hundred years or even less we have some hard choices to make in our ethical initiatives which seem almost archaic as compared to the accelerating pace of technological innovations.
In the Third world we see the manipulation and oppression of billions of humans by war, famine, genocide, economic and social oppression, religious intolerance and bigotry, racial and gender inequalities, etc. The global elite and their minion governments are doing little to obviate such things and seem instead bent on supporting national agendas that will instead worsen the effects of such dire issues. Our intellectuals seem bankrupt and unable to spur the needed actions on the planet to curtail such problems. In a short-lived series of Spring revolutions and Occupy movements we’ve seen the implosive force of late capitalism not only able to survive the shocks of economic disaster but also to co-opt the many initiatives of the left at their own game.
Why? Why has the left withdrawn into an academic cocoon of meetings, speeches, globe-trotting speeches that only the high-brow of academia are interested in? We seem to have no center, no rallying point around which to gather even the semblance of a message. Each faction seems to have broken off like a fractured schizophrenic nomad spouting the messages of its specific needs: colonialism, gender and racial equality, economic anarchist or communist agendas, green speak, etc. The list could go on. The point being there seems to be no umbrella banner under which all these various agendas could be brought together. Part of it is the aversion to monoculture systems with grand narratives that we’ve been taught over the past postmodern era to shy away from. This notion that one fits all just doesn’t work anymore, yet the notion of a thousand petals storming heave want work either.
What to do? Rereading Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics the tells us that “today’s politics is beset by an inability to generate the new ideas and modes of organization necessary to transform our societies to confront and resolve the coming annihilations” (3). The enemy for them is the neoliberal project that encompasses our globe whether within the West (EU and Americas) or the East (Russian, China, and other nations). They realize that the housing collapse in 2007 was a mere blip in the neoliberal eye, and that it has slowly recovered and hardened its agendas to deprivatize the planet and through global governance and legal pressures to slowly denationalize and enforce incursions against the remaining social democratic institutions and services (4).
Against the neoliberal world order Williams and Srnicek tell us that the left as situated within its Kitsch Marxism is a lost world of possibilities, that it is bankrupt and hollow and that the only way forward is to “the recovery of lost possible futures, and indeed the recovery of the future as such” (5-6). The notion of the “future” as a concept has a unique heritage in the cycle of 20th Century thought. From the Italian and Russian Futurists on through many of the Utopian visions turned hellish of the different enactments of communisms, democratic socialisms, and darker worlds of Fascism, etc. A global history well documented in Susan Buck-Morss’s Dreamworld and Catastrophe. After the failure of May 1968 and the political struggles of that era a malaise overcame many on the left and as Bifo Berardi in After the Future would affirm communist politics fell into lethargy with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the new China. As he states it in our age communisms will emerge from an exodus, both voluntary and compulsory, from a stagnating and increasingly predatory state-capital nexus. This exodus is both social, in the development of an alternative infrastructure, and personal, in the withdrawal from the hyper-stimulation of the semiotic economy. Bifo abandons hope in collective contestation at the level of the political. It’s this fatalism, this miserabilism of no futures, not possibilities, no hope that aligns such a communism with what Williams and Srnicek among others see as retrograde and feeding into the neoliberal agenda.
Instead Williams and Srnicek look at current capitalism, at the neoliberal project as it situates its global agenda in the face of no opposition – or, at least, minimal. What they see is an economics of acceleration: capitalism demands economic growth, one in which its ideological self-presentation is one of liberating the forces of creative destruction, setting free ever accelerating technological and social innovations (02). With the rise of these new global economies we see an increase in the need for workers across the board. One of the largest underworld trading systems is in human trafficking to supply these new initiatives both physical and sex labor workers (i.e., undocumented workers who act as human slaves to the new marginal initiatives in building the smart cities of the future, etc. see Gridlock: Labor, Migration, and Human Trafficking in Dubai by Pardis Mahdavi; Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales; Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves by Kevin Bales, etc. the list could go on). As well as the global drug, money laundering, financial austerity and intervention, etc. (i.e., Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations by Andreas Peter; Banished: The New Social Control In Urban America by Katherine Beckett; A Game As Old As Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption by Steven Hiatt; Policing Dissent: Social Control and the Anti-Globalization Movement by Luis Alberto Fernandez, etc.)
Williams and Srnicek diagnose two forms of accelerationism: 1) the neoliberal form exemplified by Nick Land in essays (Fanged Noumena, The Thirst for Annihilation, etc.) in which the neoliberal or late capitalist system is rushing forward blindly in a unidirectional system of transhumanist or posthuman bricolage that constructs itself from the fragments of former civilizations and will at some point reach a techonomic singularity thereby sloughing off its human benefactors and creating the AI and Machinic civilizations of the future; and, 2) the left version of accelerationism that offers an open-ended navigational process of discovery “within a universal space of possibility” (02). This last notion of a “space of possibility” is a take off from a Sellarsian-Brandomian model of a normative “space of reasons” in which a collective consensus of experts commutes through practices of “give and take” a carefully planned out and coordinated effort which Williams and Srnicek will later term The Plan (cartographic mappings) and The Network (infosphere of global action encompassing both virtual and actual environments).
They see a conflict between speed and accelerationism at the heart of these disparate worlds of the neoliberal vision (speed; or, confusion of speed with acceleration) and the communist left vision (accelerationist): one in which the neoliberal version constrained by the tactics and strategies of speed force progress into an economic framework of “surplus value, a reserve army of labour, and free-floating capital” in which economic growth and social innovation becomes “encrusted with kitsch remainders from our communal past” (02:3). Instead of an expansion in cognitive labour and its self-fulfilling innovations they see instead that neoliberalism is shutting down human cognitive labour with automation and the machinic implementation of smart or intelligence systems that will eventually replace humans as the knowledge makers of tomorrow (02:4).
They also look to Marx himself and recite that it was him as well as Land who realized that capitalism should not be destroyed but rather that its “gains were not to be reversed, but accelerated beyond the constraints of the capitalist value form” (02:5). They even realize that Lenin himself understood that large scale capitalist efforts constrained only by the latest sciences could offer the socialist regimes an economic future (02:6). As Williams and Srnicek see it the left must embrace technological and social acclerationsim if they are to have any future at all (02: 7).
In their critique of the Left they see two forces at work: 1) a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism; and, 2) an accelerationist left “at ease with modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology (03: 1). The former seems content on a no future politics of withdrawal and exit, of creating non-capitalist zones that will exist outside capitalist relations altogether. The accelerationist alternative politics seeks to manifest the gains of late capitalism without its dire consequences of oppression and exploitation, transforming its goals toward non-oppressive and non-exploitative egalitarian purposes.
In section (03: 2) they wonder at the inability of capitalist theory against its pragmatic outcome in the very notion of reduction of labour hours. Instead of a reduction as predicated by Keynes and other labour theorists what has transpired is the severing of the private and public realms of work and play in which the worker has been incorporated into a 24/7 economy that is pure work-at-play or play-at-work based on ludicrous incentives and lucrative strategies of desire. Instead of human freedom and potential capitalism has squandered its perennial dreams of space flight and technological innovation and into a consumerist nightmare of repetitive gadgetry that must be replaced the moment it is used (03: 4). They tells us that accelerationists do not wish for a return to the Fordist era of the factory, that it is behind us, and even the post-Fordist era of consumer iterations in a void is on decline: the worlds of colonialism, empire, and a third-world periphery in nationalist terms is coming to an end. The days of race, sex and subjugation are coming to an end too. (03:4).
Instead of crushing neoliberalism they tell us we should overtake it, repurpose it toward common ends, allow for a movement toward a post-capitalist future beyond neoliberal traditions and values (03: 5). They admit that technology itself remain entrapped and enslaved by neoliberal agendas, and that even they and the accelerationists have little foresight as to the potentials that a unexploitative technological imperative might bring to the table (03: 6). Against techno-utopians that see technology as autonomous from the socius, and as some kind of ultimate salvation system in its own right, the accelerationist believe that technology should be subordinated to social needs rather than granted superior rights and privileges. In this sense they would constrain technology to human needs and social practices – a return to aspects of the Enlightenment project or a new humanism rather than some techno-extroprian vision beyond human needs and purposes (03:7).
To do this they tells us some form of planning will need to take place, a way of mapping this accelerationist future: “we must develop both a cognitive map of the existing system and a speculative image of the future economic system” (03: 8). As part of this we need the existing toolsets that have informed and made neoliberalism so successful: the very ICT (information and communications technologies) developed over the past half-century; social-network analysis, agent-based modeling, big data analytics, and non-equilibrium economic models, etc. All these will be needed by the left base intellectual or cognitariat in developing a way forward (03: 9). Also there will be a need for a new culture of innovation, creativity, and experimentation that allows for failure and practice on all fronts, an open-ended trial-and-effort model that takes into account the mistakes of the past and revises its methodologies and practices on the fly (03:10).
For all of this to happen the left will need to provide a hegemonic platform of informatics (virtual/immaterial) and material (actual/substantive) infrastructural technologies and realistic social practices and institutions (03: 11). Without the infrastructure the material and immaterial platforms of production, finance, logistics, and consumption will remain in capitalist not post-capitalist modes that will be less effective and stymied by capitalist modes of social relations rather than collective goals and aspirations. To accomplish such a task is to leave behind the needles quarrels of ineffective direct action appeals and failures of the political left’s past, instead we need new modes of action: politics must be “treated as a set of dynamic systems, riven with conflict, adaptations and counter-adaptations, and strategic arms races” (03: 12). Instead of any one strategy or tactic we need to confront the events we meet on their own terms and have an arsenal of strategies and tactics, modeling trajectories and smart systems available at our beck and call that can open up and allow us to act in the moment in real-time with the best available data and cartographic strategies available to move ahead. Instead of centralized bureaucracies we will have decentralized systems of command and control based on immediacy of situational analysis and synthesis using advanced analytic and synthetic algorithms superior to any slow institutional pull and push leverage. This will be a community of trust, a socious of individuals working in collusion and cooperating through modes of being that no longer are tied to senseless hierarchies of command and control that were never effective to begin with. We must study these past failures in the systems and incorporate them into our innovated algorithmic programs of emerging intelligence systems: revisable, updatable, changing systems of multiplicity and openness.
In section 03: 13 I simply disagree with Williams and Srnicek who tells us that the ‘radical Left’ is simply wrong in their fetishisation of openness, horizontality, and inclusion. Instead they want to incorporate older forms of “secrecy, verticality, and exclusion” as having a place in effective political action. But for whom? For which players? This need for secrecy sounds like a return to some notion of hierarchical command, of leaders and followers, rather than comrades all working toward equalitarian ends. Veritcality: as hierarchy, top-down structures of command? Exclusion: of whom? And, who would be the excluders, the judges of this exclusion? Maybe in the transition process I could see this as the neoliberal order is still the enemy we must overcome: but after? Do they presume that in this final post-capitalist order we will need such notions?
In 03: 14 they tell us that democracy must be defined by its “collective self-mastery”. Why must this be the delimiting inscription? Why not as “collective self-emancipation” rather than some organizational notion of mastery which seems a reversion to older slave/master conceptuality? They describe it as essential to the Enlightenment project of ruling ourselves. But even the notion that we need masters to rule us is a false notion of sovereign power that needs to be overcome rather than embraced. As they tell it we need to “posit a collectively controlled legitimate vertical authority in addition to distributed horizontal forms of sociality, to avoid becoming the slaves of either a tyrannical totalitarian centralism or a capricious emergent order beyond out control” (03:14). Instead of institutions of authority and control would we not be better served with balance of equal powers? I am always leery of autonomous forms of power and verticality or top-down governance and justice which throughout history have worked blindly and usually through failures of humans who were behind the thrones of such institutions. Such institutions are prone to oligarchic influx and influence which would leave the multitude at the hands of barbarous mishandling and injustice in the name of authority and justice. Instead we need instead of institutions of power and justice and new ethical society of the good life: of partnership and a sense of egalitarian values and cooperation among equals that do not allow for authoritarian institutions to develop at all.
In section 03: 15 I agree that we need an “ecology of organizations, a pluralism of forces, resonating and feeding back on their competitive strengths”. Yes, I want to say. If they affirm as such then why the need for such top-down authoritarian power and justice to keep tyranny at bay, or to even disallow total anarchy? As they affirm sectarianism and centralization are both death bringers to the left, so instead we need to build other more egalitarian structures that would disallow such emergence toward fracture or tyranny. A part of doing this they affirm is to bring the global media as close as possible back to an open popular control mechanism that allows for each player to develop his/her potentials. Obviously there will always be a need to protect the weaker members of society from exploitation by others or groups that might arise and to exploit the open-ended systems. But I do not see the need for NSA style surveillance as part of that, but rather an ethic of solidarity that polices itself through cooperation and mutual self-help mechanisms rather than from some authoritarian State of Police Justice system.
Section 03: 18 seems more about the struggle to obtain a post-capitalist hegemony, the notion of creating new categories for the solidarity of the global labor force that seems ill-defined at the moment. Yes, we will need better was of connect to each other across the globe, ways of providing a proletariat subjectivation. But it need not be based on identitarian politics. It needs to be revised toward newer notions of subjectivation rather than falling back into older form of identity. I think this is at the heart of Badio, Zizke, Johnson and many other speculative thinkers. They say: yes, yes, all this it true, but what we really need is a new “technosocial platform” and infrastructure of institutions within which all of this can be formalized and provide an ideological, social, and economic footing (03: 19).
None of this will be possible without the one ingredient: capital, money, funding (03:20). Without the nexus of “governments, institutions, think tanks, unions, or individual benefactors” the whole left accelerationist movement will go the way of dinosaurs: extinct.
Lastly, they tells us we must take up the coinage of “mastery” again and realize that for the Left mastery is not tinged by the overreach of the false Enlightenment of fascism, but is instead to be enacted in a new guise as a new form of action: “improvisatory and capable of executing a design through a practice which works with the contingencies it discovers only in the course of its acting, in a politics of geosocial artistry and cunning rationality. A form of abductive experimentation that seeks the best means to act in a complex world.” (03: 21).
In some ways this is an enactment of the original intent of all those poets, artists, thinkers of the original modernist initiatives both in Europe and Russian that were cut off so quickly by WWI and death. The notions of contingency and jazz, improvisation and revisionary blends of processual synthetic systems that forecast the moments ahead rather than through probabilistic or stoachastic algorithms they choose contingent systems that analyze future trends rather than historical datamixes. We need to move out from under the Probabilistic Universe and into the Multiverse of plural contingencies where almost anything happens and can happen. A back to the future constructivist practice of shaping out of the contingent forces of chaos the complex relations of a real future worth having.
Ultimately they tells us we have a choice: fall back into primitivism and chaos, worlds closed into barbarous warfare, hate, and death; or, we can move forward into our long-awaited and dreamed for post-capitalist future of space faring, transhumanist or posthumanist transformations, and where the future “must be cracked open once again, unfastening our horizons towards the universal possibilities of the Outside” (03 – 23-34).
The more I think upon their vision and the other essays I’ve worked with concerning this strange brave world ahead of us the more I’m convinced their on to something positive. I do have my issues with aspects of the conceptual framework of the institutions based on self-mastery and authoritarianism; yet, if what they mean by self-mastery as shown above is the ongoing process of self-revisioning and self-reflective processes in a heuristic ontography of mapping our geoartistic pulsations by way of meta-ethics and meta-philosophy that is provisional and self-revisable: updated by a post-intentional scientific methodology based on the latest sciences; then yes, I, too, can affirm that we need to open our vision to the greater universe beyond our closed off global trajectories. We live on a planet of potentially finite resources that we are depleting day by day, we will need off-planet resources and strategies of survival for our species in the long-term which will be needed for any viable civilization ongoing.
Like any manifesto it is one part bravado, and 2 parts hope, with the rounding of the square in 1 part realist terms of actual social practice. Much thought went into it, but now comes the time of enacting it and making the words become works that act. Without action we are left in the void of inaction and self-defeat rather that will let our enemies – the neoliberals, have the last laugh at our expense. This we can ill-afford to do.
Words, I’ve come to learn, are pulleys through time. Portals into other minds. Without words, what remains? Indecipherable customs. Strange rites. Blighted hearts. Without words, we’re history’s orphans. Our lives and thoughts erased.
– Alena Graedon, The Word Exchange: A Novel
I’m barely into Alena Graedon’s new dystopian investigation, The Word Exchange: A Novel, a look at language and society and have already become hooked. In our world of infoglut, of the entrapments of endless noise, of semiotic signs everywhere controlling our thoughts, our minds, our lives one has to wonder what would happen if suddenly all the signs began vanishing. What if the very words one spoke disappeared forever without a trace, and your mind began imploding, wiped clean of its secret memories, of the past that ever so lightly kept your sense o self and reality afloat. What if one’s loved ones began to disappear because they too were part of the infinite sea of information in which we live, and that information was being deleted moment by moment even as you spoke sweet nothings in their ears?
And most of all, what if all this disappeared forever: no more books, newspapers, magazines, restaurant menus, street signs, television, radio… all the information which in our time bombards us like an infinite light show non-stop 24/7. What if all this was gone, forever? This is the premise of her new dystopian novel:
All my life my father mourned the death of thank-you notes and penmanship. The newspaper. Libraries. Archives. Stamps. He even came to miss the mobile phones he’d been so slow to accept. And of course he also grieved the loss of dictionaries as they went out of print. I could understand his nostalgia for these things. The aesthetics of an old Olivetti. A letter opener. A quill pen. But I’d dismissed him when he’d spoken darkly of vague “consequences” and the dangers of the Meme. When he’d lectured on “accelerated obsolescence” and “ouroboros” and foretold the end of civilization. For years, as he predicted so much of what eventually came to happen— the attenuation of memory; the ascendance of the Word Exchange; later, the language virus— no one listened. Not the government, or the media, or the publishing industry . Not my mother, who grew very tired of these plaints. Not me, even after I went to work for him when I was twenty-three. No one worried about the bends we might get from progress; we just let ourselves fly higher up.1
But what if something even worse than this happened? What if a new type of virus suddenly went global? What if a highly contagious, sometimes fatal virus called “word flu” suddenly leapt from computers to their users, corrupting not only written language but also spoken words with indecipherable nonsense that invaded everyone like some modern day Babel of Tongues.
In the Tomorrowland of Graedon’s strange infopocalypse people are all connected through the use of a specific device: the ‘Meme’, a handheld that is both intelligent and is connected to a worldwide smart system. The latest edition of this technology is the Nautilus, which doesn’t even need a screen. It flows onto the skin like a serpent glowing and flickering, beaming digital information directly into the user’s neural-net and datamining them for moment by moment sensorial feedback from the intelligent environment within which all now live.
I’ll not go further since I’ve barely begun the book myself… either way its a fast enjoyable read so far. With all my reading of late in Luciano Floridi’s works on inforgs and infospheres, smart cities, etc. this book pops out of the woodworks like a bombshell.
1. Graedon, Alena (2014-04-08). The Word Exchange: A Novel (Kindle Locations 64-71). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
“None are so hopelessly enslaved, as those who falsely believe they are free. The truth has been kept from the depth of their minds by masters who rule them with lies. They feed them on falsehoods till wrong looks like right in their eyes.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Long ago we fell under their spell, the wizards that now command and control us from afar. For too long we believed their lies and taught our children, and their children, and their children’s children until they forgot that which was once our truth. We became enamored with our modern marvels, our technological wonders, and the world they produced for us. We built cities in which technology became the very fabric of our onlife being. The artificial earth became for us a stay against the monstrosities of the outer realms. No one has been beyond the gates now for a thousand years, no one remembers the sun, moon, or stars that once roamed across the great sky like wanderers from another universe. No. We have lived in this incandescent cave of light without darkness for so long that the memory of night is but a reflection of a forgotten thought. In the day they wiped our memories free of the great past we were no longer troubled by the nightmares of what we’d become so many centuries ago.
That was until I began to dream.
Everyone is becoming a programmer. The next step is to realize that everything is a program.
– Keith Axline, The Universe Is Programmable. We Need an API for Everything
Are we just code in someone else’s computer? Is the brain programming us moment by moment? Bits of data floating on a sea of numbers:0/1? Neurons firing like switches on a global ferris-wheel? Dark riders of a universe we neither made nor understand? Baudrillard once described the notion of telematics privacy:
…each individual sees himself promoted to the controls of a hypothetical machine, isolated in a position of perfect sovereignty, at an infinite distance from his original universe…1
What if this hypothetical machine was the universe itself and we were actually isolated or withdrawn from all relation not at some distance from the universe, but rather from all those possible universes that might have been but are now forever closed off to us because of the particular quantum effect of collapse that produces our singular perspective. Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment poses the question, when does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states and become one or the other? The point of the experiment was simple for each of us we must answer a question: Do we require an external observer to validate our existence in this universe, or can we be that observer? If you cannot answer that question don’t worry about it, there have been many bright individuals who have offered solutions to the paradox: the Copenhagen Interpretation,Many-worlds interpretation and consistent histories , Ensemble interpretation, Relational interpretation, Objective collapse theories. I want go into the details but will allow the reader to pursue this at her leisure.
My point is that we live in a complex universe in which no one can know for sure just who is the observer and observed. It all gets confusing. But unlike Baudrillard’s telematics observer we’re already caught in the fly-trap or molasses so to speak. We’re part of the system we’d like to describe and have no way of getting out of it to describe it from afar or distantly as objective observers. We’re part of the very blindness of our own micro and macro worlds and we have very little useful information on just how that system operates. And like all those interpretations we come to the realization that anyone of them might be true or false, we just don’t have enough information and probably (due to our limited brain structuration) never will. We are very good at describing our external environments, but we are all science fiction authors when it comes to describing our brain processes at the core of our physical system (i.e., our embodied organic life).
I first met Jane Ciracylides during the Recess, that world slump of boredom, lethargy and high summer which carried us all so blissfully through ten unforgettable years, and I suppose that may have had a lot to do with what went on between us.
– J.G. Ballard, Prima Belladonna
J.G. Ballard loved to drop little oddities into his novels and stories. One that has intrigued me along the way this notion of the Great Recess, that as far as I can tell was only used in stories of the Vermillion Sands. We know it was a ten year period, a time of lethargic escape from the world of capitalism, a holiday where people suddenly found themselves in the world of boredom, of sex and paranoia. As a character in PB tells us this was a time when “no one cared very much about anything”(9) and time came to a standstill. The same character tells us that shortly after this period ended that “the big government schemes came along and started up all the clocks and kept us too busy working off the lost time to worry about a few bruised petals” (11). The only other mention is in the ATDS where we discover that before the Recess the world was much more decadent and irresponsible:
As Fay’s voice chattered on I turned and looked up the staircase towards the sun-lounge, my mind casting itself back ten years to one of the most famous trials of the decade, whose course and verdict were as much as anything else to mark the end of a whole generation, and show up the irresponsibilities of the world before the Recess. (311)
Etymologically we can understand Recess as:
1530s, “act of receding,” from Latin recessus “a going back, retreat,” from recessum, past participle of recedere “to recede” (see recede). Meaning “hidden or remote part” first recorded 1610s; that of “period of stopping from usual work” is from 1620s, probably from parliamentary notion of “recessing” into private chambers.
That strange “Recess” has haunted me for years. The idea of a blank in time, when all the clocks stop, the world of late capitalism grinds to a halt and everyone just seems to take a holiday. Nothing else, we hear not one thing more about this strange little thought in the works of Ballard. It’s as if he just filtered it out, let it lie there like a dejected component of his psyche that sat there silently waiting to be called forth again. Why? Why did he never explore this again? Reading William Schuyler’s Jungian analysis of Ballard I came across a short poignant remark: “We should also bear in mind the original meaning of holiday: a holy day on which ceremonies were performed; in this instance, rites of passage. In its own glossy, lurid, bizarre way, Vermilion Sands is a holy place, a place to which one resorts in time of need to undergo certain ordeals and take part in certain rites which are required of all who would become truly Conscious and thereby human.”(see essay). Yet, as we know the Recess was more like a great retreat, a withdrawal from work or maybe a refusal of work in the Berardian sense: “Refusal of work does not mean so much the obvious fact that workers do not like to be exploited, but something more. It means that the capitalist restructuring, the technological change, and the general transformation of social institutions are produced by the daily action of withdrawal from exploitation, of rejection of the obligation to produce surplus value, and to increase the value of capital, reducing the value of life.(“What is the meaning of Autonomy Today”, see here)
My country is in ruins. So I’m a fish in a poisoned fish bowl. I’m mostly just heartsick about this. There should have been hope. This should have been a great country. But we are despised all over the world now. I was hoping to build a country and add to its literature. That’s why I served in World War II, and that’s why I wrote books.
– Kurt Vonnegut, The Last Interview: And Other Conversations
Along with Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, and J.G. Ballard the fourth Musketeer in my pantheon of authors is Kurt Vonnegut who awakened me from my own long sleep in ideological Slumberville. My gang of four troubadours taught me an alternate mode of existence, they challenged me every step of the way to question everything, to trust nothing more than the truth of my own life. If Diogenes were alive today he’d have called these men friends, he would’ve known them as the creatures they are: intelligent, fierce, and full of that unique ability to care about the creatureliness of all creatures on this good earth.
I remember well my feelings when I read Mr. Sammler’s Planet, by Saul Bellow. Now, I thought that book very good— so good that I have read it several times. Indeed. But most of the things that Mr. Bellow attributed to his hero, Mr. Sammler, in recounting his experiences in a Poland occupied by the Germans, didn’t sound quite right to me. The skilled novelist must have done careful research before starting on the novel, and he made only one small mistake— giving a Polish maid a name that isn’t Polish. This error could have been corrected by a stroke of the pen. What didn’t seem right was the “aura”— the indescribable “something” that can be expressed in language perhaps only if one has experienced in person the specific situation that is to be described. The problem in the novel is not the unlikeliness of specific events. The most unlikely and incredible things did happen then. It is, rather, the total impression that evokes in me the feeling that Bellow learned of such event‹ from hearsay, and was in the situation of a researcher who receives the individual parts of a specimen packaged in separate crates and then tries to put them together. It is as if oxygen, nitrogen, and water vapor and the fragrance of flowers were to be mixed in such a way as to evoke and bring to life the specific mood of a certain part of a forest at a certain morning hour. I do not know whether something like this would be totally impossible, but it would surely be difficult as hell. There is something wrong in Mr. Sammler’s Planet; some tiny inaccuracy got mixed into the compound. Those days have pulverized and exploded all narrative conventions that had previously been used in literature. The unfathomable futility of human life under the sway of mass murder cannot be conveyed by literary techniques in which individuals or small groups of persons form the core of the narrative. It is, perhaps, as if somebody tried by providing the most exact description of the molecules of which the body of Marilyn Monroe was composed to convey a full impression of her. That would be impossible.
– Stanislaw Lem, Microworlds
“Each of us is aware he’s a material being, subject to the laws of physiology and physics, and that the strength of all our emotions combined cannot counteract those laws. It can only hate them. The eternal belief of lovers and poets in the power of love which is more enduring than death, the finis vitae sed non amoris that has pursued us through the centuries is a lie. But this lie is not ridiculous, it’s simply futile. To be a clock on the other hand, measuring the passage of time, one that is smashed and rebuilt over and again, one in whose mechanism despair and love are set in motion by the watchmaker along with the first movements of the cogs. To know one is a repeater of suffering felt ever more deeply as it becomes increasingly comical through a multiple repetitions. To replay human existence – fine. But to replay it in the way a drunk replays a corny tune pushing coins over and over into the jukebox?”
– Stanislaw Lem, Solaris
In a 1992 interview with Peter Swirski, Stanislaw Lem commented that, if he were to state his philosophical affiliation in terms of the “accepted nomenclature,” he would rank himself “in a large measure with the skeptics” (Stanislaw Lem Reader 42). In the same context, Lem expressed his irreverence for the natural sciences – an irreverence matched, however, by his dismissal of various religious and philosophical belief systems. Lem further characterized himself as “a kind of wide-ranging heretic”. Although he contended that it is not possible “to prove solipsism false”, he affirmed the mind-independent reality of the external world.1
Lem tells us in an interview that he never had the urge to “speak my piece” to the world at large, “as far as philosophy goes. Perhaps this disinclination comes from my conviction that the time of crafting seamless, unified philosophical systems is long past. This is so, I claim, because the results of the new “hard” sciences, led by physics, begin to exceed the abilities of reasoning — the various events and descriptions of states which fly in the face of visual perception as well as any other human sense or intuition, all that stuff conjured by the human mind”. Another in a long line of anti-philosophical writers Lem adds “if the scientific results exceed the horizons of human intellectual comprehension, then human philosophy must be left behind, limiting itself to reflection on the way the world is thoroughly known to us as a niche for a certain thinking species or to considerations of the human position in this world, its correctness and dangers.” How sad the wit of such a writer fell into his own pessimism. Maybe Schopenhauer was right after all: “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”